Where does the Democratic presidential ticket stand on tech?

Center survivors! Cut the cord! Fund the FTC! F*ck the CDA230! – Scroll to the bottom to see our demands

As VP in the Obama administration, Biden was fairly critical of Silicon Valley, but where does the Biden-Harris platform stand on Big Tech now?

“Biden, who served for eight years as vice president under Obama, has expressed concern about the outsized power and influence of Big Tech. He’s suggested that some legal safeguards may need to be amended, such as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which spells out protections for online platforms.” – CNet

We’re glad to see that Biden’s “Building back better” plan includes guarantee paid domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking safe leave. He has promised to reform the Family and Medical Leave Act to provide paid leave for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking who need time to seek physical or mental care, seek counsel, find new housing, or take other action related to the violence they experienced.

Biden’s Violence Against Women platform specifically addresses online harassment, abuse and stalking, saying “The Biden Administration will shine a light on the online harassment, stalking, and abuse that now is a too-frequent reality for Americans, particularly for young people and women. Joe Biden recognizes that culture change must extend to our online lives, whether clamping down on “cyber exploitation,” online stalking, or intimate partner digital abuse.”

In fact, the administration plans to convene a National Task Force on Online Harassment and Abuse. “This national Task Force will be made up of “federal agencies, state leaders, advocates, law enforcement, and technology experts to study rampant online sexual harassment, stalking, and threats, including revenge porn and deepfakes — and the connection between this harassment, mass shootings, extremism and violence against women. The Task Force will be charged with developing cutting-edge strategies and recommendations for how federal and state governments, social media companies, schools, and other public and private entities can tackle this unique challenge. The Task Force will consider platform accountability, transparent reporting requirements for incidents of harassment and response, and best practices.”


Victims and those who provide direct services to them provide insights into the criminal patterns, the harms, victims’ needs that no amount of intellectual expertise or policy wonking can.

And also, the goal of considering platform accountability and transparency is fine and dandy, but it’s not enough!  It’s inadequate to just report on bad behavior. We need platforms to respond responsibly to it. But not even responsiveness is enough. What we really need is for them to prevent abuses of their platforms at inception. Facebook for instance is all proud of its transparency for referring nearly 16 million cases in 2019 alone of child sexual exploitation images disseminated on their platforms to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 2019.  They want a cookie for that, but perhaps they should pause and consider that 60 million images are circulating on their platform, each depicting a compromised and abused kid.  What is Facebook doing to prevent it? Nothing, instead they’re crying out for  to bury their head deeper and to help offenders evade detection.

Biden  also supports federal and state legislation creating a civil and criminal cause of action for unauthorized disclosure of intimate images, supporting the Stopping Harmful Image Exploitation and Limiting Distribution (SHIELD) Act, introduced by Senator Harris, which makes “cyber exploitation” a criminal act. He will also support the enactment of federal and state legislation giving victims of “cyber exploitation” a civil cause of action.

We were part of Kamala’s Cyber Abuse Taskforce in 2015 which was the first of its kind. It was the first/only true collaboration between big tech, victims, victims; attorneys, and non-profits. Shortly after it convened, big tech companies started banning revenge porn. It got results. As Attorney General, Harris also launched a first-of-its-kind Cyber Exploitation resource hub and included a Best Practice Guide for technology companies to help them develop policies that prevent the posting and sharing of cyber exploitation images. “Posting intimate images online without consent is a cowardly crime that humiliates and belittles victims.”

But responsibility for stopping illegal and dangerous behavior online doesn’t just fall on individuals, it falls on the Big Tech billionaires who profit from it, too. When it comes to making the [online] world a better place for us all, how likely is it that Harris will hold Big Tech responsible for their share of the work?

Unlike Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a fellow VP shortlister who wants to break up Big Tech, Kamala Harris has been decidedly chummy with Silicone Valley fat cats for a long time. As California senate candidate, Harris hosted packed fundraisers at places like Airbnb’s HQ in San Francisco – where she had originally served as district attorney before ascending to AG and then senator. Her senate campaign was donated generously to by (according to California political donation tracker Electiontrack): Sean Parker (Napster, Facebook), Marc Benioff (Salesforce), Marissa Mayer (Yahoo), John and Anne Doerr (Kleiner Perkins), Ron Conway (SV Angel), Brian Chesky (Airbnb), Laurene Powell Jobs (Widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs), Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook), John Donahoe (eBay), David Drummond (Google VP), Tony Fadell (Nest)

Vox’s Recode recently described Harris as the choice Joe Biden needed to win over Silicon Valley saying she has “glad-handed with tech elites for decades.”

“Cooper Teboe, a top Democratic fundraiser in Silicon Valley, said about one-third of major West Coast donors that he’s spoken to have been waiting to see who Biden would choose as vice president before deciding whether to invest tens of thousands of dollars into Democrats this cycle,” reported Vox.

“She is the safest pick for the donor community,” Teboe said of Harris. “She will be the pick that the California, Silicon Valley donor community — who are worried about things like tech and repatriation and taxes and so on and so forth — she is the pick that they will be happiest with.” 

In the last year Harris has publicly shown some intent to demand better from Big Tech. She urged Twitter to ban Trump from the platform for “tweets [that] incite violence, threaten witnesses, and obstruct justice.” And in May this year she sent a letter to Facebook questioning whether the platform was doing enough to combat Covid-19 related misinformation. “With federal, state, and local elections slated for November 2020, Facebook has a responsibility to ensure that its platforms do not become a hotbed of disinformation,” said the letter, also signed from Democratic Sens Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

But Brookings reported expecting to see tech policy from the Biden-Harris ticket that errs towards tougher anti-bias enforcement and stronger action against foreign government interference, rather than confronting individual privacy and safety.

“As a prosecutor, Senator Harris will most likely promote algorithmic accountability and transparency, especially in areas like criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, and education. A Biden-Harris administration will lend support to tougher anti-bias rules for the digital economy and stronger enforcement against internet platforms that fail to comply with civil rights and other data privacy protections,” said Brooking’s TechTank.

“Both Biden and Harris have been outspoken on the need for more action by social media companies against foreign government interference in American elections, especially in disinformation campaigns. Each has supported more money for state and local governments to protect critical infrastructure (including election infrastructure and voting processes) and tougher action against foreign governments and entities found to be interfering with U.S. elections. If there is evidence of foreign interference in the 2020 election, as already alleged by the American intelligence community, a Biden-Harris administration would take strong action against the offending countries. With the heightened attacks on voting rights protections, processes and campaign integrity by the GOP, this one issue may very well become of highest importance to the ticket and the Democratic party.”

“Representing Silicon Valley, Harris will be open to working with technology and telecommunications firms but insist that they respect the basic values of an open internet,” says Brookings.

But aren’t we at the stage of needing more than just an ‘open’ internet? Can we not even try to imagine an internet where pedophiles and extortionists and stalkers are not enabled? Will any politician be brave enough to suggest that those companies who make literally gazillions from us – at the expense of our safety and privacy – are within the reach of some sort of accountability?

We survivors have been clear about what we want: 

  • Candidates to get off big tech’s teet and start looking out for the people they are supposed to be serving
  • An Online Abuse Task Force that:
    • Includes victims and victim advocates
    • Focuses on prevention – and not just ‘transparency’ or response
    • Looks at the true harms of platforms evading liability
  • More funding to the FTC to hold online companies responsible for privacy violations
  • An honest conversation about the CDA230 and why we are allowing a handful of untouchable tech oligarchs to dominate our economy and democracy

We know tech policy is probably not going to determine the outcome of the election. But the next four years will undoubtedly mean major changes for the industry – and we want to make sure those changes are for the BETTER. We’ll be watching closely and hoping that the Biden and Harris distinguish themselves herself from many others in DC by holding big tech accountable and lifting up the voices of victims – rather than just those who want to preserve their massive Silicone Valley wealth at the expense of democracy, privacy, and safety.



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