White House Considering Breaking Apart Google and Facebook Under Antitrust Laws

White House Considering Breaking Apart Google and Facebook Under Antitrust Laws

The White House is considering a draft executive order for President Trump that would instruct federal antitrust and law enforcement agencies to open probes into the practices of Google, Facebook and other social media companies.

Bloomberg News obtained a draft of the order, which a White House official said was in its early stages and hasn’t been reviewed by other government agencies. Separately, Lindsey Walters, deputy White House press secretary, said in an email that the document isn’t the result of an official White House policy making process.

The document instructs antitrust authorities to “thoroughly investigate” whether any online service has violated antitrust laws. It instructs other government agencies to recommend, within a month after the order is signed, actions that could potentially protect competition and address online bias.

If signed, the order would represent a significant escalation of Trump’s aversion to Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies, which he has publicly accused of silencing conservative voices and news sources online.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company has no comment on the proposed order. The news offices of Google and Twitter didn’t respond Saturday to emails and telephone calls requesting comment.

“Social Media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices,” Trump tweeted in August. “Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won’t let that happen. They are closing down the opinions of many people on the RIGHT, while at the same time doing nothing to others.”

Social media companies have acknowledged in congressional hearings that their efforts to enforce prohibitions against online harassment have sometimes led to erroneous punishment of political figures on both the left and the right, and that once discovered, those mistakes have been corrected. They say there’s no systematic effort to silence conservative voices.

The draft order says that any actions federal agencies take should be “consistent with other laws” — an apparent nod to concerns that it could threaten the traditional independence of law enforcement, or conflict with the First Amendment, which protects political views from government regulation.

“Because of their critical role in American society, it is essential that American citizens are protected from anticompetitive acts by dominant online platforms,” the order says. It adds that consumer harm — a key measure in antitrust investigations — could come “through the exercise of bias.”

The order’s preliminary status is reflected in the text of the draft, which includes a note in red that the first section could be expanded, if necessary, to provide more details on the roles of the online services and the importance of competition.

The possibility of an executive order emerged as Attorney General Jeff Sessions prepares for a Tuesday briefing by state attorneys general who are already investigating the tech firms’ practices.

That meeting, which will include a representative of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, is intended to help Sessions decide whether there’s a federal case to be made against the companies, two people familiar with the matter have said. At least one of the attorneys general participating in the meeting has indicated that he wants to break up the companies.

Growing movements on the right and left argue that companies including Google and Facebook engage in anticompetitive behavior. The companies reject the accusation, arguing that they face strong competition and that many of their products are free. Bias has not typically figured in antitrust examinations.