Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

A cardboard cutout of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, dressed up as the QAnon Shaman on Thursday, March 25, 2021.

A cardboard cutout of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, dressed up as the QAnon Shaman on Thursday, March 25, 2021. (Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

'Focus on Structural Power': Lawmakers Told to Press Big Tech CEOs on 'Toxic' Business Model

"Tech CEOs want to talk about their content policies and moderation efforts—because they know their core business models are indefensible."

Jake Johnson

With the CEOs of Twitter, Google, and Facebook set to testify Thursday on the role social media plays in promoting the kinds of misinformation and far-right extremism that sparked the deadly Capitol attack, anti-monopoly experts are urging members of Congress not to allow the executives to divert attention away from their fundamentally nefarious business model that thrives on the spread of dangerous lies.

"False or radicalizing content is not an unfortunate byproduct of the business model. It's core to these corporations' ad-based revenue models."
—Fight Corporate Monopolies

"The tech CEOs want to talk about their content policies and moderation efforts—because they know their core business models are indefensible and toxic," Morgan Harper, senior advisor at Fight Corporate Monopolies, said ahead of the House technology subcommittee hearing, which is scheduled to begin at 12:00 pm ET.

"If lawmakers are serious about fixing these problems," Harper added, "they must focus on structural power and resist the distractions. Anything less would be a massive failure."

Watch the hearing live:

Amid intensifying scrutiny from lawmakers and growing support for forceful antitrust and regulatory action, Facebook, Twitter, and Google in recent months have taken steps purportedly aimed at stemming the flow of misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, Covid-19 vaccines, elections, and more.

In the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection—fueled by lies that circulated widely on social media—Facebook and Twitter banned former President Donald Trump for being the chief architect and amplifier of those lies.

But Fight Corporate Monopolies and other advocacy groups argue that such self-regulation—by design—does nothing to address the fact the Facebook, Google, and Twitter's profits depend to a significant degree on cultivating outrageous falsehoods and using invasive surveillance advertising to ensure they spread to receptive audiences.

"False or radicalizing content is not an unfortunate byproduct of the business model. It's core to these corporations' ad-based revenue models," said Fight Corporate Monopolies. "Facebook and Google's YouTube generate a substantial portion of their revenue by selling user data to advertisers—which means any social media obsession becomes a profit hub."

Tech CEOs, the group warned, "want to talk about modest regulatory reforms that would allow them to continue operating in largely the same ways they do today. We have seen this misdirection before, after YouTube and Facebook supercharged a conspiracy theory claiming George Floyd's death was faked to reach 1.3 million viewers."

Amnesty Tech's acting deputy director Joe Westby offered a similar critique, noting that "the business model of Big Tech firms like Google and Facebook depends on capturing people's attention to generate ad revenue—to that end, the algorithms that determine what we see on Facebook's newsfeed or Google's YouTube frequently amplify discrimination and inflammatory content."

"These companies appeal to our emotions of fear and anger to keep us staring at our screens," said Westby. "This can have a devastating effect at a population scale, fueling polarization, division, or serious human rights consequences."

Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University, expressed hope that House panelists will ask Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg "how much money the company made off of QAnon," the far-right conspiracy theory whose adherents played a considerable role in the violent siege of the Capitol earlier this year.

Emma Ruby-Sachs, executive director of SumOfUs, said in a statement Thursday that Facebook, Google, and Twitter's "inability to deal with the violence, hate, and disinformation they promote on their platforms shows that these companies are failing to regulate themselves."

Ahead of the House subcommittee hearing, activists with SumOfUs gathered near the U.S. Capitol and displayed cutouts of tech executives dressed as insurrectionists to stress the role their platforms played in the violent January 6 attack.

"It's no shocker that Facebook failed to tell us about how its technology is being used to manipulate voters and spread harmful misinformation. How many times are we going to be fooled by these profit-hungry monopolies before Congress finally acts?" said Ruby-Sachs. "Letting Facebook decide how it should be regulated is like letting a criminal decide their own sentence."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

Pointing to 'Recently Obtained Evidence,' Jan. 6 Panel Calls Surprise Tuesday Hearing

The announcement came less than a week after the House panel delayed new hearings until next month, citing a "deluge" of fresh evidence.

Common Dreams staff ·


Looming US Supreme Court Climate Decision Could 'Doom' Hope for Livable Future

"The immediate issue is the limits of the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases," said one scientist. "The broader issue is the ability of federal agencies to regulate anything at all."

Jessica Corbett ·


Supreme Court Takes 'Wrecking Ball' to Separation of Church and State With Prayer Ruling

After decades of affirming that prayers led by school officials are unconstitutional, said Justice Sonia Sotomayor, "the court now charts a different path."

Julia Conley ·


Louisiana Judge Blocks State's Post-Roe Abortion Ban

"Abortion care will resume in the state and a hearing has been set for July 8th," said the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Jake Johnson ·


Progressives Launch 'Four More' Campaign to Demand Supreme Court Expansion

"In a true democracy, power rests with the people," one campaigner asserted. "And the only way to take our power back is to take back the court."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo