More On: Big Tech
Because of the partisan leftism of most of the tech industry, conservatives have called for government action in the digital realm. Elon Musk's recent purchase of Twitter demonstrates that this is incorrect.
For Austrian economics, Big Tech—particularly social media sites like Twitter—has always been a complex issue. Obviously, the de facto position would be that there should be no government engagement at all. However, this becomes more problematic when one realizes the widespread censorship and deplatforming that is taking place right in front of one's eyes. This is an evident issue, especially when we consider that those who advocate for a departure from the status quo—as Austrians do—are frequently attacked.
Furthermore, as time passed without a market solution, it became increasingly difficult to provide an Austrian response to this situation. Twitter was founded on public funds and has erected numerous barriers to entrance. As a result, it appeared that no market alternative could succeed without equal state aid or some form of state control over the existing behemoths.
Last summer, at Mises University, the year's most important event, Peter Klein gave a discussion on this topic, using a strictly market approach:
"They're closed platforms. The best we can do is avoid them or use platforms with different policies. "Sure, okay, yeah," they say, "but they're so strongly linked to the state that they have to be connected to the state." I mean, if you want to treat a legally private firm as if it were a government agency, I'd pick Goldman Sachs, Lockheed Martin, or Boeing over Facebook or Twitter."
Klein had anticipated every possible criticism from the opposing side. The rest of his speech focused on the industry's high entrance hurdles and the company's public funded roots. He spoke on the company's data sharing as well as speech censorship and deplatforming. He talked about Section 230 and other benefits the company had. In terms of diagnosis, anyone advocating against Big Tech would agree with Klein completely.
However, when it came to prescriptions, he stated that he did not believe anything was required. This argument didn't seem to address any of the issues raised by the anti–Big Tech movement, but it was much more appealing when he made it again months later in his talk "How to Think about Big Tech" at the Mises Institute's 2021 Supporters Summit.
What Must Be Done by Hans-Hermann Hoppe was the focus of the 2021 Supporters Summit lectures. As a result, secession, at least mild secession, became a major subject. Klein said that, in the same way that California doesn't need a role in Alabama politics—and vice versa—we don't need access to everyone's information, and that simply not having it is a solution.
However, insisting on the following seems to be a lukewarm approach at best:
"These are privately owned businesses. They're protected by law. They are owned by individuals. Do they follow the orders of the government on occasion? Sure. Many businesses follow suit. But, like other private enterprises, they are formally owned and substantively controlled by their shareholders, and we should rely on fierce market competition to discipline their behavior if we are dissatisfied with how they engage in the public domain."
However, the claim that Klein's argument was insufficient was recently debunked. When Elon Musk bought Twitter, Klein's arguments were fully supported. In any case, this purchase would be meaningless. It could simply be a management change that does little to address the fundamental issues. However, Musk has declared unequivocally that the rationale behind this purchase was to defend free expression and end recent repression and deplatforming, even going so far as to claim:
"Free speech is the foundation of any working democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where important issues affecting humanity's future are discussed. I also want to make Twitter better than ever before by adding new features, opening up the algorithms to improve trust, combating spam bots, and authenticating all humans. I'm excited to work with Twitter and the community of users to help them realize their full potential."
Musk polled his followers before taking this measure to discover what the market actually demanded: "Free expression is important to a functioning democracy." Do you think Twitter follows this rule to the letter?" "The repercussions of this poll will be important," he added, which was cryptic at the time. Please vote with care." Musk recognized a market need, conducted research, and presented a clear market answer.
This is not a call for people to do nothing if they face similar challenges in the future. Years of whining, years of people quitting Twitter, years of outspoken cries for a solution were required to bring the market demand to the point where a solution comparable to Twitter's power could emerge. It's now nearly hard to dismiss Klein's arguments. While we are impatient people who seek immediate gratification, the instance of Twitter demonstrates that the market, in the end, solves even the most complex problems, often in unexpected ways.