This weekend, the Wall Street Journal revealed the Trump administration is finally taking antitrust action against “big tech” companies, specifically Google:
The Justice Department is gearing up for an antitrust investigation of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, a move that could present a major new layer of regulatory scrutiny for the search giant, according to people familiar with the matter.
The department’s antitrust division in recent weeks has been laying the groundwork for the probe, the people said. The Federal Trade Commission, which shares antitrust authority with the department, previously conducted a broad investigation of Google but closed it in 2013 without taking action, though Google made some voluntary changes to certain business practices.
The FTC and the department have been in talks recently on who would oversee any new antitrust investigation of a leading U.S. tech giant, and the commission agreed to give the Justice Department jurisdiction over Google, the people said.
A Justice Department investigation would put Google—and potentially other tech giants—in an unwanted spotlight at a time when major internet companies already have seen their political fortunes turning, both in the U.S. and overseas.
The shift has come with multibillion-dollar antitrust fines for Google from the European Union. Facebook Inc. has come under intense fire over Russian use of its platform to meddle in the 2016 election. Policy makers also are increasingly skeptical of internet companies’ privacy practices, as well as their potential to create other public harm.
The big tech companies have managed to anger both political parties. The left is angry with them because they understand internet organizing was critical to Trump’s success in 2016, and want all conservatives collectively banned from the internet.
The constant Democrat harassment of Facebook, in particular, illustrates this. Nancy Pelosi recently accused Facebook of being Russian collaborators because they didn’t take down a video making fun of her. Facebook has been harassing conservative activists and chasing off some big names, but this is not enough to satisfy the Democrats, who clearly have an end goal of stripping internet access from anyone who votes Republican.
The unfair and targeted banning of Republicans engaging in regular political activity on the internet is, of course, what has led to the anger with “big tech” on the right. Trump supporters have been calling for action against social media companies, specifically Google, Twitter, and Facebook, for some time now.
Government action against these companies was likely held off by Jeff Sessions, who also refused to exercise oversight of the Mueller investigation. It is not surprising to me that we finally began to get action on this issue shortly after Barr’s appointment.
Unfortunately, government action tends to move very slowly at the best of times. It is less than a year and a half until the next election, and I find it unlikely that antitrust action will be completed before that time. Furthermore, even if action is completed quickly, the social media companies will likely sue to delay things further.
Therefore, do not expect a level playing field on the internet in 2020. We will likely not see the crackdown on conservative activism ease until after the 2020 elections, if it does at all.