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Conservatives Mull Tech Firms' Influence Over American Politics


All right. Some very large companies, including YouTube, Apple, Facebook and Spotify, have all moved, in the past couple days, to restrict content produced by the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Breitbart.com, which is a website popular among Trump supporters, argued that extreme groups on the left have not been subjected to the same scrutiny. But it isn't just the extreme right that feels big tech has been unfair. The conservative mainstream also feels threatened. NPR's Tim Mak went to a conference where big tech's attitude toward conservatives was front and center.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: The organizer of the Resurgent Gathering in Austin, Texas, is Erick Erickson, a conservative commentator who reaches a lot of his audience through social media.


ERICK ERICKSON: I do think it is relevant to worry that these tech companies are in bubbles where they are. Most of their chief executives are to the left. Their senior staff is to the left. What subtle, unconscious biases are there? How do they weed out who to shadow ban, to give access to, to promote, to demote?

MAK: Facebook and Google both sent representatives on a pilgrimage to Austin, Texas, for Erickson's event. They even helped co-sponsor the conference.



MAX PAPPAS: Thank you.


MAK: Google's Max Pappas, a former conservative activist, argued at the conference that their platforms help conservatives find a megaphone that has traditionally not been available to them.


PAPPAS: When there were three TV channels, that was the gatekeeper's society. And the exciting thing about the Internet is the move away from the gatekeeper society. And the Internet is what enabled conservatives to go around the traditional media that we couldn't get into.

MAK: But Pappas has got a lot of convincing to do. The Pew Research Center found that 85 percent of Republicans think social media sites intentionally censor political opinions. And 64 percent of Republicans think major tech companies as a whole support the views of liberals over conservatives. Here's how Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has answered the charge of bias in congressional hearings earlier this year.


MARK ZUCKERBERG: The principle that we're a platform for all ideas is something that I care very deeply about. I'm worried about bias, and we take a number of steps to make sure that none of the changes that we make are targeted at - in any kind of biased way.

MAK: Facebook has even hired former GOP Senator Jon Kyl to lead a review of possible political bias in the organization. Active politicians have been quick to jump into this fight.

JON KYL: I have deep concerns about social media and big tech

MAK: Senator Ted Cruz, who attended the Resurgent conference, faces an unusually tough re-election race, especially for a Republican in Texas. Cruz says he is considering drastic steps to address big tech's enormous influence over American politics.


TED CRUZ: By any measure, the big tech companies today - they are bigger and control more market than Standard Oil did when the federal government broke them up under the antitrust laws. They're bigger and have more power than AT&T was when the federal government broke them up under the antitrust laws.

MAK: Not all conservatives agree that trying to break up big tech companies is the right approach. But with so many conservatives feeling censored online, it could be an effective rallying call in an election year. Tim Mak, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF IGLEW'S "URBAN MYTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.
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