Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz successfully delayed committee passage of a Senate bill this week that would have offered small- to mid-size media companies exemptions to federal antitrust laws to enable them to collude with big tech to control what users can learn.
The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act proposed by Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Louisiana Republican John Kennedy in March would allow media companies with fewer than 1,500 employees to collectively bargain with corporate tech giants for compensation for content shared on Silicon Valley’s massive online platforms. Klobuchar pulled the bill after the Judiciary Committee passed an amendment proposed by Cruz with Kennedy’s support that kept antitrust restrictions in place if negotiations involved content moderation.
“What is preeminent to me is whether this bill is going to increase or decrease censorship,” Cruz said at the hearing. “If you’re negotiating, you ought to be negotiating on the ostensible harm this bill is directed at, which is the inability to get revenues from your content … You should not be negotiating on content moderation and how you are going to censor substantive content.”
During the debate, Kennedy summed up Cruz’s concerns that provoked the amendment. The Texas senator ultimately earned Kennedy’s support.
“What you’re saying,” Kennedy said to Cruz as he reviewed the amendment, “is that when you sit down and negotiate, you’re just negotiating over price, over money.”
“Right,” Cruz said.
“If somebody from social media said, ‘Look, I can give you a better price if you work with me more on changing your content,'” Kennedy said, then companies would lose their antitrust exemptions.
“It doesn’t even have to be connected to price,” Cruz explained. “If they sit down and say ‘let’s all agree to come together and silence the following voices.’ Without this amendment, there would be no antitrust liability for that collusion of a cartel. Otherwise, there would arguably be antitrust liability.”
“I don’t have any problem with that,” Kennedy said. “This just makes explicit what I thought was implicit.”
Cruz’s amendment passed along party lines when Republicans had the majority in the absence of Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff, who fell sick with covid-19 on a trip to India. Klobuchar, however, is likely to resubmit the bill upon Ossoff’s return.
“She said she fully plans to move the bill forward in a bipartisan way,” Politico reported.
“What happened today was a huge victory for the First Amendment and free speech,” Cruz said in a statement. “Sadly, it is also a case study in how much the Democrats love censorship. They would rather pull their bill entirely than advance it with my proposed protections for Americans from unfair online censorship.”
Cruz’s concerns over broad censorship through government-incentivized collusion came on the heels of reports that social media giants, including Facebook and Twitter, suppressed content at the request of federal authorities.
Independent journalist and former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson was kicked off Twitter in August 2021 after a pressure campaign from the White House, according to newly released court documents.
In August, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted on Joe Rogan’s podcast that Facebook significantly suppressed stories surrounding Hunter Biden’s laptop in the fall 2020 election season at the direction of the FBI.