OPINION: Stopping Twitter’s Political Discrimination

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Michael J. Pappas Former member of Congress
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Recently, Congress questioned Twitter’s CEO over the alleged biases of its algorithm that has led to the suppression of conservative voices. Not surprisingly, the GOP leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee expressed dissatisfaction with his responses and concern that the company will continue the status quo.

So, what can be done?

Currently, the grassroots Republican base appears evenly divided over whether the government should break up the company and regulate it as a public utility. Some believe that this would represent unnecessary restrictions on the personal decisions of a private entity, while the other half sees Twitter as hypocritical for positioning itself as an open platform but then engaging in discriminatory behavior that puts right-leaning influencers at a major disadvantage.

What’s getting lost in the noise, however, is that there is a clear middle-ground solution — a better, more impactful option — that doesn’t involve either trust-busting the company or government officials sitting around with their arms’ folded. That’s convincing Twitter to voluntarily sign onto a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice or Federal Trade Commission that prohibits certain types of inexcusable bias and outright discriminatory behavior.  

At this point, some readers are undoubtedly scratching their heads, wondering why in the world Twitter would ever willingly come to terms with government-recognized self-restraints. A better question, though, is why wouldn’t signing onto an anti-discrimination agreement be in the company’s best interest?  

This isn’t all just theoretical talk. The Justice Department successfully convinced Facebook to sign one of these agreements in 2011, barring the company “from making any further deceptive privacy claims, [requiring] that the company get consumers’ approval before it changes the way it shares their data, and [requiring] that it obtain periodic assessments of its privacy practices by independent, third-party auditors for the next 20 years.”  

While Facebook might not have wanted to sign the agreement, refusing to do so would have put them in an untenable position from an operational and public opinion standpoint. Why not give Twitter the chance to make the same choice?

Some trust-busting advocates might agree that Twitter would sign such an agreement but then point to Facebook’s likely violations of this decree as evidence that such settlements are futile, thus proving the need for more forceful government intervention. But while these friends of the big stick seem correct to point fingers at Facebook’s lawlessness, they are wrong to assume the ease of escaping without penalty.

Facebook will probably learn this inconvenient truth the hard way. According to Fox News’ Christopher Carbone, “The FTC is currently examining whether the tech behemoth did, in fact, violate the 2011 consent decree. If the commission finds that it did, Facebook could be facing fines in the trillions of dollars that would likely bankrupt the company.” If enforced, the size of that number would make any company learn a quick lesson.

If you’re still not convinced that a consent decree is the right way to go with Twitter, look how successfully they have worked from a historical standpoint with other left-leaning institutions.

For example, ASCAP and BMI — two music performing rights organizations that control over 90 percent of existing music copyrights — signed onto DOJ consent decrees in the 1940s, preventing them from engaging in predatory pricing and discriminating based on things like size and political ideology. To this day, conservatives tout how successful these settlement agreements have been in creating fair, level playing fields for small businesses nationwide.  

The DOJ regularly polices these anti-competitive music institutions and ensures that they abide by the agreements that they signed. Just two years ago, ASCAP paid $1.75 million and agreed to reform its licensing practices to settle a DOJ civil contempt claim for violating its consent decree. If this Democrat-leaning music collective isn’t escaping their settlements, the chances are that Facebook won’t either. Neither will Twitter.  

By unleashing the power of personal choice, the DOJ or FTC can quietly reform the most egregious aspects of Twitter, all without upsetting any faction of the Republican Party. So don’t get caught up in this false choice of doing nothing or doing everything. Sometimes, the most forceful and impactful of big sticks is also the subtlest.

Michael J. Pappas is a former Republican congressman from New Jersey

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.