It has been a year of setbacks for big tech, with Google, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, among other tech companies, all finding themselves facing new political threats from without and within. Tech companies’ favorite candidate lost the election, they were hauled before congress, and both left and right-wing media are out to get them.
It’s a bad time to be a tech CEO — maybe that’s why Eric Schmidt stepped down as Executive Chairman of Alphabet. Not only has conservative America woken up to their political biases, they are also routinely attacked by leftists for not doing enough to contain the rise of Trump and other populists. In other words, they’re being attacked for being too partisan, and for not being partisan enough.
Suddenly faced with an unfriendly administration, tech companies are also under attack from their former Democrat allies in Congress for allowing so-called “fake news” on their platform.
Meanwhile, in addition to causing another legal nightmare for Google, the James Damore scandal has rocked Silicon Valley, exposing a climate of intolerance, indoctrination, and intimidation not previously seen outside of Hollywood and college campuses.
2017 is the year that big tech came under attack from all quarters: from the right, from the left, from Congress, from the administration, and even from their own employees.
Trump’s First Year
The election of Donald Trump was perhaps the single biggest setback for big tech. Insiders at Google told Breitbart Tech that some senior executives nearly broke down in tears at the company’s all-hands meeting on the day after the election.
But the election of Trump wasn’t just damaging in a psychological, let’s-make-the-snowflakes-cry sense, it was also a severe political blow. Google operated a revolving door with the Obama White House: according to research by the Intercept, by 2015 more than 250 staffers had “shuttled from government service to Google employment or vice versa. Obama also enjoyed a close relationship with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, even visiting the company HQ.
On Internet policy, the Obama administration was happy to do the bidding of web giants, slapping ISPs with stringent Title II oversight that made it more difficult for Google, Netflix, and other outsized web services to be charged extra for bandwidth (this is more commonly known as “net neutrality” — a great political branding trick.)
Perhaps because of their progressive biases, big tech’s outreach to the Trump campaign was virtually nonexistent during the election, with the notable exception of Peter Thiel. Indeed, Eric Schmidt did all he could to help Clinton win. The result? A year in which, for the first time in a while, the tech giants don’t have an administration that dances to their tune.
The tears were scarcely dry on the floor of Hillary’s victory party when Democrats started casting around for someone to blame. They fixated on the Internet. The left had been souring on Internet freedom for a while, slowly instituting censorship under the guise of “anti-abuse” campaigns on social media, but the election of Trump kicked their efforts up a notch. Democrats, including Obama himself, pointed the finger at so-called “fake news,” a thinly-veiled attempt to reclassify alternative media, and urged social media companies to take action.
And take action they did! Google announced they would be working with fact-checkers to label and challenge “fake news” in their search results, and Facebook announced a similar initiative on their platform.
Their efforts would spectacularly backfire. Not only did “fake news” end up becoming a far more powerful rhetorical weapon against the left than it did against the right (Trump has made the term virtually synonymous with “CNN”), but the tech companies’ attempts to manipulate their users have failed. Just this week, Facebook axed its anti-fake news program, stating that “disputed” labels next to a news story only made people more likely to believe it. Surprise surprise, users don’t take kindly to a centralized authority telling them what to think and what to click on.
The YouTube Adpocalypse
Cable — and by extension, cable news — is seriously threatened by the rise of big tech. Subscriptions for cable and Netflix are now neck-and-neck. “Cord-cutting” — people abandoning cable TV and relying on the Internet for their media — is real and growing. Meanwhile, politically incorrect YouTube stars like PewDiePie are attracting audiences that are far larger, and far younger than any cable news host.
Good news for tech, right? Not quite: Old Media spent the last year waging a relentless campaign against YouTube, previously one of the last major platforms that maintained a light-touch approach to regulating speech. A series of headlines exposing extremist videos on YouTube led to the “adpocalypse” — a mass boycott of YouTube by major advertisers, causing the ad revenue of some content creators to dwindle to almost zero.
Instead of standing their ground, or maybe doing more to kick terror-promoters and child abusers off the platform, YouTube instead took the SJW approach, joining forces with the ADL to combat “cyberhate” and promising to censor non-rulebreaking, “offensive” content. And they did all of this before they cracked down on alleged child abusers. Priorities!
Google exposed from within
The leak of diversity advocate James Damore’s memo criticizing Google for its “ideological echo-chamber” caused shockwaves in Silicon Valley, as did his subsequent firing. In a stroke, Google seemingly proved the main thesis of Damore’s memo: that disagreeing with leftist dogma at the company results in swift punishment. Google is now facing a legal battle with Damore, which could prove to be a landmark moment in litigation against political discrimination. Should Damore win, the effects will reverberate across Silicon Valley, which is at least as hostile towards conservatives as Hollywood is.
Following the Damore controversy, Breitbart Tech was inundated with reports from within Google about the company’s culture of political intolerance. Collated under our “Rebels of Google” tag, current and former employees told of punches being thrown over political disagreements, of Google VPs leading Black Lives Matter chants on stage, of “efforts to demote anything non-PC from search results,” of softball interviews for women and minorities, and of tampons being kept in the men’s rooms because “some men menstruate.” Everything that Damore alleged about a culture of intolerant leftist groupthink at Google seemed to be borne out by the flood of leaks that followed.
Net Neutrality violated (but not by ISPs!)
Net Neutrality was one of the cleverest branding tricks pulled off by the Obama-era left. In theory, it refers to a “neutral” Internet, in which content is treated equally, and not blocked or throttled. In other words, no-one’s content can suddenly be made to load slowly, or be kicked off the Internet. In other words, Net Neutrality is meant to preserve a free and open Internet.
The Obama administration and their allies in the media successfully associated this noble goal with their 2015 introduction of Title II regulation for ISPs, which classified them as common carriers. In the words of FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who recently overturned the regulation, this was a regulatory “sledgehammer.” Yes, it prevented ISPs from blocking and throttling content (two things they hadn’t done prior to the regulation), but the real aim was to prevent them raising charges on Netflix and other streaming services for the extraordinary amount of bandwidth they use. It wasn’t about protecting users from corporations, it was about protecting one set of corporations from another set of corporations.
If Title II regulation is synonymous with net neutrality, as the left have so successfully argued, then it should have prevented Neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer from being kicked off the Internet by domain registrars in the aftermath of Charlottesville. It didn’t. The CEO of one of the companies involved, Cloudflare, described his actions pretty bluntly: “I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet.”
As long as someone has the power to do that, even if it is to Nazis, then we don’t have “Net Neutrality.” Do ISPs need oversight to preserve the free and open web? Probably. But if the Charlottesville aftermath was any guide, ISPs are far from the most urgent problem. And in what could signal big trouble for big tech, the FCC agrees.
Twitter formally abandons free speech
Twitter formally abandoning its official commitment to free speech was perhaps the least surprising development of 2017. The platform that once helped Arab revolutionaries evade the censorship of their authoritarian regimes, and bragged of being “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” has now, finally, admitted that they think it is “no longer possible to protect all speech.”
Yes, we knew that already. Indeed, Twitter gave us a reminder earlier in the year when they kicked Roger Stone off the platform for insulting CNN anchors. The platform doesn’t care about what ordinary users think: they care about celebrities and public fingers. Their progressive political views also mirror that of the celebrities whose feelings they protect: Twitter will now ban extreme yet peaceful right-wingers, while allowing violent Antifa accounts to remain on the platform.
For Twitter, as always, it’s still feelz over free speech. At least now they’re honest about it.