For prominent Internet Tech companies in the United States, including Google, Twitter and Facebook, September 2018 is poised to be a crucial month. The social media and search engine giants have received considerable flak in recent times, from both Democrats and Republicans, for numerous reasons. Now, representatives from these companies are set to appear in Washington DC in front of a bipartisan committee, who will scrutinize their business model and various algorithms on which the platforms are run.
The Tech giants have faced criticism from the left-winged Democrats, as their platform was used to spread divisive propaganda that resulted in their candidate Hillary Clinton, losing the presidential election to Republican Donald Trump. Such propaganda was mostly spread by Russia, in an effort to undermine Western Democracy. The ease with which such acts were carried out is a major talking point for Democratic members of Congress, and they will demand a good amount of assurance from Tech Giants to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future. In addition to the spread of propaganda on their websites, the Tech companies have also been accused of exploiting personal information of users. Facebook, a major hub of personal information, unknowingly sold those data to Cambridge Analytica, who used it to target advertisements during the 2016 Presidential election.
Off late, thanks to President Donald Trump, the Tech companies have also faced criticism from the right. One fine day, out of the blue, he tweeted, “Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD.” This kick-started the discourse that Google was censoring right-wing voices and showcasing voices from the left. In an interview with Bloomberg, Trump further raised the stakes, claiming “conservatives have been treated very unfairly” and said the companies may be in a “very antitrust situation”.
Google has defended itself against Trump’s allegations, issuing a statement insisting: “Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology.” Nonetheless, Tech companies must face up to their day of reckoning in front of angry members of Congress. Reports of regulations to be implemented are on the grapevine, similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Act. However, regulations might also be based on the Consumer Privacy Act, recently passed by California, which gives consumers more control over their personal information – including the ability to have the data removed and being sold to advertisers.
Franklin Foer, author of “World Without Mind: the Existential Threat of Big Tech’, has said, “We have two or three companies that are the masters of the global public sphere. That’s too much power to have invested in a small number of companies.” This indeed might be the problem of Tech giants controlling the monopoly and being at the end of every massacre that occurs on the Internet.
While Facebook will be represented by chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, Twitter’s representative will be none other than CEO Jack Dorsey. Along with an unnamed representative from Google, they are set to face the political heat of both parties in Congress – that will challenge their transparency, policies of data protection and apparent political bias.