When former President Donald Trump recently teased an announcement about social media, there was speculation he might be joining Gettr, a friendly new network founded by an ally that has gotten off to a shaky start. Instead it turned out he was filing class action lawsuits against Twitter, Facebook, and Google.
The same day, a group of conservative House Republicans unveiled proposals to rein in the tech giants that were themselves an alternative to more sweeping bipartisan bills that would potentially break up Big Tech.
This flurry of activity reveals conservatives don't yet have a workable solution to their complaints about the biggest social media platforms. Efforts to create a friendly alternative like Gettr or Parler have thus far failed. The technology is clunky and amateurish compared to the big dogs, too many of the initial users are extreme, and the echo chamber effect is unappealing to conservative influencers who gain their followings in part by dunking on liberals who occupy the same platforms. You can't own the libs if the libs can't see you.
Handing more power to regulatory agencies that conservatives will only intermittently control — and whose permanent employees may lean left even when Republicans run the executive branch — also seems problematic and could easily backfire. The legal theories undergirding Trump's lawsuit remain untested.
There is also the subtlety of the problem: conservatives mostly operate with ease on Facebook and Twitter, sharing content freely. But when these companies have acted heavy-handedly against them, with the suppression of the Hunter Biden and the possible COVID-19 lab-leak stories being the two most commonly cited examples, it has been more consequential than the millionth "socialism sucks" meme, with no obvious comparable errors against liberals.
It wasn't always this way. When conservatives moved against the Fairness Doctrine under Ronald Reagan, it was consistent with their message of deregulation and the resulting talk radio boom — led by Rush Limbaugh — saw the right winning marketplace competition against established institutions.
Trump's banishment from Twitter, the platform that helped him build his political following, suggests this history is unlikely to repeat itself in the social media age. Conservatives have begun to rethink their Reagan-era approach to antitrust and question whether bigness is not only bad in government.
The first Republican who can solve rather than fundraise off this dilemma may be the party's next leader.