Donald Trump and the Republican Party have always been enemies of the First Amendment, specifically free speech and a free press, which is one reason why they have pushed to give government the power to punish social media and other big tech companies for nothing more than being successful.
But with Trump’s last day in office fast approaching — please, God, let it be so — Trumpists Republicans looking to run for president in 2024 are ready to take up the liberty-killing mantle in a desperate attempt to secure his merry band of cultists.
Trump spent much of his presidency attacking the “Fake News” media, but he also threatened to crush social media and other big tech companies for questioning his awesomeness, calling for platforms like Facebook and Twitter to be shut down for displeasing him.
In May, 2020, he made his desire to shut down social media companies who fail to deliver content he approves of official with an Orwellian-sounding executive order entitled, “Preventing Online Censorship.” His order called for an “update” to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, shredding the First Amendment in the process.
Using the full weight of the federal government to enforce his politispeak, Trump’s order labeled government regulation of our speech as “free speech,” and called any resistance government messaging (i.e. propaganda) “censorship.”
Section 230 “reform” is nothing new. Trump, with help from Attorney General Bill Barr and a few members of Trump’s bought-and-paid-for Republican Party, have been using the issue in their war against the First Amendment to punish political enemies while simultaneously giving the state more control of the internet. Section 5 of Preventing Online Censorship reads:
In application, this guarantees government’s full control of the internet.
The next generation of self-proclaimed “conservatives” — Trumpist Republicans — have been on board with finding new and improved ways to punish big tech companies.
For example, before the ink was dry on Trump’s Preventing Online Censorship executive order, a group of Senate Republicans introduced the Limiting Section 230 Immunity to Good Samaritans Act, a bill that delivers on his demand to limit Section 230 immunity for social media platforms. The bill was sponsored by anti-big tech Republican Nationalist Sen. Josh Hawley and co-sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio, Mike Braun, and Tom Cotton.
While Trump played the lead in this anti-free speech and anti-free market play, the GOP played a supporting role. And after 16 months of rehearsal — they call it an investigation — these Republican bit players are ready to go live with their plan to punish big tech for being successful.
In recent months, Republicans and Democrats have both been itching to flex their regulatory muscle against the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon.
In October, 11 state attorneys general—all Republicans—and the Department of Justice filed a civil suit against Google, accusing the internet search giant of maintaining a digital search and ad monopoly “through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices,” in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. But the lawsuit fails to explain either how Google’s practices amount to anything other than normal business deals or how consumers are being harmed. (emphasis mine)
If their investigation was unable to prove any harm, why did Congress proceed with their attack?
The bar for showing consumer harm “is unlikely to be met,” said Jessica Melugin, associate director of Center for Technology and Innovation at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in a statement about the lawsuit. That’s “why so many antitrust enthusiasts are calling for a fundamental rewriting and expansion of U.S. antitrust laws. Those proposed changes sacrifice the primacy of consumer welfare and insert competitors and broader socio-economic goals in its place.”
This impetus was on full display in a fall report from the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law. After a 16-month investigation into the big four tech companies, it seems the most that congressional busybodies can accuse them of is routine business practices and having popular services. But while the 450-page report, issued in October, offers scant evidence of these companies violating current federal law, it’s full of calls to change the law so tech company actions will fall under federal purview.
The subcommittee’s bipartisan “Investigation of Competition in Digital Markets” included seven additional hearings, hundreds of interviews, and nearly 1.3 million obtained “documents and communications.” For all that work, the members found little that’s not already public knowledge and even less to suggest these companies acted in an illegal way.
The report repeatedly accuses Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google of having “monopolies” in various facets of digital life. But it uses this term to mean not having exclusive domain over a product or service but merely enjoying large market shares thanks to consumers choosing to use them. (emphasis mine)
The article concludes by providing us with the socialistic motivation behind this Republican/Democrat plan: Increasing government’s power over the free market and punishing big tech for being successful.
Calling Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google monopolies only works if we’re departing from traditional definitions of the word and its historical meaning in antitrust law. The report calls this redefinition a modernization.
“Congress must lead the path forward to modernize [antitrust laws] for the economy of today,” wrote subcommittee chair David Cicilline (D–R.I.) in the report’s introduction, which also spells out Congress’ intention to more aggressively enforce those laws. “These firms have too much power, and power must be reined in,” wrote Cicilline. (emphasis mine)
A few months before Trump issued his Preventing Online Censorship executive order, Josh Hawley proposed a plan that could have come from the desk of Elizabeth Warren because it contained many of the ideas she advocates.
Hawley called for an “overhaul” of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that stripped the agency of its independence and relocated it to the Department of Justice. Specifically, he proposed the creation of a single director within the DOJ who would go after the so-called “rampant abuses” of Big Tech:
“The FTC isn’t working. It wastes time in turf wars with the DOJ, nobody is accountable for decisions, and it lacks the ‘teeth’ to get after Big Tech’s rampant abuses. Congress needs to do something about it. I’m proposing to overhaul the FTC to make it more accountable and efficient while strengthening its enforcement authority. This is about bringing the FTC into the 21st century.”
Hawley’s overhaul gives the DOJ “all authority” to go after Big Tech with a stipulation that the director “be accountable to Congress.” I guess if it’s the legislative branch destroying liberty and not the executive branch, it’s all good.
The Orwellian outcome of Hawley’s plan was the primary reason it was opposed by NetChoice, a trade organization representing Facebook, Google, and Twitter. “Sen. Hawley’s proposals would place the entirety of FTC authority under the control of a single director, giving that person the sole power to dictate the future of American business,” vice president Carl Szabo said in a statement. (emphasis mine)
Republicans used to believe in free speech and a free market, but that was before Trumpism and nationalism replaced conservatism.
David Leach is the owner of the Strident Conservative. He holds people of every political stripe accountable for their failure to uphold conservative values, and he promotes those values instead of political parties.