‘Republican’ Trump brings in Big Government for war on Big Tech

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The Editorial Page, USA TODAY
Published 3:13 p.m. ET Sept. 11, 2018 | Updated 3:35 p.m. ET Sept. 11, 2018

Social media companies are money-grubbing capitalists out to protect their brand. The real Republican Party would have seen the value in that: Our view

President Donald Trump has turned Republicanism on its head. A party that once stood for free trade has a president who loves tariffs. A party that championed free enterprise has a president out to punish companies he doesn’t like. A party that stood for the rule of law has a president who attacks his own Justice Department.

And now this. A party that has long preached limited government, free expression and deregulation now has an administration pondering a politically motivated investigation of social media intended to justify a new wave of regulations.

Without question, social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as well as Google, the web’s dominant search engine, have amassed great power in recent years and have had an almost unimaginable impact on politics and culture.

Facebook, a company founded in a dorm room 14 years ago, has recently been hiring linguists, programmers and artificial intelligence experts all around the world to keep its platform from becoming a medium of violence and spreader of lies.

OPPOSING VIEW: President Trump is right

Facebook is being used as a propaganda vehicle for both sides in a Libyan civil war and has been accused of aiding the cause of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, formerly Burma. Closer to home, it was used by the Russian government to spread misinformation leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

Twitter has long been the social media weapon of choice for conspiracy theorists and provocateurs such as Alex Jones. Jones is peddler of lies, most notably that the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 was a hoax. He also likes to wrap himself in constitutionalism, arguing that his First Amendment right to peddle sickening fantasies requires tech companies to provide an audience.

One by one, social media companies have come to the conclusion that they have no obligation to amplify his voice and that, as a matter of pure self-interest, they should not. On Thursday, Twitter became the last major company to ban or greatly limit him from its platform.

Enter Big Government: GOP edition.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that he would convene a meeting with states to discuss ways that social media companies stifle free expression. This comes after some Republican members of Congress and the president complained that tech companies were stifling conservative voices.

We can think of nothing more repulsive to the values of the Constitution, or antithetical to Republican beliefs, than a government inquiry into the role of media in disseminating speech.

Do social media companies stifle some legitimate speech? Almost certainly they do. But if people have a beef with that, they should take it up with the various companies, not run to the government.

What they will find is that such tech companies restrict speech in a limited number of instances to protect the quality of their product, and thus to make more money. They don’t want to be a garbage bucket of falsehoods or megaphone of hate speech because that would drive away their customers.

Social media companies are money-grubbing capitalists out to make a buck. Surely, the Republican Party can see the value in that, even in the age of Trump.

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