The Conservative Antitrust Case Against Big Tech Is a Giant Self-Own
Few prominent political arguments have been so nakedly self-refuting as the conservative case for antitrust action against big tech.
The argument typically goes something like this: Big tech has too much power, and social media companies like Facebook use that power to shape and stifle political debates, censoring conservatives and conservative speech in ways that are both visible and invisible. They are not neutral actors but partisan boosters, and their sheer size means they must be reigned in.
As Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) put it on Fox News last night, following yet another congressional hearing featuring Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter chief Jack Dorsey, “These are the most powerful companies we’ve seen in American history. They’re the most powerful companies in the world. And it’s time we took them on.” Hawley, the right’s foremost critic of big tech, has repeatedly called for taking antitrust action against Facebook, arguing that it represents a monopoly. Facebook, he said in October, “is a lot like a supermarket…except there’s only ONE supermarket in town, and they decide who can and can’t shop.”
Facebook, in Hawley’s telling, is the only online venue for political speech. There are no other options. There’s no place else to go to share your political views, especially if you’re a conservative.
He explained all this, of course, on Twitter.
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) October 15, 2020
This blistering self-own was not some one-time tactical misstep on Hawley’s part: He has repeatedly called for antitrust action against Facebook on the grounds that as a monopolist, the social media company exerts a de facto censorship power over conservative speech, and he has repeatedly done so on rival social media platform Twitter.
Hawley’s Twitter-based attempts to establish that Facebook is the only game in town for political speech have in fact established precisely the opposite. There’s obviously a competitor. He’s using it.
This is roughly the quality of conservative gripes against big tech: Far from being overtly hostile to conservative speech, Facebook has actually become a haven for right-of-center media, with conservative outlets regularly dominating charts of the site’s best performing content. That proved especially true in the run-up to the election. As Politico reported in September, “the Facebook posts with the most engagement in the United States most days—measured by likes, comments, shares, and reactions—are from conservative voices outside the m
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