Team Trump’s latest social media platform, Gettr, has grown from a safe space for conservative beliefs to a hellish landscape of impostor accounts, offensive memes and pornography within hours of its launch. This illustrates what the nascent, pro-conservative platforms have done wrong: By pretending to be bastions of unhindered free speech, they are fighting current market leaders with one arm tied behind their back.
If right-wing voices who complain about the leftist ‘Big Tech’ bias are serious about competing with the biggest social media platforms, they should consider using the same tools that have made Facebook and Twitter multibillion-dollar behemoths. dollars. They too must embrace moderation of content.
Moderating one’s own content platform complies with long-standing conservative and libertarian respect for private property rights and does not constitute a betrayal of free speech. The First Amendment protects against the suppression of speech by the government; it does not allow citizens to organize a political rally without authorization in their neighbor’s yard. Yet attempts to confuse private social media platforms with free speech rights abound in provocative lawsuits, state law, and academic legal theories.
But rather than suffer the damage inflicted by blurring the lines between private property and the public square with regulations, why not find a successful market solution under current rules?
Conservative alternative social networking company Parler was notoriously launched from Amazon’s cloud hosting service (AWS) earlier this year; but even before that it wasn’t going very well. Parler touted itself as the “city’s square of the world” and chose elaborate verification systems, perhaps in an effort to avoid moderation of content that its target audience might (in theory) shy away from. This approach had an impact on functionality and user experience. In November 2020, Parler had only 11 million accounts compared to 330 million for Twitter. And, ultimately, Parler’s lack of sufficient content moderation was what AWS pointed out to justify the termination of Parler’s account. Looking back, Parler should have been moderate, but on its own pro-Tory terms.
Likewise, Jason Miller, CEO of Gettr and a former member of the Trump campaign, said the one thing the platform prides itself on is free speech. This is great marketing until Sonic the Hedgehog porn posts appear on the platform. It is likely that Mr. Miller quickly remembered the value of private property rights and discovered the merits of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the liability shield that protects platforms from costly litigation, even if they remove third-party content from their site.
The Conservatives do not want a free speech wild west on their social media platform. They probably want content moderation that removes violence, spam, fake accounts and pornography, but leaves out content about school choice, sanctity of life, Christianity, oil production. and gas in the United States, political skepticism and unflattering reporting on Democrats.
Parler and Gettr have the First Amendment right, facilitated by Section 230, to do just that right now, no litigation or changes in laws necessary.
It is as naive to believe that moderation of content is not necessary as to believe that it can be done without any bias. Moderation of content is inherently subjective. One man’s offensive speech is another man’s satire. One person’s pornography is another’s art, and one person’s violent and dangerous imagery is another’s uncomfortable and important truth. And while this is all protected speech under the First Amendment, it’s probably not what everyone wants to see when they go online.
To claim otherwise invites paraphrasing: if men were angels, no moderation of content would be necessary. Talking and Gettr learned it the hard way, but the next generation of social media doesn’t have to.
What is needed is not impossible objectivity or free content for all. Instead, it’s about competing biases in moderation of content. There should be ideologically varied content moderation policies on various social media platforms acting as competitive advantages.
Just as the remedy for left-wing CNN wasn’t to force conservative content on their station or create a magically objective news channel, it was right-wing Fox News. So it should be with a conservative-friendly social media platform.
Online entrepreneurs wishing to attract right-wing users shouldn’t tackle Facebook and Twitter while fearing to moderate the content. But they should try to compete in the market instead of hampering such a promising industry with heavy regulations or excessive legal exposure.
Those who wish to see more conservative voices and content online would be wise to play by the rules as they are, not as they would like them to be.
Jessica Melugin is Director of the Center for Technology & Innovation at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.