Republicans Use Tech Antitrust Hearing To Rail Against ‘Anti-Conservative Bias’
Updated Jul 29, 2020, 07:05pm EDT
As the largest tech companies in the world—Google, , Amazon and Apple—grow in size, revenue and prominence, lawmakers are asking if these Silicon Valley giants have made too many acquisitions, unfairly block smaller companies in favor of their own services, and ultimately harm consumers through their outsized impact on how Americans consume information or shop—but Republicans also used the House antitrust hearing to hash out long-standing complaints about anti-conservative bias.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) questions U.S. Attorney General William Barr during a House Judiciary … [+] Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on July 28, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-O.H.) used his entire opening statement to rail against what he called “anti-conservative censorship”: “I'll just cut to the chase, Big Tech is out to get conservatives.”
In his a long account of alleged abuses, Jordan blamed Google for “censoring” Breitbart so much that traffic has declined 99%; railed against ’s policy that bans coronavirus misinformation that contradicts the World Health Organization, which he said “shills for China”; assailed Amazon’s decision to ban an e-book critical of coronavirus lockdowns (Amazon eventually reversed that decision) and the decision to “ban” President Donald Trump’s account on Amazon-owned Twitch (the suspension was temporary and the account is back online now).
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-W.I.), too, questioned CEO Mark Zuckerberg about an incident on this week where Donald Trump Jr. was temporarily suspended for sharing a video about the benefits of hydroxychloroquine.
“I wouldn't take it myself but there's still a debate about whether it's effective in either treating or preventing COVID-19,” Sensenbrenner said.
Zuckerberg responded: “I think what you're referring to happened on so it's hard for me to speak to that.”
Rep. Greg Steube (R-F.L.) asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai a specific question about a time when he searched for right-wing news website Gateway Pundit on Google and couldn’t find it.
He also asked why his campaign emails are going to his father’s GMail spam folder. In response, Pichai said he’s also gotten complaints from a socialist organization about its website being de-listed, and Rep. Val Demmings (D-F.L.
) chimed in to say that her emails have also been marked as spam.
Steube also complained he wanted to watch a video discussing hydroxychloroquine and children returning to school, but couldn’t because it was taken down. Pichai responded that takes down videos with coronavirus misinformation about false cures that could lead to offline harm.
Jordan asked each CEO to denounce “cancel culture” and quoted former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss’s resignation letter.
The entire premise of the hearing was even challenged by Sensenbrenner, who said he does not think U.S. antitrust laws should change and agreed with testimony from Bezos and Pichai saying that consumers would be harmed if tech companies were to be broken up.
Conservatives have long complained of anti-conservative bias on online platforms. In accusations against , many pointed out that the top-performing posts on the site are consistently from right-wing outlets.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, told Mashable that to find clear evidence of bias, researchers have to establish a data set and find comparable content on the left and the right, and then see if they were treated differently. “From a methodological standpoint, it’s virtually impossible to do,” she said. “You'll never capture the full base of the content in order to start your analysis.”
Democrats, meanwhile, used their time to focus on the power of Big Tech and zeroed in on internal documents showing Zuckerberg wanted to acquire Instagram to “neutralize a competitor.” “This is “exactly the type of anti-competitive acquisition that the antitrust laws were designed to prevent,” Rep.
Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) also grilled Zuckerberg on reports that clones competing products to gain a foothold in the market.
Amazon, too, came under fire from Democrats who highlighted complaints from third-party sellers about how their products are undercut by Amazon’s own wares.
The Congressional hearing, which was done entirely via videoconferencing, is the culmination of a 13-month investigation from the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee.
Lawmakers don’t have power to pursue charges or issue fines, but the committee is expected to produce a report on whether the tech giants broke any antitrust rules, which could inform changes in the law making it easier to break up these companies in the future.
Amazon, Apple, and Google are facing separate antitrust investigations from the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice and, for and Google, nearly every state attorney general in the country—and those probes could result in formal charges or penalties.