For the first two hours of the Big Tech hearing in the House, the most newsworthy thing Amazon's Jeff Bezos did was eat a handful of snacks. Reporters actually tweeted about it, joking that even sitting there doing nothing, he'd probably "just made $300 million dollars or so." Lauren Goode of WIRED guessed that Bezos could probably receive a Prime package "in the time it takes for representatives to ask him a single question." When they finally did, most people would agree: it was a doozy.
Bezos, who wrote the single largest check for same-sex marriage in 2012, hasn't exactly kept his social views a secret. As most conservatives found out the hard way, Amazon has been a mighty ally for the LGBT lobby for years, banning books and ads that dare to question their extremist agenda. Then the company picked a public fight, bullying states that tried to keep girls' restrooms safe. But the biggest insult may have come a few years back when the company quietly gave Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a group linked to domestic terrorism in court, absolute power over its charity program. As most people found out in 2019 after a messy staff revolt, this is an organization so deeply sinister, corrupt, and racist that its own employees have sued. It's a "highly profitable scam," Bob Moser warned, full of sexual predators and con artists.
So why, a full year after these revelations became public, is Amazon Smile still giving SPLC full veto power over its charity program? "I am not here accusing you as someone who would ever traffic in hate," Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) pressed, "but it seems you have empowered people who do... The Southern Poverty Law Center, which you allow to dictate who can receive donations on your Amazon Smile platform, ha[s] said the American Family Association, the Family Research Council... and even Dr. Ben Carson are extremists and should be treated differently... I'm just wondering why you would place your confidence in a group that seems to be so out of step and seems to take mainstream Christian doctrine and label it as hate."
"Sir, it's a good question," Bezos admitted. He launched into a quick description of the program and then explained that they use "Southern Poverty Law Center data to say which charities are extremist organizations" and should be excluded. "But why?" Gaetz interrupted. "Since they're calling Catholics and Jewish groups hateful groups. Why would you trust them?" Bezos fumbled for a minute, then said, "Sir, I'm going to acknowledge this is an imperfect system, and I would love suggestions on better or additional sources..."
"My suggestion," Gaetz said firmly, "would be a divorce from the SPLC." If Bezos wants to police haters, that's his business. But SPLC can't even police its own hate -- let alone see past it to recognize others'. "Sometimes the press will describe us as monitoring hate crimes and so on..." former executive Mark Potok said. "I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, to completely destroy them."
Is that Amazon's aim too? Because the longer they let SPLC silence conservatives, the bigger hole they're digging for themselves. After all, one of the reasons for Wednesday's hearing was to determine which of these Silicon Valley billionaires can be trusted to treat Americans fairly. If they're going to align themselves with people who don't believe in speech, then Congress has all the motivation in the world to reconsider the special treatment they're getting from the U.S. government.
Craig Parshall, special counsel to the American Center for Law and Justice, warned that these "four horsemen of the Techpocalypse" -- Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook -- are in for a rude awakening if they think Republicans are the only ones who have a problem with their business models. "This is an extraordinary thing," he said, "because even in this very heated political climate, during an election season... one [thing] they are agreeing on is that... these Big Tech platforms have become monopolies and used their monopoly power unfairly." Maybe that means different things to Republicans and Democrats, but they're united where it counts: holding these titans' feet to the fire.
"The reason they've gotten big," Craig told Sarah Perry on "Washington Watch," is not just because they're brilliant, but also because "Congress gave them immunity back in 1996 under the Communications Decency Act to be free from almost every lawsuit -- which is an extraordinary gift that they've never given to any other company or set of companies or any part of our enterprise system under the free market." And look at what's happened. "They have been free not only to get large, but to be mean-spirited in the way they suppress conservative opinions."
So what do we do about it? We can't continue to have four of the biggest companies in the world picking and choosing winners in a marketplace where they have unlimited power. What we're coming to, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has warned "is a time of reckoning." At the end of the day, these platforms have a choice. They can start acting in good faith -- or they can watch as both sides of Congress unite with one target: them.
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