with Tonya Riley
Silicon Valley stands to benefit from the first executive orders that President-elect Joe Biden plans to sign when he’s sworn into office in January.
Biden plans to immediately reverse some of President Trump’s actions on immigration and climate change, according to my colleagues Matt Viser, Seung Min Kim and Annie Linskey. These have been among the most publicly contentious issues between Silicon Valley and Trump since the early days of his administration.
Biden plans to reinstate a program allowing “dreamers,” who were brought to the United States illegally as children, to remain in the country. He’ll also repeal the ban on almost all travel from some Muslim-majority countries. Many chief executives protested these moves and challenged them in court, arguing that the Trump administration’s immigration crackdowns were negatively affecting their employees and efforts to recruit the best engineering talent from all over the world.
Biden will also immediately rejoin the Paris climate accords. Executives from Apple, Facebook, Google and many other tech companies had pressured Trump not to pull out of the agreement, even taking out full-page ads in newspapers to advertise the deal as beneficial to business.
The tech industry is gearing up for a remarkably different White House starting Jan. 20.
A Biden-Harris presidency was in some ways the best scenario for the industry, and the ticket had strong support from some of the industry’s top fundraisers. The new administration will mark the end of the openly tense relationship with Trump, yet the more moderate Democrats are likely to spare tech giants from some of the more heavy-handed regulation that liberal Democrats, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) advocated for during the primary.
But there are still many unknowns about what a potential Biden administration might mean for some of the most pressing policy issues facing the industry. Here are a few things we’ll be watching.
1. Biden has sent mixed messages on antitrust.
Much of the administration’s future work on the issue may hinge on whom he selects as attorney general and federal trade commissioner. He and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris did not go as far as other Democrats such as Warren in calling for specific tech giants to be broken up. But some of the biggest critics of tech companies who have called for a breakup, including Facebook critic Roger McNamee, held a fundraiser for the campaign in October.
It’s not yet clear how Biden plans to handle the recent lawsuit that the Trump administration filed against Google. His campaign declined to comment on specific lawsuits or companies, saying that Biden believes growing economic concentration threatens American values.
Biden has however said that his administration would work closely with Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who has advocated for an overhaul of antitrust laws after conducting an investigation into tech’s power, which accused Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google for engaging in monopoly-style tactics. But many of the legislative proposals that Cicilline has outlined do not have the support of Republicans, so a Biden administration’s ability to pass them may hinge on whether Democrats can gain control of the Senate.
2. The president-elect has signaled he wants to increase regulation of social media.
Biden has said he wants to revoke Section 230, a legal shield that ensures companies can’t face lawsuits for the content that people post on their websites. Even if Republicans control the Senate, this could be an area where there’s some action because many lawmakers on the right are also critical of the legal provision.
However, the Biden campaign has said little about how it would replace or modify Section 230. And it could be difficult to find consensus with Republicans, who want to reform Section 230 to address concerns that companies are biased against conservatives. But there are some bipartisan proposals that could gain momentum in a new Congress, such as a bill known as the PACT Act, which aims to increase transparency around tech companies’ content moderation decisions.
It’s clear that no matter what path the Biden campaign takes, Facebook will likely be in the administration’s crosshairs. Biden has been extremely critical of how the company has done little to address falsehoods on its platform, especially those shared by Trump.
The campaign has said it would create a new task force on online extremism, which would examine the connection between harassment, mass shootings, extremism and violence against women.
3. Tech leaders could play a larger role in a Biden administration coronavirus response.
Biden announced his coronavirus response task force today, underscoring how it’s a top priority for the administration. It remains to be seen how top tech leaders will work with this initiative.
Silicon Valley executives from Google, Apple and other companies were initially involved in the White House’s coronavirus response, but many of the actions never fully materialized. That could change under a Biden administration, which has committed to seek outside help and may have strong ties with tech leaders dating back to the Obama days.
Yet tech companies could have a significant role to play in coordinating testing and contact tracing, as well as ensuring Americans can work and attend school online.
Already Bill Gates has volunteered his help to the new administration:
There will be a lot more to explore in the coming weeks and months of the presidential transition. Do you have insight into how the Biden administration could address these and other challenging policy issues? Reach out at [email protected]
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Video: STL Co. election officials demonstrate bi-partisan effort to protect vote integrity (KMOV St. Louis)
Tech leaders were quick to congratulate Biden and Harris.
Tech leaders avoided partisan politics while focusing on the historic win.
Cisco chief executive Chuck Robbins outlined policy proposals for the next administration:
As did Microsoft President Brad Smith, who pointed to digital access, worker re-skilling and cybersecurity readiness in a blog post about policy priorities for a partnership with the new administration.
“When we consider all these issues, it is apparent that there are opportunities to build new bridges between us and to strengthen the ties that bind us in common purpose,” Smith wrote. “All these challenges are ripe for bipartisan collaboration and for government and industry cooperation.”
Twitter is labeling Trump’s false tweets about election fraud as “disputed,” but it’s letting people retweet them again.
It’s a shift after the company shielded many of Trump’s disputed claims and prevented them from being retweeted as votes were counted across the country. Since networks projected the race for Biden on Saturday, the company has instead been slapping a warning labels on the bottom of the president’s rule-breaking rockets and allowing people to retweet, like and reply.
In one instance on Saturday, the company opted against placing a box over a tweet in which the president questioned the integrity of the vote, alleging “BAD THINGS” had occurred without evidence, Tony Romm reported. Instead, it flagged the tweet with a warning that “This claim about election fraud is disputed.” As of last night, that tweet had been retweeted more than 250,000 times.
The episode raised new questions about how Silicon Valley will handle the delicate period between now and Trump’s departure from the White House.
Twitter applied similar labels to other tweets the president shared, quoting his conservative allies and supporters making false claims about the validity of mail-in ballots and other unproved accusations of problems during the election. It shows how the company is shifting its response to Trump’s tweets now that media outlets have projected Biden’s victory.
“With the election now called by multiple sources per our public guidelines, we will no longer apply warnings on tweets commenting on the election outcome,” Brandon Borrman, a spokesman for Twitter, said in a statement. “We will continue to apply labels to provide additional context on tweets regarding the integrity of the process and next steps where necessary.”
Pinterest, LinkedIn and other smaller platforms are fighting the spread of disinformation.
The sites have seen false allegations of voter fraud trickle down from larger platforms Facebook and Twitter, Rachel Lerman and I report. But unlike the two tech giants, which have armies of moderators, smaller sites such as Pinterest and LinkedIn have had to tackle the surge of disinformation with a fraction of the resources.
As a result, the platforms have taken more aggressive steps. Pinterest prevented the search of terms such as “stolen ballots” and “Sharpiegate,” a conspiracy theory that alleges the use of Sharpie pens resulted in some Arizona ballots not being counted. It’s similar to the approach the company took to crack down on anti-vaccine disinformation in 2019.
The approach works better than individual content moderation for platforms with fewer resources, said Alex Stamos, the former chief security officer of Facebook and the director of the Stanford Internet Observatory.
“It’s much easier to just block Sharpiegate than to try to wade through misinformation and what isn’t,” he said. “You can still enjoy your handmade tea cozy pictures without having your Sharpiegate content.”
Platforms such as Pinterest and LinkedIn are also less likely to receive backlash for enforcing their policies, since their core offering doesn’t revolve around news and politics, experts say.
“People don’t direct as much ire at a company like Pinterest when they make very firm decisions to block, say, anti-vaccine content as they would at Facebook,” said Samuel Woolley, a professor and director of a propaganda research team at the University of Texas at Austin.
Rant and rave
The unexpected tech winner of the election? Apple’s screen time feature:
- Lyft will release earnings on Tuesday.
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RIP Alex Trebek, a man who brought millions of viewers joy as the host of “Jeopardy!” for more than 30 years. Last Week Tonight honored him with this: