For years, Silicon Valley hoped that its established political champions would calm digital disruption with tax breaks and big money, worried the new economy would drain the wealth and power from the incumbent industries that dominate the Electoral College. With Democratic victories, and victories possible in both houses of Congress, the technocrats at Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, and the other companies seeking “free” markets for their products have found themselves in a difficult position. The industry has been embarrassed by the extent to which Russia and other foreign powers operated online, targeting potential voters and making sure that propaganda was amplified during election campaigns. And many big tech companies were far from transparent about how much profit they made from politics and the “secret deals” they were negotiating to stay in control of their systems. It now looks like these technocrats have paid a high price for their preoccupation with power, and won’t be getting the tax cuts and regulatory fixes they thought would help them become powerbrokers. Even The New York Times acknowledges the unlikely political reception Silicon Valley may have gotten from its activities.
So Google and Facebook both announced, with some hesitation, that they were going to seriously rein in the Russian, neo-Nazi, and pro-American propaganda machines that have operated under their control. Both also said they are serious about curbing voter suppression and hate speech.
And next week, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to look at “Trump administration nominee appointments, conflicts of interest, and the impartiality of the enforcement actions the Justice Department, FBI, and FEC take against public entities that are suspected of illegal conduct.” There will also be a hearing into what Amazon is doing to stop censorship of the First Amendment rights of Amazon users and how political infrastructure companies are being run.
And the Senate Commerce Committee is looking into “how the government would require a use of encryption from any Internet company before granting them liability protection,” a feat that could make it harder for the FBI to unlock terrorists’ encrypted phones.
It would be nice if this time, the technocrats can come up with some innovative solutions to these “vulnerabilities,” but if they can’t, they should at least promise to do what they promised and follow through with a plan to stem some of the spending that got the massive anti-democratic political campaigns of 2016 started.