For generations, American conservatives have been taught to defend free enterprise at all costs. Any hint of regulation of major corporations has been regarded as inevitably leading to socialism. And even the populist President Trump’s main accomplishment thus far has been a reduction in the corporate tax rate.
But one of the American right’s leading voices is calling for a fundamental shift in conservatism. Because it’s not the state which is cracking down on conservatives – it’s tech companies.
“It might be difficult to get your head around what is happening in this country,” Tucker Carlson said in a recent episode of his Fox News show “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” “So much has changed. But here’s the bottom line – the federal government is no longer the main threat to your privacy and to your freedoms. You’ve grown up thinking that; it’s no longer true. Big corporations are the main threat to your freedom and your privacy.”
Carlson argued the government “doesn’t own your private emails: Google does.”
“Federal employees can’t be fired for their political views. Private sector employees are all the time. The federal government can’t end your ability to publicly communicate your ideas. Twitter and Facebook can do that and they do do that all the time. The Orwellian future is increasingly the Orwellian present, and tech barons are becoming our new commissars. Liberals who once admirably stood up for free expression and opposition to concentrations of corporate power have been thoroughly co-opted. They’re getting rich from it.”
Carlson drew attention to the recent lawsuit filed by James Damore against Google, which alleged a systematic anti-white agenda at the powerful corporation, including excluding white men from jobs. Interviewed on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Damore said he was attacked by Google after being fired because the company is nervous.
“I attacked their orthodoxy,” he told Carlson. “They really need to send a message to all their employees that no, you can’t do this, you can’t question our policies.”
But Carlson argues the question goes beyond bias. Indeed, it is almost existential in Carlson’s view.
Because Google has such an overwhelming share of the digital ad market, the company can deny market share, sales and exposure not just to business competitors, but to political opponents. And as Damore’s lawsuit makes clear, there are serious allegations Google does not just lean left, but is a far-left, activist company.
What’s more, as companies such as Google control the private information of consumers, and even control what people can find online, their potential power over the public debate is all but unchallengeable.
Such concerns are especially valid given the mainstream media’s focus on an alleged Russian effort to “hack” the American election by placing ads online. Two corporations, Google and Facebook, have the ability to set the tone for the entire political debate.
“Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter – they all have your private information, they all can control not only what you can see online but what you are allowed to say,” Carlson said. “And maybe, over time, what you are cable of thinking and believing. In many cases their services are additive and harmful, and they know that. But it’s recently become clear tech giants are not just a threat to our privacy but they are a threat to our basic American freedoms. For most people, there’s not much you can do about it except just get increasingly paranoid, but Congress can do a lot.”
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who recently appeared on Carlson’s show, disagreed with Carlson’s contention that tech companies are the biggest threat to the privacy of ordinary Americans.
“That is not to say that [a] company like Google couldn’t at some point become too powerful and inflict consumer harm,” he said. “But in no way is it as much of a threat as the government to your privacy. Google doesn’t have guns, it can’t shoot you, it can’t tax you, it can’t regulate you the way that the government can. And so my much bigger focus is the threat posed by the federal government to your privacy.”
Lee also pointed out the government can also already get access to people’s emails without a warrant.
But Carlson noted tech companies actually have more power than the government in some ways, especially because they can not be held accountable.
“In the case of the government, I have FOIA [the Freedom of Information Act, which allows Americans to request government documents which may affect them],” Carlson said. “But in the case of Google, which in many ways is the portal through which people understand reality, you don’t know things if they’re not on Google, Google has jiggered its search results to eliminate concepts that it disagrees with. Political concepts. This is not a fever dream of mine, this is a fact which is proven … they have changed the search results to disappear results they don’t like.
“So why is that is not terrifying to the prospect of running a democracy that requires an informed citizenry?” he asked.
Lee retreated to establishment libertarian positions, saying Google should be able to do whatever it wants as a private company. However, as Carlson pointed out, Google controls the overwhelming majority of digital advertising, thus giving it the power to make or break not just other corporations but the news organizations Americans rely on to stay informed.
“Every news organization that relies on digital advertising, which is all of them, are dependent on two companies [Google and Facebook] that are wildly political and working against free speech,” he said. “That’s not a concern?”
Lee admitted it is a concern but not anything that he is going to do anything about.
“Not everything rises to the level of market concentration combined with consumer harm,” he assured Carlson. “And we have options that consumers have access to. They can use other search engines. They can avoid Google if they want to. And that does make a difference here.”
But the nature of social networking sites and some Internet companies is that they are useful only if a large number of people are using them. And some conservatives are already arguing large tech companies should be regarded as utilities and subject to federal regulation, especially to ensure the right of all users to free speech.
This would represent a departure from the traditional conservative or libertarian position. But as right-leaning news organizations face annihilation and Republican politicians face an uphill battle online, change may be coming within the Republican coalition.
“I used to be a libertarian until Google,” said Carlson.