Updated Jul 10, 2018 - Technology

Bashing Silicon Valley is the new political fundraising pitch

A frowning emoticon with dollar signs for eyes

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Political players on both the right and the left are trying to use criticism of Silicon Valley as a new fundraising lever.

Why it matters: When both liberal and conservative operatives believe that beating up on tech companies will get supporters to open their wallets, big tech's already tarnished public image may be in for more bruising.

The pitches:

  • After widespread outrage last month over the administration's separation of migrants from their children, Demand Progress, a liberal group, asked for contributions to support its protest of tech companies doing business with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Big tech is making millions off selling the government tools to jail immigrant families,” the group said on a donation page it linked to in a message sent last week.
  • Diamond and Silk, the conservative video personalities who have accused Facebook of suppressing their content, asked fans on April 25 to donate as they battled the social giant. “Like David and Goliath, the bigger they are the harder they fall,” they said.
  • On April 20, the National Republican Congressional Committee emailed a “rapid response poll” with the question “Do you think Facebook censors conservatives?” Recipients who entered their contact information were redirected to a donation page.
  • The right-leaning online video producer PragerU sent out a fundraising email in February pegged to its lawsuit against YouTube alleging censorship. It sent another email in May, after the suit was dismissed.

Between the lines: Political operators make their bones trying to figure out what issues motivate people to take concrete action, like giving money or voting. Silicon Valley may now be alarming enough as a boogeyman to serve that purpose.

Reality check: While favorability ratings for some individual large tech companies fell earlier this year, many still remain very popular for their convenience and often-free services.

Big picture: After a wave of criticism from the right over concerns about censorship on social platforms, several companies have increased their outreach to conservatives. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey earlier this year came to Washington to meet with conservative pundits, and Facebook has met with Republicans on Capitol Hill over the censorship concerns.

The left’s relationship with Big Tech has also become more complicated over the last two years. Though Silicon Valley had deep ties with the Obama administration, Democrats are furious about how Facebook was manipulated during the 2016 election, upset with Twitter’s light policing of the so-called alt-right and frustrated with cloud service companies that work with the Trump administration.

The bottom line: We don't yet know whether Americans care enough about criticisms of tech companies over censorship, privacy, or government contracts to drive their votes — or drive them away from Silicon Valley’s products. If the pitches keep coming, that means the bashing is working.

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