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How Would Big Tech Fare Under Biden?
Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman of Facebook, speaks at the 56th Munich Security Conference.
Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images

How Would Big Tech Fare Under Biden?

Kirk R. Arner & Harold Furchtgott-Roth

Despite ongoing legal battles, it’s becoming increasingly likely that former Vice President Joe Biden will win the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Once the page on this election is turned, and the race is behind us, the question must be asked: how would Biden actually govern America? And for those interested in technology policy, how would “big tech” fare under Biden?

In short, it’s entirely unclear.

Despite being one of the leading issues of our time, big tech is not the leading concern of the day. That spot is reserved for the COVID crisis, which, as we speak, is taking the lives of roughly one thousand Americans per day. The health and economic effects of COVID-19 so overshadowed issues like “big tech” that neither candidate discussed it on their campaign websites. Nor did either candidate receive a question on the topic in either of this cycle’s presidential debates.

By and large, Biden has said very little about America’s tech companies.  Earlier this year, Biden advocated for the repeal of the ever-contentious Section 230.  In Biden’s view, Facebook and other social media companies do not do enough to limit the spread of “misinformation” on their platforms, and thus no longer deserve Section 230 protections.  (Of course, Section 230 explicitly aids the ability of Facebook and similar websites to take down user content deemed harmful or unlawful.)  Beyond this, we know very little about Biden’s plans for big tech—save for his transition team being stacked with Silicon Valley alumni.

Still, there are a few key things we can consider.  Principal among them is that American policymakers have shown an increasingly bipartisan animus towards big tech.  Many progressives assail America’s tech companies under a predictable rubric of big-is-bad, pre-Chicago school antitrust analysis.  They would break up nearly every one of America’s leading tech companies into their smallest possible component parts and make it impossible for these parts to re-unify in the future.  Conservatives, meanwhile, are often concerned with the censorship of conservative voices on, and the perceived political bias of, social media platforms.  Section 230 is their great white whale.

While these two factions view big tech from different lenses, they make for interesting bedfellows.  Take, for example, the Department of Justice’s recent lawsuit against Google.  Senator Elizabeth Warren commended the DOJ for initiating, in her words, “a legitimate, long-time-coming suit against Google for engaging in anti-competitive, manipulative, and often illegal conduct.” 

Some conservatives praised the DOJ too.  In response to the DOJ’s announcement of the suit, Republican leadership in the House Judiciary Committee commented, “[t]ime’s up, []Google.”  Representative Jordan explicitly connected the suit to broader conservative complaints about big tech when he tweeted: “Big Tech’s out to get conservatives.  Attorney General Barr won’t let them get away with it.”  Senator Hawley’s comments were even more effusive: “Reading the case title United States v. Google . . . it just made me want to say ‘God Bless America.’”  Similar views are easily predicted about a potential upcoming lawsuit against Facebook by the Federal Trade Commission.

As with most political issues, views toward big tech are not monochromatic.  Major technology companies have supporters on both sides of the aisle making technology policy not a partisan issue but a highly nuanced riddle.

On the campaign trail, Biden attempted to position himself as a pragmatic moderate who would defeat COVID and bind America’s partisan political wounds.  While practically all Americans would applaud the release of effective COVID vaccines, there is no similar consensus on any particular technology policy outcome.  Americans are not looking for a specific form of technology policy leadership, much less a specific form of pragmatic leadership.

Political prose doesn’t always match the poetry of campaigning.  Once in office, Biden could seek a more partisan agenda.  The markers of this would be clear.  Agenda item number one would be to re-adopt the Obama administration’s 2015 Title II common carrier “net neutrality” regulation of broadband providers, either through statute or regulation. 

The Federal Communications Commission’s current proceeding on Section 230 presents more of a political challenge.  Although Biden has publicly opposed Section 230 in its current form, he could nevertheless seek to distance himself from President Trump’s similar goal.  Indeed, it wouldn’t be the first Trump-era policy Biden would seek to quickly reverse.  Nor the last.

At this point, only time will tell.

While these two factions view big tech from different lenses, they make for interesting bedfellows.  Take, for example, the Department of Justice’s recent lawsuit against Google.  Senator Elizabeth Warren commended the DOJ for initiating, in her words, “a legitimate, long-time-coming suit against Google for engaging in anti-competitive, manipulative, and often illegal conduct.” 

Some conservatives praised the DOJ too.  In response to the DOJ’s announcement of the suit, Republican leadership in the House Judiciary Committee commented, “[t]ime’s up, []Google.”  Representative Jordan explicitly connected the suit to broader conservative complaints about big tech when he tweeted: “Big Tech’s out to get conservatives.  Attorney General Barr won’t let them get away with it.”  Senator Hawley’s comments were even more effusive: “Reading the case title United States v. Google . . . it just made me want to say ‘God Bless America.’”  Similar views are easily predicted about a potential upcoming lawsuit against Facebook by the Federal Trade Commission.

As with most political issues, views toward big tech are not monochromatic.  Major technology companies have supporters on both sides of the aisle making technology policy not a partisan issue but a highly nuanced riddle.

On the campaign trail, Biden attempted to position himself as a pragmatic moderate who would defeat COVID and bind America’s partisan political wounds.  While practically all Americans would applaud the release of effective COVID vaccines, there is no similar consensus on any particular technology policy outcome.  Americans are not looking for a specific form of technology policy leadership, much less a specific form of pragmatic leadership.

Political prose doesn’t always match the poetry of campaigning.  Once in office, Biden could seek a more partisan agenda.  The markers of this would be clear.  Agenda item number one would be to re-adopt the Obama administration’s 2015 Title II common carrier “net neutrality” regulation of broadband providers, either through statute or regulation. 

The Federal Communications Commission’s current proceeding on Section 230 presents more of a political challenge.  Although Biden has publicly opposed Section 230 in its current form, he could nevertheless seek to distance himself from President Trump’s similar goal.  Indeed, it wouldn’t be the first Trump-era policy Biden would seek to quickly reverse.  Nor the last.

At this point, only time will tell.

Read in “RealClear Markets()”:https://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2020/11/13/how_would_big_tech_fare_under_biden_583918.html

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