Social Media Profits Off Conservatives
What would happen if all the conservatives in America decided to just log off?
Not too long ago, at a (nonpolitical) social gathering, I exchanged words with a recent college graduate who works for one of the major social media companies, and who, matter-of-factly and without the slightest hint of guilt or self-consciousness, explained that their job consists of figuring out ways to get people to waste more time on the app.
This is why the revelations made by the so-called Facebook whistleblower, much ballyhooed by the media, should not come as a surprise to anyone. It has been an open secret for years that social media apps are deliberately designed to be addictive. Frances Haugen has brought nothing new to the table, except to suggest that Facebook has not done nearly enough to silence conservative voices.
All of this does, however, make me wonder whether social media companies are not actually doing a secret favor to the conservatives whom they ban, by depriving them of what essentially amounts to a slot machine addiction—except with the added perk that the offhand sarcastic comment you make on social media will be fodder for your cancellation a few years from now.
Indeed, my own experience in giving up Facebook has mirrored that of others: After a brief adjustment, I didn’t miss it nearly as much as I thought I would. It is astonishing just how truly wasteful of time these apps are, how little meaningful social interaction occurs on them that cannot be replaced by texting (or phone calls or in-person interaction).
However, Haugen is right on one point: Social media censorship does not, from the leftist perspective, go far enough.
Now, lest anyone misconstrue my argument: There is a clear and undeniable double standard in how conservatives are treated on Twitter, Facebook, and other such platforms. And yet, the fact remains that these companies have not been as hard on conservatives as they have the potential to be. It is well within their power to ban all right-leaning accounts entirely from their platforms, but they have not done so.
Dissenting voices on social media are allowed to exist as a beleaguered underclass, regularly slapped with shadowbans and “Visit the Covid-19 resource center for more information” tags of shame, augmented by the occasional outright ban. However, there has never been a full purge, even after the banning of President Donald Trump earlier this year proved that they could do it to anyone. Many Twitter accounts that buck the left-wing orthodoxy on everything from gender to January 6 to the pandemic remain up. I follow many of them.
The big social media companies are operating from competing imperatives. They are staffed with employees who are firm adherents of woke-ism, and yet they are ultimately for-profit corporations. It serves their financial interest to have people constantly riled up about politics, and this is something that cannot easily be done when there are no opposing views popping up on your feed for you to become enraged by.
If the social media companies became left-wing echo chambers, there would still be plenty of righteous outrage to go around, but it would not be nearly as engaging as the regular squaring-off between left-wing and right-wing Twitter (or Facebook). Besides, the companies would be seriously limiting their consumer base. Seventy-four million Americans voted for Trump, after all, and tens if not hundreds of millions more disagree with some aspect or other of the woke orthodoxy.
We have heard much talk of late about just how much conservatives need social media, how Facebook and Twitter are the modern “public square,” and how denying right-wingers access to these platforms is a new breed of corporate tyranny. It would also behoove us to recognize just how much social media needs conservatives, which is why they have not taken the ultimate plunge that Haugen and others would no doubt like them to take.
In fact, the narrative about social media censorship also serves the interests of these companies. By coming to see one’s presence on the apps as a privilege to be fought for tooth and nail, conservatives miss the question of whether these companies deserve their patronage in the first place. Looked at from a certain angle, we are rather pathetic in our willingness to beg for a place at the back of the bus.
Of course, I would never be so conspiratorial as to suggest that the social media giants would subtly promote the censorship narrative, so as to provoke right-wingers into trying to stay on the apps at all costs.
I do, however, know that it would be a catastrophic day for those companies if all conservatives in America—and the world—chose to close their accounts. It would even be a pretty bad day for them if all conservatives resolved to cut their time spent on social media by 10 percent or 20 percent. Such an act would be a mighty shrug of Atlas, and teach the snobs of Silicon Valley just how much they need the voices they so malign.
In a free market, the choice of which products to consume includes the choice to consume no product at all, if one deems this to be the most beneficial course of action. Should conservatives take a step that would improve their personal lives, strike a blow against the People’s Republic of China by decreasing social fragmentation in America, and make Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey cry? I will leave that for the reader to decide.
Jason Garshfield is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Townhall, RealClearPolitics, and numerous other publications.