July 1, 2022

Will Congress Ever Stand Up to Big Tech?

The congressional talk of anti-trust reform misses the big point, which is shadow-banning.

It’s no secret, no recent revelation: Big Tech is a threat to free speech.

Everyone knows it, yet while many Americans want a solution, the challenge is how to go about limiting the power of these leftist tech giants without expanding the government’s role in regulating what is otherwise free enterprise.

Instead of tackling the problem with sweeping anti-trust legislation, Congress should deal with the speech-suppressing algorithms that technically let us post whatever we want while keeping others from seeing it: shadow-banning.

Ultimately, something has to be done. Otherwise, Big Tech becomes an ongoing in-kind contribution to the Democrat Party. Even some honest Democrats realize there’s a problem.

“This isn’t some boring squabble,” Christopher Bedford writes. “In barrooms and boardrooms from D.C. to Oshkosh, activists on the right and left alike recognize Big Tech’s power is so large, it threatens our politics, markets, and civil society.”

One proposal being mulled over in Congress is the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, a Senate bill that passed out of a Senate committee in January with bipartisan support. Introduced by Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley as a response to a House investigation into Big Tech’s anti-competitive behaviors, one of the main objectives of the bill is to prevent tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft from “self-preferencing” their products over competitors who sell goods on Big Tech’s platforms or websites.

Naturally, Big Tech opposes the AICOA. And, as Bedford adds: “Every company targeted, save Microsoft, has dumped millions of dollars into lobbyists and ads opposing it. They say the bill poses a threat to their power — and it does, because we know they pose a threat to us.”

So, what’s the hold-up? Some Democrats want to amend the bill to make sure platforms like Facebook are still free to censor content — which of course simply means censoring conservative content.

Nate Hochman, though, worries that conservative reformers might miss what’s most important. “The other potential problem is that Republicans might rally around antitrust action rather than ideological bias,” he writes, “losing sight of the central problem that they should focus on when it comes to Big Tech. If bills such as the ACIOA pass, their Republican sponsors will no doubt go home to their voters and report that they did something about Big Tech. But they won’t have confronted the fundamental issue of bias.”

Bias. That’s the issue, and that’s the concern of some Republicans who wonder whether this bill is the right bill.

Looking ahead, however, there’s still hope for free speech even if ACIOA doesn’t protect it. The Supreme Court is prepared to weigh in on social media censorship this fall when it will determine whether platforms like Twitter, which enjoy protection from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, are indeed publishers in the vein of a print newspaper.

“They can’t have it both ways,” says Peter Van Buren. “They can’t not be responsible for defamatory material on their sites while claiming immunity from the First Amendment stopping them from censoring certain viewpoints. Imagine the phone company saying they are not responsible for you calling Aunt Josie a hag, but they also want to censor your conversation for using the ‘hate speech’ term ‘hag.’”

In the end, conservatives simply can’t support a leftist approach to holding Big Tech accountable. If the Twitters and Facebooks of the online world are still able to censor their users, nothing worthwhile will have been achieved.

The AICOA may seem like the Right’s only chance to take on Big Tech, but a Republican congressional majority in 2023, along with a Republican president in 2025, might be exactly what’s needed to make the Internet a free speech zone.

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