Digital Transformation

The White House eyes antitrust probe into Google and Facebook's 'platform bias'


By Rebecca Stewart | Trends Editor

September 23, 2018 | 4 min read

The White House is reportedly ready to trigger an antitrust investigation into Google, Facebook, Twitter and other tech giants to "protect competition among online platforms and address online platform bias."

Mark Zuckerberg Facebook

The draft comes amid comments from Trump and other conservatives that Facebook and Google have shown an anti-conservative bias / White House Archives

A draft of the executive order, said to be in its preliminary stages, has been obtained by Bloomberg. It instructs US antitrust authorities to “thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws.”

It also asks other government authorities to recommend within a month after it’s signed, actions that could potentially "ensure that no online platform exercises market power in a way that harms consumers, including through the exercise of bias."

"Whether reading news or looking for local businesses, citizens rely on search, social media, and other online platforms to provide objective and reliable information to shape a host of decisions ranging from consumer purchases to votes in elections," reads the order.

"Because of their critical role in American society, it is essential that American citizens are protected from anti=competitive acts by dominant online platforms. Vibrant competition in the online ecosystem is essential to ensuring accountability for the platforms that hold so much sway over our economy and democratic process."

While the draft order doesn't name Facebook or Google, it comes amid comments from Trump and other conservatives that the platforms have shown an anti-conservative bias.

Back in August, President Trump tweeted: "Social Media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices. Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won’t let that happen. They are closing down the opinions of many people on the RIGHT, while at the same time doing nothing to others......."

The President also complained that Google didn't promote his State of the Union speech on its front page, as it did for President Obama – an allegation that was in fact completely false.

The White House has distanced itself from the draft, with its deputy press secretary Lindsey Waters saying in a statement:"Although the White House is concerned about the conduct of online platforms and their impact on society, this document is not the result of an official White House policymaking process."

Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and questions over its influence in elections, Facebook in particular has been trying to purge its business of both left and ring-wing bias in recent months.

In August it removed content created by right-wing Infowars host Alex Jones, joining Apple, Spotify and YouTube in doing so.

Just this week, meanwhile, it revealed it would stop sending its own staff to work in offices of political campaigns during elections.

Trump's digital director previously said Facebook - which sent dedicated employees to Trump's camp in 2016 - helped him win the election. Democrat Hillary Clinton was offered the same support, but she declined.

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