- - Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Glenn Reynolds is a law professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Many people know him more directly for his Instapundit blog.

He was one of the earliest popular bloggers and continues to be one of the most successful. Before Moore’s Law delivered plentiful and cheap bandwidth unto us, many website servers would strain from all the hits an “Instalanche” (from the many readers following a link from his website) would deliver.

Mr. Reynolds is a tech geek and a sci-fi enthusiast. He describes himself politically as a “libertarian transhumanist.” He believes that government should regulate with a light hand, if at all, and doesn’t have many of the “yuck” reflexes that incline people to slam on the breaks when new technology threatens old ways of doing things.

Therefore, his new book, “The Social Media Upheaval,” should serve as a good barometer for just how much trouble Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley tech titans are in, politically. The conclusion calls for “policing platforms, and collusion among them.”

It elaborates: “An approach based on antitrust competition will preserve free speech while reducing social media abuses. As social media grows more pervasive, and more obviously destructive, the pressure for regulation is sure to grow. Better to regulate in a way that preserves free speech, and that doesn’t empower tech oligarchs.”

Things have come to a pretty pass when libertarian law professors are suggesting renewed trust busting as a way to avoid even more censorious outcomes. How did we get here?

The 2016 election results were almost completely unexpected by anyone with any political or cultural pull. Our betters were simply gobsmacked by what happened and looked for someone to blame. They found it in Russian bots and Russian-bought ads on social media, which were said to have caused Hillary Clinton to lose her bid for the presidency.

“Resisters” saw the face of the enemy, also, in anyone who either vocally supported Donald Trump, stuck up for his supporters, or was insufficiently hostile to Mr. Trump and his supporters.

Woke culture preceded the election, but President Trump’s victory put it front-and-center and its obsessions became elite obsessions: Call outs, boycotts, crackdowns on all forms of alleged hate speech, de-platforming, and de-humanizing all who do not share the party line.

Social media has made such censorious efforts much easier, with the rise of “outrage mobs.” This has gone hand in glove with the increased tendency of folks to wall themselves off from sources of information that do not share their preconceptions and to substitute surface knowledge for real exploration and understanding. Too often, we share articles for the headlines without even so much as clicking on the link and reading it for ourselves.

The net effect of this activity, argues Mr. Reynolds, is that social media is making us dumber, meaner and more cocooned than ever before while at the same time feeding us the illusion of being in the right.

That’s a dangerous mixture. It is made worse by the fact that a small number of social media platforms, crowdfunding sites, online payment firms, and credit card companies are making it much harder for alternative platforms to carve out room for other, dissenting voices in the name of stomping out “hate.”

“Paypal, for example, cut off money transfers to YouTube competitor BitChute, and Twitter competitor Gab,” Mr. Reynolds writes. These options could become real alternative platforms over time, but the tech and financial industries are effectively colluding to make sure that doesn’t happen.

By stifling the platforms, Big Tech is also empowering the Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other sites to feel free to stifle the speech of ornery users. After all, they really don’t have anywhere to go.

Given all that, it’s no wonder that to this law professor, and to many conservatives as well, anti-trust begins to look like the most appealing option. If President Trump is re-elected, expect the powers-that-be in Silicon Valley to face harsh new regulation.

A few final words about “The Social Media Upheaval”’s structure and prose: There are no chapters to be found here. The work is one long essay, broken up by subtitles and occasionally distracting pull quotes.

Mr. Reynolds cites generously and quotes liberally, though in no case did I find myself rushing past the longer quotations from his sources. It used to be a burn on a book to say that it “reads like a blog post,” but in this long pamphlet form it’s not bad. At least it doesn’t read like a series of tweets.

• Jeremy Lott is creator and writer of the Movie Men comic book.

• • •


By Glenn Harlan Reynolds

Encounter Books, $7.99, 64 pages

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