By Alan Murray and David Meyer
August 29, 2018

Good morning.

These are precarious times for the big tech companies. Even as their profits and valuations soar, their political and regulatory quandary deepens. They face growing and multi-pronged attacks for their data practices, their disruption of legacy businesses, their contributions to income inequality, and their role in politics.

On the last point, President Trump upped the pressure yesterday, sending out a tweet accusing Google of rigging news results against him. The tweet seemed to be fed by this story from Paula Bolyard in PJ Media. CNN’s Chris Cillizza countered with this piece.

As a lifelong journalist, this argument gives me heartburn. I’m partial to journalistic outlets that check their facts. And those that do have to reckon with this president’s propensity to put out factually incorrect information several times each day. By doing so, he baits and creates the very scourge he then attacks—a critical press. No surprise to me that Google algorithms surface more critical stories. And in Trump’s mind, criticism = bias. (I’m not denying the real problem of press bias here; just saying the argument has become hopelessly contorted in the age of Trump.)

But here’s the thing: Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter can no longer maintain the pretense that they are simply neutral platforms. They determine the news that most people see. And even if editorial choices are made by algorithms, the companies can’t escape responsibility for them. Indeed, this needs to become rule one in the Age of AI. Humans remain accountable for decisions, even when made by machines. By attacking Google, Trump falls squarely in line with generations of politicians who have criticized decisions by the press.

Trump’s attack only heightens the importance of next week’s hearings, when Facebook, Google and Twitter return to Capitol Hill to talk about censorship and election interference. Twitter and Facebook have learned the lesson of last November, when they sent lower level executives to take the heat. Twitter is sending CEO Jack Dorsey. Facebook is sending COO Sheryl Sandberg. Google is trying to get by with General Counsel Kent Walker. They would be wise to step it up a notch; this is getting serious.

More news below.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray
alan.murray@fortune.com

SPONSORED FINANCIAL CONTENT

You May Like