Big Tech used to be the “golden boy” of Washington, but now it is the target of intense scrutiny by lawmakers on the left and right.
A congressional hearing yesterday brought the heads of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google to Washington (mostly remotely) to be grilled by members about whether they are using their size in ways that hurt U.S. consumers. (Twitter was noticeably absent.)
Lawmakers on the left were concerned about the tech giants’ market dominance and business practices that they believe breach antitrust laws by limiting competition. Members on the right called out censorship of conservative and pro-Trump voices.
Here are three takeaways from the hearing and how they matter to you:
- Democratic lawmakers are on a path to break up Big Tech. Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, the chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee which convened the hearing, made an ominous warning: “This hearing has made one fact clear to me — these companies as they exist today have monopoly power. Some need to be broken up. All need to be properly regulated and held accountable.” Being big does not mean bad. The growth and success of these tech companies are due to them constantly innovating to develop products and services that consumers want, increasing efficiencies, and lowering costs. Breaking up these giants could lead to consumers losing out.
- Conservatives’ claims of censorship face an uphill battle. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan came out swinging saying, “Big tech is out to get conservatives. If it doesn’t end, there have to be consequences.” In response to questions and examples of bias against and mistreatment of conservatives on their platforms, the CEOs mostly shrugged them off. For example, Google was questioned for not permitting groups like Catholic Family News, American Family Association, and the Jewish Defense League to participate in Amazon Smile (its program that donates 0.5% of a customer’s purchase to an organization of her choice) because the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) mislabeled them as hate groups. At least Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said he is open to recommendations for vetting organizations other than SPLC. Perhaps, that’s a small win, but let’s see if they follow through.
- Big Tech admits: social media’s cancel culture is destroying our nation. Bezos commented: “What I find a little discouraging is that it appears to me that social media is a nuance destruction machine, and I don’t think that’s helpful for a democracy.” Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg added that he was “very worried about some of the forces of illiberalism I see in this country that are pushing against free expression” but he reiterated Facebook’s commitment to “doing what we can to protect people’s voice.” The cancel culture has hit people in every industry and sphere and at every level. It threatens an individual’s well-being, livelihood, and even safety. However, it’s not enough to acknowledge how damaging cancel culture is, what are these leaders going to do about it?
In the near future, this committee will release the findings of a year-long investigation into anti-competitive practices by these companies along with recommendations that could include new legislation.
As I discussed with Mr. Charles Payne on his Fox News show Making Money, these congressional efforts are aimed at reigning in (at best) and dismantling (at worse) Big Tech despite the fact that these companies are tremendously important to American families and businesses, especially, during COVID-19.
According to a report from the Connected Commerce Council, almost one of three (31 percent) business owners credit for helping them keep their doors open in full or part during the pandemic.
Nonetheless, Big Tech should not be immune from criticism when they break the law or violate societal values of equal treatment. While the anti-competitive allegations are thin, the concerns of political bias are not and should not be dismissed by tech firms.
Yesterday’s hearing underscores that Congress believes good works alone are not good enough. Lawmakers sent a unified message: we took a hands-off approach up until now, but that approach is over.