Restraining Power

The growing concerns about social media–especially platforms’ moderation of users’ posts–are just the most recent and visible examples of an older conundrum: how do we define and restrain the misuse of power?

When the U.S. Constitution was drafted, concerns about the infringement of individual rights focused almost entirely on government, because only government entities had the power to prescribe and proscribe individual behaviors and punish those who failed to conform. Accordingly, the Bill of Rights restrained only government (initially, only the federal government, which was seen as a greater threat than the state and local units of government that were included in its prohibitions after passage of the 14th Amendment.)

To state the glaringly obvious, in the 200+ years since passage of the original Bill of Rights, a lot of things have changed.

Governments aren’t the only entities exercising considerable authority over our lives–major corporations, a number of them global in scope, not only influence government but engage in negative behaviors that directly affect millions of people, from polluting the environment to exploiting third-world labor. Scholars have belatedly come to question whether the Bill of Rights shouldn’t be applied more broadly–to restrain all entities large enough or powerful enough to invade individual rights.

I have absolutely no idea how that might work.( It probably wouldn’t.) /That said, we are at a point where we absolutely must contend with the inordinate power exercised by private, non-governmental organizations, and especially by Facebook, Twitter, et al.

Robert Reich addressed that problem in a recent essay for the Guardian.

Twitter and Instagram just removed antisemitic posts from Kanye West and temporarily banned him from their platforms. It just goes to show … um, what?

How good these tech companies are at content moderation? Or how irresponsible they are for “muzzling” controversial views from the extreme right? (Defenders of West, such as the Indiana attorney general, Todd Rokita, are incensed that he’s been banned.) Or how arbitrary these giant megaphones are in making these decisions? (What would Elon Musk do about Kanye West?)

 Call it the Kayne West paradox: do the social media giants have a duty to take down noxious content or a duty to post it? And who decides?

As Reich quite accurately notes, these platforms, with their huge size and extraordinary power over what’s communicated, exert enormous sway over the American public. And they are utterly unaccountable to that public.

Two cases pending before the Supreme Court illustrate the underlying dilemma:

One case involves Section 230 of Communications Decency Act of 1996. That section gives social media platforms protection from liability for what’s posted on them. In that case, plaintiffs claim that social media ( YouTube in one case,Twitter in the other) led to the deaths of family members at the hands of terrorists. In another case, the plaintiffs are arguing that the First Amendment forbids these platforms from being more vigilant. That case arises from a Texas law that allows Texans and the state’s attorney general to sue  social media giants for “unfairly” banning or censoring them based on political ideology.

It’s an almost impossible quandary – until you realize that these questions arise because of the huge political and social power of these companies, and their lack of accountability.

In reality, they aren’t just for-profit companies. By virtue of their size and power, their decisions have enormous public consequences.

Reich is betting is that the Court will treat them as common carriers, like railroads or telephone lines. Common carriers can’t engage in unreasonable discrimination in who uses them, must charge just and reasonable prices, and must provide reasonable care to the public.

But is there any reason to trust the government to do a better job of content moderation than the giants do on their own? (I hate to imagine what would happen under a Republican FCC.)

So are we inevitably locked into the Kanye West paradox?

Or is there a third and better alternative to the bleak choice between leaving content moderation up to the giant unaccountable firms or to a polarized government?

The answer is yes. It’s to address the underlying problem directly: the monopoly power possessed by the giant social media companies.

The way to do this is apply the antitrust laws – and break them up.

My guess is that this is where we’ll end up, eventually. There’s no other reasonable choice. As Winston Churchill is reputed to have said: “Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.”

It’s hard to disagree. And actually, a far more aggressive approach to anti-trust would solve more problems than those we are experiencing with social media…


  1. “apply the antitrust laws ”

    We can’t even apply treason laws to the former President. I don’t feel hopeful; or is it that all other possibilities have not yet been exhausted?

  2. I’m on FB’s naughty list for posting excerpts from the NY Times and MSNBC falsely calling them “spam”. I was previously placed in FB jail for calling White Trash of all things “White Trash”. There is no recourse for an average Jane or John Doe like myself. I’ve concluded I’ll just continue tweaking the lion’s tail and if I’m banned so F’n what.

  3. Who allowed the monopoly powers of Facebook (Meta) and Twitter, and why?

    If you haven’t noticed, the government has been using private industry to skirt the Constitution for a long time. The government also uses other entities like our Intelligentsia and Security agencies.

    Whistleblowers are hunted down and imprisoned when they share proof with independent journalists of these violations. Treated like spies (Espionage Act).

    Notice I said, independent journalists. No whistleblower of right mind would dare go to the Washington Post with inside information or risk immediate arrest. When the WaPo or NY Times mentions “insiders with info who want to remain anonymous,” it’s a red flag. What it means is that Intelligentsia wants us to tell you this. LOL

    As consumers, our only role is to consume. Critical thinking or questioning the oppressors is not allowed. They’ll tell us what we need to know…

  4. Dr. Stan; I was not allowed to post replies or share any FB posts after stating Donald Trump was “white trash” with money. There appears to be no way to take any legal action, for high crimes or misdemeanors we have witnessed, against Trump; the government’s “Bigger Lie” that no one is above the law is more dangerous than Trump’s “Big Lie” that he won the presidential election. Recent reports show that he has stated in private the he knows he lost but is taking full advantage of the weakness in the government which prevents them from “Restraining Power” Trump is using but no longer has that power.

    Utility Monopoly over the public should be addressed; for abusing their powers by being a monopoly and for their pollution of the environment. IPL, now AES, is the highest polluter in the state of Indiana; changing names doesn’t change the abuse of that power or polluting. We now know that many of our public safety officers and military members are supporting Trump’s “Big Lie” and all it entails. They also participated in the January 6th Insurrection. The minority Senate and Congress are still controlling government. We watched as Democratic Senators worked against President Biden making names for themselves as we watched two Republicans endanger their lives, the lives of their families and their careers by supporting democracy, Rule of Law and the Constitution as they swore to in their Oath of Office.

    In the United States of America, we are now living in times when we cannot afford food, personal products (if they are even available in our stores) and/or medication and health care. Living conditions we watched in Banana Republic countries around the world and thought; “Those poor people, what a terrible way to live.” We can now claim “Poor us!” as we live with those conditions due to unrestrained powers of the 1-2% of the “haves” over the “have nots”. We watch as the “liberals” restrain using profanity and lying tactics in campaigns and debates against the unrestrained “far-right” White Nationalist MAGA candidates and sitting lawmakers. Be afraid, be VERY afraid.

  5. I’ve avoided any kind of Facebook censorship until very recently. I received a warning when I tried to post some pictures of my daughter on her birthday. One of them was of here wearing her bathing suit on her head and grinning like a maniac when she was 2. I thought (still think) it was cute. Facebook thought I was peddling inappropriate images of children.

    Automated content moderation is a tricky thing.

  6. Anyone worth a damn has been in FB jail. I’m proud to say I’ve been FB jailed three times. I think FB has an algorithm that focuses on key words irrespective of context. Of course it’s irresponsible, but it’s their rodeo. Oh, and why does FB still run all those ads for gun accessories, ammo and tactical gear? Don’t those visuals and intents feed the right-wing lunatics?

    In other news, a Colorado School Board member – a Republican, of course – has posited that the Colorado history curriculum should erase the word “Nazi” from all literature and texts. And there’s more. This same cretin has linked the holocaust to socialism, saying that the Nazis were socialist and therefore responsible for murdering 6 million Jews and others. Sure. Typical of Republicans everywhere, this knucklehead misses the real history completely. There was NOTHING socialistic about the Nazis. They were a fascist tyranny in jackboots with murderous intent. Like today’s American Republicans, they flaunted their hate and intent in plain sight.

  7. Often I wonder if framers of The Constitution, and especially The Bill of Rights, could see the future implications of The Second Amendment if they had access to the following statistics:

    The freedom (the statutory right) to make a choice of speech in any form or to own something potentially lethal does not make it necessarily right. It is not always right to be right. What a conundrum we live in!

  8. I have less and less confidence in the voting public’s integrity and commitment to keeping our democratic republic in place. We are already in thrall to the oligarchs with extreme wealth driven by whim to buy up any platform they want to control. The reasons may be the ultimate control of wealth and the power it endows, or maybe even just because they can. We are at their mercy by our own hands.

  9. Let me just say that the FB policing algorithm doesn’t account for satire, so you have to label it as such before posting. Yes, I’ve been in FB jail, too. I hate it when my social media provider can’t take a joke.

  10. What can you say? Roosevelt broke up the railroads, oil, and several other conglomerates. It didn’t take long for those offshoots to become powerful and many times collude!

    Collusion is really a tenant of big business. The claimed competition never drives the costs down like it should. Hence, these huge organizations or conglomerates continue to collude with each other, these huge or to huge to fail Banks are a prime example.

    All of these monstrous companies, google, meta, apple, amazon, Bank of america, I mean you can go on forever, if they fail, it not only will cause a ripple effect around the globe, but, it will make politicians sweat. Because, instead of controlling and regulating these institutions of capitalism, they sleep with them. I believe the term would be Quisling! Probably most of these large organizations have their Quisling comrades watching out for them and making sure the palms are always greased for them.

    In what is considered a free society, there had been written into the laws, a certain level of ethics and trustworthiness, a certain level of conscience, a certain level of Truth telling, and a certain level of honesty!

    Could the founders actually foretell such a shift in morality? Where moral turpitude is more common and frequent than ethical behavior or honest brokers.

    When the rot takes hold, it is basically over. History proves it, and, this case we live in right now will be no different! Excepting though, this might be the last time.

    Ethics and Morals are basically from the same root the first Greek and the second Latin. Both refer to authority, tradition, and custom. Philosophy had a lot to do with ethics and even morals.

    Sophist teachings from the 5th century BCE, let it be known that ethics and morality could change from City to city. So what was fine and normal and accepted in one city, might not be ethically or morally correct in another. Emmanuel Kant, he had a little bit of a different take on it, as long as you did not infringe on the rights of another, anything was acceptable, no matter the opinion of the majority! Jesus Christ said, “all things therefore that you want men to do to you, you must likewise do to them.” I believe we call it the Golden Rule.

    Everyone has the freedom to decide their own path and their own conduct, and everyone has to deal with the consequences of their desires and decisions. A divided house cannot stand, Abraham Lincoln got that from the Bible actually, Mark 3:25 which reads; “and if a house becomes divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”

    So, the house will collapse and it’s collapse will be great.!

  11. FB jail, new to me,but alas,i dont face,twit and allow my privacy be invaded by no choice when apping such sites.(privacy,as in how that site gathers from your?) look and see how to check off being tracked,is that,your mail, check,sites surfed,check, googled info ,check,etc. now allow them to put you in a pigion hole,and sell to whoever. the lose of privacy is the issue. whereas,you can spout off,until some moderator doesnt accept,or as in yesterdays theme, theology,how they interpit your vile but rational view of trump,and his wanna be thugs. that freedom of speech is what is the cause. though we have a constitutional right,these free areas of speech is a private entity. they can,do,and control its content. accepting your view doesnt mean it real,and ignoring doesnt mean it is not there. the human mind has come to a crossroad where its filled with trivial shit over mandated needs to survive. if one was to wring out the bullshit trivial,and keep abreast of what is manditory for this nation to survive,only then it can focus on what is fact and what has given us the voice to use responsably,and for survival. the paper on display that guarentees us liberty,is being tested without limits (spin)now. our forefathers placed on it a basic principle to follow. but over 200 plus years the theologists who beleive,or what to use words to make you believe in their ideals, have amassed a great satin themselves,mass hyper media. most of the info wars like sites only garner ads and money for it content,and its mouthpiece. the fine recently placed on jones is trivial to,its damage from his sewage. spin that made its greatest place with eib,and limbaugh. though there were many,of that type of following so called information/news, it was a basic course in how to spin and win. today we have shown how ignorance has taken over,literally. if we all went to school.we should have insight from the last World War and how goebbels and hitler rallied thier cause.,and we had a dire world because of it. no one looks at post war,and how the personal voice of why that war came about and why we dont,at least here in our senior voices, will allow it to happen again. we have unleashed a power now in those media hyper sites to keep any one single person informed except to cram alot of nothing,into little of something. the money side of those sites fuel the spin,while we sit and read,how many others fall into a hole and get swallowed up in its garbage,and people who lost site in what really matters. here in my blue collar world,looking over the fence at who is everyday influenced by hyper media,i get the picture. seems the money side will do whatever it takes to achive total domination at any means. (that money side,is just pure greed) seem were suppose to blow the chaf from the grain. until theres no diffrence from the rest. did our parents discuss at dinner whats up in your home? now today look at any table and its a nite out under the glow of the infinate glass window with family,date or others. (and damn you if you tell them to power off)seems face to face converstion takes a back seat. look over the counter in a store,young,first job, yea, has no social value when dealing face to face. and thats where we have granted this eviroment today. everyone knows it all, its on the net, what they dont relise,today that its programed and conditioning us to be like them. too much garbage to sort it out. whats needed,and whats a one line issue that dominates and (make for profit) to make you vote for them. that one line today isnt freedom,its how you smell and look like,how you work or scam someone into believeing the world is all yours. if our goverment is so keen on what the real issues are,then its hould be laid on the table,instead it controlled by hired think tanks telling them how to display a fortitude and solid foundation of their office. in reality now its saying something and offending. we are a society of thin skinned people,ones who cant hack constuctive critcism and time to realise you are wrong. we here pass on the foundation that has kept America solid until now. if we can not place those hyper media sites on the shelf,we will wind up like china. and its seeing its ugly head in our side of the isle is intent on distroying what we cherish. whats the end game?. obviously if they use this mass media misinformation to pave a path for ignorance,then its obvious,they want total control of this game called America. the rich have now seen and been advised,they are so,close to having it all, they will be the new goverment,along with propagande ministers like bezos,zuckerburg,and the rest. they have provided America with a system that you cant live without it and in it,its demise. spend and ignor,chastise and be rewarded. spin and distroy. look around, its climbing on every pole and camera on that stop lite and highway sensor with a tower. now its apps can be sold and its information sold to any power that be, (without a warrent)about what you do,see and read. in euro, theres at least a privacy law, you have to opt yourself in. that app has no right to follow you around. here is place one,make that law here, stop the infringement upon your privacy.this open door has only helped the grift and spin to secure your mind into where to lead it. i get little junk mail, i mean like 3 to 5 a month. im starting a buisness,my state loves to sell that list to anyone. ive already prepared,a junk e mail box that will be ignored and overflow. in dealing with trucking brokerages if you want my truck for your customers load, then you will not give my info,to anyone outside of immediate far that has been a good move.i can shitcan them easily enough if they do. that is how much i demand my privacy. as for the trumpers, i just look at em like dr jeckle and mr hyde. the education system run by state goverments have finally made it the bottom. this is why we cant convince what is right and wrong,only now point and finger what is left..if the state can not see how important that teacher is,and the course in civics,practiced, then your local goverment is complacent in this ignorance. we dont have a family dinner anymore,we have parents trying to make ends meet. we allow the kids and those who are bored to come home to trivial shit on the infinate glass window. were already economic slaves to the present society run by wall street. now they condition us for a goverment run by the likes of people who will,sign anything for their personal greed. we maybe the last gereration that holds a democracy here in America.

  12. Treating these entities like common carriers doesn’t seem to work. The common carrier model assumes one to one connections. Social Media is like being able to dial a single number and reach 100,000 million households . In addition, allowing misinformation or hate speech to flourish has costs to individuals and society. These companies are creating externalities that pollute the media environment that they pay no costs for. They should be open for lawsuits for not policing their content better. For those of you in AI FaceBook jail, this works both ways.

    As for flawed policing algorithms, my mama told me never to call people names and my teachers warned me about using labels to make generalizations.

  13. Like Jack S., I don’t FB, tweet, instagram, tik toc, etc. I have a life. This site is the closest I get to that sort of back-and-forth stuff, since I can occasionally learn something here amidst the clutter and clatter from the doom&gloomers, outraged folk, self-satisfied pontificators and goobers like TS (LOL). Your milage may vary. Just sayin’.

  14. Perhaps there is only one reason to limit power: it corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. What does that mean? in my book of simplified thinking, it means that it self-serves rather than serves others. Of course, that’s also why people love power. People don’t like when they are the “other” being subject to power but we love having power. Thus rude people do not like political correctness. Wealthy people do not like limits to accumulation. Politicians do not like upholding rights or equality or freedom.

    There’s a reason why Lady Justice is holding a balance scale. On one tray there is power, on the other there is freedom. It’s a very sensitive balance.

    The January 6 insurrectionists demanded power for themselves, not freedom for others.

  15. On one hand, since these huge entities are private, they have the right to monitor/modify what people put into
    their systems. On the other hand, as extensions of the citizens who run these behemoths, they have a responsibility,
    too often ignored, but, nonetheless, a responsibility, to provide reasoned material, and “reasoned care,” imho.
    I’ve never been in FB jail…because I’ve never been on FB!!
    Yes, apply the anti-trust laws, seriously!

  16. patmcc: It’s nice when you beat the long-winded and the overly-opinionated to the punch in the mornings. I hope you are well. You and a cup of good, hot coffee are a good way to start the day. Thanks for your commentary. You, too, Vernon, Gerald, Bill, Peggy, Aging Little Girl, and a Nancy or two!

  17. A good dose of anti-trust would be a beginning, but I suspect that we are missing the differences between, say Facebook, and Verizon. If we had 50 phone companies, or 50 Internet providers, it wouldn’t matter which one we chose. We would still be able to phone anyone and reach the Internet.

    FB, Twitter, and the like are different. I am on FB (and I have an unused Twitter account) because I was told that I needed that when I ran for office. I am still on FB because (1) I connect with my family, and (2) my high school/elementary school organized their reunions there. I have no interest of need for other social media platforms.

    If FB was broken up, I am guessing that my family and my school friends would all migrate to only one or two platforms. I suspect that MAGA people would migrate to their own echo chambers and we would have a cable news situation. Don’t say Trump is bad on and don’t say January 6 was a hoax on

    So far, FB labeled one of my posts “partially false” quoting two sites saying “partly true” and one saying “mostly false” – it was about the utility of masks — the post included a bit of hyperbole, but having thumbed through the literature, the scientist in me says it was more true than not. I am still planning to post a “masks do nothing” post to see how they respond.

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