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Cicilline: Congress Must Curb Power of Google and Facebook

April 21, 2021 by Victoria Turner
Rep. David Cicilline

WASHINGTON – The dominance of Google and Facebook as “gatekeepers” for online information and massive market power, particularly in digital advertising, has left U.S. journalism in a “state of crisis” and “Americans have had enough,”  said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., Tuesday. 

“Republicans and Democrats agree that these companies have too much power and that congress must curb this dominance,” he said as he delivered his keynote address at an Open Markets Institute conference entitled, “After Google and Facebook: The Future of Journalism and Democracy.”

Cicilline emphasized the great decline in news outlets, particularly local publishers and broadcasters. Over the past 15 years, 2100 newspapers have closed across the U.S. and 200 counties in the U.S. today do not have a local newspaper. Digital publishers have not come out unscathed, he added. Despite an “all-time high” for online readership due to the pandemic, he explained, digital publications laid-off “dozens” of reporters last year. 

A lack of local reporting leads to more local corruption and increased local government expenditure, he said. But it has also created “news deserts” that have increased the dissemination of misinformation, with 75% of Americans getting their onlines news from Facebook and Google. After January’s Capitol storming, he noted, “the stakes are really high.” 

These “widespread layoffs” in the journalism field and “mass consolidation” of services that the tech platforms own will only get worse without congressional action, he claimed. 

A step Cicilline has taken is to reintroduce the Journalism Competition Preservations Act to enable news publishers and broadcasters to “collectively negotiate with the dominant platforms to improve the quality, accuracy, attribution and functioning of news online.” He does not view the bill as a “meaningful substitute” for other congressional actions that will come about, he said, but “we must do something in the short-term to save trustworthy journalism.” 

These firms’ market power, he added, is “reinforced by the unprecedented data” they’ve amassed, which has just “tipped the market” further in their favor. 

Other actions, like breaking up the Big Tech companies or spinning off a line of business, are on the table to fully address the market concerns by these tech companies allegedly acting as monopolies or abusing their dominance. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., have also introduced bills in the last couple of months addressing different competition concerns, but stemming from this increasing congressional battle against the Big Tech platforms in the digital marketplace.

“Mark my words: Change is coming, laws are coming both in the U.S. and abroad,” Cicilline said as he noted numerous bills will be coming through the pipeline in the upcoming months. 

“Our country will not survive if we do not operate with a set share of facts,” he urged, claiming a “free and diverse” press is the only way to truly “expose” and “[root] out” corruption at every level of the government.

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