Big Tech Rallies Behind Biden

Employees At Big Tech Companies, Including Google Parent Alphabet And Facebook, Funneled Millions Of Dollars Into Democrats’ Campaigns During The 2020 Election Cycle — A Move That Could Pay Off For Conglomerates Hoping To Stymie The Implementation Of Internet Regulation.

U.S. Capitol Building At Night

Published January 19, 2021

The Center for Responsive Politics [By Krystal Hur]-

Employees at big tech giants, including Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, donated millions to various Democrats’ campaigns in the 2020 election cycle. Employees at the five companies shelled out a combined $12.3 million to Biden’s campaign and millions more to Democrats in high-profile Senate contests, such as recently-elected Jon Ossoff  (D-Ga.) and Raphael Warnock(D-Ga.).

Employees of big tech firms ranked among the top donors to each of those Democrats.

President-elect Joe Biden has yet to propose any tech-related legislation. But Biden previously took a staunch stance on the issue, calling for reform measures including revoking Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which stipulates that big tech companies are not responsible for their users’ content. President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for repeal of that section in his continuing dispute with social media companies.

With most donations coming from company employees, Alphabet contributed around $21 million to Democrats in the 2020 election cycle, with Amazon contributing around $9.4 million. Facebook, Microsoft and Apple contributed about $6 million, $12.7 million and $6.6 million to Democrats, respectively.

The majority of each of the big tech firm’s contributions went to Democratic candidates, and excluding Microsoft, the Biden campaign was the top recipient with Ossoff and Warnock ranking in the top 10. Microsoft’s top recipient for contributions was the Senate Majority PAC, the super PAC affiliated with Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer. The Democratic National Committee ranked in the top three recipients for all of the companies.

Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, said that while the Biden administration and new Congress won’t be completely “lax” with big tech firms, they will likely drag their heels over instituting big tech regulation so as to not alienate their biggest donors.

“The classic move is you slow stuff down, maybe you’ll hold the hearings later but you have people working on reports,” Gordon said. “And you hope something else moves into the news cycle so that slowing it down can mean you never get to it.”

He also said that despite the Democrats’ control of the Senate, they’re “barely in power.”

“If there’s much of a swing, even a tiny swing … they could be out of power again,” Gordon said. “They want the money, they want the favorable comments — they don’t want two years from now to lose the Senate again.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has expressed support for reforming Section 230, suggesting measures such as enhancing transparency surrounding content moderation. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has also said he supports reforming Section 230, similarly emphasizing the need for increased transparency as well as user autonomy over content algorithms. 

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While key figures in Biden’s party such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) support legislation to regulate big tech companies, Biden has remained mum on the subject. Matt Hill, a spokesperson for Biden’s campaign, declined to comment on the Biden administration’s plans regarding the antitrust cases filed during the Trump administration, according to the Wall Street Journal.  

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have also confronted big tech firms on issues such as antitrust and allegedly holding anti-conservative biases. On Oct. 6, the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust released a report of recommendations to reign in big tech companies’ control following a 16-month investigation into competition in the internet industry, honing in on Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook. 

Gordon said he expects the Biden administration and Congress to settle antitrust lawsuits filed against companies like Google and Facebook — but with compromises to avoid upsetting big tech donors without looking “softer on big business than the Republicans.” Legislation that’s more difficult to compromise on will likely move more slowly, he said.

“I think where you’re going to see the slow down is Section 230, because there isn’t a way of compromising your way out of that like there is in the antitrust thing where you compromise your way out [and] you look like you’re still tough on them, even though you’ve settled maybe for easier terms,” Gordon said.

On Nov. 30, a coalition of 33 consumer and advocacy groups urged Biden “to exclude Big Tech executives, lobbyists, lawyers and consultants” from his administration.

“Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft once promised innovation and opportunity, and while they continue to provide many remarkable products, they now represent serious threats to privacy, democracy, innovation, and Americans’ economic well-being,” the letter, signed by groups including Public Citizen and Progressive Democrats of America, said.

According to Reuters, some big tech executives are angling for senior roles in the Biden administration, including spots in the Commerce Department. Some of these firms’ employees already hold positions in Biden’s campaign.

According to the New York Times, “one of Biden’s closest aides” worked at Apple prior to joining the campaign, and Biden’s Innovation Policy Committee “includes at least eight people who work for Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple.”

Despite this, Hill said in a statement to the New York Times that Biden remains committed to holding big tech firms accountable.

“Many technology giants and their executives have not only abused their power but misled the American people, damaged our democracy and evaded any form of responsibility,” Hill told the Times. “Anyone who thinks that campaign volunteers or advisers will change Joe Biden’s fundamental commitment to stopping the abuse of power and stepping up for the middle class doesn’t know Joe Biden.”

While Congress hasn’t passed a bill regulating big tech, big tech firms recently doubled down on moderating user content, resulting in public outcry from Republicans and sentiment from Democrats that such action was long overdue.

After a pro-Trump group stormed the Capitol building on Jan. 6, Twitter suspended Trump’s account for 12 hours, making the suspension permanent on Jan. 8. Facebook also suspended Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely, at least until he exits office. 

Other tech companies such as Twitch and Snapchat have since followed suit and disabled Trump’s accounts. Apple and Google shut down Parler, a social media platform notable for use among conservatives, on their mobile platforms while Amazon kicked the platform off their cloud storage.

Facebook also said on Jan. 11 that it will ban the phrase “stop the steal” from its platform while Twitter announced a day later that it has permanently suspended over 70,000 accounts associated with QAnon content since Friday. 

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