Politico: Tech of the Town (Morning Tech)

May 26, 2020 Media

FACEBOOK’S SHAREHOLDERS MEETING TO BE MET WITH VIRTUAL PROTESTS — The social network’s annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday may be virtual, but that won’t stop antitrust advocates and critics of corporate consolidation from protesting. The Freedom from Facebook & Google coalition is launching an online ad campaign today — directed at Facebook employees, investors and analysts — calling for the company to “stop pandemic profiteering” through mergers and demanding to “break up Facebook.”

(The coalition, which twice has flown protest planes over the tech giant’s yearly meeting in Menlo Park, Calif., is co-chaired by Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, a group that champions stronger antitrust enforcement, and David Segal, executive director of the civil liberties group Demand Progress.)

— “What we want to see [come out of this campaign] is renewed scrutinyor accelerating scrutiny, on Facebook in terms of its monopoly over advertising dollars, and the range of harms that stem from its ad-driven business model,” Miller told MT, adding that the coronavirus crisis has raised the stakes for regulation. One of the biggest problems the pandemic demonstrates, according to Miller, is that an ad-driven approach like Facebook’s does not promote quality information. “When misinformation or disinformation is flooding through Facebook, that’s profit for them … they are actually optimized to make money from that structure.” Central to the campaign is a change in the business model that underlies those problems, she added.

— But breaking up Facebook, as the new ads demand, would not fully address so-called pandemic profiteering. A “break-up is only part of the solution; the other part has to be regulatory,” Miller told MT on Monday. The coalition strongly supports the merger ban legislation put forward by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). “This is a common-sense measure that would help prevent dominant corporations who have access to credit and support from the feds that other types of companies can’t have from … continuing to exacerbate concentration” throughout the economy, Miller added.