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White House Drafts Order to Probe Google, Facebook Practices (bloombergquint.com)
105 points by Jerry2 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 121 comments



I’m not seeing the connection here between “antitrust” and the alleged discrimination against conservative views. How does alleged discrimination become an antitrust issue, other than as a cudgel/threat by the government to try to punish these companies?

While I do think there are probably some monopoly issues with these tech companies, this seems more like a government witch hunt against them because the current administration doesn’t like what they’re doing, not because they are truly concerned about the possible monopolies.


> How does alleged discrimination become an antitrust issue

It doesn't.

> other than as a cudgel/threat by the government to try to punish these companies?

It's exactly this.


In fact, the EO appears to be explicit about being retaliation, since it mentions "platform bias" in its reasoning. "Platform bias" isn't an antitrust concern, and, in fact, the President has no authority to "de-bias" private companies.


I think with current law, the platform bias claim is a stretch --unless these platforms are recategorized and regulated as utilities like a telecoms provider. T-Mobile can't just say, we'll ID all atheists and kick them off the service (or anyone who isn't a Mormon, for example) Currently, it looks like Google could simply say, we'll de-emphasize all Atheist or Mormon topics and it would be permissible.


> Currently, it looks like Google could simply say, we'll de-emphasize all Atheist or Mormon topics and it would be permissible.

Not really. They've de-emphasized topics that promote harassment and violence. "Atheists" or "Mormon" topics rarely, if ever, stoop that low, so I don't think you're comparing the same things here.


Right, I don't think they would, but there is nothing stopping them from doing that other than internal mechanisms [and the market] --it's not fear of running afoul of the law though. That's the point. Telcos on the other hand can't do that without running afoul of regulation.


I see your point. So basically we need legislation (preferred) or regulation (FCC, meh..) to bring companies like Google and Facebook into the late 20th/early 21st century?


Protecting ‘platform bias’ is literally why the first amendment exists. The idea that the press is supposed to be neutral or unbiased is a relatively modern invention.


>"Platform bias" isn't an antitrust concern, and, in fact, the President has no authority to "de-bias" private companies.

This is a very common refrain and I would agree completely with this if we didn't live in a society where Facebook, Twitter and YouTube dominated the our communication channels. I wish that we had a neutral way (like email) to reach a large audience and that it wasn't owned by three or four private companies.


It would seem to be difficult in the extreme to wield antitrust law against Twitter, which is embattled, competes bitterly with Facebook, and holds no monopoly on anything.


Twitter seems to hold somewhat of a monopoly on a certain kind of shouty, instantaneous social interaction.


You have email, phone, and regular mail? What's not neutral about them?


Google is one of these large companies who controls one of the major ways of reaching a wide audience(search). They also control a spam blacklist which controls who you can reach through email, and they've implemented a feature in Android to just blacklist phone numbers as spam in one click when a new number calls you


>they've implemented a feature in Android to just blacklist phone numbers as spam in one click when a new number calls you

Are you saying the feature is that you can block phone numbers? Or is there some central list?


> "Are you saying the feature is that you can block phone numbers? Or is there some central list?"

It can't be a central list due to all the spoofing going on. Almost all spam calls are spoofed these days from what I've seen.


If there's no central list, then I don't see how implementing the ability for users to block numbers is non-neutral. There's no central enforcement or organization, it's just a private thing.


I don't know, but if they start blocking every random number in your area code it will cause a problem.


As is always the case with this administration, sometimes you can agree with their actions but in those rare cases it is NEVER for the right reasons.


> I’m not seeing the connection here between “antitrust” and the alleged discrimination against conservative views. How does alleged discrimination become an antitrust issue

Discrimination regarding expression and ideology/belief becomes an anti-trust issue when you're dealing with platforms, broadcasters, or otherwise distribution systems in cases where the company has a monopoly.

The NY Times and Fox News may discriminate on the basis of political ideology, precisely because they do not have a monopoly on news. If one of them were the monopoly, it would be acting as a censorship extension of the US Government so long as it were allowed to keep that position. The actions of the monopoly would be the actions of a government censoring speech and expression by extension.

Why? Because there is no alternative. At that point it's not merely a company with a bias, it's censorship.

The government is given power to deal with monopolies, via anti-trust laws among countless other agency controls. They're often the only entity powerful enough to be capable of removing a monopoly (consumers realistically can't get rid of eg cable or airline monopolies without the assistance of the government).

Google and Facebook both have monopolies directly dealing with expression and distribution of information.

Facebook's social monopoly is a multi-faceted monopoly that is extremely entrenched. Its actions to block speech are de facto censorship accordingly. In the course of censoring, it's inherently discriminating. It matters because they're the giant monopoly in social, with WhatsApp, FB, Instagram.

Google has a global monopoly in a distribution platform (Android), a search engine monopoly, and YouTube (a broadcast and distribution platform). There are no serious, large competitors for what YouTube does, it's overwhelmingly dominant. Its monopoly in that segment of video is every bit as strong as its search engine monopoly.

If Google, using its search engine monopoly, decides to remove all/most search results for the left or right politically, then it's a clear anti-trust abuse (to use a glaring example). It's using its monopoly position to censor. Only the government can deal with monopoly abuse with any consequential immediacy. For example in a case where a monopoly like Google or Facebook attempts to throw an election by using its monopoly power.


There's a glaringly obvious issue with this: assuming there is a government, and a monopoly publisher that only publishes anti-government media, you claim that the government must suppress anti government views on the name of free speech.

This is clearly not true. And leads me to believe that your claim that a monopoly publisher is, by definition, an agent if the government, is wrong.


The decision to prosecute Google or Facebook on antitrust grounds is inherently political. It went in favor of Google during the Obama years when the FTC's political appointees overruled the FTC staff's recommendation to bring an antitrust case against them [1].

They'll still have to argue that case in court.

[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/inside-the-u-s-antitrust-probe-...


Prosecution against Google in the EU is political as well?


> ...other than as a cudgel/threat by the government to try to punish these companies?

I'd say it's more a preparation of the electorate for the real anti-trust fight coming, to increase chances for successful regulatory action.... but maybe I'm just saying what you said with nicer words. Anyways, it's very smart politics for the President.

The fact that the 'bias' complaint is not particularly substantive doesn't really matter to the politics of the situation. Google, Facebook, et al can never produce evidence that "proves" their systems are not biased (closed code, closed data). People on the fence will become fatigued with their unverifiable and self-serving protestations.

The only people who have to say "trust me" are the ones who are not seen as trustworthy.

When the REAL substantive debate begins, it will be from a stronger political starting point. It makes it easier to solidify political support for anti-trust action, and increase the chances for successful legislation.

Not really a fan of the current administration, but holding out hope that something good (pro-consumer regulation) will come out of this. No thanks to Obama.


Playing devil's advocate if Google and their leadership weren't so overtly political and anti-conservative and actually bothered to show up at the hearings they would not be in this predicament.

Apple (while not social media per-say) has stayed neutral and Tim Cook has done a great job working with the administration when needed.


According to current doctrine, monopolies are only a problem if the consumer is harmed. Given that Facebook and Google give away their services for “free”, it is hard to argue harm in terms of higher prices. However, if a certain portion of the consumers are getting their lawful communications suppressed, and if they don’t really have a viable alternative due to the monopoly status of the incumbents, then you have both monopoly and consumer harm.


This sounds like they want the equal representation policies that the Republican Party got rolled back in the 80s (ruled unconstitutional iirc). It’s what allowed the rise of partisan “news”. It seems like any “equal exposure” policies would hit the same issues.

That said the primary “imbalanced exposure” seems to be due to evicting people who simply spend their time attacking minorities, attack equal rights, and promoting violence towards anyone that they dislike. For whatever reason the Republican Party seems to have decided that those people represent “conservative” views that private companies should have to support.


Edit: Do people think I'm making this all up or something? The main SCOTUS ruling on the fairness doctrine was Red Lion v. FCC. The FCC ruling revoking it was in 1987, and it was 4-0, with three of the commissioners appointed by Reagan and one by Nixon (there were "democrats" and "republicans" amongst them but that meant something a little different back then). Congress immediately tried to codify it with "The Fairness in Broadcasting Act of 1987". Reagan vetoed. Bush senior threatened to veto another attempt in 91. That's what happened. It was not ruled unconstitutional, even if you want to argue that it might have been in the 90s or 00s with changes to the court and the rise of competition from the net.

-------

>that the Republican Party got rolled back in the 80s

Yes, this is true.

>ruled unconstitutional iirc

You've completely misremembered/misunderstood this part though. The Fairness Doctrine was revoked by Reagan/Nixon-appointed FCC ruling, an action which was actually opposed fairly strongly by Congress at the time (just not enough to get a veto-proof majority over Reagan to codify the Fairness Doctrine into law). The FCC's ruling was upheld when it was appealed in the courts but not on any grounds touching the Constitution, it was merely decided that it was the FCC's jurisdiction as the law existed and up to Congress to pass something specific (which could then in turn be challenged) if it wished to not delegate that.

However previous rulings on the fairness doctrine indicated it was Constitutional. The First Amendment is the most powerful free speech protection in the world, and "oh but exceptions" is constantly overused in the press and general discourse. However laws can be passed that will survive strict scrutiny in specific cases, where there is a "compelling public interest" and the law is as narrowly tailored as possible and there are no other ways to do it. In the case of public broadcasting, there is in fact a limited amount of usable electromagnetic spectrum available. That's not a matter of human opinion but of plain physics. Broadcasters aren't and weren't operating in some wide open venue, they are using government granted monopolies on regulated slices of spectrum which itself is public property. It is not therefore against the First Amendment necessarily to craft limited, specific rules governing that which would be unconstitutional if done for print.

Or for that matter for the Internet. Which is where the current Republican arguments really go off the tracks. The interest of the rules that applied to broadcast (or even possibly cable TV if it's done using public rights of way) does not exist for general dumb information pipes anymore then it does for print (or even less). Merely being a bigger and more popular private newspaper has absolutely nothing legally to do with any "fairness" requirements, the measure is what sort of natural physics obstacles exist to them starting their own newspaper in a vacuum, not whether it succeeds. The Web is decentralized just fine from the start, anyone can throw up their own server and put up what they wish, they are not inherently entitled to force anyone else to serve as a loudspeaker.

The only areas I can see where things could get problematic is where companies have created significant and exclusive walled gardens or where physical infrastructure is involved. So Apple on iOS could (and should, IMO) be more of a question. But not on their website or the Mac, including in the MAS. Google in general should have zero obligation, but Google Fiber or maybe Play Store (weaker case then Apple) could be exceptions. Etc.

But right now what a lot of these conservative actors are engaging in is a one-sided perversion of Freedom of Speech and Association: they're claiming that only they get that right. But in reality and legally everyone else they interact with does too! Duh. And that in turn means that everyone else they deal with by default has the right to think their ideas are stupid and worthy of scorn and social ostracism and so forth. That's a feature not a bug, it's the whole point of Free Speech! The point is to work towards good ideas and make sure that over the long term it's possible for those to get out through hard work and determination and evidence and good argumentation, not that all ideas are worthy of respect.


[flagged]


Can you give even a single example of how the parent comment is a gross misrepresentation?

Who is a conservative personality that's been silenced by a tech company but has never attacked minorities, equal rights, or promoted violence?


Just today...

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-09-22/james-woods-suspen...

Contrast this with actor Peter Fonda, who called for Trump's son to be caged with pedophiles and did so with impunity from Twitter.


Brendan Eich, for donating to the campaign for a (stupid) law that was later approved by voters.


> has never attacked minorities, equal rights

> Brendan Eich

You might try an example that's not directly a demonstration of exactly what the comment you are replying to was pointing out.

Unless by "a single example of how the parent comment is a gross misrepresentation" you interpreted it as a request for a similar misinterpretation.


In addition, Eich was never "silenced by a tech company". He was not fired, he resigned.


Nonsense.


Ah yes, the old argument that "the left" is the reason "the right" rose into power in the first place, as a reaction.

The "left" was never in power. All the hysteria about Obama fueled The Tea Party then Trump, yet he was never a progressive beacon. Obama is a true Democrat - an even-keeled centrist that would be barely "liberal" in most of the rest of the Western world. (Remember: NSA, drone strikes, was against gay marriage originally)

It's garbage. It was always garbage, and the only logical explanation i can find why the American right found so much to get excited about Obama is his race.

And now, it's a bully telling their victim that it's all their fault.


Yes absolutely the FANG companies and the average employee is actually fairly conservative by the rest of the worlds standards.

This isn't about say goggle uk discriminating against setting up a young conservatives or a field sports group is it.


i. e. : People who are exercising their right to free speech.


'Right to free speech' does not exist outside the government. It never has, unless there's an amendment to the first amendment that no one is telling us about..


When people talk about free speech outside of government affairs, they are generally referring to an idealized universal human right or ideal, rather* than the US constitutional right.


> an idealized universal human right or ideal

There is no such thing. Implementing/requiring 'free speech' for consumers of a service (e.g. facebook) means that now suddenly the service and its employees lose their right to free speech. If the service's management wants to be biased towards one political 'party', they have a right to do that, but if they suddenly are forced to be unbiased then they have effectively lost that right. See how you cannot have 'universal free speech'?


This is a nonsensical interpretation of free speech. Censoring someone is not an exercise in the censorers free speech. Free speech is a negative right, meaning for it to exist others must not stop you from speaking.

In your argument, whoever has power would just censor whatever they don't like and claim they're exercising their free speech. You're literally arguing that censorship is free speech. Straight out of a totalitarian play book.


whoever has power would just censor whatever they don't like and claim they're exercising their free speech.

Have you ever heard someone claim "freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences"? [1]

Seems like an increasingly popular mechanism to publicly litigate the affair in public, muzzle someone from the comparative out-group while insulating themselves from all consequences one might faces themselves from their own petard.

I'll admit there's probably some merit to it-if you applied enough context and nuance to it. Problem is the types of people I observe online deploying this conceit very rarely do so in good faith and rarer still express any willingness to appreciate context or nuance.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/01/10/when-satire...


Indeed.

As you say, there is merit to the argument. Social censure is often the appropriate response to repugnant ideas. I wouldn't invite an extremist to a party, for instance, but I wouldn't, and shouldn't, seek to ban them from speaking in public.

And again, as you said, these argument are almost always used in bad faith. There is a breed of political extremism, popular in our industry, that is very against free speech and they have turned these bits of tortured logic into memes (in the cultural sense). The problem I personally have with it is the two-faced misrepresentation. Attempting to avoid outright saying they don't believe in free-speech, while at the same time advocating censoring any speech that doesn't conform to their ideas. While there's still an argument to be made against it, I at least respect the logical consistency of those saying "A private platform can censor political speech their leaders disagree with if they want to".


You can believe in free speech while advocating for moderation. There has been many attempts over the past few years to turn the free-speech argument into one against moderation, because in order to moderate a platform it necessitates censoring opinions.

A lot of these arguments remind me a lot of the days when I used to play Garry's Mod. Where people claim admin abuse, censorship etc for being banned or told to go away as a result of ruining the game for other people.


Agreed, and if I came off as arguing otherwise I misspoke. What you can't be is for free speech and for "moderation" of only speech you disagree with, which is simply bias censorship and what is often happening.


The flaw with that is moderators and companies have to make a determination for speech they disagree with. Not all sites ban people in the same way for violent threats, and similarly all sites view inflammatory or derogatory speech in different ways.

At some point in the equation there will be a value judgment made in terms of what breaks the rules. People banned by that moment will cite censorship and demand to be heard (see: the various subreddits banned by Reddit) while people wanting that content removed will celebrate. Making the argument into one purely about censorship ends up removing the nuance and reasoning for why someone was banned, which is why when people talk about conservative voices being banned by twitter, they often ignore the damage and harm Alex Jones for example has been responsible for to many families involved in school shootings or the various conspiracies he peddles.


You can believe in free speech while advocating for moderation.

Absolutely.

Yet it feels lately though the loudest voices that are getting the most attention are the ones pushing for the most...(searches for his words carefully)...aggrandizing forms of responding to disagreeable speech, and, when called on it-retreat back to very supercilious, academically-loaded terminology and tactics for why you're wrong and they're right.

Then there's those people out there saying we need to be punching Nazi's but I aint touching that one with a ten-foot pole.

because in order to moderate a platform it necessitates censoring opinions.

This though, I'm not so sure about. I've never been fond of the trend of de-platforming disagreeable viewpoints or speech that aren't directly advocating and instructing 'imminent lawless action' as a certain high court puts it.


Censoring someone on your private property is absolutely an exercise of your free speech. If someone plants a political sign on my lawn without my consent, I have the right to remove it because I have the free speech right to decide what political messages get broadcast from my personal property. The counterfactual notion you are suggesting, where everyone has the right to plant lawn signs on my property without my consent, is a violation of my free speech rights, not an enshrinement of theirs.

> Free speech is a negative right, meaning for it to exist others must not stop you from speaking.

Free speech exists when no one can stop you speaking on a platform that you own (servers, printing presses), or whose owners consent to publish your speech. You don't have a free speech right to compel third parties to use their platforms for your own speech.


Every time I see someone have to mention this, (because I always thought that distinction should be painfully obvious) I wonder a little more if it's a notion that's being slowly but deliberately assasinated; live and in living color before our very eyes.

Granted I'm looking at this from a perspective of plurality versus absolute speech but speech is certainly one of the (many) ingredients in this philosophical recipe.


There is no idealized universal human right to be free from the social or economic consequences of your speech. People have the right to refuse to be friends with or do business with e.g. those who openly identify as Nazis. It's not a violation of the latter's human rights to boycott them.


Incorrect. See Marsh v Alabama


Incorrect. In that case, the company was the government for the town, thus they were held accountable to the first amendment.


Have you read the decision? That is an odd way to frame it...a corporation cannot ‘be the government’, and there is nothing in that decision that says they were. The more applicable passage would be:

“The more an owner, for his advantage, opens up his property for use by the public in general, the more do his rights become circumscribed by the statutory and constitutional rights of those who use it.”


Repeating what I said in an earlier comment....they were able to grow to the size they have become because they are exempted from liable laws under safe harbor. The argument for that was that they were neutral platforms. They no longer are so they either need to remove the protections or be subject to the first amendment but they should not be able to have it both ways.....and I don't think there is case law to back this one way or the other yet...


> they were able to grow to the size they have become because they are exempted from liable laws under safe harbor

This was not a selective protection. When the government grants limited resources like electromagnetic spectrum and right of way, they're not directly making a monopoly, but the FCC does then claim right to regulate speech.

In the interest of fairness, the FCC classed telecommunication service providers as common carriers; thus authorizing FCC to pass net neutrality protections which require equal prioritization of internet traffic. (No blocking, No throttling, No paid prioritization). The current administration doesn't feel that that's fair, and so they've moved to dismantle said "burdensome regulations".

The current administration is now apparently attempting to argue that information service providers - which are all equally granted safe harbor and obligated to comply with DMCA - have no right to take down abuse and harassment because anti-trust monopoly therefore Freedom of Speech doesn't apply to these corporation persons.

Selective bias, indeed! Broadcast TV and Radio are subject to different rules than Cable (non-broadcast) TV.

Other regimes have attempted to argue that the government has the right to dictate the media as well.

Taking down abuse and harassment is necessary and well within the rights of a person and a corporation in the United States. Taking down certain content is now legally required within 24 hours of notice from the government in the EU.

Where is the line between a media conglomerate that produces news entertainment and an information service provider? If there is none, and the government has the right to regulate "equal time" on non-granted-spectrum media outlets, future administrations could force ConservativeNewsOutletZ and LiberalNewsOutletZ to carry specific non-emergency content, to host abusive and offense rhetoric, and to be sued for being forced to do so because no safe harbor.

Can anyone find the story of how the GOP strongarmed and intimidated Facebook into "equal time" (and then we were all shoved full of apparently Russian conservative "fake news" propaganda) before the most recent election where the GOP won older radio, TV, and print voters and young people didn't vote because it appeared to be unnecessary?

Meanwhile, the current administration rolled back the "burdensome regulation" that was to prevent ISPs from selling complete internet usage history; regardless of age.


Maybe there's an exercise that would be helpful for understanding the "corporate media filter" and the "social media filter"?

You, having no money -- while watching corporate profits soar and income inequality grow to unprecedented heights -- will choose to take a job that requires you to judge whether thousands of reported pieces of content a day are abusive, harassing, making specific threats, inciting specific destructive acts, recruiting for hate groups, depicting abuse; or just good 'ol political disagreement over issues, values, and the appropriate role of the punishing and/or nurturing state. You will do this for weeks or months, because that's your best option, because nobody else is standing in the mirror behind these people who haven't learned to respectfully disagree over facts and data (evidence).

Next, you will plan segments of content time interspersed with ads paid for by people who are trying to sell their products, grow their businesses, and reach people. You will use a limited amount of our limited electromagnetic spectrum which the government has sold your corporate overlords for a limited period of time, contingent upon your adherence to specific and subjective standards of decency as codified in the stated regulations.

In both cases, your objective is to maximize profit for shareholders.

Your target audiences may vary from undefined (everyone watching), to people who only want to review fun things that they agree with in their safe little microcosm of the world, to people who know how to find statistics like corporate profits, personal savings rate, infant morality, healthcare costs per capita, and other Indicators identified as relevant to the Targets and Goals found in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Global Goals Indicators).

Do you control what the audience shares?


All of the companies in question have received literally billions of USD in support in one form or another, given explicitly to them. see https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/jul/02/us-cities-and...

Facebook was started in part, with an investment from the US govt, CIA's In-Q-Tel. Keyhole, now part of Google Earth, also received investment from In-Q-Tel.

Should govt involvement in the economy, trigger laws meant to protect the people from govt interference such as preventing free speech? That is what I am getting at...


Unless the terms of the investment specifically state that the private entity becomes subject to those laws, I would say no, but it is a valid question to ask.


Free speech works both ways - you have a right to say whatever you want, and everybody else has a right to tell you to STFU. Being silenced by anybody other than the government is just other people exercising their right to free speech.

Your right to free speech does to convey a responsibility for me to amplify your voice.


The idea that we should hand over the power for policing what speech is "allowed" to giant global corporations is naive and silly.


the idea that giant global corporations should be required to broadcast whatever you say is naive and silly. They aren't policing what speech is allowed, anybody is allowed to say anything they want to. They're policing what speech they choose to promote.

without facebook or twitter, i don't have the ability to reach an audience of tens or hundreds of thousands. with facebook or twitter, i do. that means that when twitter shares my speech with tens of thousands of people, they're promoting my idea to a larger audience than i would ever have without them. it's ridiculous that they would be required to promote what i have to say. if they choose to not have me on their platform, i can still reach whatever natural audience i can reach without them. they haven't silenced me in any way. Twitter is not a human right.


Part if this is about enforcing the safe harbor provisions that exempted them from liable lawsuits for content posted on their sites. Media outlets can be sued but these tech platforms cannot but the entire argument for that was that they were neutral platforms. As soon as they started to ban people based on subjective criteria that went out the window. The fact is that safe harbor is what allowed them to grow, but you are no longer an unbiased neutral site when when start to curate content.

Now if they were subject to the same laws that traditional media is then I would agree with you on your first point, but then again these companies would never have been able to grow to their current size if they were.

As to your second point, the party is not calling these views republican. It is however stating that their views, no matter how repulsive, deserve an equal opportunity to express themselves in the public square under the first amendment.....and the fact is that these platforms have become the public square..... Jack Dorsey admitted to that during the congressional hearings and safe harbor strengthens that argument. Now if they want to use the private company excuse that's fine, but then lets strip out the safe harbor provisions since they are not acting as neutral parties.


I don't see how a blacklist of people (banned people) throws out safe harbor out the window. People will abuse your platform, and you can ban some of them when possible. That doesn't seem to me to make you liable for the rest of the people.

But if you maintain a whitelist of people through some manual approval step (such as a blue checkmark) I could see that being a different matter.


> People will abuse your platform

Traditionally though that meant abusing as in (1) deliberately consuming disproportionate resources or (2) attemtping to undermine the infrastructure. Not in posting things that are considered by leadership to be bad.


Forum and blog owners have long banned people who post/comment abusive stuff, or even stuff that just insults the owners.


> spend their time attacking minorities, attack equal rights, and promoting violence towards anyone that they dislike. For whatever reason the Republican Party seems to have decided that those people represent “conservative” views that private companies should have to support.

The Democratic party also does these things. The issue is that the "rules" are not applied evenly. You can say much more caustic things from a leftist viewpoint and not get banned, while saying the same thing from a right viewpoint will get you banned (on many platforms).

Yes, there is toxicity on the right but there is an equal amount on the left and that group goes unpunished.

The concept of free speech is that both sides should be allowed to say whatever they want.

If you want a healthy community you'd need to moderate both sides evenly, which has not happened.


This looks like this draft order is pretty wide-ranging. It covers opinion manipulation (speech) as well as the more meaty anti-trust aspect of the above companies.

Whether this administration or another has the will, remains to be seen, but it seems clear that these advertising companies up to this point have collected user data with impunity and use it with impunity.

I may be mistaken but I think people will eventually wake up from their indifference to this in the US and demand congress pass comprehensive data collection and usage reform.


It can be written as wide-ranging as they want it to be, but the Executive Branch has only the authority to enact laws passed by Congress, so unless there's some "opinion manipulation" statute none of us have heard of, the administration is going to be stuck with stuff like antitrust.

I don't know about Facebook, but Google has been preparing for antitrust investigations for over a decade.


Yes, and the Constitution is very clear that only gold and silver are to be used in payment of debts.

But here we are...

Edit for the search-deprived: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contract_Clause


I can see how the clause could be read that way, but if you read that clause in the context of the entire document, you'll see that it has a much narrower meaning.

For example, the contract clause also has a different part that prohibits states from coining money. In article 1, section 8, the constitution grants Congress the power to coin money. Read together, this means that a state can't issue money unless that money is backed by gold or silver.

There are some fairly weird edge cases in this rule. State banks can issue bonds, and those bonds can be privately tradeable, which is quite a lot like issuing money. However, according to the cases that Wikipedia cites, that's perfectly legal.

It's interesting how much of the Constitution is about creating an economic alliance, as much as a political or military one. Having federal bankruptcy courts, a postal system, banning tariffs on interstate trades, or a copyright system is really about creating a single common market with closely integrated economies. We don't generally think about those aspects of the Constitution, because we're so used to it.

Sources: http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/essays/general/a-brief-history-of-...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contract_Clause#Bills_of_credi...


That clause describes the power of the individual states, not the federal government. And unless you've seen Oklahoma trying to pay their debts in OK Bucks I think it holds true today.

The federal government is allowed to use whatever means they legislate to pay their debts.


So do those who win state contracts get paid in gold and silver?


You can literally just Google "gold and silver clause" to see that this is a Wesley Snipesian conspiracy theory. You might just as productively argue about gold-fringed admiralty flags here.


Uhh, no, it doesn't.

Edit for your edit: still doesn't.


>I may be mistaken but I think people will eventually wake up from their indifference to this in the US and demand congress pass comprehensive data collection and usage reform.

Not when those very data collection companies totally control the narrative [1].

[1] http://www.journalism.org/2017/09/07/news-use-across-social-...


How would such a probe be carried out?

Are they going to start reviewing source code?


Any order like this --- retaliation for perceived political slights --- is chilling. But try to remember that every administration makes a spectacle of writing "Executive Orders", and they usually mean less than people think they do.

In the US system, the President cannot simply make new laws or take arbitrary actions by fiat. With the exception of powers extending from those enumerated to the Executive in the Constitution, the President can only administer laws passed by Congress.

In reality, the President is a sort of CEO of a giant conglomeration of federal agencies, all of which are animated by statutes. What you generally see in these EOs is reprioritization and, in some cases, requested changes to rulemaking --- rulemaking being "places where Congress explicitly left it up to the Executive to figure out how to manage a particular law".

So: unless there's some "opinion manipulation" statute none of us have heard of (unlikely, because of that pesky 1A), this is really just Trump retaliating against political enemies by threatening antitrust investigations. That squares with what Bloomberg is reporting, and Bloomberg appears to be the only outlet that has seen a copy of the EO.


> In reality, the President is a sort of CEO of a giant conglomeration of federal agencies...

This is such an awful comparison. I wish people would stop making it. A CEO and the President (should) operate in very different ways with a very different set of constraints with a very different set of desired goals. They might both sit at the top of large organizations, but the Executive Branch of the US government and a company are two very, very, VERY different beasts.


Perhaps companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook are actively trying to incite regulation. Social media companies have become beholden to a relatively small group of very loud activists who have frightened the companies into compliance with their political goals. They're afraid of standing up to these noise makers and have a legitimate difficulty in deciding how to best moderate the content on their platforms in a way that alienates the fewest users. Government regulation would tie their hands, allowing the companies to claim they're powerless to manipulate content in the way that activists demand it be manipulated. In such an environment where all companies are legally obliged to treat content the same way, boycott threats would be meaningless. Likely tools would arise to allow individual users to have better control over what content they do and do not see instead of insisting on the platform censoring content for them and imposing those standards on everyone else.


People just need to use other services.

1) DuckDuckGo is great for search.

2) Protonmail is great for email.

3) gab.ai instead of twitter (heard about it but never used it; I guess twitter has some use...).

4) Voat instead of Reddit (it seemed to offer the same capabilities when I visited it a bit).

5) Facebook, nothing like this should even exist but I'm sure there is some alternative out there.


Have you, uh, looked at gab.ai and voat lately? Because my lord, they might attempt to copy some of the technical aspects of Reddit and Twitter, but their communities are something else entirely, to put it mildly...



gab.ai and voat are filled with literal actual white supremacists


>"gab.ai and voat are filled with literal actual white supremacists"

Is that because they were the first to be kicked off reddit/twitter? So, reddit/twitter used to be "filled with" them?

Just think of it as part of a lifecycle then. If normal people start moving to voat, the bad people will make up a smaller and smaller percentage. Then they move to the next site, and voat becomes taken over by political forces, repeat.

Also, I'm thinking if you don't like one of the alternatives for whatever reason, is it really that hard to create one of those sites? I heard somewhere Voat was created by one guy as a hobby. A good search engine seems like it would be the most difficult one.


No. That's not why they're that way.

gab.ai used to have a variation on that stupid pepe frog as its logo, for example. They're aiming at a specific crowd.


Fine, then people should make other ones. Personally, I don't think either reddit or twitter were a positive evolution over the decentralized specialized forums that existed before.

You didn't comment on the second part, so I'll assume its correct. If it isnt that difficult to make these sites, what is the need for some sort of regulation? Someone just needs to make a new site and the people complaining about being censored/whatever can go there.


This isn't debate club nor is it court: Just because I don't comment on something you say doesn't mean you're correct.

That said: You're making the classic developer mistake of confusing the ability to technically build a piece of software with the ability to build and sustain a community of users who use that software. Tossing code together is the very easy part when it comes to online communities.


But the whole point of the regulations is to satisfy a community of people who are unhappy with how they are being treated by current sites. The community already exists and is looking for a site.


I have been frequently and respectfully conversing with a relative who's a full-on Breitbart-parotting die-hard Trump supporter for the past year or so. He was throwing around a leaked TGIF video (of Sergey Brin explaining that he finds the election offensive) and saying that this confirms that Google is part a Democratic Party front that's indoctrinating children and teachers against conservative viewpoints.

He then went on to spend the next 2 weeks parrotting Breitbart's article after article about how they use foreign workers and that they're building a Chinese government spy system and that the government needs to step in and stop them and on and on. It was fascinating.

We discussed the government's role in regulating private companies and it was clear that the philosophy is totally tribal. Break up companies run by liberals, even if there's no demonstrable liberal bias of the service, by any means necessary. Political philosophy be damned. It's quite a time indeed, though I wonder if it's ever really been any different.


I've seen similar chilling arguments be made that Alex Jones of all people is a proper conservative voice and deserves to be heard. All of these attacks on google, facebook etc are not attempts to actually fix the huge monopolies they control but a clear partisan attack because they believe they're being persecuted or censored by these tech companies.

These are the same people that claim to be anti-regulation and anti-big government, yet this is one of the more obvious examples of overreach yet.


>"These are the same people that claim to be anti-regulation and anti-big government"

Is it? From some other comments in this thread it sounded like "those people" already built alternatives for themselves (voat and gab.ai). Or did you mean "republicans"?


>they're building a Chinese government spy system and that the government needs to step in and stop them

I mean the government should stop them. Aiding and abetting human rights abuses either is, or should be criminal.


The Trump administration's critical stance on the tech giants is one of the very few things coming from them that I support, even though their actions here appears to be rooted in self-interest and self-preservation only (just like everything else they're doing).

I hope that this probe will lead to some antitrust action that will be continued by the next administration.


From the article itself:

>The document doesn’t name any companies.

Poor title, poor article. It's nothing but speculation based on prior Trump tweets, mixed with the main topic of the document: antitrust.


You mean based on public-record statements by the President of the United States? Sounds like a pretty solid basis to base "speculation" on.


[flagged]


Since we've asked time and time again to please stop using this site for ideological or partisan battle we've banned the account. If you'd like to be unbanned please email hn@ycombinator.com.

(We detached this from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18046824.)


If you look at the quote in context, what Obama was saying it clearly is nothing like you are spinning it. He was asking Latinxs voters to "punish" those who won't stand with them on certain issues, by voting against Republicans

Compare this to the current president who calls a free press the "enemy of the people", threatens reporters with violence at his rallies, calls them scum and slime, and wants to quash any and all opposition to him, including wanting to revoke the right to broadcast from media that criticizes him.

https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/freedom-press/donald-t...

Hard to take seriously any feigned concerns of free speech, especially when we're talking about deplatforming white supremacists and violent conspiracy theorists on private networks.

I urge you to read the ACLU link above and think critically if Trump sounds like someone who should be leading a free and healthy democracy.


[flagged]


So, you did you not read the link or just felt pivoting to the economy was somehow relevant to the health of our democracy?


If you think the IS is a free and healthy democracy, then I don't know what to tell you. Our perception of hegemonies change as the complexities and subtleties are magnified now more than ever, but a hegemony now is not any different from one a thousand years ago.

America is as much a healthy democracy as the Roman republic.


This seems like rich fodder for a tech debate: Trump's Twitter bans were deemed unconstitutional, how does that apply to the companies themselves? Is Google's discussion to change algos after the immigration ban just? Should antitrust laws protect not just consumer rights & competition, but voter rights & viewpoint diversity? How do you build a better algorithm for political threads?

Instead, even on HackerNews, you just see partisan criticism, minor viewpoint suppression, etc. This is ground zero for fixing these problems.


They should be classified as common carriers. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/202


It's ironic and tragically funny that all the comments in support of this article's premise and of the successes of the current administration are being grayed out.


HN is profoundly biased in the comments that appear--and those that are "squelched". It's pathetic.

Example:

1 hour ago, user "remarkEon" posted something that was flagged, and then removed entirely, but before it was removed, the children comments gave hint that it included essentially: 'Many people with conservative views in general are being suppressed; it is not limited to people who speak out e.g. against minorities.'

I assume this because, the comments replying to it were essentially bashing it as if the onus was on remarkEon to provide examples substantiating his/her claim. As if the concept is so unfathomable.

For example, a child comment from user "notatoad" 1 hour stated (in full):

> Can you give even a single example of how the parent comment is a gross misrepresentation?

> Who is a conservative personality that's been silenced by a tech company but has never attacked minorities, equal rights, or promoted violence?

An early reply to that from user "itbeho" stated (in full):

> Just today...

> https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-09-22/james-woods-suspen...

"itbeho" was further grayed out. For providing exactly a requested example substantiating the statement that remarkEon was alluding to. And an example from /just today/.

All posters who were critical of the parent poster "remarkEon" were "in full view"--with black comments.

As with tech in general, we need particular users and/or moderators of HN to stop suppressing true statements of fact. Especially when there is a systemic, clear bias against a specific "political flavor" to the statements.

This is precisely the issue discussed in the linked article. Peoples' perspectives of reality are being warped by what is shown to them--and what is hidden from them. Certain facts are being suppressed, which creates an extremely distorted view of reality, e.g. real events and the rate at which they occur.


You can turn showdead on to read remarkEon's comment, it wasn't removed.

It said, verbatim, "The kind of gross misrepresentation you’re doing right now is part of the reason why Trump has found justification to do this kind of thing in the first place."

It wasn't flagged because it went against HN's political bias, it was flagged because it was tedious, partisan and uncivil, and threads like this are destined to become cesspools anyway.


The parent comment it's replying to says:

> That said the primary “imbalanced exposure” seems to be due to evicting people who simply spend their time attacking minorities, attack equal rights, and promoting violence towards anyone that they dislike. For whatever reason the Republican Party seems to have decided that those people represent “conservative” views that private companies should have to support.

How is that also not "tedious, partisan and uncivil"? Not only is it not flagged, it's upvoted.


The trope of "x (thing liberals/leftists/feminists/democrats have done) is the reason for Trump's election" has become a tired cliche at this point, and RemarkEon's comment was just that and a dismissal without any evidence or support for their argument. The parent was partisan, yes, but at least it presented an argument.

Maybe it shouldn't have been flagged, but it deserved to be downvoted.

Whether downvoted comments deserve to be edited out is another matter - I've been complaining about that for years but Hacker News is never going to change that. Unfortunately there's no way to downvote someone here without also censoring them globally, and HN is designed so that only a few downvotes have a massive effect on readability.


You're being hypocritical.

The parent comment by "olliej" presented absolutely no argument for their statements:

> That said the primary “imbalanced exposure” seems to be due to evicting people who simply spend their time attacking minorities, attack equal rights, and promoting violence towards anyone that they dislike.

> For whatever reason the Republican Party seems to have decided that those people represent “conservative” views that private companies should have to support.

Again, remarkEon was simply pointing out the fact that "olliej" _presented no argument_, and was giving another tired example of grossly misrepresenting conservatives. "olliej"'s comment literally was evidence for remarkEon's comment. A comment on the pathetic hypocritical state of discourse today.


You know what? You're right. The more I look at them, the more similar they seem in tone and quality.


Not that my opinion should hold much weight, but: I truly appreciate your candor.

(As a general statement,) I, and many others, only wish to have reasonable, rational discussions. It's impossible to do that when there exist people who seek to subvert those constructive discussions by simply branding people--who they very likely know next to nothing about--and then inferring all sorts of (incorrect) beliefs from those brands (e.g. "conservative"). We would all benefit from not jumping to conclusions. And from having access to the truth, undistorted.


I don't think people are trying to subvert constructive discussion, rather, people have a low bar for what they consider constructive for certain subjects.


I agree. I also feel that the majority of people have a low bar for that, like you say; I don't suspect most people consciously try to subvert constructive discussion, but I do know that's a tactic employed by a small minority.


Thank you for indication of the showdead feature. That's useful. Though, though his/her comment wasn't removed, the fact that I have to turn on "showdead" in order to see it says something.

That being said, remarkEon's comment was far from: "tedious, partisan and uncivil". That's ludicrous.

remarkEon was replying to a comment by user "olliej" which stated:

> the primary “imbalanced exposure” seems to be due to evicting people who simply spend their time attacking minorities, attack equal rights, and promoting violence towards anyone that they dislike.

This is a _blatant_ "tedious, partisan and uncivil" comment. remarkEon was pointing out _only_ that this is a "gross misrepresentation". Additionally, user "olliej" stated:

> For whatever reason the Republican Party seems to have decided that those people represent “conservative” views that private companies should have to support.

Again, remarkEon is entirely correct in pointing out another gross misrepresentation which is tedious, partisan, and uncivil.

If you attack remarkEon's comment as being the problem, rather than a statement pointing out the problem, you are sorely mistaken.

By the way, olliej's comment stands in full force; it has not been grayed out, and I don't have to turn on "showdead" to see it.


I don't think there's been such powerful organisations since the East India Company.


When Google and Facebook start having personal armies, navies, and courts then I think it will be fair to compare them to the East India company. It's premature to even use them in the same sentence until then though.


"Power" doesn't necessarily imply "military power".


Yes it does, because until these organizations have the power to take things by physical force, it's not even in the same league.


There's a main effect such that the entire world has shifted in the direction of soft-power over the past 60-or-so years.

It's not clear that the East India Trading Company was less powerful than Google, but the issue of military power doesn't disprove the thesis.


What are things? Is money a thing? Can PayPal decide to lock your account and not give you your money back? What about selling your data to other companies? Are those things. You bought media on Google or Amazon and then they close your account because you criticized them on social media. Is that media "things"? See it is a bit more nuanced in today's world than just saying well they didn't knock on your door and took your microwave away, so qualitatively a different situation.


It's trivial to not use PayPal, though. They don't have a monopoly on money. They can't come take all of your possessions and land like the militarized colonial-era private companies could. It's not remotely comparable.

If you want a better modern day example than Silicon Valley tech companies, look at Chiquita. They have had paid paramilitary forces committing murder to protect their interests during this millennium. Until PayPal is literally killing people in order to steal their money and property, you can't say that they are remotely similar.

This is not a defense of PayPal by the way; I dislike them for the same reason you do. But perspective is important.


I don't think any of our current companies are as powerful as East India Company was, or even Standard Oil.


> The document instructs U.S. antitrust authorities to “thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws.” It instructs other government agencies to recommend within a month after it’s signed actions that could potentially “protect competition among online platforms and address online platform bias.”

Back in 2014, Google outspent Goldman Sachs in campaign donations. https://www.rt.com/usa/197104-google-usa-political-campaign/

I wonder how much Google will spend in 2020.


Goldman Sachs's policy opponents don't spend much, so Goldman Sachs itself doesn't need to spend much on lobbying to achieve its policy objectives. Opponents of Net Neutrality were heavy spenders in 2014. http://amp.timeinc.net/time/3677301/google-lobbying-comcast




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