After all the investigations into whether Russia interfered in our elections, and whether the ads Russia ran on Facebook had any effect, a much deeper question just arose: If Facebook can influence an election, isn’t this an issue of equal concern to outside influence? And what about Google and other popular online companies? Can they also influence public attitudes?
In June 2019, Google had 88% of the US search engine market share. Yahoo came in not even a close second with around 6.45 percent.
Microsoft’s Bing had a 4.1 percent share.
Facebook had 52% of the US social media market share in December 2018. Its closest competitor, Pinterest, had just 28%.
The enormous potential of online services to influence the public is quite disturbing. But when you add to that the well-known fact that many of these services are left-leaning, it becomes downright unsettling.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, “Congress passed the first antitrust law, the Sherman Act, in 1890, as a ‘comprehensive charter of economic liberty designed to preserve free and unrestrained competition as the rule of commerce.'”
The goal of antitrust laws is “to protect the process of competition for the benefit of consumers by ensuring that there are strong incentives for businesses to operate efficiently…The Sherman Act prohibits any ‘monopolization, attempted monopolization, or conspiracy or combination to monopolize.'”
In the past, monopolization of a market was often the result of large companies merging or price fixing by multiple companies. And in some cases it would take more than one generation.
In 1974, the United States Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T, which was the sole provider of telephone service in most of the United States, and most telephone equipment in the United States was produced by its subsidiary, Western Electric. As a result of the lawsuit, AT&T was divided into more than one company.
In today’s cyber world, a company becomes a giant in less than a generation. And while they may not have necessarily profited as much from unfair competition, there are some well-known cases of these companies (Facebook and Google among them) having political biases that lead people to their point of view. This in itself may not be illegal. But when a company is of such enormous size, this should be cause for concern.
If we have laws that protect fair competition, shouldn’t we have laws that protect the most important aspect of a free society: fair elections?
What’s more, these huge online services also have the power to put people out of work or out of business. All they have to do is close the account of someone who may have millions of customers or followers; this would put this company or person out of business and move their competitors up a notch, or maybe even to the top. And there are very few legal recourses for a business or individual that has been wrongfully shut down.
These large online companies currently operate with almost no government oversight. Such unprecedented power needs to be closely regulated. Ideally, companies the size and influence of Google and Facebook should be broken up into smaller companies, each serving smaller sections of the US. Without such competitive resources, consumers and voters are at the mercy of companies pushing their own agenda, and fairness is not necessarily their top priority.