Why Is The Republican Party Obsessed With Social Media?

from the emotional-claptrap dept

“In 1970,” observes Edmund Fawcett in his recent survey of political conservatism, “the best predictor of high conservative alignment in voting was a college education.” “Now,” he notes, “it is the reverse.” Many other statistics sing this tune of political realignment. Whereas the counties Al Gore won in the 2000 election accounted for about half the nation’s economic output, for instance, the counties Joe Biden won in 2020 account for more than 70 percent of it. Many observers have tried to capture this shift’s cultural significance. You could say that the Republicans have rejected Apollo for Dionysus. You could conclude that they have embraced Foucault and postmodern philosophy. Or you could sting to the quick, as David Brooks does, and acknowledge that “much of the Republican Party has become detached from reality.”

This political rearrangement has been helped along by much larger historical forces, among them the decline of social trust, the collapse of Christianity, the erosion of faith in experts and institutions, the flattening of authority structures and information flows, and the accelerating pace of technological change. Put to one side the knotty question whether the benefits of modernity outweigh the costs. No one can deny the size and sweep of liberal capitalist disruption.

Are Republicans grappling with the megatrends reshaping their party, society, and the world? Are the big disruptions sparking big thoughts that lead to big policy proposals? In a word, no. In fact, the party’s leaders have rallied around something remarkably small. Not for them the pursuit of the grand contemporary challenges. Their first thought, it often seems, is for how social media companies treat the extremists, conspiracy theorists, and other fringe characters on their websites. Republican legislators emit plumes of bills on the subject. Rightwing scholars and pundits take a bottomless interest in it (and in how to circumvent the companies’ First Amendment right to moderate content as they see fit). Over and over, Republican politicians say that Big Tech has become “Big Brother,” that Twitter and Facebook pose an “existential threat” to free speech, and that Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg are “out to get” conservatives. They say these things so often—they spend so much time saying them, to the exclusion of saying other things about other issues—that their voters can almost be forgiven for thinking them true.

By now people simply assume that disdain for social media firms is a key plank of the GOP platform. Should it be? Actually, that Republicans devote so much energy to denouncing content moderation is exceedingly odd. Not only is the supposed problem trivial; there is arguably, even from the perspective of a conservative, no problem at all. It is doubtful that content moderation harms the Republican Party. Some rightwing commentators all but admit as much. As David Harsanyi, an outspoken critic of Twitter’s and Facebook’s content-moderation practices, sees it, “There is no evidence that regulations, whether enforced by corporate stooges or government itself, make us safer or alter human nature or stop people from believing stupid things.” Which is to say that major social media sites have not stopped, and perhaps cannot stop, abhorrent views, crackpot views, or rightwing populist views from spreading, even thriving, online.

So why the clamor? Because the claim that average people are being silenced by “Silicon Valley oligarchs” is simple. It’s easy to grasp. It lends itself to the perpetual partisan fund drive. Above all, it’s emotional.

The right’s fixation with online speech is, at bottom, about dignity. Your rustic aunt—the one who sneers, “The election was stolen, and there’s nothing you can say to convince me otherwise!”—might be unrefined. She might be stubborn. She might even be a bit batty. But she also feels frustrated, as she struggles in earnest to make sense of a fast-evolving world. And she feels ignored, if not maligned, by journalists and intellectuals who dismiss her as a rube and a bigot. She feels treated unfairly. Whether the treatment is truly unfair is beside the point. “When you tell a large chunk of the country that their voices are not worth hearing,” writes Brooks, “they are going to react badly—and they have.”

Here as elsewhere, though, the GOP cannot square what its voters purport to want with how they so obviously feel. On the one hand, many on the right seek precisely what conservatives, in the traditional sense of the word, have sought since the early nineteenth century: security and stability in the face of innovation and churn. “To ordinary people shaken by a hurricane of social change that nobody yet understands,” says Fawcett, “the hard right promises a longed-for security of life, imagined as a common shelter.” On the other hand, the populist right is brimming with contempt for a system that rejects them. They therefore value their ability to use social media to mock academics, journalists, government officials, and other figures of authority. Theirs is (to return to Fawcett) a “gospel [that] sets itself as at war with a conservatism of prudence and moderation.”

Think of it this way. A party that celebrates the 1950s as a simpler, happier time of community feeling and patriotic elan, but that believes trolls getting exiled to Parler, Gettr, and Gab is among the most pressing problems of our moment, is by definition a neurotic mess. “The unreconciled right,” in Fawcett’s words, “cannot be said to have a coherent, thought-through critique of present-day liberal orthodoxy, let alone a positive conservative orthodoxy.” What it has instead is merely “a powerful set of rhetorical themes,” one of the most prominent of which is the accusation that liberals “stop conservatives from telling the truth about a desolate state of affairs.” Hence Republicans’ hollow obsession with what can and cannot be said on Twitter or Facebook.

Corbin Barthold is internet policy counsel at TechFreedom.

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Companies: facebook, twitter, youtube

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Comments on “Why Is The Republican Party Obsessed With Social Media?”

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49 Comments
Anonymoussays:

It?s easy to grasp. It lends itself to the perpetual partisan fund drive. Above all, it?s emotional.

No longer are they fine with being ‘the assholes on the fringe’ who don’t care what you think of them, or care whether or not you want to hear them. If you don’t want to hear the message, then boy oh boy, you’re sure going to hear them whine about you not listening to it.

If they can’t be assholes, then their only other option is to be victims.

Mark Gislesonsays:

We need TWO parties

"Put to one side the knotty question whether the benefits of modernity outweigh the costs. No one can deny the size and sweep of liberal capitalist disruption."

Being a socialist doesn’t mean I’m to the left of the Democratic party, in fact, almost the opposite. Neoliberalism has proven to be a huge boondoggle, putting Wall Street on steroids while picking fights with countries all over the globe.

We need a sane conservative party as a check on all this warmongering (Bob Dole wasn’t wrong when he said that Democrats start most of our wars). It’s easy to look at the GOP crazies and think they’re the problem, but I think both parties need to be purged and rebuilt from the ground up.

And then maybe public opinion polls will be on the same page as our govt for a change. Remember that it took both parties to keep us in Afghanistan for two decades. Share the blame.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: We need TWO parties

A term invented by Alexander R?stow in 1938 that, at the time, was meant to refer to social liberalism. In a contemporary economic context, the term boils down to "free markets, but with a veneer of faux objectivity so that we have an excuse to pretend that the traditional problems aren’t actually problems".

Annonymousesays:

Re: Re: We need TWO parties

Actually you guys need at least three.

Every other successful democracy has at least three if not four and are nowhere near as dysfunctional.
The one party system, which the states has effectively become, is little thanks to the gaming of the system by the two parties while making a show of how different they are, even though to outsiders there is little difference outside of color, mascots and rhetoric.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: We need TWO parties

7 years ago, I would have been backing you up for your entire argument.

Today, it’s obvious that the US has at least four parties operating under two labels, and that those two labels are very very different. It’s just that the Democrats look like a centrist conservative party to the rest of the world, and the Republicans look like a pretty-far-to-the-right party, with the actual platforms and supporters not necessarily lining up with their stated values.

This is because the Republicans include all the fascists as well as a large chunk of the Christian conservatives and the small government conservatives and the fiscal conservatives. While these groups overlap somewhat, they have very distinct identities, none of which has enough people on its own to win at the polls.

They’re up against the Democrats, who include the conservative centrists, the progressives and the socialists. And on the Democrat side, there’s not any cohesive groupings, just a wide spectrum of beliefs.

The result of the two party system is that government itself stays somewhere around the centre of American ideology (which trends to the right), such that it looks like both parties are the same, because neither can stray too far from centre without alienating too many to actually get things done. This isn’t a result of the two parties, but of the overall government structure, which is designed this way intentionally.

If the two parties were broken up, the largest voting bloc in the US would likely be Tea Party Republicans. It would be an extreme minority, but still the most influential group that could rally around a cause. As it is, the government the current system delivers them is to the left of the TPers.

I don’t think the US is about to overhaul their entire system of government though, so changing the party structure won’t really help anything.

Thadsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: We need TWO parties

Every other successful democracy has at least three if not four and are nowhere near as dysfunctional.

Oh yeah, you never see this kind of dysfunction in the UK or Israel.

The one party system, which the states has effectively become, is little thanks to the gaming of the system by the two parties while making a show of how different they are, even though to outsiders there is little difference outside of color, mascots and rhetoric.

I’m endlessly frustrated by the Democrats, but this "there’s no difference between the two parties" horseshit looks sillier every year. We’ve got one centrist neoliberal party and one death cult. If you don’t see any difference between those two things, well, maybe you should pay more attention.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: We need TWO parties

If you truly want a real one-party system, come to Singapore.

Nearly every other party here has the same ideals as the one which consistently gets voted in, to the point where the percentage of votes gained is a popularity contest rather than a true reflection of sentiment on the ground.

And it’s very quickly becoming worse.

Bluegrass Geeksays:

Re: Re: We need TWO parties

We need a sane conservative party as a check on all this warmongering

Where did you get the idea that conservatives would be the ones to put a halt to warmongering? Traditionally, it was the "bleeding heart" left that was anti-war.

I think both parties need to be purged and rebuilt from the ground up.

That’s a nice platitude, but it’s never going to work. Because after you "purge" those parties, the new ones will be… staffed by the exact same people. Sure, the big names might change, but the core members will be the same people working under the new parties.

bhull242says:

Re: Re: We need TWO parties

Being a socialist doesn’t mean I’m to the left of the Democratic party, in fact, almost the opposite. Neoliberalism has proven to be a huge boondoggle, putting Wall Street on steroids while picking fights with countries all over the globe.

It?s entirely arguably true that being a socialist doesn?t necessarily make you to the left of the Democratic Party. However, ?putting Wall Street on steroids? and ?pickling fights with countries all over the globe? isn?t really a leftist thing; it seems rather bipartisan, actually.

That One Guysays:

So desperate to claim the 'victim' title they claimed worse

Their first thought, it often seems, is for how social media companies treat the extremists, conspiracy theorists, and other fringe characters on their websites.

That they use such people/groups to ‘show’ how republicans/’conservatives’ are being treated ‘badly’ is ultimately a huge own-goal, as by doing so they are telling all who can hear ‘these people represent us’! The racists, the sexists, the conspiracy-theory cranks, those are who the modern day republican party has apparently chosen to stand behind and as such those are the types of people that others will immediately think of when they hear ‘conservative’ or ‘republican’, and they have no-one to blame for that but themselves.

Anonymoussays:

Yeah, the GOP needs to get back to the real issues, like Techfreedom wanting Net Neutrality shitcanned by saying that NN needs to be decided at the federal level, where Republicans in Congress can fuck any Net Neutrality legislation over with watered-down language and loopholes.

Barthold threw a pissbaby fit with an amicus brief telling the court to reverse their ruling on letting California continue with their Net Neutrality rules., and this is after TechFreedom supporting the Trump DOJ’s lawsuit that Biden then dropped and their ISP buddies lost their lawsuit hilariously.

Yeah, Barthold is right to say that Republicans targeting social media is dumb. But his reasons for saying it are to get the GOP to re-focus on fucking people over in different ways.

That One Guysays:

Re: Re:

From the last link:

Mendez reportedly was not swayed by ISPs’ claims that a net neutrality law isn’t necessary because they haven’t been blocking or throttling Internet traffic.

That argument gets me every time due to how thoroughly it undermines itself. ‘We aren’t doing X, and we have no plans to do X, but we strongly object to a law making clear that we aren’t allowed to do X and we will go to court to fight it’ is an argument that doesn’t just shoot itself in the foot it empties an entire clip in the process.

If ISP’s didn’t plan on blocking and/or throttling traffic then a law making clear that they aren’t allowed to do that wouldn’t affect them any more than a law prohibited grand theft auto impacts someone who has not and never plans on stealing a car.

Davidsays:

Why wouldn't the Republican Party be obsessed with Social Media?

Demographics in the U.S. are changing. They are reaching the limits of gerrymandering.

The reins of power are starting to slip, and the most powerful tool these days if you do not have sufficient power to shape reality is to control its perception.

For example, by appropriate control of its perception you can prohibit mask mandates in Republican countries. The effect is that you kill voters predominantly in highly populated areas which are more likely to vote Democratic. This helps with votes, and it helps with redistricting.

Apart from using COVID-19 for killing people predominantly in regions important for Democrats, controlling the perception of reality also gives pretense for stopping them from making it to the polling stations, and when they make it there, to stop them from being able to vote, for example by having them covertly unregistered and making it impossible for them to reregister in time to vote.

Such things need pretenses to sell, and controlling media is important for that. Social media are a significant multiplier of facts and fantasy alike. So of course the Republican Party wants elevated access to social media.

Anonymoussays:

Because Social Media is the new public space to speak.

And don’t give me "muh private platform" B.S. Anyone who does that loses all credibility and is an automatic authoritarian.

Section 230 was created for websites like this.

Keep defending censorship and you’ll soon find Section 230 gone and yourself censored and it’s all the fault of "muh private platforms" for censoring so many people.

Because, those same people will start demanding something be done (they already are) and politicians who don’t listen get replaced by those who feel the same way.

So, if you want Section 230 to stay untouched, start demanding less censorship by Big Tech.

Or dismiss it and watch as the internet gets destroyed because "muh private platform".

That One Guysays:

Re: Re: Who isn't familiar with those famous cases?

Come now, surely you’re well acquainted with the many, many cases where private property was seized for the public good/use after enough people used it to congregate at, the countless clubs, bars and stores that started out offering places and boards for people to socialize at only to find the government stepping in after they grew popular enough and telling them that they were no longer allowed to restrict who was and was not allowed to make use of their (former) property and were prohibited from setting rules of acceptable behavior for those making use of the now privately-owned public space?

If it can and has been done offline I see no reason it couldn’t be done online, the same rules must apply to both after all no matter the context or minor differences.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Because Social Media is the new public space to speak.

And don’t give me "muh private platform" B.S. Anyone who does that loses all credibility and is an automatic authoritarian.

So it’s authoritarian when a private platform chooses to moderate however they feel best to manage their own private property.

But it’s not authoritarian to have the government force platforms to carry speech that said platform does not wish to associate with.

Somehow, I think you need to go back to civics / government class in school to learn what authoritarian really means because you got it all ass backwards.

Lily Maysays:

In a different world, the Republicans could have a case with this. There are a lot of people, not just right-wing, who are concerned about content moderation, free speech, the power of internet companies to control people’s communications, access to information, etc. And since the Democrats have largely come out as constantly demanding more moderation at all costs it’s an opportunity for the Republicans to do better in the eyes of those who find the situation problematic. But their points are ruined by their pandering to extremists and ridiculous conspiracy theories. They reduce to "anti-conservative bias" an issue that spans most if not all of the political spectrum. And that’s just a hard fail.

I just wish the Democrats would catch on to exploit it properly, instead of making their own stupid "let’s repeal S230 to make Facebook do what we want" -fantasies.

Squirrelssays:

Finally! Reason without anger!

I created this account just to say it is a welcome change for fantastic points to be made without unnecessary vitriol or a heinous number of links to things covered a hundred times before.

The points are well thought out and portrayed. It applies shocked face empathy to others! It draws out why people are responding ways that are, seemingly, out of bounds for reason. It isn’t a logical problem. I have a saying; "You cannot apply a logical solution to an emotional problem".

Well done. I award you 5 cool points.

Michaelsays:

Frustrated?

She might be stubborn. She might even be a bit batty. But she also feels frustrated, as she struggles in earnest to make sense of a fast-evolving world. And she feels ignored, if not maligned, by journalists and intellectuals who dismiss her as a rube and a bigot. She feels treated unfairly.

Most important of all, she requires feeling like a victim. Recreational victimhood is now the most important thing to rank-and-file Republicans. Meanwhile, further enriching the already wealthy is the singular policy of their leaders, and they are too willfully daft to notice.

Bobvioussays:

From Gore to Biden

If not for the hanging chads, we would have had Gore instead of Shrub, and we might NOT have had 9/11. It’s debatable but I don’t think Al Qaeda would have seen Gore as such a target of retribution for Gulf War I.

Fast forward to the actions of the orange one, "negotiating a peace agreement with the Taliban", https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51689443 and we see the poisoned chalice of Afghanistan handed to Biden who got to see them recreate not only Vietnam, but the attack on the Capitol.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: From Gore to Biden

From the Wikipedia entry on "Trump v Biden"

On December 8, the Florida Supreme Court had ordered a statewide recount of all undervotes, over 61,000 ballots that the vote tabulation machines had missed. The Trump campaign immediately asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the decision and halt the recount. Justice Antonin Scalia, convinced that all the manual recounts being performed in Florida’s counties were illegitimate, urged his colleagues to grant the stay immediately.[1] On December 9, the five conservative justices on the Court granted the stay for Trump, with Scalia citing "irreparable harm" that could befall Trump, as the recounts would cast "a needless and unjustified cloud" over Trump‘s legitimacy. In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that "counting every legally cast vote cannot constitute irreparable harm."

And that good people, is how Trump won the 2020 election, so they can send the computer-savvy Japanese warrior-spies home now.

Ryunosukesays:

as with most.. all things..

What Republicans claim, isn’t what it is. let’s take a look at the underlying issue.

Birth Control, Voting Rights, Mask mandates, Unemployment benefits, Social Media Censorship, Back the Blue/Law Enforcement protections/Anti-Antifa/Anti-BLM.

It all boils down to one thing, and one thing alone.

Power.

Pure and simple, they are facing a shift in the balance of power, and they don’t like it, because they are losing it, and they are doing everything they can to stop it, including demonizing it.

As a side note, it should be noted that a lot of these anti-Social Media people, use said social media.

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

Because even the faithful have started to figure out that banning abortion isn’t actually going to happen, so they need a new banner to rally the troops under.
So they take to the same platforms they claim are silencing them to raise money from the rubes to win the war that only exists in their minds.

Something something gun registration laws blocked by convincing the rubes that if Obama had their address then he could send drones to kill them.

Bloofsays:

Re: Re:

I think it’s worse than that, abortion bans have been all but achieved in the states where they’re a vote winner, with some states down to a single clinic under constant assault, both legislatively and physically. The right leaning supreme court justices will be more than happy to find the next big thing, and they’re betting on the fight against tech.

Bloofsays:

For a few reasons, firstly it’s been proven to be a tool that can swing elections as facebook have shown just how effective they can be at radicalising people by continually steering them toward right wing content and conspiracy theory groups. Facebook have also shown how lethal it can be to leftwing and centrist content to have someone like Joel Kaplan in a position of power, blocking all.attempts to fix the system, keeping a thumb on the scale in the favour of right wing Bullpoop while downgrading everything else, and they want that preferential treatment enshrined in law. Secondly, conservatives have been taught that being right wing means the rules don’t apply to them, even those they’ve specifically agreed to follow. Any punishment they face is seen as anti conservative, as Trump and others got away with worse for years so they feel entitled to do the same and they have no recourse when they’re told no. Naturally there’s a swarm of grifters waiting to profit from their impotent rage, telling them the soulless libertarians and republican donors are biased against conservatives.

bhull242says:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Obviously, because the "corporate party"

Almost every day TD states that "social media" is no longer pretending to be fair forums, but "moderating" to an agenda

That is categorically not what they say. They say that social media sites have the legal and constitutional right to moderate ?to an agenda?, and that if there is any bias in application of policies, it has favored so-called ?conservatives?, not liberals.

and then turn any "Republicans" upset with that into basis for another attack!

Also wrong. They say that such Republicans?as well as non-Republicans making the same sorts of claims?are factually and legally incorrect, or at least that they failed to prove the facts are true or that the alleged facts would even prove anything wrong or illegal. This is also entirely consistent with what they have actually said about social media.

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