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Regulating tech companies is the right conversation, Trump is the wrong messenger
President Trump is right to assert that we should debate regulating tech companies; he is just the wrong person to lead that discussion.
In true Trump fashion, he has correctly highlighted an issue that we've hidden under the rug for way too long. Unfortunately, again in Trump fashion, he doesn't clearly understand the crux of the problem.
Trump floated the idea of looking into regulating Google when he baselessly claimed its search engine of being "rigged" when someone searched "Trump news." He wrote on Twitter, "...almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal?"
Let's knock the easy one out of the way first: No, it is not illegal. Even if what Trump said was taken to the extreme and Google never had another positive pro-Trump story appear on its search results again, it still would not be illegal.
That's because Google is a private company; how it runs its service is up to them. Just as if a theater decides to never show another Shakespearean play, or a restaurant refuses to serve meat, or Fox News doesn't want to show any pro-Obama stories, these are choices a private company can make.
Now laws and regulations can be put in place to possibly change this, but at this point, Trump hasn't identified what law Google is currently breaking. He has also not even identified proof that Google is being bias against him.
While it's not certain how Trump got started on this tirade, it seems to be that he was referencing a segment on Lou Dobbs Tonight on Fox. Dobbs was citing an experiment done by a blogger who did her own Google search and even proclaimed her findings as "not scientific."
So to be clear, Trump's accusations did not come from vetted research or a large grassroots movement. It came from a blogger; a source he doesn't even know.
Now Google hasn't done any favors over the years by keeping its complex algorithm a mystery. However, the general consensus is that authority and relevance is what reigns supreme in Google search and not a liberal bias.
Here's where Trump may be in the ballpark and where many do not want to admit it. Google and other tech companies contain a tremendous amount of power. These companies control much of our personal data, our main access to news and information, and a great deal of wealth and political influence.
As I've written before, there are some serious policy debates regarding whether or not these companies have grown too large and if we should do something about many of its practices. When other companies have become monopolies, historically they have been broken up or regulated. It's time to decide if that needs to be the case with these massive tech companies.
The shame of it all
The shame is while Trump identified a possible action we should be talking about, he misidentified the root problem. He has turned this issue into a polarized political landmine. We can't have serious intellectual discussion about whether we should be hands-off with these companies or use some degree of governmental authority. Instead, Trump has made this all about you're either with him or against him.
What's ironic about it all is that Paula Bolyard, the blogger who set off this chain of events, doesn't want tech companies to be regulated.
As she wrote in the Washington Post, "I wrote in my article at PJ Media that these big tech companies have the power to influence elections and even the state of democracy itself. I stand by that statement. And while the president might have gone too far in calling for government intervention, I agree that Americans need to pay attention to this issue."
You can see why this is such a complex issue. The person who Trump used to justify possibly going to legislative war with Google doesn't herself believe government intervention is the answer.
But there is something the Bolyard, Trump, and I all agree on: Americans do need to pay attention to this issue. So let's at least start there.
Adam Chiara is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Hartford. He has worked as a legislative aide in the Connecticut General Assembly, as a journalist, and in PR. He's on Twitter at @AdamChiara.