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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The Trump administration could take a number of routes as it considers regulating Google — as well as Facebook and Twitter — over what it perceives as an anti-conservative bias in the way its search engine surfaces news.

The bottom line: There’s little that the White House could do without Congress. But there have never been more proposals on regulating large web platforms circulating around Washington than there are right now — even if they are long shots.

The options proposed so far vary in their ambition and scope. Several require action from Congress:

  • Requiring more transparency around algorithms: Congress could create a requirement that it should be possible to audit the algorithms that determine what content is presented to users. That’s an idea that could gain traction on the left given broader concerns about online content discrimination.
  • Making it easier to sue Big Tech: Right now, legal language known as Section 230 shields online platforms from being sued over the user-generated content they host. But lawmakers are increasingly reconsidering that law in response to concerns about malicious content online. A 2017 memo circulated by conservative activist Phil Kerpen explicitly recommended using this approach to address the right’s concerns about perceived liberal bias.
  • Designating Google as a “common carrier”: This unlikely option would allow Congress to appoint a regulator to oversee Google (as well as other online platforms) given its significant power and reach, something that could in turn lead to more restrictions on how it moderates content.

The Justice Department could also look at whether Google has violated antitrust regulations more broadly — something that could, in theory, lead to the company’s breakup — but the president is not supposed to influence the way that agency enforces the law.

  • It could also force Google to make its intellectual property public, Google critic Jonathan Taplin told Axios last year.
  • The Federal Trade Commission could also pursue a case against Google if it thought the company had deceived consumers. The agency has settled with the company, rather than suing it, in the past over privacy and competition concerns — and the contents of those settlements could give it another way to make a case against the company.

Reality check: The right has been alleging for years that large tech companies are intentionally and systematically biased against them, but there's little evidence to back up those claims.

  • “Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don't bias our results toward any political ideology,” said a Google spokesperson in a Tuesday statement after Trump tweeted.
  • Other instances of algorithmic bias have surfaced, however; ProPublica was a Pulitzer Prize finalist last year for its reporting on how racial and other biases are often baked into software.
  • Yelp public policy staffer Luther Lowe, a consistent critic of the search giant, suggested in a tweet that the real incentive for Google to meddle with search results is to privilege its own business, not because of politics.

What’s next: Trump widened the target Tuesday afternoon by saying Twitter and Facebook, as well as Google, "are really treading on very, very, troubled territory." Still, when it comes to web platforms, Congress seems more interested in taking action on political disinformation and privacy than on alleged anti-conservative bias.

  • Republicans aren't likely to drop the issue. Next week, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey will face their questions when he appears before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. On the same day, Dorsey will join Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg — and potentially a representative from Google — at a Senate hearing on political disinformation on their platforms.

Go deeper

Updated 6 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
9 hours ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania.