Several weeks ago Google announced it would not be
renewing its “Project Maven” drone A.I.-imaging contract with the U.S. Department of Defense, amid protests from a portion of its employees. As feared, this appears to have begun a small firestorm as now some employees and shareholders at companies such as Microsoft
are now trying to halt their companies’ various national security work with the United States government.
In the process, tech companies that have grown and prospered thanks to the free and innovative environment our country fosters are now seemingly turning their back on America at a time of need, as our tech war with countries such as China rapidly escalates.
“Big Tech” has been in the news a lot this past year and for all the wrong reasons. From Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal in March to seeming systematic censorship of conservative political opinions, from the spread of “fake news” and misinformation to foreign regimes using social media for Orwellian control, we’re a long way from the light-hearted startup days as envisioned by films such as Aaron Sorkin’s 2010 “The Social Network.”
In recent decades technology has dramatically transformed our lives, with these past few years seeing the massive rise of internet services. Their effect has rippled across everything from our economy, where many of these companies are now worth hundreds of billions of dollars, to our daily activities as we are glued to our smartphones and spend hours watching platforms such as YouTube and Netflix.
Tech has also had a major political impact ever since the 2008 Presidential election, where social media was essential behind then-Senator Barack Obama’s win. Years later, social media would also prove to be the driving force behind President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, as his digital team utilized micro-targeting to drive turnout in the key swing states that ended up winning him the election.
Yet as the world giveth, so it taketh. As has become increasingly apparent in recent years, technology has also made our lives open in a way previously impossible. Our personal information now seems less our own but rather a commodity that we can’t even track the distribution of. Tech has engulfed our day-to-day existence so much that in-person community has fallen, particularly amongst young people.
Politically, technology has also begun rearing its dark side too. Large portions of America, and the world, are on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, and more. Even beyond overt censorship such as banning, subtle manipulations such as decreasing the visibility of new stories and search results can have immense impact on public opinion and therefore elections and government policy.
For example, a few months ago Facebook suddenly and significantly changed its core algorithm to better favor personal content over organization content, as well as de-rank material it deemed ‘unsafe’ or ‘unproductive.’ Soon many conservative organizations noticed their pages’ reach had dropped dramatically, dealing a seemingly irreversible blow to the content platforms on Facebook they had so long invested in, in terms of both time and money.
Conservative personalities such as Diamond and Silk were notable victims of this, bringing their concerns even to Congress at a hearing where Google, Facebook, and Twitter decided not to attend despite their invitations to testify. Google, with its search-engine results ranking, recently had a similar scandal.
All of this has not gone unnoticed by the public, which polling has shown is increasingly concerned on both sides of the aisle about the power of “Big Tech.” Public support for some kind of regulatory reigning in of tech companies as well as increased competition has skyrocketed dramatically, marking a sharp shift from the laid-back attitudes to social media and internet services previously.
How all of this resolves itself remains unclear, but what is definite is that these internet tech companies are no longer some bootstraps startup in someone’s garage but a mega-industry with immense social, political, and economic impact on society.
While conservatives have been greatly and rightly concerned over potentially nefarious ways in which tech has been acting, indeed our entire country should be seriously thinking about the role of technology in our political discourse, our government, and truly in our lives in general.
Erich Reimer is a D.C.-based government affairs strategist, entrepreneur, financial commentator, and national columnist with a varied and extensive background in federal government financial regulation, state government economic development, business (technology and finance), policy, politics, law, and media. He appears frequently on cable television news to offer insights on policy, business, legal, and political matters. A former Democratic Party national youth leader turned Republican, he focuses on pragmatic and patriotic governance solutions to our nation’s most pressing challenges. He holds a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and a Bachelor's from the University of Pennsylvania. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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