Social Media: Free Speech Zone or too Big To Fail?

Big tech has long been growing to a boiling point. I think the watershed moment is coming soon. In the next year or two, we will see big changes in big tech and social media. (Note: Big tech encompasses companies like Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Amazon, and Google)

There are two arguments to be had:
1. Big tech is privately owned businesses and should be left to their own devices (i.e. Laissez-Faire)
2. Big Tech has grown far beyond what we dreamed it would be & it requires regulation as it is too big to fail.

1.Big tech is privately owned businesses and should be left to their own devices (i.e. Laissez-Faire):
One argument in favor of big tech’s freedoms to act as they see fit is that at the end of the day they are privately owned companies. As such, they should be allowed to moderate or gatekeep however they see fit. So Twitter and Facebook set their guidelines and rules. If you do not follow their rules, these providers can remove users and ban them at their discretion. While this may make sense on the surface, I think it is important to think about how powerful they have grown. If these rules are enforced inequitably, it is reasonable that we could see a curated social media sphere where only certain opinions are formed. Additionally, the argument could be made that Apple and Google have even more power. Apple and Google recently (along with Amazon) made the decision that Parler (the app used to organize the capitol riot/insurrection) was not being properly moderated. As such they removed it from the app stores. The Parler app now cannot be used on Apple or Android phones. I don’t know about you all, but I do not know anyone who has a phone in America that does not run on Apple or Android. So this will essentially kill the Parler app. It is quite a lot of power to have to be able to wipe an app (& company) from existence. But under the private company lens, this is perfectly allowable.

2. Big Tech has grown far beyond what we dreamed it would be & it requires regulation as it is too big to fail:
Another argument is that big tech has become much larger and important than anything we ever imagined it could be. It is an everyday part of our lives and has often blurred the lines of what their true product is. Facebook spent last summer trying to gain government approval to create its own cryptocurrency that could be used with an Apple wallet style feature of Facebook. Think about how different your day would be if you could not use big tech. No cell phone. No social media. This technology is only growing and becoming interwoven into our society. Political campaigns are made and broken on social media. Fake news abounds and troll farms turn the tide of political climates. People earn millions of dollars a year by creating Youtube (owned by Google) videos, marketing them on Instagram (owned by Facebook), and not needing to leave their house by using Doordash and Uber eats to feed themselves.
Next think about how different the world would be if social media was curated by the government (like China), or if Amazon suddenly stopped it’s services one day. The argument here is that these tech companies are too impactful and large to remain operating as is, and to remain in full control of their discretion. Call it anti-trust or government regulation, the argument is that Mark Zuckerberg should not have the power to significantly impact the world, governments, and politics with one decision.

People oft compare social media to newspapers and cite that newspapers get to decide who writes for them. However, social media makes it so that anyone can become a social media influencer and share their opinions. So I don’t agree that the comparison is appropriate. Further, social media reaches a much wider audience much quicker than print or traditional media ever dreamed.

I am not making a case for either here. I am not quite sure where I fall yet myself opinion wise. All I am saying is that social media and big tech are becoming increasingly impactful, increasingly large, increasingly important and we are reaching a breaking point. How this is handled in the next couple of years will change how social media and big tech exist as we know it.

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I have a terrible habit of becoming engrossed with a new topic each week. From AI to robotics, from economics to human rights, here is my mind run amuck.

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