The Market Institute President Charles Sauer has a new article in Real Clear Markets highlighting the perils of the push in Congress by some Democrats and even a few Republicans to use antitrust laws to target “Big Tech.”
“Imagine a business that runs a factory in a small town. The factory was the town’s leading employer and paid its employees higher-than-average wages. The business also supported numerous civic and charitable efforts — many of them aimed at improving the lives of the town’s children.
The only problem is the business plays bad music for their employees.
Now imagine one day the town council rose up and announced they have passed a law they say will address the problems with the company. But the law does nothing to stop them from playing their bad music, instead it merely makes it harder for the company to produce their product. The new law also makes their products less appealing, making it more difficult for them to provide high wages and support the community.
Do you think the voters would approve the town council’s actions?
If you said yes, then you are probably an advisor to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer or Senate Judiciary Committee Antitrust Subcommittee Chair Amy Klobuchar. According to media reports, Schumer intends to bring Senator Klobuchar’s S. 2992, the American Innovation and Choice Online Protection Act, to the Senate floor in a few weeks. The bill is being marketed as addressing concerns about Big Tech companies like Facebook and Google.
One provision of S. 2992 prohibits technology companies from “discriminating against similarly situated” businesses in enforcing its terms of service. Concerns have been raised by some progressives that this could make it impossible for Big Tech to practice content moderation. This would force tech companies to lobby Congress for the right censor users, and putting Congress in the position of deciding what content is permissible. Conservatives and libertarians should be concerned about Congress having this type of power – and private companies being forced to plead with Congress about running their business.
Does anyone think giving politicians and bureaucrats more power over Big Tech’s content moderation will result in more free speech online?
Further, S. 2992 also prohibits Big Tech companies from requiring smaller businesses to use certain products as a condition of using their platform. Consequently, this could dramatically harm the quality of results that we currently get from google, break Prime, and countless other services that we are used to using.
The word is starting to get around, and some politicians are starting to see the problems. Politico has reported that some centrist democrats are asking Schumer to delay the vote. This is because they are starting to realize that voting to limit their ability to find new businesses and products via Amazon Prime may not be popular with voters.
One would think Republicans would relish a Senate debate on this bill as it could win them the Senate in November. However, a number of prominent Republican Senators — including Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Lindsey Graham, and Chuck Grassley — have endorsed S. 2992! These Senators are convinced that Big Tech companies have amassed such great market powers that cannot be dislodged or changed absent government interference. Facebook’s dramatic loss of users and revenue in the last year — to Amazon’s dramatic stock slide — to the rise of new tech companies that are challenging the major industries show the Big Tech companies are not immune to market pressure.
While the average Republican voter may be likely to resent Big Tech’s “content moderation” policies, they likely also enjoy Amazon Prime, Google Maps, and other online products. These individuals will not be happy when they discover the reason they no longer get guaranteed two day delivery for non-Amazon products bought through Prime and their searches do not give them the most popular items is because conservatives like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley teamed up with Klobuchar, Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden to cripple Prime, Maps, and other popular interest services. They will be particularly outraged when they learn the bill does little to address concerns about Big Tech’s content moderation — except to give Congress, the bureaucracy, and the federal courts more control of Big Tech’s content moderation rectifiers.
S. 2992 will harm consumers and small business more than it will affect Big Tech. Even worse, it represents a bait-and-switch where Senators trying to fight Big Tech censorship but make the problem worse whilst creating a new host of problems.”