Facebook and other tech giants were targets of the Democratic candidates at Tuesday night’s debate, but the presidential hopefuls did differ on how they would rein in the behemoths.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has been the most aggressive in calling for breaking up some of the dominant firms, and most recently said she would not take major donations from their executives.
“We need to enforce our antitrust laws, break up these giant companies that are dominating big tech, big pharma, big oil, all of them,” Warren said.
“You get to be an umpire in the baseball game, or you get to have a team, but you don’t get to do both at the same time.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that the problem was not just big tech but in other industries including media, “where you have 10 media companies that control about 90 percent of what the American people see, hear, or read.”
But former Rep. Beto O’Rourke disagreed, saying he didn’t “think it was the role of a candidate to specifically call for a company to be broken up.” He said it was something “Donald Trump has done,” a reference to the president’s calls for antitrust scrutiny of Amazon.
Instead, he argued one problem is that tech companies are treated “functionally as a utility when they are more akin to a publisher.” He referred to Facebook’s decision to accept a misleading ad from the Trump campaign on Joe Biden and Ukraine, while CNN rejected it for factual reasons. Warren has criticized Facebook’s decision to keep the ad up. To make her point, she went so far as to post her own ad that included false information about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“We would allow no publisher to do what Facebook is doing, to publish that ad that Senator Warren has rightfully called out, that CNN has refused to air because it is untrue and tells lies about the vice president. Treat them like the publisher that they are,” O’Rourke said.
Tom Steyer said “monopolies have to be dealt with. They either have to be broken up or regulated, and that’s part of it.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) pointed to her proposals for stricter antitrust laws, and her role as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee.
She said that what candidates have to do is “start talking about this as a pro-competition issue. This used to be a Republican and Democratic issue, because America, our founding fathers, actually wanted to have less consolidation. We were a place of entrepreneurship. We are seeing a startup slump in this country.”
Andrew Yang said he agreed with Warren “in diagnosing the problem,” but that “competition doesn’t solve all the problems.”
“So it’s not like breaking up these big tech companies will revive main street businesses across the country.” He even pointed to Bing, the Microsoft rival to Google. “Sorry Microsoft,” he said.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) turned her attention to her effort to get Twitter to take down President Donald Trump’s Twitter account. Curiously, she called out Warren because she had not backed the proposal.
“I don’t just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter. I want to push him out of the White House,” Warren responded.
Harris’ argument is that Trump has violated Twitter’s terms of service, contending that his attacks on the whistleblower amount to threats of violence.
Her effort did yield a response from Twitter, which posted in a blog earlier on Tuesday that tried to clarify how they treat world leaders on the platform.
The company said that “if a Tweet from a world leader does violate the Twitter Rules but there is a clear public interest value to keeping the Tweet on the service, we may place it behind a notice that provides context about the violation and allows people to click through should they wish to see the content.”
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