Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry would like to see Google, Facebook and other major social media behemoths broken up like the federal government did to Standard Oil more than a century ago.
Landry says the internet giants are suppressing conservative agendas, stifling competition, and infringing on antitrust laws.
“This can’t be fixed legislatively,” Landry told The Advocate Tuesday. “We need to go to court with an antitrust suit.”
Landry – or Chief Deputy Attorney General Bill Stiles – will go to Washington, D.C. next week to push that solution to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Sessions, who is considering an investigation against the social media companies, set a Sept. 25 meeting with about a half dozen Republican state attorney generals.
As president of the National Association of Attorneys General, Landry and other state attorney generals have been looking for months into what they call the anti-competitive practices of Google, Facebook and Twitter. Landry said they acted after hearing many complaints that the companies, accidentally or not, routinely freeze out conservative viewpoints.
Sessions called the meeting after President Donald Trump suggested a “very antitrust situation” when he in August accused the Google search engine of promoting articles with a left-wing bias. “They are closing down the opinions of many people on the RIGHT, while at the same time doing nothing to others,” Trump tweeted.
The companies counter that they don’t censor. They do monitor and have adjusted their formulas to eliminate hate speech.
Landry has the support of U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville.
“I agree that the Department of Justice should look at this issue. I’m a free market, private sector guy, but Facebook and Google aren’t companies. They’re countries,” Kennedy said Tuesday. He famously told Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg during a congressional hearing, “your user agreement sucks.”
Both Kennedy and Landry are frequently named as possible Republicans to the reelection of Gov. John Bel Edwards, the only Democratic governor elected in a red Deep South state.
Landry said winning an antitrust lawsuit requires navigating complicated laws and proving a complex set of facts.
“The U.S. Department of Justice weighing in absolutely gives us an edge … their participation accelerates the timeline,” Landry said. The federal lawyers have the funding, experience and expertise that states can't match when handling such complex litigation.
“I thought it would be years to get this going,” Landry said. “This moves up the timeline.”
He is against the idea, at first blush, of letting the companies settle for some huge sum and promises to behave better in the future – a frequent outcome of anti-trust lawsuits, Landry said.
“I’m not prepared to say what the exact remedy would look like,” Landry said. But his gut feel is “that breaking up the monopoly is a good idea.”
In the late 1800s, Standard Oil took control of about 90 percent of the nation’s refineries as well as most of the processing and transportation. The U.S. Supreme Court in May 1911 found Standard Oil had violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and ordered corporation to dissolve.
Standard Oil was broken into several oil companies including ExxonMobil, Chevron and Amoco, which is now part of BP.
The Sherman Anti-Trust Act outlawed monopolistic business practices. The law, and its progeny, have been used sparingly over the years, But it was basis for breaking up AT&T into seven companies.
Landry, who calls himself a techy, said he started thinking about how pervasive these internet giants are when he noticed his home computer kept displaying ads about women’s clothing, because his wife was looking for a new outfit.
“If you’re looking for the cheapest dress, how do you know, because Google is putting up whoever pays them,” Landry said.
“They are monetizing the data on you and they’re selling it. What are you getting for it? Nothing,” he said. “The consumer has a right to know what information they (the internet companies) are collecting. And the consumer has the right to demand payment. Or to tell them no.”