tv The Communicators Elizabeth Nolan Brown Senior Editor Reason Magazine CSPAN July 10, 2021 6:31pm-7:01pm EDT
comcast. >> you think this is just a community center? no, it's much more than that. >> comcast is crating listings so famous can get the tools they need. >> comcast support c-span as a public service, along with these television providers, giving you a front row seat to democracy. peter: elizabeth nolan brown is on your screen. she is an editor with reason magazine and she has a recent cover story for that publication, the bipartisan antitrust crusade against big tech. ms. brown, if you could, first of all, tell us about the philosophy of reason magazine. elizabeth: reason magazine is an especially libertarian magazine focused on politics and culture. we're not a member of the libertarian policy, -- party,
though. skeptical of increased government power in all sorts of rooms, both economic and -- realms, both economic and social and civil liberty realms. peter: overall, how are each of the parties attacking big tech in the antitrust sense? elizabeth: it's interesting because both of the parties, republicans and democrats, have been attacking people from all sorts of angles, and antitrust is just sort of one of them. but they have coalesced on using more antitrust enforcement in order to go after tech companies. but they both have very different reasons for doing so, even though they sort of coalesce on the same solution. for democrats, it seems to be rooted in a sort of typical for democrats, animosity towards big businesses in general, and corporations in general, and need to shrink them down to size. and for republicans, it's really
tied to this sort of culture war against technology companies in general, where they perceive them as against being biased against conservatives, either in the way they moderate content or corporate culture. so, the antitrust push against big tech is really tied to the general feeling that tech companies are out to get them. peter: so in a sense, with republicans it's censorship, and with democrats, it's big is bad. elizabeth: yeah. peter: and one of the stories you tell in your article -- i'm going to start with the republican side -- you talk about parlr. what happened? elizabeth: parler was removed from the apple and google stores, and also amazon. amazon has cloud computer services. they canceled the web services contract for a while. republicans freaked out and said this was an antitrust violation and it showed that if amazon is big enough to cancel parler,
then it why do we need an antitrust law against amazon? antitrust law is supposed to go after anticompetitive conduct from monopolies, and amazon does not have anything like a monopoly in this cloud computing services. and they are able to find another host to host its website. it does -- republicans wanted to use this as an example of why we needed different rules when it actually seemed like a good example of how the market works in this realm and parler was able to just find another provider in the market to host its website. peter: now a couple of the leading democratic legislators on this antitrust portion, senator elizabeth warren, senator av klobuchar -- amy klobuchar, will flow competition as an important part of their antitrust push. elizabeth: yeah, competition is important. but historically, antitrust, it
hasn't looked at competition as the only. consumer welfare has been the main goal. it's not harming consumer welfare, it's not seen as an appropriate matter for antitrust enforcement. as long as consumers aren't being harmed, it's ok. a lot of what you have now is people trying to turn away from the consumer harm model, nina con is big on this. they think competition, per se, needs to be the goal of antitrust enforcement. so even if it raises prices for consumers, even if it leads to harm for consumers, if it increases competition, then that's better. peter: and here's a quote from your article. "antitrust has become a broad cover for pursuing pre-existing political agendas." elizabeth: yeah, i think that
you have a lot of people talking about antitrust when they are talking about other things. and for democrats, ti's not really about big tech, per se. it's about animosity toward all big businesses and pushing a high regulation agenda. and for republicans, it's not really about monopoly power, per se. it's about sticking it to big tech and finding another way to punish or threaten tech companies. peter: what's been the role of senator josh hawley, republican from missouri? elizabeth: he's been one of the leading forces of this on the right, for sure. he's introduced several pieces of legislation that will change the antitrust process. one of them would make it harder for mergers and acquisitions to happen across the board. one of them would be breaking up google and amazon and facebook. he's really been a big leader of this idea that we need to break up these companies, too. i think it's a sort of dubious
proposition that breaking up facebook, getting rid of instagram and whatsapp. i don't think that would solve a lot of the problems, which are more about -- they say people get criticized on facebook. they're mad trump got kicked off facebook. they would still be kicked up facebook, so it sort of seems like a weird solution. but that's one of the things josh hawley has been big at pushing. peter: elizabeth nolan brown, can you talk a little bit about some of the antitrust cases that have been filed? amazon, apple, google, facebook? elizabeth: yeah, right now you've got the ftc doing facebook and you've got the department of justice doing google, and you've got a whole bunch of state attorney generals, republicans and democrats, joining in on those. they kind of center on different things, but a lot of it -- there's been a big house report that lumps in some of these
things last year. one of the things they say is that google has a monopoly on search. they say google also has a monopoly on ad sales. they say facebook has a monopoly on social media. i think that a lot of these are not very well supported propositions, too, because if you look at facebook, millions of people are leaving facebook right now, like all the time. you can go to twitter. you can go to youtube. you can go to read it. you can go to new ones rising up, tiktok. you wouldn't have seen the rise of new things like tiktok. when you talk about amazon, one of the big things against amazon, it's dominating the online retail commerce with third-party sales, and has the full market. but obviously amazon isn't just competing with people like ebay
and other sites that let third-party sellers on. it's competing with all online retail and all physical retail, too. you have a lot of these cases where they're trying to define all these companies as monopolies based on what are very narrow understandings of the markets that they're operating in. peter: so let's go to the democratic side, senator amy klobuchar. you write that she's trying to change the definition of what antitrust should be. elizabeth: yes, again, this comes back to the consumer harm standard, which they don't want consumer harms to be the sort of lone star antitrust law anymore. they want antitrust laws to be concerned with, his behavior just being anticompetitive? is it harming competitors, instead of which is it harming consumers? which would be a big change because anything a company does to improve its product or expand its line of business or attract new customers could be seen as harming competitors.
that's why you have the house antitrust report saying things like, google changed its search engine, changed its search algorithm. that may have had the effect of making it harder for others to compete. but that also makes it better for people who are using google. so a lot of the times, you see klobuchar and morris kind of saying any these companies do things, change their business model otto, that it's been -- at all, that it's being done to harm competitors, and we can't allow that. but at the same time, they are very much done to help consumers. it's a weird trade-off, i think. peter: is this just developed because the biden administration is in office? elizabeth: no, not at all. this was really starting under trump. obama was really chill about antitrust. i think people may be thought he was going to go after things more aggressively, but ended up not really doing so.
it actually started under trump. the trump administration aggressive about antitrust. you started seeing both republicans and democrats under the past few years under trump, really beating this drum. peter: elizabeth nolan brown of reason, have consumers been harmed in your view? elizabeth: i don't think so. i'm not saying that any of these companies are perfect. there are individual things that any of these amazon, facebook, google, whatever are doing wrong. but i think these are not antitrust violations because they are not things where, well, we talked about the older antitrust violations. making deals that explicitly harm consumers. and these are things that, with these companies, they're not doing that. they're not acting in this old-school antitrust white. -- way. like content moderation. sometimes they're harming people that get off the website.
but the alternative is not letting anybody say anything on websites, and that would also harm consumers. so, you know, it's really, i think a lot of people have been defining decisions they make as harm when there's not evidence to support that, especially because consumers can go elsewhere. in all of these cases, it's not like a telephone company or your local electric company, where often you have this one choice. consumers can make choices that is apple or facebook is not serving their needs, they don't have to use them. the fact that consumers don't choose en masse to leave these companies shows that, for the most part, people are pretty satisfied with them. peter: you talk about some of the edge competitors, the edge tech firms, sub stack, clubhouse. what do they offer? elizabeth: those are really good examples of new competitors coming out. like you said, proving that
these other companies are not monopolies because these companies have been able to come up. if facebook had a monopoly on social media, then clubhouse and tiktok would not have been able to rise up. sub stack and clubhouse, one of the things that they are sort of different is it's less easy to get, to lose your entire audience. that's what people complain about with twitter or facebook. people spend a lot of time building their audience, and when these sites decide that you broke the rules and they kick you off, you're just out all of those followers, all that work you put in. with sub stack, it's an email newsletter service. even though you're using their platform, if they kick you off, you would still have all those email addresses and you could go to another service and you are more able to transfer your things. one person calls this the rise of the sovereign influencer. you're not dependent on a
particular platform. and i think that's something we're going to see a lot of. peter: who is mike solana? elizabeth: he works for the founders fund, a capital firm. . he also has a newsletter called pirate water, where he talked about issues in technology. peter: and back to your article, the bipartisan antitrust crusade against big tech, "the internet is a serious threat to the establishment stranglehold on ideas." elizabeth: yeah, this kind of gets to a deeper level of why we see antitrust action, but also all sorts of regulatory proposals in big tech. and it's because across a lot of rooms, the internet has been very disruptive to old is this models and to old ways of gatekeeping ideas. you can talk about purely economic things, like the internet has disrupted, like
airbnb disrupted the hotel industry, things like that. but also the news model. before you had these news producers, big newspapers, big table news outlets, they sort of have to decide which ideas were worthy of airtime, which ideas were getting more popular. now, obviously with social media and 70 different websites, you can have these -- so many different websites, you can have these people choose, for better or worse, without people getting to decide that. and that's really scary, in particular i think, to politicians. it makes it much harder for them to control their own personal images, policies they're pushing, everything. peter: from a libertarian perspective, elizabeth nolan brown, do you think facebook and twitter have the right to prevent donald trump from being on their site? elizabeth: oh, definitely. they are private companies and
so they should be able to decide who's on their site. it would be nice if they had consistent policies. i think that it'd be nice if they were more consistent without they do it. i don't think it's just the right that suffers from this. i think people arbitrarily across the political spectrum get kicked off facebook or twitter for using sarcasm or algorithms, things like that, in a weird way. but it's also hard to do content moderation and for the most part, these companies are trying the best they can. and we have to allow them, as private companies, to set their own rules. the alternative wouldn't make anyone happy, whatever political administration was in power, to decide what facebook and what twitter were allowed to allow. they might be happy right now about it, but when republicans get back in office, they would not be happy if they had the biden administration what was biased or not or what was true
or not on facebook. so it's really strange that a lot of republicans seem to say, we need to give the government more control over what counts as bias online, what counts as disinformation online, because anytime you have partisan parties making calls, it's going to make people unhappy and it's better we have private actors doing that rather than government actors. peter: state media, in a sense. elizabeth: yes, exactly. it would turn all of social media into state media if we had that happen. peter: could we consider the social media companies as publishers? elizabeth: you know, people have this debate a lot, too. are they publishers of platforms? there's a small section 230. they say if they're publishers, they don't have section 230 protections. that's a misunderstanding of section 230. it doesn't really matter what we call them. there's no legal distinction between publishers and platforms. do they create the content?
if they create the content, if twitter or facebook creates content, then they are legally liable for. if it's usually just use related content, it's not. that is the right distinction to me. people say, you can't hold twitter or facebook, whatever, responsible for this bad content. but if they had created it, you could. if someone else creates it, you can hold that person responsible, and i think that's how it should be. otherwise, say facebook having to check for libel and defamation on every single post that's out there, obviously it can't do that. they are going to run afoul of the law millions of times and be sued out of existence or it's not going to let anything go up. you have to post something and wait days or weeks for facebook fact checkers to do it, and there would be a lot less speech online. again, i don't think that would make anyone happy either. stricter standards for getting speech on facebook and twitter and such.
peter: his parlor back online? and does it have the following? elizabeth: it is back online. and yeah, it's definitely back in the apple app store, too. they lead it back in now. i think i forgot to say before, but the reason all of these platforms dropped it for a minute was because it was a promoter of extremist content around the january 6 riots the capital. and parler showed that either it had tried to stop that content or change its policies to improve it. i don't think that parler was uniquely bad in that realm, but it hosts a lot of extremist content and it has taken more steps to try and address that, so i think that's why people have been more ok with it. it does seem to have suffered some in its user base. but again, i'm not sure if that has to do with the fact that it went dark for a little bit and came back, or just the fact that there was this big conservative push that we're all meeting for
parler, and it fizzled out. you do again again, they are going to leave for gab. trump is going to start his own site. and it never really worked. people use that as an example of facebook or twitter have a monopoly. but facebook and twitter are not doing anything to keep people away from parler or gab. people decide they like being on these other sites that are, maybe because they don't want -- better, maybe because they don't want to be in a conservative echo chamber. people say they want to talk amongst conservatives, and realize everyone's sang the same -- saying the same thing and there's no one to fight with. they don't like it. they want to be in the rough-and-tumble of it. peter: elizabeth nolan brown, i'm asking you to think about this. what is the current social media world mean to some of the legacy publishers, new york
times, nbc news, cnn, c-span? does it reduce their significance in your view? elizabeth: yes and no. i mean, again, they were used to, for many, many years to be able to control the narrative around so many things because you couldn't just -- your average person couldn't just go online and go on a rant about it. or your average person couldn't start a blog on it. you can start a blog, but it was harder to promote that blog and get it in front of a ton of eyes. now, you write something good, you put it out there on social media, and the right people share on social media, and it can be getting as much traffic as something that was before, something like that. that being said, the fact that anybody can just say anything online also does mean that the role of professional journalists is more important than ever in another room.
because there's so much information out there that people don't really know who to trust. there's always some people who are like yes, i trust everything i see in my facebook feed. a lot of people realize you can't just trust anything. and they want someone to be considered an authority on that. and i think as a legacy outlet, more than ever now, do have this role that's countering the misinformation that is on social media, trying to say yes, this is true, or the, this isn't true. peter: so before we leave this with section 230, from your point of view on the libertarian point of view, should the liability protections in section 230 be rescinded or changed? elizabeth: no. i think they are very important, as lawyer eric goldman says, section 230 is sort of the internet's first amendment, vastly more important than the first amendment for the internet. that's sort of a cheeky way to put it because actually, what a
lot of people blame on section 230, they're actually just met at the first amendment. these websites can do all this stuff because of section 230. a lot of times, it's like no, they can do this because of the first amendment. section 230 just makes it easier to protect their first amendment rights. every time someone is challenging them, they don't have to go to court for the process. section 230 makes it easier. but i think that without it, we would see a lot less free-speech online and we would see more of a return to having a few gatekeepers to control information, and again, i don't think that would make either side happy. i don't think it would be good for democracy and for ou marketplacer of ideas either, less people being able to speak rather than more. peter: elizabeth nolan brown, where did you get the idea for the article, the bipartisan antitrust crusade against big
tech? elizabeth: basically just sort of looking at -- i used -- i was covering section 230 a lot and how both republicans and democrats were anti-section 230. and then i started noticing they were also all of a sudden talking about antitrust a lot more. an sort of in a ways, in the same white with section 230, you had democrats saying antitrust is a standard for we don't want these businesses to be so big. you have conservative saying there's a stand in for we're not a big tech company. we want to do something to them. me and my editor, peter, who has been my editor on all the stuff, he says it's crazy because they both pretend like this is a bipartisan push, that they're going to help each other, but they really want different things even though they are using the same language. that's where we started from. peter: well, your twitter description reads, "sex, speech, tech, politics, panic, senior
editor of reason, cohead for feminism, extreme morning person. " that's quite a cv you have there. elizabeth: yes, you'll find me tweeting the most very early in the morning. a lot of the things i cover at reason are sort of the intersection of technology and criminal justice and free-speech. and i read a lot about where that intersection set policy to, the way government regulates sexuality also. doesn't come into this antitrust piece, but that's in a lot of pieces i write. peter: well, when it comes to free speech, where are your concerns when it comes to washington? elizabeth: i mean, again, i don't buy this idea that we need to be as concerned with private encouraging free-speech as we do with government once. i think that the first amendment has their right, that we should be protecting against government
and intrusion on free-speech. you have this weird idea these days that the first amendment protects the right of politicians to be on social media, like trump, or now there's this photo thing that social media companies can't kick off candidates for office. that's exactly backwards. the first amendment is supposed to protect against the government infringing on people's rights, not private people or private companies have to provide a platform for certain politicians or certain political ideas to speak. so i think that's one of the most dangerous things right now is people trying to sort of redefined what free-speech really means and redefined what the first amendment stands for to make it something that protects government speech or certain sorts of political speech, say we need to protect conservative speech as a protected class. well, if a website doesn't want to have politicals beach --
conservative speech, it doesn't have to. and vice versa. there are websites dedicated to conservative speech, and they would be mad if we had to hear what elizabeth warren says. it would be weird and against the first amendment. we have to watch people trying to define it that way. peter: finally, back to your article, the role of the microsoft and ibm cases in antitrust. elizabeth: yeah, the microsoft case is very instructive because it spanned so many years and took up so much time and resources, and basically the heart of the case was they said that microsoft had this internet explorer browser, and it preloaded it on its software, or it may deals with different things with computer manufacturers, saying if you have this kind of computer, you could delete internet explorer or you could download other browsers. so people were stuck using the internet explorer browser, but the government argued that was
too much work. people wouldn't do that. it was unfair by microsoft. it's important because you see the same thing happening today, with arguments regarding google and apple. a lot of the antitrust arguments against them revolve around the idea that they preload, say, iphones with the safari web browser, which apple makes, or the fact that google, which owns android, preload android phones with google search engine as the default. in both of these, people can change. they can download a different browser, switch their settings. they're not being locked into this. but you have a lot of people wanting to argue, like they did with microsoft, that this is an unfair anticompetitive tactic. in the microsoft case, a lot of these case -- claims were overruled by the appeals court. they did say one of the things they did was anticompetitive. but for the most part, all of
the government arguments about the browser were essentially rejected. but the biggest lesson in the microsoft case is by the time this case came to a conclusion, it was just sort of -- it didn't matter anymore. technology had moved on. microsoft wasn't the biggest tech company in the world anymore. its browser didn't matter. it was the early odds and you had the rise of social media and the rise of smartphones and things like that. and the market and creative discussions sort of made all these points against microsoft obsolete. and i think that's what's going to happen, too. with things like facebook and google and all of the antitrust pushes, we were squeezing things in a moment of time and saying we need to stop this thing that's happening right now. but technology moves so fast, the market will make these problems obsolete before any long, involved a legal battle could or will play out, i think.
peter: elizabeth nolan brown is a senior editor with reason magazine. reason.com is the website. and here is the cover story. "the bipartisan antitrust crusade against big tech." thanks for joining us on the committee caters. elizabeth: thank you so much for having me. >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government. we're funded by these television companies and more, including >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government. >> wow is there for our customers with speed, reliability, value, and choice. more than ever, it all starts with great internet. >> wow supports c-span along with these other television providers, giving you a front row seat to democracy.