Hillary Clinton hasn’t even won the general election yet, but the New York Times is already pushing her legislative agenda. And while she is likely to meet stiff resistance on headline issues like immigration and health care, regulating the internet is one even her Republican adversaries might work with her on. As Repubican Sen. Marco Rubio warned, the sword cuts both ways.
“Adolescent suicide as likely as death in traffic accident,” reads the headline of the article, which goes on to describe “an accumulating body of evidence that young adolescents are suffering from a range of health problems associated with the country’s rapidly changing culture.” And just what are some of the elements of the culture that have changed in the past two decades?
Is it the huge increase in prescription of behavioral drugs, which all list “suicidal thoughts” among their side effects?
Could it be the trend towards locking up children in those juvenile detention centers called “schools” at earlier and earlier ages and loading them up with homework for the few hours of leisure time left when they get out?
The pressure of government-mandated tests?
No, neither the Times’ Sabrina Tavernise nor the CDC researchers she cites appear to have been curious about any of these likely causes. For them, it’s all because of social media.
“The pervasiveness of social networking means that entire schools can witness someone’s shame, instead of a gaggle of girls on a school bus. And with continual access to such networks, those pressures so not end when a child comes home in the afternoon,” writes Tavernise.
With the plethora of human activity Hillary Clinton aims to tax and regulate, one might not be aware of her plans for the internet in general and social media in particular. Bullet point three on her five point plan to “Created Safer Schools for our Kids” reads:
“Make the Internet a safer space for kids by addressing cyberbullying. While the Internet is essential to helping students learn and communicate, cyberbullying has become a harmful extension of bullying in the classroom. The ease with which demeaning and damaging content can be posted on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter make it difficult for our kids to ever really escape bullying. We need to invest in innovative solutions that allow students, parents, educators, and other adults to make the Internet safer, while respecting First Amendment rights.”
Quite a coincidence, isn’t it, that the New York Times ran a story suggesting a rise in teenage suicides might be caused by something Hillary Clinton plans to regulate? And if you believe that, I have a…
The assault on freedom in the village always starts with the children. It doesn’t take much imagination to anticipate what’s next. First, social media must be regulated to “save the children,” followed by the internet in general to curb the dissemination of false information that “degrades our national conversation.” Or something. Because established media like NBC never disseminates anything blatantly false, right?
So, who benefits from the proposed regulation? For starters, The New York Times and other traditional media benefit. The more their competition is regulated, the less of it there is and the less those competitors can differentiate their content from that offered by traditional media. Limiting competition helps stop the kind of bleeding the Times reported last month while trying to compete with an unregulated, diverse media marketplace.
Government itself benefits, by decreasing the scrutiny unregulated internet freedom subjects it to. President Obama didn’t lament the “wild west media” because he’s concerned about journalistic standards. He did so because for every wild conspiracy theory posted somewhere on the internet, there’s likely three accurate stories on government misdeeds that would otherwise go unreported.
Let’s not forget established social media companies like Facebook themselves. Even if they feign opposition to the initial regulatory proposals that come out, companies like Facebook will eventually embrace and likely help write the regulations that will limit their own activities. Why? Because other existing social media aren’t their most dangerous competition.
Tomorrow’s start-up poses the greatest danger to any established business and for every new regulation, the cost of starting a new business increases. When the cost to launch a start-up goes up, the number of start-ups launched goes down. The established players with existing market share can absorb the cost of increased regulation into their operating expenses. But the company that might have disrupted the whole industry may not be launched at all, if entry costs due to regulation rise high enough.
See how that works?
This is by no means unique to social media or the internet. This is the real story behind the entire regulatory state. When you research the true history of virtually all regulation, whether historically significant like the Sherman Anti-Trust or Wagner Acts or the ones that regulate your light bulbs or toilet bowls, the players and their motivations are virtually always the same.
Unsuspecting citizens generally believe well-intentioned politicians write regulations to protect consumers, especially poor ones, from unsafe products or unfair treatment. In reality, corrupt politicians write regulations to protect special interests, usually wealthy ones, from completely fair competition. And when they can invoke the safety of the children, it always works.
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.