Elon Musk’s $44 billion offer to buy Twitter was criticized by several prominent Democrats. But a social media post misleadingly claims Democrats didn’t speak out against companies buying out competitors and creating monopolies until Musk bought Twitter. Democrats have opposed monopoly power and encouraged competition for years.
On April 25, Twitter’s board of directors agreed to sell Twitter to Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk for roughly $44 billion. Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist,” announced his move was a way to loosen restrictions on the social media platform.
The deal — which still needs approval from shareholders and U.S. corporate regulators — is not yet complete. Several Democrats, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, expressed their opposition by saying Musk’s deal is “dangerous for our democracy” or a cause for concern.
But Common Sense, a Facebook page that says it “pokes fun at hypocrisy,” posted an image that falsely suggests Democrats didn’t speak out against platform monopolies until after Musk agreed to buy Twitter.
A monopoly consists of a single company that dominates an industry and excludes competition. Platform monopoly refers to a single digital platform, like Facebook or Google, that dominates an industry.
The Facebook post shows a tweet from Robert Reich, the U.S. secretary of labor under former President Bill Clinton, criticizing “platform monopoly” in a tweet shared the same day that Twitter’s board approved Musk’s offer to acquire the platform.
“It’s called platform monopoly. It’s bad for our democracy as well as our economy,” Reich tweeted.
A screenshot of the tweet was posted to Facebook with the comment, “Disney buys out Marvel, 20th Century Fox, Lucasfilm, Miramax etc. Lefists: silence.Facebook buys out Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, etc. Leftists: silence.Google buys YouTube, Motorola, Waze, Fitbit, etc. Leftists: silence.Musk buys Twitter. Leftists: [shows image of Reich’s tweet].”
The post was then shared on the Common Sense Facebook page in a screenshot with the comment, “Hmmm. Situational stance (aka hypocrisy).”
But this wasn’t a “situational stance.” Democrats — including Reich and Warren– have criticized monopoly buying for years.
Big tech buyouts
Let’s look at the timelines in which Disney, Facebook and Google acquired the companies listed in the post.
On Oct. 9, 2006, Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock. Google purchased Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion on Aug. 15, 2011, but went on to sell the company to Chinese smartphone manufacturer Lenovo for $2.91 billion in cash and stock three years later. Waze, a social mapping location data startup from Israel, was bought by Google for about $1 billion in 2013. Google then closed the acquisition of Fitbit, a fitness tracking company, on Jan. 14, 2021, for $2.1 billion.
The Walt Disney Company bought Marvel Entertainment in 2009, for about $4 billion in stock and cash. The company then went on to buy Lucasfilm — the firm that produced the Star Wars franchise — for $4.05 billion in stock and cash on Oct. 30, 2012. Disney completed its deal to buy 21st Century Fox on March 20, 2019, for about $71.3 billion.
In a two-year time span from 2012 to 2014, Facebook— which is now called Meta — acquired several platforms. It bought Instagram on April 9, 2012, for $1 billion in stocks and cash, Oculus VR for $2 billion on March 25, 2014, and WhatsApp for $19 billion in October 2014.
Although we could find no evidence of Democrats being outspoken against tech companies from 2006 to 2014, the opposition became clear at least seven years before Musk agreed to purchase Twitter.
Reich — whose tweet against platform monopolies was used in the Facebook post — has been publicly against this issue since 2015, when he wrote an op-ed in the New York Times with the headline “Big Tech Has Become Way Too Powerful.” He wrote about Amazon, Facebook and Google being the top spots for shopping and news consumption.
Other prominent Democrats, including Warren, have also been outspoken prior to Musk acquiring Twitter.
The Democratic Party has a history of opposing big tech monopolies. The 2016 Democratic Platform had “the strongest antitrust platform language in decades,” Vice reported in a July 2016 article.
The platform laid “the foundation for what some party leaders hope will be an aggressive effort to curb the growing power of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple and Amazon,” the website wrote.
It was the first time an anti-monopoly plank had been included in a platform since 1988, according to Vox and ProMarket at the University of Chicago.
“Large corporations have concentrated their control over markets to a greater degree than Americans have seen in decades — further evidence that the deck is stacked for those at the top,” the Democratic document said. “Democrats will take steps to stop corporate concentration in any industry where it is unfairly limiting competition.”
Warren also delivered a speech in June 2016 at the New America’s Open Markets Program event, where she said “competition is dying” and concentration threatened “markets,” “economy” and “democracy.”
“Take a look at the technology sector — specifically, the battle between large platforms and small tech companies,” Warren said. “Google, Apple, and Amazon provide platforms that lots of other companies depend on for survival. But Google, Apple, and Amazon also, in many cases, compete with those same small companies, so that the platform can become a tool to snuff out competition.”
After federal intelligence and congressional investigators revealed the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the media documented Facebook’s failure to prevent it, Democrats took a stronger position against platform monopolies.
In 2019, Reich testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, where he spoke about stifled innovation, misinformation, privacy and concentration of data and power.
“Big Tech’s sweeping patents and copyrights, huge and growing data collections, dominant networks and platforms, and capacities for predatory behavior — combined with legions of lawyers ready to sue for infringement of intellectual property, or the poaching of employees — have become formidable barriers to new entrants,” Reich said.
The Democratic staff of the subcommittee issued a 449-page report in 2020 that documented the “monopoly” that Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple each enjoy.
“During the investigation, Subcommittee staff found evidence of monopolization and monopoly power. For example, the strong network effects associated with Facebook has tipped the market toward monopoly such that Facebook competes more vigorously among its own products — Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger — than with actual competitors,” reads the report.
So, contrary to the suggestion that “leftists” such as Reich have been quiet about “platform monopoly” prior to Musk’s bid to take over Twitter, prominent Democrats have been opposing monopolies for years.
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