Recently Google flagged the conservative news analysis site The Federalist for alleged hate speech. Turns out upon closer examination, that it was not the articles themselves which were the supposed violators, but instead members of the public writing in the 'comments' section.
Conservatives understandably saw this as an overly burdensome standard. I regularly read comments sections of both conservative and liberal sites and they are virtually riddled with hateful rhetoric. Comments sections are open forums and have generally not been treated as the editorial views of the publishers on whom the commenters are commenting.
Members of Congress pledged to take a closer look at anti-conservative bias on platforms such as Google, Twitter and Facebook. Of course, CEOs have denied the importance of the issue and in the case of Google and Twitter have recently lobbied to get proxies protecting viewpoint diversity stricken from their annual meetings or voted down.
But the President of Microsoft, one of the foundational companies of the modern tech industry, is taking the concern seriously. A couple days after the clash between The Federalist and Google hit the press, veteran business reporter Neil Cavuto asked Brad Smith about the concerns about tech companies.
“CAVUTO: You know, I'd be remiss if I didn't focus on developed, doesn't so much concerned Microsoft, Brad, but obviously going after Google and YouTube and all of this about what is conservative speech, and many of grappled with that and said that this is part of an effort right now to shut down conservative thought, but all of this coming at the same time regulators here and abroad are going after a number of US technology concerns. Do you ever look around at these developments and see fires growing here?
SMITH: Well every day I get up and I see a world that's on fire in so many ways and I do think that many of these fires, these hot issues of the day, do affect technology and they do raise important issues for the tech sector. And you're right to point out these concerns about technology are not confined to the United States. I do think we're at a moment in time when we in the tech sector need to step up and of course part of the way we need to step up is to ensure that a variety of voices across the political Spectrum always have the opportunity to be heard. I think that's really the definition of what we expect in the United States.”
My own experience in dealing with tech companies on issues of viewpoint diversity has been running into stonewalling, a denial of the problem, a denial even in understanding what the meaning of the concern is. But here we have the President of the senior tech corporation in America hearing the problem, acknowledging the problem, and saying, "We in the tech sector need to step up."
He's right. The sector does need to step up and shareholders are the best positioned to be the catalyst for that. Owners of Google, Apple, Twitter, etc. need to be talking to the investor relations departments of those firms. If you own through a mutual fund, then you need to talk to the investor relations departments of your mutual fund and ask them where they stand on protecting employees from viewpoint discrimination, and what actions they are taking to avoid alienating large swaths of the customer base who have views which do not appear to be getting equal treatment.
These are your companies. They are under your supervision, at least they are supposed to be. And a major player in the sector has now broken ranks, and broken the code of silence about inclusion of political views that don't fit tech managers' personal biases.