Mark Zuckerberg will hop on perhaps the most scrutinized conference call of his life on Wednesday to testify, via video, before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust. For more than a year, the committee has been investigating potentially monopolistic practices by tech giants, and the Facebook CEO — who will testify alongside Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai — has some explaining to do.
Zuckerberg seems to have settled on an explanation, albeit a stupid one.
According to Bloomberg, the Facebook CEO plans to argue that any efforts to hold the company accountable for potential violations of antitrust law would be misguided, as it would give a market edge to China. “Zuckerberg plans to portray his company as an American success story in a competitive and unpredictable market, now threatened by the rise of Chinese social media apps around the world,” the report reads.
As Bloomberg points out, Zuckerberg has made this argument in the past, warning Congress in 2019 that “China is moving quickly to launch a similar idea in the coming months,” speaking of a cryptocurrency proposed by Facebook, and that “if America doesn’t innovate, our financial leadership is not guaranteed.”
The hearing on Wednesday comes as Facebook faces intense criticism for its role in spreading hate speech and misinformation. After the platform allowed President Trump to post about how the “THUGS” protesting George Floyd’s death needed to be shot, advocacy groups spurred a massive advertising boycott that included corporate behemoths like Coca-Cola and Unilever. As he does, Zuckerberg responded with largely cosmetic changes and vague promises to do better. Meanwhile, an audit found Facebook’s policy practices that allow for hate speech constitute a “setback for civil rights,” and employees complained the company ignored racial-bias research.
Lawmakers on Wednesday could grill Zuckerberg about his platform’s role in spreading hate speech and misinformation, but the hearing will focus on potential antitrust violations. For Facebook, this includes its history of acquiring potential competitors like Instagram and WhatsApp, and bullying other apps such as Vine, which it prohibited from enabling users to connect with their Facebook friends. Bloomberg notes that Zuckerberg will likely try to claim Facebook is largely responsible for the success of Instagram and WhatsApp, and that it wasn’t simply buying up companies that threatened its market dominance.
It’s unclear to what extent Zuckerberg will pound the idea that building Facebook with good old-fashioned American elbow grease should give him the right to hinder others from doing the same with their companies, but it’s not likely to hold much water with the antitrust subcommittee. Though Chinese competitors may be able to operate unfettered, the laws Congress is attempting to uphold were put into place for a reason. A free and fair market built on competition, not monopolistic dominance, is kind of at the heart of the promise of American enterprise, even if those ideals haven’t always been put into practice. The absence of these principles — plus the massive cronyism between the heads of state-run enterprises and government officials — is kind of at the heart of what makes China a state-run economy.