All Events

Are Tech Giants Too Big for Democracy? With Senator Al Franken

November 8, 2017  |  Washington, DC

The following is a non-comprehensive collection of readings related to the issues discussed during our event with Sen. Al Franken on Nov. 8, 2017.


On Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality: Why Artists and Activists Can’t Afford to Lose It
W. Kamau Bell, The New York Times

“This fair internet, where everyone from an amateur comedian to a celebrity to a huge media company plays by the same rules, means you don’t need a lot of money or the backing of someone with power to share your content with the world.”

Trump FCC’s Plan to End Net Neutrality Rests on Alternative Facts and Empty Promises
Craig Aaron, The American Prospect

Pai’s plan would eliminate the FCC’s ability to police any new ISP discrimination and dirty tricks when they figure out novel ways to favor their own content and services by slowing down or interfering with their competitors. He has spoken before about begging AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon to voluntarily commit to protecting the web’s open and democratic nature. In his fantasy world, strong legal protections are unnecessary since giant phone and cable companies would double-pinky-swear not to interfere with online pathways and portals—despite a long history of doing just that.

Remarks of FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn
Delivered Nov. 1 at The Voices for Internet Freedom Coalition

“So, in my mind, there is no question that broadband access is a civil rights issue. Why? Because seekers of justice today, use the internet, like civil rights leaders in the 1960s used the telephone, and the threat of being blocked by gatekeepers is as real now, as it was then. To get the word out about arrests, beatings, or other unspeakable acts, activists back then, would dial a Wide Area Telephone Service line to bypass a potentially unfriendly switchboard operator, who may have attempted to block their call. And as Congressman John Lewis once said, if they had the internet during the civil rights era, they “could have done much more.””


On Platform Monopoly

Amazon Bites Off Even More Monopoly Power
Lina Khan, The New York Times

“Buying Whole Foods will enable Amazon to leverage and amplify the extraordinary power it enjoys in online markets and delivery, making an even greater share of commerce part of its fief. The company has established its level of dominance because of the failings of our current antitrust laws.”

Amazon Bites Off Even More Monopoly Power
Lina Khan, The New York Times

“Buying Whole Foods will enable Amazon to leverage and amplify the extraordinary power it enjoys in online markets and delivery, making an even greater share of commerce part of its fief. The company has established its level of dominance because of the failings of our current antitrust laws.”

How to stop Google and Facebook from becoming even more powerful
Barry Lynn & Matt Stoller, The Guardian

It will take time to figure out how to ensure Google, Facebook and the other giant platform monopolists truly serve the political and commercial interests of the American people. The good news is that there’s a simple way to at least slow the rate at which the problem is getting worse. Don’t allow these dominant platforms to buy other companies.

One idea for regulating Google and Facebook’s control over content
David McCabe, Axios

“Social media (Facebook, Twitter) and search (Google) companies with dominant market position represent themselves as politically neutral while systematically promoting liberal views and limiting or even banning conservatives. They do so while enjoying blanket liability protection and with the full approval of liberal elites. Far too many conservative media and intellectuals defend the politically biased practices of these companies on the basis that viewpoint discrimination by private entities is beyond the reach of government.”

‘Neutrality’ for Thee, but Not for Google, Facebook and Amazon
Ev Ehrlich, The Wall Street Journal

“Both sides, including broadband providers, agree that no one should selectively block websites or chop the internet into fast and slow lanes. But lost in the debate is that companies like Google and Amazon, which cry out in favor of a neutral web, are virtual monopolies built on the same practice of prioritizing that they publicly decry.”

Tech Giants and Civic Power
Martin Moore, Kings College London

“Unlike previous great corporate entities their power resides in the databases of human activity which provide the internal engine for dynamic growth. Google can use image and sensing data, predictive analytics and mapping software to put driverless cars on the roads. Facebook is able to analyse and predict sentiment through the way people communicate with each other, Amazon knows what you might want to buy next before you know it yourself. Apple, through its smartphone technologies and payment mechanisms, knows how and when you communicate with your mother, your bank and your boss. Collectively these companies also make decisions for us, such as what news stories we see first in the morning, which services are recommended to us first, how our histories and foibles will be shown to the world. Which information will circulate freely and which will be stopped.”

Facebook’s Onavo Gives Social-Media Firm Inside Peek at Rivals’ Users
Deepa Seetharaman & Betsy Morris, The Wall Street Journal

Interviews with more than a dozen people familiar with Facebook’s use of Onavo data show in detail how the social-media giant employs it to measure what people do on their phones beyond Facebook’s own suite of apps. That information shapes Facebook’s product and acquisition strategy—furthering its already formidable competitive edge, the people said.”


On Platform Monopoly and the 2016 election

If Mark Zuckerberg wants forgiveness, he’s going to need to come clean first
Roger McNamee, USA Today

The harm goes way beyond the Russians and the election, and it is ongoing. Significantly, Facebook takes the position that its only policing obligation is to support community standards on issues such as displays of nudity. As a result, it was not even looking for, much less working to prevent, interference in our elections. In retrospect, Facebook’s architecture and the lack of surveillance invited malicious interference in the 2016 election.

How Twitter Killed the First Amendment
Tim Wu, The New York Times

Some might argue, based on the sophomoric premise that “more speech is always better,” that the current state of chaos is what the First Amendment intended. But no defensible free-speech tradition accepts harassment and threats as speech, treats foreign propaganda campaigns as legitimate debate or thinks that social-media bots ought to enjoy constitutional protection. A robust and unfiltered debate is one thing; corruption of debate itself is another. We have entered a far more dangerous place for the republic; its defense requires stronger protections for what we once called the public sphere.

Join the Movement

In America today, wealth and political power are more concentrated than at any point in our country’s history.

The Open Markets Institute, formerly the Open Markets program at New America, was founded to protect liberty and democracy from these extreme -- and growing -- concentrations of private power.

Stay updated

Sign up to stay informed.