Politics, Big Tech, and defining monopoly power

Trump claims the ‘radical left’ is ‘in total command and control of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google’ and vows administration is ‘working to remedy this illegal situation’

But the president isn’t just attacking the tech giants over their politics:

Trump’s tweet came after it emerged that federal and state regulators in the U.S. are preparing to file antitrust lawsuits alleging Google has abused its dominance of online search and advertising to stifle competition and and boost its profits.

There are two issues here: a.) Do the tech giants exercise monopoly power (achieved through anti-competitive practices), and b.) Are they guilty of political bias?

Let’s start with a.) above. 

A full analysis of the competitive situation in the online space is beyond the scope of a single blog post. I would assert, however, that Google (to cite one example) in 2020 is not exactly Standard Oil in 1890.

Although the technical, legal definition may differ somewhat, common sense suggests that a monopoly exists when consumers face a lack of easily accessible alternatives. There must also be barriers to entry, so that the monopoly is effectively shielded from competition. 

You probably don’t want to hear about Standard Oil a century ago. So consider…cable television. In my neck of the woods, Spectrum enjoys effective monopoly power. The cable TV market in the United State is, in effect, a patchwork arrangement of regional monopolies. 

Spectrum charges monthly rates that are too high. The service is…okay. But the key point is: If you live in Southern Ohio, you don’t have many alternatives to Spectrum. Nor do you have many alternatives to Duke Energy (which, although a monopoly, is a much better corporate citizen.) 

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But now let’s consider the supposed monopoly power that Google has in search.

You want an alternative to Google? There are plenty of them out there: Yahoo!, DuckDuckGo, Bing, etc. (This site gets a lot of traffic from Bing and Yahoo!.)

And if you don’t want to use Google, exercising your right to use these other search engines requires trivial effort on your part. If you aren’t aware of them, all you have to do is Google (pun intended) the words, “alternatives to Google”. 

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What about social media? Far from converging, it seems that every year the social media market is further splintering. I’m in my 50s, so most of my friends are on Facebook. But their kids are on TikTok and Snapchat—platforms that I have absolutely no interest in.

Twitter, meanwhile, is the place for Millennial hipsters, most of whom are now in their thirties. 

There is little barrier to entry in the social media marketplace. Nor does social media have to be social media as such. A highly trafficked blog with thriving comments sections can function as social media. 

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But what about politics? In the political sphere, the Internet tech giants have demonstrated a clear leftwing bias. Antifa and other violent leftwing factions thrive on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (owned by Google) while any political position right of Mitt Romney quickly gets labeled “hate speech”.

This is where the Internet giants have shot themselves in the foot. Not that the task of moderating political speech online in these fractious times is easy, mind you. But that comes with the territory. 

Basically, the tech giants had three choices:

1.) Bar all partisan political speech. This would mean enforcing “dinner party rules” on social media. Tough, admittedly. But that was an option. 

2.) Allow both rightwing and leftwing speech in equal measure, but ban the more offensive fringes of both. This would certainly mean restricting the speech of alt right edge lords, but also that of antifa, and some of the more extreme Bernie Bros. 

3.) Be a neutral conduit for all online speech, except for that which explicitly incites specific acts of violence, or otherwise violates the law. 

But the tech giants did not choose 1, 2, or 3. Instead, they chose to openly embrace leftwing progressivism. That worked well for them during the Obama years. But now there is a new sheriff in town. And he makes no more pretense of political neutrality than they do.