Citing a "crisis of online misinformation" that threatens to undermine democratic institutions and public health in the United States, a coalition of more than two dozen organizations on Thursday called on President Joe Biden to curb the power of Big Tech platforms by appointing to federal agencies "leaders committed to enforcing our nation's antitrust laws to the fullest degree."
"It is increasingly evident that the size and dominance of these platforms have allowed them to operate with impunity, making them too big to care about the real-world harms they continue to cause."
In a letter (pdf) sent to the White House, 28 groups—including the American Economic Liberties Project, Fight for the Future, and Jobs With Justice, among others—warned that "truth is under siege, and Big Tech platforms have become too big to care—they must be reined in."
"As experts and advocates on the frontlines of the misinformation crisis, we urge you and your administration to hold these platforms accountable, and strongly enforce U.S. antitrust laws," wrote the coalition. "We commend the administration for appointing strong antitrust experts to the National Economic Council and Federal Trade Commission (FTC)."
"This same approach will be even more important in selecting leadership for antitrust enforcement at the Department of Justice and for further appointments at the FTC," the coalition added. "These appointments should include only those able and willing to fearlessly investigate and litigate against the large tech firms without conflicts of interest from previous employment or representation."
Today, we partnered w/27 orgs in urging @POTUS/@WHCOS to appoint leaders at DOJ and the FTC who will enforce U.S. antitrust laws & finally reign in the monopoly power at the root of Big Tech's harms.https://t.co/rPYrxWJAJq pic.twitter.com/q9lBD91OtK— Fight for the Future (@fightfortheftr) April 15, 2021
According to the groups behind the letter, "America is facing a crisis of online misinformation that is eroding faith in our democratic institutions, threatening public health, stoking radical extremism, and fanning the flames of hatred and division."
Referring to surveillance advertising, which industry critics have called a "predatory" and "extractive" practice "underlying so many of Big Tech's worst behaviors," the coalition wrote:
Through the use of profit-driven algorithms and a lack of oversight, companies like Facebook and Google have used their platforms to promote increasingly radical, violent, and racist content that appeals to the worst of our nature in order to keep users engaged so they can sell more ads. This is what their business model is built on, and they have gained enormous market share through enabling and promoting misinformation. Facebook and Google control over 60% of all digital advertising in the U.S. Two companies. And Google's 2020 ad revenue alone is expected to be more than all U.S. TV and radio ad revenue combined.
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It is increasingly evident that the size and dominance of these platforms have allowed them to operate with impunity, making them too big to care about the real-world harms they continue to cause. This recklessness has been met with little oversight or regulation—including weak enforcement of antitrust laws—that have allowed these harms to compound.
In recent years, companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook have used anti-competitive practices to manipulate markets and buy out competitors... With the push of a button, decisions made in the C-suites of these gatekeeper companies have the power to stifle innovation, poison our information ecosystem, and weaken U.S. democracy in the pursuit of profit.
"As these companies have grown larger and larger, nearly 75% of Americans have grown concerned with their power," the coalition added. "We must not go back to business as usual. Privacy, civil liberties, public health, truth, and the strength of U.S. democracy are at stake."
The letter comes one day after the House Judiciary Committee "formally approved a report on monopoly power in digital marketplaces," as The Hill reported. The 400-plus page document "was released in October by Democrats on the committee but was the result of a bipartisan investigation," the news outlet noted. It was approved on a 24-17 party-line vote, although "some Republicans have signaled support for antitrust initiatives drawing on the report."
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said in a statement that "now that the Judiciary Committee has formally adopted our findings, I look forward to crafting legislation that addresses the significant concerns we have raised."
Last month, when the CEOs of Twitter, Google, and Facebook testified 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 urged congressional lawmakers not to allow the executives to divert attention away from their "indefensible and toxic" business models, which thrive on the spread of dangerous lies.
"Nearly three in four Americans—including majorities of Democrats and Republicans alike—want stronger regulation of Big Tech platforms."
"If lawmakers are serious about fixing these problems, they must focus on structural power and resist the distractions," Morgan Harper, senior adviser at Fight Corporate Monopolies, said at the time. "Anything less would be a massive failure."
In its letter urging Biden to appoint strong antitrust experts to federal agencies, the coalition of progressive advocates—from corporate accountability, consumer protection, civil liberties, and civil rights groups—wrote: "This is a defining moment of our time, and the will of the American people is on our side. Nearly three in four Americans—including majorities of Democrats and Republicans alike—want stronger regulation of Big Tech platforms. We urge you to deliver."
"You are serving as president to restore the soul of this nation," the groups added. "Ensuring that no company is unaccountable or too big to care about the harms they are causing to America is at the very heart of that fight."