House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy on Sunday night released a “framework” he argued to House Republicans would help rein in Big Tech companies from engaging in censorship and silencing of conservatives.
In a letter sent to House Republicans on Sunday night, McCarthy announced the framework as an apparent counterweight to a series of antitrust bills which last week passed the House Judiciary Committee with largely Democrat support but also some Republicans, most notably Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO).
“Just days before the 2018 primary election, Google search results for ‘California Republicans’ identified our ideology as ‘Nazism,’” McCarthy wrote:
At the same time, conservatives like Devin Nunes and Donald Trump Jr. were shadowbanned on Twitter. For pro-life groups like Live Action and others, the discrimination wasn’t subtle at all. Since then, the examples of conservative censorship and bias across internet platforms has proliferated. Each one of you are all too familiar with how Big Tech and its overwhelmingly liberal executives want to set the agenda and silence conservatives. But Big Tech doesn’t just have a free speech problem. It has an anti-competition problem too.
The letter from McCarthy is heavy on criticism of Google — and specifically mentions several other Big Tech companies like Twitter, Amazon, and Apple — but does not mention Facebook. A House GOP leadership aide told Breitbart News this framework would apply across the board to everyone including Facebook, though. It is notable that McCarthy’s letter also cites efforts specifically from Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). Jordan, in particular, is noteworthy because he is the founding chairman and chairman emeritus of the House Freedom Caucus who also serves as the House Judiciary Committee ranking member and holds lots of sway with conservatives and has been at loggerheads with Buck on the approach to combatting Big Tech for a while now.
“Over 90 percent of search happens on Google and 90 percent of users drop off after first-page results,” McCarthy continued in the letter:
The ability to stack the deck protects the willing participants of the scheme and punishes the non-compliant. The same gatekeeper effect lies with Amazon and Apple. If your company or product doesn’t meet the criteria of corporate wokeism, it’s increasingly likely Americans won’t find it on these platforms. Today’s Big Tech behemoths were once the gold standard of entrepreneurism and innovation. They took on incumbents, created new services, and transformed what our economy looks like today. Innovation and competition is what makes a free economy stronger, and ultimately, our lives better. But Big Tech’s idea of competition today is corrupted. Big Tech wants higher corporate taxes because companies like Amazon know it’s the entrepreneurs and disruptors who will have to pay more to try to compete. Apple, Google, and Amazon use their platforms to tip the scales towards higher fees and their growing product lines. And just about every big technology company has experience copying products or businesses they are unable to acquire.
McCarthy specifically praises the antitrust lawsuit filed by the DOJ against Google during former President Donald Trump’s administration but said that is not enough and Congress needs to act — noting that he, Jordan, and McMorris Rodgers will be introducing specific legislative proposals starting this week.
“The Trump Administration wisely commenced antitrust action against Google last October, but more can be done and Congressional action is warranted,” McCarthy said. “For the sake of preserving free speech and a free economy, it’s time Big Tech faces the music. House Republicans are ready to lead. This week I will join Ranking Members Jim Jordan and Cathy Rodgers to roll out a framework to stop Big Tech based on three principles.”
The three principles that are part of McCarthy’s framework are “accountability,” “transparency,” and “strengthening anti-trust review.”
Under the “accountability” part, McCarthy is heavy on ending Section 230 protections for Big Tech, saying that the House GOP framework “would rein in Big Tech and end their abusive practices, including by changing the law so that Americans can challenge Big Tech directly for their infringement of public speech rights.”
“This effort starts by taking away the liability shield Big Tech has hidden behind for far too long. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act would be changed to limit liability protections for moderation of speech that is not protected by the First Amendment and would preclude Big Tech from discriminating against Americans based on their political affiliation,” McCarthy wrote. “We would also require regular reauthorization of Section 230 so Congress may update regulations of the constantly-evolving internet landscape.”
Under the “transparency” part, McCarthy puts an emphasis on trying to help conservatives in their fight against Big Tech censors — but the framework does not offer too many specific legislative recommendations.
“Our framework would empower Americans by ending Big Tech’s ability to hide behind vague terms of service that have not constrained their conduct in any meaningful way,” McCarthy wrote. “We will do so by mandating that any Big Tech content moderation decisions or censorship must be listed, with specificity, on a publicly available website. In addition, by requiring Big Tech to implement and maintain a reasonable user-friendly appeals process, our plan will empower conservatives and others whose speech rights have been infringed to challenge Big Tech’s attacks.”
Under the final section of the plan, which calls for strengthening antitrust laws, McCarthy wrote that the House GOP framework he, McMorris Rodgers, and Jordan are putting forward would aim to empower state attorneys general rather than the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to tackle litigation more quickly on this front.
“Our framework also recognizes that the status quo and bureaucratic delays are not acceptable when it comes to bringing long-overdue antitrust scrutiny to Big Tech,” McCarthy wrote. “We will provide an expedited court process with direct appeal to the Supreme Court and empower state attorneys general to help lead the charge against the tech giants to break them up. We will also reform the administrative state and remove impediments that delay taking action on Big Tech power.”
McCarthy’s letter to House GOP members then takes a direct shot at the bills from House Democrats that Buck and a handful of other House Republicans backed last week as they wove their way through the Judiciary Committee. He specifically wrote that those bills do nothing to help stop Big Tech censorship, while empowering the federal bureaucracy including the FTC.
“To this point, House Democrats have advanced a plan that not only ignores addressing conservative censorship, it makes it worse. And their plan empowers a federal bureaucracy with no accountability,” McCarthy wrote. “I have more faith in elected state leaders than in the unelected federal bureaucracy, which is as ideologically homogeneous as Big Tech. In other words, I think our former colleague Jeff Landry will more effectively prosecute anti-competitive behavior than Lina Khan.”
McCarthy’s letter concludes by admitting that this framework is only a “jumping off point” and that “more will need to be done,” and it calls for Republicans across the conference to develop legislation to fulfill those principles.
“We will work with our members, committees, and newly formed task forces to turn this framework into legislation, and we will fight for floor consideration,” McCarthy wrote. “Conservatives and our ideas have been targeted by Big Tech for too long. We must step up because make no mistake, the Democrats continue to demonstrate no interest in addressing fairness when it comes to conservative viewpoints. And they’ll continue to use Big Tech to do so.”
It remains to be seen what happens next, but McCarthy leaning into this is clearly an attempt to throw some sand in the gears of the Democrat-led effort — backed by Buck and some other Republicans — to push antitrust bills through both chambers of Congress after the Judiciary Committee just advanced several of them last week.
What House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to do next with the anti-trust bills and the timing is unknown at this point. She could proceed to the bills quickly or she could deep-six them entirely and ignore them. But whatever happens next could impact the bills’ chances in the evenly-divided but Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate, too, where Democrats would still need to hold their entire conference together and win over at least ten Senate Republicans to pass the bills there.