What Will Joe Biden Do (Or Not Do) on Big Tech?
Early transition hires provide an indication of where the new administration will go.
Throughout his presidency, President Trump has frequently been at odds with the tech industry. He has clashed bitterly with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, even reportedly intervening to keep Amazon from a key defense contract, in retaliation for negative coverage in the Bezos-owned Washington Post.
Trump has also been a frequent critic of Facebook and Twitter’s content moderation policies, and has attempted to chip away at Section 230 legislatively and through both executive orders and regulatory measures. His administration has also filed an antitrust suit against Google parent company Alphabet, although Trump’s relations with Apple, and its CEO Tim Cook, have been much warmer.
But with Trump having been defeated by former Vice President Joseph Biden, who those who are part of Silicon Valley—and also those who are critical of the amount of power the industry enjoys—are looking for clues as to how the new administration plans to deal with Big Tech.
According to a Financial Times report published Monday, the incoming administration is sending mixed signals, at least in the early going, as to its posture towards Silicon Valley.
Biden’s transition team has added multiple people with experience in the tech world, including Jessica Hertz, a former associate general counsel at Facebook, and Cynthia Hogan, a former Apple vice-president for government affairs.
Eric Schmidt, the longtime former CEO of Google, is also on board the transition team, and, per FT, “is being talked about to lead a new technology industry task force in the White House,” despite reports the same day that Schmidt and his family have applied for citizenship in Cyprus. That move, per Recode, would allow Schmidt to enjoy tax benefits, and also avoid travel bans related to the European Union.
On the other hand, a press aide to Biden, Bill Russo, this week retweeted a tweet by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, which featured a picture of Trump with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and the message “one down, one to go.”
The Obama Administration, of which Biden was a part, was known for being tight with Silicon Valley. However, in the years since there has been a great deal more skepticism about the power and influence of big tech, an environment that is likely to remain so throughout Biden’s presidency. However, Biden’s campaign raised a great deal of money from Silicon Valley, with Schmidt among luminaries from that industry who donated to his campaign. And while some of the Democrats who ran for president in 2020 called for the breakup of big tech companies, Biden did not.
The Biden Administration is likely to restore Obama-era net neutrality rules, and also return to a different regulatory posture at the FCC than what was seen in the Trump years. The FCC will also likely have a Democratic chairman, under a Democratic president, with current FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel often described as the favorite to succeed Ajit Pai as chair of the agency.
It also remains to be seen what position the incoming administration will take in regards to Trump’s move to ban TikTok.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.