The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

What Republican Voters Really Think about Big Tech Companies

(Tero Vesalainen/Getty Images)

On the menu today: What Republican voters really think about big tech companies; the Chinese government tells everyone not to worry about the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant; a liberal columnist suddenly worries that celebrities may be influencing public opinion about political issues; and why progressives keep trying to “bully” West Virginia senator Joe Manchin.

Big Tech Needs Better Judgment

It’s tough to summarize how all conservatives think about any topic. But generally speaking, conservatives just want Big Tech to demonstrate better judgment, and for social-media companies and online retailers to exhibit one consistent and fair standard. They can’t stand the arbitrary, vague, and ever-shifting standard for whose YouTube channel gets demonetized, whose Twitter account gets shut down, whose Facebook account gets suspended, whose pages get prioritized or deprioritized on Google, and whose books can be sold on Amazon.

The News Media Alliance, a trade group representing 2,000 news organizations, commissioned a survey by Echelon Insights to see what conservatives really think about “Big Tech.” The News Media Alliance is pushing for Congress to pass the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, also known as the “Safe Harbor bill.” The aim of the JCPA is to allow news organizations to collectively negotiate with large social-media companies without running afoul of previously established antitrust legislation. You can find a list of the news organizations supporting the legislation here; National Review is among them. (If you’re worried about whether I’m covering this objectively, I had heard almost nothing about the JCPA until very recently.)

This is one of those rare pieces of legislation supported by both Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Republican congressman Matt Gaetz. If that particular combination of legislators unnerves you, the initial lead cosponsors were Senators John Kennedy of Louisiana and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and other supporters include Republican senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Democratic senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

The Echelon survey found that “some 81 percent of conservative Republicans say they are at least somewhat concerned about the economic and political power of Big Tech in the United States – and a majority of conservative Republicans say they are very concerned.”

The survey found that some 79 percent of Republicans agree with the statement “Big Tech companies should fairly compensate local and conservative news publications for their content,” including 84 percent of conservative Republicans and 82 percent of college-educated Republicans. Additionally, 78 percent of Republicans agreed (56 percent strongly agreed) that “it is important to stop Big Tech from discriminating against conservative media.”

The survey analysis continues, “some 76 percent agree that local and small news organizations should have the same negotiating power as national news organizations and 73% agree that local and small news organizations should be allowed to band together to get a better deal from Big Tech.” The same percentage agrees “that Big Tech should not be allowed to profit off content from news publishers without fair compensation and 74 percent agree that Big Tech should be required to offer the same compensation terms to local, conservative, and national news organizations.” Conservatives seem convinced that forcing each company to negotiate its terms with the social-media giants separately puts smaller companies at a serious disadvantage. “Two-thirds (67 percent) agree that elected officials who oppose this proposal are allowing Big Tech to have all the negotiating power instead of giving conservative and local media the tools to fight back, including 72 percent of conservative Republicans.”

There is a little bit of a “If Facebook and Google oppose an idea, then I support it” mentality at work: “Among those who flipped from initially opposing the proposal to supporting it after hearing more, 79 percent say Facebook and Google’s opposition makes them more likely to support the proposal and 76 percent say conservative media’s support of the proposal makes them more likely to support the proposal.”

Some will fairly argue that the issue of the JCPA — should media companies be exempted from antitrust law when they negotiate with social-media giants about use of their content — is different from the issue of whether the social-media giants are biased against conservatives. But if you’re frustrated with the way a big social-media company operates and you don’t trust the management’s judgment or even-handed application of the company’s rules . . . would you want them having more leverage over other media companies, or less?

Progressives will point to Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino, Fox News, and other right-of-center figures often having the highest-performing pages on Facebook on any given day as an indicator that big social-media companies aren’t biased against conservative views or organizations. But that tells us more about the user base of Facebook than any particular policies or the application of those policies. No sane voice contends that Facebook or any other big tech company bans all conservative voices. The concern is that lesser-known figures and institutions, who don’t have the audience that Ben Shapiro has, are more likely to get shut down or judged by a tougher standard — and whether they’ll be able to negotiate content-sharing deals that will allow them to keep operating.

Meanwhile, over in China . . .

China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration offers this new reassurance: “Relax, everyone, it’s not a release of radiation, it’s just that ‘about five’ uranium fuel rods inside the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant were recently damaged.”

Look, maybe this really is a routine sort of problem that is easily manageable, and that presents no particular threat to anyone inside or outside of the plant. But because of the Chinese government’s multiple weeks of publicly insisting that SARS-CoV-2 is not cannot be spread from one human being to another. This is like the boy who cried “Wolf!” in reverse. “After series of devastating wolf attacks, boy insists missing sheep probably just wandered off.”

Oh, Now Celebrities’ Weighing in on Politics Is a Problem

Well, we’ve figured out what it would take to get Jon Stewart’s once-adoring fanbase to turn against him. Paul Waldman of the Washington Post watched Stewart’s routine on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert mocking the doubters of the lab-leak theory, and wrote, “This provides an important lesson about celebrities: You shouldn’t get your political opinions from them, or your scientific opinions either.”

Oh, really? Now? Now? Decades after celebrities lined up to join the Rock the Vote movement; movie and TV stars campaigning with Al Gore; marathon concerts for John Kerry; the Yes We Can music video celebrating Barack Obama with near-religious fervor; Hillary Clinton’s “Fight Song”; the 2020 Democratic National Convention being hosted by Eva Longoria, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kerry Washington, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus; LeBron James weighing in on the proper U.S. response to the Chinese crackdown in Hong Kong; the wholesale embrace of Black Lives Matter by Hollywood celebrities . . . now we’re being told we shouldn’t get our political opinions for celebrities?

But don’t worry; Waldman anticipates the argument, “That’s just because this time a liberal celebrity is taking a position you don’t like!” and insists that just isn’t the case. He’s upset because Stewart’s routine is, in his words, “an attack on expertise.”

ADDENDUM: Over in Politico’s Playbook newsletter, a headline warns of “The folly of bullying Joe Manchin.” They are correct that bullying tactics are unlikely to work, but keep in mind that for some progressive power players, bullying is the only move they’ve ever learned. They’ve built their reputations and careers on the notion of never compromising; the self-image that they’re the vanguards of the revolution; and that anyone who opposes them is a malevolent, retrograde champion of inequality, injustice, and oppression. Acknowledging that Joe Manchin might have a reasonable objection to anything they want would bring the whole edifice tumbling down.

Politico reports, “We’ve heard a version of this line all month: ‘Calling Joe a racist is not going to work.’” Guys, that may well be the only tactic they know.

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