By BARRY LYNN
The Open Markets Institute has long held that a deeply flawed regulatory environment in the United States has allowed Google, Facebook, and other platforms to acquire a dangerous concentration of control over how Americans exchange ideas, opinions, and news. Moreover, the profits of these corporations are based in large part on building user “engagement” through false and inflammatory content while starving trustworthy and accountable information sources of ad revenue.
The fight between President Donald Trump and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is a good illustration of the dangers that result from such concentration. The fight appears to present us with two options. We can support the idea that a private executive who controls one of most important information gates in the world should be allowed to censor the speech of the U.S. president. Or we can support the idea that a president who has routinely wielded lies and subverted norms has a right to force all communication platforms to broadcast his libels and hate speech.
This is a false choice. We don’t have to be ruled by oligarchs or autocrats. A third option is to return to the principles and practices that Americans long used to promote true freedom of speech and of the press, by offering equal and open public access to any essential communications technology, even when it is privately owned.
AT&T, for example, was a private company. But we didn’t let its executives make decisions about who could speak over its wires, much less censor the content of those messages. By the same token, we did not hold AT&T executives accountable for any libels or hate speech that happened to cross their networks. We did insist that AT&T operate as a highly regulated public utility, meaning that it could not discriminate in price or terms of service and was forbidden from engaging in other lines of business.
We need to apply the same principles to today’s social media platforms. As the Open Markets Institute detailed in a recent letter to the Antitrust Subcommittee of the House of Representatives, the key goal of government policy must be to ensure the complete neutrality of all essential communications platforms. The only way to achieve that goal is to a) ban the platforms from engaging in any personalized discrimination in the delivery of information and pricing or information, b) use antitrust law to restructure these corporations to eliminate dangerous conflicts of interest, and c) ban the platforms from selling advertising around information and news published by other companies.
This will take time. To address the conflict between President Trump and Twitter, the Open Markets Institute calls on Congress to immediately create a bipartisan commission to provide guidance to executives at Twitter and other platforms on how to manage these complex challenges, and to begin the process of establishing common sense rules for regulating the most vital communications of U.S. citizens over the long term.
— Barry Lynn is executive director of the Open Markets Institute, an independent organization that works to address threats to our democracy, individual liberties, and our national security from today’s unprecedented levels of corporate concentration and monopoly power. Visit openmarketsinstitute.org.