To Protect Democracy, Lawmakers Must Fix Big Tech’s Socially Destructive Business Model

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress last week incited, directed, and condoned an attack by a racist and neo-fascist mob on the United States Congress and American democracy. After the attack, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon and other private corporations cut off communications services to Trump individually, and to Parler, a platform where many of his followers communicated. The corporations said Parler violated their terms of service by not policing calls for violence against the U.S. government and individual citizens. 

In response, Barry Lynn, executive director for Open Markets Institute, issued the following statement:

“The Open Markets Institute condemns racism and neo-fascism absolutely and has long taken a lead in condemning the role played by Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other monopolists in validating, amplifying, and profiting from such beliefs. Open Markets also has warned about the dangers of Facebook and YouTube’s business models in particular, which identify individuals’ susceptibilities based on troves of data collected about them, and then hyper-target those individuals with incendiary content intended to make them react and “engage.” Facebook’s internal research estimated its algorithms recruited 64% of members to extremist Facebook groups. Yet it has been unwilling to make changes that could lessen its astronomical profits.  

“Equally dangerous is Big Tech’s concentrated control over the flow of information and allowing private monopolists to manipulate and censor speech. That’s why Open Markets has led the way in demanding that Congress establish a new set of rules to govern, protect, and deconcentrate communications in our democracy in the 21st century. 

“During a clear political emergency such as Americans witnessed last week, it can be necessary to regulate some communications for a short time. Free speech is not, and never is, absolute. What is absolute in a democracy is that the people must never allow a handful of corporate bosses who control essential communications infrastructure to dictate the boundaries of free speech. Nor must we allow private corporations to manipulate what speech billions of people see — with incendiary speech and disinformation prioritized and legitimate journalism often buried. A foundational principle of the United States is that owners of essential services, including communication infrastructure, never treat individuals or classes of individuals differently, except in instances expressly approved by the people and their representatives. 

“The path forward is simple. First, Congress must enact clear rules that protect free speech while also barring incitements to violence, libel, and other restricted speech on all public debate forums hosted by any corporation providing essential communications services. By any fair reckoning, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Twitter must all be covered by such rules. Second, the FTC should use its rule-making authority to ban the deceptive data collection and the hyper-targeted ads that allow these corporations to manipulate and exploit their users. Third, Congress and law enforcers must act to clearly separate advertising-supported publishing from the business of providing essential public platforms and communications services.

“The good news is that the Antitrust Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee has provided us with a path to follow. In a recent report, the subcommittee detailed how Americans can use anti-monopoly law and regulation to restructure the platform monopolists and regulate their behavior in ways that eliminate their ability to manipulate and censor flows of information and commerce, and to profit off the distribution and amplification of extreme and dangerous views. 

“Open Markets Institute demands that lawmakers and law enforcers move immediately to embrace this guide and fix the socially destructive business models of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other essential platforms. The future of our democracy is at stake.”

This post was originally published on Radio Free.