Congress must hold Big Tech gatekeepers accountable | Commentary – Orlando Sentinel

By Rachel Bovard and Jon Schweppe

Guest Columnist

Feb 26, 2022 5:30 AM

It’s been more than a year since Big Tech acted in tandem to ban the President of the United States from the digital public square. Now, at long last, Donald Trump has made good on his promise to create a competitor to these social-media companies.

His platform, Truth Social, represents the hopes of millions of conservatives who believe they have found their political opinions throttled and censored with increasing frequency. Truth Social promises to be a place where they can speak their mind freely, so conservatives are understandably excited about its launch.

But let’s not pop open that bottle of champagne quite yet. We’ve seen this movie before. While our Big Tech-funded friends on the Right are constantly urging us to “build our own Twitter,” we should remember what happens every time we try.

Rachel Bovard is the policy director at Conservative Partnership Institute. Jon Schweppe is the director of policy and government affairs at American Principles Project.

Rachel Bovard is the policy director at Conservative Partnership Institute. Jon Schweppe is the director of policy and government affairs at American Principles Project.

In the immediate days following Trump’s bans, hundreds of thousands of new users flocked to another free-speech-friendly competitor, Parler. The upstart platform quickly rose to the top of Apple’s App Store charts and was just beginning to achieve sustainable growth when the major tech platforms acted in concert to shut it down and destroy it. Amazon Web Services pulled the plug on Parler’s cloud hosting, while Apple and Google simultaneously removed Parler from their app stores. And like that, Parler’s moment passed.

This is not the kind of free market capitalism that conservatives support. Predatory monopolies are the engines of socialist economies, not capitalist ones. Unchecked monopoly power distorts the free market by silencing opponents, crushing competitors, and killing innovation. Conservatives have always understood where this type of overwhelming, concentrated power leads, whether in government or in any other institution. And, as President Biden’s increasingly aggressive demands for more Big Tech censorship have shown, the line between public and private is becoming vanishingly thin.

In the case of dominant speech platforms, this problem is particularly urgent. These monopolies don’t just distort the market, they distort the free exchange of ideas. Tech monopolies have the ability, completely unchecked, to wield total control over the flow of information. Has any propaganda machine had more totalizing power over the spread of facts and narratives than Google has? These companies find it within their power to ban businesses, news stories, books, scientific papers, legal defense funds, campaign ads, House candidates, congressional testimony, sitting senators and the President of the United States. “Content moderators” in Silicon Valley should not have such power, but as it stands currently, they absolutely do.

So what can Republicans do? If we are to have any hope of fighting this threat to our basic freedoms and liberties, Republicans will need to get comfortable with passing laws, or at least updating the ones that already exist. But without a filibuster-proof majority in Congress, or a change of heart from the Democrats, only one solution seems politically viable in the near term: Republicans should revive their more-than-a-century-long tradition of antitrust enforcement.

There are some signs that this revival is already well underway. Two bills recently, the Open Apps Market Act, and the Innovation and Choice Online Act, both of which take aim at the anti-competitive practices of tech monopolies, recently passed out of committee with overwhelming bipartisan support. More proposals from both Republicans and Democrats are likely forthcoming.

Antitrust is law enforcement for the marketplace. It isn’t criminal to be a big business in this country, but it’s criminal to wield market power in ways that harm competition — the very remedy that conservatives support. Where Big Tech is engaging in market abuses, those abuses should not stand. And where the law needs to be clarified and updated for the digital economy, those reforms should be given serious consideration.

Republican voters overwhelmingly support federal action to curb the influence of Big Tech companies. They recognize that the right to a voice in the public square and access to the increasingly digitally controlled marketplace is essential to a functioning democracy. They understand and support our country’s longstanding tradition of antitrust enforcement. Republicans must seize on this opportunity. The free market awaits its defenders.

Rachel Bovard is the policy director at Conservative Partnership Institute. Jon Schweppe is the director of policy and government affairs at American Principles Project.