2021 Apr 6, 7:46pm
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Much like with a communications utility, this concentrationgives some digital platforms enormous control overspeech. When a user does not already know exactly whereto find something on the Internet—and users rarely do—Google is the gatekeeper between that user and the speechof others 90% of the time. It can suppress content by deindexingor downlisting a search result or by steering usersaway from certain content by manually altering autocompleteresults. Grind, Schechner, McMillan, & West, HowGoogle Interferes With Its Search Algorithms and ChangesYour Results, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 15, 2019. Facebookand Twitter can greatly narrow a person’s information flowthrough similar means. And, as the distributor of the clearmajority of e-books and about half of all physical books,4Amazon can impose cataclysmic consequences on authorsby, among other things, blocking a listing.It changes nothing that these platforms are not the solemeans for distributing speech or information. A person alwayscould choose to avoid the toll bridge or train and instead swimthe Charles River or hike the Oregon Trail. Butin assessing whether a company exercises substantial marketpower, what matters is whether the alternatives arecomparable. For many of today’s digital platforms, nothingis.If the analogy between common carriers and digital platforms is correct, then an answer may arise for dissatisfiedplatform users who would appreciate not being blocked:laws that restrict the platform’s right to exclude.
Many advocates of banning books now hide behind a veil of free-market purity: If Amazon bans a book, it’s not really banned because the online megalomart is, a private company. But it controls an outright majority of book sales in the United States, and even that remarkable measure may underestimate the power Jeff Bezos’s company wields over individual titles. Bestsellers can be found elsewhere perhaps, but most books have few other outlets. ...After Twitter banned Donald Trump, Parler rocketed to the top of the download charts on Apple’s app store — until Apple abruptly removed it from sale. Parler tried to carry on, so Amazon booted the defiant social network off its web servers. The lesson was clear: if you adopt free-speech policies that the tech titans dislike, they will converge to shut you down and shut you up.Adam Smith staunchly defended private enterprise, but he warned in The Wealth of Nations that ‘people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.’ The tech companies that control and constrain online communications in the United States are indeed ‘a conspiracy against the public’, not to raise prices — though that warrants a closer look — but to impose their politics and morals on everyone.Monopoly is not the relevant category here. The Big Tech cartel is not the sole purveyor of its products, but its members have such a dominant position in online communications as to threaten both individual liberty and open public discourse. Even the most traditional medium of First Amendment freedoms of the written word, the newspaper, is now a creature of the tech cartel, as Google controls the web advertising on which for-profit print publications depend. Jeff Bezos’s ownership of the Washington Post is an apt metaphor for the relationship between the tech oligarchy-oligopoly and the press as a whole. ...Big Tech does not truly compete. This poses a problem for conventional economic thinking: such non-competition has a psychological aim rather than a commercial one. The tech cartel has the private business world’s freedom from public accountability, yet it commands more wealth than whole nations and has a singular chokehold on published speech in the US. All this unchecked power serves a moral vision as comprehensive as that of any religion. For Big Tech, as for religions of old, error has no rights. And the public has no right to know or debate anything — not on Lord Bezos’s estate.The Democratic party benefits politically from the suppression of speech online and the privileging of a single ideological point of view. Yet it is far from certain that Republicans understand what is required to restore the intellectual commons. There’s an obvious contradiction between GOP complaints about censorship and calls on the right for stricter libel laws and new ways to sue tech companies for what gets said on their platforms.But if policy remedies are elusive, the cultural prerequisites of the cure are not: Americans must understand that their freedom to read what they choose and to think for themselves is opposed by an ideology that calls itself progressive and liberal, and by a concentration of unaccountable power over the tongue and mind unlike anything this country has encountered before. A new philosophical critique of this power and of the commissars who wield it must be devised, a critique as radical as the thought of Adam Smith was in 1776.
A new proposal by Sen. Josh Hawley may make it almost impossible for Big Tech giants to acquire companies and the existing legacy antitrust laws will also be made more stringent.“Trust-Busting for the Twenty-First Century Act” by Sen. Hawley (we obtained a copy for you here) would essentially:Ban any merger or acquisitions done by firms that have a market cap that exceeds $100 billion.Lower the threshold for prosecution by making changes to the existing antitrust laws. “The protection of competition” will take the front seat and will replace the “consumer harm” standard which long dictated the federal antitrust laws for the basis of prosecution.Make companies that lose federal antitrust lawsuits do away with all the profits that come from their “monopolistic conduct.”Allow FTC to regulate “dominant digital firms” in online markets.Hawley, while discussing the proposal with Axios, said that the government and the country “shouldn’t be run by a few mega-corporations” and that the Republican Party “has got to become the party of trust-busting once again. You know, that’s a part of our history.”The Republican senator also said that “globalization” and “both parties getting comfortable with corporate consolidation” was the reason behind market failure and the need for intervention. “We tried it the way that the big corporatists wanted, and it hasn’t been a success for the American consumer, for the American producer, or for the American economy,” Hawley said.What Hawley proposes is not just going to affect Big Tech, but will also impact several other corporate giants, be it in retail, banking, or media. Acquisitions and mergers, at large, will be the points of focus. Although the proposal may find some support from Republicans, it may not garner enough support from Democrats who have benefited more from the Big Tech monopolies of late.