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Trump vs tech

It could get ugly. It could just be more hot air

May 3, 2019

8:06 PM

3 May 2019

8:06 PM

Remember when Donald Trump’s administration courted the likes of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk? What about when the American right was still enamored with Big Tech?

That seems a long time ago now. On Friday President Donald Trump tweeted: ‘I am continuing to monitor the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms. This is the United States of America — and we have what’s known as FREEDOM OF SPEECH! We are monitoring and watching, closely!!’

Conservatives increasingly accept that Big Tech is a problem, something that stifles creativity and ideas. But will anyone in power ever do anything about it?

Sen. Josh Hawley is shrewder than most politicians on this topic. This week he gave a thought-provoking speech in Washington at the Hoover Institution on the future of the internet. .

The Missouri senator pointed to numerous studies showing the platforms are addictive and and are linked to an increase in teen suicide and depression. He argued that the great social media question is, ‘is this really something that is good for our society in the long term, or for our economy for that matter?’

Hawley suggested Big Tech was neither good for our society or our economy.

Technology is meant to reduce barriers of entry into the marketplace. Tech is also meant to reduce barriers of entry in the marketplace of ideas. Social media can ‘give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers,’ as Twitter claims in its mission statement.

But it doesn’t. As others at the Hoover event noted, companies such as Google and Amazon operate as monopolies that limit competition. That’s undoubtedly true.

Cockburn notes one disturbing example.

Google-owned Android and Apple’s iPhone control 98 percent of the smartphone market. Google pays billions of dollars each year to be the default search engine on iPhone – something which would otherwise be ‘paid prioritization’ if done by ISPs. Companies which operate on the web all have to trust Google’s benevolence to compete. Luther Lowe of Yelp, one of the many companies at Google’s mercy, asked, ‘is an alternative actually available if less than two percent of people actually utilize it?’

Other speakers at the Hoover event called for a sensible-sounding solution: regulation that ensures non-discrimination. Nobody was clear on how that might look, however. Cockburn imagines that means ‘net neutrality’, the dream of some Democratic politicians and tech executives for a free and open internet.

We’re stuck with Big Tech social media, for all its ups and downs. Big Tech Neutrality seems the reasonable answer to these platform’s rampant discrimination.

There is increasing consensus across the political spectrum that reform is overdue. Trump says he’s monitoring Big Tech’s discrimination, but, as is so often the question with this White House, is it all just hot air?

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