If you’ve followed American Principles Project’s work, you know we are big advocates of amending Section 230 to push back against Big Tech censorship.
Last year, we published a detailed blueprint for reform in which we suggested that market-dominant platforms should be required to adhere to a First Amendment standard for content moderation in exchange for their existing immunity from civil liability. Earlier this year, we sent a memo to Hill staff in which we proposed a series of litmus tests and must-have provisions in any Section 230 reform. We have worked closely with dozens of congressional offices on legislative language, and we have even endorsed specific legislation: the CASE-IT Act, which was introduced in 2020 and reintroduced earlier this year by Rep. Greg Steube (R-Florida).
So I want to be clear on this: American Principles Project is all in on amending Section 230, perhaps more so than any other group on the Right. We see tremendous value in getting a specific reform correct and establishing a consensus within the Republican Party around that reform.
But we have to acknowledge practical political reality as it exists. The Democrats are not going to vote for legislation that seeks to promote more speech and more expression in the digital public square. These aren’t “liberals” in the traditional sense. Free speech is antithetical to everything they believe in! So we are at least three and a half years away from passing any change to Section 230 into law, and that’s in an ideal world where the Republicans triumphantly take back the House, win 60 seats in the Senate to overcome the filibuster, and win the presidency. Even that rosy scenario allows little margin for error.
So where does that leave us? We really only have two options. One is to continue to put rhetorical pressure on Big Tech but ultimately do nothing substantively until at least January 2025. Republican voters aren’t going to like that strategy, and in the meantime Big Tech will amass more power and become more censorious. The other option is to embrace an all-of-the-above approach to reining in Big Tech, which would include support for some of the bipartisan antitrust bills championed by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colorado) that are likely to receive a vote in the House this fall. These bills, which American Principles Project has endorsed, include:
The American Choice and Innovation Online Act
The Platform Competition and Opportunity Act
The Ending Platform Monopolies Act
The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act
The Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act
The State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act
If Republicans want to fight Big Tech in a substantive way during the Biden Administration, they are going to have to consider supporting some or even all of these antitrust bills. Generally, these bills seek to thwart Big Tech’s anti-competitive behavior, which has allowed these trillion dollar companies to gain and maintain strangleholds on their respective markets, stifling innovation and distorting the larger economy in the process. Each of these bills focuses on different aspects of antitrust enforcement. Some are easier to understand than others. All deserve to be judged individually on their merits.
The bills are not perfect. But they represent the only authentic opportunity in the near term for Congress to rein in Big Tech. There’s a reason that the Big Tech monopolists, and the allied groups they fund in Washington, D.C., are lobbying so aggressively against this specific legislation. They recognize that these bipartisan bills are viable and could pose a real threat to their concentrated power.
Many loud (and well-funded) voices on the Right argue that support for antitrust enforcement is not conservative. But for more than a century, Republicans have recognized that antitrust enforcement is necessary to preserve the free market and prevent the consolidation of power around anti-competitive monopolies. Obviously antitrust enforcement becomes even more important when we’re talking about Big Tech companies that exert control over the free flow of information and directly interfere in our elections. Additionally, there appears to be popular support for some degree of antitrust enforcement. According to Pew Research, 68 percent of Americans believe that “social media companies have too much power and influence in today’s economy.” That number jumps to 80 percent among Americans who identify as conservative.
So, what’s the hold-up among Republicans in Congress? Why are so many of them, including conservative standard-bearers like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), so vehemently opposed to these bills? I think it’s fair to say that most House and Senate Republicans recognize the existential threat Big Tech poses to our democracy. That being said, inertia is a powerful thing, and the Republican Party has spent the last two decades defending multinational corporate interests above all else. We are the Party of Uber, after all, even if Uber has technically disavowed us. Old habits die hard, as the saying goes.
But another saying might be more relevant in the current moment: adapt, or die. Big Tech companies like Facebook and Google showed us what they are capable of doing in 2020. The censorship is only going to get worse. So Republican politicians are going to have to choose: do something, even if it’s not perfect, or do nothing, and hope that the same Republican voters who lived through the Obamacare debacle in the 2010s will forgive another decade of political posturing.