Juan Williams: We need a backlash against Big Tech

Juan Williams: We need a backlash against Big Tech
© Greg Nash

Tell the truth — you love Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest.

I did, too. Then it got personal for me.

In 2016, Russian hackers, using WikiLeaks, “doxed” me.

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They published my private cell phone number in a dump of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump takes aim at media after 'hereby' ordering US businesses out of China Trump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Taylor Swift says Trump is 'gaslighting the American public' MORE campaign chairman John Podesta’s stolen emails. I gave him my number in a private email to set up an interview.

Once the number was out, my phone blew up. Pranksters harassed me. Thuggish partisans threatened me. I had to get a new phone as I was covering the final weeks of the campaign.

Then, in 2018, a smiling man came up after I hosted a television show in Dallas to tell me how much he enjoyed “trolling” me online with racist language.

I couldn’t believe he was saying this to my face. His smile made it weird.

He then bragged about how he and his pals wrote phony reviews of a book I wrote on President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE’s history of racism. He wanted to bring down the book’s rating on Amazon, even though it had not yet been released and he had not read it.

And get this – this guy then asked for a selfie.

This is just one horrible way the world has been transformed for the worse by social media.

I am not alone in my anger.

The recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton reminded the nation of the damage done by Big Tech's refusal to take responsibility for hate speech, racism and calls to violence.

"There are clear [First Amendment] issues with government action to directly ban online discussion forums, but they have no right to the amplification afforded them by Facebook/Twitter/Google/YouTube," Facebook's former chief security officer, Alex Stamos, wrote on Twitter after the mayhem.

Polls now show a sharp increase in Americans who are furious with big technology companies that rake in millions while refusing to take any responsibility for the spread of hateful language, bizarre conspiracy theories, financial scams and trolls — as well as the derailing of honest political discourse.

In 2015, 72 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats held positive views of tech companies, according to polling by the Pew Research Center.

Today — just four years later — Pew finds there has been a 28-point drop in the share of Republicans who say the big tech firms are having a “positive impact.”

And there has been a 20-point drop among Democrats who once cheered the big tech companies.

Why?

Start with the big tech companies’ refusal to stop Russia from interfering in the 2016 election with a deluge of phony online posts designed to tear the country apart by race, religion, sexual preference, and fear of immigrants.

U.S. intelligence has confirmed that the Russians acted to damage Clinton’s campaign and help Trump win the White House.

Then there is the damage Big Tech is doing to American journalism.

More Americans now get their news from Facebook than from newspapers. And local newspapers have been killed off as advertising dollars have migrated from papers to online posts.

Online journalism is too often reduced to a contest of who can get the most clicks.

Forget about the accuracy of the stories or the quality of the analysis. It’s all about the retweets featuring conspiracies, vulgar personal attacks, celebrities in bikinis and celebrities in feuds created by their publicists.

Chris Hughes, one of Facebook’s co-founders, is now telling members of Congress that the social media giant he created is out-of-control.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSteyer calls on DNC to expand polling criteria for debates Gabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch MORE (D-Mass.), a leading candidate for the White House in 2020, is following Hughes’ lead by campaigning on a plan to break up the big tech companies.

And Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyIs there internet life after thirty? Republicans face critical test of integrity on drug price controls Hillicon Valley: Facebook releases audit on bias claims | Audit fails to calm critics | Federal agencies hit with fewer cyberattacks in 2018 | Huawei founder says company faces 'live or die' moment MORE (R-Mo.) has introduced legislation to hold tech companies accountable for the fact that consumers — especially young children — are becoming addicted to tech products and harming their health in the process.

“Big tech has embraced a business model of addiction,” Hawley said in a press release. “Too much of the ‘innovation’ in this space is designed not to create better products, but to capture more attention by using psychological tricks that make it difficult to look away. This legislation will put an end to that and encourage true innovation by tech companies.”

Another conservative, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzIs this any way for NASA to build a lunar lander? GOP strategist predicts Biden will win nomination, cites fundraising strength 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 MORE (R-Texas), points to the danger Big Tech poses to the 2020 election — even as the GOP Senate majority blocks election security bills.

“The power being amassed by a handful of tech media companies...is a level of power unprecedented in our political discourse,” Cruz said at a Washington Post event in June. He is proposing stripping tech platforms of their free speech protections by citing violations of the Communications Decency Act.

Most damaging is the loss of privacy and failure to protect personal data.

“Most Americans are unaware of just how much personal data is collected and transmitted by the services and devices we depend on daily,” said Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrailer shows first look at Annette Bening as Dianne Feinstein Trump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program The Hill's Morning Report - More talk on guns; many questions on Epstein's death MORE (D-Calif.) at the first meeting of a Senate Judiciary Committee tech taskforce last month. “And while the U.S. leads the world in online innovation, we lag many other countries in protecting consumers.”

Back in December, I wrote in this column:

“An honest 2020 election is not possible without Congress getting its hands dirty by confronting Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google, the tech corporations often referred to by the acronym ‘FAANG.’”

The problem has only gotten worse.

Congress — for the future of our democracy, please bring on the tech backlash!

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.