Finally, a Republican leader declares war on Big Tech
A Republican leader has decided to take on Big Tech. It’s high time. While other Republican legislators complain and pontificate about Twitter, Facebook and Google’s interference in our elections and censoring of conservative voices, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared war on the tech giants.
DeSantis is proposing legislation that asks the Florida state legislature to impose stiff fines – up to $100,000 per day – on tech companies that “deplatform” political candidates running for office in his state. Candidates like, for instance, Donald Trump.
Calling the tech giants “enforcers of preferred narratives” whose interests are “not in the public interest,” DeSantis, a Republican, wants to “ensure the protection of the people and their rights.” His proposed bill would allow individuals and the Florida attorney general to sue firms that violate newly established safeguards against privacy violations and censorship.
DeSantis also suggested that other activities, such as colluding to ban people or companies from payment platforms or from cloud services, could also be outlawed.
Presuming that the popular governor can get his measure passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature, it could become a template for the other 23 GOP-led states. It could, in effect, be the beginning of a revolt against the unacceptable dominance and manipulation of our nation’s discourse by Big Tech.
It’s a start.
Our tech giants have been utterly impervious to charges of bias and of meddling in our elections. But they now have the protection of Democrats, who have benefitted handsomely from their increasingly overt endorsement. The tech firms not only protected Biden, but they also gave Democratic campaigns tens of millions of dollars.
For instance, Alphabet, parent company of Google employees and PACS, spent $21 million in the last election cycle, with 80 percent of those donations going to Democrats. Similarly, Facebook contributed $6 million, with 80 percent going to Democrats.
The generosity has already reaped rewards. Once outspoken in their determination to rein in the increasing power of these companies, Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are now strangely mute.
In 2019, Warren wrote a compelling op-ed in which she warned that, “Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy.” Campaigning to run for president, Warren vowed to “make big, structural changes to the tech sector to promote more competition — including breaking up Amazon, Facebook, and Google.”
Warren proposed designating giant companies that provide an online marketplace or exchange “platform utilities” and promised a ramped-up regulatory regimen. She also vowed to strengthen anti-trust oversight of companies such as Facebook that historically have bought up emerging competitors that threatened their market dominance.
And yet, just recently, when emerging platform Parler siphoned users away from Twitter and tech oligarchs conspired to take Parler offline, we heard nary a peep from Warren or any of her Democratic colleagues. When Twitter recently announced its acquisition of Breaker, a podcast app, no questions were asked.
The tech giants, and supportive Democrats, are playing a dangerous game. The public does not like the increased power of the tech overlords. A poll last fall found that 70 percent of the nation agrees “strongly” or “somewhat” with this statement: “Critics of big tech companies argue they have too much political power and have been able to tilt laws and rules in their favor by giving campaign contributions and hiring lobbyists.” That included 67 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Republicans. That’s a big number to ignore.
Moreover, 56 percent of respondents (on both sides of the aisle) said they would support the federal government “doing more to try to break up Big Tech monopolies and promote market competition.”
More alarming for the tech oligarchs, a recent survey shows that 77 percent of college students think companies like Twitter and Facebook have too much power and influence in politics; more than half think the government should regulate the firms more aggressively. This in spite of their enthusiasm for President Biden, the obvious beneficiary of that influence.
Those college students are the voters and legislators of the future. They are also the generation that knows most intimately the power and potential (for good and ill) of social media.
The tech giants are wary enough about the growing backlash to their power to have promoted a New York University study on social media and censorship. The paper is titled (and concludes): “False Accusation, The Unfounded Claim that Social Media Companies Censor Conservatives.”
The study suggests that conservatives’ claims that they are sometimes censored by Twitter are true, but note that liberals are sometimes shut down as well. As Fox News’ Tucker Carlson pointed out on his program, the authors do not provide numbers on which side fares worse, which one might consider essential to the argument, explaining that Twitter does not provide “sufficient data.” Imagine, the paper’s conclusion hinges on data which are not available. It’s a joke.
Carlson also noted that the study had been funded by Big Tech billionaire Craig Newmark, a huge Biden donor. The Craigslist founder has also donated millions to the Poynter Institute, which operates Politifact. Remember that Politifact infuriated conservatives in 2019 when it published a list of “unreliable” websites, most of which were right-leaning, and discouraged advertiser support for those outfits.
Big Tech is suppressing conservative viewpoints; of that there is no doubt. That Twitter and Facebook would shut down the New York Post’s well-sourced expose of Hunter Biden’s shady business dealings just weeks before the election says it all. That such decisions influenced the outcome of the election is also indisputable.
Until now, Republican legislators looked incapable of mounting any serious response to this offensive behavior. Holding committee hearings in Congress allows for plenty of sniping but not much more.
Maybe Ron DeSantis has discovered the way forward. Some think the Florida governor might run for president in 2024; if so, tackling Big Tech will surely give him a boost.
Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.