Lastweek, I held a dozen meetings in Iowa to have dialogue with my constituents. Asmany of my colleagues know, I hold face-to-face meetings with Iowans in all 99 counties,every year. It’s been a privilege to get to every county, in every corner ofthe state, every single year, for the past four decades.
Peoplehave asked me why I do this. The simple answer, in our system ofself-government, I’m one half of representative government, and my constituentsare the other half. My county meetings are a good way for me to keep in touchand see for myself the challenges and the successes going on in communitiesacross my home state.
Inrecent years, it’s become an important way for me to counter disinformation,correct misinformation and sidestep censorship that Americans digest daily inthe mainstream and social media.
BigTech and big data companies, much like state surveillance and Big Brother,share something in common. If left unchecked, they can undermine the privacy,civil liberties and constitutional freedoms every American should hold sacredand should never take for granted.
Responsibledigital citizenship is more important than ever. Consumers must be mindfulabout their digital footprint. Anything typed into a search engine is effectively a digital diary saved in the cloudfor a rainy day. Consumers must be mindful about what’s posted, downloaded,shared and liked on social media platforms.
Theroad to responsible and accountable digital citizenship isn’t solely theconsumer’s responsibility. Social media companies, as well as content andinternet providers, aren’t exempt from ethical corporate stewardship,especially when the welfare of the next generation is at stake. Keep in mindthat human trafficking is a pervasive crime that grooms and blackmails youngpeople – on Main Street and in online communities.
BigTech isn’t all bad. Technology companies have revolutionized our way of lifeand how we connect with friends and family. During the pandemic, technologydelivered invaluable connections for e-commerce, digital learning, teleworkingand telehealth. However, that doesn’t give Big Tech and big data companieslicense to undermine constitutional protections or disregard harmful impactstheir products and services have on civic life and public trust in our Americandemocracy.
Titansof technology need to take responsibility for the products they build, sell andprofit from fellow Americans. Policymakers and regulators have a duty to shapeand enforce the rules of the road. Big Tech and all of its stakeholders, fromcontent makers, social media platforms and internet service providers, bearresponsibility to understand how their business model puts freedom atrisk.
Redflags are popping up all over the digital frontier – from recurring databreaches to online censorship, misuse of user profiles, and the recent messwith an online brokerage app. In the last two presidential elections, Big Techhas had a big influence on information that appeared – or didn’t appear – inAmericans’ social media feeds. Big Tech can’t hide behind its business modelwhen its revenue streams cash in on an infrastructure which sows division anddistrust among Americans. This ecosystem has beenexploited to radicalize political extremism and mobilize civil unrest. Socialmedia companies have reaped the benefits of their enterprise. They bear someresponsibility to help repair cracks in the architecture of our civicinstitutions and heal the wounds festering in American life.
Economicfreedom allows social media companies to create a business model that growstheir bottom line. Americans need to understand their personal data isharvested for profit. Advertisers buy the data to influence consumer and voterbehavior. The bottom line for every American ought to be ensuringconstitutional protections aren’t archived –out of sight, out of mind – in the annals ofhistory.
I’mnot saying Big Tech is a bad actor, but I am calling on Big Tech to be a goodactor. Take responsibility for the online ecosystem you created. Congress alsomust take a good, hard look at Section 230 and whether there’s a need to reformimmunity laws on the books.
We’veseen what happens when conversations take place online versus in-person. Takeit from me. The tone of conversation is neighborly and civil when I talked withIowans last week in Forest City and Ogden. However, incivility outflankskindness tenfold in the responses posted to my Twitter account.
Weneed to work together to heal the unholy civil divide that’s taken root online.It’s bleeding into our way of life, pitting neighbor against neighbor, andharming the ability of elected leaders to build bipartisan consensus for thepublic good.
I’mhere to put social media platforms, the mainstream media, Congress and theAmerican public on notice. The digital landscape needs a reboot. What we dowith this space will influence how young people participate in civic andpolitical life for generations to come.
Inthe coming days, I’ll continue this conversation in a series of speeches. I’llbe talking more about social and mainstream media, censorship and freedom ofspeech on college campuses.