US Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren went after big tech during the Democratic debate on Tuesday night but brushed off rival Kamala Harris’s challenge to join her in calling for President Donald Trump’s suspension from Twitter.
Ms Warren, a US senator who is in a virtual tie with former vice president Joe Biden in many opinion polls in the Democratic race, argued for her proposal to split up major tech firms such as Facebook, Google-owner Alphabet, and Amazon over competition concerns, in what was the most wide-ranging discussion of big tech in the Democratic debates to date.
“I’m not willing to give up and let a handful of monopolists dominate our economy and our democracy. It’s time to fight back,” Ms Warren said in the debate in Westerville in Ohio.
But she did not engage with the request by Ms Harris, also a US senator, that she join her in calling for Twitter to suspend Mr Trump’s account.
Ms Harris has argued that Mr Trump uses the platform to intimidate his opponents and threaten violence.
“It is a matter of safety and corporate accountability,” Ms Harris pushed, while Ms Warren refused to engage, instead saying she was focused on beating Mr Trump in the November 2020 election.
“I don’t just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter. I want to push him out of the White House. That’s our job,” Ms Warren responded.
Ms Warren, who said she would not accept campaign contributions of more than $200 from executives at large tech companies or big banks, then pivoted to focus on whether candidates were taking money from big tech.
Social media companies, which are under pressure to police their platforms in the run-up to the 2020 election, have most recently been attacked by Democratic candidates, including Ms Warren and Mr Biden, for allowing politicians to run ads with false or misleading claims on their platforms.
This month, leaked audio from an internal Facebook meeting in July disclosed chief executive Mark Zuckerberg telling staff they would “go to the mat” to defeat Ms Warren’s expected effort to break up the company if she is elected president.
The other Democrats on stage did not explicitly endorse Ms Warren’s plan to split up the major tech firms but voiced concerns about competition.
US Senator Bernie Sanders, another longtime critic of big tech firms and corporate influence, said the US needed a president with “the guts to appoint an attorney general who will take on these huge monopolies”.
Former US Representative Beto O’Rourke said he would be “unafraid to break up big businesses” but that he did not think it was the president’s role to designate which companies should be broken up.
In a moment that swiftly generated memes on Twitter, entrepreneur Andrew Yang took a swing at Microsoft’s search engine Bing.
“Competition doesn’t solve all the problems. It’s not like any of us wants to use the fourth-best navigation app,” Mr Yang said.
“There is a reason why no one is using Bing today. Sorry, Microsoft, it’s true,” he added.
“Bing just got dunked on, feel free to google it tomorrow,” tweeted comedian Aparna Nancherla.
Mr Yang also argued that people should receive a share of the economic value generated from their data.
Trump's tweets incite violence, threaten witnesses, and obstruct justice. We can't crack down on Facebook but turn a blind eye to Twitter. Big tech companies must be held accountable for how they allow him to abuse their platforms. #DemDebate— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) October 16, 2019
“How many of you remember getting your data cheque in the mail?” asked Mr Yang.
“It got lost. It went to Facebook, Amazon, Google,” he said.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee said they had begun receiving data from Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple as part of their probe into the companies’ potential breaches of competition law.
The probe is one of several at the federal, state and congressional level aimed at determining if the companies use their considerable clout in the online market illegally to hurt rivals or otherwise break competition law.
“We have received initial submissions from Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook as part of our investigation.
"While we do not yet have all of the information we requested, we expect that all four companies will provide the information in short order,” the committee’s leaders said in a joint statement.
“We look forward to their continued compliance with the committee’s investigation,” they said in the statement.
The statement was from Representatives Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the Judiciary Committee; Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee; David Cicilline, chair of the antitrust subcommittee and Jim Sensenbrenner, the top Republican on the antitrust subcommittee.
“We will hold additional hearings, discussions, and roundtables as our investigation continues,” the statement said.