Amid drama at Spotify, Joe Rogan reportedly declined Rumble’s $100 million offer to host his podcast this week. Yet it’s remarkable that Rumble, a much-needed competitor to YouTube, was in a position to even make the pitch. The platform is growing fast, serving like Parler as a critical test of our free market system and its resilience against monopoly power.
That experiment, however, raises a major challenge for Big Tech’s competitors, who offer alternatives almost entirely on the basis of their approach to free expression, but haven’t yet distinguished themselves from their counterparts’ unhealthy business models.
In moderation, YouTube is great. I trust the public to moderate their use of it more than I trust the government to moderate for us. This is basically the debate conservatives made against Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral effort to ban Big Gulps.
Indeed, the Chinese government is taking an increasingly active role in moderating individuals’ time on social media. Hoping to stay in the government’s good graces, ByteDance makes Douyin users take a five-second pause when they’ve been on the app for too long. Children’s daily use is capped and confined to certain hours.
The Chinese government is using a cost-benefit-analysis that posits the social costs of excess Douyin use are not worth the heightened financial benefits to the company and the country. It’s the basic cost-benefit-analysis lawmakers here apply to questions of regulatory oversight, from tobacco to seatbelts, but with a high-tech twist.
Of course, China wants its companies to be successful. The more Coca-Cola we drink, the more profitable an American company is. The same goes for the more time people spend on Douyin or, in America’s case, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
Again, I trust the public to make these personal health decisions more than the government. When you’re in the throes of mass addiction and dependence, however, that project becomes more difficult.
This is the situation in which we find ourselves now. Big Tech is a public health emergency in the way some see Big Tobacco, but on an infinitely wider scale—we’ve transferred our personal and professional and political lives onto platforms designed to affect us like slot machines. There is absolutely no historical precedent for this.
It’s why, in a sense, classical liberalism has to be the savior of classical liberalism. Our contemporary interpretation of it may need some post-postmodern modifications, to be sure. But without free markets to boost competitors and a free press to hold power accountable, the solution would be outsourcing more personal decisions to our broken and bloated federal government. That won’t be better.
As conservatives join forces with heterodox centrists and liberals to build parallel institutions that compete with Big Tech, from Rumble to Parler to Gettr to all of the future platforms, they’re participating in an absolutely critical experiment. It’s perhaps the single most important effort in the country today, the only thing that can loosen us from the control of poisonous platforms and their oligarchical executives. But the public health concerns are as important as those regarding free expression.
Yes, this requires Big Tech’s competitors to sacrifice user addiction in the hopes that people want to be less addicted and more free to speak openly. I think that’s still a good bet.