It's now the only option that makes any sense.
In the fall of 2021, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen shocked the world by exposing just how much harm the company has inflicted on young users—and the fact that the company knew every last detail about it. After years of calls across the aisle to rein in Big Tech, the revelations in the “Facebook Files” felt like the perfect catalyst to get the ball rolling on tech reform in Congress. Haugen’s bravery came just a year after the FTC launched its 2020 antitrust suit against Facebook, and coincided with a historic push in Congress to pass tech antitrust legislation. In an environment like this, it’s easy to see why Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) declared that ‘this time feels distinctly different’: that the time for Congress to clamp down on Big Tech had finally come.
Unfortunately, two years later, it’s self-evident that the company now known as Meta is as harmful and unaccountable as ever. Facebook’s status as a modern-day monopoly allowed the company to withstand public outcry, and the tech giants’ all-out war against antitrust legislation in 2022 killed the bills in the 117th Congress. Fantastical notions that markets would force Facebook to change, popular during Meta’s stock slump in 2022, look even more absurd amid Meta’s stock turnaround this year. Critical reporting on Meta’s harmful influence, such as The Wall Street Journal’s horrifying exposé this summer on Instagram’s role in enabling pedophiles, has received scant attention compared to Haugen’s revelations.
Make no mistake: Without action in Congress, Meta and the other tech giants’ ongoing war on accountability will continue.
As Haugen acknowledged in a recent op-ed, Meta and the other tech giants are still wielding their lobbying might to crush accountability measures across the country. In other words, even as Meta feigns support for accountability measures, ‘self-regulation’ won’t and cannot stop the company’s corrosive impact. To stop Facebook from exploiting children, stealing users’ data, and destroying global democracy, Congress needs to cut to the central issue at hand: Facebook’s monopolistic dominance, which enables the company to commit harm with impunity.
Over the past year, lawmakers looking to rein in Big Tech have largely set their sights on specific policy areas, be it child online safety or artificial intelligence (AI). To be sure, there’s no doubt that these issues and other specific tech policy matters deserve proper attention in their own right. But it’s crucial that the heart of the problem—the fact that Meta and other Big Tech companies’ monopoly power give them free reign to continue their destructive behavior—is not lost on Congress.
And make no mistake: Without action in Congress, Meta and the other tech giants’ ongoing war on accountability will continue. Two years ago, Meta demanded that FTC chair Lina Khan, a noted Big Tech critic, recuse herself from scrutiny of the company over frivolous conflict of interest accusations. Armed with virtually unlimited financial resources at their disposal, Meta and its team of lawyers have only intensified their war against the administrative state.
Amid a separate legal battle with the FTC over child privacy, Meta has gone as far as to target the FTC’s very constitutional authority. At a time when right-wing activists are working to weaponize the justice system in favor of corporate interests, this development should be welcomed with grave concern. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) noted, these ludicrous demands from Meta are akin to “Big Tobacco trying to gut the FDA because they didn't want to be held accountable for hooking kids onto nicotine.”
Contrary to naysayers, the movement to break up Big Tech monopolies is anything butdead. Rapid developments in AI over the past year have raised widespread concerns that Big Tech giants will leverage control of the technologies to entrench their monopolies. As Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), a top proponent of the tech antitrust bills last session recently acknowledged, the rise of AI makes the cause of reining in Big Tech perhaps more relevant than ever. Recent polling has affirmed that Americans are still eager to rein in tech giants’ monopoly power, with a historic September survey finding strong support for AI anti-monopoly measures.Between the Meta’s aggressive push into AI to its apparent hands-off approach to dangerous deepfake content ahead of the 2024 election, it’s more important than ever to rein in Facebook. Lawmakers should stand with the FTC as it pursues its historic antitrust case against Meta, and vigorously fight any efforts by tech-friendly members of Congress to gut the agency’s funding. Moreover, Congress should finish the work it started last session by passing the reintroduced American Innovation and Choice Act (AICO) to clamp down on Meta and other tech giants’ monopolistic abuses.