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Technology companies are facing fresh scrutiny of their political track records and new criticism over their actions in response to last week’s insurrection by a violent mob of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump. Here’s what’s going on at the major platforms:
Parler is suing Amazon after it suspended the Amazon Web Services account for the messaging app favoured by far-right posters, effectively taking it offline. Amazon cited posts that “encourage and incite violence.” The lawsuit, filed in a Washington district court, seeks a temporary restraining order, citing free-speech rights and damage to the platform’s business and reputation. Apple and Google both dropped Parler from their app stores over the weekend.
Microsoft and Google are pausing all political donations from their political action committees (PACs)—third-party entities that raise and distribute money within the U.S. electoral system—pending reviews of last week’s events. Google spent US$20 million in 2020 and Microsoft spent US$19.8 million, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics. While both firms’ donations heavily favoured Democrats, Microsoft’s employees have criticized its donations, which have included support for campaigns by senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who opposed the confirmation of some of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College votes last week.
Facebook is also stopping political contributions until at least the end of the quarter. Both it and Twitter were the subject of criticism from European leaders over their decisions to ban Trump from the platform. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesperson called it “problematic,” saying it’s up to legislatures, not “a corporate decision,” to figure out when interference with free-speech rights is warranted. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said similar. Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny slammed Twitter specifically. (The U.S. constitution’s First Amendment applies to government speech restrictions, not corporate actors, scholars remind objecting politicians.)