Analysis

Some Democrats Eye Chance For Big Tech Regulation Under Biden

(Photo by Hannah McKay-Pool/Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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Many conservatives have increasingly criticized Big Tech over a variety of issues during the Trump administration, but Democrats have indicated that they too may take aim at companies like Facebook and Twitter during a Joe Biden presidency.

Some commentators within media have posited that a Joe Biden administration will be softer on Silicon Valley than its predecessor. There are a number of indications from high-level Democrats, activists and even Biden himself, however, that the next four years could result in a a more hazardous regulatory environment for Big Tech.

Conservatives frequently cite concerns like censorship of right-of-center views, warning labels applied to the President Donald Trump’s tweets and manipulation of search results or trending topics as examples of alleged political bias within Big Tech.

Some within the Democratic Party, however, say Big Tech isn’t doing too much, but rather too little to combat misinformation and abuse. While there are notable exceptions, large numbers of liberal activists have expressed a desire for more users to be reprimanded, more posts to be removed, and more claims to be fact-checked with the goal of creating a more reliable and truthful online conversation.

Like Trump, Biden has stated that he would like to change Section 230, a regulation that protects sites like Facebook and Twitter from being held responsible for what people post on them.

“It should be revoked because it is not merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false,” Biden said back in January, as reported by The Verge.

“The First Amendment doesn’t require private companies to provide a platform for any view that is out there. At the end of the day, we’re going to have to find a combination of government regulations and corporate practices that address this, because it’s going to get worse… If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work,” Former President Barack Obama recently said in an interview with the Atlantic.

Economic progressives in Congress have also raised questions about Big Tech firms operating as monopolists who could be subjected to antitrust legislation. The House Subcommittee on Antitrust, chaired by Democrat David Cicilline, produced a 450-page report in October accusing Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google of using “monopoly power” to curb innovation and reduce consumer choice, CNN reported.

Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has called for the government to break up Google, Facebook and Amazon, reports NBC. Democratic California Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents a district in Silicon Valley which houses offices for Google and Apple, introduced an Internet Bill of Rights in 2018 to protect consumers from abusive tech practices. 

Not all Democrats are supportive of moves designed to slow the spread of misinformation and protect election integrity, though. Scott Fairchild, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said that Facebook and Google banning political ads leading up to the Georgia special election amounted to “voter suppression.”

As Biden begins staffing his upcoming administration, a major power struggle is reportedly emerging within the Democratic Party regarding tech issues. The Biden transition team is reportedly looking at a mix of industry insiders and aspiring reformers to handle its tech policy, according to Vox. However, some progressive groups have already expressed concern that the administration will be captured by Big Tech executives who will shield their colleagues from regulation. 

Some concrete policy changes were made during Trump’s tenure. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai facilitated the FCC repeal of net neutrality. The president has taken steps to combat security concerns posed by Chinese tech firms like Huawei. (RELATED: Commerce Department Stops Tik Tok Ban)

However, Trump’s attempt to ban TikTok seems likely to fall through, Section 230 has not been repealed, and behemoths like Facebook, Google, and Amazon continue to grow into more sectors of the economy. 

It remains to be seen what actions Biden may take to follow up on some of the concerns posed by his side of the aisle. There isn’t much of a track record to go on — Biden left the Senate in 2009 , and as a result never had to deal much with policies on things like social media. As vice president he served in an administration viewed by many to be tech-friendly

Now though, Biden seems to have the issue on his radar, and he has said that Mark Zuckerberg is a “big problem.”