There has been growing concern about the liberal bias held by the big tech firms and social media platforms, a bias that appears to have led to a form of ideological censorship of users whose political views don’t align with those of the firms’ and platform’s leaders and workers.
Considering the size and market dominance of the small handful of social media platforms and big tech firms — as well as the fact that there are few, if any, viable alternatives to those platforms and firms — the silencing of voices who have nowhere else to turn to be heard has given rise to anti-trust concerns as well.
President Donald Trump, along with some Republican members of Congress, has recently been shining a harsh light on the alleged ideological misbehavior of the big social media platforms — such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — and now it appears that the Department of Justice will be getting involved to take a closer look at how those platforms are being operated.
Reuters reported that the DOJ announced Wednesday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will soon meet with a number of state-level attorneys general to discuss what has been occurring with the social media platforms in terms of alleged censorship and a lack of competition.
The announcement came at the conclusion of a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Wednesday in which top executives from Facebook and Twitter had been grilled by senators on both sides of the aisle — Republicans for the alleged censorship of conservative voices and Democrats over the alleged failure of the platforms to prevent foreign interests from influencing and interfering in U.S. elections.
It is worth noting that representatives of Google were requested to appear at the hearing alongside those from Facebook and Twitter, but they declined to participate.
“The attorney general has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms,” said DOJ spokesman Devin O’Malley in a statement.
It remains to be seen if an official investigation into the social media platforms will be launched as a result of that meeting with state attorneys general, or even what such an investigation would entail if it were to be launched.
However, the prospect of such an investigation likely has the social media executives a bit worried as it could leave them rather exposed. Consider what could be revealed if the DOJ were to issue subpoenas of the various documentary records and internal messaging among key executives and staffers that have thus far been kept secret, and how that would play once pushed out into the public domain.
Aside from exposing an alleged concerted effort on the part of the platforms to censor conservative voices through the use of algorithms, a potential anti-trust case could be built if it can be shown that the small handful of platforms banded together to silence specific voices or colluded with each other to keep competitors from gaining a foothold in the social media market.
In the end, it is quite possible that such an investigation could lead to both new federal regulations governing operations as well as anti-trust actions against the companies.
According to Agence France-Presse, the tech firms and social media platforms have of course denied engaging in any sort of censorship based on ideology or for political purposes, and they also claim to be protected against any sort of governmental intervention by virtue of their right to free speech.
That said, Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai, while refraining from offering any specific proposals, recently suggested that the big tech firms and social media platforms could soon find themselves facing tougher regulations.
“We need to seriously think about whether the time has come for these companies to abide by new transparency obligations,” Pai wrote in a recent blog post. “Consumers interact with these digital platforms on a daily basis. We get our news from them. We interact with our family and friends on them.”
President Trump has also called for more transparency on the part of social media and tech firms, and he has warned them to “be careful” going forward, but he also stopped short of specifically calling for any sort of new regulations.
It will be interesting to see if anything comes of this potential investigation, which hopefully will prove unnecessary, as all that is being asked is simply that the tech firms and social media companies provide a fair and open platform to all, regardless of ideological viewpoint or political affiliation.
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