Today in America there are very few non-polarizing issues. There are few views and opinions that do not clearly identify whether a person is a Democrat or Republican. Most issues and sides have been claimed by a party. Climate change, Black Lives Matter, healthcare, reproductive rights, affirmative action, immigration laws, minimum wage, military budget, various international relations/foreign policies, maternity leave, equal pay, gun laws and just about every other publicly debated issue has been stamped with a blue donkey or a red elephant. Interestingly enough, the power possessed by big tech companies and businesses seems to not have a clear ideological stamp. This has been made evident by the recent heat that companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook have been receiving from politicians on both sides, as well as a substantial number of voters.
Democratic candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has been advocating for the breakup of large tech companies for some time now. Warren explained her plan to “Break up Big Tech” in Medium last March. Warren hit on every argument against big tech, explaining the dangerous consequences that could result from the power Amazon, Google and Facebook have over our economy, society and democracy. People and politicians from both sides of the aisle, who support the breakup of big tech, do so for reasons similar to those articulated by Warren. Their support for a breakup is rooted in fear of the power that the companies hold over our economy, society and/or democracy. So, what is the fear? What is the true power of these gigantic businesses?
While Amazon, Google and Facebook make digital life easy for regular people, they serve as the biggest bullies to small businesses. Their rise to power has caused an extreme decline in competition in innovation and tech. How did they do it? Amazon, Google and Facebook have all used the strategy of merging to eliminate competition. Amazon bought countless other products and sold them for less. Google bought Waze and DoubleClick. Facebook bought WhatsApp and Instagram. The other main strategy for control is to participate in their created marketplaces. This strategy has been used overwhelmingly by Amazon. Amazon has continuously copied products sold on their marketplace and created their own branded versions. The methods and patterns used by these monstrous tech companies to crush small businesses and squash current startups and is concerning. For many Americans, the negative economic impact serves as enough of a reason to support the breakup of Amazon, Google and Facebook.
Fear Concerning Democracy:
The main issue regarding the power that big tech companies have over our democratic society is the issue of privacy. They have a vast database that holds data about everything from what vacuum cleaner you are looking for to personal political views. In 2018, the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal spurred feelings of rage, betrayal and distrust among people towards Facebook. As can be understood, these feelings have translated to all big tech companies that collect personal information about their users. While it is reasonable to be outraged by the political echo chamber Facebook and Google have created, it is only fair to take responsibility for our nonchalant handover of information. Feelings that these tech companies have stolen personal information is not exactly fair. The information they have, we have given them. Our anger and upset over how the information has been used in a way to sabotage democracy is rational and important. However, our data only turned to gold when it was seemingly used against us, and we must acknowledge that. As a society, we should fear the power these companies have over our democracy. In taking steps forward, we can be more aware and protective over our personal information until we have real legislation that protects it for us.
Another major issue with these companies, specifically Facebook, is in regard to censorship responsibilities and boundaries. While a distinguishing trait of our great nation is our freedom of speech, Facebook has forced us to question where one’s freedom ends and hate speech and slander starts. Facebook has been heavily criticized for its hands-off, inconsistent, seemingly apathetic position on hate speech and the spread of false information. In Europe, speech is not as loosely handled as it is here in the United States. Following Facebook’s refusal to take down content including Holocaust denial, hateful, anti-Semitic rhetoric, European lawyers pointed out that despite Facebook’s disposition, the content was illegal in many European countries. Facebook’s lack of action on this issue is appalling to many people because of the social upset it has caused. Due to the fact that much of the hateful and false content on Facebook cannot be charged in the U.S., we leave it to the companies, themselves, to take down the poison that can be spread on social media. However, Facebook has failed to take part in combating hate and lies which is incredibly problematic because of how much power and influence the social media site holds.
Politicians from all ends of our political spectrum have criticized and acknowledged the need for action and legislation limiting big tech companies. Whether it is for concern of innovation and small businesses, protection over privacy or prevention of hate speech or ‘fake news’, people and politicians have identified that something must be done. It is just the “something” that we need to figure out.