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Stand with the alt-right against Google? No, thanks

David Goodfriend

Before his fall from grace, then-White House senior staffer Steve Bannon addressed a California Republican Party convention and announced that the real enemy of America was not the longhaired protesters outside the event, or even the Democrats, but the “liberal global elites” who run Silicon Valley. These “lords of Silicon Valley” must be stopped, cried Bannon, saying that they may try to lead Californians to secede from the Union.

Even after Bannon’s ouster from the White House, Roger Stone, famous for Nixonian dirty tricks took up the Google-bashing trope. Stone hosted a happy hour at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this year and tore into Google for squelching free speech through its “political correctness.” And now Republicans have started an odd dog-whistle drumbeat that there’s some sort of political bias against conservatives reflected in Google search results (as opposed to, say, a pattern of offensive things actually said by members of the alt-right or internet trolls looking to start controversy that show up in automated Google searches).

Unfortunately, this kind of hyperbole is not reserved just for the extreme right; many of my fellow progressives seem willing to jump on the Google-bashing bandwagon, unwittingly helping the alt-right to carry out its political vendettas. A recent Washington Post article notes concerns about competition raised by Rep. Keith Ellison, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — all of whom I admire and have supported in many ways over the years. Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline chimed in that tech companies have contributed “to the centralization of information online” and joined these Democrats in calling for more aggressive regulatory scrutiny of technology companies.

Now, I fight mergers for a living, from Comcast’s failed attempt to buy Time Warner Cable in 2015 (about which regulatory bodies expressed concern, worried it would make Comcast a gatekeeper to the internet) to Sinclair Broadcast Group’s current bid for Tribune Media. Strong antitrust enforcement is in my progressive DNA. So, when my law school friend now at Google asked if I’d represent the company, the logical answer would have been a firm, “no.” In the wake of the alt-right’s rise, however, I gladly took on my new client because I saw a real danger in the alt-right’s thinly veiled use of antitrust as a way to score political points. That danger has proven to be all too real.

Should technology companies comply with the law, protect consumers, and compete fairly? Of course. Criticism of any tech company that fails to do so is well founded. But I worry that my fellow progressives can’t see through the alt-right smokescreen. Alt-righters like Bannon and Stone have it out for the likes of Google not because they share progressives’ concerns, but because they hate freethinking, open-minded people with power who are willing to resist.

To the alt-right Bannon/Stone nativist fringe, companies like Google represent everything they fear: young, smart, international, Northern Californian, often progressive people who are even willing to sue the administration to help immigrants and DREAMers. Just last week, Silicon Valley CEOs were some of the most vocal corporate critics of the Trump administration’s separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border. Contrast the alt-right’s invocation of antitrust against Google to its kid-glove treatment of conservative media. Sinclair Broadcast Group, a right-wing propagandist posing as a broadcaster, appears to be breezing through the initial merger review process and even received praise from right wingers when Deadspin.com released a devastating video showing dozens of Sinclair anchors reading mandatory right-wing talking points about fake news. Contrast that to the alt-tight’s antitrust posture toward media companies that criticize the current administration. The Department of Justice went to court, fought, and lost its effort to block AT&T’s acquisition of CNN parent company Time Warner.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the same kind of regulatory scrutiny and concern applied to the oil and gas, coal, pharmaceutical, or banking industries? Perhaps the alt-right thinks that a Texas based company like ExxonMobil just isn’t as dangerous as Silicon Valley-based internet companies.

So I wince every time I see a progressive unwittingly support this bastardization of antitrust law enforcement by repeating the alt-right’s tech talking points. I get it. Progressives question the accumulation of power, whether political or economic.

But let’s not take the bait; let’s not get played. Don’t unwittingly help the alt-right to go after its political rivals. Instead, ask the same questions I just did: Why all the attention to Google and not ExxonMobil? Why the warnings about too much power in the hands of too few when talking about online search but not oil? Tell the alt-right that we’ll take your howls more seriously when you take antitrust enforcement seriously and go after fossil fuel, financial services, and pharmaceuticals with the same venom you’ve shown towards tech.

David Goodfriend is a Washington, D.C., lawyer and advocate, former deputy staff secretary to President Bill Clinton, and adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center and George Washington University Law School. His clients include DISH Network, PayPal, Google, and FUSE Media.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by chuck holtman on 06/26/2018 - 12:09 pm.

    Odd.

    This Democratic establishment media op-ed appears to have wafted down somehow to MinnPost despite not conforming at all to the “Community Voices” submission guidelines for local authors and perspectives.

    Of course, any policy argument from the white supremacist contingent is going to be in bad faith and for ill purpose. At the same time, technology serves equal opportunity until it risks disturbing the prerogatives of power, at which time it will be appropriately corralled to serve that power. Mr. Goodfriend’s whataboutism about the oil industry isn’t persuasive argument, but just deflection from this fundamental concern. Sometimes the enemy of my enemy isn’t my friend, either.

  2. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 06/26/2018 - 03:04 pm.

    What ???

    The author of this article mentions only Bannon and Stone in his initial labeling of ‘alt-right,’ then uses the term to make wide-ranging accusations about some unknown, behind-the-scenes, scandalous alt-right scary people without any specifics.

    Who exactly is he talking about? Are Stone and Bannon behind all of his accusations? I didn’t know they kept so busy.

    This article took me by surprise and I had to recheck that I wasn’t on Twitter. MinnPost usually veers from such blatant and baseless commentary.

    • Submitted by David Goodfriend on 07/05/2018 - 07:36 am.

      Don’t take my word for it, read today’s POLITICO

      By Cristiano Lima | 07/05/2018 05:41 AM EDT

      With help from Ashley Gold, Nancy Scola, John Hendel and Margaret Harding McGill

      THE GOP’S MIDTERM PLAYBOOK: BEAT UP ON BIG TECH — Step aside, Hillary Clinton. Move over, Nancy Pelosi. Republican leaders and lawmakers are setting their sights on another target as they head into a difficult midterm election: an increasingly powerful tech industry they view as biased against conservatives. Republicans including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy , RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale are making more noise about a host of Silicon Valley slights against conservatives, an issue that seems to be succeeding at firing up the GOP base.

      — “Our supporters out there, by and large, believe that that’s true — that a lot of these tech companies have an agenda,” Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) told Ashley during an interview in the Capitol. “I think it’s a real issue, but I also think it probably has some political value.” The grievances have sent tech executives scrambling to defend themselves and prove they don’t harbor anti-conservative prejudice. Read Ashley’s full dispatch here.

      — If recent polling is any indication, tech-bashing may very well resonate with GOP voters, which Republican leaders hope will help them stave off the predicted “blue wave” of Democratic electoral victories. According to a study released last month by the Pew Research Center, a majority of Republicans held negative views of Silicon Valley. Eighty-five percent said they think social media sites are likely to censor their views, 64 percent said tech companies are likely to favor the views of liberals over their own, and 44 percent supported increased regulation of the industry.

  3. Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/26/2018 - 08:20 pm.

    Weird

    I have now read this twice, and I still really have no idea what this guy is talking about.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 06/26/2018 - 09:58 pm.

    Why all the attention to Google and not ExxonMobil?

    People always fear what they don’t/can’t/don’t want to understand or can’t control!

  5. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 06/27/2018 - 06:25 am.

    Written by the Democratic Machine

    This is a typical Clintonian Op-Ed. “The alt-right is bad, bad, bad, so vote for/ side with ‘the less bad Democrat'”, as they know best whats good for the rubes.

    Sure the alt-right posts some nasty stuff out there. I don’t agree with their content. But that doesn’t mean there is no concern about the centralization of information. Sorry Mr Goodfriend, in my opinion, your’e op-ed drips of sleaze.

  6. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 06/27/2018 - 08:29 am.

    The only thing this author left out was emoticons –

    …you know, frowning faces for everyone who wants to regulate Google and smiley faces for everyone of those “free-thinking, open minded people” (you know, people like the author and like the people at Google) who are only struggling against the forces of darkness.

    All this reminds me of Dick Morris’s theory about how to counter issues by means of triangulation. He claims to have taught the Clintons all about it.

    In this particular case, the core issue is the power of Google and how it should be constrained or regulated, as it grew in a virtually unrestrained manner, and there is significant cause for concern.

    Now comes the author, who postulates that the real issue is whether you side with Nazis, pedophiles, and skinheads or whether you’re with the free thinking, open-minded people. He can’t make his case in a straightforward manner, so alliterates his article with all manner of loaded language to stand in place of having a real and substantial point.

    The core issue here has little if anything to do with the alt right.

  7. Submitted by richard owens on 06/27/2018 - 09:24 am.

    Sharp and negative reaction seems almost the norm.

    …and yet, those who know Google’s track record and also those of Facebook, Apple and Microsoft and other digital media players will know Google has been by far the biggest contributor to the empowerment of the individual.

    (One example: Google developed and gave away an invention “Google Cardboard”, which used VR technology to enable 3D surgical training video experience for the cost of a cell phone. Doctors in remote and poor areas could get surgical training in a real 3D environment where multiple angles and views are easily transmitted through a Virtual Reality!)

    There are many more examples for those who follow these developments.

    It IS sad that folks become indiscriminate and are attracted to blanket condemnations of huge organizations that barely control their own effects in this reactive atmosphere.

    The author is right IMO to defend Google against charges better applied to corporate policies and practices that have traded privacy, transparency and ethics for profits. Google’s record is very different.

    The author’s attention to the reactionary monopolies in radio, to FOX and their incessant tearing at the fabric of progress, and to the irresponsible voices amplified by raw money in politics over Google is truly a difference to be understood.

    Right wingers use Google and their various digital inventions to great advantage, while no moderate or left-leaning person is assisted by FOX, Limbaugh, Breitbart or Sinclair’s provocateur shock jocks.

    Technology and ethics need a much more discriminate framework for policy matters. Lacking that, ignorance fear hate and vengeance somehow find their way to the table.

    Science matters more than ever. Attack politics in technological ethics is just a mindless and destructive approach.

  8. Submitted by Rick Lane on 07/03/2018 - 02:52 pm.

    Why is a DC Google Lobbyist Placing an Op-Ed Here?

    Trying to influence Sen. Amy Klobuchar who is the Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The good news is that Sen. Klobuchar cannot be swayed by rhetoric and will base her decision on the facts of whether or not a company that controls 90% of search (news and information control) and putting newspapers out of business because of their digital advertising market power is a monopoly.

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