The internet is the last great, low-regulation, Made-in-the-USA industry out there. It represents 3 million American jobs and more than 6 percent of our economy. The internet even reduces our trade deficit – internet companies added to a $196 billion digital trade surplus last year.
Yet conservatives have decided that this last bastion of American free enterprise is biased against them. As a conservative, and someone who’s spent more than a decade in Republican politics, I’m here to tell you that this not the case. I believe the opposite is true. And if the GOP decides in frustration to go down the path of regulating internet companies, we’ll create the kind of far-reaching unintended consequences for our economy and our online future that we’ve fought against for decades.
To start, I’ll offer my own career as one small piece of evidence. After a dozen years working for Republicans on Capitol Hill and campaigning to get conservatives elected to office, I was recruited to found the Internet Association and serve as its president and CEO. We represent more than 45 of the websites and apps you use every day: Microsoft and Amazon; Facebook and Google; Spotify and Twitter, to name a few. But rather than being shunned for my political background, I have felt respected and valued for my perspective.
I can also categorically say that all the companies I represent—including those with left-leaning leaders—understand that their success depends on attracting a broad user base regardless of party affiliation or political perspectives. It’s the best way for them to be inclusive, attract more users and make more money. This is core to the principles of free enterprise we should all encourage.
Elevating unique and different points of view is the foundation of the entire social media business model. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said his company’s goal “is to be a platform for all ideas.” Google, too, has stated that “our products are built for everyone, and we design them with extraordinary care to be a trustworthy source of information for everyone, without regard to political viewpoint.”
Placing new restrictions on these platforms won’t do Republicans any favors, and could potentially spark a worse, more stringent version of the Fairness Doctrine. It’s easy to forget how unfair the Fairness Doctrine was to conservatives. This antiquated policy dictated how much time certain points of view could have on TV and radio. Since its repeal we’ve seen a proliferation of conservative voices in the mainstream media, on top of the growth of bona fide conservative outlets online and on the radio.
Creating laws that dictate “fairness” has not, historically, worked well for conservatives. And that’s putting aside the notion that regulating private speech is antithetical to conservative values. The right’s effective use of online platforms to reach voters and spread messages is perhaps the most compelling proof that the digital playing field is level.
Many have credited Donald Trump’s prolific use of social media with propelling his rise to the presidency. Despite calls from the left to suspend or restrict his access, Twitter has defended the president’s right to use the platform. Many of the most well-known conservative voices of the day have reached their broadest audience through the internet rather than traditional media outlets.
Creating burdensome speech regulations for platforms is a steep, slippery slope. It would not be unreasonable for us to soon be in a world where unelected government bureaucrats have control over the content we see and the ways we can express ourselves online. Worse, it could threaten American leadership in the tech economy, which would undermine our ability to compete with China and other tech-savvy nations.
We should instead recognize that U.S. internet companies provide an American economic and national security advantage. Of all of the innovations our country has given the world, our internet sector is perhaps the most reflective of who we are as a people. It was born out of a combination of two forces deeply embedded in our nation’s values: free enterprise and free speech.
America’s unique brand of free enterprise enabled the best online innovations and ideas to compete, thrive, and grow, regardless of whether they originated in a dorm room or a board room. Our love of free speech was central to the rise of these companies that enabled all Americans to amplify their voices and share their ideas.
It’s in the interests of every American to preserve the central role these freedoms play for internet companies. Conservatives can defend free enterprise on the internet by resisting unnecessary government regulation of these platforms and they can defend free speech by continuing to proudly express their beliefs and share their ideas on whatever online platforms they choose.