The FANGs — or better yet, the FAYGs — are wreaking havoc in the social, political, and business worlds, but there aren’t yet any known legal bases that will allow us to regulate them or split them apart.
The FANGs are under siege by the U.S. government, private agencies, and social groups that are dead set on weakening them.
“FANG” (or “FAANG”) is the acronym used to denote the largest digital and social media companies. They include Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google.
Personally, I’m not sure if regulating and/or cutting the FANGs down to size is something that can actually be accomplished. I think it’s a good thing on moral, political, and social levels, but I have my doubts on legal and business levels. Plus, I’d replace Netflix with Yahoo! and call them “FAYGs,” since Netflix is not in the user-generated content business.
U.S. government agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), want to break up each individual FAYG company because they are harming competition. The Department of Justice is looking at antitrust charges against big tech. Private organizations such as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) want the FAYGs to be regulated — just as broadcasting is. And social groups, such as The Center for Humane Technology, as well as Common Sense Media, want to limit the use of tech and social media, especially by children.
On a political level, far-right politicians like the idea of being able to spread their ideologies any way they can. Meanwhile, far-left politicians decry the fact that fake news, foreign interferences, and fabrications are disseminated online without any control.
All of them, however, have thus far failed in presenting a valid, ironclad argument that would allow the U.S. government to regulate and/or split up the FAYGs. And Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act (which shields websites from liability for content created by their users) gives FAYGs further protection.
I have been following NAB president Gordon Smith’s campaign to get the FAYGs covered under the same rules that regulate radio and TV stations. Smith contends that: “We are up against unregulated behemoth companies. Facebook [is] even talking about coming out with their own currencies. While broadcasters are kept small by regulators, [they] are competing with what are developing as corporate nation-states.
“There comes a point when a private interest gets so large that it has a public impact that begins to counter the public interest. Congress should look to the tech industry, but focus on the public interest. Those companies don’t do local [coverage like broadcasters do], but they [want to perform other services that we do without] the regulators’ burdens.”
Finally, according to FTC chairman Joe Simons, breaking up FAYG companies could be the right remedy to rein in dominant companies and restore competition.
Now, I agree that the FAYGs are facilitating the spread of fake news, creating social and political havoc, and are operating virtually without rules. But I’m not sure about the competition part, since the FAYG acronym implies multiple, competing companies. The problem is that the FAYGs are not affecting one another, but those in the print, broadcast, and content media fields.
In addition, the FAYGs do not use public resources like airwaves, as broadcasters do. They do not use limited resources (like wood), as print media does. And they are not content gatekeepers, as the studios are. Plus, the same rules that regulate broadcasting also give broad-casters protections against hostile takeovers, illegal speculation, stock manipulation, etc.
On the other hand, the FAYGs, like Apple, tend to damage consumers di-rectly. If, for example, a wire breaks in the power supply of an Apple laptop, the whole expensive unit must be replaced — not just the inexpensive wire.
In my view, in order to equate the FAYGs with broadcasting (after all, the FAYGs compete with broadcasters for advertising, content, and viewers) we should consider their media revenues. Since broadcasters are regulated, and FAYGs are not, and since FAYGs don’t use public resources, a compromise could be that FAYGs cannot be larger than the largest broadcast company. This way, broadcasters and FAYGs will be engaging in fair competition under fair rules. As for the spreading of fake news, the FAYGs have to be held accountable by a monitoring government organization, similar to what broadcasting has (the FCC).
(By Dom Serafini)
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