Tech Lobbying, NetzDG, Davos|Jan 30, 2019|CEP Staff

Tech Industry’s PR Blitz on Full Display at Davos

Record Spending on Special Interest Lobbying Belies Tech Industry Rhetoric

Last week, the world’s biggest tech companies converged on the World Economic Forum, an annual high-profile gathering of global elites in Davos, Switzerland. Tech execs spent the week carrying out a careful public relations strategy to convince media, political and business leaders they are serious about working with government to tackle the threats proliferating on their platforms, including online extremism. Their posturing, a “repentance tour” filled with promises to do better, leaves an impression that tech companies finally understand the gravity of their situation.

“The tech industry’s display of transparency at the 2019 World Economic Forum is dispelled when one follows the money flowing through Washington, D.C. and Brussels in support of their business-as-usual strategy,” said Counter Extremism Project Executive Director David Ibsen. “They can continue claiming they are acting in good faith and being good stewards of social responsibility, but the fact of the matter is that they will fiercely defend the status quo and continue acting like any other for-profit industry. Their track record of inaction, unless it affects the bottom line, especially in terms of removing terror content online, demonstrates conclusively that the era of self-regulation needs to come to an end.”

These tech giants’ charm offensive coincided with annual lobbying disclosures that reveal the record amount of money they spent influencing lawmakers last year. All told, the tech industry, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, spent more than $64 million to sway elected officials and regulators, an increase of 10 percent over 2017. The spending in part has been a response to “sustained scrutiny on Capitol Hill in 2018 targeting … the industry’s efforts to stop the spread of abusive content, including hate speech and misinformation.”

The tech industry’s track record in Europe forecasts their tactics in Washington. Previously, CEP has chronicled tech’s resistance to Germany’s NetzDG law, which allows for fines against online platforms that repeatedly do not delete prohibited content within 24-hours. The industry made outlandish and fictional claims about the law, which proved to be completely and entirely off base. 

Now, in contrast to what has been said at Davos about the tech industry’s openness to oversight, newly uncovered emails and documents show that in Europe, Facebook lobbied against any regulation at all, arguing in internal documents that “the industry does not need a regulatory push to improve.”