There’s been a lot of push from both left and right for the US government to regulate “Big Tech.” On the right, for example, Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, proposes two remediesfor censorship by Big Tech. The first is “for Congress to regulate Big Tech like public utilities or common carriers, compelling them to serve all customers without viewpoint discrimination.” The second is for the Supreme Court to “limit Big Tech censorship.” On the left, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) has a bill titled American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICO) to regulate large tech companies that she thinks suppress competition. And this is just a shallow dive into the regulatory waters. Both left and right have proposed other regulations of Big Tech.
I’ve got another option: trust freedom to rein in Big Tech. Let other companies compete to provide services that some critics think Big Tech should provide. Will this sometimes happen slowly? Yes, although it will typically happen way more quickly than any government solution. The freedom solution, moreover, will avoid the unintended consequences that come about when government steps in to regulate.
In this article, I’ll focus on the case against what McCaughey advocates. In a subsequent article, I’ll discuss the problems with the kinds of government interventions that Klobuchar and others advocate.
These are the opening paragraphs of David R. Henderson, “Let Freedom Rein in Big Tech,” Defining Ideas, February 17, 2022.
In short, the objection to some of Big Tech’s behavior is sound. I don’t think of it as censorship because the term “censorship” has traditionally been used to refer to governments that threaten to use force to prevent people from expressing certain ideas. For example, the Federal Communications Commission, a US government agency, censors. YouTube, by contrast, does not use or threaten force. Instead, it disallows certain viewpoints from being expressed, even if the viewpoints are backed by evidence. That’s troubling and even disgusting, but it’s not censorship. Moreover, YouTube has the right to choose, and should have the right to choose, what content it carries.
Here’s another example of competition solving the problem of information suppression, this time by a major search engine. I had never considered using Microsoft’s Bing. Google has been my browser of choice for years. But recently I saw a talk on Zoom in which the speaker said he had been trying, using Google, to find a paper by a Chinese doctor that argued that the coronavirus resulted from a lab leak. He couldn’t find it using Google. He had heard of Bing.
So he went to Bing and put in a few key words and, as he said, “Bing!” There it was.
For an article I’m writing, I had been trying to find a quote from Washington state governor Jay Inslee in which he claimed seriously that he was the only person in Washington state who had the capability to save lives from COVID. Using key words, I had tried for almost an hour on Google to find the quote, but to no avail. So I went to Bing, entered a few key words, and then “Bing!” There it was.
Read the whole thing.