Democrat presidential candidate Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke was correct in his claim that big tech platforms “curate” the content that we see. In fact, it’s a point that was popularized by Republicans, including his one-time Senate opponent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
Speaking at the CNN Democrat presidential debate today, Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke echoed a talking point often made by Republican critics of Silicon Valley — that big tech platforms ought to be considered publishers if they are engaged in curating content rather than taking a hands-off approach.
“Right now we treat [big tech platforms] functionally as a utility,” said Rep. O’Rourke, “when in reality they’re more akin to a publisher. They curate the content that we see.”
“Our pictures and personal information that they share with others … We would allow no publisher to do what Facebook is doing, to publish that ad that Senator Warren has rightfully called out, that CNN has refused to air because it is untrue and tells lies about the Vice President.”
“Treat them like the publisher[s] that they are, that is what I will do as President, and we will be unafraid to break up big businesses if we have to do that.”
Congressman O’Rourke is right. Big tech platforms, often due to pressure from his fellow Democrats to pick and choose what content their users see, have moved into the role of content curators and publishers as opposed to neutral platforms in recent years.
This change in policy was acknowledged by Google’s own internal researchers in a document exclusively leaked to Breitbart News called “The Good Censor.” In one section of the document, the researchers acknowledged that Google and other big tech platforms have tilted towards the role of “editor” and “publisher” in their approach to user-generated content.
Other leaks have revealed tech companies using top-down interventions to curate political search results (Google/YouTube), and putting high-profile political figures on a “hate agent” watchlist for potential banning (Facebook). Tech companies have also banned a wide range of political figures and news sources — ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, Facebook banned the pages of over 800 independent news websites.
It has long been the position of many leading Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) that actions like those listed above have made it more appropriate to describe them as publishers rather than neutral platforms.
“If they’re not going to be neutral public forums, if they’re going to be active political speakers, favoring one point of view and disfavoring another, they have a first amendment right to do that, but they have no entitlement to a special congressionally-created immunity from liability that nobody else enjoys,” Sen. Cruz told Breitbart News last year.