Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley is right about big tech, but gets a lot wrong in ‘Big Tech’

·4 min read

First, the good news: Sen. Josh Hawley’s new book, “The Tyranny of Big Tech,” is mercifully short — fewer than 200 pages.

Now, the not-so-good. “Tyranny” is packed with misleading statements, assertions unsupported by evidence and enough straw men to fill hundreds of Missouri acres.

There are moments of unintended humor. On Page 10, for example, Hawley decries “the professional class of educated elites.”

That’s pretty amazing coming from a Rockhurst-Stanford-Yale alum, a guy building a sweet Missouri mansion while living in a $1.3 million house in Washington, D.C. At age 41.

Other parts would make a Bolshevik blush. Hawley wants the government to set time limits for internet use, and ban the “infinite scroll.” He thinks Washington should restrict “manipulative advertising” online, as if there’s any other kind.

The standard hypocrisies aside, however, Hawley’s thin-in-several-ways book is largely a missed opportunity. We do need a serious conversation about the role and influence of big tech companies — Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon — in our lives, and a serious book might have started that discussion.

This isn’t that book.

Yes, the data collection practices of internet-based firms are worrisome. Americans have surrendered basic privacy rights to the big tech companies, in return for the magic of smartphones and products arriving at the doorstep the day after they’re ordered.

Data research and collection practices, and the money they produce, “gave them power,” Hawley writes. “Power unheard of in American life, unseen in American history.”

This is worth our attention. Clearer explanations of tracking and data exchange are much needed in this country.

Had he stopped there, Hawley might have been onto something. But the book spends far too much time linking big tech behaviors with the robber barons and monopolists of the Gilded Age, which he claims were disrupted by his hero, Theodore Roosevelt, and restored by his archenemy, Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat.

There can be no doubt that Big Tech is big, maybe too big. But it isn’t like Standard Oil, or U.S. Steel. Those monopolies controlled commodities. They needed to be broken up.

By contrast, Facebook and Google are free to the user. Alternatives are available. Breaking up these companies is much more legally complicated than Hawley thinks.

Of course, a book filled with discussions of “vertical integration” and “relevant markets” would bore and confuse the Fox News audience Hawley desperately craves. So the junior senator’s book eventually jumps the shark into a muddled, anti-constitutional effort to require government oversight of online speech.

Do tech companies generally block conservatives? No. Conservative voices dominate Facebook. Donald Trump rose to power through Twitter. You can still find the most vile, racist, anti-American speech through Google.

Has Hawley been canceled? He promotes this book on Twitter. He sells it on Amazon.

Founding Fathers were the original elitists

Even if this falsehood were true, though, the government can play no role in forcing companies — or anyone — to say what they do not want to say. That very idea destroys the First Amendment, and the right of every American to speak and think freely.

No one can force a company to publish a book. The government can’t require this newspaper to print news or opinions with which it disagrees. (It can limit violent speech, or libel, which aren’t protected by the First Amendment.)

Private digital companies must be allowed to review what they post online.

Hawley’s answer for this fake issue is to break up the tech companies, and remove their liability protections if they fail to meet some vague fairness standard. He’d even allow Americans to sue for “acts of censorship,” which makes no sense at all.

Sen. Hawley’s book repeatedly insists the Founding Fathers’ goal was to protect the “common man” in public life. Our duty, he says, is to share their approach.

But the founders were largely elitists. They were all white men of wealth and status. Women could not vote. Many owned slaves. They crafted a government explicitly designed to exclude the “common man” from any role in choosing the Senate, or the president.

They feared democracy, which Republicans never tire of reminding us. And this is what Hawley actually has in mind.

Hawley defended elitism, with a raised fist, on Jan. 6. He was determined to throw out 7 million votes from the “common man” in Pennsylvania because they made a choice he didn’t like. It’s hard to imagine a more elitist approach than that.

Smug elitism oozes from every page of Hawley’s book. Freedom is fine if you look like him and think like him; if not, the government should shut you down.

There’s a word for that. Tyranny.

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