As Capitol Hill seeks to rein in Big Tech, a slew of local business owners are slamming the proposed antitrust legislation in letters to the editors of local newspapers across the US — and they appear to be working off talking points that are strikingly similar to each other.
At least a half-dozen pieces bashing bipartisan legislation known as the “American Innovation and Choice Online Act” — which would ban platforms from giving their own products a leg up in search results — have cropped up in small publications in states from Virginia to Arkansas to New York.
Samuel Pacheco, who runs AI Rides, a personal electric vehicle repair service in the Bronx, was laser focused on attacking antitrust legislation in his letters published by different Bronx newspapers — the Riverdale Press and the Bronx Times.
“Passing the American Choice and Innovation Online Act in Congress will work against everything I’ve been working hard to build,” Pacheco wrote in both letters, adding that he receives countless customers from Google.
Reached by The Post, Pacheco conceded he had seen a template for how to write the letter and had also seen an example letter someone else wrote — but noted the language was entirely his own. He said he did not receive money for the piece and chose to write it because he “aligned” with the purpose.
Asked whether he had written other letters to the editor, Pacheco said he “didn’t remember.” When asked who had roped him into writing the articles, he said a “friend” but demurred to share the identify of the friend or whether that person was affiliated with a tech company.
The letters are particularly concentrated in Delaware, where President Biden happens to spend many weekends and is known to pore over local papers. In fact, three letters about the legislation appeared in local Delaware publications on April 12.
The letters follow the same mold: A small business owner adversely impacted by the pandemic frets the impending antitrust legislation will “disrupt” access to “digital tools” that are “critical” for the future of their company.
Jami Jackson, who owns gingham+grace, wrote in a Cape Gazette letter that the legislation will “disrupt access to those digital tools at a perilous time in our economic recovery when public health restrictions may resurface… could disrupt Facebook Live, which is critical to my business.”
Stephanie Preece, who runs exercise class Ignite Fitness Kickboxing, wrote to Bay to Bay News, “Even though these tech services have proven to be of critical importance to small businesses across the country, Congress is attempting to implement the AICOA, which could disrupt access to the digital tools at a time in our economic recovery.”
Yet another item in Cape Gazette by Nicole Bailey Ashton, who runs swimming pool construction company Ashton Pools — argued “it is important to ensure that businesses have continued access to the digital tools critical to their operations…. the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (S. 2992/HR 3816)… will disrupt access to those digital tools at a perilous time in our economic recovery.”
Contacted by The Post on Tuesday, a representative for Ashton said “Not interested. Thanks.” when asked for comment.
Jackson and Preece did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sources in the antitrust space told The Post this is a classic example of companies trying to wage astroturf wars — and Big Tech once again is following a well-worn but often ineffective playbook.
“This is a tactic tech companies use time and time again but these letters have no real impact on the policy debate,” Garrett Ventry, Congressman Ken Buck’s former chief of staff told The Post.
“Big tech companies have no actual base — no one organically supports them. If you’re defending them you are likely taking funding from them,” Ventry adds.
“They’re stepping on their own toes: It’s either clumsy or they’re just hammering home key message points they’ve tested with research firms,” another antitrust insider adds. “It suggests this is not a well-coordinated effort; they’re using a blunt instrument approach to show the level of opposition which they’re just manufacturing.”
Last month, reports surfaced Facebook parent company Meta has retained a lobbying firm to sully TikTok’s reputation for its ties to China.
The group helped place op-eds and letters to the editor in local papers like the Denver Post and Des Moines Register, raising concerns about China “deliberately collecting behavioral data on our kids,” according to the report.
Meta, Amazon and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether they were involved with the letters opposing the American Innovation and Choice Online Act. Apple declined to comment.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook have both personally lobbied against the bill.
The American Innovation and Choice Online Act — the bill in question — appears to be Congress’s most likely shot at achieving antitrust reform. The bill, which has made it through the House and cleared the Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support, would stop platforms from “self-preferencing” their content.
For instance, Amazon would no longer be able to promote its own content over third-party sellers on its site — a measure backers say would help smaller companies compete against Jeff Bezos’ e-commerce giant.
While opponents of the bill in small business say the legislation could potentially reduce their internet traffic; supporters say there is no reason to believe the law would disadvantage small businesses in any way.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has said its “the first major bill on technology competition to advance in the Senate since the dawn of the Internet.” Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is also a co-sponsor.
“People care about issues including censorship and disinformation — there are organic reasons people are upset with big tech,” Ventry said. “But no one organically wants to defend Tim Cook.”