Story Stream
recent articles

Democratic authoritarian Senator Elizabeth Warren has teamed up with Republican authoritarian Senator Lindsey Graham to introduce the Digital Consumer Commission Act. As the name suggests, the bill creates a new federal commission to regulate Big Tech, or “dominant platforms” as it is known on the Hill. A dominant platform is any tech company that meets certain revenue and active user criteria.

Senators Warren and Graham claim that this commission will stop dominant tech companies from mistreating their consumers, their smaller competitors, and their workers. But the truth is that this bill harms all three of these groups. Warren and Graham claim they want to preserve free speech online. But the bill gives their commission broad powers to engage in online censorship in the name of preventing bullying or harassment. The bill also gives the commission the power to create a standardized content moderation policy that can be implemented by other tech companies to police speech.

One need only imagine what Biden Administration bureaucrats would do with the authority to define and regulate such nebulous activities as online bullying and harassment, much less to draft a model policy for content moderation. Since Graham is one of the Senate’s leading cheerleaders for restricting civil liberties in the name of national defense, it is no surprise that the proposed commission will be empowered to censor any speech deemed harmful to national security. If the bill passes, we can expect to see more flagging and removal of posts deemed to be “foreign disinformation”.

The bill also gives the commission the authority to ban “preferencing.” Preferencing refers to firms using search algorithms to display their own products, or even sellers that pay for better service, rather than those of competitors. The push to outlaw preferencing assumes that consumers are too lazy and stupid to scroll further down the list of search results, to visit third party sites for objective reviews and rankings, and that it somehow benefits large platforms to sell inferior goods. The ban on preferencing would harm small businesses that have figured out how to scale their business by leveraging these platforms.

The bill gives the commission the power to stop platforms from setting the conditions under which smaller companies are permitted to use their platforms. For example, this would prohibit Amazon from requiring that third party sellers on their site use Amazon’s shipping or warehousing services for Amazon Prime. The reason Amazon does this is to guarantee their customers two-day Prime shipping for certain products, something that would not be possible if they are unable to control the shipping process. This policy would also bar Amazon from selling its own products through Amazon Marketplace. That’s right, Lindsey Graham wants to stop companies from selling their own products on their own platforms!

Warren and Graham’s bill also forbids the use of noncompete clauses which restrict employees from leaving one company to immediately work for a competitor. It also bans poaching agreements, in which businesses agree not to hire away each other’s talent. These clauses serve a useful function by encouraging companies to invest in their employees’ training and education without fear that they will simply be poached by a competing firm able to free ride off the investment in human capital.

In a New York Times op-ed promoting their bill, Senators Graham and Warren said that “no one elected big tech executives to govern the digital world.” But the truth is that big tech companies are elected by consumers voting with their dollars to purchase their services over those of their competitors. These elections occur every single day, and incumbents are always at risk of losing their position in the market to newer rival better able to satisfy the needs and wants of consumers. Americans do not need Elizabeth Warren and Lindsay Graham to protect them from Big Tech by creating yet another unconstitutional federal agency, tasked with forcing companies to stop serving their customers and to start catering to the whims of politicians and bureaucrats.

Charles Sauer (@CharlesSauer ) is the president of the Market Institute. He has previously worked on Capitol Hill, for a governor, and for an academic think tank.

Show comments Hide Comments