The Abused Friend of My Enemy Is My Friend
When I play Sid Meier’s Civilization, as I have thousands of times, I have an eccentric strategy.
When other civilizations demand tribute – or just attack me with without provocation – I give them what they want.
I sue for peace.
And then, I propose an alliance.
The AI almost always accepts the offer – and the subsequent alliance is almost always fruitful. It’s almost as if the programmers never imagined that anyone would try my self-abasing approach. Sure, humans will grovel in the face of superior firepower. But extend the hand of friendship? Have you no pride at all?
Civilization is admittedly only a game. Yet I can’t help but think that I’m on to something. Contrary to what you’ve heard, appeasement works. And under the right circumstances, actively befriending your current enemies might work even better. Especially if these enemies are short on friends. If you’re used to being hated, a surprising hand of friendship is hard to refuse.
The rising witch-hunt against social media companies provides a nice test case. Even though social media companies clearly lean left, left-wing activists and politicians are still gunning for top social media companies.* And so far, jarringly, left-wing critics have been joined by non-left activists and politicians looking for payback.
If my Civilization strategy has merit, this is a grave mistake for the non-left. Now is precisely the time to make new friends. To say, “Though we’ve had our differences in the past, these demagogues are treating you awfully. While you vote for the same party, left-wing activists and politicians are clearly not your friends. So guess what? We’ve decided to stand up for you. I understand if you don’t believe us, but just watch.”
This is admittedly less emotionally appealing than Ted Cruz’s break-up letter with the whole of corporate America:
For too long, woke CEOs have been fair-weather friends to the Republican Party: They like us until the left’s digital pitchforks come out. Then they run away. Or they mouth off on legislation they don’t understand—and hurt the reputations of patriotic leaders protecting our elections and expanding the right to vote.
Enough is enough. Corporations that flagrantly misrepresent efforts to protect our elections need to be called out, singled out and cut off. In my nine years in the Senate, I’ve received $2.6 million in contributions from corporate political-action committees. Starting today, I no longer accept money from any corporate PAC. I urge my GOP colleagues at all levels to do the same.
But other than keeping corporate media in an unhappy alliance with the left, what is this break-up letter even supposed to accomplish? You can insist, “They made their bed; let them lie in it,” but that’s awfully unconstructive. Say instead, “The abused friend of my enemy is my friend.”
Naive? It is height of sophistication compared to joining forces with the left to demand stricter social media regulation. Which Ted Cruz also seems to favor:
In order to be protected by Section 230, companies like Facebook should be “neutral public forums.” On the flip side, they should be considered to be a “publisher or speaker” of user content if they pick and choose what gets published or spoken.
As I expressed to Mark Zuckerberg, as a private business Facebook has a clear First Amendment right to publish whatever it wants on its website within the bounds of the law. The company can support political causes and oppose ones it disagrees with, just like a private citizen can speak his or her mind or agitate against opposing views.
But if Facebook is busy censoring legal, protected speech for political reasons, the company should be held accountable for the posts it lets through. And it should not enjoy any special congressional immunity from liability for its actions.
Social media companies are already changing their behavior to forestall regulation. They’ve added content warnings. They added “fact-checking.” And virtually all of these forestalling efforts have ended up nudging users in a left-wing direction. (Yes, making a big deal out of Covid is decidedly left-wing). A few suggestive polls:
What fraction of social media content warnings and fact-checking you experience try to nudge you in a right-wing direction?
— Bryan Caplan (@bryan_caplan) October 11, 2021
Social media was better before providers started “moderating content.”
— Bryan Caplan (@bryan_caplan) October 7, 2021
While I too have found social media companies annoying on occasion, activism makes them more annoying – and successful activism will be worse yet.
In any case, any regulation that happens will almost certainty be administered by normal left-wing bureaucrats. Right-wing administrations may restrain them; left-wing administrations will unleash them. Either way, the least-bad outcome for the non-left is not only to avoid regulation, but kill the threat of regulation.
What’s the alternative? Unring the bell. Instead of telling social media companies, “You made your bed; now lie in it,” show up with a sincere smile and say, “You look like you could use a friend.” Then take a principled stand not only against new regulation, but in favor of removing whatever regulations are already on the books.
* Just as my Simplistic Theory of Left and Right predicts, by the way. If you make your fortune on the free market, the left will resent you regardless of your politics.