May 12, 2022
Freedom of speech in the online public square hangs by a single thread spun by a benevolent billionaire named Elon Musk. His purchasing of Twitter to restore this key component of democracy is triggering shrill cries from leftists, who demand the power to censor on tech platforms and silence anyone with whom they disagree. Those shrill cries have only intensified, now that Musk has announced his plans to reverse Twitter’s infamous ban of former President Donald Trump.
But Musk is taking a step that shouldn’t be necessary. In a functioning system, Twitter would not need to be saved through a complete shareholder buyout requiring tens of billions of dollars that only the richest few on Earth could possibly amass. Big Tech must indeed be held accountable for its role in corrupting internet platforms and systems. However, this enforcement must come from American citizens, who stand to lose the most from Big Tech’s abuses, through their elected representatives—not a billionaire benefactor.
The trouble with a buyout strategy of fixing Big Tech’s free speech problem is that it relies on Musk’s personal interest and, most important, his resolve. If either were to slip and Twitter fell back into the hands of the censors, any gains in the fight for free speech online would slip away almost immediately. Musk alone likely cannot beat back Silicon Valley’s or Washington D.C.’s culture of censorship. Musk’s use of his personal wealth will hopefully bear fruit, but our free speech rights should not, and cannot, continue to lie on such a razor-thin edge.
It’s important to remember that Twitter is still at the mercy of Amazon, Apple and Google. We have seen what these massively powerful companies can do when faced with an ideological challenge in the market. Look no further than Parler, a competitor to Twitter that was nuked off the internet with nothing more than a coordinated press of a button by these three behemoth companies. If Twitter were to challenge Big Tech’s grasp on the information ecosystem, how easy would it be for them to pull Twitter off their respective cloud services and app stores?
The need for substantive and long-lasting solutions could not be clearer. Antitrust laws must be upgraded to meet the challenges we face. No longer can Big Tech enjoy counterproductive antitrust amnesty. These laws must have teeth strong enough to chew through the messy system of collusion Big Tech has formed among itself and its government enablers. Additionally, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which effectively shields these companies from liability, has outlived its utility. Either Section 230 must be reformed to prevent politically motivated censorship, or it must be repealed tout court if such fine-tuning proves impossible.
Most important, these next three months before the midterm elections start heating up will be crucial, as they may present the last window of opportunity to pass antitrust legislation that is both bipartisan and effective. Many Democrats and Republicans talk a big game when it comes to Big Tech, but too many are unwilling to vote against monied interests lobbying on behalf of Silicon Valley. Thankfully, legislation introduced by U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Reps. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Ken Buck (R-CO), the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, would provide meaningful changes and eliminate harmful anticompetitive discrimination.
The urgent need for antitrust legislation and reforms to Section 230 were made ever more clear recently, with the Biden administration’s announcement of a so-called “Disinformation Governance Board.” Before Musk purchased Twitter, the Biden White House sought to informally pressure Big Tech to implement its censorship needs. Now that Big Tech’s grasp on at least one key tech company may be slipping, Big Tech oligarchs are looking to explicitly control the flow of information online through the establishment of their own Ministry of Truth. As Biden and other executive branch authoritarians look to quash the free exchange of speech, American citizens and their elected leaders must push back and reclaim their sovereignty.
With his purchase of Twitter and stated mission of restoring free speech to the online public square, Musk is running up against a system built to defeat him. Admirable as his quest is, its necessity illustrates how important legislative reforms are in the battle for internet freedom. Benevolent billionaires should not be required to ensure our rights are protected. Big Tech must face lasting change at the hands of the majority of Americans who overwhelmingly support a First Amendment culture.
Mike Davis is the founder and president of the Internet Accountability Project, a conservative grassroots advocacy organization that opposes Big Tech and seeks to hold these companies accountable for their bad acts. He was previously chief counsel for nominations on the Senate Judiciary Committee under the chairmanship of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
Unlike the Big Tech monopolies, the Internet Accountability Project pledges to never sell or share your personal information, which is your property.