NYT: Tech Crackdowns Are Only Bad When Other Countries Do Them

By invoking the magic of good intentions, the Times justifies the U.S. acting like Russia and China.


When they do it, it's suppressing civil liberties. When we do it, it's safeguarding democracy. That's the stance developing around regulation of tech companies and, by extension, online speech.

This attitude abounds in today's elite media and political spheres—alongside a bizarre reverence for the fact that more authoritarian leaders are regulating tech entities in ways that U.S. officials can't (or at least not yet). Today's New York Times piece on "reining in tech" is truly a masterpiece of the genre.

"Around the world, governments are moving simultaneously to limit the power of tech companies with an urgency and breadth that no single industry had experienced before," notes the Times. University of Michigan law professor Daniel Crane told the paper that it's "unprecedented to see this kind of parallel struggle globally."

Shouldn't it give us pause when we're engaging in the same regulatory crackdowns as these not-so-freedom-friendly regimes? How can any American earnestly suggest that we follow Communist China's lead on these matters? How can anyone claim with a straight face that the identical activity is a boon for democracy when the U.S. does it but is an authoritarian outrage when other nations do the same?

They accomplish this intellectual contortion by invoking the magic of good intentions, of course. Here's how the Times follows up its statement about global attempts to "rein in" technology companies:

Their motivation varies. In the United States and Europe, it is concern that tech companies are stifling competition, spreading misinformation and eroding privacy; in Russia and elsewhere, it is to silence protest movements and tighten political control; in China, it is some of both.

It's the kind of statement that would be hilarious if it wasn't so terrifying to realize that some people actually think like this.

Alas, far too many people in this country seem to believe that their preferred political leaders only want what's best for America and would never—never!—abuse their authority. They apparently think that their respective political team is above the corruption, censorship, cowardice, and petty power-grubbing that leads so many others to "silence protest movements and tighten political control."

Sheesh, we're only a few months out from a president that a lot of people swore was a literal fascist. And even Donald Trump's biggest fans might be willing to concede that he was not always the most scrupulous civil libertarian. Are people really so naive as to think we'll never have another Trump-like figure in power who might use new anti-tech regulations to settle personal scores?

And to be clear, this problem is much bigger than Trump. Let's face it: Cutting corners with civil liberties is a bipartisan American tradition.

Look at the bipartisan enthusiasm for FOSTA, the 2018 law working to silence sexual expression online. Look at the Obama-era Operation Chokepoint, which used federal rules to pressure financial institutions into reconsidering business with an array of disfavored industries. Look at the years of warrantless spying on domestic communications by the National Security Administration. Or look at the 18 years of misinformation the feds spread about Afghanistan. Or look at more recent attempts to cover up accurate pandemic-related information…

You get the point. Do these really seem like people and institutions that never let good intentions go awry? Why should we trust any of them to fairly arbitrate online truths? Or decide which communications tools should be allowed? Or determine what is and isn't good for individual privacy, freedom of expression, and rights?

Yet so many folks today on both the left and right want to hand over greater power to the same federal officials, agencies, and snoops that have disgraced themselves in the past.

Why? They say that companies like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Twitter are too big—too big to be bullied by folks like Josh Hawley into disallowing politically disfavored content; too big not to backtalk Elizabeth Warren or cower in front of Congressional committees; too big not to simply turn over whatever encrypted communications the FBI wants, or ban sex-worker ads because Kamala Harris says so.

Certainly, some tech companies do have "big power" over speech on their particular platforms. But users who find themselves on the receiving end of a suppression or ban—or who just don't like a platform's policies—always have the ability to move on to other digital entities. Even someone who manages to run afoul of the rules on all of the biggest platforms can still start new accounts, find a new home on more sympathetic social media spheres, and/or communicate through their own emails, message apps, and websites.

By contrast, when the government sets the rules for online communication—or effectively does so, by threatening digital actors with huge penalties for failing to enforce their preferred standards or failing to comply with regulatory requirements—then those who run afoul of them aren't simply barred from speaking on this or that platform; they are prevented from speaking freely anywhere online. And the government's penalty may be way more severe than simply losing one's account.

Tech companies can't lobby fines against their users and they can't initiate criminal charges. They don't have the right to say how outside platforms moderate speech, or with whom other companies may do business. They can't stop competitors from developing new products that compete with their own. They can't declare that anything competitors do to make their products better and prices cheaper is a violation of antitrust law.

Tech companies may be able to block access to an article or video within their own space, but they can't say anyone who posts it is inciting terrorism, committing a hate crime, violating obscenity statutes, or committing some other illegal act.

In short, it makes no sense to respond to the perceived failings of Big Tech by further concentrating control in the hands of the government, which is an even more powerful actor than any company.

The proper solution is to use liberal values—freedom of speech, contract, and association—to either disengage with the tech giants, pressure them to change, or to support new platforms to take their place. To use our individual rights and free markets, not to call for curtailing of those things. Because these are what truly set us apart from countries like China and Russia—not some imagined purity and beneficence on the part of American politicians.

American history—and present—is brimming with examples of political deception, corruption, and suppression of dissent. Giving government the power to "rein in big tech" will only make online services, censorship, and privacy so much worse—which politicians will then use as an excuse to grab even more control, as they have in previous wars on drugs, crime, and terrorism.

Is it too much to ask that, this time, we start questioning our government's "good intentions" before it is too late?

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  1. That’s the stance developing around regulation of tech companies and, by extension, online speech.

    It’s not just the stance “developing” around the “regulation” of tech companies, it’s the stance adopted and aggressively pursued by the tech companies themselves.

    As one other alert commenter pointed out a couple of months back, companies like Facebook are actively begging to be regulated by the government, all one needs to is merely mosey on by Facebook’s internet regulation statement page and educate yourself.

    Combating foreign election interference
    We support regulation that will set standards around ads transparency and broader rules to help deter foreign actors, including existing US proposals like the Honest Ads Act and Deter Act.

    Supporting thoughtful changes to Section 230
    We support thoughtful updates to internet laws, including Section 230, to make content moderation systems more transparent and to ensure that tech companies are held accountable for combatting child exploitation, opioid abuse, and other types of illegal activity.

    We’ve also launched the largest voting information campaign in US history. We estimate we helped a record 4.5 million people register to vote based on conversion rates we calculated from a few states we partnered with.

    If you believe that the major tech companies are pushing some kind of Libertarian Capitalist, free-market utopia where everyone just gets to appeal to the self-interests of their customers without any interference from legislators, you’re sorely mistaken.

    1. That Fascist Yrump wanted to ensure everyone had access to posting theif opinions on Twitter.
      Those Libertarian Democrats just want to scrub a the ‘Disinformation’. Like the Sicknick Truthers.

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    2. There are two ways a company can introduce anti market behavior at a large scale. One os through favored government regulation, as has been done with friendly government officials. The other is with collusion partnerships on key infrastructure of a market. Which again, silicon valley has done openly and blatantly.

      I dont know why we are being asked to ignore theater. The regulation should be on open areas of infrastructure, not determination of speech.

      But the fact that ENB even calls removal of a government benefit as a regulation is astounding in the first place.

    3. REGULATORY CAPTURE used to be a thing we recognized.

  2. JFC, ENB still thinks Truml is the problem.

    I am completely unable to even at this juncture.

    1. TRUMP

    2. Apparently your keyboard is unable to even at this juncture.

      1. I have to Reason on my android phone because the iPad seizes up with all the popup videos embedded here
        type on a miniscule keypad with thumbs that hit the wrong key 1/3 the time

  3. Verdict’s ready.

    To be read between 3:30 and 4:00, Central time.

    Cue Michael Buffer…

    1. Ive got my gas cans ready

    2. Not guilty, burn it down the system is corrupt.

      Guilty, burn it down we’ve proven the system is corrupt.

  4. Oh, and Jack Dorsey is empirically an awful person.

    Change my mind.

    1. He converts oxygen to co2 which plants need to live?
      He has only advocated for genocide a few times?

    2. He will die someday and the worms will prosper.

    3. He’s really bad.

      Worse than Hitler who, at the very least, DID kill Hitler. Worse than Jim Jones who also, bare minimum, killed Jim Jones.

  5. In this case no I question the amoral billionaires and their trillion dollar mega corps who hold more sway over public discourse now than the federal government.

    1. Oh FFS, that’s not the problem. Do you thing the mega corporations would be so aggressively policing speech if there wasn’t such a vast segment of the populace that they were both politically sympathetic to and that actively wants them to aggressively police speech? Bitch about the corporations when the actively resist a population demanding free speech.

      1. They are. Right now. And all libertarians can say is “BUT MUH PRIVATE PLATFORMS”

        1. Did you read what I wrote? Why they’re doing it matters. They’re doing it because they are incentivized to do it by half the population. And most of the other half also wants some level of control (OMG PORN OH THE CHILDREN!).

          And I think there’s a healthy debate right now in regards to the Public Utility model. But still, at the very least, when you have a large segment of the populace that actively wants other’s speech filtered, and the tools exist to do so cheaply, then you get what we have today.

  6. If anyone thought “spreading misinformation” was a problem, they’d be demanding that the New York Times be deplatformed.after the “Russian Bounties” and “Sicknick Fire Extinguisher” stories.

  7. NYT: Tech Crackdowns Are Only Bad When Other Countries Do Them

    This isn’t exactly new for us.

    Torture is OK when the US does it.

    ‘pre-emptive war’ is ok when the US does it.

    ‘unlimited detainment’ is ok when the US does it.

    ‘taxing world-wide income’ is ok when the US does it.

    Tariffs are ok when the US does it.

    Violating banking secrecy is ok when the US does it.

    Running guns is ok when the US does it.

  8. Imagine being ENB and getting some time off. She wants to write an article that really stands out and show Huff Post she is worth 40k a year.
    This is what she turns out…..

  9. Friedman and NYT have perfected an entire genre of “if only we could be China for a day” editorials.

  10. “Are people really so naive as to think we’ll never have another Trump-like figure in power who might use new anti-tech regulations to settle personal scores?”

    Are you fucking retarded?

    We have a fascist government right now!

    1. Yes, we do. But she likes it.

  11. Is it too much to ask that, this time, we start questioning our government’s “good intentions” before it is too late?

    LOL. You’re just gonna lob ’em over the plate like that?

  12. The issue to the NYT is control…they had it and lost it..and want it back. Troytsky was a hero to the Times..Lindburgh a nazi..that says it all

  13. Fascist China suppress Christian views on Twitter, characterizing it as subversive to state interest

    “That’s real bad”

    Twitter suppresses Christian views on their platform, calling it hate speech

    “That’s OK, they’re private company”

    That sums up the libertarian position.

    Newsflash – we’re NOT China. That’s the point. If private companies engage in totalitarian behavior, we shouldn’t remain silent. I GET it, Twitter can’t force you to do anything, jail you, fine you, etc. But they can and HAVE funneled information in a manner to achieve ends they seek. They suspend James O’keefe for violating hacked material rules, but let stand all kinds of doxxing and hacked info on conservatives. The leaked donation data on Rittenhouse resulted in one officer getting fired.

    If the Feds forced Twitter to shut down the NYP expose on Hunter Biden, we should be hopping mad. But Twitter does that, we should just…… throw up our hands and give up? That was legit and verified reporting and in the public’s interest to know. China can erase information and keep people out of it. Big tech can outright block information, facilitate spread of misinformation, or slap you with a Scarlett letter on opinion they deem unsavory. The scale is different, but the erosion of freedom is still there.

    We’re not going to trade an fascist state for an oligarchy, even if the former is far worse. Twitter is NOT disqus, a whistleblower with vital information on secret government abuse won’t go there to post info. Disqus does not recognize authorship, amplify and verify views. Twitter is a publisher. If we can’t consider ANY regulation on big tech in fear of appearing to emulate state tech crackdowns, then we’re just submitting to an oligarchy.

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