In the midst of all chaos of everything going on, the ANTIFA, the FDA, the CHAZ, the COVID, or the (insert acronym here), it’s become very apparent that people are watching the news rather than the courtroom. I’m not talking TruTV or Judge Judy; I’m talking the big one, the one everyone knows as a branch of the government but honestly doesn’t really give the time of day, The Supreme Court.
For all that have been paying attention to the fear-mongering and politics that every election year usually brings. It doesn’t seem much different than any other one. Candidates muck-raking each other, people banding together to rebel (peacefully or otherwise) against the opposing parties or anyone in general, but this year is different. The rabble-rabble of everything going on has caused people to turn a blind eye to one of the most significant court cases to involve private and public sectors since electricity was ruled a municipality.
If you already know, then you know, and I applaud you for paying attention. I’m talking about the judiciary cage-match that is the 2020 Anti-Trust Hearing. We’re talking Mark ‘The Face’ Zuckerburg, Sundar ‘The Pitch’ Pichai, Amazon Jeff, and Tim ‘Do You Hear What The Tim Is Cooking’ Cook vs. The Supreme Court. Is this the ‘Tables and Ladders’ match of 2020? Because broadcasting wrestling gets as much attention of packing a full stadium? Millennials watch CSPAN, right? Nothing really matters, but listening to people wrestle with their own words is way more entertaining. So let’s begin with the witnesses.
As a disclaimer, I am writing this from a middle-ground perspective. I’m not trying to take sides, only present the information as told by the hearing transcript and my interpretation of it. Like an unnecessary WWF referee.
Amazon Jeff, The Trillion Dollar Man
“Reigning from the Amazonian forest of Albuquerque, New Mexico, we have the one man who has almost cornered the Western online marketplace! The guy that doesn’t have to try, AMAZONNNNN JEFF!”Michael Buffer (In my head)
Jeff Bezos turned an online book marketplace into the reason why you and I do most of our online shopping. I’ll start with that before the criticism ensues. So burn me at the stake or put me on blast, but the guy started just like I would imagine any entrepreneur would start: ground-up, college-educated (although not necessary), maybe a garage, and a bankrupt idea (which ended putting Borders and Barnes & Noble out of business). Now we’re talking about a ma-bill-a-trillion idea. Something that shifts the paradigm of brick & mortar stores in to a completely online marketplace, and the ‘If I see it, It’ll be at home when I get there’ mentality where you can just buy whatever from wherever whenever.
What He’s In For:
Amazon accounts for almost 39% of all retail eCommerce sales in the entire world and may surpass Walmart as the worlds largest retailer by 2020, according to BigCommerce. Why’s that you may ask, my fellow marketer/WWF enthusiast?
Accusations have been brought against Amazon for buying out private labels and remarketing them as Amazon products to snuff potential competition and to gain market share. Rather than becoming a channel for highly sought-after businesses to sell their products through Amazons marketplace platform, the company are buying them outright and merging them as a subsidiary under contract law to make them exclusively sold on Amazon. In laymen terms, the lemon orchard bought your lemonade stand and now you can only sell lemonade for them. The same can be said for cloud-computing with tech companies and video streaming with broadcasting, where the contracts can be repeating or indefinite. So when you turn your back on them, they give you the chair, the legally-binding contract chair.
Mark ‘The Face’ Zuckerburg
“He has access to most of the pictures of your dog, significant other, and food like an open book! He knew what you did last summer, and most likely anything after the mid-2000’s! The Man! The Data! THE FACE.”Also Michael Buffer (in my head)
I would be confused if you found this post on social media or really anywhere on the internet, and not know who Mark Zuckerburg is. He came up with Facebook to get back at his ex-girlfriend and made the most successful social media platform known to date, according to ‘The Social Network’. But simplicity aside, Facebook has 1.7 billion active users daily and has become multi-faceted in the means of communication, advertising, eCommerce, and data-collection (notice the trend here). Apparently getting back at your ex-girlfriend almost always ends up in a multi-million dollar company? I guess it was a ‘all is fair in love and war’ scenario.
What legal book is being thrown at him:
So you are being accused of having a potential monopoly on social media, using your influence and wealth to hammer away at any other companies potential. So what is a big way to get caught? If you answered ‘talk about buying out competition over internal e-mails’, you would be pretty on point. Mark was doing exactly that with the acquisition of Instagram, knowing that they were a competitor from the get-go. Another book being thrown at Zuckerburg was censorship. Specifically towards voices of very specific viewpoints.
He stated that ‘Instagram could meaningfully hurt our business without becoming a huge company’. He’s was referring to Instagram as a site with a high concentration of users sharing photos while Facebook’s main focus was on social networking. Facebook was making the revenue, but wanted to make more. Instagram had a niche consumer-base and a focus on photo-sharing. It would make sense that the two would combine their efforts to make an optimal social media channel? If it would have been left at that, I wouldn’t be talking about this. What did catch Rep. David Cicilline’s eye was an email between Mark and Facebook’s CFO, David Wehner. The email read “What we are doing is buying time. Even if a competitor springs up, those products won’t get much traction since we already have their mechanics deployed at scale” So by adding barriers of entry through technological superiority, a business would be destined to fail. Doesn’t sound like a merger/acquisition violation of any FTC anti-trust laws at all?
Buying out a new competitor to neutralize a potential threat, no matter how big or small, with intention of ‘substantially lessening competition’ is a violation of The Clayton Antitrust Act. The Act addresses potential competitive mergers that would add a heightened barrier of entry, such as discriminatory pricing or technology.
In Mark’s words, “In hindsight, it probably looks obvious that Instagram would reach the scale that it has today. At the time it was far from obvious, a lot of competitors competed in mobile sharing. I’m including companies like Path, which were hot at the time. Dave Morin and I worked closely with them. I mean, I don’t even think Path exist today.”
So wait, Path, a social media network that was created in 2010 by Mark’s former product manager, who you just mentioned in the same statement? Let’s back up. In February 2012, Path had accessed and stored user contacts without user permission, which they were appropriately criticized for. But a year later, FTC fines them $800K for storing data of underage users, resulting in a policy assessment every two years for the next twenty years (2013-2033). With the combination of the scathing news, the resulting lack of capital from dropping investors, and recurring invasion of privacy that put them on 60 Minutes, Path finally shut their domain in 2018. But for the company to shut down less than two years before this hearing was held, this hits pretty close to home.
Facebook also had it’s judicial stint dealing with freedom of speech, which took up a good chunk all questions Zuckerburg was asked. The outstanding ones were possible political involvement and censorship. These were pretty bad allegations from borderline treasonous bad to plain hypocritical bad, so lets break them down from fundamental arguments.
The Cambridge Analytica Argument
Facebook was asked about it’s involvement, intentional or otherwise, to undermine the 2016 Presidential Election. The allegation was based on Cambridge Analytica’s data that was harvested from Facebook users with out consent and subsequently leaked (read: sold) to political campaigns between 2014-2018. This is a pretty open-close case against Facebook, but what really brings a bad light to it was the fake accounts being used by the research firm. The Cambridge Analytica team used three personality traits (Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy) to form a baseline profile of a small percentage of people that would be most threatened by political motives. From there, they used numerous fake Facebook accounts and pages to create increasingly manipulative messages towards this psychographic profile to activate them under different viewpoints and values. But it was massively successful, as shown from the 2016’s Presidential Election being an extremely polarizing point towards pressing issues like race, religion, and rights.
The biggest takeaway from this is just that. Driving a political machine as social media channel is one thing, but misdirecting extremist values towards individuals that are more likely to commit hateful acts is a completely different thing. The argument still stands in 2020, but now there’s more to the script. We have two polarized groups that are fueled through social media, determined that the other one is wrong. I don’t really need to go on about anymore, since it’s broadcast daily, but just remember how it started.
The Tide Pod Argument
Facebook was being accused of ‘filtering out certain speech’, focused on certain arguments on the efficacy of hydrochloroquine, a proposed vaccine for COVID-19. The main argument was that a patient and doctor have the ultimate decision when choosing the correct medication, and Facebook shouldn’t be the gatekeeper of information in this regard. Zuckerburg’s retort was that Facebook has ‘policies that prohibit content that would lead to imminent risk of harm or cause adverse effects, but do not prohibit discussion around trials of experiment drugs’.
When I heard this, all I could really think about was the Tide Pod Challenge. The one getting kids to eat single-use laundry detergent pods for likes and ending up in the hospital? Yeah, that one. Which is weird, because I never went out of my way to search for the challenge, but yet I kept seeing it in my ‘related videos’ on Facebook. So basically to contradict Zuckerburg’s own words, The Tide Pod Challenge was content that Facebook allowed that would obviously lead to imminent risk of harm and adverse effects, but hydrochloroquine was prohibited because of the same policy.
Obviously, this theory does have it’s discrepancies. Tide Pods obviously are not for consumption, anyone that remotely thinks it’s a good idea to eat them should seek help, and there are a lot of professional opinions on the COVID drug. But honestly, I’m at a standstill on this one because it goes into one of the most stupidly-genius legal contract ever created by man:
The Opt-In Contract (Coming Soon)
Round Two: Sundar ‘The Pitch’ Pichai and Tim ‘Do You Smell What The Tim Is Cooking’ Cook Here