Though efforts at reining in social networks appear feeble — Facebook scored a win this week when a federal judge dismissed a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit seeking to break up the tech behemoth and require them to divest from Instagram and WhatsApp — the fight continues in Congress.
Last week, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee moved anti-tech legislation forward. Though each bill was drafted by a Democrat, the top Republican on the antitrust panel is on board. Rep. Ken Buck says it “breaks up Big Tech’s monopoly power to control what Americans see and say online, and fosters an online market that encourages innovation.”
One bill, deemed the “Ending Platform Monopolies Act,” is sponsored by progressive Rep. Pramila Jayapal. The measure requires tech giants to sell lines of business they run on their platforms if they also compete against them, prohibits acquisitions that expand the market power of online platforms, and lowers barriers to entry for smaller businesses.
Another bill limits tech firm acquisitions; yet another reduces Big Tech’s ability to use their platforms to promote their own goods ahead of competitors; while still another would increase the filing fees for any mergers.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is offering a counterproposal, saying House Republicans are ready to make tech giants “face the music.” The California Republican explained their framework would be based on accountability, transparency and strengthening antitrust review.
Symposiums among conservatives are now taking place, since not all Republicans agree about the aims of right-leaning populists and left-wingers like Jayapal, socialists like Reps. Hank Johnson and Mondaire Jones, who also support these bills.
“Republicans’ over-the-top rhetoric has set the stage for one of the biggest potential government power grabs over private business in decades,” a recent staff editorial in the right-leaning Orange County Register espoused. “Putting government in control of corporate decisions will only endanger the economy and quash the innovation that’s at the heart of the tech firms’ success.”
Reason, perhaps the preeminent libertarian publication, provided a litany of comments this week, warning:
“Expect social media, phone apps, and all sorts of digital services to get less secure and more glitchy, as platforms attempt to comply with mandatory interoperability and openness rules. And expect fewer startup ideas to ever make it to the masses, as the rules around acquisitions are tightened. Amazingly, U.S. lawmakers are touting these proposals in the name of helping tech users. But their solutions seem more aligned with punishing disfavored companies than actually promoting consumer interests.”
But CEO of X Strategies Alexander Bruesewitz disagrees in his recent column for Human Events.
“The GOP must see Big Tech for what it is: a powerful conglomeration that seeks to unilaterally control what Americans think, what they see, and how they behave, no matter the effect it has on our free markets and speech. Instead of passing the buck and failing to act in the face of this threat to our freedom, Congress should get behind Rep. Buck’s legislation,” wrote Bruesewitz.
Matthew Crawford, senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, rehashed his recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he declared big tech “a threat to democracy.”
While bills have anywhere from 11 to 22 co-sponsors, no Minnesota representative, Democrat or Republican, has signed on to them.