House Republicans Want To Force You To Read Their Conspiracy Theories… By Law
According to The Daily Beast, Republican lawmakers are sick and tired of tech companies’ modest efforts to reign in conspiracy theories and fake news, especially when the conspiracy theories in question come from their favorite far-right sites like Gateway Pundit and Breitbart. In response to users not sharing or liking the stories they prefer, they’re threatening Silicon Valley with the specter of regulation and threats of classifying them as public utilities to force them to promote right-wing content over mainstream media publications and factual reporting they decry as “the real fake news.”
Considering that two-thirds of Americans get at least some news through social media, this would amount to shoving Deep State/New World Order conspiracies down the nation’s throat, digitally speaking, and give the web’s worst conspiracy theorists a massive financial incentive to keep upping the ante, Alex Jones style. As the party controlling all branches of government seems to be losing its grip on reality in favor of a half-century tradition of hearsay detailing sinister plots to destroy everything they love by evil people with evil reasons, 9/11 Truthers, mass shooting deniers, and other more exploitative or paranoid corners of society could be looking at another fiscal and cultural golden age.
But in the end, this may all be sound and fury signifying nothing. It’s legally dubious that any lawmaker could compel a private company to regulate its own speech, much less force it to adopt a certain bias. Mandating that companies promote certain outlets against their will could run afoul of the First Amendment, especially when we consider that many of their users already feel like far too many conspiracy theories are infesting tech platforms in the first place, and studies show that users who identify as right wing are sharing the majority of them.
So if the latest QAnon Deep State missives still aren’t taking off beyond their familiar corners of the web after so much effort, what is the objective basis to demand that tech companies give them an even bigger artificial boost? Because a minority with outsized political power really, really wants more people to believe their conspiracies and share their fears? Well, according to the Conspiracy Caucus, tech companies are hijacked by anti-American traitors who somehow hide or obscure links to the truth about the Deep State from their users. To fix this perceived problem, they’re proposing lawyers review and change the proprietary code that powers social media platforms to gain more control over what gets the most attention in users’ feeds.
Having bureaucrats review actual code which may involve functionality they’re highly unlikely to understand since they’re not programmers or computer scientists, functionality such as artificial intelligence and sophisticated statistical analysis, would be a truly disturbing precedent. It could open the door to forcing countless companies to hand over proprietary code and technical trade secrets for review by hostile lawyers, giving so-called patent trolls the legal equivalent of a thermonuclear warhead with which to kill countless startups by exposing their competitive advantages to the public unless they settle for hefty sums. The tech industry would explode with rage and lawsuits.
But allowing legal review of proprietary code would also be a death knell to social media, which is built around users submitting and judging the content that makes them valuable. Taking the decision for what’s trending or viral away from these users will fatally wound these companies’ bottom line, so it strains credulity to think they wouldn’t retaliate in the courts. And since they are currently some of the biggest companies in the world, they have massive war chests to fight for their Constitutional right to free speech.
All this should be a sign for Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and other big players in this space to start implementing even more fact checks and fight back against accusations of bias backed by nothing more than ideologues demanding their sites get more traffic and their videos get more views. Right now, they’re drunk on power and believe they’re fighting wars against imaginary evil cabals trying to stop their amazing truth-telling, and if you’re not with them on their quest to crush these UN/Deep State/Illuminati/Reptilian bogeymen, you’re against them and must be brought in line.
Any tech company that bows before the angry conspiracy horde is going to be facing a shrinking user base and even angrier conspiracy theorists attacking it for “censoring” them as engagement with their content falls to prove it’s not in on the conspiracy against them. Their only winning move is to hold fast against the GOP’s war on the real world.