Google, Facebook and Twitter.
The names alone can cause the brain to ping.
But there is something all three of these internet/social media giants have in common that many people don’t realize.
They are all private companies, not government utilities.
This week Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that his Justice Department will dig into the subject of information bias at such tech companies following weeks of complaints by President Donald Trump.
Sessions will convene a number of states’ attorneys general later this month to discuss “a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.”
The argument that information companies have the power to limit free speech is as old as newspapers themselves. For decades people have objected when newspapers rejected a letter to the editor or refused to cover a story they believed should have been reported. This was the gatekeeper role that newspapers always maintained with editorial control. The fact that Google may be biased in how its search engines work is irrelevant when it comes to claims of censorship.
Only governments can censor. A private citizen or company has every right to edit, or limit, speech on the platform it owns.
Google, Facebook and Twitter should be investigated, but for anti-trust violations, not political bias. Linking the two is a dangerous precedent, but not unheard of.
Politicians have always been nervous about too much information ability being consolidated in one place. That’s why Congress in the past put limits on newspaper ownership in the same market, and cross ownership limits between television stations and newspapers.
But when the internet and social media came along, politicians either ignored, or were ignorant of, the anti-trust implications because they involved platforms where they saw the opportunity to get their own message out without the filter of mainstream media. So as these technology giants sucked up the audience from the MSM, many politicians cheered.
How little they understood about the future ramifications could be seen in a recent question Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch asked Facebook guru Mark Zuckerberg during testimony before Congress last month. He asked Zuckerberg how his company makes money when it doesn’t charge for the service.
Zuckerberg replied: “Umm, Senator, we sell ads.”
It is projected that the “duopoly” of Google and Facebook will bring in more than $60 billion in advertising this year, which is almost 70 percent of the digital market.
It is simple. When it comes to information, if you corner the market, you can corner the message.
So claims of bias now ring hollow, when that should have been the concern years ago.
The best way to assure a free exchange of information and ideas is a robust, competitive market where many options are available to the consumer, as well as the advertiser.
The problem is many people seem to think social media and internet searches are exactly that, when they are not. Facebook owns everything you give it — your name, your photos, your political statements, your searches and even your “friends.”
And what they do with that information is their business.
However, some users, particularly the younger ones, are beginning to catch on.
According to recent data from Pew Research Center, 42 percent of Facebook users ages 18 and up have taken a break from the social media platform of “several weeks or more” in the last year; a quarter of the respondents said they’d deleted the mobile app entirely from their smartphones.
The movement away from Facebook appears to be generational, as 44 percent of users between 18 and 29 said they deleted Facebook’s app.
These tech firms deserve to be investigated, but for antitrust violations. This is the same way government dealt with the AT&T monopoly of the telephone industry in the 1960s. Congressional action then paved the way for technology advancement in cellular communications and is the main reason we have smartphones.
And how did they do it? They broke up AT&T into smaller, competitive companies. If that hadn’t happened, we would probably still be using land lines and talking to rude operators.
Andy Howell is assistant managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.