The country is currently in the throes of a moral panic over social media, says Reason Senior Editor Robby Soave in his new book, Tech Panic: Why We Shouldn't Fear Facebook and the Future. Instagram is accused of making our daughters bulimic and YouTube is turning our sons into alt-right terrorists. Amazon is forcing us to buy stuff we don't want while Twitter degrades political discourse into an endless series of trolling memes. Conservatives clamor that they are being systematically discriminated against while liberals say social media perpetuates electoral fraud and COVID-19 misinformation. The result of such fearmongering, he tells Nick Gillespie, is increasingly intrusive and bipartisan attempts to regulate online speech and business models.
Conservatives like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R–Fla.) and Gov. Greg Abbott (R–Texas) have signed controversial legislation banning social media platforms from suspending or moderating the accounts of political candidates. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas has suggested private businesses like Twitter and YouTube should be classified as common carriers, subject to strict regulation by the federal government.
Liberal legislators in Colorado have proposed creating a "digital communications commission" that would have the power to change how platforms do business in the name of fighting "hate speech" and "misinformation." Lawmakers in at least 38 states have introduced over 100 laws in the past couple of years to regulate online speech and related issues.
In Tech Panic, Soave says such attacks are nothing more than modern-day witch hunts whose main accusations fall apart under even mild scrutiny. They are contemporary versions of past freakouts over video games, rock music, and comic books. "We shouldn't fear Facebook and the future," writes Soave, who criticizes social media for deplatforming people rather than supporting free speech. The bigger threat, he says, comes not from private companies but from politicians, woke mobs, social conservatives, and activists whose real goal is to limit speech they don't like.
Interview by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Ian Keyser. Intro by Regan Taylor. Graphics by Lex Villena, Isaac Reese and Regan Taylor.
Music Credit: "Battle Drums," by Kyle Preston via Artlist
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