When Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced legislation last month aimed at major technology companies, a near-endless parade of groups quickly voiced disapproval.
There was plenty of pushback from tech advocacy groups.
TechFreedom, a tech-focused Washington nonprofit, said the proposal would “set up a partisan bloodmatch” between big companies and regulators. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a tech-focused civil liberties nonprofit, said it would “let the government decide who speaks.” Engine Advocacy, an organization that advocates for policies that help startups, said the legislation, “in an effort to address a nonexistent problem” would “dismantle the sensible regulatory regime that is responsible for the development of the Internet.” The Computer & Communications Industry Association said the bill would set up “government censorship of online speech” and limit freedom.
Those concerns were echoed by a litany of conservative and libertarian-leaning think tanks. Libertarian think tank R Street said the legislation “hurts conservatives” while the Competitive Enterprise Institute, another conservative think tank, said it was “highly regulatory and should be rejected.” The Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and Americans for Prosperity lambasted the proposal too, calling it “the latest potential disaster ” that “would blow up the internet. ”
Each of those think tanks and advocacy groups is backed by Google, Facebook or both. The companies are not only two of the main targets of Hawley’s bill, but they’re also the focus of broader political scrutiny that now spans both parties and has spilled over into the Democratic presidential race.
With lawmakers ramping up debate over privacy, antitrust and, in Hawley’s case, legal protections the platforms rely on, the Silicon Valley giants are unleashing some of the Washington power they’ve spent the past few years building up, going from a low-key player into the biggest spender in D.C.
And while tech-funded think tanks and advocacy groups have fought other initiatives, the fervor over Hawley’s bill has revealed just how well powerful companies have laid the foundation in Washington to fight efforts to rein them in.
“I’ve never seen pushback in such a fashion before,” Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank, told NBC News. “Even with net neutrality, these groups were all over the place — even though Facebook and Google supported it. It’s safe to say that it’s largely due to pressure from the social media giants that hasn’t been seen before.”