The Problem: Big tech companies are exercising tremendous power in our country and our economy. Though they’ve made some things about American culture better, by enabling friends to stay in touch over space and time and breaking down the mainstream media’s news monopoly, they’ve also raised significant problems around censoring free speech, especially from conservatives, and invading the privacy of consumers.
Social media also fuels the dark underbelly of the web, becoming a tool for predatory behavior, human trafficking, and the sexualization of children. Every parent worries about their child’s behavior on the Internet, and the pressures of TikTok and Instagram, texting, and sexting to ruin their lives.
The Solution: Antitrust is one tool available to push back on the consolidation of economic power and anti-consumer behavior by large tech companies. Traditionally antitrust enforcement is seen as the province of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Sherman Act. But actually, Wisconsin has a robust antitrust law on the book. Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 133 begins with a statement of the Legislature’s intent to “safeguard the public against the creation or perpetuation of monopolies and to foster and encourage competition by prohibiting unfair and discriminatory business practices which destroy or hamper competition,” Wis. Stat. 133.01. Wisconsin has a separate consumer protection statute that is equally broad (Chapter 100). Many are concerned that social media giants are engaged in just such perpetuation of monopolies that discourage and hamper competition to the detriment of consumers.
And Wisconsin’s Attorney General oversees the Department of Justice, which has a consumer protection and antitrust unit that could pursue these investigations. Sadly, consumer protection in many blue states has become a tool for harassing businesses in coordination with opportunistic trial lawyers, though some policy innovators are suggesting a better vision that’s actually pro-consumer. Taking on big tech is one such better use of DOJ’s time.
Indeed, this could be an area of bipartisan cooperation, as several important voices on the Left are also led by their progressive values to question the big tech companies’ monopolistic behavior. While Democrat New York Attorney General Letitia James is leading a multistate investigation of Facebook, Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is leading a multistate effort investigating Google for monopolistic behavior, including a lawsuit over data tracking. And just last month, Paxton sued Facebook over illegal collection and retention of consumer data.
State consumer protection and antitrust laws are two important tools to ensure a free, open, vibrant market for services, including social media. Wisconsin’s Attorney General needs to step up and dedicate resources to leading investigations into alleged violations of state law by giant tech companies.