Government Regulation of Social Media Won’t Protect Free Speech

Do the revelations made by Facebook’s whistleblower “bombshell” seem too much? Frances Haugen was the company’s ex-product manager. She has now given her testimony to Securities and Exchange Commission. The Wall Street Journal thousands of internal documents that say more about the state of American culture than they do about the social-media company.

Facebook does not have a bad reputation, however, the incentives seem to be misaligned. Haugen told CBS News. Facebook profits more when users consume more content, just like other social media platforms. Emotional responses are what attract people to engage with. They are more likely to be angry the more they have been exposed, and they will consume more.

If that’s the issue, then one can just as easily blame newspapers, TV news shows, talk radio, and political parties—all of which benefit by stirring the pot. Some people are more inclined to be upset than have happy thoughts about their dogs (although many such posts can be found on Facebook). Is it the media or the human condition that we should blame?

Haugen shared an internal Facebook survey showing that Instagram increases thoughts of suicide and worsens eating disorders among teens. While I don’t deny the difficulties of growing up, Haugen appears to be incredibly ignorant. Teen girls are accustomed to comparing themselves with the images of models from magazines. Before Instagram, teens were brutal to each other.

Do we really blame social media? Or something more sinister? This is true for comments that post offensive information to their Facebook pages. These platforms can be used for both good and evil. This nonsense reminds me of liberal politicians who blame video games for gun violence and conservative politicians who blame Hollywood movies for an erosion of the nation’s morals.

It is time for us to wake up. This is the problem with latest hyperbole: There will undoubtedly be many new regulations and rules. You can read more about it here. The Wall Street JournalHaugen’s testimony to Congress “builds momentum in favor of tougher tech laws,” it should be noted. Of course it does, and conservatives—who will be on the receiving end of whatever passes—will only have themselves to blame.

“(T)he time is ripe for the regime and the digital medium to face a long-overdue just comeuppance,” wrote Josh Hammer in American MindThis is a standard conservative diatribe about tech companies. Hammer calls for Congress to “rein in the ‘Mountain View-Menlo Park nexus of woke leftist corporatism…lest technocracy vanquish democracy anew.'”

H.L. Mencken, conservatives may get what they deserve, good and hard. Congress has proposed to curb tech companies. This includes efforts to repeal the Section 230 rule in the Communications Decency Act, which protects them from any liability for posts by individuals. These platforms would not have been possible without that rule.

By eliminating that regulation, many conservatives think they will punish tech companies for their alleged censorship of conservative views, but the opposite is more likely. The firms won’t let their sites turn into the equivalent of your spam folder—so they will do what progressives want and tightly control everything that’s posted.

For a peek into the future, read the Health Misinformation Act of 2021, sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) and Ben Ray Luján (D–N.M.). This would eliminate Section 230 protections that tech platforms have during a crisis of health if they are open to misinformation spreading. The obvious flaw should be apparent to any freedom-loving American.

What is Health Misinformation? Questioned New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo. I don’t know of any oracular sources of truth regarding COVID-19. The scientific consensus on COVID-19 has changed dramatically over the course of the pandemic. Experts are still divided about important questions, like whether every person should receive a booster shot. Bingo.

Actually, Klobuchar and Luján identified the nation’s oracle of truth in the S. 2448’s text: “(T)he secretary of Health and Human Services … shall issue guidance regarding what constitutes health misinformation.” In other words, we’ll all be free to post whatever information passes muster with HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra—the former California attorney general who has a reputation as a partisan hack.

Here’s an AG who used his title-and-summary writing authority to undermine the chances of voter initiatives he didn’t like—and he’s going to make the call on what amounts to fair-minded health-related discussions? Good grief. Becerra could not be the Oracle of Delphi. No government official should be able to decide “misinformation.”

The bill will not be approved by the Constitution. The First Amendment doesn’t apply to private social-media companies’ content-moderation practices, but it would apply to a federal mandate that companies defer to the health czar. When we get involved in the Facebook-is Satan hysteria, bad lawmaking is what is expected.

Feel free to blame Facebook for your ills—and the angst of your teenage children—but this legislation reminds us that whatever problems private companies cause, the government always poses the biggest threat to our wellbeing.

This column appeared in The Orange County Register for the first time.