How tech platforms got dragged into American political warfare



  • Lawmakers have armed tech companies and their content moderation decisions to drive agendas.
  • It is the culmination of a multitude of factors, such as post-2016 techlash and the Trump administration.
  • Experts say technological animosity has become “a core Republican principle,” and progressives want more rules.

Tech companies haven’t had it easy lately, with lawsuits and criticisms leveled at them.

But platforms have also been embroiled in a new war in recent years: lawmakers use them and the decisions they make as punch bags to drive their political agendas.

Experts told Insider it was the product of the realization after the 2016 election that not all online platforms were benign, a test of political marketing from the Trump era, the passage of internet platforms from their historic hands-off approach to moderation of content and growing polarization in a country where a political standoff was getting increasingly wicked.

“We have always seen a polarization in the United States”, Ari Lightman, digital media professor at Carnegie Mellon and social media expert, told Insider. “Social media companies are only escalating this.”

Republicans and Democrats want Big Tech under control – for very different reasons

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a Senate hearing in 2018.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

One of the first major cases where Trump accused a tech company of anti-conservative bias was in August 2018, when he said Google was promoting former President Barack Obama’s speeches before his own in Search results.

“Politicians are always looking for successful marketing, and he was testing the idea,” Jean Samples – a vice president of the CATO Institute and a member of the Facebook Supervisory Board – told Insider.

It worked, and from that point on, every decision companies made about what to report, remove, or maintain on their sites became another datum or talking point to support a cause.

For the Conservatives, this cause was the conviction that Internet platforms are determined to silence them. And for progressives, the argument that tech platforms aren’t doing enough to crack down on false facts and hate speech goes back to Obama-era academics, Samples said.

Once the 2016 US presidential election took place, it not only spawned “techlash” – it produced a president whose favorite messengers were the internet platforms he would eventually fight against, and “Antipathy towards social media elites has become a core Republican principle,” Samples said.

The divisive tone on social media became even more pronounced with the 2020 election cycle. Republicans repeated Trump’s baseless claims that the election was stolen, pissing off an already heated base after a year of linked security protocols to a pandemic. Democrats had to use their platforms to repeat that this was the safest election in history. Both sides were screaming into a void of followers who already believed what they were saying.

And through it all, members of Congress have begun to seize opportunities to toast tech CEOs, who have often turned into political theater, even though some of the biggest tech critics in Washington have been happy to use the platforms in Washington. their advantage to win the elections.

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Senator John Kennedy at a hearing in November 2020.

Bill Clark-Pool / Getty Images

After Zuckerberg reportedly said he would “hit the mat and fight” against threats to dissolve the company, the Democratic representative. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that his comments indicated that he was against the control of corporate and monopoly power.

Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted last month that “No company should be too big to be held responsible for spreading misinformation” after the Wall Street Journal reported an algorithm change favoring fake content that Split.

Republican Representatives Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor-Greene and the Senses. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz are among the loudest voices speaking of alleged censorship.

Cruz in January tweeted that “The PURGE, censorship and abuse of power by Big Tech is absurd and deeply dangerous,” after platforms began suspending Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol uprising.

“A part is only political, a part is a general reaction”, Paul Barrett, a deputy director of NYU’s Stern Center, told Insider. Barrett was among the researchers at NYU who published a report who refuted the conservatives’ claims of anti-right discrimination online.

Social media companies and the rules they enforce are now inextricably subject to vicious political judgment.

Zuckerberg “went from Angelic to Satan, and it happened in three or four years,” Samples said. “But it really has to do with the politics of the country.”


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