Why do Republicans want to punish Facebook and Google? That's not conservative.

·4 min read
Social media apps on a smartphone in Los Angeles on March 1, 2021.
Social media apps on a smartphone in Los Angeles on March 1, 2021.

Since when did it become “conservative” to punish private companies for being successful? In recent years, a bizarre and ill-advised frenzy has gripped the right, which has focused intense efforts on breaking up or otherwise hamstringing social media companies. Conservative groups and their dedicated donors have spent vast amounts of money on these anti-“Big Tech” efforts.

Meanwhile, this war on Silicon Valley is distracting the right from once-in-a-generation opportunities to tackle longstanding conservative priorities – in ways that would only be helped along by effectively using social media instead of lambasting it.

What has social media grievance politics yielded for Republicans? Florida Republicans tried to ax the First Amendment rights of tech companies to moderate content but were swiftly rebuffed by a federal judge. In Washington, swamp creatures are supposedly making plans to repeal the Section 230 protections for moderating online content, which would be a strange victory coming from the onetime party of tort reform.

GOP once stood for choice and growth

There also seems to be a buzz of general complaints that tech billionaires – who spend most of their time backbiting and trying to outdo one another, as the Jeff Bezos-Richard Branson space wars make clear – are somehow not competitive enough.

The reality is that these people create a product that Americans can choose to use or not use. And Republicans used to be the party of free choice.

Attacking American innovators and job creators is usually a tactic of the radical left. The right has traditionally criticized its political opponents for this sort of grievance politics, which do not allow space for growth-focused policies. To justify taxing successful Americans, the left’s traditional playbook has been to vilify their success. Naturally, if you’re preoccupied with slicing the pie, you’re not focused on growing the pie. Republicans used to be the party of growth, too.

That’s why the right’s current sideshow struggle against Big Tech, which puts Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., on the same side as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., makes so little sense. Instead of focusing on free choice for our citizens and economic growth for our nation, the right has made enemies of companies that specialize in sharing cat photos and vacation videos.

There are so many better things the American conservative movement could be doing with its time, by taking advantage of our post-COVID moment.

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The pandemic saw a major surge in starting small businesses, which are key job creators and drivers of economic growth.

That’s hundreds of thousands of Americans who will, for the first time, butt up against brazen bureaucrats, unrelenting regulations and a torrent of blood-sucking taxes from federal, state and local authorities. This should be a treasure trove of new conservatives, the vast majority of whom also use social media to promote their businesses and sell their products. But they won’t flock to the GOP if they hear confusing anti-growth messaging that vilifies the online tools they use to promote their businesses.

Conservatives are a diverse group

Meanwhile, the debate over the Second Amendment shows no signs of slowing down, and it looks like conservatives are getting some new recruits. Online surveys of firearm retailers by the trade association National Shooting Sports Foundation indicated that in the first four months of 2020, 4 in 10 pandemic first-time gun buyers were women, and gun purchases by African Americans in the first six months of last year were 58.2% higher than the same period in 2019.

These demographics suggest that pro-gun rights Americans are a lot less “pale, male and stale” than previously thought. But these folks also use social media to share their photos from the shooting range, so why make them feel like “bad conservatives” for doing so?

Left-to-right mistake: Sen. Josh Hawley isn't a censorship victim, he's a free speech menace

We may also be on the cusp of major education reform. Education Week reported in late June that over the pandemic, America’s public school systems lost more than 1.4 million students, noting the “loss was spread out across the nation, touching almost every demographic group and concentrated in lower grades. It will likely have academic, financial and staffing repercussions for years to come.”

With alternatives like charter schools looking better and better, and teacher unions drawing ire from even liberal parents for holding up a return to normalcy in classrooms, parent groups should be organizing (on sites like Facebook) to take these issues on.

It’s often easy (and even cathartic) for conservatives to join in the ritual pillorying of some group that you may find annoying, like tech billionaires who, in their personal politics, do lean to the left. But if the American right stopped and took a collective breath, they’d realize that sticking to their tried-and-true message of free choice and pro-growth policies – and focusing on issues that matter, like small business freedom, gun rights and education reform – are a much better recipe for success than using the hammer of Big Government to give the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos a black eye.

Bret Jacobson is the co-founder of Red Edge, a digital advocacy agency for conservative and center-right causes. Follow him on Twitter: @bretjacobson

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republicans must applaud success, not social media grievance politics

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