We Don’t Need the Government to Act on Big Tech

Members of both political parties have been the subject of scandal and accusations for decades. Understandably, this has led to a fracturing of trust between politicians and their constituents. In our organization’s new poll, 51% of Americans reported that they don’t trust the federal government. Yet, for some time now, there has been wide-ranging support for these same officials to intervene in matters of truth online and in the media.

These beliefs are not compatible.

When asked if social media companies should be held accountable for false or inaccurate content hosted on their platforms, 63% of Americans agree. Further, a staggering 76% of Americans support imposing fines on news and media outlets for reporting biased or inaccurate information.

Americans are rightfully upset with some of the moderation decisions made by social and traditional media, and they want something done. But we shouldn’t be calling on the same policymakers we don’t trust to step in and play referee.

Consider a few things that would have looked entirely different over the last few years with the federal government regulating what is and isn’t truthful. The origins of COVID, the 2016 and 2020 elections, Hunter Biden, George Floyd, Kyle Rittenhouse, and so many more.

No one wants to live in a world where the whims of political power determine what is and isn’t the truth.

The solution is simple: Use markets — not politicians we don’t trust — to change how these companies conduct themselves.

Our time, money, and most importantly, our attention is valuable. If we want to see these companies change, we should start choosing alternatives to posting on social media or doom-scrolling Drudge Report.

Our attention does more to power these platforms than anything the federal government can do. Social and traditional media companies rely on ad revenue to generate profits. Those profits are dependent on how many people find the platforms or services useful. They are incentivized to practice moderation for their customers — if only to maintain their partnerships with advertisers. Platform competition requires that they constantly improve their services to attract users away from their competitors.

This is why proposed policies for both social and traditional media would have a chilling effect on new competitors in the market.

Bipartisan legislation before Congress, like The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), threatens to entrench the most prominent media and content players while driving out the up-and-coming competitors. Meta is transparently advocating for updated internet regulations because they know they can handle complicated legal rules.

Traditional news outlets are also facing stiff market competition and trust issues among their audiences. According to our recent polling, only 38% of Americans believe most news coverage is good for society. In an effort to sidestep pressures to innovate, media outlets are appealing to the Federal Government. They are asking for collective bargaining options to force social media platforms to pay for hosting news. Last year, Australia passed laws that go further and require payment and it appears the small publishers have been crowded out by the more prominent outlets.

We should encourage our policymakers to step away from such ideas and allow individuals to choose. Attention is currency to social and traditional media companies. The best way to hold them accountable is with our attention (or lack of attention) — not by giving more power to a government we don’t trust.

CGO scholars and fellows frequently comment on a variety of topics for the popular press. The views expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Growth and Opportunity or the views of Utah State University.