Because of their ability to shut down direct contact between people, most of the attention right now is going to social media and section 230. But that’s only a piece of a bigger problem, one of our own making.
The power of Twitter, Facebook and others to shut down voices and opinions they don’t like is a problem for sure. But while we keep focused on playing Monday-morning quarterback about yesterday’s outrages (like the burying of Hunter’s laptop, or silencing of political dissent), we’re missing a big piece of the broader picture.
What happened in 2012, when the FTC had a chance to pump the brakes on Google’s expanding digital information monopoly? Something that looks an awful lot like a political quid-pro-quo, one which benefitted Google and the administration of the day, to the detriment of everyone else. Risks were known — specifically named, in fact — but blown off for, well, ‘reasons’.
Instead, the FTC blinked — and blinked hard, choosing to close the investigation in early 2013. A remarkable leak to Politico of agency documents about the 2012 Google investigation reveals that, despite ample evidence of market distortions and threats to competition presented by the agency’s lawyers, the five commissioners of the FTC deferred instead to speculative claims by their economists.
Records and reporting about the 2012 investigation suggest the FTC did so while bending to political pressure from the Obama White House — which was, in turn, bending to political pressure from Google. William Kovacic, a former FTC chair under President George W. Bush, reviewed the more than 300 pages of documents leaked to Politico and concluded the agency overlooked “what many experts and regulators would consider clear antitrust violations,” calling the specificity of issues outlined “breathtaking.”
In short, where we find ourselves today — with Google as the primary filter of the world’s information, engaging in a network of exclusionary contracts and anti-competitive conduct, and subject to an antitrust lawsuit led by the Department of Justice and joined by 48 state attorneys general — could have, and should have, been avoided.
That it wasn’t, however, provides key takeaways about where we are now with Big Tech, and, in particular, the method of enforcement of our antitrust laws, whose application has become too tightly wrapped around the axle of price, and captured by the speculative science of economic forecasting. It also reveals just how politicized antitrust enforcement has become — influenced by the siren song of internet exceptionalism and the powerful tug of Google, one of the world’s richest companies. — Federalist
Pressure from the Obama White House?
The article goes on to remind us all how spectacularly wrong the predictions of the government experts were (and isn’t that a familiar refrain?). Here is a taste of it.
Among other claims, two economists also alleged that Google’s grip on the market for mobile devices would fall in the face of competition from Amazon and Mozilla — and that the mobile distribution channel for search was too small a market to be relevant.
History has borne out how spectacularly wrong the economists were. This brings forward a key element of the over-reliance on an ever-narrowing set of criteria around which our antitrust laws are now enforced. It over-emphasizes speculative economic forecasting over hard market realities. — Federalist
Judge Robert Bork — the same nomination to SCOTUS so cynically spiked by Dems to give us the verb ‘borked’ — warned against having he-said-she-said esoteric economist theorizing as the basis of whether something was anti-trust or not.
Google, briefly, was on the list of top lobby companies with three other familiar names that completely dwarf the big pharma and aerospace/defense industry corporations’ lobbying efforts, as dizzying as THEIR numbers are.
But why spend money supporting your favorite political party when you can discreetly offer much greater service by downranking and killing the ad revenue of any voices who fail to goose-step along with the political narrative of the day?
Between Twitter, Facebook, and Google using their various versions of a ‘mute’ button on the ‘wrong’ kind of free speech, they have had exactly the chilling effect on robust political dialogue that the experts have told us they could drop on our heads.
And, despite a SCOTUS ruling just last month that explicitly forbade Congress from pressuring corporations to silence speech on their behalf, Democrats, even now, are calling for Big Tech to do the same for them today.
Are there any moral boundaries they will NOT cross in their quest for raw power? Or are they limited only by what they think they can reasonably get away with?