As if in lockstep, other prominent Republicans chimed in Monday to level their own allegations of Big Tech censorship. Trump called Twitter a “disgrace to democracy” and a “low-life” along with Facebook, and encouraged followers to “drop off” of both platforms. Sen. Rand Paul announced in an op-ed that he was “quitting YouTube” as a New Year’s resolution and urged his followers to join him on alternative social media platforms. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a statement decrying what he said was a “dangerous” decision by Twitter.
“It is clear any speech that does not fit Big Tech’s orthodoxy gets muzzled,” McCarthy said.
But as the country barrels toward another round of high-stakes elections this year in which social media will surely play a pivotal role, expect Republican claims of Big Tech’s bias to intensify further.
Greene and other lawmakers’ vilification of tech platforms as partisan actors fits into a much broader pattern reflecting America’s dysfunctional politics. Many of the country’s biggest political battles today are no longer about the what of politics — as in, which concrete laws and policies will serve the public best and hopefully leave Americans better off — but about the how of politics. Who gets to vote and when; which judges get to serve on the Supreme Court; and now increasingly, who gets to say what on private social media platforms.
Drawing tech platforms into the middle of the culture war grants considerable benefits to the politician willing to do it. So long as users like Greene enjoy exposure on a mainstream platform, they can use it to amplify fringe conspiracy theories that otherwise would not receive airtime. And when they are finally exiled from the platform for those claims, they can use their supposed outsider status to activate an engaged base of donors and voters who are already primed to believe the platform was motivated to discriminate.
Underscoring the point, Greene posted on an alternative social media platform after her ban that “silly punishments” do nothing but “make me more determined, stronger, & effective.” She hinted vaguely that her Twitter ban “started very big things” and claimed, without evidence, that “the sun is setting on Twitter.”
Tech platforms do currently face a certain level of legislative risk. In recent months, House lawmakers have coalesced around the idea of imposing new requirements on algorithms. Other bills are in play that target the platforms’ market dominance, their impact on teen mental health, and consumer privacy. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who chairs a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, told CNN Business he intends to introduce a new proposal this year meant to protect kids online, though he declined to give specifics.
“Congress must seize this historic moment — a pivotal turning point for reining in Big Tech,” Blumenthal said. “Having seen Big Tech’s harms and abuses, in our hearings and their own lives, Americans are ready for action — and results.”
Congressional Republicans have widely expressed concerns over these same issues. But their added insistence on legislation addressing claims of anti-conservative censorship — often containing ideas of dubious constitutionality, according to First Amendment experts — has contributed to the legislative deadlock and slowed Congress’s progress on other forms of tech regulation.
It has been years of hearings, reports and press conferences on Big Tech’s alleged excesses. And yet amid the obvious standstill, a coterie of lawmakers including Greene continues to eke political mileage out of seeming perpetually on the verge of making Silicon Valley pay.
This everlasting limbo highlights a perverse incentive that afflicts not just members on the right, but those on the left, too. So long as Big Tech remains politically useful to elected officials as a punching bag and an object of the culture wars, the public may be the one that pays.