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New White House Executive Order Feeds the Big Tech 'Political Bias' Conspiracy

New White House Executive Order Feeds the Big Tech 'Political Bias' Conspiracy

The White House is preparing drafts of an executive order combating the alleged anti-conservative bias within big tech’s highest institutions, according to three administration sources who spoke with Politico. The decision comes almost a year since the Republicans lost their government majority, where any kind of social media reform was surely within their grasp, which makes the affair appear more political-theatre-meets-power-grab than a legitimate concern.

“If the internet is going to be presented as this egalitarian platform, and most of Twitter is liberal cesspools of venom, then at least the president wants some fairness in the system,” the White House official reportedly said. “But look, we also think that social media plays a vital role. They have a vital role and an increasing responsibility to the culture that has helped make them so profitable and so prominent.” If this is their belief, the question remains why the White House waited so long to address their base of forum-dwelling political trolls until the general election.

While the sources refused to get into any policy specifics on what constitutes an offense and suitable punishment (it would be unlikely to pass given the protections of the First Amendment and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act), Politico notes these reactionary accusations of Silicon Valley’s anti-conservative bias have been a frequent rallying cry for Trump and his supporters since the 2016 election. Regardless of whether the order can pass, it signals the administration is keen to exploit the base’s anxiety over Big Tech scandals despite bias being a small-fry issue compared to surveillance, abuse, economic exploitation and unchecked control over a centralized public space.

This victim narrative has left members of the new far-right coalition to capitalize on social media scandals, like when Facebook, Twitter, Patreon and the Google-owned YouTube decided to ban problematic actors such as Alex Jones, Paul Joseph Watson, Carl Benjamin, Milo Yiannopolous, Black Pigeon Speaks, Lauren Southern and countless other figures without much accountability or objective standards cited. In response, the big tech companies have tried to deny the allegations of leftist bias, and they’re not entirely wrong to do so given big tech’s history of hounding progressives such as The David Pakman Show, Secular Talk, The Majority Report, TYT and countless others in the same political sphere being demonetized or removed

“I don’t want to say it’s impossible, but I don’t know of any studies that have actually looked at it and found search result manipulation [by Google],” said Jim Jansen, a computer science professor at Pennsylvania State University, speaking to Recode. “Google’s position generally has been not to mess with organic search results to avoid this type of criticism. I personally find it difficult to believe there would be some type of intentional search manipulation widespread at Google. It’s just such an algorithmic process, with so many people involved and so many layers of oversight. Just from a project management standpoint, it would be quite a challenge.”

Depending on what form of bias is at play, of course. I would argue it’s a corporate bias in favor of the company’s interests. It’s not some game of political football based on ideology.

As investigated by Recode and their associate outlets, there has been no evidence to prove companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter have anti-conservative bias baked into their products, supported only by claims from a select handful of former Google engineers who claim their firing was based on conservative political views, whereas Google suggested misusing company equipment, specifically sharing internal emails defending white supremacist groups, was the reason. Perhaps the fault isn’t with the bias but the holder of said views.

This pairs nicely with an explanation given by Twitter’s Trust and Safety leader Vijaya Gadde on The Joe Rogan Experience, that several of these figures can be found guilty of violating Terms Of Service when they’re judged by their three-strike policy. In the case of Benjamin, for example, who repeatedly harassed users with interracial gay porn and alleged insults like “kike fucker”, these were judged as bannable offenses even when the tactics were used against members of the racist alt-right movement. If given a fair hearing, Benjamin’s suspension would prove an exception to the conspiracy theory… but instead, it’s a game of “corporate said, Carl said” where the marketplace of biased ideas suddenly steps in!

On the podcast, Gadde concedes some ground that their social media platforms do “a bad job” of informing the public about their reasoning behind removing and penalizing accounts, though doesn’t connect this critique to the inherent lack of checks and balances built into the removal process of giant platforms like Twitter. At the same time, it’s more difficult to take accusations of bias seriously when commentators don’t know the positions of their opposition nor the reasons for contention — but the president just goes along with it anyway since it’s easy political capital. 

The White House effort will likely face opposition even from its own party on whether there’s a role for government in political discourse. “There’s very little in terms of direct regulation the federal government can do without congressional action, and frankly I think that’s a positive thing,” said John Morris, a leader of internet policy at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “Although the government may be able to support and assist online platforms’ efforts to reduce hate and violence online, the government should not try to impose speech regulations on private platforms. As politicians from both sides of the political spectrum have historically urged, the government should not be in the business of regulating speech.”

I would argue the same principle should apply to corporate regulations on speech, which should ideally adhere to strict policy standards, propped up with direct democratic support from executives to users, as well as a communal due process system for appeals to ensure fair platform accountability. Given outlets like Fox News typically receive more engagement on Facebook than any other publisher on the platform, the victim culture from elites starts to ring false comparative to the true concerns of anti-trust. This can target all people — whether you’re a deplorable fascist breaking TOS or a critic of Facebook like Sen. Elizabeth Warren — since corporate self-interest is amoral and apathetic to principles. When your concern is with the inconsistency of practice rather than the practice itself, you’re not a good-faith actor in the fight against Big Tech power, but an opportunist seeking to use said power for yourself.