If you’re an avid ReidOut Blog reader who tuned in to last night’s State of the Union address, you can probably guess the moment when my ears perked up the most.
It’s time to get techy.
I was intrigued — and a bit confused — when President Joe Biden received a standing ovation from Democrats and Republicans alike for mentioning the need to stop social media companies’ harmful, manipulative influence over children.
“It’s time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on our kids and teenagers online; ban targeted advertising to children; and impose stricter limits on the personal data that companies collect on all of us,” he declared.
I think staking the debate over social media moderation in concerns about kids was smart speechcraft from Biden’s writers here. Invoke children to get the claps going, then seamlessly transition to talking about social media’s harmful impact on teens and society as a whole. It seems skillful, given Republican and Democratic leadership have shown minimal interest in holding social media companies accountable for harm inflicted by people who’ve used these companies’ data-collecting abilities to target, manipulate or harass others.
Remember that we’re now roughly three years removed from the release of a Senate report that found the Russian government used social media platforms to target and attempt to manipulate Americans in an effort to help Donald Trump's 2016 election chances. We’re roughly one year removed from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony about company leaders’ alleged disregard for their platform’s harmful impact on children. And we’re nearly two months removed from the release of the House Jan. 6 committee’s final report on Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election — a report that has been criticized for downplaying social media companies’ failure to address online extremism and disinformation leading up to the Capitol riot.
Having lost control of the House this year, Democrats seem to have spoiled their opportunity to hold Big Tech accountable with legislation.
Having lost control of the House this year, Democrats seem to have spoiled their opportunity to hold Big Tech accountable with legislation. Republicans seem too enraptured by conspiracy theories about Big Tech targeting conservatives to contribute anything substantive to this discussion. And, of course, they’re known to use these platforms to spread disinformation for their own sake.
So why, exactly, did a room full of lawmakers clap for Biden’s social media message? Your guess is as good as mine.