Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., renewed his call for antitrust action against Facebook and other tech platforms on Wednesday, calling it “a little bit ridiculous” that an oversight board was able to determine whether the social media platform’s suspension of former President Donald Trump’s account was justified.
Hawley and other Republicans slammed Facebook after its oversight board – an independent body with binding authority over its content decisions – affirmed the company’s decision to suspend Trump following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. A prominent critic of the tech industry, Hawley said the situation proved that antitrust action was necessary to limit Facebook’s authority over online speech.
“Facebook is a private company. They are a monopoly,” Hawley said in an interview with Fox News. “The whole reason that their decisions matter is because they have monopoly power, and until we get serious about confronting their monopoly, they can try to distract us with this board or that self-policing measure or whatever, and it’s not going to matter until we do something about their monopoly.”
Facebook, Twitter and other tech platforms have faced intense scrutiny from GOP lawmakers and federal regulators in recent months. The Federal Trade Commission and a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general filed antitrust lawsuits against Facebook last year, accusing the social media giant of anticompetitive business practices.
Hawley said he supports antitrust action that would unwind Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. He also called on Congress to pass legislation that would allow individuals to sue Facebook for alleged violations of its terms of service or user rights.
“Facebook does this all the time – they give people terms of service but they’re not enforceable. Right now, Facebook has all the power,” Hawley said. “Consumers have zero power.”
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
Facebook suspended Trump’s account on Jan. 7, one day after his supporters stormed the Capitol as lawmakers met to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. The oversight committee, formed as part of an unprecedented settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in 2019, determined the decision was justified.
The committee also determined that an indefinite suspension of Trump’s account was “not appropriate” given Facebook’s normal policies.
Social media platforms have played an increasingly prominent role in American politics in recent years, with many lawmakers relying on their accounts to build followings and connect with constituents. Trump was a frequent poster to all of his social media accounts before they were suspended on most platforms
Hawley, whose name is often floated as a potential GOP presidential candidate in the future, has also maintained an active presence despite his criticism of the platforms. His personal Twitter account has more than 630,000 followers.
The senator argued that politicians and all other Americans are left with few options because a handful of companies wield outsized influence.
“People rely on them because they’re monopolies,” Hawley said. “This is what happens when you have just a few companies control all digital speech in America as a Facebook, Twitter, Google through its social media platforms, really does and do. I think that what we’ve got to do is take steps to introduce competition, to give consumers power back so that we have more speech.
Some Republican-led states have already acted against social media platforms. Florida’s legislature recently passed a bill that would fine social media companies for deplatforming state or national politicians. Texas passed similar legislation.
Several prominent Democratic lawmakers, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have called for a breakup of big tech companies. But Hawley argued that Democrats have applauded social media companies for deplatforming Trump even as they pushed for limits on their power.
“I think my colleagues on the left in the Senate really are going in the opposite direction – they want to see these companies crack down further on political speech that they don’t like, that the left doesn’t like, Hawley said. “They kind of want to turn these companies into arms of the government. I think that’d be a big mistake.”