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OP-ED: GOP Lawmakers Need to Balance Fighting Bias With Preserving Innovation

Conservative lawmakers who believe in free markets would tread thoughtfully as they consider possible regulatory action against tech behemoths like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Yes, there’s lots of evidence of anti-conservative bias in Silicon Valley, and it’s important that tech CEOs realize this. It’s also important for conservative lawmakers to avoid overcorrection to ensure innovation thrives.

Silicon Valley tech firms have a left-leaning bias among their employees, according to a recent study by Lincoln Network, a Bold partner, indicating conservatives in Silicon Valley feel uncomfortable sharing their views at work. More than two thirds of respondents characterized their workplace as “liberal” or “very liberal.” Crowdpac data published by FiveThirtyEight show 95 percent of 2016 presidential donations made by “tech employees or executives” went to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s operation.

President Trump recently Tweeted out against the tech giants, voicing concerns of millions of Americans who fear our culture is too powerfully influenced by tech giants who don’t believe conservatives should receive equal treatment.

Republican congressional leaders agree with President Trump; last week the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee hosted Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to discuss his company’s “algorithms and content judgment calls.” Dorsey and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg also testified today before the Senate Intelligence Committee on preventing foreign interference in U.S. elections as privacy concerns surfaced in the wake of Cambridge Analytica and other scandals.

Dorsey previously came under fire for promoting an article calling for an end to bipartisanship and urging one side — Democrats — to utterly defeat their opponents. Since then, Dorsey has met with many conservative political and media figures to listen to concerns.

Testifying before Congress, Dorsey said “we analyzed tweets sent by all members of the House and Senate, and found no statistically significant difference between the number of times a tweet by a Democrat is viewed versus a Republican, even after our ranking and filtering of tweets has been applied.” Dorsey further stated that “we don’t consider political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliation in any of our policies or enforcement decisions. Period. Impartiality is our guiding principle.” Conservative lawmakers must understand how to properly verify this information; if true, they should take steps to help allay grassroots conservatives’ fears.

At Facebook, The New York Times reported a senior Facebook engineer recently posted in an internal company message board challenging the company’s “political monoculture that’s intolerant of different views.” Republicans are also concerned about reports that Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories on conservative topics from appearing on the site’s “trending” news section. Facebook reportedly deemed conservative commentators “Diamond and Silk” to be “unsafe” and limited their ability to notify followers when they posted new content.

While Facebook’s PAC has a relatively even split among Democrats and Republicans (with Republicans actually receiving a slight advantage), according to the Center For Responsive Politics, Federal Election Commission records show Facebook’s Sandberg is a Democratic major donor. I admire the intention behind Facebook’s recent efforts to proactively try and bring civility and transparency to our civic discourse, including greater accountability around political advertising and reducing the spread of fake news. But as any good conservative knows, intentions do not guarantee outcomes.

These developments are in line with a new documentary, “The Creepy Line” showing Google and Facebook’s remarkable power over our privacy and includes an interview with YouTube sensation Jordan B. Peterson. The documentary title is a quote from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, when during a 2010 interview he explained Google’s code of conduct: “The Google policy on a lot of things is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.” Perhaps Google didn’t want a repeat of such an ill-phrased line; Google CEO Sundar Pichai has so far refused to accept the Senate committee’s invitation to testify.

Google had little sympathy for James Damore’s “Diversity Memo” calling for ideological openness at the firm. While Damore’s memo had errors, it still made valid points about the company’s culture. Yet Google condemned and fired Damore, a senior software engineer, after the viral public response to his internally-published memo. When Lincoln Network asked survey respondents if Google’s response has made them more or less comfortable sharing ideological viewpoints with colleagues, 70 percent of self-identified “very conservative” respondents, 64 percent of “conservatives,” and 66 percent of “libertarians” were “less” comfortable. Even 46 percent of moderates were less comfortable. By contrast, 13 percent of liberals and 26 percent of “very liberal” respondents felt more comfortable sharing their views. If Google management was smart, they’d understand that when conservatives feel suppressed, they could feel resentful. This is not a healthy workplace environment.

Larry Kudlow, an economic adviser to President Trump, said “We’re taking a look” at whether Google searches should be regulated. Republicans flagged Google’s search results for the California Republican Party listing “Nazism” as one of the party’s ideologies and Google’s search results for a Republican politician in North Carolina were found to yield a photo with the label “bigot” at the bottom.

If lawmakers and regulators can show evidence of algorithmic searches favorable to Democrats or liberal policy initiatives, would the Federal Election Commission (FEC) have room to argue they amount to de facto campaign contributions? Perhaps. But the question is whether the FEC has the technological prowess to adequately monitor this type of possible regulation, and Lincoln Network’s Zach Graves rightly points out that conservatives regulators need proper due diligence to understanding the underlying technology to avoid losing credibility.

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