Politico published an interesting story today about a think tank called the Open Markets Institute. The group only has about a dozen employees but it has connections to some of the leading candidates for president on the Democratic side, especially Elizabeth Warren who has been a fan of the group since 2016. The basic complaint being pushed is that Big Tech, i.e. Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc., need to be broken up the way that Standard Oil was broken up a century ago. And the reason, at least the one that seems to be on everyone’s mind, is the election of President Trump:
Open Markets believes the major online companies need government intervention, including in some cases breaking them apart the way Standard Oil was split more than a century ago. And it’s seizing the political moment created by Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 election victory, which has put the tech industry on the defensive over everything from Russian disinformation to data privacy.
“When Trump won, it turned out that Google and Facebook were not magicians,” said Matt Stoller, an Open Markets fellow and former staffer on the Senate Budget Committee under ranking member Sanders (I-Vt.). “They were just marketers, and that was a massive hit to the prestige of ‘Big Tech.’”
One of the group’s big wins was the pushback against Amazon’s new headquarters in New York:
Ron Kim, a Democratic member of the New York state Assembly, credits Open Markets with helping him articulate arguments against Amazon as he helped lead pushback against the company’s planned second-headquarters expansion into Queens’ Long Island City neighborhood. “I ended up learning and growing tremendously as a lawmaker, because they have been doing this a lot longer than I have,” Kim told POLITICO.
Amazon abandoned its New York City plans in February, saying that “a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us.”
The group offers one-on-one briefings but also seems to specialize in hyperbolic public statements of its own, such as describing a $5 billion fine of Facebook as a “parking-ticket-level penalty for destroying democracy.”
Given the progressive leanings of Google, Facebook, and other Big Tech companies, it’s hard to get too worked up about them being broken up into smaller entities. On the other hand, reading the Politico story you get the impression that OMI has been one of the forces driving the Big Tech companies to the left in the past two years. As the resistance seized on Facebook ads and Twitter memes for spoiling the outcome of the 2016 election, there was a partisan push to make these companies pay a price for failing to stop Trump. Under that external pressure, Big Tech has been bending over backward to comply with the wishes of progressive activists who want to silence conservative voices online. Given who supports and runs OMI, I’m not sure that a completely accidental byproduct of their efforts. Breaking up Big Tech may be the long-term goal, but in the short term, they are giving the left greater control of what is deemed acceptable in the online space.