The big corporations possess incredible economic power and many on the left are critical of how this power is used to coerce and harm those who have less economic power. For example, Amazon is infamous for putting such severe restraints on workers that they sometimes have to urinate in bottles. Thanks to Republicans and pro-corporate Democrats, laws and court rulings (such as Citizens United) have enabled these corporations to translate their economic power directly into political power. This is also criticized by many on the left and they note how the United States is an oligarchy rather than a democracy. This political power manifests itself in such things as anti-union laws, de-regulation, and tax breaks.
In general, Republicans are in favor of increasing the economic power of corporations and do their best to assist them in increasing their political power. This might be partially motivated by their pro-business ideology, but it is certainly motivated by the contributions and benefits they receive for advancing the interests of the wealthy. As such, it is rather odd that many Republicans are now professing opposition to some of these corporations. Social media and tech companies have recently earned the ire of the right.
While Republicans profess to favor deregulation and embrace the free market, they are now very angry about social media and tech companies and claim that these companies have become part of cancel culture. I do understand why they are so angry. For years, social media companies profited from extremism—including that of the American right and it must seem like a betrayal for these companies to suddenly turn against their cash cows. While the narrative on the right is that these companies are woke or that out-of-control leftists are in control, this is not the case. These companies acted based on pragmatism focused on profit.
Extremism seems to have been damaging the brands of these companies and they were under considerable pressure to do something. They presumably decided to act before lawmakers compelled them to act. There might also be some concern that enabling extremism had gone too far—while tech companies happily work with authoritarian states, their leadership would probably prefer to not live in a fascist authoritarian state. This is not to say that they are leftists, just that they are generally not fascists. Even a cursory examination of their business practices will reveal that they are not woke leftists. For example, Amazon is virulently anti-union and Facebook is hardly a worker’s paradise.
Republicans have very pragmatic reasons to be angry at these social media and tech companies for acting against extremism and enforcing their terms of service. First, a significant percentage of the right’s base consists of active extremists and they are very useful to Republicans. Second, the Republican party relies heavily on “moderate” racism, sexism, xenophobia, and intolerance as political tools.
One could argue that they are not racists, they are just very concerned that brown people are illegally entering the United States to commit crimes, steal jobs, exploit social services, vote illegally, spread disease, and replace white Americans. One problem with these views is that they are not supported by facts. Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes. While the impact of migration on the economy is complicated, the evidence is that there is a positive link between immigration and economic growth. The old racist trope of diseased migrants is untrue; in fact migrants help fight disease. And, of course, the replacement hypothesis is an absurd racist hobgoblin.
Interestingly, Paul Waldman makes a solid case that Republicans want critics to call their policies “racist” and this is part of their plan. As he notes, “…they know that their political success depends on motivating their base through a particular racial narrative…” If Waldman is right, then it can be argued that the tech companies are helping the Republicans at the same time they are hurting them. After all, while the tech companies “purge” of social media did hurt the right, it also handed them a victimization narrative that they are exploiting to activate their base.
In addition to racism and such, the right also uses disinformation and misinformation as critical tools in their political battles. As noted in other essays on cancellation, the cancel culture narrative of the right is built largely on disinformation. At best it is based on hyperbole. The right’s response to the pandemic is also an exercise in disinformation and misinformation. And, of course, the biggest disinformation campaign is the big lie about the 2020 presidential election. This lie has been the foundation for nationwide efforts to restrict voting access, most famously in Georgia. While social media companies were quite happy to profit of disinformation and misinformation, this has changed somewhat in response to public pressure (and concerns that lawmakers might act). Since Republicans rely extensively on these tools, it makes sense that they would be angry about social media companies “cancelling” their lies.
While the Republicans are doing so for narrowly selfish reasons, they are right to be critical of the power of the social media and tech companies and these companies present very real dangers. As I have argued elsewhere, these companies control most of the mediums of free expression available to the masses. While they are not covered by the First Amendment, their power to limit free expression is concerning—they can effectively silence and amplify as they wish. Leftists have long argued that this gives them too much power and now the right agrees—at least when it comes to their very narrow and selfish interests. While the left and right might be able to form an alliance of convenience here, the right has a rather different goal: they want social media to be a safe space for racism, sexism, xenophobia, misinformation, and disinformation. As such, while there is a very real problem with social media, the solution cannot be to simply let the far right do as they wish—for they would simply spread hate and lies to advance their political goals. This is not to say that the left is composed entirely of angels—harmful activity and lies of the left also need to be kept in check while also allowing maximum freedom of expression. As always, there must be a balance between the freedom of expression and protecting people from meaningful harm.