On Thursday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that nearly half of the state attorneys general would be invited to a September 25 meeting with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss whether social media companies are violating anti-trust laws. The DOJ announced the meeting last week, following the congressional testimony of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
“Following last week’s statement, the Justice Department received an increased level of interest from state attorneys general in attending the September 25 meeting on tech companies, competition, and free exchange of ideas,” a DOJ spokesman told PJ Media on Thursday afternoon. Due to this increased interest, Sessions has invited more attorneys general.
“Today, the Justice Department formally sent invitations to a bipartisan group of twenty-four state attorneys general that expressed an interest in attending the meeting hosted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” the spokesman added. “The meeting will take place here at the Department of Justice, and we look forward to having a robust dialogue with all attendees on the topic of social media platforms.”
While many state AGs have investigated Google and Facebook in the past — and many investigations are ongoing — a few select attorneys general began mulling the idea of a coordinated investigation earlier this year. Sessions has taken the lead for this event, which originally was only going to include the attorneys general from five states: Alabama, Louisiana, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Texas.
Many attorneys general have sued Facebook and Google specifically, and not just on the conservative side of the aisle. Rhode Island’s Democrat AG Peter Kilmartin forced Google to surrender $500 million for selling illegal drugs in 2011. Mississippi’s Democrat AG Tim Hood has taken Google to court twice over illegal drugs, pirated movies, and personal data. Washington state Democrat AG Bob Ferguson sued Facebook and Google over records for political ads this summer.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley perhaps began the latest round of investigations when he announced a broad anti-trust and consumer-protection investigation into Google last November. This April, he subpoenaed Facebook in order to ensure proper protection of private consumer data.
Earlier this week, PJ Media reached out to every Republican attorney general to see if Sessions had invited them to the meeting. Many said they did not receive an invitation, Hawley included. Sources have suggested that the original meeting would be a working group, to discuss these issues in private. If that was ever the goal, it seems that ship has sailed.
Conservatives have long expressed suspicion that Google, Facebook, and Twitter have been censoring their content. Recent events have only underscored those questions, especially since Tucker Carlson reported on a letter in which a Google executive bragged about increasing Latino voter turnout in the 2016 election, thinking it would help Hillary Clinton.
On the other side, this week liberals at ThinkProgress accused Facebook of censoring them when the social media company marked their article as “false” due to a fact-check from The Weekly Standard.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry told PJ Media that investigating Facebook and Google on anti-trust and consumer protection issues “shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”
“I’ve got some Democratic AG friends that are concerned about the anti-trust position in the market in relation to the consumer,” Landry said. “The same fundamentals that allow Facebook or Google to control the free market and hurt consumers are the same fundamentals that allow them to suppress content.”
Landry accused social media companies of creating “a virtual fence around the free market.”
“We must work together to ensure that online economic competition operates fairly and transparently, so that Americans can make informed choices and public discourse can flourish,” Jeff Mateer, Texas’ first assistant attorney general, told PJ Media.
Mat Staver, president of Liberty Counsel — a Christian legal nonprofit considering suing the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for defamation — told PJ Media he had “a telephone conversation this week with a number of attorneys regarding this issue.”
“We’ve actually talked about anti-trust” in regard to social media companies, Staver added. “Even the Department of Justice is talking about anti-trust because of the unfair competition and the monopoly that these companies are wielding, which is far beyond anything that we’ve seen before.”
Chris Gacek, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, compared Facebook’s censorship pattern to that of a court of law. “You have an interior Facebook judicial system, an appellate system, and a Supreme Court of Facebook,” he said. “You have basically a bunch of leftists who are in charge of a company and a business model that no one’s ever seen before.”
Gacek noted that “you probably only need five states” to get involved in pressuring these companies, “and you can really mess these guys up.”
Late last month, a former anti-trust lawyer for President Ronald Reagan, Larry Klayman, filed a class-action lawsuit against Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter, accusing them of working in concert to suppress conservative speech online. The suit brings up anti-trust claims, free speech claims, and discrimination claims, adding up to $1 billion in damages.
Facebook and Google can expect some tough times ahead.