Op-Ed by Atilla Sulker
Individuals from all corners of the political spectrum have been stirred up by the recent bans of various figures including Alex Jones and Louis Farrakhan. Some have praised these bans for providing good constraints on what they deem “fake news” or “hate speech.” Others have attacked these bans for being influenced by nefarious motives that are contra free speech. The debate regarding the extent to which social media sites may regulate speech has been going on for years now. Perhaps it is time for a reassessment.
The Fallacy of “Social Media Homogenization”
One of the biggest fallacies people fail to avoid in these debates is that all social media sites are homogenous goods. The successful entrepreneur understands the importance of differentiation in marketing their product, for it is differentiation that allows the entrepreneur to narrow down his market and attract consumers.
Just as in any other market, the social media titans, Facebook and Twitter, have developed very differently from each other, and each has its own distinctive features. Facebook has developed best for allowing like-minded people to connect with each other, while Twitter has become a bully pulpit for various figures in the political and pop culture world.
It would thus be wrong to compare all social media sites as if they were the same. The various consumer ends each social media site serves to satisfy determines its overall development. Many different factors will influence these ends. Among one of these factors is the extent to which speech is regulated.
If a given social media site aims to assist individuals and firms in networking with each other, they will likely not have any role in the market of sharing controversial opinions. Conversely, the social media platform that aims at giving a voice to those on the fringes of society will likely have no interest in entering the market of business networking. If we step back and look at the bigger picture, it is a fallacy to paint all social media sites with a broad brush stroke. Each one of them serves a unique purpose, and this purpose has a huge impact on how the site will develop in the longer run.
So perhaps the solution does not lie in calling for state interventions and boldly proclaiming that social media sites are ruthless monopolies trampling on free speech.