Government compulsion: Big Tech’s latest red herring

As both President Biden in his State of the Union and Gov. Sarah Huckabee-Sanders (R-Ark.) noted in their response, Big Tech’s control of our information and digital markets is undeniable.

The Twitter files, discoveries from various state cases, and now the Facebook files all show what we have long assumed – that companies have all the discretion but no accountability. This is especially true when platforms prefer certain political content to others. Both parties seem ready to tackle the issue. Even Biden and former Attorney General Bill Barr have called for significant reforms.

But big tech has a game for it – use government coercion (ie jawbones) as a convenient red herring to distract Congress from pursuing any meaningful proposals that could target their monopolies. In fact, a leaked email from a well-known big tech lobbyist said so.

That doesn’t mean government jawboning doesn’t exist. Reason’s Robby Soave reports that the government has been putting “pressure” on Meta’s Facebook platform to curate information about COVID-19. Apple too has succumbed to political pressure to remove content, albeit not from our government. Apple argued that the Chinese government forced it to downgrade its encryption measures in China and forced the company to act as the Chinese Communist Party’s censorship arm.

But again, confining the problem to government pressure is not enough. It makes more sense that big tech companies welcomed positions and contributions from the political party with which they most ideologically identified.

It’s no secret that the biggest tech companies tend to favor Democrats over Republicans. As CNBC reported, Alphabet (owner of Google) donated $5.4 million (representing 88 percent of its political giving) to Democrats as of 2020. Likewise, 84 percent of Apple’s political donations went to Democrats; 77 percent of Meta and Amazon donations went to Democrats.

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To be fair, neither the Biden administration nor Big Tech hid the ball in their coordination. Biden’s former press secretary, Jen Psaki, said very publicly that the government “regularly keeps social media companies up-to-date with the latest narratives that are dangerous to public health…” particularly related to information about COVID-19 outbreaks. vaccines.

In addition, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed on the Joe Rogan podcast that the FBI advised Facebook to look for Russian misinformation. According to Zuckerberg, that reach prompted the social media giant to “reduce” the spread of Hunter Biden’s laptop story because, as Zuckerberg puts it, that story “fitted into the pattern” that Facebook is believed to have been given by the agency became.

Rather, the Twitter files show that Big Tech made most of these policy decisions itself. For example, the Twitter files show no government involvement in banning White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany from her Twitter account for citing the Hunter Biden story in the New York Post just 20 days before the 2020 election. Even in the Reason article, there is no real evidence that Facebook was forced to comply with government orders. Accordingly, there is no apparent government intervention leading Google, Apple, and Amazon to launch free speech apps like Parler.

We all agree that any government, whether Democratic or Republican, should be condemned and prevented from attempting to use these companies’ digital public spaces to silence dissidents. We need to shed more light on the opaque relationships that big tech companies have with governments (both domestic and foreign). For this reason, the recently introduced legislation to prevent such occurrences is encouraging.

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However, both sides of the aisle should be careful not to get distracted by this and instead continue to engage with Big Tech’s centralized control over information. Although big tech now favors Democrats, most big tech companies make no apologies that they can take action against any political constituency at any time. In its NetChoice vs. Paxton hearing, Twitter boasts that it has the power to “reverse and ban all pro-LGBT speech for no other reason than that its employees wish to annoy members of that community.”

It follows that solving the government problem doesn’t really address the core concerns of big tech. Whether it’s removing apps from app stores, kicking websites off cloud networks, or using algorithms to promote agendas, these companies haven’t needed government pressure. Frankly, the way many of these so-called Twitter and Facebook files are read gives the impression that government officials were more like invited guests than a jaw-legged Gestapo.

No amount of talk can stop them from doing what they already want to do, but antitrust and Section 230 reforms can. Congress shouldn’t get caught up in Big Tech’s self-created government coercion crisis . Instead, it should propose real reforms that can address its Herculean grip on our digital markets and public spaces.

In short, yes, we must ban the government from using technology platforms as a censorship tool. But we have to impose market guardrails on them to close the loop.

Joel Thayer is President of the Digital Progress Institute and a technology and telecommunications attorney based in Washington, DC

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