The 2020 presidential election is approaching, and tech looms large over it. The role of Big Tech companies, the dangers of social media platforms, and the potential of a green future are all major issues in politics right now, and whoever wins in November will shape policies around them.
We’re breaking down those issues by examining Republican President Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s stances on them. We’ll keep this story updated as the campaigns roll out new proposals throughout the 2020 election season.
We’ve reached out to both campaigns for additional details on the tech policies and will update this story when we hear back.
Revoking Section 230 for social media companies
The issue: Social media platforms have taken a lot of flak over the last few years, and it turns out that castigating them is a bipartisan affair. Some critics on the left blame social media platforms for the surge in misinformation and extremism, while some critics on the right have accused these platforms of censoring conservative voices.
As the scrutiny has intensified, politicians have begun to take aim at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a crucial law that shields internet service companies from liability for content their users post.
Biden’s stance: In January, Biden said he thinks Section 230 should be revoked. Speaking to the New York Times, Biden singled out Facebook and founder Mark Zuckerberg as proof that Section 230 is a problem, saying the legal shield “should be revoked because [Facebook] is not merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false, and we should be setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy.”
As of late May, Biden’s stance remained unchanged, according to a campaign statement given to The Verge.
Trump’s stance: Trump has also taken a harsh stance on Section 230. After Twitter appended a fact-check note to a tweet the president posted about mail-in voting, the president signed an executive order targeting Section 230 in the name of “preventing online censorship.”
The order stated that “Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events; to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see.” It directed federal agencies to clarify the scope of Section 230 and consider legal enforcement against companies that engage in “unfair or deceptive acts and practices.”
Breaking up Big Tech companies
The issue: As many board gamers can tell you, monopolies are bad, and Big Tech companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, for example) have grown so powerful, so vast in their reach, that critics want the government to bring antitrust measures against them, even break them up into smaller companies. The top executives of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Alphabet are scheduled to testify before a Congressional antitrust inquiry later this month.
Biden’s Stance: In May, Biden told the Associated Press that breaking up Big Tech companies is “something we should take a really hard look at,” adding that the Trump administration has been lax in using antitrust measures. Biden didn’t take the firm stance that then-candidate Elizabeth Warren did, though, saying a final verdict on Big Tech was “premature.”
Trump’s stance: In an interview with CNBC, Trump commented on the European Union’s various antitrust suits against big technology companies, saying: “We’re going to look at it differently. We have a great attorney general …” He then added, “We should be doing this. They’re our companies … Obviously, there is something going on in terms of monopoly.”
Trump calls for the federal govt to sue tech & social media companies: "The EU is suing them all the time. We're going to maybe look at it differently. We have a great AG, we're going to be looking at it differently… [the EU] gets all this money. Well, we should be doing that." pic.twitter.com/SkCahTkeLM
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 10, 2019
Under the Trump administration, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has started gesturing toward antitrust moves, with the launch of a broad review of Big Tech in 2019. Politico reported last month that the DOJ was pursuing a specific investigation against Apple over its App Store.
Closing the digital divide
The issue: Millions of Americans lack access to broadband internet, in both rural and metropolitan areas. That has dire consequences for the people living in those areas, whether they’re students without access to education tools or businesses that can’t offer the same services as those with access to high-speed internet.
Biden’s stance: Biden has made expanding broadband part of his platform. He wants to invest $20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure, and also promises to direct “the federal government – especially the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – to support cities and towns that want to build municipally owned broadband networks. He will encourage competition among providers, to increase speeds and decrease prices in urban, suburban, and rural areas.”
Trump’s stance: Earlier this year, it was said at a White House press briefing that “the president is committed to ensure that rural Americans are not left behind and that their communities have access to safe and reliable high-speed broadband.”
In 2019, the administration launched the American Broadband Initiative. A June report on the ABI’s performance so far touts the awarding of “over $744 million in funds to support more than 80 broadband projects benefiting more than 430,000 rural residents in 34 states.”
The future of 5G
The issue: Many agree that 5G is the future of mobile connectivity, promising significantly faster speed and much lower latency. Experts view 5G as the foundation for a world with autonomous vehicles, remote surgery, and more.
Hooking society up to 5G requires huge investments in infrastructure, however, and politicians have expressed concern about allowing Huawei, one of the leaders in
Biden’s stance: Biden’s platform maintains that investing in 5G is one of the keys to maintaining America’s position as a world leader, stating that “a Biden administration will join together with our democratic allies to develop secure, private sector-led
Trump’s stance: In a press briefing last year, Trump stated his administration’s goal of “winning the race to be the world’s leading provider of 5G cellular communications networks,” adding that “secure
This year, Trump signed the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act “prohibiting the use of federal funds to purchase equipment from companies that pose a national security threat.” A White House fact sheet reiterated his view that building 5G infrastructure is essential to America’s position in the world.
The issue: Video-streaming platform TikTok is one of the world’s most popular apps right now, but the company that owns it, ByteDance, is based out of China. That has security experts in various countries worried, since China’s National Intelligence Law gives the government the power to demand data from companies.
Biden’s stance: We reached out to the Biden campaign to get the candidate’s thoughts on the TikTok issue, but have not received a response.
Trump’s stance: The White House is evaluating the security risks posed by apps like TikTok, with Chief of Staff Mark Meadows saying that the administration could take action within weeks. Meadows’ statement follows comments by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and economic advisor Peter Navarro regarding TikTok’s security risks.
The issue: Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers shouldn’t discriminate between different websites when it comes to speed, like throttling connections to Netflix while letting connections to Hulu flow freely, for example. Under former President Barack Obama’s administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) implemented net neutrality rules, but under the Trump administration. the FCC reversed course.
Biden’s stance: The Joe Biden-Bernie Sanders Unity Task Force touched on net neutrality in a list of policy proposals, indicating a Biden administration’s intent to “restore the FCC’s clear authority to take strong enforcement action against broadband providers who violate net neutrality principles through blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, or other measures that create artificial scarcity and raise consumer prices.”
Trump’s stance: In 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules (although the court also ruled that states can implement their own net neutrality rules). Afterward, Trump tweeted a congratulation to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
We just WON the big court case on Net Neutrality Rules! A great win for the future and speed of the internet. Will lead to many big things including 5G. Congratulations to the FCC and its Chairman, Ajit Pai!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2019
The issue: Electric vehicles are crucial to cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, but despite their increasing popularity, they’re still a long way from ubiquity. Among the challenges the EV industry faces is a lack of charging stations across the country.
Biden’s stance: As part of Biden’s climate plan, he promises to “work with our nation’s governors and mayors to support the deployment of more than 500,000 new public charging outlets by the end of 2030.”
Biden’s plan also promises to “restore the full electric vehicle tax credit to incentivize the purchase of these vehicles …, ensure the tax credit is designed to target middle class consumers,” and to “work to develop a new fuel economy standard that goes beyond what the Obama-Biden Administration put in place.”
Trump’s stance: In 2019, Trump axed an electric vehicle tax credit from a congressional spending bill, according to Bloomberg.
The president has also expressed skepticism about GM’s push for EVs, saying in an interview with Fox News that “all-electric is not going to work … It’s wonderful to have it as a percentage of your cars, but going into this model that [CEO Mary Barra’s] doing, I think is a mistake.”
Biden’s stance: Biden announced a sweeping climate plan in July, one that promises to invest $2 trillion in bringing the USA’s emissions to net-zero by 2050. Aside from investing in electric vehicle infrastructure, Biden’s plan would also push for the installation of millions of solar panels and tens of thousands of wind turbines.
Among the plan’s commitments is the creation of an Advanced Research Projects Agency on Climate to spur the development of advanced green technologies such as carbon capture, safer nuclear reactors, and cleaner refrigerants.
The Biden plan also vows to upgrade homes and commercial buildings with cleaner appliances and more efficient windows.
Trump’s stance: In terms of policy, the Trump administration has rolled back or avoided updating a number of environmental regulations like vehicle emissions standards, lightbulb efficiency regulations, and more. It also withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement.
The administration recently weakened the regulations in the National Environmental Policy Act, establishing a two-year time limit for environmental impact statements, which the White House frames as streamlining the bureaucracy and “cutting red tape.”
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