The Free Market Will Take Care of Companies That Censor Content

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube et al who are censoring people and content have a right to do that. Calling them monopolies or public utilities is the wrong way to go. Stressing their “power” is the wrong way to go, by which I mean it contradicts libertarian thinking about products and free markets. Worrying about free speech in the context of their censorship is likewise a losing and flawed argument. Forcing companies to provide a forum of free and/or diverse speech is not compatible with freedom.

Talking about applying anti-trust to these companies is the wrong way to go, in a libertarian analysis. Why? Being a big company or being the main company at present in a market doesn’t give a company real and lasting power as long as the market is open to the entry of competition. As far as I know, the market for communications fora is open. This means there are not insuperable barriers that prevent competitors from arising with new products that siphon customers from the present companies.

I could be wrong about market openness if these companies have wrongly buttressed their positions by patents that never should have been granted, in which case the appropriate targets are the laws that allow monopolization by that means. However, the analysis below assumes that other tech companies are feasible and exist right now that can substitute for Facebook et al. Alternatively, it assumes that entrepreneurs can find ways of delivering internet content and communications without the intermediation of these companies by other pathways.

These censoring companies do not supply a public good. They are not in business chartered by society to uphold free speech. They are in business to sell a product of their own design. That product does not necessarily fit into what anyone may think of as supplying a marketplace for ideas. There is no social responsibility that they possess to supply a forum that matches up with an open and unbiased forum in which ideas compete. In the same way that a baker can decide what customers to serve or not, in a libertarian world, these kinds of companies can serve whomever they please. They can restrict content to pro-nationalists or to pro-communists or to anti-Trumpists or to neocons or to anti-war proponents or whatever group they please — in a libertarian world, because speech doesn’t involve aggression. These companies are not bound by any libertarian rules that say they must accommodate diverse views. Of course, they may be violating state-made rules or constitutional requirements; but that’s another story. However, libertarians should not be invoking flawed civil rights legislation to justify further flawed state control over these companies.

Is that clear? What you and I think of a car with tail fins or that supposedly guzzles gas, or what you and I think of a movie in which orgies are depicted or of a self-styled comic whose vocabulary consists of 7 swear words — it doesn’t matter in a free market, by which I mean you and I have no right to prevent these products from being made and sold. Similarly, we have no right to make Facebook et al serve some supposed social needs by making them not censor those whom they choose to censor. If we deviate from this libertarian position, we may as well go full-statist.

In a free market, you express your opinion by refusing their services or products. You can boycott them or participate in boycotts. You can criticize them in media. You can patronize competitors. There are competitors right this minute for these censoring companies. Their names are easy to find in comment sections discussing the suspensions of Daniel McAdams, Peter van Buren and Scott Horton or elsewhere.


1:17 pm on August 9, 2018