Josh Hawley Wants To Break Up Big Tech And Revisit How Antitrust Matters Are Considered

Senator Josh Hawley talks Section 230, antitrust reform, and the Capitol riots.

Josh Hawley Wants To Break Up Big Tech And Revisit How Antitrust Matters Are Considered
Josh Hawley, right, via Flickr

May 5, 2021—Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, sat down Tuesday for a virtual interview with the Washington Post to discuss the common ground he hopes he can find with Democrats as well as his issues with Big Tech.

Though Hawley has since accepted Joe Biden as the legitimate president, he remains a longtime ally of former President Donald Trump and shared many of his criticisms of Big Tech. Hawley said during the interview that he believes Big Tech has too much power and needs to be dismantled. “To me the issue about [Big Tech] is an issue about ordinary Americans and the control [Big Tech has over] [them].”

On Wednesday, the Oversight Board, which reviews key decisions made by Facebook on its platform, upheld a ban on Trump from the website, but said the company’s management will need to review its decision within six months.

Hawley clarified Tuesday that the issues do not stop with free speech but carries to how they handle consumer data and information. He also implied that Big Tech may restrict consumers’ access to news and the sharing of information.

Criticism of Section 230

Hawley also maintained his longstanding criticisms of Section 230, arguing that its legal protections for companies from what their users post should not extend to any company that utilizes behavioral advertising—an advertising strategy that uses a consumer’s browser history to deliver targeted ads. Many companies argue this improves user experience, while many privacy and consumer rights advocates argue that it is an invasion of privacy and is manipulative.

“I think we ought to withdraw Section 230 immunity for any company that permits, engages, or sells behavioral advertising or engages in the sort of algorithmic amplification that is behind it, “Hawley said.

He was sharply critical of social media for these practices, arguing that consumers rarely provide meaningful consent for platforms, who then turn around and sell a consumer’s personal data to third parties. Hawley added that he hopes to receive bipartisan support in his effort to remove Section 230 protections from Big Tech companies that engage in these practices, arguing that they only encourage mass surveillance and mass tracking.

When pressed for specifics on the bipartisan effort, Hawley implied that support may be lacking due to Big Tech donating heavily to Democrats and the current administration. Google’s parent company Alphabet has donated approximately $21 million to congressional candidates since 2019, with 80 percent of that going to Democrats; the Biden Campaign alone received $3.66 million. Alphabet also donated $2.5 million to the Democrat super PAC, Future Forward USA, and $1.9 million to the DNC. Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple also donated millions to the Biden Campaign and Democratic PACS.

“I just hope that my Democratic colleagues in Congress will remain vigilant on this and will not give these companies a pass or let up the pressure.”

Antitrust reform

In terms of antitrust policy, Hawley stated that he would advocate for a policy that banned mergers and acquisitions for corporations that have a market cap of 100 billion or more. He also advocated for abandoning the Consumer Welfare Standard, a metric that focuses the scope of an antitrust hearing on the effects that practices have on consumers. Hawley criticized the metric as too narrow and stated that he believed it was deferential to monopolies.

“We need to have a debate about how our courts have been enforcing the law. We need to have a debate about how we can cut these monopoly corporations down,” Hawley said.

On the Capitol riots

Hawley has become a polarizing figure during his short tenure on Capitol Hill. The former attorney general of Missouri joined the Senate in 2019 but became particularly well-known after his apparent show of solidarity with protestors outside of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, prior to the riots.

The interview focused on the role that Hawley played during the storming of the Capitol.

He equated the riot in D.C. to the riots that happened adjacent to Black Lives Matter protests around the country and stated that he condemned those who were anything but peaceful during the protests on January 6.

“Those who committed acts of crime on that day, January 6, they deserve to go to prison, and I don’t care what their justification is.”

Hawley currently sits on the Judiciary, Armed Services, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

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