U.S. Attorney General William Barr said social media giants are “starting to censor” views and antitrust law can be used to address their dominance, doubling down on Justice Department proposals to limit legal protections for online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Internet platforms are taking down views based on “whether they agree with the viewpoint or not,” which makes them a publisher rather than a neutral platform, voiding the liability protection they enjoy under the law, Barr said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”
Last week, the Justice Department outlined proposals that would limit platforms’ discretion over removing political posts and take away liability protection for encrypted platforms such as Facebook’s WhatsApp. The recommendations followed a feud between President Donald Trump and Twitter, which slapped fact-checks on some of his tweets.
“You can take down stuff that is unlawful and you can take down stuff that does not accord with your terms of service,” Barr said. “But you have to make your terms of service clear. You have to have a reasonably-based reason for taking down.”
Internet companies have engaged in a “bait-and-switch” by initially welcoming people with a wide range of viewpoints to build strong market positions. “Now they are being more selective, and they are starting to censor different viewpoints,” he said.
Antitrust laws are one way to challenge companies that engage in “monopolistic practices,” he said.
The concentration of a few large companies means they can “quickly galvanize people’s views,” Barr said, and that is a “fundamental problem” for society. “They’re only presenting one viewpoint, and they can push the public in a particular direction very quickly.”