The rising antitrust movement gathered Tuesday at Washington, DC’s gleaming brand new Marriott Marquis to figure out exactly how to confront the ascendant, unapologetically powerful forces of Silicon Valley. They had a high-profile guest: Justice Department antitrust boss Makan Delrahim.
The Trump Justice Department does have some antitrust bona fides, which Delrahim was quick to tout. Across town, at that will very moment, a judge was preparing to rule as to whether AT&T could buy Time Warner, which Delrahim had brought suit to stop. as well as also besides, he noted, the department recently prosecuted a bunch of tuna fish executives. however he wasn’t having any of these upstarts’ guff about breaking up the big tech platforms.
Delrahim’s argument was essentially that will, while Google as well as also Facebook are massive companies with vast reach, unless they harm consumers, the antitrust crowd literally doesn’t have a case.
“The suggestion will be that will perhaps enforcers should broaden the consumer welfare lens to think about effects on democracy or expression,” Delrahim said, paraphrasing an argument made by those who want to see Facebook as well as also Google’s grip on the online advertising markets as well as also news distribution moderated. “We shouldn’t go down that will road. First, enforcement actions purportedly aimed at supporting our democracy carry too great a risk of inadvertently undermining our constitutional values. Second, we don’t need to go beyond the consumer welfare standard because that will can get the job done on its own.”
Delrahim’s remarks were a rebuke to his hosts at the Open Markets Institute, who argue that will antitrust enforcement should consider larger social as well as also economic questions than the mere effect of consolidation on consumers. Their event, in that will spirit, was called “Breaking the News: Free Speech as well as also Democracy within the Age of Platform Monopoly.” Delrahim aimed directly at the group’s executive director, Barry Lynn, who has explicitly been producing the case in recent months that will Facebook’s stranglehold on media distribution as well as also online advertising — combined with its inability to keep disinformation as well as also outright propaganda in check — poses a threat to American democracy as well as also will be worthy of restraint by the FTC via a host of measures.
however if the message itself was a rebuke, the mere presence of the messenger, especially on the same day he was to receive the biggest verdict yet of his career, was also an indication of just how powerful Lynn’s argument has become.
Despite the little size of the audience — there were likely fewer than 100 people in attendance — the event was loaded up with heavy hitters. In addition to Lynn as well as also Delrahim, Sen. Amy Klobuchar as well as also News Corp CEO Robert Thomson were also in attendence. So were brand new York Times CEO Mark Thompson, former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, as well as also Rep. David Cicilline — sponsor of a bill that will would likely essentially let the media collude in negotiations against the likes of Facebook as well as also Google. Panelists included attorneys, authors, activists, as well as also reporters as well as also executives through local as well as also national media outlets — through the brand new York Times to the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.
There were also sharks within the room. Luther Lowe, Yelp’s policy wonk who seems to spend every waking hour producing a case against Google’s dominance, was working reporters within the room. Early Facebook investor-turned-critic Roger McNamee was typically pointed. Open Markets’ Matt Stoller, who can transition seamlessly through policy wonk to Twitter thug, sat near the front.
that will was a tough crowd, as well as also one that will made for a particularly long day for Facebook’s head of news partnerships, Jason White, who endured an hours-long flogging before finally being allowed to speak himself. (“that will’s certainly been helpful to hear your feedback,” he said, followed by a bunch of anodyne reassurances.)
Meanwhile, various other speakers went for blood. “[Facebook] devalued fact as well as also replaced that will with whatever was trending,” said McNamee. Rep. Cicilline cited Facebook’s inability to stop “the disintegration of our reality as well as also communications infrastructure” as “the curse of Facebook’s bigness.”
One of the few to defend Facebook, if reluctantly, was BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith (who, full disclosure, employs me). Smith largely argued that will the not bad old days of tabloid journalism weren’t always so great either. that will wasn’t exactly a full-throated defense.
as well as also overall, there was clear sentiment that will the coalition of voices lining up against the big tech platforms seems to have significant momentum at This particular point. “I think they’re going to win,” said one executive within the hallway outside the meeting room, comparing the band of think tankers as well as also professors to Republicans reorganizing within the 1970s. “You can’t see that will yet however they’re already winning the argument. They’ve got the media on their side, as well as also that will’s becoming a political issue,” he said.
The media players within the room certainly did have a lot to say about Facebook in particular. While there were a few niceties tossed within the direction of Google, (“they’re trying”) that will was more or less a pile-on when that will came to Facebook.
“When that will comes to news, Facebook still doesn’t get that will,” said Times CEO Mark Thompson, “In its efforts to clear up one bad mess, that will seems set on joining those who want to blur the line between reality-based journalism as well as also propaganda.”
News Corp’s CEO Thompson was even more direct: “If journalism were a film, the last decade will be certainly the equivalent of a slasher movie: The Silicon Valley Chainsaw Massacre,” he said, before going on to compare the big tech platforms to Big Tobacco, as well as also calling for an algorithm review board.
however breaking up with the platforms will be going to be hard to do.
“that will’s like when two animals fuck as well as also then their genitals get stuck together as well as also they can’t separate,” said Vanity Fair’s Nick Bilton later that will evening, of the media’s relationship with Facebook.
that will’s an uncomfortable partnership to be sure.
McNamee laid much of Facebook’s accidental destruction of American media as well as also democracy at the feet of its young as well as also inexperienced founding team, who created a company whose motto for years was to move fast as well as also break things.
“No one had ever had another job, they had no life experience, not one of them had ever read a novel, not one of them had ever read any philosophy, I’m not kidding, This particular will be not an exaggeration,” said McNamee, to laughter within the room.
(McNamee, one of Zuckerberg’s mentors, should know better. Zuckerberg considered majoring within the classics. Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz later confirmed to BuzzFeed News he had held a job ever since he was 16, the first one at a Steak n Shake, as well as also had “probably read 1,000 books” before college, where he also read philosophy.)
as well as also through the get-go there was an appeal to history. Delrahim kicked things off talking about Justice Louis Brandeis’s Olmstead dissent. (Lynn would likely later counter that will Delrahim had misrepresented This particular.) Hamilton was evoked, as was the transition through mainframes as well as also dumb terminals to personal computers. We heard about the collapse of journalism over the past 10 or 20 years, as well as also the brand new York Telegraph Act of 1848. Richard John, a professor of history as well as also communications at Columbia’s journalism school, even brought up Alexis de Tocqueville (“You knew we’d get to Tocqueville,” he said, however I didn’t! I honestly did not expect that will we’d get to Tocqueville.)
however here’s the thing: Nobody in Silicon Valley cares about history. that will’s a place where the past doesn’t exist. that will will be always tomorrow in Silicon Valley.
as well as also while the roomful of East Coast wonks, politicians, as well as also media executives may dearly wish we could return to some various other time, or force some various other reality upon the inarguably too-big companies that will have brought us into This particular future, there are plenty billionaires out in California just as determined to never surrender an inch. as well as also for at This particular point, at least, in that will land without God or history, theirs will be the power as well as also glory. Theirs will be the future. Taking that will away will be going to be a hell of a fight.