we are now in a speech environment where power is so concentrated that the whims of a half-dozen tech execs determine – for all intents and purposes – who may speak and what they may say. If you think that power will only be wielded against Alex Jones, there’s a bunch of trans activists, indigenous activists, anti-pipeline activists, #BlackLivesMatter activists, and others who’d like to have a word with you.
What’s more, this situation is a form of government regulation of speech – even if it doesn’t violate the First Amendment. When the government declines to enforce antitrust laws so the market for speech forums is cornered by a handful of companies, when it creates compliance rules that only these companies can afford, when it fails to build publicly owned alternatives bound by the First Amendment, it is making speech policy. Failing to use your legal powers to prevent Big Tech from gaining a monopoly on speech is a form of action. It’s a policy. It’s a regulation of speech.
Platforms are, in a sense, capitalism distilled to its essence. They are proudly experimental and maximally consequential, prone to creating externalities and especially disinclined to address or even acknowledge what happens beyond their rising walls. And accordingly, platforms are the underlying trend that ties together popular narratives about technology and the economy in general. Platforms provide the substructure for the “gig economy” and the “sharing economy”; they’re the economic engine of social media; they’re the architecture of the “attention economy” and the inspiration for claims about the “end of ownership.”