The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness
The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

White House contrasts itself with GOP on tech

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Thursday! I’ve joked about almost blacking out after an hours-long tech hearing, but never did I imagine this. Send tips on news and D.C.-based electricians to:

Below: Former Twitter staffers rebuff claims of government collusion, and Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard deal faces a fresh hurdle. First:

White House contrasts itself with GOP on tech

The White House issued a blistering rejection of the House GOP’s hearing with former Twitter staffers on allegations of censorship Wednesday, criticizing them for holding a “bizarre political stunt” a day after President Biden urged unity on tech issues in the State of the Union.

White House spokesman Ian Sams called the House Oversight Committee hearing — tackling Twitter’s temporary suppression of a controversial New York Post article about Biden’s son — the “latest effort by the House Republican majority’s most extreme MAGA members to question and re-litigate the outcome of the 2020 election.”

Sams added, “As the President has said … the American people expect their leaders to work together in a bipartisan way on the issues that most impact their lives and their families, not attack his family with long-debunked conspiracy theories.”

The comment is the latest example of how the White House is seeking to cast Biden as a bipartisan bridge-builder aiming to rein in the tech giants — in contrast to the GOP.

In his address Tuesday, Biden called on lawmakers to “pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children and impose stricter limits on the personal data that companies collect on all of us.”

Last month, Biden issued a similar call to action in an op-ed urging both parties to “unite behind our shared values” to pass legislation on data privacy, antitrust and Section 230 reform.

The op-ed, released as Republicans were gearing up to launch special congressional committees to investigate Biden and his family, took a thinly veiled jab at Republicans.

“We’ve heard a lot of talk about creating committees,” Biden wrote. “It’s time to walk the walk and get something done.”

Democratic lawmakers echoed that message at Wednesday’s session, hammering Republicans for focusing on claims of censorship and government collusion instead of issues with broad backing.

What we would love to do is to figure out what some of those real interfaces are with tech,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told reporters on the sidelines of the hearing, suggesting an alternative focus. “Antitrust is an excellent topic.”

“Even … if there were specific questions about the actual protocols and interface between public agencies and private social media companies — happy to discuss that, but that’s not what they’re here to talk about,” she said, accusing Republicans of trying to “bully” social networks.

House Oversight Republicans rejected the criticism, with a spokesperson calling it “alarming” that the White House isn’t worried about the “federal government’s collusion with Big Tech to ban speech and news that does not fit the left’s political narrative.”

“In fact, the Biden White House is complicit in this attack on Americans’ First Amendment right and seems to want even more censorship,” spokesperson Jessica Collins said.

The former Twitter staffers repeatedly testified Wednesday that they did not face pressure from the federal government or the Biden campaign to remove or restrict the New York Post reporting on Hunter Biden.

After the State of the Union address, House Republican leaders also took aim at Biden for purportedly not getting fully behind their efforts to pass tech reforms.

“If President Biden truly wants to promote Big Tech transparency and accountability, protect our kids, and strengthen privacy protections for Americans, he should join [the House Energy and Commerce Committee's] bipartisan efforts to enact comprehensive data privacy legislation,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who chairs the panel, said in a statement Tuesday.

Last Congress, Democrats and Republicans on the panel advanced a sweeping data privacy bill out of committee that would minimize how much data companies can collect from users and ban targeted advertisements to kids and most teens.

The biggest Republican proponent of antitrust legislation in the House, Rep. Ken Buck (Colo.), has also criticized Biden for not rallying more forcefully behind their efforts to pass legislation last Congress, when Democrats controlled all three branches.

 “I thought it was too little, too late,” Buck said of Biden’s January op-ed.

Our top tabs

Republicans allege Big Tech conspiracy as ex-Twitter staffers rebut claims

House Republicans seized on a hearing with former Twitter executives to fan allegations the company colluded with the federal government to suppress speech, even as the witnesses’ testimony contradicted those claims, as my colleague Cat Zakrzewski and I report.

House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) alleged at the session that Twitter “was a private company that the federal government used to do what it cannot: limit the constitutional free exercise of speech.” The session focused on the social network’s decision to initially restrict a controversial 2020 New York Post article about Biden’s son, Hunter.

But the witnesses testified they were never directed by federal agents or Biden’s campaign to remove or restrict the article, and House Republicans failed to provide evidence to support their allegations.

Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, used the session to dig into claims the company helped fuel the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The contentious hearing was interrupted for over an hour Wednesday afternoon as the power suddenly went out in the House office building where it was held.

U.K. regulator voices concern over Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard deal

The United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority said Wednesday that the tech giant’s $75 billion acquisition of gaming giant Activision Blizzard would consolidate Microsoft’s strong position in the market and hurt local gamers, the Wall Street Journal’s Sarah E. Needleman and Kim Mackrael report.

“The country’s Competition and Markets Authority said it would ask both companies to propose ways to ease its concerns, and it set a final decision about whether to let the deal proceed for late April,” according to the report. “The regulator offered a list of potential remedies that might be hard for Microsoft to swallow, including divesting Activision’s publishing unit, which owns the studios that make its blockbuster Call of Duty franchise.”

The blockbuster acquisition is facing mounting regulatory scrutiny globally, including a lawsuit by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission seeking to block the deal.

Turkish residents struggle to get on Twitter after earthquake

“Survivors in Turkey are finding their access to social media platforms Twitter and TikTok constrained in the wake of Monday’s devastating earthquakes that leveled buildings and killed over 12,000 people, potentially complicating rescue efforts,” my colleagues Paulina Villegas and Naomi Nix report.

“While it wasn’t immediately clear why, experts suspect that it could be related to government censorship,” according to the report. “TikTok acknowledged in a statement that its users in the country were having trouble accessing the social media platform.”

Twitter owner Elon Musk tweeted Wednesday evening that “Twitter has been informed by the Turkish government that access will be reenabled shortly.”

Hill happenings

Sen. Josh Hawley wants to create a legal age to be allowed on social media (NBC News)

Inside the industry

Investors pummel Google after Microsoft ramps up AI wars (Gerrit De Vynck)

Twitter faces widespread outage as users told they’re over tweet limit (Faiz Siddiqui)

TikTok expects to be subject to stricter EU online content rules (Reuters)

Disinformation Researchers Raise Alarms About A.I. Chatbots (New York Times)


Twitter Kept Entire 'Database' of Republican Requests to Censor Posts (Rolling Stone)

Before you log off

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.