An ‘uncontrolled’ internet is freedom, not dictatorship – Whittier Daily News

SACRAMENTO – Given the cacophony of opinions on the Web, it’s hard to break through the din and get everyone chattering about some post. But former Clinton administration Labor secretary and current UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich managed to break the internet last week with a column in the Guardian that’s so asinine only an academic could have penned it.

A leftist, Reich took aim at the richest man in the world, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, after he bought $2.64 billion in Twitter stock and (at least initially) announced his plan to join its Board of Directors. Musk has long criticized the social-media giant’s approach to content moderation.

Here’s the paragraph that sent the online world atwitter: “Musk has long advocated a libertarian vision of an ‘uncontrolled’ internet. That’s also the dream of every dictator, strongman and demagogue.” Read that again slowly, and try not to laugh too hard at its preposterous thesis.

Apparently, men who crush dissent within their borders – think Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin – aren’t having nightmares about coup attempts or dreaming up plots to poison their opponents. Instead, they envision a world of libertarianism, which postulates that every person can live as they choose and say what they think free from government control. Call me skeptical.

Reich’s column is an incoherent mish-mash. He doesn’t like rich people, really doesn’t like Musk and argues that when individuals make their own private decisions on private media platforms it might amount to dictatorship. Of course, the alternative is having government know-it-alls decide the appropriate parameters of speech, which is what actual despots do.

Noting there is no such thing as an “uncontrolled” internet and “never will be,” Reich then offers a non sequitur: “Someone has to decide on the algorithms in every platform – how they’re designed, how they evolve, what they reveal and what they hide. Musk has enough power and money to quietly give himself this sort of control over Twitter.”

Well, yes. Someone has to decide everything. The ultimate question – and the one that led to the founding of our still relatively free society – is who makes such decisions. Someone decided to publish Reich’s column, even though it’s riddled with logical fallacies. Nevertheless, the Guardian is a private publisher and ought not to submit its decisions to anyone outside of its board of directors.

Likewise, tech platforms are private companies that set their own moderation policies. We might not like their choices, nor their CEOs. So what? When Reich complains that Musk will make Twitter “less accountable than it is now,” what type of accountability is he proposing? He doesn’t say, but there aren’t many choices outside of “the owners of the companies” or “the government.”

Reich fears that social-media networks are “poisoning our minds with pseudo-science and propaganda,” but again who decides whether, say, an article about mask mandates is pseudo-science or real science? In a free-ish society – let alone a libertarian one – people may say what they want (with a few obvious caveats) and it all comes out in the wash.

Let’s look at the alternative scenario that some progressives are envisioning. California state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, authored Senate Bill 1390, which would “prohibit a social media platform … from amplifying harmful content in a manner that results in a user viewing harmful content from another user with whom the user did not choose to share a connection.” He defines harmful content in part as “disinformation or misinformation.”

Democrats in the U.S. Senate also proposed a bill to strip liability protections from social-media companies that spread health “misinformation” during a pandemic. The state bill would make California’s attorney general the decider of legitimate discourse and the federal bill would vest that power with the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services. What could go wrong?

Many conservatives sound a lot like Reich these days, with their endless bleating about the mean tech companies and their “censorship.” Republicans in red states and Congress have proposed putting the government in charge of social-media decision-making – ranging from turning big tech firms into public utilities to mandating what they must publish.

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