The difference between reining in Big Tech and Big Tobacco

Social media apps.
(Image credit: Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

There's been no shortage of comparisons between the tech industry and Big Tobacco in recent days, particularly following revelations from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and her damning congressional testimony last week.

However, regulating Big Tech may prove trickier than reining in the tobacco industry, writes Axios, although there are some "clear parallels" between the two.

One "key" difference is that "Big Tobacco was a relatively stationary target" — in other words, large companies produced essentially the same product over and over. In the case of Big Tech, however, products "differ widely from one another, as do the perceived harms." The companies themselves and the whole industry are "rapidly moving targets," notes Axios. Moreover, the evidence against tobacco companies was (and still is) obvious and overwhelming, whereas the case against social media companies is "murkier and more debatable."

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

A commonality is that the fix itself will likely take time. It took over a decade to significantly regulate tobacco companies, "suggesting that those looking for quick changes in tech will be disappointed," Axios writes. What's more, because the tech industry is so rapidly evolving, lawmakers will have to focus on the right platforms (all of the attention to Facebook and Instagram ignores other popular services, like TikTok) and craft laws that "won't quickly become obsolete." They'll also need to sort through partisan differences, as Republicans and Democrats often focus on differing issues in tech, offering solutions that are "all over the map."

In the meantime, New Street Research's Blair Levin told Axios, "Facebook may now face a similar challenge from increased litigation as tobacco, or more recently, OxyContin." Read more at Axios.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Brigid Kennedy

Brigid is a staff writer at The Week and a graduate of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Her passions include improv comedy, David Fincher films, and breakfast food. She lives in New York.