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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Musk gives DeSantis a Twitter boost, breaking another tech norm

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

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Below: Microsoft’s Brad Smith takes up a new challenge in AI regulations, and civil rights advocates are concerned about ongoing digital trade talks. First:

Musk gives DeSantis a Twitter boost, breaking another tech norm

For years, tech CEOs have avoided any appearance of giving preferential treatment to a political party or candidate — a game plan deployed particularly by execs helming social media companies at the center of the debate around content moderation.

When former president Donald Trump and President Biden faced off in the 2020 race, the CEOs largely declined to publicly take sides during the 2020 race. And their companies have either opted against donating to candidates or doled out contributions evenly to both Democrats and Republicans.

Despite those attempts, platforms like Twitter have still faced accusations of bias from the right and of kowtowing to GOP critics from the left, even leading to federal complaints over allegations they were illegally giving certain candidates an edge.

Twitter chief Elon Musk shattered that mold Wednesday as he hosted an event on Twitter with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announcing his 2024 presidential run.  

“As far as I know, no major presidential candidate has announced their candidacy on social media this way, certainly in a Twitter Space, so thank you for doing that,” tech investor David Sacks, who led the discussion with DeSantis, said during the stream, which repeatedly crashed.

DeSantis said Musk himself inspired his decision to announce his bid on Twitter. During the coronavirus pandemic, “the truth was censored repeatedly” on the platform, he said, but “now that Twitter is in the hands of a free speech advocate, that would not be able to happen again.”

Musk responded by saying he was “absolutely committed to freedom of speech and a level playing field” and that he hoped Twitter could bring together “divergent political views.” 

Musk said in November that he would back DeSantis if he ran for president in 2024 and urged his followers to vote Republican on the eve of the 2022 midterm elections, arguing that it would curb “the worst excesses of both parties” since the White House is held by a Democrat. 

Katie Harbath, a tech consultant and former Facebook public policy director, said it was nearly unprecedented for a tech CEO to give a candidate such a high-profile plug, particularly since the fallout over the 2016 election.

Tech moguls like Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg and former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey likely would face significant backlash if they had staged a similar event, she added, with critics on either side of the aisle accusing them of “putting the thumb on the scale of the election.”

“Overall, it would be seen as very inappropriate for a tech CEO who has such power over the algorithms and what people see in their news feeds … to do this,” said Harbath, a veteran of the Republican National Committee and Rudy Giuliani’s campaign.

She added, “I wouldn’t be surprised if some filed [a Federal Election Commission] complaint to try to see if it would be considered an in-kind donation.”

The Republican National Committee accused Twitter in 2020 of making an illegal in-kind contribution to the Biden campaign by blocking a controversial New York Post article about the then-candidate’s son, but the FEC dismissed the complaint in 2021.

FEC Vice Chairman Sean Cooksey (R), a former aide to Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), appeared to suggest this week that Twitter’s event with DeSantis would not be in violation of federal election law because “its editorial decisions are not contributions to any candidate or expenditures under federal campaign-finance law.” 

While it remains to be seen whether Musk’s event with DeSantis will also elicit legal challenges, the political blowback is already underway.

Nicole Gill, executive director of the left-leaning advocacy group Accountable Tech, said in a statement that Musk’s “full-throated embrace of Ron DeSantis … is a new low for what was once one of the world’s most important communication platforms.”

She added that “Musk’s Twitter is officially a megaphone for one party’s extremism.”

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.): 

Our top tabs

AI regulation debate opens up new door for Microsoft’s Brad Smith

Microsoft President Brad Smith is at the center of a new debate over how to regulate artificial intelligence, our colleague Cat Zakrzewski reports.

The tech executive has spent years advocating for tech sector regulations. He’s now facing the fight of his career to help shape AI policies, amid Microsoft's a recent $10 billion investment into ChatGPT parent OpenAI, Cat writes.

The company is currently angling to win approval for a major gaming acquisition of Activision Blizzard as it makes concessions in Europe, amid scrutiny over its market share in the cloud computing business.

While Smith has spent years calling for tighter tech guardrails and has worked side-by-side with lawmakers, it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to sway them on AI matters, Cat writes.

Civil rights groups warn trade talks may hurt efforts to counter discriminatory algorithms

A coalition of civil rights and consumer protection groups warned in a letter to President Biden Tuesday that ongoing trade talks risk eroding efforts to mitigate algorithmic discrimination.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Citizen and a dozen other groups wrote that certain digital trade provisions considered in a proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework would stall government efforts to ensure algorithms behave fairly when making decisions about job access, health care, housing, lending and other areas.

The groups argue one potential provision would allow tech companies to keep their source code and algorithms secret, arguing that it could “thwart” assessments that test algorithms for racial biases or legal violations. Lawmakers have expressed related concerns about the tech industry’s influence in the trade talks, voicing concern that AI, privacy and competition regulations may be weakened by tech groups arguing they infringe on trade policies

The White House did not return a request for comment. U.S. Trade Representative spokesman Sam Michel said in a statement, “Throughout the development of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, USTR officials have met with a broad range of stakeholders to solicit input and ensure that diverse perspectives are heard from – not just those that can afford Washington lobbyists."

Microsoft files appeal against U.K. decision to block Activision purchase

Microsoft on Wednesday appealed the U.K. antitrust regulator’s decision to block its $69 billion purchase of gaming company Activision Blizzard, Katharine Gemmell reports for Bloomberg News.

“Microsoft lodged the suit at the Competition Appeal Tribunal on Wednesday, according to a company spokesperson. The anticipated move comes on the deadline to file an appeal,” Gemmell writes.

The judicial review process could take up to nine months, according to the report. “It’s set to be a tough fight for Microsoft as the tribunal’s powers are limited to looking at the legality of the decision making process rather than the facts that it turned on,” it adds.

E.U. antitrust enforcers earlier this month broke from the U.K. to approve the transaction, arguing that Microsoft addressed concerns that the purchase could stifle innovation and competition in the video game market. 

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has sued to block the deal. An administrative judge will hold a hearing to examine the lawsuit in August. 

Rant and rave

Twitter reacts as the platform repeatedly crashes with DeSantis making his presidential announcement. WIRED’s Lauren Goode:

NBC’s Ben Collins:

Biden’s personal account:

Agency scanner

White House says China's actions on Micron won't torpedo relations (Reuters)

Inside the industry

DeSantis needs a new Republican lane. Elon Musk might be paving it. (Politico)

Driver’s licenses, addresses, photos: Inside how TikTok shares user data (New York Times)

Venture capitalists face pressure to divest from China (The Information)

Lawsuits by moderators of violent online content pose threat to Big Tech (Wall Street Journal)

Competition watch

Chip wars with China risk ‘enormous damage’ to US tech, says Nvidia chief (Financial Times)


See why AI like ChatGPT has gotten so good, so fast (Pranshu Verma and Kevin Schaul)


  • The House Intelligence Committee holds a hearing on foreign material acquisition at 9 a.m.
  • The Cato Institute holds a discussion titled “Five Years of EU’s General Data Protection Regulation: Impact and Lessons Learned” at 12 p.m.
  • The American Enterprise Institute holds an event titled “The Future of Independent Agencies: Fallout from Problems at the Federal Trade Commission” at 2 p.m.
  • Stanford University holds a discussion on U.S.-China trade approaches at 7 p.m.

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