Feuds with Silicon Valley have been a through-line of Trump's presidency; he has often criticized Facebook and Twitter for conspiring against him, siding with liberals and stifling conservative voices.
(TNS) — In the days before the 2020 election was called for Joe Biden, President Trump was on Twitter — doing battle with Twitter.
As the incumbent tweeted through the slow vote-tallying process that would ultimately end in his loss, Twitter had covered much of Trump's timeline with warning labels cautioning that the president's posts contained disputed and potentially misleading information. Trump responded by tweeting a reference to Section 230, the obscure, decades-old law that shapes content moderation on social media.
Such feuds with
He has blasted Amazon and spearheaded a resurgence of Big Tech trust-busting that found purchase among Republican congresspeople, red state attorneys general and his own
His focus on tech also bled into his long-running trade war with
Now, as Trump enters his lame duck period and Biden readies for the transition of power, there is opportunity for change — but how much can actually be expected?
The paradigm that comes next is not entirely clear. Aside from calls for the social media giants to more aggressively fight misinformation, Joe Biden did not make Big Tech a major focus of his campaign. The makeup of Biden's
"My sense is that the Biden team hasn't developed detailed positions on some of the most urgent questions relating to big tech," Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the
It's possible that the transition to a Biden presidency would not be as transformative for the tech world as it would be for other sectors. Tech reform has been the site of some unlikely bipartisanship during the Trump years, with the confluence of progressive regulation efforts and conservative free speech concerns yielding an unlikely alliance against Big Tech that could continue under a President Biden.
Even if the election ends with a split government — Biden in the
On antitrust, for instance, there's clear overlap between progressive calls to "break up Big Tech" — which Biden has nodded to but not endorsed — and the various tech antitrust investigations Trump has overseen. Christopher Lewis, president of internet advocacy nonprofit Public Knowledge, pointed to the House antitrust subcommittee's recent investigation into anti-competitive practices in the sector as indicating a possible path forward.
"It was a bipartisan investigation, and … there were a lot of bipartisan and shared findings," Lewis said. "There's room for legislative work based off of that investigation, that one still hopes can have a bipartisan effort. So that'll be a big priority."
Social media content moderation represents another potential site of compromise.
But both sides have taken issue with Section 230, the law that drew Trump's ire as the ballots were coming in. In one of the election's few areas of explicit agreement, Biden and President Trump have both called for the law to change, with Biden at one point telling the New York Times that "Section 230 should be revoked … for [
Jaffer speculated that Biden's stance is more nuanced: "I assume what he really means is that he wants to replace the rule of near-categorical immunity with something more fact-sensitive."
"That's a reasonable idea," Jaffer added, "but the details will matter." And the shared enemy that brought
Social media executives seem to be anticipating some sort of crackdown. In the lead-up to the election, amid polling suggesting a Biden sweep,
Some have speculated that Zuckerberg's change of heart came in anticipation of a Biden win, pre-empting future calls for more stringent moderation; although even before Biden was the Democratic front-runner, the
On Chinese tech — which prompted Trump's attempts to ban
In September, Biden deemed TikTok "a matter of genuine concern," echoing Trump's framing of the attempted ban.
One topic that's become increasingly urgent in the era of telework and Zoom-schooling is the "digital divide," or disparities in who has access to the internet. Biden's campaign has pledged to expand "broadband, or wireless broadband via 5G, to every American," bringing internet access to rural areas, urban schools and tribal lands, including with a $20-billion investment in rural broadband.
"I think there's … some bipartisan opportunities there, just because everyone has been impacted by it and some of the hardest-hit communities are rural communities, red parts of states," Lewis noted.
On other topics, a partisan shift can be expected. For instance, Biden has said he'll lift Trump's suspension of H1-B visas, which allow companies to hire foreign workers with specialized skills — about three-quarters of which go to tech workers.
In this regard, a move away from Trump's protectionist efforts positions Biden as a more natural ally of
Markets expressed confidence that a Biden presidency — especially one constrained by a Republican
Some policy areas have simply not been fleshed out by Biden enough to know if and how they'd change.
Domestic surveillance was a major concern when Biden was vice president; stories like Edward Snowden's
Biden's campaign has only nodded to the issue, calling for tech and social media companies to "make concrete pledges for how they can ensure their algorithms and platforms are not empowering the surveillance state" — as well as not facilitating Chinese repression, spreading hate or promoting violence. In his New York Times interview, he said America "should be setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy."
Biden did not focus on automation to the extent of primary challengers such as Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders. However, his website does say he "does not accept the defeatist view that the forces of automation and globalization render [America] helpless to retain well-paid union jobs and create more of them," and he calls for basic employee protections around automation and a $300-billion investment in artificial intelligence R&D (as well as electric vehicles and 5G networks).
One area around which the tenor of discussion will almost certainly shift is the role social media platforms should play in moderating misinformation, especially if it comes from the president's account. But that doesn't mean the issue of "fake news" will go away, either.
"Misinformation," cautioned Lewis, "is bigger than just Donald Trump."
(c)2020 the Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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