Antitrust influencers? Big Tech allies, opponents draft social media stars into bout.
For months, groups representing the tech giants and advocates pushing to rein them in have relied on a flurry of old-school lobbying tactics as they clash over antitrust proposals on Capitol Hill. The campaigns have spanned from newspaper op-eds to billboards to TV ads.
But the two camps are now enlisting a small but unlikely network of new-age allies: social media influencers on platforms like TikTok and Instagram.
Two groups at the forefront of the debate have tapped digital creators to aid their messaging efforts, posting about the legislation on platforms popular among younger users.
It marks a rare instance of a niche tech policy battle — with potentially sweeping implications for the economy — reaching the radars of the influencer class.
Accountable Tech, a left-leaning watchdog group advocating for antitrust legislation targeting giants like Apple and Amazon, recently partnered with a group of TikTok creators “interested in supporting historic bipartisan legislation to #ReinInBigTech,” the group tweeted. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
According to co-founder Jesse Lehrich, the partnership has led to a series of videos that have drawn over 150,000 views and 10,000 engagements across TikTok and Instagram.
The colorful but policy-heavy videos largely focus on Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which seeks to bar tech giants from giving their products a boost over their competitors’ goods. As we’ve reported, it’s become the epicenter of the battle in Congress to rein in tech giants.
In one clip, creator “Dr. Horrible Jr” — who dons a lab coat and goggles to mimic the main character from the viral internet musical “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” — discusses how tech giants like Amazon can favor their services and how proposed reforms may curtail that.
“Unchecked monopoly power has allowed Big Tech like Amazon to harm users and rig marketplaces without consequence, but you can help fix this,” he said before plugging the Klobuchar bill in a TikTok video shared with his 230,000 followers.
“Both sides are trying to win the inside-the-Beltway game, too, of course, but educating and mobilizing the general public is a key piece of this fight,” Lehrich said.
Dana Fortune, another creator, said in an email she was asked “to use my own knowledge of monopolies and antitrust in creating the videos” but “given freedom on all content created.”
On the other side of the antitrust battle, tech trade association NetChoice has tapped a conservative activist with a following across TikTok, Instagram and other major platforms as a “media consultant” and fellow, the group confirmed.
Hannah Cox, a brand ambassador for the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) think tank, has posted videos across TikTok, Instagram and YouTube railing against Klobuchar’s proposals, at times citing NetChoice directly in her critiques.
In the clips, Cox has argued that the “radical” proposal would make it harder to find cheap goods on Amazon and hand too much power to bureaucrats in the federal government.
“I’m back again to ruin your day with more public policy news,” Cox said in a January TikTok video bashing the antitrust legislation. “There’s no reason that we’d want to mimic Europe [on tech rules], but apparently that’s what Amy Klobuchar sits awake at night and thinks about.”
NetChoice declined to say whether Cox’s role involves directly posting about the issue online. But in an email, NetChoice spokesperson Robert Winterton said, “Hannah Cox is a great free market advocate. Her principles are why we’ve sought her advice on fighting progressive legislation, and those same principles are why she opposes [Klobuchar’s bill].”
FEE did not return requests for comment on Cox’s work for NetChoice, and Cox did not return requests for comment sent via direct messages on social media Tuesday.
Efforts by antitrust combatants to court influencers appear to be small in scale and dwarfed by more traditional messaging across TV and digital ads.
Groups representing the tech giants have poured over $36 million into TV and digital ads, compared with $193,000 by those backing antitrust legislation, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Lehrich said Accountable Tech paid a “couple grand” toward the initial partnership with the creators, represented by the Social Currant talent agency. NetChoice, which counts Google and Facebook parent company Meta as members, declined to say how much it is spending on media consultants focused on social media or toward digital creators.
The Computer & Communications Industry Association, another tech trade group representing industry giants that has taken out over $23 million in ads pillorying antitrust legislation, has not spent any money on social media creators, spokesperson Heather Greenfield said Tuesday.
Evan Greer, director of the digital activist group Fight for the Future, said proponents of the push need to be more “creative” given the vast wealth of the tech giants and their allies.
“We’re in asymmetric warfare, where the industry opposing these bills just has such dramatically more resources … so you see then everyone pulling out all the stops,” she said.
Meta agrees to revamp targeted advertising in Justice Department settlement agreement
Facebook says it will develop a new ad-targeting system to ensure that housing ads go to a more equitable mix of people, Naomi Nix and Elizabeth Dwoskin report. The settlement comes after Facebook, which is owned by Meta, was accused of letting landlords advertise housing in discriminatory ways.
“The settlement, which stems from a 2019 Fair Housing Act lawsuit brought by the Trump Administration, is the second such settlement in which the company has agreed to change its ad systems to prevent discrimination,” Naomi and Elizabeth write. “But Tuesday’s settlement goes further than the first one, requiring Facebook to overhaul its powerful internal ad targeting tool, known as Lookalike Audiences.”
Advertisers will be able to target their ads by location, but won’t only be able to use Zip codes and people with limited interests, Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne said.
Biden to nominate former DARPA, NIST head to lead White House science and tech office
If confirmed, engineer and physicist Arati Prabhakar would be the first woman, person of color and immigrant to permanently lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the Associated Press’s Seth Borenstein reports. Her nomination comes months after OSTP director Eric Lander resigned after apologizing for mistreating staff at the office.
“Dr. Prabhakar is a brilliant and highly-respected engineer and applied physicist and will lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy to leverage science, technology, and innovation to expand our possibilities, solve our toughest challenges, and make the impossible possible,” Biden said in a statement.
Drivers accuse Uber and Lyft of price-fixing
The drivers say in a new lawsuit that the companies violated California antitrust law and another state business law, Reuters’s Mike Scarcella reports. They’re seeking class-action status and are arguing that Lyft and Uber unfairly control the prices customers have to pay for rides on their apps.
The drivers say they should be able to offer lower prices to consumers. “By preventing drivers from doing so, Uber and Lyft harm competition in both the labor market as well as the consumer market,” they argue in the complaint. “Customers pay more, and drivers earn less.”
An Uber spokesperson told Reuters that the complaint “misconstrues both the facts and the applicable law and we intend to defend ourselves accordingly.” Lyft didn’t respond to the outlet’s request for comment.
- Jake Laperruque has joined the Center for Democracy and Technology as deputy director of its Security and Surveillance Project. Laperruque previously worked as senior counsel of the Project On Government Oversight’s Constitution Project.
- U.S. and European officials speak at the 2022 EU-US Defense & Future Forum today. I’ll be interviewing European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová about disinformation at 5:30 p.m.
- White House special assistants Tim Wu and Peter Harrell discuss the Biden administration’s Declaration for the Future of the Internet at a Brookings Institution event Wednesday at 2 p.m.
- The Committee on House Administration holds a hearing on disinformation’s threats to democracy Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.
- Microsoft President Brad Smith discusses disinformation and foreign information operations at a Washington Post Live event Thursday at 9 a.m.