If you want to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020, you’ll have to first respond to a new, decidedly 21st-century litmus test: What’s your plan for dealing with tech monopolies, specifically Facebook?
The social platform and its innumerable instances of gross misconduct have become a bit of a talking point for some candidates, while others play catch-up.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) went on the offensive early, detailing a plan in early March to break up Facebook, Amazon and Google. Other candidates, like Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), aren’t so sure. Incidentally, Silicon Valley has given Booker piles of cash over the years.
Here’s where many of the candidates stand:
Warren prompted much of this debate with her March 8 article explaining, in no uncertain terms, how and why it’s time to break up tech monopolies. She defines tech monopolies as companies with annual global revenue of $25 billion or more “that offer to the public an online marketplace, an exchange, or a platform for connecting third parties.”
Warren believes WhatsApp and Instagram should be split off from Facebook and that the resulting competition between the three would force them to take user privacy more seriously.
“We must give people more control over how their personal information is collected, shared, and sold ,” she wrote, “ and do it in a way that doesn’t lock in massive competitive advantages for the companies that already have a ton of our data.”
“I don’t think that a president should be running around, pointing at companies and saying ‘break them up’ without any kind of process here,” Booker told ABC last weekend. “Do I think it is a massive problem in America, corporate consolidation? Absolutely. It’s about making sure that we have a system that works.”
He continued: “It’s not me and my own personal opinion about going after folks. That sounds more like a Donald Trump thing to say: ‘I’m going to break up you guys, I’m gonna break’ — no.”
“I think we have to seriously take a look at [breaking up Facebook], yes,” Harris told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “So we have to recognize it for what it is. It is essentially a utility that has gone unregulated.”
In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, the former vice president said breaking up large tech companies is “something we should take a really hard look at.”
Biden spoke approvingly of Warren for making “a very strong case” in favor of regulation but stopped short of making any firm commitment to that effect.
The Texas Democrat favors regulating Facebook over splitting it into a handful of separate companies, he told CNN’s Eric Bradner:
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has said he’s “potentially” in agreement with Warren’s plan, but he’s more concerned about Facebook’s conduct than size:
“Again, to me, it’s about fairness and competition,” he told CNN in March. “So if they’re using dominance of one market to dominate another one, then that’s a problem. But the size itself isn’t the biggest problem, in my view.”
“It’s not how big they are; it’s how they act. And that’s the thing I think we need to be regulating and targeting most.”
Buttigieg also expressed sympathy for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whom he cast as in a difficult position because Facebook’s “corporate policy decisions are now public policy decisions.”
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wants the Federal Trade Commission to look into the industry and encourage more enforcement of antitrust laws.
He’s stopped short of explicitly calling for the breakup of Facebook and other companies, though his campaign told Reuters that proper enforcement of antitrust laws, with an emphasis on competition, could have that result.
While Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders more often goes after Amazon for its tax avoidance and low pay for workers, he’s expressed support for breaking up “unchecked corporate power” across the board, including Facebook:
“My goal is to make antitrust cool again and make people realize that we are in— not just heading into — another Gilded Age of consolidation,” Klobuchar said in an address at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, in March.
“When you look at [rising] prices, lack of choices in certain areas, lack of innovation, no competition … you just have companies relying on their own products. Why would they develop new products if they have a monopoly on the market?”
“Antitrust has to become part of the political discussion. What’s really important over decades is what’s happening to consumers. We can’t just sit back and do nothing.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is on the same page as Warren, likening tech monopolies to power-hungry groups incapable of self-regulating:
The businessman and political newcomer has made technological automation a central part of his campaign, arguing in favor of a universal basic income to offset the millions of jobs expected to be made obsolete by new technology.
Yang has called for the creation of a new federal watchdog to keep an eye on U.S. tech companies like Facebook and Twitter.
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