Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has quickly become one of Washington’s most prolific social media users, but this weekend the New York freshman said Silicon Valley companies had too much power and that “the current monopoly trend is societally and economically unsustainable.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s comments came in the aftermath of layoffs at a number of number of news organizations, including BuzzFeed and HuffPost.
“The biggest threats to journalism right now are tech monopolies & concentration of ownership,” she tweeted on Saturday, adding: “The fact of the matter is the current monopoly trend is societally & economically unsustainable. We can’t simply accept the cliché that ‘journalism is dying.’ Journalism will only die if we choose not to fight for it - and if journalism dies, our democracy will, too.”
Since her primary victory, Ocasio-Cortez has shown a remarkable ability to use social media to amplify issues.
Her comments Saturday are likely to embolden critics – and dial up the scrutiny – of social media companies, particularly Facebook.
Matt Stoller, a fellow at The Open Markets Institute, called Facebook and competitors like Google and Amazon “extortion machines.”
“[They] have placed themselves effectively as essential communications services that you have to use. Not just as a consumer but as a producer, whether you’re producing news or sports or entertainment. Increasingly you have to go through those communications channels to get your product to market,” Matt Stoller, fellow at the Open Markets Institute told CNN on Saturday.
That “essential” nature, Stoller argued, in combination with a business model that depends on advertiser cash, allows the companies “to distort the flow of information and grab essentially all of the ad money.”
Facebook owns WhatsApp and Instagram, on Friday The New York Times reported that Facebook plans on further integrating both companies — despite initial pledges from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to allow both companies to remain largely autonomous.
In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, Zuckerberg defended the model that has made Facebook so powerful, which involves targeting users with advertisements based on their interests.
Zuckerberg said that Facebook helps small businesses around the world.
Waleed Shahid, communications director for the Justice Democrats, the group that recruited Ocasio-Cortez to run in 2018, said that taking on Big Tech is one way for Democrats to prove they are committed to combating corporate power.
“Breaking up and regulating the Big Tech monopolies will put many of these Democrats in conflict with some of their big money donors — so it’s definitely a way to help prove your grassroots credentials,” he told CNN on Saturday. “Democrats need to be leading on anti-monopoly issues in order to put an end to a second Gilded Age for those on top and misery for the rest of us.”
Facebook did not comment asked by CNN for a reaction to Ocasio-Cortez’s statements. The company recently said it was planning to invest $300 million in programs to help news organizations.
Democratic Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, chairman of the antitrust subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, backed Ocasio-Cortez on Saturday, tweeting:“A free, diverse press cannot survive unless we confront the power of Facebook and Google.”
But not everybody in Washington thinks the news industry’s woes can be attributed to Big Tech.
In his own tweets about job losses at BuzzFeed and HuffPost on Saturday, President Donald Trump wrote, “Fake News and bad journalism have caused a big downturn. Sadly, many others will follow. The people want the Truth!”