August 23, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — A few large businesses control the vast majority of the flow of online commerce. Among those are Google, YouTube (owned by Google), Facebook, and PayPal, each dominating a different facet of the internet.
Perhaps more significantly, together they hold a near-monopoly on the flow of information and news, and as such are able to manipulate public discourse and limit free, unimpeded inquiry.
Because of this, questions are being raised by public figures who suspect that the time is ripe for these tech giants to be regulated as public utilities in order to provide greater safeguards against heavy-handed favoring of progressive values and messaging over balanced or conservative ones.
The Silicon Valley tech giants’ very liberal corporate cultures have recently shown themselves to be illiberal. Far from welcoming free discussion inhouse among their employees, those with differing or dissenting political and/or cultural views have been swiftly cast out.
Need for regulation to protect freedom
Former White House adviser Steve Bannon, now returned to Breitbart News, says Facebook and Google “have become essential elements of 21st century life,” that “should be regulated as utilities,” according to The Intercept. The report continues, “Bannon’s basic argument, as he has outlined it to people who’ve spoken with him, is that Facebook and Google have become effectively a necessity in contemporary life. Indeed, there may be something about an online social network or a search engine that lends itself to becoming a natural monopoly, much like a cable company, a water and sewer system, or a railroad.”
David Chavern, the president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, said in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, “[A] threat to America’s news industry looms mostly unnoticed: Google and Facebook’s duopolistic dominance of online advertising, which could do far more damage to the free press than anything the president posts on Twitter.”
Jonathan Taplin, author of Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy, warns that the tech giants “now determine the future of the music, film, television, publishing and news industries.”
“If you think this is a problem only for musicians, or journalists, you are wrong,” Taplin said. “With the reallocation of money to monopoly platforms comes a shift in power. Google, Facebook and Amazon now enjoy political power on par with Big Oil and Big Pharma, which makes finding solutions to this problem even more difficult.”
Google ‘controls reality’
Fox News host and pundit Tucker Carlson recently made the case for regulating tech giants like Google. Carlson said, “Google is the most powerful company in the history of the world. It’s the portal through which the bulk of our information flows. That means that if Google isn’t on the level, neither is our understanding of the world. To an unprecedented extend, Google controls reality. Google has already shown a disturbing willingness to distort reality for ideological ends.”
Carlson continued, “Until they were sued for it in 2008, Google refused to allow anti-abortion advertisements on its platforms even though they freely allowed pro- abortion ones. On the flip side, Google often blacklist certain sites from hosting ads which denies them revenue. Recently, Google-owned YouTube has introduced procedures to cut off revenue to, quote, ‘offensive content.’ What’s offensive? Who decides?”
Proving Carlson’s point, YouTube last week de-monetized more than 900 videos published on the site by prominent evangelical Dr. Michael Brown’s Ask Dr. Brown ministry. The videos offer a conservative perspective on issues ranging from dealing with Islam, the LGBT movement and even seemingly non-controversial issues. Dr. Brown said, “Debates I had with rabbis were flagged; powerful stories, like a Muslim woman being healed by Jesus, were flagged; videos where I answered questions like, “Should Christians Homeschool Their Children?” or “Did Jesus Claim to Be God?” were flagged, along with videos of spiritual encouragement (like the one encouraging believers to look to the Lord in the midst of chaos).”
Google can’t be trusted, shouldn’t have unfettered power
Carlson says it’s now obvious that Google can’t be trusted to monitor and make judgments about what is offensive and what is not offensive for its users. “Why should a company that shuts down free speech for political reasons have the power to dictate what the world knows and thinks? Well, of course it shouldn’t have that power.”
Last week, Facebook blocked a traditional marriage campaign page. Sky News reported, “This is bullying. Respectful debate is being shut down; Facebook has taken sides (in the same-sex ‘marriage’ debate).”
In July, Facebook blocked or removed more than two dozen pages belonging to conservative Catholic organizations and individuals, affecting many millions of devoted followers of those pages. While the pages were eventually restored, Fox News’ Todd Starnes, author and host of Fox News & Commentary, said, “You might recall that Facebook has a dark history of blocking conservative and Christian pages.”
According to Robert Gehl, PayPal has also clearly taken sides in the cultural and ideological debate.
Just this week, “The online financial transfer platform temporarily banned some conservative sites from receiving online donations via their platform because the site’s ‘activities’ have earned them the title of ‘hate site’ by left-wing groups,” said The Federalist Papers Project commentator.
Jihad Watch and Pamela Geller’s “American Freedom Defense Initiative” were two of the groups temporarily banned by PayPal.
In a move that essentially limits free speech, PayPal announced that it will cut off payments to those it considers to be right-wing extremists. CNN reported that, “The company declined to give further details about how its team determines who is ultimately blocked from the platform and why.”
A challenge for current antitrust legislation
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), “Free and open markets are the foundation of a vibrant economy. Aggressive competition among sellers in an open marketplace gives consumers — both individuals and businesses — the benefits of lower prices, higher quality products and services, more choices, and greater innovation.”
“The FTC's competition mission is to enforce the rules of the competitive marketplace — the antitrust laws.”
“Congress passed the first antitrust law, the Sherman Act, in 1890 as a ‘comprehensive charter of economic liberty aimed at preserving free and unfettered competition as the rule of trade.’ In 1914, Congress passed two additional antitrust laws: the Federal Trade Commission Act, which created the FTC, and the Clayton Act. With some revisions, these are the three core federal antitrust laws still in effect today.”
Yet those “core laws” don’t necessarily extend to today’s important challenges facing the American marketplace of ideas and the free, unfettered flow of information.
Google has already been assessed a $2.7 billion fine by the European Commission for violating their violating antitrust law, based on Google’s limiting of consumer choices for Europe’s citizens.
Carlson concluded that “Congress here and the Trump administration should go further than that. Since it has the power to censor the internet, Google should be regulated like the public utility it is to make sure it doesn’t further distort the free flow of information. To the rest of us, that needs to happen immediately. Too bad it’s come to this. A lot of us trusted Google not to be evil. Silly us.”