By Robert H. Bork Jr., president of the Antitrust Education Alliance.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised Sen. Amy Klobuchar that her “Innovation and Choice Online Act” will soon get a floor vote. If enacted, it will subject American business to a degree of centralized control that will amount to socialism. There is no mystery as to why progressive Democrats are lined up behind this bill.
The real question is why Republicans, stalwart conservatives all, might join them to take it over the line.
This is a real possibility because Sens. Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham, Chuck Grassley, Josh Hawley, and John Kennedy are in a state of red-hot fury against big social media companies. They have good reason to be hopping mad. Conservative speech, the bland as well as the provocative, is apt to run afoul of the content moderators of Facebook, Twitter, and other Big Tech platforms. When the owners of the main venues of the national conversation pull a post, a conservative has been censored. When they deplatform, a conservative organization has been put out of business.
So, it is understandable why conservatives would want to kick Big Tech in a soft place. What is not understandable is why some conservatives are considering a measure that would, if anything, provide incentives to make content moderation even more “woke.” This would be just one of the many disastrous consequences of passing Klobuchar’s Pandora’s Box of a bill, which these five Republicans voted to advance out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Let me count the disasters.
First, Klobuchar’s legislation would degrade America’s remaining technological edge by forcing social media companies to be fully interoperable with competitors. By making it illegal for these companies to deny competitors access to their operating, hardware, and software systems, it would force the giving away of some of America’s most precious intellectual property to foreign competition.
Second, Klobuchar’s bill would make it illegal to restrict or impede a business user from accessing data on the platform. This is data portability, an idea with considerable surface appeal. But its practical effect would mean that everything Facebook or Amazon knows about you would have to be shared with other companies. With so many shell companies and corporate alliances, your data could easily go to companies under the thumb of the Chinese Communist Party.
Third, the Klobuchar bill would restrict the ability of tech companies to “self-preference,” forcing them to offer competitors equal access to their marketplaces. The practical effect would be to turn America’s most innovative companies into public utilities, destroying hundreds of billions of dollars in equity that American retirees and retirement funds are heavily invested in. Consumers would suffer as well. Amazon could no longer offer discounts on its Prime service. Google Maps would no longer appear at the top of a search. Choices would narrow, likely driving even more inflation.
Some conservatives would go even further, extending heavy-handed antitrust regulation to all business. Sen. Josh Hawley would outlaw all mergers and acquisitions for large companies of all sorts, in effect fossilizing capitalism. In the House, Rep. Ken Buck has recently promised to consider adding regulations to pharmaceuticals, airlines, and banks. Hawley and Buck seem oblivious to a recent study by the respected economics consulting firm NERA, which shows that by widely-used economic measurements, business concentration has been declining, not increasing.
Fourth and worst for conservatives, the Klobuchar bill – which does not even address content moderation – would institutionalize corporate wokeness. This would be the natural result of legislation that would subject a growing number of businesses – by no means limited only to Big Tech – to death-penalty fines of 15-30% of revenues for violating vague, poorly defined regulations.
As in Putin’s Russia, progressive regulators would have infinite excuses to target a company or an executive at will. Businesses would be allowed to operate only at the sufferance of the Federal Trade Commission, which Chair Lina Khan is aggressively targeting. The bill creates many new mechanisms for government control of business, the hammers of socialism. That is no way to ensure more room for conservatives in social media. That is a way to enforce C-suite wokeness and ideological intolerance.
If conservatives, angered over censorship, enable the Klobuchar bill to become law, the result will be the worsening of Big Tech’s content moderation discrimination – and sometimes outright censorship – of conservative views.
Conservatives in Congress have let their anger blind them to the consequences of lashing out. An impeccably conservative Republican in the House, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, offers a better perspective. Jordan said of similar legislation, “This is about power going to the FTC, the collusion of Big Tech and Big Government to, I think, further censor conservatives, further make limits on our free speech rights.”
Will Republicans in the Senate wake up? Or will their blind anger drive us all over the edge?
Robert H. Bork Jr. is president of the Antitrust Education Alliance. He recently wrote a new forward for his father’s classic book, The Antitrust Paradox.