It just occurred to me the other day that in 2019 the average American conservative believes that a cake is a work of art, and thus protected under the First Amendment, while billions of words are not.
What else are we supposed to take away from the argument made in the recent Masterpiece Cakeshop case? Even George Will thinks frosting is on a continuum with Caravaggio. This is, on its own terms, absurd. But what I cannot understand is how we are supposed to square it with the constant accusations of anti-conservative bias directed at, for example, Facebook. Surely as a private entity they should be able to decide what views users are allowed to publish on the digital platform that they have created by the sweat of their own brows. Why should these heroic entrepreneurs striving titanically against the forces of collectivism have to justify any part of their enterprise to the suits in Washington?
Who knows. But for some reason they must because this alleged bias constitutes a threat to "freedom of speech." The most ardent defenders of the ability of corporations to do whatever they want revive Soviet names for the hip tech company that let people's grandmas spend hundreds of hours pretending to be Ray Liotta. They use words like "censorship" with a straight face to refer to what their economic philosophy tells them is the equivalent of this magazine insisting that I do not distribute al Qaeda literature via my company email. Even the folks at Reason are upset that Facebook doesn't allow users to share pornography or solicit sex. (It's almost like these are the sort of issues that matter to libertarians most.)
In response to years of conservative moaning, Facebook recently allowed Jon Kyl, a former Republican senator from Arizona, to oversee an investigation. According to the text of Kyl's report, hundreds of people were interviewed (though not a single one is quoted). The document is, not to put too fine a point on it, worthless. It never even attempts to assess the veracity of the accusations with which it begins, which range from concerns about advertisement discrimination to questions about the "diversity" of the company's board members. Instead it is full of sentences like these:
Facebook strives to "give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together." Consistent with that mission, over 2 billion people use Facebook's products and services to share ideas and news, organize events, and promote candidates for federal, state, and local office. However, Facebook's ability to personalize the content that its users see and interact with each day—along with Facebook's ever-growing size and reach—has generated concerns about the platform's impacts on free expression. Although these concerns appear across the political and ideological spectrum, members of the conservative community in particular are concerned that the Silicon Valley-based company's admittedly liberal culture negatively influences the reach of conservative ideas and news.
Knock me over with a feather. One could just as easily argue that while NASCAR strives to "give people the most badass racing experience on the planet," the "Daytona Beach-based company's admittedly right-wing culture negatively influences the reach of DSA Furry Caucus ideas and news." It's not false. But so what?
The report doesn't change anything. It's not meant to. It is in the best interest of both parties to give the impression that something is being done when, in fact, nothing is. Facebook does want to subject itself to further scrutiny, and conservative Republicans do not, with a few honorable exceptions, want to do the scrutinizing.
Why not? Because anything other than vague reassurances about "areas where [Facebook] could make progress or commit to changes" would involve facing some hard truths. It would mean admitting that the world is made up not of millions of undifferentiated economic units that somehow yield GDP statistics, but of people, who have a common good. It would mean the acknowledgement that there is no hard-and-fast distinction between the so-called public and private sectors and the end of clichés about "crony capitalism," which is just capitalism simpliciter. It would mean accepting that there are such things as monopolies and that some of them deserve either to be broken up or controlled collectively by the state.
Perhaps most relevant, it would mean moving beyond the Des Moines Chamber of Commerce's lost ad revenue or the untold harm visited upon those of us who can no longer watch Louis Farrakhan videos to something more fundamental. It would mean questioning the power of a single company to redefine the very nature of human communication. It would mean asking whether the internet as we know it is such an unambiguously good thing after all. What if something that was supposed to bring liberation and enlightenment has made us all radically less free?
This is a question that conservatives cannot and will not answer.