In his opening remarks at the virtual Republican National Convention (RNC) on Monday night, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk predictably assailed Big Tech for censoring conservatives—an all-too-familiar point of view that has increasingly come to dominate much of the right's thinking about social media.
"The American way of life means you speak your mind without retribution, without being kicked off social media by a self-righteous censor in Silicon Valley," said Kirk. He also accused tech platforms of silencing doctors while regurgitating Chinese state propaganda.
Sean Parnell, a Republican running for a Pennsylvania House seat, echoed the same talking point, expressing the view that the Democratic Party was beholden to Big Tech.
"The party of Harry Truman became the party of hedge fund managers, Hollywood celebrities, tech moguls, and university professors, all bloated with contempt for middle America," said Parnell.
This is, by now, a familiar refrain. "Big Tech hates conservatives and will stop at nothing to silence them" has become the default conservative opinion, popularized by Republican ideological leaders like Sens. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R–Texas).
And yet if there was ever a televised event that demonstrated the lameness of the conservative anti-tech position, it was the first day of the RNC. No major tech platform censored any of the content—on the contrary, they granted easy and unrestricted access.
Multiple YouTube channels aired the RNC in full. It was possible to watch the event live on the GOP Convention's Facebook page, and to find it on Google (it's the top video result). Even Twitter, the platform most obviously hostile to conservatives, made it perfectly easy to watch. All of the platforms provided unlimited access to the remarks by Kirk, Parnell, and everyone else who spoke—and importantly, this access came at no cost to viewers.
Contrary to the anti-social media perspective peddled by Kirk and others, it was traditional media outlets that restricted conservative speakers. CNN, MSNBC, and even Fox News cut away from the convention repeatedly. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow was petrified that unfiltered access to Republican speakers would cause her audience to succumb to disinformation, and thus she ceaselessly intervened to explain why certain GOP talking points were false. (Unsurprisingly, there was no live fact-check of the Democratic National Convention.)
Viewers with a cable subscription who preferred a selective, biased curation of the RNC could turn on their televisions. Viewers who just wanted to watch the event without interruption or interjection could do so for free on any of the major tech platforms.
This is an important point and one that the anti-tech crusaders in the Republican Party ought to consider more carefully as they mull regulations aimed at hampering social media companies. To the extent that there are genuine anti-conservative biases on social media, they pale in comparison to the biases of the traditional media. It's true that tech platforms occasionally make arbitrary or contradictory rulings about politically extreme speech; meanwhile, The New York Times opinion page apologized for publishing a provocative but fairly mainstream opinion piece by a major Republican senator, fired the editor responsible, and essentially vowed never to make this mistake again. Conservative voices have flourished on Facebook, where articles from Breitbart and The Daily Wire praising President Donald Trump are routinely among the most shared content. At the same time, there's not a single reliably pro-Trump columnist at the Times or The Washington Post.
If social media were to be regulated out of existence—and make no mistake, proposals to abolish Section 230 could accomplish precisely this—then the Republican Party would return itself to the world where traditional media gatekeepers have significantly more power to restrict access to conservative speech. It should come as little surprise that Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden, who supports the revocation of Section 230, prefers this world. Why does Charlie Kirk?