In Musk, Republicans found a social media overlord they can live with

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Happy Tuesday! This week is proving that if you believe in something enough — and you’re the world’s richest person — anything is possible.

Below: National unions are flocking to support the upstart Amazon Labor Union, and a consumer watchdog plans to take aim at Big Tech during a Senate hearing. But first, you guessed it:

In Musk, Republicans found a social media overlord they can live with

For years, Democrats and Republicans have railed against the power a small group of social media executives in Silicon Valley hold over online speech, albeit with starkly different critiques.

Days before then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill in October 2020, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) likened the moguls to colossal tyrants whose supposed liberal-leanings biased their decisions against conservatives.

“In any world, handling control of our democracy, handling control of free speech to a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires — modern day oligarchs with unlimited power and a brazen willingness to use that power — would pose profound dangers,” he said on a call , according to Newsweek.

Now Republicans including Cruz are cheering as the world’s richest man Elon Musk takes control of Twitter, in hopes he will wield that same power to their liking — by making the social network’s content moderation practices far more hands-off.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.):

On Monday, Twitter announced that it struck a deal with Musk to acquire the company for $44 billion. The move sent shock waves across the tech industry and raised both fears and hopes that the mercurial billionaire will overhaul Twitter’s rules for what’s permissible on its platform.

As talks heated up in recent weeks, Republicans applauded Musk’s takeover bid and his stated desire to boost “free speech” on Twitter.

“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Musk said in a statement announcing the agreement Monday.

GOP remarks hailing Musk’s takeover highlight how concerns in Washington about the power social media executives wield are often less about consolidation and more about company practices.

Democrats have long accused tech leaders of buckling to political pressure from Republicans, including former president Donald Trump, and not enforcing their policies against hate speech, disinformation and inciting content forcefully enough.

“No matter who owns or runs Twitter, the president has long been concerned about the power … large social media platforms … have over our everyday lives,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing Monday when asked about Musk’s purchase of Twitter.

It’s not just a concern shared by politicians.

As my colleagues Joseph Men, Cat Zakrzewski and Craig Timberg reported earlier this month, “Social media industry safety professionals and outside experts who have spent years trying to slow the potential of tyrants and violent mobs by Facebook and other platforms are aghast that a second major company might come under the control of just one person. ”

Despite the simultaneous cheers and jeers, it remains unclear how much Musk’s ownership of Twitter will actually impact its policies and enforcement decisions.

During a recent interview, Musk said Twitter should “match the laws” of the countries in which it operates when it comes to what is and isn’t permissible for users to say, but suggested it shouldn’t implement many rules beyond that. At the same time, he said that in situations where “there’s a lot of controversy” around a post you may “not want to necessarily promote that.”

“I’m not saying I have all the answers here, but I do think that we want to be very reluctant to delete things and be very chosen with permanent bans,” he said.

As many prominent social media safety experts have pointed out in recent weeks, however, it’s a lot easier to preach about free speech than it is to establish and enforce policies that spell out what to do with content that’s not illegal but may pose harm to users .

Musk has also suggested he won’t be directly involved on the ground level, questions about how he’d go leaving about trying to bring change to Twitter’s approach. “I won’t personally be in there editing tweets,” he said during the interview.

Not all Democrats are convinced by Musk’s stated devotion to free speech, either.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.):

“I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means,” Musk tweeted Monday.

Trump says he won’t join a Musk-owned Twitter. His advisers aren’t so sure.

Trump himself has told the advisers in recent weeks that he won’t rejoin the social media network even if Elon Musk reverses the platform’s ban on his account. But some of Trump’s aides don’t believe Trump will be able to resist the social media network that fueled his rise to the presidency, Drew Harwell, Josh Dawsey and Craig Timberg report.

“Truth Social is working out its kinks, they are onboarding people … but he loved his Twitter,” a Trump consultant who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject told my colleagues. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

National unions fling offers to support upstart Amazon Labor Union

The interest from national unions is a significant change from before the Amazon Labor Union achieved a surprise unionization victory in early April, Jacob Bogage reports. They’re pledging money to cover campaign bills, office space, pro bono legal help and more, and are closing monitoring the ALU’s effort to unionize a second Staten Island Amazon facility, which is voting this week on whether to unionize.

“The labor movement tends to break down by who has jurisdiction over what. And that’s a dead end,” American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein said. “We would like to be part of a multi-union crusade. I think that’s what it’s going to take to organize this massive, wealthy anti-union company.” (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Meanwhile, another major tech company — Apple — is signaling that it plans to oppose a push to unionize its retail stores. The company is working with law firm Littler Mendelson, which has helped Starbucks and McDonalds, the Verge’s Zoe Schiffer reports. The company declined to comment to the Verge on its relationship with the law firm, but it said it offers strong benefits to its employees, who it values.

Federal consumer watchdog plans to take aim at Big Tech in Senate testimony

Consumer Financial Protection Board Director Rohit Chopra will tell the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday that the dominance of major technology companies “over the financial services ecosystem comes with risks and raises a host of questions about privacy, fraud, discrimination, and more,” according to a copy of Chopra’s testimony posted by the committee. Chopra, a former Federal Trade Commissioner, also plans to note that the CFPB is studying Big Tech’s push into the consumer payments space and has issued orders for major technology companies to provide the CFPB with information.

The hearing comes as the CFPB expands its scrutiny of fintech companies. The agency is using what it calls its “dormant authority” under a 2010 financial law to examine non-bank companies that it says could pose risks to consumers. Many non-banks “operate nationally and brand themselves as ‘fintechs,’ ” the agency said.

Lawmakers used strange analogies and polls to comment on Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.):

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) posted a poll with a faulty methodology:

US agency seeks public input on mobile app competition study (Reuters)

Twitter workers face a reality they’ve long feared: Elon Musk as owner (Elizabeth Dwoskin)

Amazon workers in Canada’s Alberta, Northwest Territories file for union vote (Reuters)

Meta fights to overturn UK order to sell Giphy (Reuters)

Australian regulator sues Uber for misleading fares, seeks $19 mln penalty (Reuters)

Report: Fake Twitter accounts spread Chinese propaganda (Associated Press)

US joins ‘historic’ global group focused on data privacy (NextGov)

Jeff Bezos is already testing Elon Musk’s commitment to free speech by trolling (The Verge)

  • The Pentagon announced that Craig Martell will be its new chief digital and artificial intelligence officer. Martell previously worked as head of machine learning for Lyft.
  • Google parent Alphabet and Microsoft hold earnings calls today at 5 pm and 5:30 pm
  • Clearview AI founder and chief executive Hoan Ton-That He speaks at a Washington Post Live event Wednesday at 11 am
  • Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) speaks at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event on US-China competition in artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles on Wednesdays at 3 p.m.
  • Facebook parent Meta holds an earnings call Wednesday at 5 pm
  • The Committee on House Administration holds a hearing on the effects of disinformation on communities of color Thursday at 10 am
  • Apple and Amazon hold earnings calls on Thursday at 5 pm and 5:30 pm

Thats all for today — thank you so much for joining us! Make sure to tell others to subscribe to The Technology 202 here. Get in touch with tips, feedback or greetings on Twitter or email.

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