John Oliver’s Big Whiff: Just Because You Agree There’s A Problem, Doesn’t Mean That This Is The Right Solution
from the not-all-laws-are-good-laws dept
Here on Techdirt, we’ve written about a bunch of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight shows that are quite frequently directly in agreement with what we write about on Techdirt. We’re often impressed at the level of detail and nuance he’s able to approach complex issues with, while (of course) keeping things quite funny. I know that he has a large, very smart team, that often digs in deep with experts in order to get a complete picture. That’s why his reports on SLAPP suits, voting machines, grandstanding state AGs, police accountability, encryption and much much more have been featured here as worth watching on important topics we’ve covered for decades.
However, I’m quite disappointed in his most recent show about antitrust reform and tech monopolies. I do think it’s worth watching, but it’s missing some important context that I would have normally expected from him and his team.
I think that the video does do a good job addressing some of the actual problems of giant tech companies and their power. Though, I do wonder about using a quote from Jonathan Taplin as support for anything, considering he’s an extremist copyright maximalist, whose screeds against Google and the internet are so full of wrongness that they’ve inspired a whole genre of NY Times corrections.
But, the problem with Oliver’s segment is that while it spends most of the episode laying out legitimate concerns about tech power concentration, it then simply accepts that the two popular bills making their way through Congress will actually help and won’t cause problems. Oliver embraces and supports the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA) and the Open App Markets bill. However, as we’ve explained, while both bills have some good parts, the only reason Republicans are supporting them is that they know that the bills will be massively abused to litigate content moderation decisions.
Oliver doesn’t mention this or explore the issues. He only mentions Republican support in noting that both Bernie Sanders and Josh Hawley support the bills, suggesting that the only reason the bills have bipartisan support is because they’re “too narrow.” But that ignores that the actual reason they have Republican support is because Republicans see this as a tool to punish and intimidate “big tech” into leaving their lies and propaganda online. Ted Cruz has repeatedly noted he supports these bills because they will “unleash the trial lawyers” on these companies.
And, just after Oliver’s segment aired, Hawley again bragged about using them to attack “woke” corporations:
And, at the very least, I’d expect Oliver and his team, with their willingness to explore nuances, to at least maybe explore why support for these bills are coming from copyright maximalist extremists and populist propagandist politicians.
But… he doesn’t.
Instead, he implies falsely that the only criticism of these bills is coming from big tech “shills.” And while it is true that some of the pushback on these bills is coming from disingenuous sources, using disingenuous arguments, some of the concerns are legit. And to wipe them away and assume that just because he’s accurately laid out the problem, that these bills are automatically a solution is the type of facile, but wrong, exploration of complex solutions I’m used to it from much of the rest of the media, but had come to expect better of from Oliver.
I mean, just as one example, four years ago, Oliver himself did a wonderful piece about how state Attorneys General abuse their positions for political means, often doing the will of certain industries, to attack other industries. And, I should note clearly here that these bills enable state AGs to go after the tech companies. So, if Oliver and his team are well aware of that, why are they downplaying the possibility that these bills might be abused and dangerous, political ways?
As we’ve discussed at length over the last few months, there are fairly easy ways that these bills could be amended to limit the possibility of abuse. But the Democrats sponsoring the bills have refused to do so, because they know they’d lose that critical “bipartisan support.” But, really, that should be the story here. The only reason these bills have bipartisan support is because Republicans know they’ll be abused, and WANT them to be abused. The only amendments we’ve seen have simply been to carve out certain industries after lobbyists complained.
Again, that seems like the kind of story I’d expect to see from Oliver, rather than full throated support for these bills.