The loudest voice calling for dramatic Big Tech break up in the upcoming 2024 presidential election might not come from President Joe Biden or progressive lefties, but rather, from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The conservative governor and probable presidential candidate revealed his views at a private event caught on video, where he said dominant tech firms like Google and Meta are “ruining our country” and should be broken up. In his view, Big Tech behemoths are worse for society than Standard Oil and other monopolistic industry titans from the Gilded Age, he said.
“I do think companies like Google should be broken up,” DeSantis said during a 2021 invite-only retreat at the ultra-conservative Teneo Network. “They’re just too big and they have too much power.”
DeSantis hasn’t shied away from opportunities to pick on tech companies in the past, but the obscure interview, recently revealed by ProPublica and watchdog group Documented, is the first known instance of him calling for an all-out breakup. That fiery proclamation puts him further in the anti-tech camp than nearly all of his fellow Republicans and quite a few Democrats.
DeSantis, who recently went to battle with the tech industry over a so-called anti-deplatforming law that would prevent platforms from banning conservative users or moderating political candidates’ speech, said Silicon Valley’s tech behemoths are “exercising a more negative influence on our society than the trust that got broken up in the early 20th century. And so, I think you need to be strong about it.”
That sentiment echoes similar remarks made earlier this month by Department of Justice assistant attorney general and top Antitrust cop Jonathan Kanter During a major antitrust conference, Kanter said technology in 2023 represents the “lifeblood” of modern society. Big Tech firms controlling that lifeblood, Kanter argued, look a whole lot like Standard Oil’s iron-fisted hold over the oil industry nearly a century ago. Kanter is currently overseeing several major antitrust lawsuits and investigations into Google, including one that seeks to divest its colossal ad tech businesses.
“Protecting the rights of folks to participate in political speech, I think, is an absolutely appropriate role of government,” DeSantis added.
DeSantis voices his support for tech breakups during a private event for the Teneo Network, a relatively new right-wing organization claiming it seeks to “crush liberal dominance” in Wall Street and Silicon Valley. The network, according to ProPublica, was founded by longtime Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo and has already amassed a glowing list of prominent hard-right Republicans including Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Peter Thiel-blessed Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance. Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro and the heads of the Republican Attorneys General Association also reportedly count themselves as members.
DeSantis’s office did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
Why does Ron DeSantis hate Google?
DeSantis has had a testy relationship with the tech industry for years. Last month, the governor joined dozens of other states in proposing a bill banning TikTok on all government devices. Around the same time, he proposed a so-called called Digital Bill of Rights, which amounts to a sweeping set of constitutionally questionable initiatives that, among other things, would require search engines to disclose if they prioritize results based on politics. DeSantis claims his Digital Bill of Rights would protect Floridians from the “overreach and surveillance we have seen from Big Tech companies.” DeSantis’ deplatforming law, meanwhile, was recently deemed unconstitutional by a federal appeals court. If allowed to pass, experts speaking with Gizmodo said that law could lead to a Pandora’s box of unworkable internet speech laws across the country.
Antitrust experts appeared skeptical about whether DeSantis’ break-up tech statements reveal a hidden affinity for comprehensive labor reforms or whether they are simply another bludgeoning tool to hammer tech companies. Republican lawmakers throughout the House and Senate have made clobbering Big Tech a major focal point for 2023, but the thrust of those attacks appears limited to unfounded perception of conservative censorship rather than structural, economic reforms.
“There’s a war on the right about antitrust,” American Economic Liberties Project Research Director Matt Stoller said. “I’m skeptical but open-minded that DeSantis wants to do something serious about economic power.
DeSantis’ rage towards tech companies isn’t always dished out evenly. The governor regularly lashes out against companies he views as promoting a “woke mind virus,” but actually goes out of his way to support companies taking the opposite stance. Last year, for insurance, DeSantis said he was willing to pressure investment managers in charge of Florida pension funds to sell shares in the company as a way to punish them for initially refusing billionaire Elon Musk’s attempted hostile takeover of the company. DeSantis also came running to Musk’s defense when the newly minted Twitter owner suggested Apple could block the app from its App Store.
In other words, Ron DeSantis is hard on Big Tech, unless Big Tech is easy on the GOP.