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Sen. Mike Lee gripes that tech giants ‘want to control what information we are allowed to access’

Vows to target companies that he says are biased against conservatives.

(Jacquelyn Martin | AP file photo) Then-Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights Chair Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during a hearing to examine whether Google harmed competition in online advertising on Sept. 15, 2020.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee vowed Tuesday to continue to battle tech and social media giants that he says unfairly target conservatives — coming after Twitter recently permanently banned former President Donald Trump.

“We now see forming before our very eyes a world in which the massive tech companies that facilitate so much of our daily lives are no longer content simply to profit off of us,” he said. “They want also to control what information we are allowed to access.”

That was part of a statement he issued Tuesday as he became the ranking Republican of the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Committee, a step down from his past role as chairman when Republicans controlled the Senate. His party lost control after the last election.

However, Lee said that with a current 50-50 split in the Senate — with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking any tie votes — “any effort to reform or update our antitrust laws will need to be a bipartisan effort with buy-in from both sides.”

So, he said he foresees himself still “playing a leading role” as “antitrust law and policy continues to grab headlines” and “there appears to be a broad consensus that the status quo isn’t working.”

And with that power, he says he will continue to target big tech.

He asserted that “the actions of Big Tech continue to divide the nation, undermine fundamental liberties, and distort the market. The Silicon Valley fairy tale of innovation and technological progress sold to Americans has turned into a corporatist nightmare of censorship and hypocrisy.”

Lee for months has gone after Twitter, Google and Facebook as biased against conservatives. Last year, he dangled the possibility of breaking up what he says are monopolies by the companies for what he says is their “heavy-handed censorship” of conservatives including Trump — whom Twitter now has banned “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”

For example, last year Lee ordered the companies to answer a series of questions about how and why they moderate or cut comments online — after he had attacked what he says is their warping of public debate by unfairly silencing many conservatives. The companies insisted in their responses that they are not biased, but Lee didn’t buy it.

“The responses received from the tech companies about bias against conservatives at their firms were completely unpersuasive,” Lee said at the time. “I continue to be concerned about the ideological discrimination going on at these firms and I believe further oversight will be necessary in order to obtain the facts and answers that the American people deserve.”

A recent report by New York University researchers found no merit to allegations of corporate bias against conservative speech, calling such claims “a form of disinformation” not backed by evidence.

Similarly, a study of millions of online posts last October by Politico found that conservatives rule in the social media realm, dominating discussions of Black Lives Matter and voter fraud — two of the hottest election debates.

Still, Lee said on Tuesday he remains worried about what he calls “the soft totalitarianism of a corporate state.”

He said, “It is not the government’s monopoly on force that today’s left uses to punish wrong think, but the economic monopolies of multinational corporations.”

Lee asserted that “antitrust enforcers were asleep at the wheel while Silicon Valley transformed from a center of innovation into a center of acquisition. Instead of competing to be the next Google, Apple, Facebook or Amazon, today’s tech startups are pushed by their private-equity backers to sell out to Google, Apple, Facebook or Amazon.”

He called for Congress to use its investigative and oversight functions to examine that and look at the health of competition throughout the economy.

Lee also said he will reintroduce legislation to consolidate antitrust enforcement in the Justice Department, and remove portions now shared with the Federal Trade Commission.

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