by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
Political analyst John hood published a commentary in Carolina Journal this week on government-enforced censorship. His piece focused on the debate surrounding political censorship by giant tech companies like Facebook and Twitter. Hood poses the question:
To the extent Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube and other online companies engage in viewpoint discrimination against conservatives and Republicans, they deserve condemnation and ridicule. But do they also merit oversight by lawmakers or regulators?
Hood says no. The threat of lawmakers getting the answer wrong is simply too great. The government has a long and unencouraging history of getting the answers wrong. Hood writes:
Any institution that tries to limit what is said, broadcast, and shared on the Internet will find the job taxing, frustrating, and counterproductive. Corporations will struggle with it. Governments will, too. That’s because all institutions are populated by the same species — by human beings with our built-in predispositions and limitations. As my John Locke Foundation colleague Jon Guze put it, “absolute certainty is not an option. On the contrary, fallibility across the board is an inescapable part of the human condition.”
Hood explains that, because our interaction with companies is free-willed, market responses to an issue are far less threatening than government ones:
As a consumer, I choose which social-media accounts to create, which websites to read, and which search engine to employ. I certainly know what “network effects” and “path dependency” mean. If misbehavior prompted me to exit a popular online service, I know I’d pay a price, at least in the short run, by losing access to lots of contacts and information. But I’d still be free to leave, and to patronize a new service that didn’t engage in pervasive viewpoint discrimination.
…The difference is that our transactions with corporations, even market leaders on the Internet, are typically voluntary. Compliance with government directives is mandatory.
Hood suggests attempting to regulate broadcast could be a serious overstep for the government:
[Lawmakers’] access to the coercive power of government should be restricted to cases in which life, liberty, and property are in danger. That means police and the courts. It means regulating specific threats to public health and safety. It does not mean attempting to police online platforms.