The companies testifying before Congress are widely accused of violating antitrust law. But what is antitrust, exactly, and what makes for a violation?
Put simply, antitrust law is about ensuring a level playing field for competition. Think of it as a type of guardrail designed to keep markets fair. When it works correctly, antitrust law is supposed to prevent companies from abusing their dominance in the marketplace in order to gain an unfair competitive advantage.
This doesn’t mean that monopolies are inherently illegal, at least under US law. And a company doesn’t violate antitrust law simply for being big. But it can violate the law if it does things that harm competition. To determine if that’s happened, regulators like the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission gather economic evidence. Normally, that evidence comes in the form of data showing that prices have risen, or that rival businesses have been hurt, or that innovation has been stifled. Those investigations can lead to lawsuits, fines and, in the most extreme cases, corporate breakups.
But there are limits to antitrust law. It isn’t designed to address how platforms handle political speech or misinformation, for instance, or election security issues. While those topics may come up today, be careful not to conflate the two.