Jan 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

GOP plots payback for deplatforming Trump

Illustration of game pieces on a map in the shape of the Capitol Dome and binary code
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Capitol Hill conservatives are gaming out a multi-front war on the tech industry as retribution for deplatforming President Trump and others on the right, congressional sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: When you're in the minority, you figure out who you are as a party. With Republicans now looking up at the Democrats, they're searching for a unifying issue. This is one, at least for now.

What we're hearing: Members are talking anew about breaking up companies, repealing their legal protections and calling their leaders in for testimony. They've been biting their tongues, though, to prevent further damage to their brand after the Capitol siege.

But, but, but: Some are starting to go on the offensive against the companies, at least online and in conservative media.

  • Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who will lead Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee, demanded answers by Tuesday from the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter about their treatment of conservatives.
  • During an appearance on Fox News last week, Wicker said, "It already is bigger than Donald Trump. It amounts to a stifling of free speech."

What they're saying: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who became the poster boy for Republican overreach following the election, said Congress should consider breaking up the companies and adopting Trump's call to repeal Section 230.

  • That part of the Communications Decency Act shields platforms from liability over the content their users post.
  • "We’ve known for some time now that the tech monopolies were moving toward shutting down conservative voices. Now they’ve banned or censored multiple conservatives in a matter of days," Hawley told Axios.

Other Republicans agree, although it's unclear what they can do in the congressional minority.

  • "The censorship of President Trump proves just how much power Big Tech has over speech in America," said Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.). "The way forward to rein in Big Tech is to tackle the blatant antitrust offenses and support state efforts to hold these companies accountable."

Yes, but: Complaints about bias only go so far, especially since right-leaning pages perform especially well on Facebook.

  • Democrats and progressives, in particular, are complaining Big Tech has given safe haven to the worst elements of the right, including white supremacists.

Hill damage control: Apple has reached out to GOP offices attempting to explain and justify its suspension of Parler. Facebook also has reached out after banning Trump to discuss conservative claims of censorship, a GOP House aide said.

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook told Fox News if Parler "gets its moderation together," it'll be back on the App Store.
  • For Facebook, the Trump ban is a clear sign the company is well aware of the Democrats' ascendance in Washington, but making amends with conservatives will have to remain a priority as well.
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