President Donald Trump has made no secret of his belief that social media and tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Google have engaged in discriminatory practices that target conservative viewpoints for censorship.
Reports now indicate that the White House is considering an executive order authorizing formal investigations into multiple tech companies for possible antitrust violations.
Details of draft order
According to a leaked draft of the purported executive order obtained by Bloomberg, antitrust authorities would be instructed to conduct an investigation into whether online platforms have conducted business contrary to federal antitrust provisions and to develop recommendations designed to facilitate competition and tackle “online platform bias.” The draft document, it should be noted, does not mention specific companies by name.
White House officials have stated that in reality, the draft order is in its earliest stages and has not yet been submitted to other federal agencies for review.
However, Deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters indicated that while it is certainly true that the administration has concerns about the conduct of online platforms, the draft document that has made its way into press reports is not the product of official White House policy-making efforts.
Culmination of ongoing criticism
If ultimately formalized, the proposed executive order will represent a decisive move by Trump in his quest to level the playing field when it comes to some of the most widely-used online platforms. Trump has alleged that tech companies have purposefully excluded conservative viewpoints and engineered search results in a politically biased manner, tweeting earlier this summer:
Google search results for “Trump News” shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 28, 2018
Twitter “SHADOW BANNING” prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
The President has not been alone in his concerns about social media and search engine censorship, with a number of top congressional Republicans joining the fray in recent months.
Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook were recently called to testify on Capitol Hill regarding allegations of bias, with the executives having to acknowledge that certain corporate policies have indeed inadvertently resulted in censorship of some voices.
Representatives of social media giants have suggested that their attempts to enact safeguards against online bullying and harassment have, on occasion, resulted in unfair sanctions against politically active users. The same companies assert that once the errors are identified, however, they are swiftly corrected and that no concerted attempt to limit the reach of conservatives is being made.
Additional routes to potential regulation
Though the White House has attempted to tamp down discussion of the leaked draft executive order, it is clear that the administration has considered other possible avenues for regulating bias and censorship by tech companies. The Justice Department recently announced that it would convene a meeting of attorneys general from several states for the purposes of discussing potential ways to curtail the controversial practices thought to hinder fair competition and stifle free expression.
Where things stand
Despite the leaked draft order having received significant media attention in recent days, White House aides maintain that the document truly is in its infancy. Information from the National Economic Council, the entity charged with tackling the investigation of bias indicates that its officials were not responsible for the draft and were unaware of its exact origins.
The White House’s own Office of Science and Technology Policy has similarly disclaimed knowledge of where the draft order currently stands. Interestingly, it has been reported that executives from online review site Yelp have played a substantial role in formulating the parameters of any action that may eventually be finalized.
It may come as a surprise to many that an online enterprise such as Yelp is aligned with the Trump administration in calling for an investigation of Google and other tech behemoths. However, Luther Lowe, Yelp’s senior vice president for policy has publicly assailed the ubiquitous search engine’s practices that steer users to its own products, alleging them to be violations of U.S. antitrust laws that demand action on the part of Congress and federal regulators alike. This is a position with which the president clearly and emphatically agrees.