The Federal Trade Commission’s work has sparked intense drama during a Congressional hearing held on Thursday. At the center of the debate was the agency’s treatment of social media giant Twitter, which drew sharp criticism from House Judiciary Committee Republicans. They raised concerns about whether the FTC’s antitrust policy was being driven by progressive politics. Meanwhile, Committee Democrats hailed FTC Chair Lina Khan for her efforts in safeguarding consumers and small businesses against corporate giants.
Republican Judiciary chair Jim Jordan, representing Ohio, strongly criticized the FTC’s approach to antitrust, labeling it a disaster. Jordan specifically targeted what he referred to as the agency’s “targeted harassment” of Twitter since its acquisition by Elon Musk. He questioned Chair Khan, asking if this alleged harassment was a result of pressure from Democrats.
Throughout Chair Khan’s response, Jordan continuously interrupted, accusing the FTC of bullying journalists and invading Twitter’s privacy practices. He cited claims made by Twitter in a court filing on Wednesday evening, where the platform requested to be released from a 2022 FTC settlement. Joining other Republican committee members, Jordan expressed concerns that the FTC was pushing Twitter to censor conservative speech by classifying it as disinformation.
In defense, Chair Khan stressed that the FTC’s primary goal was to protect consumers from false advertising, particularly products falsely labeled as “Made in America” when they are actually manufactured in China. Additionally, Khan pointed out that Twitter’s mishandling of privacy and security issues predated Musk’s ownership.
The debate between Republicans and Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee underscored the ongoing struggle and differing perspectives concerning the role of the FTC in regulating social media platforms like Twitter.
Judiciary Committee Democrats Applaud Khan for Taking on Giant Corporations
The Judiciary Committee Democrats commended Khan for her efforts in challenging giant corporations that engage in antitrust practices within the hospital industry and technology sector. One recent example was the unsuccessful attempt to prevent Microsoft (MSFT) from acquiring Activision Blizzard (ATVI), as ruled by a federal court.
Khan’s Courage against Corporate Influence
Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.) expressed admiration for Khan’s courage in standing up against big corporations that exploit their lobbying power to impose higher costs, fewer transparency, and additional fees on Americans. Jayapal also mentioned that Khan’s success and integrity had made her a target of baseless attacks on her character.
A Battle of Small Businesses
Both Republicans and Democrats used the hearing as an opportunity to claim that they champion small businesses, either by attacking or defending Khan and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Acknowledgment of FTC’s Efforts to Protect Privacy
While most Republicans focused on criticizing Khan, Matt Gaetz (R., Fla.) commended the FTC for taking action to safeguard privacy. Gaetz specifically cited consumer complaints concerning the Ring webcam unit of Amazon.com (AMZN), in which employees were accused of engaging in voyeurism.
A Heated Grilling Session
The House hearing largely consisted of intense questioning directed towards Khan. Cliff Bentz (R., Ore.) and other Republicans challenged the FTC Chair on antitrust policy, suggesting that the agency prioritizes the welfare of ethnic and gender groups over the welfare of consumers in merger reviews. Khan refuted these allegations.
The Push to Reign in the FTC
Committee Republicans appeared determined to rein in the FTC, viewing it as a stronghold for the Biden administration’s activist agenda. Ben Cline (R., Va.) pointed out Khan’s request for a 37% budget increase from Congress, while the House Appropriations Committee aims to reduce FTC funding by 25%. Cline suggested that Khan should recognize the consequences of her actions.