Google and Facebook may have a big challenge ahead. Reports from Bloomberg and Business Intelligence today say a new draft executive order, yet to be signed by Trump, call for antitrust investigations into Facebook and Google. Not for commercial domination of their markets. It’s for perceived political “bias.”
Whether reading news or looking for local businesses, citizens rely on search, social media, and other online platforms to provide objective and reliable information to shape a host of decisions ranging from consumer purchases to votes in elections. Because of their critical role in American society, it is essential that American citizens are protected from anticompetitive acts by dominant online platforms. Vibrant competition in the online ecosystem is essential to ensuring accountability for the platforms that hold so much sway over our economy and democratic process.
The draft order — which still might not ultimately be signed by Donald Trump, but also could be — then directs administration “departments and agencies with authorities that could be used to enhance competition among online platforms” to use those powers to “ensure that no online platform exercises market power in a way that harms consumers, including through the exercise of bias.” Part of that is explicitly an investigation into whether online platforms have violated antitrust laws.
That would potentially include the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice at the least.
Such a move would establish dangerous precedent for business and ultimately be injurious to business and entrepreneurs. It would also be indefensible on the basis of political and social principles of this country.
Freedom of speech doesn’t mean speech quotas
The First Amendment guarantees that the government cannot curtail speech. In business, that includes the imposition of required speech outside of something like a warning label or ingredients list. To threaten legal attack on companies because a given administration or political party doesn’t perceive companies to be sufficiently friendly toward a desired political orientation is constitutionally challenged at the outset. It is a step toward censorship of brands, corporate values, and individuals.
Claims are ill-informed
To claim that conservative views are excluded from social media is absurd. They exist in robust and extensive degrees, as simple searches on Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms will show.
One could argue algorithm-driven content that drives people to only what they are inclined to like and believe is an ill-advised approach for public policy. But people’s interest in tribal views, which drives the result, has been around for generations. In the past, Nation subscribers likely did not also receive the National Review. Finding other schools of opinion are even more easily available today, especially on platforms.
Government should be even-handed
It is wrong, meddlesome, and imprudent for government bodies to take their revenge on one group of businesses while allowing others to act as they will. If there is a complaint that not enough conservative ideas are available on platforms, be fair and point to the thin representation of liberal takes on Fox News. Regulation is frequently important to ensure the interests and safety of the public at large. This is a case of overreach.
Use laws for their intended purpose, not as political weapons
This proposed executive order is also an example of hypocrisy. Up until now, the administration has shown distinct disinclination toward most business regulation. If there is a perceived need to check monopolistic tendencies, then do so on pure commercial and economic grounds — that is, on the basis of existing law. The concern over supposed “bias” is nothing more than a case of political sour grapes by a group whose preferred opinions aren’t more widely popular.
Those who claim to have a love of the market should show their allegiance in fair action. They might also include some respect for the market of ideas.