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November 25, 2018
D.C. think tank: Competition, not antitrust laws, will defeat Big Social Media

By Dustin Siggins

Conservatives should rely on the free market and not government intervention when it comes to issues with “big tech” companies, according to a new position paper released by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).

With social media companies like Facebook, Instagram increasingly being compared to “Big Tobacco” many conservatives in particular feel that social media and technology companies work to censor conservative content online. Just as progressives once sought to regulate the tobacco companies some conservatives have called for regulating the internet.

“Rather than use antitrust law aggressively, those who wish to see big companies fall quickly should instead work to end antitrust law,” wrote CEI Vice President for Strategy Iain Murray. While most of Murray’s paper is a succinct explanation of why the institute supports free markets over any government intervention in markets, he also highlights that “antitrust conservatives” who have “traditionally…often side[d] with the libertarians” on intervention have changed their tune with “the rise of ‘big tech’” and concerns that Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other companies
are pushing out conservative voices.

Murray’s paper comes as more conservatives are pushing for the breakup of social media giants. Top radio host Rush Limbaugh and conservative USA TODAY columnist Glenn Reynolds likewise recently advocated for the companies to be broken up.

LearntoOptimize.com founder Eric Wilson wrote in Politico earlier this year that that Facebook is “a deeply untransparent, out-of-control company that encroaches on its users’ privacy, resists regulatory oversight and fails to police known bad actors when they abuse its platform.”

He also wrote that the company has a double-standard when it comes to treatment of conservatives and liberals on its pages.

Conservatives of all stripes have long complained that big social media companies are biased against their values. Susan B. Anthony List, a leading pro-life political advocacy organization, accused Facebook of removing some posts. Pro-family groups have likewise said their traditional views on marriage and religious liberty are sometimes banned on Twitter.

Louisiana’s Attorney General has advocated for the big tech companies to be broken up. Bloomberg reported in September that then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was planning to investigate social media giants, though his recent resignation means that any investigation maybe on hold.

Murray argues that intervention runs into two challenges. First, “how do regulators know better than the market what the best market structure is,” he asks in his paper. Second, he writes that “regulators might exercise their power to promote their own preferred policy positions.”

Murray also notes that once regulators are involved in a market, their decisions can be affected by lobbyists who support or oppose policies. The same is true of politicians, and on the business side, “Entrepreneurs, eager to avoid provoking antitrust enforcement actions, will be dissuaded from
pursuing innovations that might run afoul of the law,” he wrote.

Murray isn’t the only conservative who says government should not intervene with the social media giants. Zach Graves, Head of Policy for the Lincoln Network, told AMI Newswire, “most conservatives are taking the traditional view on anti-trust, and don’t favor heavy-handed interventions.”

However, there is a growing mistrust of the tech industry and conspiracies surrounding bias, leading some conservatives to buy into the progressive playbook on markets.

Acton Institute Managing Editor Ben Johnson agreed with Murry and Graves. “Corporations attain a dominant market position one of two ways: government favoritism or innovation and customer satisfaction,” he told American Media Institute in an e-mail. “In a free market, competing firms can – and do – displace seemingly entrenched ‘monopolies’ regularly.”

“Americans suffer the most when cronyism distorts the market,” Johnson continued. “Ironically, many of the same people who rail against corporate ‘monopolies’ support the creation of government monopolies in healthcare and other essential services.”

Murray described his own view – “abolishing antitrust law” – as “extremely controversial.” He argued that only government can create “a dominant market position,” and cited “AOL, Borders, Blockbusters, Sears, [and] Kodak” as a sample of the corporations which “have fallen as the result of competition, without any antitrust action.”

 According to Johnson, “The most helpful thing the government can do to undermine mammoth corporations is lower the barriers of entry for entrepreneurs and start-ups.”

(Disclosure: Johnson is the author’s former boss and currently a freelancer for his PR firm.)

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