Author:McCullagh, Declan

SOCIAL MEDIA EXECS did themselves no favors by becoming so closely identified with the Democratic Party and, more broadly, the elite progressive left. Now the industry's politically charmed existence, in which it enjoyed deregulatory Republicans as allies, has come to an abrupt end.

This politicization is a recent phenomenon. When tech companies were manufacturing hardware--transistors, integrated circuits, PCs--or selling shrink-wrapped software, their executives' political preferences didn't matter. A static RAM chip can't deplatform dissenters, and neither can Microsoft Word. But on the post-1990s internet, fortunes are made by creating public platforms. The news articles, search results, and even posts from friends that you see are selected for you by algorithms using inscrutable machine learning techniques. This process, which involves judging whether sources are legitimate, deciding what groups will be muzzled, and wrestling with epistemological questions about truth in headlines, is necessarily politically charged.

Tech firms could choose to create neutral platforms--for instance, by allowing users to say whatever they like as long as it's legal. They could turn responsibility for making those judgment calls over to third parties, allowing users to choose between competing services. They could make it clear that libertarians and conservatives are valued employees. At the very least, their executives could refrain from ostracizing supporters of the rival political party.

Instead, we've been treated to a series of news reports about then-Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt's intimate relationship with the Clinton campaign (with details helpfully filled in by WikiLeaks), including a photo of Schmidt wearing a "staff" badge at the victory party that turned out not to be one. Other Clinton endorsements included the co-founders or CEOs of Airbnb, Netflix, Dropbox, Tumblr, Zynga, Yelp, 23andMe, and Salesforce.

Yet when then-Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced he was hosting a fundraiser for Trump, a backlash from irate Democrats forced him to cancel it. After Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was fingered as a possible Trump supporter, he got the boot from Facebook (which had previously acquired Oculus for $2 billion). Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted in September that nonliberals "don't feel safe to express their opinions at the company," around the same time the social network moved against both...

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