CTA's Gary Shapiro: Big Tech, Speech Are Under Attack

Gary Shapiro
CTA president and CEO Gary Shapiro (Image credit: CTA)

In an Apple Watch-era version of a stem-winder, Consumer Technology Association president and CEO Gary Shapiro fired back at Big Tech critics Tuesday (June 22), including backers of a bipartisan antitrust legislative package being marked up in the House this week.

In a virtual speech to the Media Institute, Shapiro said the bills were being rushed through without a hearing or testimony because it was politically expedient and that they targeted the same tech companies that rescued the country during the pandemic.

He said accommodating free speech, free markets and tech innovation is one of the most pressing issues facing our nation but suggested all those are at risk, and at an inflection point, due to attacks on tech companies from the left and right.

Also Read: Big Tech Asks Hill to Delay Antitrust Bill Markup

Shapiro said the nation appears less interested in protecting free speech than at any other time, citing "cancel culture" among the threats to the "fundamental shared desire to freely express divergent views."

He cited the defense of a Nazi group’s right to parade in Skokie, Illinois, in 1977 as an example of the kind of protection distasteful speech that appears to be at risk.

Shapiro said social media companies are being pressured by government to take actions that can't be squared with the First Amendment. He cited former President Donald Trump's social media ban, saying that is not in the best interests of the country.

He said barring the President from social media chilled speech and disenfranchised millions of his followers. And while not a Trump fan, he said, neither was he a fan of harmful and divisive" bans under pressure from politicians.  

Shapiro said he was concerned about all the bills in the House antitrust passage — which he said had been rushed through the process without hearings or testimony — but singled out one making it harder for tech platforms to buy other companies. He said that will dry up venture capital and hurt entrepreneurs since one of the ways they get that capital is the potential of a buyout.

The Platform Competition and Opportunity Act of 2021 would prohibit the purchase by a Big Tech platform of any other business unless it could prove that it is not purchasing a direct competitor.

Shapiro said both parties are pushing proposals in conflict with the letter and spirit of the First Amendment. Those include the congressional efforts, via antitrust changes. He also cited a new Florida law that tells platforms what content they can allow.

Also Read: CTA Backs Opposition to Florida’s Big Tech Law

The law limits a website’s immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Act from civil liability over its moderation of third-party content, a point its language makes clear, saying: “social media platforms have unfairly censored, shadow banned, deplatformed and applied post-prioritization algorithms to Floridians.”

He said he supported clear and reasonable guard rails — on things like defamation, slander and infringement, given that businesses prefer regulatory certainty — and it is certain there will be some kind of regulatory pushback on Big Tech, given its bipartisan backing. But Shapiro warned against imposing new liabilities, mainly removing the Section 230 legal liability shield from website moderation of third-party content. He said that would only play into the hands of lawsuit-happy attorneys.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.