Regal Blue Media will be launching a new niche, boutique platform, called “Upadaria”, catering to a mostly, but not exclusively, Christian audience seeking personal fulfillment of God’s potential for their lives through mutual self-reliance. This user-backed “virtual-to-local” community, we believe, is the future of the digital commons and is the proper capitalist response to fears and concerns about a few firms dominating the marketplace.
It is argued that “Big tech monopolies control the public square in terms of economic exchange and the sharing of information and public opinion.” Those who find themselves at odds with this alleged “big tech oligarchy”, it is claimed, are effectively shunned from the economy and public discourse, what they call “deplatformed.” We propose a capitalist response to what is really a case of earned market dominance by the creation of user-backed niche communities which mesh together to organically create a larger decentralized digtial ecosystem.
It is argued that if the entities that, allegedly, control economic exchange and public discourse are using their ability to control access to these things to hinder free speech in ways government, which used to control these things, cannot legally do, the net effect is not a free society. Increasingly we may be forgiven for the false impression that the accepted orthodoxy of a few people at the top of these platforms controls the discourse and shuns dissent on ideological grounds.
But it’s not necessarily what you think, it’s not so much ideological as it is good old-fashioned greed. The ideology of big tech is monopolism, which doesn’t mean they have achieved monopoly status. It is not necessarily a good response to cancel the corporations so much as to invent our way around them. Demonizing big tech and ascribing motives to them that may be fantastical and inaccurate won’t liberate the digital commons and may introduce government controls that are worse than the monopoly power big tech wields.
What some call “the big tech oligarchy” who, it is argued, seem to be determined to use their marketing position as arbiters of the digital commons (in their own best interests). This is a situation, it is feared, where economic life and public discourse are controlled in a manner that is favorable to this “oligarchy” maintaining their monopoly while disrespecting the basic dignity of the human beings they were meant to serve.
The goal isn’t ideological, it is to take and keep more market share and to shield themselves from possible competitors while keeping government at bay. This isn’t monopoly per se, people will argue whether there is a monopoly, but it is monopolism, that is, a desire to gain as close to monopoly advantages as they legally can.
There are those who debate a need for reforms meant to nuetralize this dominant market power over the digital commons. There is a desire to push back against this “oligarchy” and its perceived control over the economic life of most people and their seeming ability to literally decide the content of our public discourse.
While the narrative is that the big tech oligarchy are driven by ideology, the truth may be more complicated. There are conservatives who have used and continue to use big tech to promote themselves and there have been people on the left, especially the anti-war left, who have endured deplatforming.
Some are focused on the narrative assumption that this “big tech oligarchy” are anti-conservative zealots trying to help Democrats win. One suspects that if Republicans were more favorable to the monopolism of big tech, they would have better access to the platforms. Many, especially those who adhere to the ideological bias assumption, are focusing on using the power of the state to prohibit these platforms from moderation of their content according to the standards they deem best suited to their needs.
The danger to this approach is that such powers to dictate how private firms choose to moderate their content or who and what they desire to associate with can cut all ways, not just the way we might want it to cut.
It is problematic for many that a “big tech oligarchy” has the power to control so much economic activity and sharing of content, news, and opinion that those who do not have access to their systems are generally at a decided disadvantage in our society. The existence of such a massive marketplace dominance, many argue, is akin to a concentration of power in government, against which America’s founders crafted a Constitution that involves checks and balances and a federalist system that keeps power from concentrating at the center and the top.
Those who may argue that the monopoly powers being used by big tech are not ideologically motivated have a point. But the reality of power, others retort, is that if, say, the top 10 platforms decide to deplatform someone who has not violated the law for speech or opinions that even most people would disagree with, than that person’s right to free speech is effectively meaningless. Or so the narrative runs.
This, however, is not the goal of big tech or the greatest problem. Their goal is to have as much of the market share of advertising dollars and audience size as possible and to prevent the emergence of competition while creating a political situation in which those most favorable to them are in office. This concentration of marketplace dominance is antithetical to a free market, but having the government step in to punish “the big tech oligarchy” may itself be a worse cure than the disease.
Freedomists are not likely to be fans of big tech and its monopolistic ambition, even if monopoly itself is yet to be achieved. The issue here is centralized marketplace dominance, which goes against our instinct toward decentralization as much as possible. Our opposition is principled, not ideological. But our instinct for a capitalist response tends to go against a knee-jerk authoritarianism over the platforms, telling them how and when to moderate content, is
What is the response?
In general, the best response, we propose, is to undermine the monopoly through creating a new digital commons that is NOT simply a re-creation of alternative massive platforms but that is an interconnected mesh network of diverse autonomous and user-backed niche digital communities. Efforts to create the next mass platform will necessarily come against a system that is more sensitive to the needs of the advertisers than to the users and the irreducible complexity of creating an alternative structure that can attract a comparable audience size and advertisers.
The new approach may look more like a thousand cuts against the monopoly holders. It may be thousands of user-backed niche communities that find ways to connect to each other in a decentralized mesh.
Where government can be useful is if those who pursue monopolism go off their platforms to collude in order to prevent the market from operating freely. If banks close accounts to businesses simply because they are creating alternative digital commons structures, in collusion with big tech monopolists, this may be actionable from an anti-trust perspective.
Those banks who have ended relationships with personalities and groups whose rehtoric harms their brand through that association aren’t facing public blowback, again, because most people don’t LIKE the deplatformed personalities or groups. But if this became a general trend targeting personalities and groups who have not been overtly offensive, the legal and public relations problems would become insurmountable.
The “free speech platform” approach is problematic for a few reasons. First, it is irreducibly complex in terms of attracting a comparable audience that would be of interest to advertisers and, second, because it would cost billions to build and market. At this stage, it must still rely on an ecosystem that is more sensitive to the needs of the marketplace giants than to small would-be competitors. Finally, and overlooked, is the fact most people don’t want to be on a platform that gives space to actual Nazis or totalitarians or any of the other socially unacceptable extremes. Moreover, they don’t want vulgarity and smut, except in the adult websites they subscribe to.
The inability of these “free speech platforms” to compete even on a technical basis, they often crash, or to gain access to the digtial ecosystem to reach a mass audience is abysmal to date. By allowing some speech that is definitely beyond the pale of social acceptance, these platforms have given an easy justification to ecosystem giants, which dominate economic exchange providers (e.g. credit card companies and payment processors), domain name registrars, and hosting providers, to deplatform them. The pushback from the public against these behemoths is muted because very few people want to defend actual racists or neonazis.
The clawback of a distributed and decentralized control over the digtial ecosystem and the digital commons will take time and resources from diverse communities of people. If, however, users continue to refuse to want to pay for access and demand freebies, they are showing that the only way to thrive as a platform is through the exact approach being taken now: cater to corporate backers, treat users and their data as a commodity, and obtain market dominance.
No corporation, sensitive to the pressure of activist communities and thought leaders and to their brand, will back mass appeal alt platforms that allow things most of the public tends to feel negatively about. On the other hand, if such a community had a core of 30 million paid users who tended not to populate the platforms, advertisers would bend over backwards to reach them, regardless of branding issues.
The alternative niche communities, backed by paid subscriptions, will have the means to form their own niche ecosystems and then connect to other autonomous niche ecosystems. This doesn’t spell the end of the free user, ultimately even paid communities will tend to collect free users, even if only through a free email list.
Instead of simply deplatforming one erstwhile competitor, with easy justification based on content deemed hateful by most people, the marketplace giants would be forced to deplatform hundreds and thousands of niche communities whose ONLY “crime” is providing an alternative digtial venue. This would run afoul of antitrust laws in an obvious way, therefore it is unlikely.
Because of the backing of paid users, which could garner advertising support in the future, the ability of these niche communities to invent around the present digital ecosystem or to wage legal challenges on an anti-trust basis would grow and grow as time goes on.
The demand of some to a right to actually USE the existing platforms to attack and undermine the existing platforms is unlikely to gain public support and if it gains official support it can be used against even those invoking it.
These platforms, as “monopoly” as they aspire to be, grew through an ability to meet market demands, both free users as a commodity and the 1% of firms that spend 80% of the marketing dollars that fund these platforms. Like it or not, the functionality of these platforms when compared to their would-be competitors is far superior. In short, the “big tech oligarchy” earned its special status through excellence. Undermining its position of marketplace dominance, through free and fair competition, may require a marketplace response that isn’t merely a re-creation of mass market alternatives.
Regal Blue Media is funding, with the backing of partners, the first prototype for these niche ecosystems, one that both caters to more socially conservative Christians or people of a Judeo-Christian worldview, without allowing any kind of hate speech, bigotry, or intolerance directed at any other group of people. This will be a user-backed platform through paid subscriptions, with a free email list as the open end of its funnel, that will succeed or fail, in part, on the basis of the willingness of those who decry the “tech oligarchy” to choose to become a paying customer rather than the commodity sold to the actual customers.
The concept of a niche ecosystem is that participation is based on prior agreement to transparent common standards and to common ideals and purposes while funding is from users, as opposed to users being the commodity sold to advertisers. Our gamble, and it remains to be seen whether it is justifed, is that users will want pay for access to features and content to avoid being the commodity. The idea is that when access is free, the provider is more sensitive to those who want to “purchase” the user data and sell to them, as opposed to the users.
Quite simply, a “free to use” platform cannot actually be freedom-oriented or user-centric, it has to cater to the wants and needs of the major firms that provide over 80% of its funding.
The proliferation of these niche ecosystems, paid for by users, and their connections to one another over time, so that one might broadcast a message to many of them at the same time, will answer the complaint that we have an unhealthy monpolistic digital commons and ecosystem that is increasingly insensible to legitimate market demand.
Efforts to rein in “the big tech oligarchy” which tend toward duplication of massive alternative platforms and government regulation are essentially going in the opposite direction of what is necessary and possible. Creating multiple niche ecosystems, backed by paid subscriptions, that connect to one another is not irreducibly complex and it is simply not possible, under present law, to “deplatform” all these alternatives without facing legal consequences.
Our platform, called “Upadaria”, will not allow bigotry or hate speech, it envisioned as a user funded niche community that caters to social conservatives of a Judeo-Christian worldview in a positive and life-affirming manner, being more for something that against anything or anyone who may not fit such a profile.
What we are aiming for, partially through our own development of multiple niche communities, is the proliferation of diverse, user-backed communities connected to a free, pluralistic, and decentralized, alternative digital ecosystem and digital commons. No, in such a network, there won’t be space for the intolerant, hateful, and racist “communities” whom no other community of decent people wants to connect to.
Let the hateful and intolerant build their own things, the market won’t support them and no platform should be compelled to host them.
The “problem” isn’t ideological and it isn’t the “censorship” of actual intolerance. The main problem is a digital commons and digital ecosystem with a small group of major market leaders that cannot be sensitive to user needs and wants because their platforms aren’t user backed. But the solution is to build alternatives that are not irreducibly complex and that cater to niche communities while enabling interconnectedness among those user-backed communities through a decentralized ecosystem.
Our response is to build an alternative platform that is user backed, but definitely not welcoming of actual hatred or bigotry, and that caters to its users as a niche community based on predefined common standards and goals.