A bipartisan backlash to Big Tech is still unlikely

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If President Joe Biden's short-lived assertion that Facebook was "killing people" with COVID-19 disinformation hinted at it, his nomination of Jonathan Kanter to lead the antitrust division at the Justice Department drove the point home: Big Tech's political problems aren't limited to Republicans.

If confirmed, Kanter would join fellow progressive Big Tech critic Lina Khan, Biden's pick to chair the Federal Trade Commission. He is a rare nominee praised both by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a liberal darling, and his predecessor in the Trump administration.

Big Tech is in the crosshairs of both parties. They view the companies as unaccountable, monopolistic, and harmful to consumer privacy. In theory, the political conditions exist to regulate or even break them up.

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In practice, this could prove difficult. Top Republicans have eschewed bipartisan bills that pose a real threat to break up the social media giants in favor of legislation that would prevent them from discriminating against conservative viewpoints. The controversy over how COVID-19 is handled on Facebook is instructive: liberals want posts discouraging people from getting the vaccines to at the very least stop going viral; conservatives fear they want conservative opinions censored.

Progressives are further along than most conservatives in their thinking on economic concentration and corporate consolidation, even though there is some rethinking of antitrust law taking place on the right. Conservatives are primarily animated by how Twitter and Facebook treat their content, especially select stories at important times — Hunter Biden's laptop during the presidential campaign and Wuhan lab origins theory for the virus last year are the two most commonly cited examples — while liberals see Facebook in particular as flooded with conservative content, much of it low-brow and some of it dubious. On this, the two sides are at cross purposes and this is the issue that matters most to their grassroots supporters, not reevaluating what constitutes an antitrust violation.

That is not to say that nothing will change. If the Biden administration does move against Big Tech, it's possible many Republicans will turn a deaf ear to Facebook's complaints. Or they may look at the White House and decide the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

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W. James Antle III

W. James Antle III is the politics editor of the Washington Examiner, the former editor of The American Conservative, and author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?.