IAP’s Rachel Bovard to Testify Today at Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee Hearing

October 1, 2020

Testimony will Focus on Big Tech’s Viewpoint Discrimination and Remedies

WASHINGTON, DC — Internet Accountability Project (IAP) senior advisor Rachel Bovard will testify at a House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee hearing today on “Proposals to Strengthen the Antitrust Laws and Restore Competition Online”.

Here are highlights from her opening statement:

“A growing bipartisan consensus is emerging against the power of the Big Tech companies. This consensus is based on the recognition that corporate hegemony – that is, concentrated power exercised at scale – can be a threat to individual liberty, the free market, and independent thought in a free society.”

“IAP has focused its efforts on three areas of policy remedy: antitrust enforcement, data privacy and ownership, and reform of Section 230 – which one pro-tech law professor has identified as Big Tech’s “implicit financial subsidy.”

“As these Big Tech companies have grown, so too has their ability to filter information for billions of people around the world – that is, to control what they see, when, and what they can say.”

“Through its dominance of the search engine market, Google now decides how to filter information for 92 percent of the world2 – and 87 percent of the United States. One content decision by Google has enormous ramifications on what information is displayed, or what businesses are promoted. Facebook, with its nearly 3 billion active monthly users, has similar power to influence what users see and do not see. Such decisions, when made at scale, have downstream effects on individual development of opinions and beliefs. They can single-handedly change the shape of markets – as is evidenced in the market disruptions that occur every time Google updates its core algorithm.”

“For years, academics, journalists, and yes, conservatives, have been demanding more transparency; these are the kinds of scandals that happen when a company’s internal language is different from its carefully crafted blog posts and announcements.”

“If social media companies are selectively enforcing their rules more vigorously against conservatives than against other points of view, independent researchers should be able to verify this if they have sufficient access to social media data.”

“To date, however, none of the Big Tech companies have provided regular and system wide algorithmic and content moderation transparency; though, depending on how President Trump’s recent executive order on Sec. 230 is implemented, they may soon be required to do so. In the meantime, conservatives are left with case after case of what appears to be a systemic double standard applied by employees of these tech companies, whose staff are notably liberal.”

“Facebook has taken on “fact-checking” with new parameters and absurd outcomes using the notably opaque and subjective category of “missing context.” Already, this has been used by PolitiFact to remove digital ads from conservative groups like the American Principles Project. Facebook recently applied this same cudgel against conservative comedian Tim Young, who wrote an opinion piece speculating on what President Obama would have done if he had been presented with a Supreme Court vacancy. Absurdly, a fact check by USA Today claimed that an opinion piece speculating about a hypothetical scenario was too dangerous to appear on Facebook or Instagram (owned by Facebook) without a warning label.”

“Antitrust enforcement, the subject of this committee’s remit, is equipped to tackle Big Tech’s anti-competitive dominance in multiple sectors of the marketplace. This committee has heard testimony about various antitrust concerns: if and how Amazon prioritizes its products and services over those of its partners and competitors; Google’s dominance in online advertising; Facebook’s acquisition strategy for smaller competitors; and if and how Apple favors its own products through the App Store. You have also heard compelling testimony from small businesses about wanton and aggressive anti-competitive behavior by Big Tech giants.”

“While Congress cannot enforce the antitrust law itself, it has a critical role to play in performing the oversight which ensures the responsible agencies are adequately policing the market. It is critical that these agencies have both the congressional support and resources to assess the growing dominance of billion-dollar companies in the market. Many times, this involves reviewing if previous agency decisions were wisely made.”

“Many on the Right take issue with the use of antitrust enforcement against Big Tech firms. Their claims are generally summarized as follows:

• Antitrust is being used by conservatives as a political tool to go after Big Tech platforms they do not like.

• Antitrust cannot solve speech concerns

• Discussions of antitrust enforcement are actually proxies for updating antitrust law away from the consumer welfare standard.

I will take these claims one at a time.”

“First, the bipartisan efforts and wide-ranging remedies under discussion make clear that there is growing awareness among legislators that Big Tech’s unchecked power in specific circumstances warrants review. Big Tech isn’t being singled out for its own sake; rather, specific actions – antitrust violations, viewpoint discrimination, and the facilitation of various criminal acts – are being targeted.”

“Second, antitrust’s application to “speech concerns” may not be direct, but proper enforcement of the law against violations could certainly have tangential effects. Antitrust enforcement does not occur in a vacuum. Enforcing against the monolithic dominance of these companies in one sector, if warranted, could free up the market in such a way that concerns over viewpoint bias could be competed away in ways which Big Tech’s market dominance now makes impossible.”

“Third, it is the view of myself and the Internet Accountability Project that our antitrust laws do not need to be updated; that the laws on the books are sufficient for tackling per se violations of antitrust as they exist in the tech sector. Antitrust enforcement is law enforcement. As conservatives, we do not support legal amnesty for those who violate our nation’s laws – and this should extend to corporations who violate competition laws in the market.”

“When it comes to the expansive power of Big Tech, the question really distills to one of who will rule. In America, it should not be the bureaucrats; it should not be the mob; it should not be the tech oligarchs. Rather, in America, it is the people who rule through our system of self-government. “I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors, said William F Buckley in Up From Liberalism. “I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to drain it away from me.”

“Conservativism follows a tradition of skepticism when it comes to concentrations of power. In 1960, Barry Goldwater wrote Conscience of a Conservative. Goldwater – America’s first libertarian politician, according to Reason magazine31 – had a prescient and applicable reminder for American conservatives today. “Let us henceforth make war on all monopolies—whether corporate or union,” he noted. “The enemy of freedom is unrestrained power, and the champions of freedom will fight against the concentration of power wherever they find it.”

“But perhaps it is Russell Kirk, one of the founding fathers of conservative thought, who surmised the challenge most aptly: “Our conservative task is to reconcile personal freedom with the claims of modern technology, and to try to humanize an age in which [Permanent] Things are in the saddle”

To learn more, please visit http://www.TheIAP.org.

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