Antitrust Regulation is a Cop-Out (A Rebuttal to Tiana Dalichov)

Antitrust Regulation is a Cop-Out (A Rebuttal to Tiana Dalichov)

Does anyone remember the classic “School House Rock” music video about how a bill becomes a law? Airing back in 1975, the T.V. short tells a story of Bill, and his journey to become a law through all the obstacles laid in his path by our republican form of government (or, what’s left of it at any rate).

The animated short finishes when disheveled old Bill becomes an actual law, with a bright shiny stamp of approval on his chest.

How inspiring.

Unfortunately, the reality of bills becoming law is often far less inspiring, and they’re typically anchored around one emotion: fear. This fear is often the product of rhetoric disseminated among the masses by biased, partisan media figures, and promulgated by the Average Joe (think your typical MSNBC or Fox News viewer and you’ll get the picture).

In a recent piece by fellow Halsey News contributor, Tiana Dalichov, she lays out an emotion-based argument for why the government ought to (potentially) take regulatory action against private/publicly traded companies in the interest of consumers who aren’t actually the customers of the aforementioned companies.

I’d certainly expect this from those who wish to socialize the private sector, but it’s quite fascinating that I find self-proclaimed “small government/conservative/free-market” types advocating for such policies. This is perhaps one of the most detrimental effects of Trump’s ascendence to power, is the galvanization of the collectivist right against the shadowy, poorly defined, boogeyman ” The Left”.

This rising mentality takes very little account of the appropriate divisions of public and private sector, and places much stock in vilifying the manufactured “other” in the interest of tribal satisfaction.

The natural vehicle for coercing this compliance is government, and it’s a convenient tool to wield when those who have grievances also have majorities. The principles of the issues no longer matter, reason is abandoned in favor of power, and partisan politics.

This sort of mentality is blatant in Tiana’s article because she outright admits that companies like Twitter and Facebook:

“…may not be “monopolies” by the textbook definition, and while they may not be “the government,” they certainly hold market dominance, as does Google. They may be “private companies,” but they hold 90% of the social media market in the palms of their hands right now.”

This comes from the same author who has blatantly stated that words and their meanings are of the utmost importance when it comes to issues she’s in favor of, and arguing against others who seek to rig the game by twisting definitions of commonly accepted terms. One of the ways in which government increases its regulatory power over the average citizen is when citizens abandon principle, and seek gratification of the ends devoid of principled means. Conservatives routinely lambaste liberals for changing the rules of the game, and for arguing that “this situation is different”, yet it’s ok to play the same game when it’s advantageous to them? Apparently so.

She goes on to argue that if someone doesn’t have uninhibited access to these particular social media platforms, that they are incapable of building a brand in the modern era. This is patently false, as conservative brands such as Fox, The Blaze, and InfoWars have all built successful brands in spite of alleged (yes, alleged) censorship by the big, evil tech companies. Conservatives have enjoyed utter radio domination for decades with major talk personalities such as Rush, Hannity, Levin, Belling, and a host of other new up-and-comers, yet I hear no conservatives saying that government should regulate the talk radio industry to be equitable to left-wing personalities.

In fact, they’ve railed against things like The Fairness Doctrine for decades, simply maintaining that right-wing talk radio has a market and left-wing radio doesn’t.

“The government has no business in regulating private companies, dammit!”

I find it remarkable how people only regard the free market as a viable solution when it directly benefits them.

She goes on to say:

“Because choosing between a livelihood that depends on the exposure I glean from social media versus being censored by said media for my political opinions, is an impossible choice to make. One I should not have to make in the first place, since this is America and all.

I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again. Constitutional and legal measures should be put in place to protect Americans from having their right to free expression taken from them. By anyone.”

This is a purely emotional argument. Tying one’s livelihood to an argument is a manipulative ploy designed to gain sympathy. Offering platitudes to some idealized version of how America should be is simply pandering to like minded people and offering nothing of substance to the broader debate. Winning the emotional debate is important here because people might begin to ask questions like…

  • “Why are you placing all of your stock in a company that supposedly disdains you?”
  • “What sort of a livelihood are you trying to secure which is so objectionable that literally no social platform would like you to utilize their services?”
  • “Why would you advocate government to use their monopoly on force to cater to you, when the vast majority of consumers don’t have a problem with the service they’re getting? What makes you special?”

The next bit of the article is the only factual bit in the article. Factual in the sense that it notes something which exists, not in the sense that it’s a compelling argument…

“The air needs cleared re: antitrust laws, which would be the government’s best way of intervening in behalf of its people. Antitrust laws regulate the conduct of business organizations, the three main statutes of which are the Sherman Act of 1890, the Clayton Act of 1914, and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914. Collectively, these laws restrict mergers and acquisitions that could substantially lessen competition, and basically prohibit the formation of monopolies and cartels. These laws do not apply only to monopolies. So the argument that antitrust laws cannot be utilized here is also disingenuous.

Bottom line: no one should own the public square, least of all social media companies. Because the internet has now become a platform for engagement in the public sphere, attempts made by social media companies to curtail people’s right to access lawful information should be penalized by the government. This ensures diversity of opinion/viewpoint, the one form of diversity I actually support. Without some form of consequence in place for these social media giants to discourage them from censoring opinions that diverge from their political agenda, we will eventually find ourselves living in a society mirroring that of North Korea.”

It is very telling that Ms. Dalichov has to draw upon “Progressive Era” legislation to back her up, despite the fact that large swathes of conservatives and right wingers direct a special kind of vitriol toward “progressives” and their “socialist” policies on a regular basis. Again, as Tiana admitted early on in the article, these companies “technically” don’t constitute a monopoly… but, since she wants these laws to be applicable to the issue, they suddenly are.

Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are different companies with different goals as far as serving their legitimate customers which are their advertisers, not simply consumers of their products. If Tiana wishes to use government coercion against these companies by asserting that they’re a cartel, which are defined as follows:

“A cartel is a group of formally independent producers whose goal is to increase their collective profits by means of price fixing, limiting supply, or other restrictive practices. Cartels typically control selling prices, but some are organized to control the prices of purchased inputs.”

Then Ms. Dalichov would bear the burden of proof, beyond simple anecdotal evidence, that these companies are in fact colluding, and to the ends that she is claiming. For her to dismiss skepticism about the utilization of antitrust laws against companies which aren’t monopolies, yet are simply branded so by those who are dissatisfied with the service they’re using (free of charge, I might add), is intellectually dishonest.

It’s also very telling that those who want government intervention on this particular issue are dead-set against using any other alternative platform. That there are alternatives messes with the narrative, and would require some proactivity on the part of the consumer, heaven forbid. Yet again, Tiana invokes a fear monger’s argument saying that if government doesn’t intervene then we’ll be reduced to a state run autocracy such as North Korea.

Seriously?

I know that North Korea is a great buzzword used to trigger conservatives and get them all riled up, but the irony is not lost on me that, as Tiana advocates government intervention in the affairs of the private sector, she simultaneously paints the consequences of inaction in the form of a country where the government is the problem. A country where the government has control, and are the arbiters of what the true news is and who is allowed a platform. The irony would be laughable if I didn’t know that she was writing from a place of sincerity.

She ends the article on a flowery, yet ultimately empty bit of rhetoric…

“Ultimately, the only way to preserve the beauty and allure of our republic is to preserve freedom of expression. Without it, we’re no different from anyone else out there.”

American freedom is, at its foundation, rooted in limited government and private property rights. That’s what makes us different. The Bill of Rights is a document which preserves this distinction between public authority and the rights of private citizens, and as such the First Amendment protects our ability to speak out against those we’ve given a monopoly on force without fear of being violently suppressed. It is not a mandate to infringe on the property of others because one feels that life isn’t fair.

In fact, it’s quite distressing to hear those affiliated with right wing politics not only donning victim complexes, but using the socialist tactics of arbitrarily proclaiming a commonly used product or service a “public utility” or “public good” and seeking to use government force against the property of others to attain that service or good.

Those who argue this are no different than socialists or communists and, while I like them as people, I cannot defend (on principle) this lazy, unimaginative way of resolving conflict in a market economy.

Perhaps this is the new norm in the Trump era of populist politics. Utilizing mobs of like minded individuals, coupled with government force to impose their will on others regardless of who owns what. I certainly hope that this isn’t the case.

I’ll end this article with a quote from Twitter’s terms of service, you know, the user agreements that nobody reads these days?

According to Twitter:

“We may suspend or terminate your account or cease providing you with all or part of the Services at any time for any or no reason, including, but not limited to, if we reasonably believe: (i) you have violated these Terms or the Twitter Rules, (ii) you create risk or possible legal exposure for us; (iii) your account should be removed due to prolonged inactivity; or (iv) our provision of the Services to you is no longer commercially viable.” 

Perhaps you believe this is unfair, but literally everyone who has a Twitter account has legally consented to these terms when utilizing the service which is, again, provided to the consumer free of charge. By checking this box you’ve already ceded your legal precedent to challenge their discretion, in fact, you’ve given them the green light to use their discretion.

Perhaps the solution to this “problem” isn’t empty rhetoric or mob force based on personal wishes but, instead, the solution may be found in a more wary and prudent consumer.

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About the Author

Josh Carter

Josh Carter is the host of The Resistance Podcast, an independent, Wisconsin-based media project. He is a working class husband, father of two and a student of history and political and revolutionary theory.