Conservative Social Media Platforms Can’t Succeed Without Content Moderation

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The latest social media platform from the Trump team, Gettr, went from an intended safe space for conservative beliefs to a hellscape of imposter accounts, offensive memes and pornography within hours of its launch. This illustrates what nascent, conservative-friendly platforms have done wrong: in claiming to be bastions of unfettered free speech, they are fighting current market leaders with one arm tied behind their backs.

If the voices on the right complaining about the leftist bias of “Big Tech” are serious about competing with the largest social media platforms, they should consider using the same tools that made Facebook and Twitter multi-billion-dollar behemoths. They too must embrace content moderation.

Moderating one’s own platform for content is consistent with long-held conservative and libertarian respect for private property rights and is no betrayal of free speech. The First Amendment guards against government suppression of speech; it doesn’t empower citizens to hold a political rally without permission in their neighbor’s yard. Yet, attempts to conflate private social media platforms with free speech rights abound in provocative lawsuits, state legislation and academic legal theories.

But rather than endure harms inflicted by blurring the lines between private property and the public square with regulations, why not find a successful market solution under current rules?

Conservative alternative social networking company Parler was infamously booted off Amazon’s cloud hosting service (AWS) earlier this year; but even before that, it wasn’t going all that well. Parler touted itself as “the world’s town square” and chose elaborate verification systems, perhaps in an effort to avoid content moderation its target audience might (in theory) balk at. That approach took a toll on functionality and the user experience. In November of 2020, Parler boasted only 11 million accounts compared to Twitter’s 330 million. And, in the end, Parler’s lack of sufficient content moderation was what AWS pointed to in justifying termination of Parler’s account. In hindsight, Parler should have moderated but on its own conservative-friendly terms.

Similarly, Gettr CEO and former Trump campaign staffer Jason Miller says that the one thing the platform prides itself on is free speech. That’s great marketing until Sonic the Hedgehog porn posts show up on the platform. It’s likely that Mr. Miller quickly remembered the value of private property rights and discovered the merits of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the liability shield that protects platforms from costly litigation even if they remove third party content from their site.

Conservatives don’t want a wild west of free speech on their social media platform. They likely want content moderation that removes violence, spam, fake accounts and pornography but leaves up content about school choice, the sanctity of life, Christianity, U.S. oil and gas production, political skepticism, and unflattering news stories about Democrats.

Parler and Gettr have a First Amendment right, facilitated by Section 230, to do just that right now, no litigation or changes to laws necessary.

It is as naïve to believe that content moderation is unneeded as it is to believe that it can be done without any bias. Content moderation is inherently subjective. One man’s offensive speech is another man’s satire. One person’s pornography is another’s art, and one person’s violent, dangerous imagery is another’s uncomfortable, important truth.  And while all of that is protected speech under the First Amendment, it’s probably not what everyone wants to see when they go online.

Read the full article at the Orange County Register.