American Compass: Big Tech Reveals the Flaw in Citizens United

August 6, 2020 Anti-Monopoly Policies & EnforcementTech

Last week, the House Antitrust Subcommittee grilled the CEOs of four large technology platforms – Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook – for five and a half hours, focusing on the market power these corporations have accumulated over the last fifteen to twenty years. Typically such hearings are superficial and partisan, with the Republicans and Democrats engaging in spats over annoying and largely irrelevant details. But this time, something unusual happened. The hearing was incredibly substantive, and members on both sides of the aisle focused on the market power wielded by these giants.

There was, however, a split on the committee, only it wasn’t between the Democrats and Republicans. It was between Republicans, all of whom worried about ideological censorship, but some of whom recognized such censorship as a result of monopoly power, and some of whom hewed to traditional libertarian defense of big business to do as it pleases. Ken Buck, Kelly Armstrong, Greg Staube, and Matt Gaetz all eyed the power and dominance of big tech, presuming that their ability to engage in censorship against conservatives was a function of dominance. Jim Jordan, by contrast, sought to ‘work the refs,’ which is to say demand special privileges from Facebook and Google for conservatives while supporting their monopolistic business models. The memo he prepared prior to the hearing included complaints about conservative censorship, but as a distraction from questions of market power. It could have been written, and probably was written, by big tech antitrust attorneys.

I bring this tension up because it is increasingly on display across the Republican side of the aisle. Take Vivek Ramaswamy’s piece in the Wall Street Journal noting that the power of big tech extends to what he calls, in a nod to price-fixing, ‘idea-fixing.’