Critics contend that concentrated power in digital markets has generated threats to free speech. For a variety of reasons, market power is naturally thought to concentrate in digital markets. The consequence is that “big tech” is said to face little competition; Facebook controls 72 percent of the social media market while the parent of YouTube (72 percent of the video market) is Google (92 percent of the search market). This landscape has potentially vested private companies with unprecedented power over the flow of information. If Facebook, for example, decides to ban certain types of speech or ideas, it would potentially deprive a significant number of people of that information. Observers have indeed alleged that market power mixed with innovation gives big tech the power and incentives to impede speech.
Two types of suppressed speech are alleged: commercial and expressive. In terms of expressive speech, both sides of the political aisle assert that tech firms advance an ideological agenda. Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube are alleged to push certain narratives while suppressing others depending on one’s political biases. Lending credence to this fear, it is well known that Facebook polices content shared over its platform, evidenced by its in-house oversight board (also known as its “speech Supreme Court”) and an internal memo posing the question: “What should be the limits to what people can express?” Controversy has notably emerged where platforms have restricted mundane types of speech including images of breast-feeding or plus-size expression as well as more controversial forms of speech regarding, for instance, anti-vaccination literature.
The other type of harm is commercial. Some observers allege that Amazon alters search results or buries entries to promote its own products. Another claim is that tech firms abridge commercial speech such as advertising. Google, as AdSense’s parent company, is said to manipulate the color, placement, and font of advertisements to impede information about rival products while promoting its own goods.
Speech, Innovation, and Competition
, 2 Antitrust Chronicle 1
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/fac_artchop/1532