Wednesday was a big day for tech on Capitol Hill. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont introduced the Stop BEZOS act, a not so subtle dig at Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The bill would require large companies, such as Amazon, to pay the government back for the benefits their employees receive from the government, such as food stamps.
Sanders is of the opinion that the bill would ensure the ‘taxpayers [of America] would no longer be subsidising the wealthiest people in this country who are paying their workers inadequate wages.’
Amazon is not the only company to have come under government fire recently. Facebook and Twitter also testified in front of Congress on Wednesday about the prevalence of disinformation and foreign influence on their platforms.
Twitter specifically has been a White House target in recent days, as the platform has been accused of silencing conservative voices.
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, was very candid in his testimony, saying ‘there will be massive shifts in how Twitter...operates,’ but maintained ‘there are no intentional attempts to silence conservative voices on the platform.’
Both governments and citizens seem to be catching on to the immense influence, but lack of control, social media platforms hold. A poll released by Axios following the Senate hearing revealed that less than half of Americans believe Facebook and Twitter can prevent foreign obstruction in the upcoming midterm elections.
Google, whilst choosing not to participate in the hearing, is not exempt from government oversight. Last year, the European Union levied a fine of over 2 billion euros on Google because the service gave an ‘illegal advantage to [its] own comparison shopping.’ A few months after, Missouri’s State Attorney General accused Google of violating ‘consumer-protection and antitrust laws.’
Google is still not in the clear as US State Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, also announced on Wednesday that he will be meeting with various states attorney generals to ‘discuss whether social media platforms are purposefully stifling free speech and obstructing competition.’
But Sessions did not provide any specific examples on how social media companies were influencing competition or incorporating censorship. While there is no denying that companies such as Google and Facebook amass large amounts of influence with their huge user base, government intervention by this particular administration might not be the most suitable option.
The current deep partisan divide in the US may be influencing the government’s approach to big tech, as many Republicans are of the opinion that regulating big tech could allow for greater free speech as they currently stifle non-liberal viewpoints.
Democrat senators have made the argument that the ‘whole hearing was intended to actually push social media platforms towards unfairly promoting conservatives over liberals.’
Whilst both Facebook and Twitter were quick to admit that there were problems with their platforms that needed to be addressed, government oversight by an administration which believes that they are unfairly treated by social media platforms might not offer the most objective regulation.
Big tech seems to be another arena for the two major US political parties to fight their bipartisan war. What this means for the future of social media platforms is yet to be seen.