Charlie Kirk: Conservatives must fight for their voice

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 14, 2019

By Charlie Kirk

Special to The Washington Post

By now, most conservatives are convinced that our voices are being shadow-banned, throttled, muted and outright censored online. In fact, amid protestations by groups including the Internet Association, which claims Facebook, Google and Twitter are bias-free, it’s an open fact that Big Tech is run predominantly by those on the ideological left. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey even admitted this before Congress, and footage of Google’s leadership consoling one another after President Trump’s victory in 2016 indicates the same is true for them.

Many on the right have complained loudly and often of anti-conservative bias online. Unfortunately, all too often this is where our efforts stop. Once we’re ignored or dismissed long enough, conservatives seem to just shrug our collective shoulders and accept defeat. It’s this type of passivity that has allowed progressives to dominate film and television, universities and large swaths of the mainstream news media.

How did they accomplish that? By fighting tooth and nail for what they believe in every vertical.

I founded Turning Point USA to take the fight for ideological diversity directly to a progressive stronghold: the nation’s leading colleges and universities. Now, with Trump’s social media summit on Thursday, we have an opportunity to challenge another progressive hegemony, this time in Big Tech. If we don’t yet know the exact solution to the problem, Thursday’s summit is an important step in fighting to ensure social media platforms remain forums where all ideologies have a voice.

However, fighting back against private companies with government action is a politically and ideologically fraught idea for those of us on the right. Why? Because the last thing we want is more government regulation against private businesses. Regulation often helps Big Industry remain entrenched in power. The burdensome costs of complying with any new regulation would be a rounding error for the likes of Facebook and Google, but it might completely destroy a promising start-up poised to challenge their dominance.

Conservatives by and large believe in the corrective power of the free market above all. If we don’t like how private companies are doing business, we should just start our own to compete, right?

There is one glaring problem with this: The free market must be functioning freely for this to be true. There is now ample reason to believe the market’s normal corrective powers are being blocked by anti-competitive forces.

Many reputable economists and business executives have already made compelling arguments that these companies should be considered monopolies and are unfairly stifling competition. Jeremy Stoppelman, the co-founder of Yelp, concluded start-ups similar to his firm would no longer be successful today since “that opportunity has been closed off by Google and their approach.” Consider that Google alone controls more than 90 percent of all online searches, and its monopolistic power comes into frightening focus. The European Union even levied a $2.7 billion fine against Google, claiming the company manipulated search results to suppress competitors.

The second obstacle to the free market is Big Tech’s exploitation of preexisting laws, namely Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that was passed by Congress in the ’90s. Social media companies have leveraged Section 230 to great effect, and astounding profits, by claiming they are platforms — not publishers — thereby avoiding under the law billions of dollars in potential copyright infringement and libel lawsuits. YouTube, for example, advertises itself as an open platform “committed to fostering a community where everyone’s voice can be heard.” Facebook and Twitter make similar claims.

Let’s be clear, when these companies censor or suppress conservative content, they are behaving as publishers, and they should be held legally responsible for the all the content they publish. If they want to continue hiding behind Section 230 and avoid legal and financial calamity, they must reform.

As radio host Dennis Prager often says, if an airline permitted only those passengers holding The New York Times to board but then denied Wall Street Journal readers, we would all rightly call this discrimination and demand the airline change its policy. In the same way, conservatives cannot win the battle of ideas if we’re marginalized or removed from mainstream culture and mainstream platforms.

How did we respond when progressives came to dominate higher education? We formed a few alternative universities such as Hillsdale College and Liberty University. Though we deeply value these institutions, it’s also impossible for them to reverse higher education’s half-century-long drift to the left. The same will be true on today’s dominant social media platforms if we reflexively assume the free market will save us.

As a 25-year-old digital native, both my life and my organization have greatly benefited from social media. This is why I’m an optimist. But I’m also a realist. Conservatives can either acknowledge the fight we’re already in — and fight to win — or forfeit our cultural influence to another generation in yet another, and perhaps the most important, information medium ever to exist.

Charlie Kirk is the founder and chief executive of Turning Point USA , a conservative youth organization, and host of a show on Apple Podcasts.