The Wall Street Journal Kisses Big Telecom's Ass In Whiny Screed About 'Big Tech'

from the bad-faith-bullshit dept

Apparently, when you write about major tech policy for the Wall Street Journal, you don't have to have the slightest idea what you're talking about. Take, for example, this bizarre piece by Allysia Finley dubbed "Net Neutrality and Big Tech’s Speech Hypocrisy." Finley and the WSJ editorial board were apparently excited to paint "big tech" companies as hypocrites for supporting net neutrality, while (gasp) opposing efforts to dismantle Section 230 by a bunch of folks who think they have a God-given right to be bigoted, trolling assholes on private platforms.

The Murdoch family screed steadily goes downhill as it tries to fuse net neutrality and recent Section 230 debates into an incoherent mush just to paint Silicon Valley as hypocritical:

"Facebook and Twitter turned out to be more threatening than under threat. Broadband providers haven’t attempted to block content or competitors since the FCC repealed net neutrality. But social media, app stores and cloud providers, which were never subject to the rules, all have engaged in censorship repeatedly in recent weeks."

First, Facebook never seriously supported net neutrality, and spent ample time in countries like India trying to dismantle it. Second, (once more with feeling!) it's not "censorship" if you get kicked off social media outlets for violating their terms of service. That's called consequences for being an asshole on privately owned platforms, not "censorship." Third, many tech giants like Netflix actually backed off from supporting net neutrality once they were powerful enough to be insulated from the impact of telecom monopolies behaving badly, which is hypocritical, but in an entirely different way the Journal doesn't understand.

Fourth, big ISPs certainly did try to violate net neutrality to harm competitors. The only reason they haven't behaved worse is because in the wake of federal apathy, numerous states passed their own net neutrality rules. It's also worth repeating that the FCC's net neutrality repeal didn't just kill net neutrality, it demolished the FCC's consumer protection authority in general, which the Journal, of course, thinks was wonderful. The argument that "well, the internet didn't immediately implode in a rainbow therefore the FCC gutting its consumer protection authority must not be a bad thing" is a telltale sign the person you're listening to has no idea what they're talking about.

From there, the Journal parades a bunch of outright lies, most notably the longstanding telecom industry fable that some modest net neutrality rules stifled network investment. This part, for example, is just complete bullshit:

"The Obama rules made it harder for telecom carriers that owned content providers to compete with tech giants and finance network expansions. This is one reason broadband investment declined in 2016."

Again, SEC filings, earnings reports, independent studies and even CEO statements made it clear that net neutrality never hindered network investment, nor made it difficult for telecom to compete with tech giants. The Journal's piece is basically just telecom monopolization fan fiction that nibbles the earlobes of Ajit Pai while falsely claiming that the telecom sector is ultra healthy and competitive (it takes about half an hour of dealing with Comcast customer support to easily determine that's not true), and that gutting the FCC's protection authority right before a massive health and economic crisis was a wonderful idea.

For years now I've noted how the telecom industry has covertly been playing a starring role in getting a huge chunk of DC policymakers to believe that "big tech" is the root of all evil, while "big telecom" is a healthy market filled with angels and puppies. It's because they want to elbow in on Silicon Valley ad revenues, and create a policy environment where tech companies get saddled with ample regulation, while the telecom sector is free to engage in all manner of dodgy, monopolistic behavior (I'd say that's going pretty well). That bullshit framing is clearly on display in the Journal's piece:

"Tech companies, on the other hand, boast far more market power because of so-called network effects. Customers of different phone and internet carriers can call, text and email one another, but social-media platforms aren’t interoperable. This makes it harder for startups to compete. Facebook and Twitter have to worry less about losing ground to competitors if they censor or unfairly treat users."

While Google and Facebook pose very real monopolistic problems (especially in advertising), users can still choose not to use many of these platforms. That's simply not true of US telecom, a sector dominated by natural monopolies resulting in 83 million Americans having the choice of just one provider, making it physically impossible to vote with your wallet. Companies like AT&T and Comcast are also massive media conglomerates that dictate news coverage, control access to content, and are effectively fused to our intelligence gathering apparatus.

All while having many of the very same advertising ambitions as Google and Facebook. So yes, tech giants create very real problems. But if you're serious about corporate power and monopolization, you advocate for antitrust and court reform, shore up and properly fund regulators, and enforce existing laws consistently across sectors. You don't single out one sector while ignoring all others, unless you're engaged in some bad faith patty cake.

The Journal and GOP's ceaseless attempts to downplay telecom monopolies perfectly mirrors (not at all coincidentally) the bullshit claims by telecom monopolies themselves:

"All of which is to say big tech companies today more closely resemble the old telephone monopolies that Congress sought to regulate as common carriers in 1930s than broadband providers do. They have used their market power to suppress speech and competitors, even while pretending to defend an "open and free Internet."

That's complete nonsense. So is the piece's final proclamation:

"Which leads to an idea: While Republicans now have little clout in Washington, those in Florida or Texas might consider imposing their own neutrality rules on Big Tech."

Again, telecom and media giants like AT&T (and the lawmakers paid to love them) desperately want you to believe that telecom monopolies are great, and tech giants are the only real problem in modern policy conversations. They're pulling many of the strings here. It's why you'll see guys like Josh Hawley performatively prattle on about the vile nature of "big tech," but you'll never see him criticize Comcast or AT&T. That's not some quirky coincidence. It's part of a longstanding coordination between telecom, companies like Oracle, and others using opportunistic DC nitwits to gain tactical advantage against competitors in fields like video advertising.

It's excruciatingly clear the GOP (and by proxy the Journal) couldn't give any less of a genuine shit about corporate power or censorship. The GOP's only real interest here is in bullying Silicon Valley giants into carrying bigoted hate speech and political disinformation, cornerstones of modern GOP power. The telecom industry's only real goal here is saddling competitors with regulatory headaches. And, as the Journal does a lovely job illustrating, this self-serving nonsense is routinely dressed up as some noble, intellectually consistent pursuit. In reality, it's bad faith, self-serving bullshit crafted by people with heads full of pudding.

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Filed Under: allysia finley, big tech, content moderation, net neutrality, section 230


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  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 6:47am

    AT&T&BS

    'Monopolies are bad!' Exclaims company that was broken up once already for being a monopoly and has spent every year since reconstituting itself like the Iron Giant, lobbying tirelessly to prevent competition from growing, even in places they don't actually view was being worth serving and to ensure the regulators are toothless so they'll never be broken up again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 6:49am

    It's excruciatingly clear the GOP (and by proxy the Journal) couldn't give any less of a genuine shit about corporate power or censorship. The GOP's only real interest here is in bullying Silicon Valley giants into carrying bigoted hate speech and political disinformation,

    More than that, I would say: The right wing on the United States wants a monopoly on the discourse similar to AM Talk Radio (witness Rush Limbaugh and all the other AM talkers such as Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Medved, and Michael Savage).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2021 @ 6:54am

    The Obama rules made it harder for telecom carriers that owned content providers to compete with tech giants and finance network expansions.

    How to conflate issues and blame competition in the content market for inhibiting network investment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 6:56am

    The GOP's goal isn't to bully tech companies into carrying hate speech, they don't give a crap about that. They see tech companies as democrat supporting and having a lot of power and influence. What they want is to take that power and influence away from them and give it to GOP supporting companies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 7:47am

      Re:

      "The GOP's goal isn't to bully tech companies into carrying hate speech, they don't give a crap about that....What they want is to take that power and influence away from them and give it to GOP supporting companies."

      You forget. The contemporary power base of the GOP is driven by hate speech. They literally can not recruit unless their rhetoric of fear and hatred has become so normalized the majority has no choice but to listen.

      That being the case, bullying tech companies into being forced to hand them a bullhorn and a soapbox is an end goal in itself for them. THAT is why the alt-right trolls are so eager to demonize anyone suggesting that Facebook and Twitter should be allowed to evict white supremacists and conspiracy theorists - because they know damn well that they can't count on 1 in 3 voters consistently being able to swing the presidency and are shit-scared of losing the strongholds they have left if they can't drown the voters in their message of fear and hatred.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2021 @ 6:58am

    The Journal's attempts to inverse reality on this particular subject is hysterical...

    After the true inversion of reality, the Journal's attempts to invert reality resulted in the inverse of their goal. And how could this happen? Because words hard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 7:19am

    "All of which is to say big tech companies today more closely resemble the old telephone monopolies that Congress sought to regulate as common carriers in 1930s than broadband providers do."

    Except, you know.. for not the minor detail of not having any natural monopolies, corrupt legislation or anything else keeping them "big" other than just doing a better job than the competitors

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 7:35am

    As above, so below...

    "It's excruciatingly clear the GOP (and by proxy the Journal) couldn't give any less of a genuine shit about corporate power or censorship. The GOP's only real interest here is in bullying Silicon Valley giants into carrying bigoted hate speech and political disinformation, cornerstones of modern GOP power."

    As we can oh so clearly see demonstrated in smaller scale in every thread around here where the likes of Koby, a few well known "AC"'s, and our far more obvious Stormfront refugees Shel10 and restless94110 do their damnedest best to spam the thread asunder with straw man rhetoric around how the bar or platform owner being able to tell unpleasant assholes to hit the road will result in democracy ending overnight.

    The GOP will keep riding their twisted "Freeze Peach"-caricature of 1A for as long as they possibly can, until the vast majority of civilized society has finally shown them the door.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 9:20am

    Absolutely terrible... when we're not running them

    'Monopolies are bad, now excuse me while I praise an even worse monopoly and talk about how great it is.'

    They might as well have started that thing with 'This article written and sponsored by Comcast, AT&T and Verizon', because damn was that an obvious hitpiece, with the only thing sadder than how glaringly obvious it was the fact that even then a higher than zero number of people will fall for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    virusdetected (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 10:50am

    It's this kind of WSJ "reporting" that caused me to cancel my subscription.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    radix (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 11:24am

    Dog bites man

    Legacy media company that relies on the power of the monologue for its revenue stream is angry at websites and laws that facilitate dialogue. News at 11.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 3:27pm

    DEAR WSJ

    Guess what.
    Its passed. you no longer have to deal with 230.
    BEWARE: NOW any person and ANY corp can sue you, for any reason. you have NOW killed your protections from the internet.
    Do you know that Dictator, in S. America, that you wrote about. He isnt a Dictator, he is a socialist, and he is NOW willing to Sue you in USA courts.. ANd then his own.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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