Tech, media experts at CTA, elsewhere dismiss Trump’s battle with Google
R Street Institute Technology Policy Manager Tom Struble agrees online platforms aren’t biased for some of the reasons Petricone stated. It wouldn’t make economic sense for tech companies to favor a particular political view, he said. But he suggested if a social media platform pitches itself as neutral, and there’s clear evidence of political bias, that could draw enforcement attention from the FTC, which regulates unfair and deceptive practices. Trump is probably not well-versed on such authority, he said.
The president suggested an anti-competitive component to Google’s alleged bias. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said after Trump’s tweeting that the administration is examining potential regulation for Google Search. Google dismissed the president’s claims as unfounded, saying the platform doesn’t bias “results toward any political ideology.” The sequence of events was similar to Trump’s claims against Amazon (see 1804130059), which resulted in a formal assessment of the financial situation of the U.S. Postal Service. The Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The Treasury Department hasn’t released findings.
International Center for Law & Economics Associate Director-Innovation Policy Kristian Stout commented on the president’s claim that Google, Facebook and Amazon might be in a “very antitrust” situation: “So I’m not sure that anyone knows why he would think antitrust would be the answer on the speech issues — it was an exceedingly vague statement.” It’s difficult to see a plausible competition claim on the speech issue, he said. American Antitrust Institute President Diana Moss said the president is conflating “freedom of speech and diversity in the media with competition issues.”
Struble expects platforms to continue to dismiss such Trump remarks, but he said criticism from high-ranking officials can have an impact on how companies operate. One example, he said, was in 2016, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg committed to building trust when hearing bias concerns from several conservative lawmakers, including Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D. (see 1605100032). Letters and tweets from lawmakers, depending on the validity, can drive the public conversation, which in turn can influence how social media platforms operate, said Struble.