Performance Outrage and Antitrust

The Biden Ukraine story is in the news again, thanks to a laptop, a New York post story, some emails, and an attempted cover-up by Facebook and Twitter. Like most stories driven by outrage, partisanship, and hype, no one actually knows what happened, and second, no one really cares that much about the seriousness or lack thereof of what Hunter did, but are outraged anyway.. People are outraged about something that does not affect them in any way and that they cannot articulate the details that well. I would say most people if you asked them have little idea about the details of what Hunter did, except that Facebook and Twitter tired to bury the story, and this is bad, but few of these people can aciculate what Hunter did, or what laws may have been broken, or why this sets a potential precedent for corruption. It is as if we are all being instructed to be angry about something which we do not understand that well and does not affect us.

Similar to the Lewinsky scandal, few, if any, conservatives were actually genuinely offended by what Clinton had done, but had to express the outward appearance of being offended at this dereliction of public duty by Clinton, even though no one was losing sleep over it. Same for the Biden story. This anger is just performance, as a form of social signaling to one’s ideological ‘tribe’ that Biden, who represents, the outgroup, is bad. Theatrical/performance outrage can explain why the state of political discourse has become so bad in America. [Performance and performative are often confused. Performance, as in a verb, is not the same as performative, the latter which is a specific linguistic and philosophical term that refers to written language which is intended to engender social action. It is not about putting on a dramatic performance, acting-out, or insincere displays of emotion or outrage.]

I asked someone who is a vocal Trump supporter what Hunter had done, to test my theory. She could not articulate what Hunter had done. In fairness, I didn’t know the details that well myself and had to Google it, as I was busy with a bunch of other stuff and was not following the story closely. Of course she was not losing sleep over it, and neither is anyone else over this. This is a low-stakes issue anyway. The thing about scandals, even contrived ones, is that the outrage is always bigger than the actual wrongdoings of the accused. In invoking the Streisand effect, it shows how Facebook and Twitter made what would have probably blown-over, a huge story in their failed and overtly politically-motivated attempt at covering it up. That is the big story, not what Hunter and his dad did, because it shows that these tech giants are not impartial (as if that was not already obvious), but have an agenda.

Such censorship has lead to renewed talk and speculation about antitrust lawsuits against Google and other tech giants, but the likelihood of any sort of repeat of the United States v. Microsoft Corp fiasco , are nil. It’s all just talk–nothing will happen, as I correctly predicted in 2019 when talk of antitrust was being floated against Google, and nothing came of it. I recommended buying Google stock after it fell on the news, which has made significant returns, as it was just talk. There are two major reasons nothing will come of this: the actual case against Google and other tech companies is not strong enough; and second, it is huge time-suck and money-suck that will likely fail, similar to how the United States v. Microsoft not only cost considerable of time, manpower, and money for the US government, but Microsoft in the end prevailed, so it was all for naught as far the the DOJ was concerned. People mocked and criticized Gates for his rocking in his chair and evasive answers during his deposition, but got the last laugh.

Also, a company being big and dominant, in and of itself, is not grounds for an antitrust investigation or lawsuit: very specific criteria have to be met for a company to be considered engaging in anticompetitive behavior, and the extreme complexity and long duration of the Microsoft case shows how even the US government, with its unlimited resources, faces significant challenges in demonstrating such behavior. No one wants to get stuck in a legal quagmire that will likely fail. This is not the 30s anymore. No one has the will or impetus to pursue this stuff beyond talk and speculation. The reasoning goes, Google and Apple are huge, but so what. They provide services millions or even billions of people rely on. They are so big because their services are so useful (and also due to winner-take-all networking effects, moats, and high barriers to entry), not because of any maleficence on their part.