Big Tech companies have been accused of meddling in the 2020 election, and their employees have obtained influential roles within the Biden-Harris organization, which critics say could signal a return to the friendly stance held by the Obama administration toward Silicon Valley.
At issue is how these companies used their funding or engaged in censorship ahead of the election. A report from The Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society alleges that $500 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was given to election officials and used to violate election laws. The money was allegedly used to improperly influence the election in favor of Biden, with the bulk of the funds going to a progressive nonprofit.
That raises “serious legal concerns,” according to Scott Watnik, member of the litigation department and co-chair of the cybersecurity practice at the law firm Wilk Auslander LLP.
“What appears to have happened here is that dollars sourced from Zuckerberg have been used to fund a public function that is to be performed under the auspices of public election officials with taxpayer funding,” Watnik told The Epoch Times. “But when it comes to election infrastructure, each state is required to treat people equally under the law—the 14th Amendment applies.
“It’s no secret at this point that the funds were not disbursed in an even-handed way in terms of election infrastructure,” he added. “Far from that, the funds were distributed to favor select, left-leaning demographic areas over others, including in swing states.”
Another point of concern, critics say, is that dozens of Big Tech alumni have joined Biden’s transition team or have gained influential positions in his administration.
Christian Tom, who was announced as digital director for the Biden-Harris Presidential Inaugural Committee on Dec. 28 had worked at Twitter, Google, and YouTube in revenue roles before working for Biden’s campaign, according to a statement.
Facebook alumni also have filled a number of roles in the Biden administration.
Former Facebook director Jessica Hertz is the Biden transition’s general counsel and Jeffrey Zients—who is tapped to be Biden’s coronavirus czar—had served on Facebook’s board of directors in 2018. Austin Lin, a former program manager at Facebook, is on an agency review team for the Executive Office of the President, while Erskine Bowles, a former Facebook board member, already is advising the transition team.
The Biden transition team has already stacked its agency review teams with more tech executives than tech critics. Unidentified sources have told Reuters that tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft are pushing to place employees in senior roles at government agencies.
Similarly, two Amazon officials have landed spots on Biden’s agency review teams for the State Department and the Office of Management and Budget. Sources also told Reuters that former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, a billionaire and Silicon Valley titan, “has been making personnel recommendations for appointments to the Department of Defense as the company tries to pursue military contracts and defense work.”
Companies have a pressing interest in their attempts to influence the Biden administration. There are antitrust probes currently being conducted by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission against companies like Facebook and Google.
The fact that, per FCC records, Big Tech CEOs were major contributors to Democratic campaigns and causes has caused Republicans concern about the revolving door between Big Tech and a possible incoming White House, said Andrew Selepak, a social media professor at the University of Florida.
“With such an overwhelming disparity in political ideology among those at the Big Tech companies, this limits the thinking and opinions of those who design and control the technologies that we all use and can have a tremendous impact on how they impact users,” Selepak told The Epoch Times.
“During the 2020 campaign, the tech companies frequently flagged posts by users as false, removed accounts, shut down pages, and limited the reach of stories and users,” he said. “These restrictions and limitations are the antithesis of the marketplace of ideas that social media companies should be as platforms and instead are acting more as publishers.”
YouTube announced on Dec. 9 that the company will immediately start removing content pertaining to alleged “widespread fraud or errors” in this year’s presidential election, a move that experts say is unprecedented in its scope.
Republican senators told The Epoch Times previously that Big Tech companies need to be questioned and held to account over actions taken because of what they say is political bias, such as the censorship of a New York Post article on Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, in the lead-up to the Nov. 3 election.
Selepak also pointed to the Obama administration’s embrace of Big Tech: “Once in office, dozens of Google employees worked in the Obama administration, which was the first time we had seen such a relationship between Big Tech and the White House.”
He said consumers want the government to investigate these companies for any potential abuse and for the effect they have on society.
“There is a justified worry that if these tech giants become too embedded in any administration, this will not happen, and it could have an immense impact on users and the country,” Selepak said.
Experts told The Epoch Times that a Biden-Harris presidency has the potential to directly affect any ongoing, outstanding, or future antitrust cases brought against Big Tech. Sen. Kamala Harris, meanwhile, also has been subject to scrutiny over her close relationship with tech industry leaders.
Some, however, argue that Biden wouldn’t be lax against Big Tech. John E. Lopatka, antitrust scholar and a professor of law at Pennsylvania State University’s Dickinson School of Law, told The Epoch Times previously that an aggressive, or interventionist, antitrust enforcement policy is “fully consistent with Democratic political ideology, and so any Democratic administration would be inclined to adopt it.”
Biden’s transition camp is full of tech industry leaders from a number of different, large companies, major tech philanthropists, and tech advocacy players, according to a Nov. 10 list compiled by Protocol.
Blair Brandt, a South Florida-based political consultant, Republican strategist, and GOP fundraiser, said he believes a Justice Department under a Biden administration wouldn’t actively push antitrust suits against Big Tech, noting that most of the suits are being brought by Republican state attorney generals.
“Republican mega-donors & billionaires invested into President Trump’s campaign,” Brandt told The Epoch Times. “Democrat mega-donors & billionaires invested in the election process itself. What does that tell you?”
Brandt said the real risk is legislatively. He said a Democratic-majority House and a Biden White House “will have no interest in overturning the Section 230 provision, which in many ways got them to where they are.”
Trump and the Justice Department have urged Congress to roll back legal protections under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act for companies that have engaged in censorship or political conduct.
“Trump’s toughest opponent … wasn’t even Democrats—it was their Silicon Valley allies in Big Tech constantly censoring his social media platforms,” he said. “Assuming he takes office, Biden will either shock people and take a firm pro-democracy & pro-America stand on these issues, or he’ll fulfill low expectations and bow to their pressures.”
Biden’s transition team didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment. A Facebook spokesperson also didn’t immediately respond.
Reuters contributed to this report.