Tech giants like Twitter and Facebook banned Donald Trump from their platforms after the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Their removal of a sitting president’s account raised questions about free speech and responsible social media moderation—but it also demonstrated the political power of Big Tech to control the flow of information and advertising.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer, a University of Chicago alum, recently offered some insights into the problem of corporate power concentration—and the challenges that it poses for democracy. A professor at New York University, Romer discussed these topics in a virtual event with Prof. Luigi Zingales of the Booth School of Business.
The Jan. 14 conversation was a part of the Stigler Center’s series of antitrust conferences, which bring together economists, legal scholars, historians and political scientists to explore the interconnections between market power and political power.
The event focused on a central question: Do we need to modify antitrust policy? And if yes, how? Romer mentioned that he had recently conducted an informal poll, asking survey respondents whether Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg could influence a close political election.
“What was striking was that the more people knew about the details of political advertising on Facebook and things like its news feed, the stronger was their assertion that yes, indeed, if he chose to, Zuckerberg could influence a close election and do so without violating any law,” said Romer, SB’77, PhD’83, a former UChicago faculty member.
Market concentration, he added, is “the fundamental problem that we have to grapple with—one that is more important and more fundamental than this issue about whether or not moderation is censorship,” he added. “If you think that moderation [within a firm] is censorship … you’ve got a competition problem.”