The obvious problem with Gessen and Van Norden’s calls to police the border between acceptable and unacceptable speech: who will guard the guardians? By what authority, by what standards, do the arbiters of legitimacy and merit make their decisions, and expect everyone else to accept them? There is no clear answer to this basic question, which is the reason that Facebook, Twitter, and NPR’s explanations for smothering the Biden laptop story were vague, shifting, and evasive. The implicit answer—that the arbiter class shares certain sensibilities and is made up of people who validate one another for manifesting those preferences—is infuriating to anyone outside that class.
As it happens, those who are deplored have recourse against those who do the deploring: just walk away. The social media companies are especially vulnerable to this exit strategy. Their whole business depends on “network effects.” People go to Twitter and Facebook because people go there, which means people will stop going there if people stop going there. As Megan McArdle asks, when was the last time you checked on your MySpace account? It won’t require an organized boycott of Facebook and Twitter, just the rational response of customers who come to realize that viewpoints they hold or respect are actively suppressed by the management.
This solution, though satisfying, has a problem of its own: it will make the “big sort” even bigger. In 1992, 39 percent of voters resided in a county where the most popular presidential candidate received at least 60 percent of the two-party vote. In 2016, 61 percent of voters lived in such “landslide counties.” The proportion of voters living in extreme landslide counties, where the more popular presidential candidate received at least 75 percent of the vote, increased from 4 percent to 21 percent over those same 28 years.