An Analysis of How Bipartisan Opposition to Technological Monopolies Can Help Heal a Divided Nation
When names like Facebook, Amazon, and Google arise in a conversation, most of us limit our commentary to evaluations of the services and products they offer us every day. However, with the last two years’ Senate tech hearings, many discussions have shifted to concern digital free speech and antitrust enforcement. And Americans on both sides of the political aisle have begun to ponder the extent to which governmental regulation over this industry is legitimate or desirable—especially with regards to social media.
In June of this year, a select group of companies’ monopolistic control over online postings led Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) to allege that the culture of free speech in this country is under attack, “and [that] Google is helping lead the charge.” Cruz’s political opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vermont) has also vehemently attacked America’s technological superpowers. During a Washington Post event last year, Sanders announced that, if elected president, he would appoint an attorney general who “would break up these huge corporations.” Both of these examples beg the question: why has opposition to these companies become bipartisan? What caused Americans to become so concerned about the concentration of Big Tech’s power? The answer is the shared belief that, although our government has enacted necessary measures (Section 230) to make America the world’s technological leader, it overlooked the rise of monopolistic conglomerates with vast information control. And Americans are broadly concerned about the currently insufficient regulation in the sector.
The main piece of legislation enacted to favor the rise of major technological enterprises was the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (or “Section 230”), which aimed to address concerns about corporate liability over third-party content published on emerging platforms. Supported by Congressmen Ron Wyden (D., Oregon) and Christopher Cox (R., California), this law holds that internet providers are not responsible for the ideas digitally conveyed by their users. Since fledgling businesses didn’t want to face massive regulations or legal disputes over controversial postings, the act aimed to facilitate the development of the emerging internet network and can be credited for the rise of social media giants like Twitter and Facebook.
However, many Conservatives now denounce that in order to take advantage of its protections, digital platforms should be perpetrators of information instead of publishers, which motivated President Trump to sign an executive order on the issue. They demand that internet content providers reproduce user posts without modification–with the only exception still being that digital platforms act in “good faith” when dealing with inappropriate or illegal digital content, such as child pornography and defamation, which is already addressed by the law. Surprisingly, criticism of Section 230 has also been proposed by left-wing politicians such as presidential candidate Joe Biden, who argues that it is helping the spread of fake news and misinformation and should be “revoked, immediately”, which is largely due to the subsequent spread of false information online following the 2016 Presidential election.
Despite expressing these views, Democrats’ major concern with Big Tech relates to establishing powerful trusts. Even though Silicon Valley has propelled America to become the world’s greatest technological innovator, the federal government’s blind-eye to the formation of a monopoly has concerned various new-generation liberals—including Representative Alexandria Ocazio-Cortez (D., New York). Admittedly, this wing of the party sees the issue as part of a greater problem within capitalism. Sanders calls it the “rigged system,” and thinks that “we need vigorous antitrust legislation in this country because you are seeing—you name the area, whether it’s pharmaceuticals, whether it is Wall Street, whether it is high tech — fewer and fewer gigantic corporations owning those sectors.”
Thus, supporters of the far left and right both agree that social media giants have exerted a troublesome dominion over the digital communications sector, albeit the focuses of both political parties’ criticisms are slightly different: the left takes issue with America’s lack of antitrust laws, while the right focuses mainly on corporations’ wrongful abridgment of free speech. However, it’s nonetheless apparent that both parties recognize that Big Tech’s monopolistic presence is a problem.
Thus, in 2020’s admittedly polarized political climate, could the dislike for tech giants help unite liberals and conservatives? I think so. Being fully aware that all the socioeconomic tensions between the two groups cannot be healed by the presence of a “common enemy,” I believe that the arguments presented here can nonetheless act as important steps toward a less divided country. By appealing to the populist sentiments on both sides of the political spectrum, Americans will have the political power to demand greater citizen control and accountability over the private-sector lobbies that have historically been favored by the federal government. If this call for justice results in bipartisan cooperation to combat censorship and strengthen antitrust legislation, perhaps opposing political pundits can finally agree upon something — such as whether or not you should get to read this article on our web page.