The Coming War Between Washington And Silicon Valley

Washington silicon valleyFacebook's days as a stock market star could be history under Biden's Administration

Pablo Pardo (Washington) | The loss of social networks Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is not just a blow to Trump. It’s also a blow to his supporters. Those platforms have deleted thousands of accounts, many of them from followers of the “QAnon” conspiracy. This claims that Trump is on his own leading a war against a network of pedophiles which controls the world with members such as Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel (they say she is Hitler’s granddaughter) and even the Pope (because of the Catholic Church’s pederasty cases).

But the matter does not end here. In addition, Amazon has withdrawn its services as a hosting provider for the Parler app, the new US ultra-right-wing network. Meanwhile, Apple and Google have removed it from their online stores. Picking a fight with Parler is no small thing. It is, in a sense, Silicon Valley against a marginal, but influential, segment of Wall Street. For Parler, like the Breitbart website, belongs to the Mercer family, who have made their fortune with the hedge fund ‘Rennaisance Technologies,’ the founder of algorithmic trading.

The Mercers are not representative of Wall Street. But Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook (and to a lesser extent, Twitter) are representative of Silicon Valley. Their decision to oust Trump and Parler is not just a matter of corporate responsibility. After all, in November, Facebook refused to moderate comments accusing Joe Biden of fraud. The Internet giants’ decision to declare the president of the United States ‘persona non grata’ has more to do with something that happened on Jan. 5 in Georgia than Jan. 6 in Washington.

The majority the Democrats won that day in the Senate, albeit a slim one, is bad news for Silicon Valley. Over the past four decades, the Democratic Party has been much tougher than the Republican Party when it comes to applying antitrust legislation. The key is that Republicans have always believed more in the so-called ‘Bork Doctrine’ of Judge Robert Bork. According to that thesis, a company that has a dominant position in a market – at the time when Bork designed that idea, IBM or AT&T – can benefit consumers. This is because, due to its size, it is able to develop economies of scale and invest more in R&D, making it more competitive. The important thing, they argue, is that there should be no barriers to entry into the markets, that is, to keep regulation low, so that the competition is not diminished.

The Democratic Party has always been more reluctant to accept the ‘Bork Doctrine’ than the Republican Party. And, in recent years, that opposition has become tougher. There is also an almost personal issue: when Ronald Reagan tried to appoint Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987, the nomination was torpedoed by a senator named Joe Biden.

So one would think that both for purely political reasons – to please the left wing of the Democratic Party – and for ideological principles – that opposition to the control of big business – Biden will not pass up the opportunity to trim the quasi-monopolies of the Internet giants.

Section 230

The fight between Washington and Silicon Valley is going to be tough. Because it cut across different sections of the political spectrum. On social issues, the tech companies – and their workers – tend to align themselves with the Democrats. On economic policy, however, they tend more toward the Republican Party. Facebook, for example, has on its board former Secretary of State under George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, owner of the ‘big data’ company Palantir and a Trump supporter.

At the same time, the Obama White House ended up in Silicon Valley. There is, for example, his former spokesman, Jay Carney, as Director of Communications at Amazon, or his former Director of Policy Planning, Anne Marie Slaughter, as CEO of the New America Foundation, a research center colloquially known in Washington as “Google’s think tank”.

That ‘intersectionality’ – to use a buzzword – will define this tension. In fact, Donald Trump’s government has brought complaints against Facebook – the most ‘Republican’ of the big internet companies, after software manufacturer Oracle – and Alphabet – Google’s owner – for abuse of dominant position. Amazon, due to its control of online retail and, to a lesser extent, Apple, for the conditions it imposes on its app store, could be next.

In addition, there is another factor: freedom of expression. Online platforms are protected from any legal consequences of the contents posted by their users, or the links to which they refer. This is Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act, which has been in force since 1996. Such a formidable legal shield (can anyone imagine if that were to apply to normal media?) is being questioned by right and left. Trump called for its repeal, although he never carried out any initiative in that direction. So did Biden. The question is how that can be changed, because it is not clear that Congress has the courage to carry it out. In any case, if Section 230 is repealed or modified, Facebook’s days as a stock market star could be history. Mark Zuckerberg’s social network is famous for the lack of control over its content (the same happens with its two other platforms, Instagram and WhatsApp).

About the Author

Pablo Pardo
Pablo Pardo is Washington DC correspondent of El Mundo. Journalist especialized in International Economics and Politics.