President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the US government "should be suing Google and Facebook and all that," then wagered that "perhaps we will," in a new broadside against Silicon Valley at a moment when it already faces heightened antitrust scrutiny in Washington.
Trump did not detail the exact basis for such lawsuits, but he raised the idea while at the same time criticizing European regulators for their investigations into US tech companies. But his comments during an interview on Fox Business came weeks after federal competition regulators at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission divvied up scrutiny of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, a move that could suggest the government is in the early stages of an investigation into those tech giants.
In doing so, Trump later swiped at Google, claiming the search and advertising giant is "trying to rig the election." He then claimed that Twitter has made it "very hard" for users to find and follow him. Trump did not provide new evidence for his latest allegation that the companies exhibit bias against conservatives, which Google and Twitter long have vehemently denied.
"You may need legislation in order to create competition," Trump said in response to a question about how his administration might proceed.
Facebook and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment nor did the White House. Twitter declined to comment.
Trump's attacks Wednesday only add to Silicon Valley's mounting political headaches in Washington, where even bitterly divided Democrats and Republicans have sounded similar alarms about the growing size and power of big tech companies.
Antitrust efforts at the DOJ and FTC are supposed to be independent of political influence from the White House. Even Trump's reference to lawsuits could provoke the ire of congressional Democrats, who repeatedly have criticized the president out of concern he's interfered in past competition-related matters such as AT&T's purchase of Time Warner Cable, a deal that included CNN.
Meanwhile, Trump repeatedly has attacked Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites for exhibiting bias against conservatives. In May, the White House took the unprecedented step of releasing a public survey in an attempt to collect personal information and stories about people who say they have been unfairly censored online for their political views, a move that drew sharp criticism from open government and free speech advocates.
This time, Trump's comments came in response to a video posted online by Project Veritas, an organization founded by James O'Keefe that targets reporters and people it deems to be left-leaning. The video purported to show Google employees discussing politics in a way that suggested they specifically targeted conservatives. But the clip had been recorded in secret, without the Google executive's permission or knowledge, and she later said that Project Veritas had edited the video in a duplicitous way.
Earlier this year, Trump had pressed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey about allegations of bias at a private White House meeting. Twitter long has maintained that Trump, who has more than 61 million followers, experiences fluctuations in his follower count because of the company's effort to find and remove spam accounts.
© The Washington Post 2019