It is ironic that an opinion piece in The Washington Post this week argued in favor of regulating companies that dominate our communication infrastructure.
The author, Zephyr Teachout, defended Twitter’s decision to ban President Donald J. Trump from its platform but expressed concern about the threat of “extreme concentration” of corporate power in communications.
Now here’s where irony comes in:
Teachout didn’t mention (understandably) that the owner of the newspaper that hosted her column is Jeff Bezos, who also owns Amazon and its subsidiary, Amazon Web Services (AWS), the leading cloud hosting provider in the country. Bezos is undeniably a dominant force – perhaps the dominant force – in communications and communications’ infrastructure in the United States.
AWS calls itself “the world’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud platform… ” It hosts Twitter, Facebook and Linked in, as well as Neflix, ESPN, BBC, Dow Jones, Reddit, Hearst Corp., Turner Broadcasting, top U.S. agencies, (i.e. Department of State and the Food and Drug Administration) and many others.
After Twitter knocked the President off the internet, conservatives flocked by the tens of thousands to Parler, which offers similar services with an emphasis on free speech. Twitter’s stock plunged by seven percent and the Parler app skyrocketed to the top of app store charts.
AWS abruptly “suspended” its provision of cloud hosting services to Parler on Jan. 9, claiming Parler was used to coordinate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building. Parler states in an antitrust lawsuit filed against AWS on Wednesday that no one who has been publicly identified in the Jan. 6 incident even has a Parler account. And yet, Parler has gone completely dark.
It Seems Jeff Bezos Killed Parler
Meanwhile, Twitter and Facebook have de-platformed leading conservative voices, including GOP elected officials, under the guise that even questioning the integrity of the 2020 Presidential election constitutes insurrection and promotes violence.
Trump, who primarily communicated to voters through Twitter, now is without a social media platform. This not only impacts Trump but also the 75 million Americans who voted for him, and other Americans who are interested in what the President of the United States has to say.
World leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have criticized Twitter’s actions as a threat free speech.
It is clear that Bezos and Trump have been arch-rivals for years.
Bezos sued the Trump administration in 2019, claiming it had lost a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the Pentagon because Trump used “improper pressure” to divert the contract from AWS to harm Bezos. Microsoft won the contract for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure project, known as JEDI. The Pentagon eventually re-awarded the contract to Microsoft last fall. AWS filed a revised complaint on December 15, 2020.
Bezos claimed in the lawsuit that Trump attacked AWS to hurt Bezos, “his perceived political enemy.”
Trump denied interfering in the JEDI contract but has criticized the WP for bias.
Now back to Teachout. She doesn’t buy the argument that the First Amendment only applies to the government. She said that’s an “artificially narrow view of the question. These companies, living at the heart of our communications infrastructure, play an undeniable role.”
Teachout, an associate professor of law at Fordham University, cites “a long tradition” in the U.S. of regulating companies that “dominate whole sectors of the American economy particularly in areas that profoundly affect the public sphere.”
She advocated “[c]utting the giants down to size and prohibiting future mergers” to force them to compete over quality of service, data privacy and to give “publishers and activists choices about where to speak, connect and organize.”
That sounds like a good argument with respect to Amazon.
In addition to the Parler anti-trust lawsuit, Amazon this week was hit with an anti-trust lawsuit charging the company with illegally colluding with major book publishers to drive up prices for ebooks by 30%. Amazon controls nearly 90% of the ebook market.