SAN FRANCISCO — Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on health care, immigration or taxing the rich. But one subject draws critics from both parties: Big Tech.
The list of grievances is long and growing by the week: Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are too big and powerful. They’re bad for privacy, public discourse, democracy and small business. They’re spying on us, contributing to economic inequality and hooking us and our children on addictive, useless services.
The companies themselves object to these characterizations, though how loudly they object varies.
Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, urged Twitter to suspend President Donald Trump’s account for violating the service’s rules, while Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri is battling what he considers tech companies’ bias against conservatives. Hawley has also told Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that he should sell off WhatsApp and Instagram.
The companies are trying to maintain a neutral stance, even if that draws the ire of politicians as divergent as the president and those trying to impeach him. Behind the scenes, though, they are spending millions on lobbying in hopes of warding off breakups or intrusive regulation.
Not that there is any danger of either happening any time soon, especially with an ongoing impeachment probe. Still, talking up Big Tech’s problems has proven to be popular political rhetoric.
When it comes to policing content, social media services are “caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Andrew Guess, a Princeton University political scientist who studies social media and its effects on political opinion.
Blocking or suspending accounts for hate speech can prompt complaints of political bias or censorship, but a hands-off approach may be viewed as a free pass to politicians like Trump.
Beyond discourse and privacy, antitrust concerns have emerged as a major concern for lawmakers and candidates.
Leading the pack has been Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate who in March proposed breaking up big tech companies.
Since then, calling out the tech behemoths and other big corporations has been a pillar of Warren’s presidential campaign. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another leading Democratic candidate, has also said breaking up Amazon, Google and Apple is “something we should definitely take a look at.”
Still, while there have been congressional hearings, investigations and fines, including a record $5 billion against Facebook, little has changed for Big Tech.