Sep 18, 2017

Both parties to move on Facebook and other tech giants

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Achmad Ibrahim / AP

Members of Congress in both parties have begun exploring possible legislative action against Facebook and other tech giants, setting the stage for a potentially massive battle in the midterm election year of 2018.

Why it matters: Following revelations about fake news and paid Russian propaganda on Facebook during last year's election, big tech has become a big target, with politicians across the spectrum declaring on Sunday shows that more scrutiny, transparency and restrictions are needed.

The shift against the companies has been sudden, and is one of the biggest stories of the year.

Republicans are likely to emphasize the national security and homeland security aspects to reining in the tech companies.

  • A GOP lobbyist who's involved in the conversations says that the populist right in Trump's base views tech companies as political combatants that favor open border and liberal social policies.
  • Republican lawmakers, seeing a massive opening on a sexy issue, have begun consulting experts who have studied ways Congress could act.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia is actively working to develop legislation to improve disclosure for online political ads.

  • Warner's office tells me: "As more and more dollars are being spent on these digital platforms, we may need legislation to require more disclosure about political ads running on social media, the way we do for television ads. ... [T]he ads you may see on Facebook are not public and are targeted narrowly to users based on different variables — making disclosure and transparency even more vital."
  • But a well-wired Democrat warns: "It's not at all clear that people are ready to turn the big tech firms into villains — for national security issues, monopolization, commodifying our info or privacy. People like iPhones and Google and Amazon. They don't make for as clear cut a target as pharma or Wall Street."

Be smart: Facebook sees the abrupt turn in elite opinion about Big Tech, and is unlikely to oppose all legislation. Instead, Facebook will describe the proposals as a "roadmap" or "framework," and try to steer them in the industry's direction rather than try to kill them, which would be unpopular in this environment.

Go deeper

Exclusive: Global trust in the tech industry is slipping

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The backlash against Big Tech has long flourished among pundits and policymakers, but a new survey suggests it's beginning to show up in popular opinion as well.

Driving the news: New data from Edelman out Tuesday finds that trust in tech companies is declining and that people trust cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence less than they do the industry overall.

"It was 30 years ago, get over it": Mike Bloomberg's partner brushes off NDA concerns

Diana Taylor at a Mike Bloomberg event last month. Photo: Ron Adar/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Diana Taylor, Mike Bloomberg's longtime partner, dismissed the concerns surrounding non-disclosure agreements used at his company, Bloomberg LP, telling CBS News that she would say to those bothered by the allegations, "It was 30 years ago, get over it."

Why it matters: Democratic candidates have used the NDAs as a talking point against Bloomberg, calling on him to allow women to speak about the reported sexual harassment and gender discrimination they faced while working for him.

Trump's opportunity to use Bernie as an economic scapegoat

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Zach Gibson/Stringer, The Washington Post/Getty Contributor

Bernie Sanders is poised to become an economic scapegoat for both the White House and Corporate America, assuming that Sanders comes through Super Tuesday unscathed.

The big picture: If the U.S. economy remains strong, President Trump and CEOs will claim credit (as they've been doing for three years). If it turns sour, they'll blame Bernie (even though it's a largely baseless charge).