Reports say that there is a draft executive order on the president’s desk that calls for a federal investigation into the political bias of Facebook and Google.
But other reports from the White House suggest that the executive order has been circulating among aides but has not gone through the formal approval process.
The investigations would be for antitrust violations by social media giants.
Bloomberg News obtained a draft of the order, which a White House official said was in its early stages and hasn’t been run past other government agencies. Separately, Lindsey Walters, deputy White House press secretary, said in an emailed statement that the document isn’t the result of an official White House policy making process.
The document instructs U.S. antitrust authorities to “thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws.” It instructs other government agencies to recommend within a month after it’s signed, actions that could potentially “protect competition among online platforms and address online platform bias.”
The document doesn’t name any companies. If signed, the order would represent a significant escalation of Trump’s aversion to Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies, whom he’s publicly accused of silencing conservative voices and news sources online.
A Facebook spokeswoman said the company has no comment on the order. The press offices of Google and Twitter didn’t respond Saturday to emails and telephone calls requesting comment.
White House sources confirm that there is a draft order being run by various officials:
But three White House aides soon insisted they didn’t write the draft order, didn’t know where it came from, and generally found it to be unworkable policy anyway. One senior White House official confirmed the document had been floating around the White House but had not gone through the formal process, which is controlled by the staff secretary.
Asked about the document, Lindsay Walters, the deputy White House press secretary, said of the digital-age “whodunit” on Saturday: “Although the White House is concerned about the conduct of online platforms and their impact on society, this document is not the result of an official White House policymaking process.”
Do the activities of Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms constitute “antitrust” violations? What we’ve seen in the past is that government can define “antitrust” in a very broad way and can include criteria beyond anti-competitive practices.
But should government investigate any business entity for political bias? There is no doubt that Facebook, Twitter, Google and other online giants have a decidedly liberal bias. They all claim that they don’t allow their company political leanings to influence their online policing activities.
It’s not important if they’re lying. It’s important that no one can prove it. That would seem to be the biggest hurdle facing the government in any antitrust investigation.
I am uncomfortable with government investigating political bias of any kind. There are other ways for the right to fight the social media giants who are less than accommodating of their views. Refusing to use biased platforms, organizing boycotts of advertisers — there are ways to punish Twitter and Facebook without getting the government involved.