Here’s how to properly regulate Big Tech in two easy steps.
During a conversation with Blake Masters on a recent episode of his podcast (go to 48:40 at that link), Andrew Klavan mentioned the contra-regulation argument he sometimes hears that government is simply too slow and legislators too old and out of touch to regulate fast-moving technology. The only response Masters and Klavan offered (per my memory, having not relistened to the whole thing) was that we just need new legislators who can keep up.
I’m not sure that’s the whole answer, or even really a necessary part of the right answer. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m against electing new legislators. That’s needed for other reasons. I just think it’s important to identify the core of solutions to our problems if we’re actually going to solve them.
The irreducible part of any solution involving government is to simplify. Klavan is on the right track, in my view, when he points to the part in the Declaration of Independence explaining that the reason governments are “instituted among Men” is to “secure [our] rights.” The rights come from elsewhere than government, and so can the attacks on our rights. A government “deriving [its] just powers from the consent of the governed” protects us from those attacks, whether they come from tyrants or tech moguls.
That focus on rights can be a trap, however, if it implies jacking up government to the size of the giants.
We need to simplify the response as well as the goals. Preventing companies from taking away our rights does not require government to micromanage the companies. It just requires government to say, “You can’t do that.” You can’t encourage people to build their entire movements on your platform and then wipe them out when they become significant enough that they might affect some political outcome that you like. You can’t market yourself as a one-stop shop for all published material in the universe and then block certain books.
Such language shouldn’t be too difficult to draft, and it needn’t be too detailed. Granting users some sort of rights to their information and to consistent service would be sufficient, then the users could enforce their own rights. There could even be pro-competitive thresholds that increase limits on corporate discretion the greater their market share.
Much of the necessary framework was developed to cover phone carriers. That is why one often hears about eliminating the Section 230 exemption that protects the tech giants from being sued for content on their sites. Sweeping that one provision away might be sufficient: If the companies are going to appoint themselves arbiters of what can be said on their sites, then they have to be accountable for what they allow.
Whatever mixture of polices might emerge from public and legislative debate, we must get back to a more foundational understanding of how this process works. We don’t have to put government in charge of a sector and assume that it will be benevolent and work in the people’s best interests. It won’t (at least not for long). We just have to remember that the role of government is to safeguard our rights and freedoms.
Featured image by Chris Yang on Unsplash.