2:15 pm - 3:45 pm
Social Media Regulation in the Public Interest: Some Lessons from History
Paul Matzko and John Samples
Samples and Matzko take a skeptical view of new proposals to regulate social media, arguing that previous attempts to regulate media in the public interest actually led to regulatory capture, censorship, and the suppression of political dissent. They examine three episodes of media regulation prior to 1980: The regulation of radio in the 1930s and 1940s, the history of the Fairness Doctrine and independent radio in the 1960s, and President Nixon’s intimidation campaign against the television networks in the 1970s. They conclude that government officials see media regulation as a way to control new communications technologies that may either threaten or advance their political standing. They argue that the outcomes of these episodes should inform current concerns, including questions about the role of courts in protecting free speech and how to properly apply the First Amendment to new media forms.
The National Security Case for Breaking Up Big Tech
Sitaraman takes on the claim that breaking up Big Tech would threaten U.S. national security and argues that, in fact, doing so would strengthen national security. He shows that tech companies are not competing with China so much as integrating with China. This integration supports the rise and export of digital authoritarianism around the world; deepens economic dependence that can be used as leverage against the U.S. in future geopolitical moments; forces companies to self-censor and contort their preferences to serve Chinese officials; and means that profit-seeking corporations and their lobbyists cannot be trusted to advocate for the interests of the U.S. in Washington. Sitaraman also argues that concentration in the tech sector weakens the defense industrial base by making the government dependent on a small number of contractors and redirecting taxpayer dollars from research to monopoly profits. He concludes that the best route to broad and transformative innovation is competition coupled with public spending on R&D, not concentration into monopolies.
From Private Bads to Public Goods: Adapting Public Utility Regulation for Informational Infrastructure
K. Sabeel Rahman and Zephyr Teachout
Rahman and Teachout argue that for concerns about speech and discourse online, antitrust measures—the breaking up of large platforms and the imposition of structural limits on their business models—will help significantly, but cannot by themselves address concerns about how the speech platforms operate. They explore how public utility concepts like common carriage, nondiscrimination, and democratic participation in governance can be adapted to a modern regulatory context around digital platforms, focusing in particular on the need to shift the ad-based business model of information platforms. This focus on the underlying business model and corporate structure is appealing because it avoids some of the more fraught questions of content moderation and free speech within the platforms. Furthermore, this public utility approach, they argue, is also critical to restore democratic governance and control over our increasingly privatized public and informational infrastructure.