Reason Podcast

Why Instapundit Glenn Reynolds Thinks Twitter, Facebook, and Google Should Be Busted Up

The "blogfather" once touted the internet as the antidote to Big Government, Big Business, and Big Media. Now he wants the feds to crack down on social media.

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In the beginning, there was Instapundit, one of the web's first great aggregator and commentary sites. Launched in August 2001, the site became massively popular after the 9/11 attacks, when it acted as a clearinghouse for information and commentary from all over the world about what the hell was going on.

The founder of Instapundit is Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee who came to be known as the "blogfather" to many of us then toiling on the border between print and pixels. Always a future-oriented writer and scholar, he called himself a libertarian transhumanist and his optimistic view on cyberculture is summed up by the title of his 2006 best-selling book, An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths.

That was then. Reynolds' new book is called The Social Media Upheaval. In it, he makes the case that the federal government should use antitrust law to curtail the cultural, market, and political power amassed by Twitter, Facebook, Google, and other tech companies. In a wide-ranging conversation with Nick Gillespie, Reynolds talks about why he quit Twitter last year, how his thinking has changed regarding the internet, and what he hopes will come next online and elsewhere. He also recounts the earlier, Wild West days of online communities in the 1980s, how a photoshopped joke image kept showing up on his Wikipedia page, and why libertarians seem to gravitate to unconventional diets.

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Audio production by Ian Keyser.

 

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  1. Treat them like publishers if they curate content. Why is that supporting a fascist GOP dictatorship?

    1. I guess I don’t understand how we treat publishers in this context, even if we agree they’re publishers. Are we threatening to break up the new York times and cnn?

      1. I think the difference is mostly in liability. But it seems to me we should be treating publishers more like YouTube, rather than the other way around.
        There is also a lot of space between the traditional media publisher/distributor and a completely open and neutral platform for content. I don’t think that demanding that online platforms fit into one category or the other makes much sense.

        1. we should be treating publishers more like YouTube, rather than the other way around.

          ^ This.

          1. Why should online companies ies be granted liability protections over other industries?

            1. Because Corporate Profits Uber Alles!

              Corporations are based on corporate limited liability. Profits without responsibility for the actions that create those profits.

              The major ideological problem with libertarians, and the Right generally, is taking status quo property relations as Holy Writ, instead of seeing the manifest injustice in many of them.

            2. They aren’t

      2. Publishers can be sued for libel and violating contracts.

        1. Internet companies can be sued for violating contracts too.

          Regarding libel– I’m not sure how that works. If you’re the New York Times and one of your employees writes a libelous story, then yes, you can be sued, but why should Youtube be sued because one of your users produces a libelous story? I’m 100% on board with immunizing Youtube for the libels of its users.

          That would be like suing the LA Times for a comment on its web page.

          1. Could a newspaper be punished for publishing a libelous paid ad? Do they have to vet every classified ad?

          2. ” but why should Youtube be sued because one of your users produces a libelous story?”

            Because Youtube published it. The user submits their video to Youtube, and Youtube *chooses* whether to publish it, unpublish it, or ban the user for WrongThink.

            1. >>>Because Youtube published it.

              isn’t the giving it to youtube the publishing? making it public?

          3. “Regarding libel– I’m not sure how that works. If you’re the New York Times and one of your employees writes a libelous story, then yes, you can be sued, but why should Youtube be sued because one of your users produces a libelous story? I’m 100% on board with immunizing Youtube for the libels of its users.”

            But if one ACTIVELY silences and deplatforms “wrong” language — and YouTube does so quite vigorously — then ANYTHING on there, by default, is approved by YouTube.

            It’s why it’d be wise to not curate AT ALL outside of things like copyright bitching (even then, I’d fight those because IP law is just asinine in this country).

            If you want to edit, and YouTube does (again, you can only show videos that mention Alex Jones if you expressly criticize him or they will yank them) — you’re not a platform.

            I always go back to my job. We don’t stop your phone call based on shit you say in the call. We do not edit it AT ALL. As hands off as an entity can conceivably be.

      3. The CDA’s Section 230 exempts internet and social media companies from the legal restraints on publishers. Those restraints include libel – but notably, they also include injunctions against copyright infringement.

        It’s no secret that the early success of social media came from pirating copyrighted material. Think: You Tube, blogging, Twitter photo grabs, etc. Zuckerberg literally stole the idea for Facebook from fellow Harvard students Divya Narendra and the Winklevoss twins.

        If Section 230’s exemptions didn’t exist, copyright holders could have sued social media companies to stop using their content – thus reducing social media’s editorial competitive advantage, and hence growth.

        Instead, social media used Section 230’s unfair advantage to basically destroy all other media. Social media’s user-generated, unbridled, copyright-infringing content may have been more compelling and sticky, which is why it attracted eyeballs. But it triumphed because it could better monetize those eyeballs, what with its broad reach, targeted placement, and quantifiable results.

        Advertising is the lifeblood of media. Social media sucking it away is what killed newspapers, magazines, TV etc.

        Maybe you could argue that old media’s days were numbered anyway in the digital age. That doesn’t mean that Facebook and Twitter were meant to dominate media in 2018. Maybe 2028, if it could have continued to lose money until then. Section 230 made social media’s growth unnatural, distorting the entire media landscape.

        And its dominance now threatens the foundation of a free society, free speech.

      4. Are we threatening to break up the new York times and cnn?

        No, but we do hold them responsible for what they publish.

        (And what would be the point of breaking them up anyway? The NYT and CNN are insignificant.)

  2. Bad News For Babykillers

    Only 42% of Americans consider abortion “morally acceptable”.

    65% think smoking marijuana is morally acceptable. Slightly more than embronic stem cell research (64%) and slightly less than gambling (68%).

    1. From the same poll, only 37% think porn is morally acceptable. So, yeah, I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions.

      1. One conclusion I might try to suggest there is that a lot of people think that there are morally unacceptable things in the world which nevertheless shouldn’t be banned or criminalized. Which seems like a good thing. Of course, that’s a lot of conjecture on my part.

        1. I would love to think so. Unfortunately when I point out that I find a thing morally reprehensible, people always seem to assume I wish it to be illegal, and/or that I would treat someone poorly if they engaged in that thing.

          1. I find gambling morally reprehensible. but the only kind I want banned is government monopoly gambling.

        2. One conclusion I might try to suggest there is that a lot of people think that there are morally unacceptable things in the world which nevertheless shouldn’t be banned or criminalized. Which seems like a good thing. Of course, that’s a lot of conjecture on my part.

          There’s also a lot of reading the tea leaves going on. The whole thing is a list of nouns and, in the abstract or strictly grammatical sense it’s not sensible; Do you find [noun] morally acceptable or morally wrong?

          For some of these nouns, the level of morality of the thing itself is or could be entirely overshadowed by the contextual implications that are imbued into the word or stripped away out of context.

          Embryonic Stem Cell Research is a massively overloaded term that spans all the way from a few cell lines and collections of cells already harvested to government sponsorship of an industry that grinds up babies to help old people fight wrinkles.

      2. Or perhaps we should be drawing conclusions and be very afraid.

      3. Yeah…
        Embryonic Stem Cells – 64% acceptable / 31% unacceptable
        Cloning Animals – 31% acceptable / 66% unacceptable

        I think the magnanimous conclusion is that those polled don’t understand cloning or embryonic stem cell research. I have trouble avoiding explicit moral judgement otherwise.

        1. Hell, has any scientific “breakthrough” provided less bang for your buck than embryonic stem cells?

          They haven’t done shit. Adult stem cells have been exceptionally useful, however.

    2. Oh yeah?

      If Americans are so morally opposed to this common medical procedure, then why do Democrats consistently win the popular vote in Presidential elections by running as the unapologetically pro-choice party?

      Face it — the Koch / Reason / ENB / Democratic Party position of legal abortion access throughout all 3 trimesters is, in fact, completely mainstream.

      1. > If Americans are so morally opposed to this common medical procedure, then why do Democrats consistently win the popular vote in Presidential elections by running as the unapologetically pro-choice party?

        Because it’s not a single issue party? Maybe because Democrats keep promising free shit and to punish rich people? And to keep the pork flowing?

      2. The ENB inclusion got a laugh out of me

        1. Clearly, OBL has a crush on ENB.

          1. I hope a certain cock ring isn’t the jealous type.

    3. At the other end of the spectrum, there are seven behaviors that fewer than four in 10 Americans deem morally acceptable, including teenage sex (38%), pornography (37%), cloning animals (31%), polygamy (18%), suicide (17%), cloning humans (12%) and extramarital affairs (9%).

      Definitely a bunch of freedom fighters right there.

      1. teenage sex (38%)
        Only morally acceptable if every teenage gets some. Remember: if every incel gets some puss, then they might not shoot up your school.
        pornography (37%)
        Only morally acceptable between beautiful people, or if it’s 2D.
        cloning animals (31%)
        Only morally acceptable if the clones have extra orifices.
        polygamy (18%)
        Only morally acceptable in alternate worlds.
        suicide (17%)
        Only morally acceptable if one publicly documents their demise. (Like that Japanese guy who blogged about creating his own hanging apparatus and then left a camera to record his parents’ reactions to his suicide. Though I think you can only hear his mother sobbing.)
        cloning humans (12%)
        Only morally acceptable if the clones are of beautiful people and have extra orifices installed. And fuck it: put some extra dongs on them.
        extramarital affairs (9%)
        Always morally acceptable as marriage is for fags.

        1. I like the way you think, Yellow Tony. Salute.

    4. I think abortion is not morally acceptable.

      That doesn’t mean I want it made illegal.

      There are lots of things that I consider immoral that shouldn’t be made illegal.

  3. The only part of what Reynolds says that I think is true and actionable is the likely collusion they’re engaged in. But breaking them up is probably exactly the wrong solution. Please for the love of Pete take a look at what Youtuber Law is doing.

    1. Yeah, collusion is a serious consideration, but why isn’t that about individual parties suing them in civil court?

      There’s an unstated principle floating in the background about how if the damage isn’t bad enough for the aggrieved parties to sue, then maybe the government shouldn’t get involved–even if what’s happening is wrong.

      We’re not talking about murder, rape, theft, or arson. If you’re a private party and they’ve colluded against you, sue the fuck out of them for it. If there isn’t an attorney anywhere who’s willing to take that case on a contingency basis, then maybe the case sucks.

  4. I think people who want to use the government to break up social media should try abolishing Facebook, etc. from their lives first by using their freedom of choice and trying out a competing platform.

    If you want to use something to interact with close friends and family, Slack does a better job of that than Facebook–without hardly any of the downsides. Meanwhile, average time spent on Facebook continues to plummet, and younger generations are increasingly avoiding the platform.

    Twitter is easy enough for individuals to ignore if they want. Twitter isn’t monopolizing anything–not even the attention of chattering class retards obsessesing over the public statements of public figures. I defy anyone in this thread to link to something interesting and intelligent written by anyone about a tweet–ever. Regardless, if Twitter were abusing their position in the market, I can’t imagine how . . .

    Twitter abusing users with their terms of service is another matter that should have nothing to do with antitrust and should have everything to do with individual parties, contract law, and civil court–rather than concern the Antitrust Division at the Department of Justice.

    UNLESS, they’re colluding with other platforms to blacklist users simultaneously.

    Google’s behavior may merit some careful consideration, but I’m not about to go charging into the arms of central planning under the banner of antitrust at this point. In which market is Google abusing their market position? What do you plan to do about that? Have you tried to use other services instead?

    Answer these questions well, or you’ll never get my support for antitrust against Google.

    1. Meanwhile, average time spent on Facebook continues to plummet, and younger generations are increasingly avoiding the platform

      It wouldn’t be government if it wasn’t a trailing indicator of public sentiment and didn’t try to spend taxpayer dollars “solving” a problem that was in the process of solving itself.

    2. “If you don’t like how you’re banned on the internet, create your own internet.”

    3. I think people who want to use the government to break up social media should try abolishing Facebook, etc. from their lives first by using their freedom of choice and trying out a competing platform.

      I agree they shouldn’t be broken up.

      But let’s not forget why we have these social media giants in the first place: government telecoms regulations and government exemptions from legal liability for content.

      The natural way for the social media market to fragment would have been through tying and bundling by ISPs, but that has been politically undesired for decades.

      1. “But let’s not forget why we have these social media giants in the first place: government telecoms regulations and government exemptions from legal liability for content.”

        And if they were held accountable, there would be no communication at all. The entire system would be brought down by lawsuits.

        1. And if they were held accountable, there would be no communication at all. The entire system would be brought down by lawsuits

          Yes, the “entire system” of FANG domination would be brought down by lawsuits, as it should be.

          What would it be replaced by? What we started out with and what the free market outcome would likely be: large numbers of small providers, web hosting companies, and infrastructure companies.

    4. You said it far better than I could. Social media purveyors may deserve scrutiny, but the marketplace is infinitely more likely to produce a better solution to this “problem” than government fiat would.

    5. UNLESS, they’re colluding with other platforms to blacklist users simultaneously.

      Alex Jones raises his hand from the back of the room.

  5. “Why Instapundit Glenn Reynolds Thinks Twitter, Facebook, and Google Should Be Busted Up”

    Ma Bell was busted up, and she didn’t listen in on our conversations and ban us for WrongThink.

  6. “Why Instapundit Glenn Reynolds Thinks Twitter, Facebook, and Google Should Be Busted Up”

    Because he’s a slaver. Tell him to fuck off.

    1. Defending regulatory capture by mega-corporations: it’s the new libertarianism!

  7. Glenn Reynolds, like anyone who calls for the breakup of social media hubs, is a hypocrite and a liar.

    He claims to be libertarian. In fact, he’s just another guy who wants to use government to control platform content he doesn’t like.

    Glenn suffers from the “Third Man” effect. “the belief that media don’t fool me, and maybe don’t fool you, but all those other people are sitting ducks for media effects. Ironically, this dynamic can encourage people to support restrictions on media consumption—by others. If someone uses, say, a social media site and feels immune to its negative influences, it triggers another psychological phenomenon called the “influence of presumed influence.” When that happens, a person worries that everyone else falls victim, and supports efforts to protect others, even if they think they themselves don’t need the protection.”

    https://fee.org/articles/is-the-third-person-effect-driving-calls-to-regulate-facebook/

  8. What would breaking up Facebook look like? What exactly is being divided?

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