America’s biggest tech companies are in the crosshairs of big government, running a gauntlet of antitrust hearings in which lawmakers criticize their size and success — and the content they allow users to share online. Like all conservatives, I see the bias of Big Tech and want to do something to make it better. But the progressive solutions to the problem being embraced by some conservatives will, like all progressive solutions, give more power to the government and regulate conservatives’ communication with a broad spectrum of American voters.
Antitrust investigations of tech companies are being driven by actors on both sides of our political divide. Conservatives want to punish the companies for their executives’ liberal politics and for the way social-media sites moderate conservative content more strictly than progressive posts. You would think Democrats would be rallying around Big Tech for that reason, but they aren’t. Progressives want to stifle conservative speech on social-media platforms just as they’ve attempted to do on college campuses. They blame Big Tech for allowing President Trump to bypass mainstream-media gatekeepers and speak directly to voters, and thus for helping him get elected. Progressives are determined to crack down on social-media platforms and, out of anger, some conservatives are helping them.
The weapon being proposed to do that is a change to our antitrust laws. For decades, our antitrust system has been based on the consumer-welfare standard, which objectively measures whether consumers are benefiting from a company’s products and services, even if that company has a large market share. It’s obvious that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are phenomenal at pleasing consumers; they give us a wider selection of goods, free shipping, innovative devices, and free access to amazingly powerful search, video, and social-media technologies.
Since they can’t deny that consumers benefit from the biggest tech companies, congressional Democrats have sought to replace the consumer-welfare standard with a new set of subjective, progressive criteria, under which tech giants would be judged on whether they’re hurting workers, acting “fairly,” or presenting “a danger to democracy.” Senator Orrin Hatch famously tagged this the “hipster antitrust” movement back in 2018, but really, it would be more accurate to call it the “gangster-antitrust movement.” And yet, over the last two years, more and more folks on the right have embraced it.
Why? Republicans have become convinced that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are not acting fairly in how they moderate conservative posts versus progressive ones. I share this concern. I get that social-media sites are private businesses, and I want them to support free expression, subject to responsible community standards that are applied equally. But that isn’t happening. I hear too many examples of conservative posts that are taken down for language and images no more harsh or misleading than what we see from progressive activists. These companies see conservative values at best as foreign, and at worst as malicious and dangerous, to their progressive ecosystem.
That said, the answer for conservatives should not be to give the government more power to regulate speech. We must stand by our founding constitutional principles and use market-based tactics to secure equal treatment on social media. That means standing for enforcement of laws that are based on objective standards, rather than arbitrary political considerations. Democrats have long aspired to reshape American antitrust law to serve progressive ends and destroy Reagan’s economic legacy. Republicans should not help them.
As frustrated as we all are about progressive bias in Big Tech, these platforms are still the most effective tool we’ve ever had to directly connect with swing voters and independents across the country. While we chafe at the moderation of some conservative posts, we have a far bigger voice on social media than we ever had in mainstream media. And while liberals complain about conservative news and views online, the most popular posts on Facebook are from conservative thinkers and outlets. Dennis Prager’s videos, which YouTube hosts for free, have over a billion views; the same cannot be said of the front page of the New York Times or MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
Using antitrust laws to break up social media would end the surge of conservative content online, returning control of the news cycle to the mainstream media. If that happened, the reelection of Donald Trump — or the election of a future conservative president — would be unimaginable.
Republicans should see Democrats’ attempts to tear up the tech industry for what they are: a politics of envy, superpowered by a political desire to punish new forms of media that host conservative news and views. We cannot give a future Democratic administration the power to have its way with America’s economy while progressives provide cover by controlling the media narrative.
Instead, Republicans who want to genuinely investigate tech companies on antitrust grounds should pursue those investigations under the existing consumer-welfare standard, wholly apart from Democrats’ attempts to stifle our electoral prospects. We must stand fast against expanding government’s power and stand tall to preserve conservative values and our freedoms.