Given Big Tech’s flagrant interference in the 2020 election — a steal, out in the open, in front of everyone — it’s tempting to welcome any regulatory or legal action that might punish them.
Some, like the efforts of Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, bode well — Paxton’s multi-state antitrust case would prevent Google from using its monopoly on digital ads to arbitrarily punish websites.
But as another recent antitrust case filed against Facebook by the New York attorney general shows, Democrats want to use the power of government to pressure for more censorship, not less.
Buried on page 70 of the lawsuit is a section that reveals a key aim of the Democrat-led suit: to use antitrust as a cudgel to demand stricter content moderation from Facebook (as if it could get any stricter!)
Via the lawsuit:
Due to Facebook’s unlawful conduct and the lack of competitive constraints resulting from that conduct, there has been a proliferation of misinformation and violent or otherwise objectionable content on Facebook’s properties. That content has harmed users and reduced the quality of advertising on those properties for advertisers who value the health and safety of their brand. Indeed, numerous advertisers have expressed concerns about brand safety on Facebook. Internally, Facebook executives recognized that their advertising customers valued brand safety and understood that advertisers do not want their ad placements associated with disturbing content. Even so, Facebook does not provide advertisers with meaningful ways to ensure that ads are distanced from content that could harm a brand’s reputation.
Republican-led efforts to tame Big Tech, even if they have so far been unsuccessful, aim at the opposite objective: less censorship and more freedom. To achieve this objective, Republicans must ensure tech companies are more afraid of them than they are of the Democrats.
A legitimate criticism of the Trump administration is that not enough was done sooner. Indeed, the USMCA trade bill, pushed by the administration, contained legal protections for Big Tech companies that were even stronger than Section 230, the law that shields tech companies from legal liability for censoring their users. Despite a bipartisan effort to stop it, these protections remained in USMCA.
But in the final year of Trump’s first term, thanks to the efforts of staffers loyal to the President’s interests, the administration made huge strides towards taming big tech — in the right way.
James Bacon, the youngest commissioned officer in White House history, led efforts to clinch a number of federal appointments and nominations that brought Big Tech to the very brink of losing their coveted censorship shield.
One such appointment was Adam Candeub, a law professor who had previously sued Twitter in free speech cases. Candeub, once appointed to the Trump administration, drafted the proposed FCC rulemaking change that would have tamed Silicon Valley’s censors.
Reading Candeub’s proposed rulemaking change, one can see how his priorities were the diametric opposite of the New York attorney general’s. Not more censorship of “objectionable,” content, but less:
Congress wanted platforms to comment as they wish without bearing the crippling legal liability for defamation and other unlawful statements that their users might make—or at least not penalize good actors. In contrast, commenters seek to use section 230 to protect their affirmative editorial decisions to censor, de-platform, shape, and control users content.
“Otherwise objectionable” is also ambiguous. While most courts read [Section 230] following the canon of ejusdem generis so that it refers to other matters of the kind enumerated prior in the list, some commentators (and courts) argue that the phrase refers to any material that a platform considers objectionable. Resolving the ambiguity as commenters urge—allowing platforms to remove any content they subjectively deem objectionable undermines the statute’s text, the purpose and structure.
In addition to the appointment of Candeub, Bacon also led efforts to nominate Nathan Simington as commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — the regulatory body that has the power to approve Candeub’s proposal. Despite opposition from senators and industry groups, Bacon’s efforts were successful — Simington is now serving a five-year term on the Commission.
It is a testament to the failure of the American system to defend the interests of its citizens that it took so much bureaucratic maneuvering just to get the government in a position to curb Big Tech’s undermining of the First Amendment.
And it will prove an immense source of anger and frustration that those titanic efforts may come to naught: although there is a last-ditch effort underway for the FCC to enact Candeub’s proposal, time is slipping away. It is unclear if the chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, will support the fast-tracked rule change proposed by his colleagues.
If Biden takes office in January, expect the bureaucratic maneuvering to go the other way. Like the New York attorney general, his administration will use the power of government to bully Big Tech and other corporate giants into even more aggressive assaults on the free expression rights of Americans.
The Democrats know this exists. They just don’t care.
The Big Tech fight over the next four years will not be about who can expose the tech giants (they’ve already been exposed), but who can effectively wield power against them.
The efforts of Bacon and Candeub show the path for Republicans — the threat of government action against tech companies must be coupled with a clear demand to restore the original promise of the internet: limitless free expression, with users rather than hyper-progressive corporations deciding what content they consume.
This may yet become a reality. While the FCC may lack the time necessary to enact Candeub’s plans, Democrat attorney generals aren’t the only ones who can file antitrust suits.
Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. His new book, #DELETED: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal The Election, which contains exclusive interviews with sources inside Google, Facebook, and other tech companies, is currently available for purchase.