If Americans listened to Senator Amy Klobuchar [D-Minn.], they would think that breaking into the social media market has become an impossible feat, necessitating government intervention to “mak[e] space for competitors.” Her proposed solution, S. 2992, restricts companies of a certain size from engaging in many commonplace business practices. To embrace such an anti-innovation proposal, Klobuchar must convince Americans that social media is becoming stagnant. However, believing her would require us to turn a blind eye to the recent, rapidly changing dynamics within the social media industry.
Despite only emerging within the United States in 2017, TikTok has become the most downloaded app in 2021 and the most popular app amongst Gen Z. Since then, BeReal, a social media app launched in December 2019, has seen immense growth, reporting an over 2,000% increase in monthly users just last week. And most recently, Elon Musk acquired Twitter. In the process of taking the company private, Musk removed most of the company’s executive leadership — an act symbolizing a philosophical direction shift under his leadership.
Essentially, the idea that there’s zero to minimal competition in the social media marketplace is hogwash. As such, Congress needs to avoid caving into the instinct to “do something” when the free market exists—and is working—to effectively solve problems. It is responding in real time to the needs of Americans.
Issues within the social media industry, such as excessive censorship, are being resolved through this time-tested mechanism. Elon Musk has already reversed many of the burdensome content moderation practices on Twitter users that existed under Parag Aggarwal’s leadership, which particularly concerned conservatives online. While these changes may accompany growing pains, the overall result resolves one of the greatest critiques of social media, without any progressive pet policies needed.
Unpredictable, shocking failures have also defined the social media industry since its origin. The most noteworthy example is the rapid rise and fall of MySpace. The company was the most visited website between 2005 and 2008, even frequently surpassing Google before failing to innovate and keep up with new competitors.
Other players that one might imagine have a distinct advantage in excelling, like Google and Apple, have also experienced trials breaking into the social media marketplace. Google+ and iTunes Ping had short-lived, forgettable runs as social media platforms in the early 2010’s before eventually shutting down. Both ideas failed to gain enough interest amongst users—not because Facebook and Twitter had already satisfied all users’ appetites in the social media space. Following them, Snapchat, TikTok and BeReal have all attained significant durability and market share to suggest that the industry itself did not limit the growth of these companies.
These changes to the social media industry over the last few years alone suggest Klobuchar’s diagnosis of the problem is wildly inaccurate. Whether such changes are occurring within the companies themselves or through the emergence of new players within the industry, social media is constantly fluctuating and innovating.
These constant fluctuations also highlight the flaws inherent in proscribing policies based on a company’s size. This approach could prohibit companies from engaging in certain commonplace business practices one month, only for them to be allowed to pursue them the subsequent month because they had poor quarterly earnings. This ping-pong policy construction will continue to give companies whiplash until inflation rises to the point that the bill’s prohibitions affect most companies in the tech sector—thus limiting the services they can offer consumers.
Klobuchar’s proposed “solution” through S. 2992 of passing radical antitrust legislation to grow the power of the state over private businesses does not solve any problem because the problem she claims to want to solve does not actually exist. Policymakers should not join in propping up her false diagnosis.