Big Tech's Biden Administration Beachhead Is the Real Threat To Liberty | Opinion

As Joe Biden has begun to roll out his administration, most of the focus has been on one question. Will the next administration be dominated by old-school Democratic moderates and members of the party establishment, like the president-elect himself? Or will the party's increasingly influential left-wing activist base gain a foothold in the corridors of power?

But the more important question to be asked about the next four years isn't whether the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) will be influencing a Biden-Harris administration. It's whether Big Tech will not only have a loud voice in Washington, but also ensure that its power continues to grow.

The early returns are in and the answer is clear. Anyone who thinks Big Tech won't try to collect on the debt the Biden campaign owes it for its effort to attack and censor President Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, as well as to silence efforts by some conservative outlets to cover stories that were embarrassing to the Democratic candidate, is mistaken.

Representatives of Internet giants dominate the entire Biden transition team. And though the tech world has yet to score a major Cabinet appointment—former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is thought to be in the running for one despite furious pushback from left-wing critics—the industry is nonetheless in possession of a pocketful of IOUs from Biden, due both to efforts to influence the election in his favor and to massive campaign contributions. No one should underestimate Big Tech's ability to influence policy in its favor within an administration that will be a creature of the D.C. establishment. That will be true even if no major Cabinet posts wind up in Big Tech's hands.

Joe Biden is not as personally committed to the idea of empowering Big Tech as was his old boss President Barack Obama. Silicon Valley regarded the eight years from 2009 to 2016 as a golden age in which the party of big government chose to revert to traditional laissez-faire policies—at least when it came to allowing the tech industry to grow and do as it liked without the heavy hand of federal regulation. But unlike Obama, Biden is not as comfortable hobnobbing with Silicon Valley moguls, or pretending to understand how the industry works or what it wants. Indeed, Big Tech watchers have noted that the Internet giants are anticipating a chillier reception in the White House than they experienced with Obama, though it's clear that Biden won't be as hostile as was President Donald Trump.

Back in January, when his campaign was struggling before the party united behind him, Biden voiced support for abolishing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That's the key provision that allows social media sites to be treated as bulletin boards, rather than publishers.

Conservatives have embraced this cause with a passion because they see it as the only way to punish companies like Twitter for censoring conservatives with impunity. They believe that if Internet sites are going to act like publishers, they should have the same liability as journalism outlets for what they publish.

Liberals have also been open to reforming the law. Unlike those on the Right who rightly understand that the left-wing bias of the owners and staff of Google, Facebook and Twitter has led them to engage in censorship of conservatives, liberals think there hasn't been enough censorship. Many of them actually believed the myth that Facebook ads pushed by Russian bots stole the presidential election from Hillary Clinton in 2016, and thus wanted the industry to take preemptive action to ensure that Trump was defeated in 2020.

Big Tech corporate logos
Big Tech corporate logos DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images

Silicon Valley had spread enough lobbying money and campaign contributions around Washington to not take too seriously the threats from conservatives like Senators Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). But they definitely felt the heat from Democrats. Liberals were crying out for more censorship. Or at least they were as long as it meant things like making it harder to access videos from sites like PragerU, trying to demonetize The Federalist or to diminish web traffic for Breitbart, let alone putting warning notices on the president's tweets or directing readers to liberal "fact checks" that attacked conservative positions.

But while Biden is unlikely to move quickly to end the Trump administration's efforts to use federal antitrust lawsuits to break up Google (which has support on the Left), the president-elect still understands how much he owes it. It was Twitter, after all, that led the way when it came to shutting down coverage of the revelations about Hunter Biden's influence-peddling reported by the New York Post—as well as the subsequent revelations pointing toward the former vice president's direct involvement in his son's schemes to profit from his father's role as Obama administration point man on policy toward Ukraine and China.

That's why it's clear that if there is any pressure on Big Tech coming from the incoming administration, it will be to encourage more such censorship and hobbling of the Democrats' conservative opponents. The agenda of all those social media and technology executives now helping Biden fill the thousands of administration posts will be to ensure that reforms aimed at punishing Big Tech for its monopoly exploitation of the public information highway to advance left-wing activism never materialize.

And if Biden considers whether he should try to play the populist card and knock Silicon Valley billionaire oligarchs and their millionaire minions down a peg or two, former Big Tech lobbyist Ron Klain, his incoming chief of staff, will be there to remind him of the foolishness of such ingratitude. That's not to mention the close ties between Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and one of her home state's most powerful industries and Democratic Party donor bases.

As the transition and Biden's Cabinet selections seem to indicate, the technology industry's political agenda will be advanced less by a direct takeover of the government than it will by the not-so-subtle influence of contributors and advisors to whom the new president and his top aides will be beholden. After acting as his bodyguards and funders during a campaign in which he largely hid from view, Big Tech expects that its interests will be well protected. Nothing we have seen so far about the way Biden is going about setting up a government should lead us to believe anything to the contrary. It's clearly the good opinion of Internet and social media oligarchs that Biden seeks—not that of Bernie, AOC and the "Squad."

Having a major industry wielding so much influence with a new presidential administration is troubling by itself. But when it concerns an industry that has so much control over public discourse and the ability to shut down debate on ideas and positions its liberal owners despise, the issue becomes not so much a mere scandal as a direct threat to freedom.

Rather than decrying this troubling development, liberals who spent the last four years accusing Trump of being an authoritarian and falsely predicting that he would end American liberty are now silent about a far more real danger from the Democratic Party's allies in Silicon Valley. Indeed, Big Tech has already shown us how heavy-handed censorship can influence public debate and an election. Given its place at the table in Biden's incoming administration, there's no reason to think this threat will diminish, rather than grow, over the next four years.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org, a senior contributor to The Federalist and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.