Happy Thursday! We have bittersweet news: Today is Aaron Schaffer’s last day with The Technology 202, as he’ll be starting his new role as assistant editor for the 202 newsletter team next week.
Rep. Ken Buck says he’s not backing down in push to check Big Tech
A major campaign to revamp the nation’s antitrust laws and rein in Silicon Valley titans largely came up short last Congress, with the clock running out on several highly contested proposals.
But the top House Republican helping to lead the push, Rep. Ken Buck (Colo.), says he’s not letting up on efforts to hold giants like Google and Apple accountable.
In an interview with The Technology 202 earlier this week, Buck talked about his new book on the matter — “Crushed: Big Tech’s War on Free Speech” — and laid out his tech agenda for this Congress, including plans to target Google and Facebook’s ad businesses and dominant app stores.
Buck, one of the most prominent advocates of antitrust reform on the right, also explained why he holds congressional Democratic leadership responsible for not converting on tech antitrust legislation last year, and why President Biden’s call to action on tech is “too little, too late.”
Here are the highlights from our conversation:
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What inspired you to write this book?
I’m very concerned about tech companies having so much influence on what information people receive, especially political information. I wrote this book to explain my concerns to a conservative audience. There are issues on the left of suppression of speech also, and it should be concerning to have monopolies controlling the flow of information in our country.
You mention in your book a need to revamp Section 230, and you recently unveiled bipartisan legislation to roll back that liability shield when platforms promote harmful content. Do you see that as the path forward for bipartisanship on the issue?
It’s one of the paths forward. I really think [House Energy and Commerce Chair] Cathy McMorris Rodgers is doing a great job with leading in this area and there will be bipartisan support. The Democrats are very concerned about dangerous speech on the internet and the Republicans are very concerned about censoring speech. I think there's a sweet spot there that the two sides will come together and agree on.
In your book, you wrote that former House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had been “sitting on more than half-a dozen antitrust bills.” Do you believe they are primarily responsible for more antitrust bills not advancing?
Absolutely. Those bills could have been brought to the floor at any point in time, and they weren’t. That’s solely on leadership. They ran out the clock. I know that many Democrat senators are very frustrated with how [Schumer] handled this situation.
Former White House adviser Tim Wu said on a recent podcast that when lawmakers sought to include antitrust legislation in the omnibus, “Mitch McConnell killed it.” Is that your understanding?
Well, there was one piece of antitrust legislation that wasn’t included, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. It had Kevin McCarthy's approval. Republican senators were lobbied very hard and a number said they would not support the omnibus if this provision was included. So Senator McConnell went to Senator Schumer and told him that he would oppose this provision. That's my understanding.
The House Republican tech task force’s agenda recommended legislation around app stores. Does that open up a path for your Open App Markets Act?
I think the app store bill is more likely to pass the House and Senate than that nondiscrimination bill. Senator [Marsha] Blackburn has done a really good job on the app store bill, working in a bicameral way to move that forward. The most important bill we can move forward is the ad tech bill concerning Google and Facebook, and I’m hoping that we will be able to see that move forward. But certainly those two are on the top of the list.
The policy areas you’re urging for action on largely align with Biden’s recent op-ed. What did you make of his call for Congress to “unite” on tech legislation?
I thought it was too little, too late. If he wanted something to happen, it certainly could have happened in the first two years. They were able to move very big, important pieces of legislation [like the] infrastructure bill. If he wanted this to move, they could have found floor time in the Senate.
What are you hoping to see out of the House antitrust panel this Congress?
I hope we address the bills that we did not finish last Congress. Certainly the [Federal Trade Commission] and the Department of Justice have raised some serious issues, and obviously there should be oversight. Do we want the agencies to act as broadly as they have been acting? I think that we should hear from [FTC Chair] Lina Khan and [Justice Department antitrust chief] Jonathan Kanter and understand why they brought certain cases.
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Meta reinstates Trump on Facebook, Instagram
Donald Trump had been suspended from Facebook for two years, but Meta President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg wrote that the company reinstated the former president because “[t]he public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying — the good, the bad and the ugly — so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box,” Naomi Nix reports. Meta’s reinstatement, along with Twitter’s lifting of its Trump ban in November, means that Trump can reclaim the spotlight with two of the world’s most pivotal platforms ahead of the 2024 presidential election, which Trump has declared he is running for.
“Meta suspended Trump’s accounts on Jan. 7, 2021, following his praise and encouragement of rioters who stormed the Capitol in an attack that left several dead and many more injured,” Naomi writes. “The company then shortened the suspension to two years and said that when that period was over, it would reassess whether it was safe enough to restore his account.”
Musk team discussed selling some Twitter shares to pay off debt, report says
Selling $3 billion in Twitter shares would allow Twitter owner Elon Musk to pay off some of the debt that Musk took on to buy the company, the Wall Street Journal’s Berber Jin and Alexander Saeedy report. Musk’s representatives didn’t respond to the Wall Street Journal’s requests for comment, but Musk tweeted “No” to a Twitter account that asked him if the story was accurate.
“Paying off the debt would provide welcome financial relief to Twitter, which has struggled to keep advertisers on the platform,” Jin and Saeedy write. “In November, Mr. Musk said Twitter had suffered ‘a massive drop in revenue’ and was losing over $4 million a day. He also said that month that bankruptcy was a possibility for the company, although Mr. Musk later shared more upbeat prospects for the company, saying he expects Twitter to be roughly cash-flow break-even in 2023 as he has slashed some 6,000 jobs.”
Indian officials ordered clips of a BBC documentary to be removed from YouTube and Twitter
The documentary delves into Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged role in a 2002 riot in which more than 1,000 people, most of whom were Muslims, were killed, Gerry Shih, Karishma Mehrotra and Anant Gupta report. Kanchan Gupta, an adviser to the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, said the ministry had used a 2021 law to censor social media posts sharing the documentary.
“Videos sharing BBC World hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage, disguised as ‘documentary’ on YouTube, and tweets sharing links to the BBC documentary have been blocked under India’s sovereign laws and rules,” Gupta wrote in a tweet. Gupta also said that Twitter and YouTube complied with the orders.
The BBC said in a statement that the documentary was “rigorously researched” and India’s government declined to comment for the piece.
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