During Wednesday's Senate committee hearing, Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester called Big Tech “the unregulated Wild West that needs to be dealt with." He spent the rest of his seven minutes babbling incoherently, but the image is still relevant. The problem being, some Americans happen to love the Wild West. Some of us feel okay with individual freedom and personal autonomy.
Senators from both parties confronted the CEO's of Twitter, Facebook, and Google at the Section 230 Big Tech hearing. Every single person involved was excessively prepared. Except for Jack Dorsey. Perhaps because Dorsey, as CEO and co-founder of Twitter, found himself in the hot seat recently. Literally that morning, on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, page A1, was a story about how a feckless Dorsey was essentially ambushed by his own company “when with little explanation the platform he leads began blocking its millions of users from sharing links to a pair of New York Post stories about Joe Biden 's son, Hunter Biden. Within hours, lawmakers said they would subpoena Mr. Dorsey to explain his decision."
Maybe it was the nose ring, or the extra grey in his Fu Manchu, but Dorsey was blindsided. He was still fighting off embarrassment. Just a few days ago, he (rightfully) criticized his own company for their poor response to the Hunter Biden story. And you could practically read Dorsey's thoughts as he struggled to remain deadpan through the hearing.
Democrats repeatedly bemoaned the fact that the hearing was being held less than a week before the election — as if they were actually doing any campaigning anyway. They kept to their usual gaslighting. Accusing conservatives of being unstoppable conspiracy theorists. Republican senators were unwavering. If you closed your eyes and listened, it felt like a furious yet pitch-perfect sermon, one last concerted charge toward saving the republic.
Mike Lee, in particular, was a bulldog. Ted Cruz was like Zoro, swiping and attacking. Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, fresh off the Amy Coney Barrett hearings, was even fresher than she was last week.
But here's what it was really about: Wednesday, the figurative public execution did not happen. Everybody was too well prepared. It was less of a Senate hearing, and more of a peek at some neglected downtown, windows boarded up. Ultimately, we were left wondering, what comes next?
Jack Dorsey, in particular, appeared tired or annoyed.
For too long to remember, what all of us have been nervously wondering is whether or not social media companies would screw up this election like they did in 2016. And at the hearing we saw them respond personally. Jack Dorsey, in particular, appeared tired or annoyed.
The hearing mostly focused on Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
It was clear that both of them have been nervous about this election. That they've spent a lot of time worrying about it. They were skittish. These are the final moments of an entire American legacy. The gravity weighs on all of us. Nerves are frayed with everyone.
But, in moments of daunting pressure, we see a person's excellence appear or vanish. If someone can do their job under intense pressure, then we're impressed. We're relieved. Zuckerberg did fine — he's been through plenty of these hearings. Google CEO Sundar Pichai chimed in occasionally, but the focus of Senators' ire was on Twitter and Facebook.
Both companies have grown into empires, growing at a rate that nobody could keep up with. Yet benefitting exorbitantly from their own willing ignorance. They follow the mob, and Alex Jones is gone. Then Gavin McInness. Then a little closer. Then a little closer to you and me.
Going into the 2020 election, social media CEO's have been worried about “a Hack and Leak," a data-dump of hacked material that goes viral on their platforms, like Guccifer 2.0 in 2016, when an anonymous source released damning emails from the Democratic National Committee.
Facebook and Twitter were nervous about an “October Surprise," a last-minute dump of leaked documents that had the potential to sway the election. Everyone has been so skittish. Facebook employees even literally role-played drills on how to handle any situation that would influence the election.
If you can believe it, Facebook's was a far more actuarial response, more cautious, more subtle. They choked the newsfeed, revamping their ever-dubious algorithm. Straining to please everyone all at once.
Twitter's approach was more ... Twitter-like: Aggressively dumb yet unwaveringly confident. They would drop the ban hammer, blanket-banning links to supposed leaked information, and even suspending accounts that re-tweeted those links. Which is why, last week, we saw a ton of legacy bluecheck news outlets and journalists drop like flies for no more than sharing the Hunter Biden story.
Something is wrong when both sides are complaining about the same thing but blaming one another for it. The same time that we conservatives were pointing out obvious ideological bias by Big Tech against Donald Trump, a slew of progressive and liberal outlets were screaming ideological bias in favor of Donald Trump. An “expose" in the October 19th edition of the New Yorker claimed to expose rampant conservative favoritism, as if Silicon Valley were actually an assemblage of conservatives — which is clearly, provably false.
So when the Hunter Biden story broke, they sprung into action. Because, let's be honest, there are a lot of aspects of the whole story that don't make sense. The laptop. Guiliani's lawyers.
Twitter panicked. They attacked. They freaked out.
Facebook and Twitter responded to the Hunter Biden story with their new policies. All of it has played out like a cheap soap opera. Facebook tried to mute it. Twitter panicked. They attacked. They freaked out.
Both companies had readied for contingencies that involved hackers, criminals, extortionists. They were so skittish that they fired shots at noncombatants. Instead of hackers, they were attacking the nation's oldest daily paper, founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801 — which was 218 years ago — a daily with the fourth largest distribution in the nation.
The laptop is real. The story is a tangle. And the social media response was a disaster. They told us not to look at the giant pink elephant. Guess where we are staring now?
But what direction should legislators take their investigation of Big Tech? What sort of policy changes should they offer? How would changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act affect conservative outlets? The legislation, passed into law in 1996, states that: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."
It is worth mentioning that the left also has a distrust for Big Tech. Harper's September cover story was “The Big Tech Extortion Racket," in which — remarkably — the author compares the fight against Big Tech to the Boston Tea Party, likening Big Tech to the British East India Company and their trade monopoly. But where conservatives take umbrage with anti-conservative bias, the left considers Big Tech to be authoritarian, or that Big Tech doesn't censor conservatives enough.
As usual, the problem here was one of self-awareness: The Democrats had none. They have devoted too many hours, or years, or even decades, monologuing into mirrors. Well, those tactics no longer work — Donald Trump changed that.
I can tell you what I know: Social justice is a system of endless diminishing. It keeps devouring itself into nonexistence. It has mutated into the monster it is because we have budged, and budged, and budged. But we cannot budge anymore.