Senator Al Franken renewed his calls for increased scrutiny of the role of major tech companies such as Facebook and Amazon on Wednesday, charging that they had âfailed to take commonsense precautions to prevent the spread of propaganda, misinformation, and hate speechâ.
Speaking to the Open Markets Institute in Washington, the Minnesota Democrat and former comedian said: âIt is incumbent upon us to ask the broader questions. How did big tech come to control so many aspects of our lives? How is it using our personal information to strengthen its reach and its bottom line? Are these companies engaging in anticompetitive behavior that restricts the free flow of information and commerce?â
Franken has been active on antitrust issues such as net neutrality and has fought the proposed merger between Time Warner and Comcast. And he said the principles of net neutrality â the principle that governments and internet service providers treat all internet data equally â should apply to the tech giants of Silicon Valley.
âNo one company should have the power to pick and choose which content reaches consumers and which doesnât,â said Franken. âAnd Facebook, Google, and Amazon â like ISPs â should be âneutralâ in their treatment of the flow of lawful information and commerce on their platforms.â
Franken, a former star of Saturday Night Live, warned about the power of social media companies over the press. âIt doesnât require an antitrust lawyer to understand that these companiesâ dominance in the market of information gives them tremendous power to dictate terms with journalists, publishers, and authors and to control the information available to consumers.â
The remarks came a week after bipartisan hearings about the role of social media in Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. Elected officials from both parties berated representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google about their role in enabling Russian misinformation operations. âFor the life of me, I do not understand how a republic is served by provably intentionally false information,â said the Republican congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. âAnd I get it that you donât want to be the arbiter of opinion. I donât want you to be, either. But today is not Thursday. So if I say it is, I swear I donât understand how my fellow citizens benefit from me telling them something that is demonstrably false and saying it with the intent to deceive. For the life of me, I donât get it.â
Frankenâs speech served as an effort to broaden the debate beyond questions over Russia to the wide-ranging influence of tech companies and social media in American life. His host, the Open Markets Institute, was formally affiliated with the influential liberal thinktank the New America Foundation. However, that affiliation ended this year, after Barry Lynn, the head of the Open Markets program, pointedly criticized Google, which has been a major funder of the New America Foundation.