Momentum is building in Washington to break up Big Tech, including from Democrats, following the social media crackdown on President Trump and conservative voices.
As the social media platform Parler on Tuesday pressed an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon, an antitrust hawk prepared to take the reins of a key Senate panel and an influential liberal activist on the Biden transition team pushed Democrats to smash Amazon, Facebook and Google.
Amazon Web Services’ decision to take Parler offline sent the anti-Big Tech social media platform scrambling. Parler sued Amazon in a Seattle-based federal court, saying the online mega-retailer broke its contract and damaged Parler to benefit Twitter.
The lawsuit said Amazon Web Services’ action was “the equivalent of pulling the plug on a hospital patient on life support.”
Parler simultaneously pursued transferring its domain to another web-hosting service, The Seattle Times reported.
Amazon Web Services said Parler’s claims had “no merit” and said AWS raised concerns over several weeks and saw an increase in dangerous content.
“AWS provides technology and services to customers across the political spectrum, and we respect Parler’s right to determine for itself what content it will allow,” said an AWS spokesperson in an email. “However, it is clear that there is significant content on Parler that encourages and incites violence against others, and that Parler is unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove this content, which is a violation of our terms of service.”
Parler’s antitrust case has legs if the company has evidence of a quid pro quo between Amazon and Twitter. But Parler may have an easier time proving the breach-of-contract claim.
“If the big smoking gun at the end of this is Amazon is not thrilled about Parler’s political leanings and so is Twitter, that’s not enough,” said Jessica Melugin, director of the Center for Technology & Innovation at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat set to take charge of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, is intent on lowering the threshold necessary to prove antitrust abuses.
“I have long said that it’s vitally important to hold tech companies accountable for issues relating to competition, consumer privacy and the spread of harmful disinformation on their platforms,” said Ms. Klobuchar, who wrote a soon-to-be-released book titled “Antitrust” that has Big Tech in its crosshairs.
“I have introduced legislation to make major reforms to the antitrust laws, protect consumer health data, and to create more transparency in online political advertising, and I look forward to making real progress on these issues in the new Congress,” she said.
In 2020, Ms. Klobuchar sponsored legislation to shift the burden of proof for dominant companies, including the tech giants, to show that their conduct does not present an “appreciable risk of harming competition.” Now at the helm of the antitrust panel in a Democrat-controlled Congress, Ms. Klobuchar’s policy preferences will have running room and fewer Republican obstacles because of GOP voters’ animosity toward the companies.
After the November elections, Ms. Klobuchar has shown a willingness to support GOP efforts to crack down on Big Tech. Last month, she cheered the Trump administration’s Federal Trade Commission ordering nine social media and video-streaming companies to hand over the data that they collect on Americans.
Liberals also are pushing President-elect Joseph R. Biden and his administration not to tamp down Washington’s antitrust fever.
Sarah Miller, executive director of the liberal American Economic Liberties Project, is working with the Biden team and leading the charge to dismantle the tech behemoths and other corporate powerhouses.
Her group issued a report Tuesday urging the incoming Biden administration to learn from what it perceives as Obama administration failures on the antitrust front.
“Rebuilding a post-COVID economy that is structured to empower working people, entrepreneurs, small businesses and communities will require President-elect Biden to build on this momentum and aggressively implement and expand on President Obama’s intentions, champion congressional action, and, critically, build political will for confronting monopoly power as a key component of building back better,” the report said.
It called on Congress to dismantle Amazon, Google and Facebook so that they can be regulated. The group also wants regulators to split apart Google and Facebook by leveraging the Trump administration-initiated lawsuits against the two tech companies.
Ms. Miller, Ms. Klobuchar and other liberals might have faced more right-leaning opposition to their antitrust agenda during the Obama administration. But the experiences of Parler and that of conservative users of Twitter and Facebook have created an opening that antitrust enthusiasts on the left are looking to use.