Breaking Up Big Tech, Not a Disinformation Board, Is the Answer
Washington, D.C. – The American Economic Liberties Project released the following statement in response to news that the Biden administration has established a ‘Disinformation Governance Board’ within the Department of Homeland Security:
There is a serious problem with foreign propaganda in the United States, and we encourage the aggressive use of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, and other legal tools to address them. However, we are concerned about reports that the Department of Homeland Security has put together a ‘Disinformation Governance Board.’
Over the last ten years, DHS has been at the center of some of our most heated debates, including questions on immigration and unwarranted surveillance. The current concern from conservatives is that President Biden will use this board to deter speech of which he does not approve. But this concern should go both ways. If structured in a way designed to align government and dominant tech platforms to censor speech, progressives might worry that under a President DeSantis or President Trump, DHS could use a ‘Disinformation Governance Board’ to pressure dominant tech platforms to censor immigrants’ rights activists, protesters against police brutality, LGBTQ rights activists, labor organizers, socialists, advocates for Palestinians, or those opposed to industrial animal agriculture.
More to the point, we believe that an attempt to work through the framework of ‘disinformation’ misconstrues the nature of threat to democracy. The consolidation of power over speech in the hands of dominant platforms has eroded free expression in America. Mark Zuckerberg once said that Facebook is “more like a government than a business,” characterizing the power and reach of Facebook, and has set up an oversight board that operates as a Supreme Court for content moderation.
Google has nine products with more than a billion users, Facebook has over 200 million Americans who use their services every single day. Facebook and Google increasingly control what gets heard, said, and financed, because of their ability to structure the communications and advertising industries in the United States. In addition, the free press itself is dying, largely because local newspapers have been starved of revenue by these monopolists. Indeed, these firms have shut down thousands of papers with their market power, a breathtaking act of censorship via monopoly power. No better route exists to promote conspiracy theories than to starve communities of their local news outlet.
For years, we have seen tech platforms engage in questionable censorship decisions in the name of preventing ‘disinformation,’ putting warning labels against content that alleges that, for instance, profits are driving inflation. Very basic problems fostered by dominant platforms, such as fraudsters scamming women by pretending to be U.S. military personnel, or revenge porn or harassment, remain largely unaddressed. Meanwhile, these firms profit by amplifying incendiary or harmful speech. During the January 6th riots, for instance, Facebook was making money selling ads shown to rioters as they organized. As another example, Alex Jones was recommended by YouTube’s recommendation algorithm 15 billion times. It’s easy enough to point the finger at a speaker pushing harmful or defamatory content, but the fundamental driver of the danger is the business model of the giant monopolist that profits by turning such speakers into stars.
This problem is a direct result of poor policy choices since the 1980s of deregulating our media and communications systems. Other firms, such as TikTok and Twitter, are also operating in this market structure, and they also have the incentive to gather as much attention and data as possible through the promotion and amplification of incendiary content, and by addicting users.
It is long past time for Congress and the administration to break up advertising intermediaries like Google and Facebook, put in place rules to prohibit surveillance advertising, pass the Journalism Competition & Preservation Act, get rid of dark patterns or other user interface choices meant to addict and deceive users, and change laws such as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that prevent the use of common law torts like defamation against platforms who amplify harmful or illegal speech.
When a few dominant platforms control speech in America, the answer is not to let those platforms operate unpoliced, or to have the government tell Mark Zuckerberg what speech to allow. It is to break those platforms up and put in place rules to ensure a vibrant public square in America.
For more, read “Ending Our Click-Bait Culture: Why Progressives Must Break the Power of Facebook and Google” here.
Learn more about Economic Liberties here.
The American Economic Liberties Project works to ensure America’s system of commerce is structured to advance, rather than undermine, economic liberty, fair commerce, and a secure, inclusive democracy. Economic Liberties believes true economic liberty means entrepreneurs and businesses large and small succeed on the merits of their ideas and hard work; commerce empowers consumers, workers, farmers, and engineers instead of subjecting them to discrimination and abuse from financiers and monopolists; foreign trade arrangements support domestic security and democracy; and wealth is broadly distributed to support equitable political power.