WASHINGTON – Consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader said Congress should intervene to address the “new kind of monopoly” that Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook have on the technology industry.
Nader was part of a panel discussion Monday at the Library of Congress’ “Sunshine Week Celebration” dedicated to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The panelists were asked about navigating the current media landscape for facts in the era of “alternative news” and social media.
“These days the tech companies are more and more involved in the dissemination of news and information and they traditionally have not really wanted to get involved in content and issues surrounding content – that has changed,” said Lucy Dalglish, the dean of the University of Maryland College of Journalism.
In response to Dalglish’s comments, Nader said the public should not “rely” on the tech companies for accurate news and information.
“I don’t see Facebook and Microsoft and Google – they’re trapped by the exudations of their own flamingly fast technological developments. They don’t have a clue when they unleash things what the consequences are and they haven’t had it from day one. They don’t have a clue. They just know they’re putting the product out, they can show it’s exciting and the rest of it is going to take care of itself. No, so I really wouldn’t rely on them,” Nader said at the event.
“I think we need a grassroots movement of the serious sub-society that can take command of this because eventually it’s going to have to end up in Congress – First Amendment or not, it’s going to have to end up in Congress. You have three or four major monopolies now redefined under our antitrust laws – somebody, we hope. You have Google, you have Facebook, you have Microsoft, what’s the other one? Apple. And they’re sloshing around toward each other, but basically they have a new kind of monopoly – just the way Amazon is developing a new kind of monopoly. This is not going to be, ‘oh, don’t mess with our First Amendment rights.’ No, no, no – this is going to go into the antitrust area and it’s going to go into legislation and the sooner the better,” he added.
Nader said breaking through power to bring about social justice is easier than most people think. He encouraged political activists to get a “serious sub-society underway” instead of “talking about reaching 50, 80, 90,000 or 90 million people.”
“Let’s just work on building that serious 1 percent in one area after another that are composed of regular people all over, neighborhoods, communities,” he said.
To support his proposition, Nader cited grassroots initiatives to raise the minimum wage.
“It didn’t take more than 50,000 people picketing Walmart with the help of SEIU, McDonalds and a few think tanks to make this an issue in the presidential campaign, as well. So, in order to not be totally overwhelmed – it can be very overwhelming, the new technology. I mean, within four years you going to see millions of people, many of them young, walking around with virtual reality goggles. You want to talk about fake news, right? Virtual reality,” he said.
During the event, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said the federal government rejected about 60 percent of the 700,000 FOIA requests in FY2015.
“We need to tackle that and look at it. I’m sure there are duplicate requests. I’m sure there are things that people were asking for that were perhaps classified in their nature, but when you have more than half of the requests ultimately rejected for a variety of exceptions, that’s something we’re keenly aware of that we have to tackle and resolve,” he said via video.
Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) expressed concern that President Trump’s current federal hiring freeze “could prevent agencies from fully staffing” their FOIA offices.
“I’m also concerned that further cuts to the agencies’ budgets could impair the ability of agencies to implement FOIA effectively, especially in light of the additional requirements added by the new law,” he said via video, referring to the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 signed by President Obama.