RENO, Nev. – Shortly after launching his campaign for the Republican nomination in the US Senate from Nevada last year, Sam Brown got into trouble with Twitter.
Brown, a Purple Heart recipient who was badly burned by an IED blast in Afghanistan, posted a picture of himself saluting in uniform along with the words “Freedom Isn’t Free.” After running for the Senate seat three days later, he said his post was flagged with a “potentially sensitive content” warning that would urge Twitter users to click or tap on the post to confirm that they want to see him.
Twitter explained the restriction by referring to Brown’s account settings, which the company says it can adjust. Regardless of what sparked the label, it gave Brown a powerful opportunity to capitalize on resentments against big tech companies that are increasingly sweeping through the Republican Party.
“Either my face, my scars were tender, or the fact that someone in uniform would salute our American flag, or most likely this happened just a few hours after I ran for Senate,” Brown told Fox News at the time. As Republicans, we’re very used to seeing censorship on the big tech platforms.”
As the 2022 primary season progresses next week with contests in several states including Nevada, that sense of persecution is reviving the GOP’s efforts to regain control of the Senate.
Brown’s GOP opponent, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, often knocks on “language censorship” as “one of the gravest threats to our free democracy”. In Ohio, Republican Senate nominee JD Vance has warned that big tech companies will “destroy our nation.”
And in its controversial 11-point plan To “save” America, Florida Senator Rick Scott, who is leading the GOP effort to regain the Senate majority, is threatening legal action against social media companies that “censor speeches and cancel people.”
The GOP offensive comes as Elon Musk is pursuing a purchase of Twitter, articulating a philosophy consistent with many Republicans who argue that social media’s efforts to blunt misinformation and propaganda have prevented conservatives from speaking their minds. For example he said he would allow Donald Trump to rejoin the platform. The former president’s account was suspended after he helped start the violent riot in the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
In recent days, Musk threatened to leave from his $44 billion bid to buy Twitter, accusing the company of refusing to give him information about its spam bot and fake accounts. Musk has argued without evidence that 20% or more is fake.
For voters grappling with inflation, soaring gas prices and gun violence, it’s unclear whether concerns about the role of big tech companies will find widespread resonance this year. But it’s fueling a sense of animosity among some of the GOP’s most loyal voters, who remain angry that social media platforms have blocked the spread of vaccines and election misinformation, and that Twitter is pre-empting stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop restricted the 2020 election over fears it was disinformation from Russia. Since then, no evidence has surfaced from any Russian connections to the laptop.
“Big tech just does what it wants and wants to work with the liberals to take over our country and make it 1984,” 73-year-old former teacher William Holden of Gardnerville, Nevada, said at a Republican Party event in the rural Nevada. He was referring to George Orwell’s dystopian novel about a society where “Big Brother iswatching you” and the “Thought Police” police the ideas in people’s minds.
Despite this mood, a last report by New York University researchers is one of several studies that have found no evidence of political bias dictating decisions about content moderation on major platforms. NYU researchers found that many conservative voices thrive on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Tech insiders in Washington and Silicon Valley remain largely unclear exactly how Republicans plan to fight disinformation or introduce new social media content moderation rules if the party succeeds in flipping the US Senate.
“There is a constituency that is haunting Elon Musk: contrarian voters tired of being ruled by Silicon Valley. But anti-tech rhetoric on the campaign trail or Twitter, no matter how hot it gets, isn’t going to magically translate into meaningful DC public policy outcomes,” said Niki Christof, a tech industry veteran and former GOP campaign staffer.
Laxalt, the presumptive front runner in Nevada’s Republican Senate primary, refers to tech companies as agents of the far left and “wake-up,” along with the media, academia, and Hollywood.
In April, he told a crowd of supporters gathered at a Las Vegas honky-tonk that Musk’s proposed purchase was a “major victory” over “radical big-tech monopolies that have stifled conservative free speech.”
“Watching all these Twitter employees in their wine rooms because, ‘Oh my god, Elon Musk promised to have an open, robust debate,’ is really something to watch,” he said.
Beyond Nevada, Republicans in Arizona and Ohio have also embraced big-tech attacks as rallying cry, even if the candidates themselves have Silicon Valley ties. In Arizona, Blake Masters, a former venture capitalist who is now running for the US Senate with Trump’s backing, said Musk’s purchase of Twitter would be a win for both free speech and the “integrity of elections” — a term Republicans use to question questions raising the legitimacy of the US election, particularly Trump’s defeat, despite a coalition of senior government and industry officials who have declared the 2020 election to be 2020 “the safest in American history.”
“Beyond Elon, we need a new set of policies, from treating the big social media companies as common sponsors to writing a digital bill of rights to requiring transparency and oversight of Google’s search algorithm,” he said in one Explanation.
In Ohio, Vance, who previously worked in the tech industry, turned a question about transgender children participating in youth sports into an attack on Google, accusing the company of improving search engine results that challenge traditional gender roles.
“If we don’t go after the big tech companies, we might win a battle here and there, but the tech companies will destroy our nation and what it means to be a human being in this country,” he said at a GOP -Debate before he won his elementary school.
Some veteran Republicans fear the messages will lead to hyperbole and a departure from pro-business orthodoxy. Former US Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, chairman of a big-tech advocacy group called The Competitiveness Coalition, is urging his fellow Republicans to focus on solving censorship issues rather than resorting to antitrust laws, which he says thwart innovation, competition and… would hinder entrepreneurship.
“You need a scalpel to tackle these things. You don’t need a sledgehammer,” Brown said.
Associated Press writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas and Marcy Gordon in Washington contributed to this report.
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/09/big-tech-attacks-become-rallying-cry-for-gop-candidates/ Big Tech attacks become rallying cry for GOP candidates