Dysfunctional Bedfellows: Free Speech, Capitalism and Social Media

Enjoy Capitalism

Libertarians and conservatives alike either are intimately aware of problems with speaking out on social media, or they are residing under virtual rocks. In spite of the proliferation of liberty-minded individuals on networks like Twitter and Facebook, those platforms are anything but welcoming to freedom-oriented content.

On Twitter, there is the hated “gulag” that silences conservatives by exploiting an auto-account suspension rubric, or at least that is the explanation offered by the company. As for Facebook, it’s often turned into page suspensions and deletions for gun dealers, and conservative or libertarian commentators.

Now, Facebook has ended up in the headlines over problems with questionable content. They are now going to take a much more proactive stance when it comes to hate speech on their network. Of course this was at the behest of at least one feminist organization. That is not to say that this wasn’t necessary. Of course, there should be serious action taken to prevent content that promotes violence against anyone. However, this is definitely political pandering, and arguably for the benefit of the least profitable portion of Facebook’s “clientele.”

The social media giants — Facebook and Twitter — both are what community management professionals refer to as “organically grown” communities. That sounds wholesome, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the term really doesn’t refer to anything remotely close to good or wholesome — it refers to something that grew out of the control of the originators. No wonder the executives don’t like to openly admit what that term really means, because it really should have a chilling effect on potential investors. If everyone remembers, that’s pretty much what happened shortly after Facebook made it’s big splash on the stock market. That’s one obvious reason why social media as we know it at Facebook and Twitter isn’t really compatible with capitalism. But, back to that little free speech problem they both seem to have, there’s another issue.

Theoretically, one would think that it would be a good idea to cater to the needs of actual businesses, as opposed to non-profit special interest groups, at least if one is running on the assumption that a company wants to make money. In this game, it’s called “monetizing an internet property”. For those of you that need the real English translation of the phrase, that means coming up with a way to make something you created online turn a profit, in spite of the fact that it was never designed to make a dime in the first place. In Facebook’s case, that’s involved really annoying advertising, and design changes on the pages — not to mention the really pushy requests to users about promoting their posts, for a price. Twitter has been toying with things like promoted posts and trends, with little success.

What they both have in common is a failure to recognize the demographics of their respective clientele, because they both tend to alienate business owners and individuals with disposable income — you know, conservatives and libertarians. Of course, they don’t even recognize that they have clientele in the first place, because they refer to them as users — yet another hint that they’re not really compatible with that whole concept of capitalism. That’s not to say there are no liberals with businesses, or disposable income. It is to say that playing politics is no way to do business, because it tends to exclude too many potential sources of sales or income.

Non-scientific as it may be, there is a fairly simple way to determine who is doing the most on Twitter at any given moment. Just taking a look at the global trends, without specifying a geographical region, says what topics are on top. It’s fairly rare when there isn’t at least one trending topic that is dominated by conservative and libertarian clientele. So, the most active and possibly most numerous are regularly subjected to attack, and aren’t really protected by Twitter. Obviously, that isn’t really a great business plan. That’s like opening a convenience store in a community for seniors, importing a teen street gang, and having the juvenile delinquents act menacingly toward seniors attempting to buy a carton of milk.

In the case of Facebook, you can apply about the same analogy — just make sure your store manager treats the juveniles really well, and joins in the games of intimidation against the seniors that would be your paying customers. Even the not-so-business-savvy computer geeks that created these two networks are smart enough to get how colossally stupid that is, by the way.

So, where does that leave libertarians and conservatives? Well, we can take the same tactics that have been successful for the liberals, and whine about our issues. Sure, it might work, but no one with a backbone likes to grovel to the opposition.

That leaves one of our favorite choices — capitalism. One approach is to point out potential ways to monetize the networks to the current management, and instead of groveling, try to negotiate ways to avoid these issues. Maybe Twitter would be open to selling “verified” status that would override the current situation that causes account suspensions on demand by liberals. Facebook might be willing to adopt a simple policy that if you’re buying advertising at a certain level, your account can’t be arbitrarily shut down. The other? There’s always something new on the horizon. There have been attempts to emulate at least Facebook by conservative minded people, but they haven’t caught on as well.

It’s time to start thinking about what could be the next big thing when it comes to social networking — and start watching for it, because it will come. In the meantime, unfortunately the only option is to keep plugging, and refuse to be silenced by liberal-controlled media of any kind. Also might not hurt to call your friendly investment counselor or mutual fund manager, and insist that your money not go to media entities that you disagree with politically.


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