*Editor’s Note: On March 4, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.
For more than a month now, an information war unprecedented in scale and aggressiveness has been waged against Russia. Millions of fake news stories and calls for violence against our citizens are spreading online. There are obvious double standards in how overseas online platforms are moderated. Some are permitted to publish anything, even openly nationalistic remarks. Others, to put it mildly, are being muzzled.
One of the most blatant examples is how Meta has allowed people to post calls for violence against Russian soldiers on Facebook and Instagram during Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. What’s going on? Why are tech corporations allowed to decide people’s fate, to pit nations against each other and incite violence?
Tech giants do not make these decisions on their own: They coordinate with the U.S. government or make them in response to the government’s “polite requests.” However, the reason why Silicon Valley is so obedient does not quite lie with the American political establishment’s powerful influence over those corporations. One gets the impression that the tech giants and the White House work according to the old Russian proverb that says in a village, everybody’s related. In addition to professional relationships, tech giant leadership and the current Biden administration are connected by many intimate family and interpersonal connections.
Even before President Joe Biden came along, Silicon Valley had many ties to the White House. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore is a member of Apple’s board of directors to this day, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice served on the board of directors for Dropbox, and former Deputy National Security Advisor Caroline Atkinson was Google’s head of global policy.
But with Biden’s election, Silicon Valley and American government agencies actually became family. If you glance at the web of relationships between Biden’s administration and Big Tech published by Protocol back during the 2020 election year, the reasons for the current coordinated information war against Russia become clear.
If we delve into these connections, they are very revealing. For example, the current U.S. president is chummy with former U.K. Deputy Prime Minister and Meta’s President for Global Affairs Sir Nicholas Klegg. The British national previously suggested that Biden use “U.S. leadership … to preserve and enhance the open internet.”
And Jessica Hertz, former associate general counsel at Facebook, previously worked as general counsel for the Biden transition team in 2020 and ultimately was named White House staff secretary, serving until October 2021. These are only the relationships that you could say appear on the surface. Big Tech’s web of relationships with the U.S. political establishment evokes a genuine Mexican soap opera. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ niece, Meena Harris, also previously worked at Facebook. She met her husband there, a man who occupies one of the company’s leading positions related to advertising technology and building global partnerships.
The surprises with respect to Harris do not end there. Harris is connected to the tech giant Alphabet, which owns Google, through Rebecca Prozan, Alphabet’s director of West Coast government affairs and public policy. In 2003, Prozan managed Harris’ campaign for San Francisco district attorney and alter served as an attorney in her office. Finally, Harris’ brother-in-law, Tony West, former U.S. assistant attorney general, is today a vice president and chief legal officer of Uber.
The trend toward “familial tech ties” has not eluded Apple or Amazon, either. For example, Cynthia Hogan, Apple’s former vice president for public policy and government affairs, was part of Biden’s transition team in 2020, and served as chief legal counsel for Biden when he was a senator. From 2008 to 2011, Jay Carney worked as Vice President Biden’s director of communications, and is currently the head of Amazon’s lobbying and public policy division. These are just a few examples.
We could go on listing names, but it seems to me that certain conclusions are quite clear. A number of Western experts believe the real winner of the 2020 presidential elections was not Biden, but the tech giant leadership at Meta, Amazon, Twitter, Google and Apple. These corporations grew exhausted by the war Donald Trump started with China and the government’s massive antimonopoly campaign. Representatives of the tech sector counted on Biden’s administration to take a softer position with China and the Chinese technology sector. They also expected changes in the approach to industry regulation in general and a reduction of immigration limitations for highly qualified specialists in order to obtain additional resources for competing in the technological sector.
Yet despite all this friendship, a proposal does not a marriage make. On several occasions we have seen Biden try to rein in tech giants by appointing their staunchest opponents to key positions. In the summer of 2021, Big Tech’s chief critic, Lina Khan, was named chair of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Tim Wu, the new special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy on the National Economic Council, has similar views. And that is to say nothing of the new head of the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division, Jonathan Kanter, who has sued major tech companies on more than one occasion during his career. Apparently something doesn’t add up — how can this be? After all, the current U.S. president is very close with Big Tech but still tries to regulate its activities in the digital market.
These appointments do not at all mean that a confrontation between the government and Big Tech has begun. In my view, this is more likely part of an objective by the White House to gently rein in tech giants who have started nosing into politics and influencing social processes too openly. Who better than us knows how Big Tech forgot that rule of law must remain inviolate? As you can see, this is occurring not only with us, but also in the motherland of the digital monsters. As they say, it’s best to have the last laugh. We shall continue to watch with pleasure as the U.S. attempts to curb the terrifying and colossal power of tech monopolists, power that the U.S. itself placed in their hands.