White House Drafts Order to Probe Online Giants for Bias, Antitrust Issues

September 23, 2018 Updated: October 5, 2018

The White House has drafted an executive order that tasks federal agencies with examining online platforms for bias and antitrust issues. The early draft was first leaked to Bloomberg; text from the draft was then published by Business Insider.

“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.,” the draft stated, also noting, “Because of their critical role in American society, it is essential that American citizens are protected from anticompetitive acts by dominant online platforms.”

While the draft doesn’t name any company specifically, the administration likely has in mind the two largest players in the field: Google and Facebook.

Under the order, “executive departments and agencies with authorities that could be used to enhance competition among online platforms” shall use their power “to promote competition and ensure that no online platform exercises market power in a way that harms consumers, including through the exercise of bias.”

The agencies should also probe “whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws.”

Possible anti-competitive conduct should be referred for investigation and prosecution to the antitrust division of the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition, while the agencies should also report to the president within 60 days with recommendations for rules and other measures to address the examined issues.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is to meet with a number of state attorneys general this month to “discuss a growing concern that [social-media] companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms,” the Justice Department stated in a Sept. 5 release.

The meeting is slated for Sept. 25 and to include the attorney generals of Alabama, Nebraska, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas, Bloomberg reported, citing two people familiar with the matter. The department didn’t confirm or deny the report.

Trump has previously criticised Google for skewing search results.

“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,” Trump said on Aug. 28 on Twitter.

“Illegal? 96% of results on ‘Trump News’ are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous. Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation—will be addressed!”

The Epoch Times searched Google News for “trump” on Sept. 23. Of the more than 150 top results, seven came from traditionally right-leaning sources: four from Fox News, one from Fox Business, one from The New York Post, and one from The Wall Street Journal. Only one result led directly to a White House press release. The rest were from a number of left-leaning media.

“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,” the draft order stated.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
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