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Lincoln Network Debate: Big Tech and the Future of Political Speech Online

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Lincoln Network Debate: Big Tech and the Future of Political Speech Online

December 18, 2019

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Despite the convenience and benefits of online platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, the growing power and influence of 'Big Tech' have inspired a new wave of critics on both America’s Left and Right. These critics have argued online platforms promote unhealthy addiction, exacerbate polarization, waste our time and energy, and create easier pathways to violent extremism.

Many on the Right have focused their criticisms on what they consider systemic anti-conservative bias, claiming that social media platforms use their power to enforce ideological viewpoints, restrict free speech, and even help left-leaning politicians get elected. Such attacks against Silicon Valley have come from conservative policymakers such as Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), FCC chairman Ajit Pai, and perhaps most notably, President Donald Trump himself.

On this basis, some conservatives have proposed to crack down on tech companies by repealing Sec. 230 of the Communications Decency Act, drafting legislation and Executive Orders to enforce viewpoint neutrality, and bringing new antitrust actions. Yet many dissenters on the Right argue that claims of bias are anecdotal, exaggerated, or even fabricated, and that the proposed remedies would violate fundamental conservative and constitutional principles.

On December 11th, Lincoln Network hosted a 90-minute Oxford-style debate between two teams of highly notable advocates from each side addressing the resolution:

Resolved: Big Tech has a political bias, and policy changes are needed to address it.


Team in the Negative

Mike Godwin

Distinguished Senior Fellow, R Street Institute; Member, Board of Trustees, Internet Society

Mike Godwin has published on a wide range of Internet policy issues, most recently focusing his work on social media platforms, with his second book, The Splinters of our Discontent: How to Fix Social Media and Democracy Without Breaking Them. Prior to R Street, he served as a senior policy advisor at Internews. Mike also served as general counsel for the California-based Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia and other collaborative projects. There, he created and directed anti-censorship, privacy, trademark and copyright strategies and policies including Wikimedia’s responses to the SOPA and PIPA initiatives. Prior to that, Godwin was the first staff counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He is also the originator of the widely cited “Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies,” which, in 2012, was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Godwin received his Bachelor’s and juris doctor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Berin Szóka

President, TechFreedom

Berin Szoka is the President of TechFreedom, a market-oriented tech policy think tank. Previously, he was a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Center for Internet Freedom at The Progress & Freedom Foundation.Before joining PFF, he was an Associate in the Communications Practice Group at Latham & Watkins LLP, where he advised clients on regulations affecting the Internet and telecommunications industries. Before joining Latham's Communications Practice Group, Szoka practiced at Lawler Metzger Milkman & Keeney, LLC, a boutique telecommunications law firm in Washington, and clerked for the Hon. H. Dale Cook, Senior U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Oklahoma. Szoka received his Bachelor's degree in economics from Duke University and his juris doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and California (inactive).


Team in the Affirmative

Harmeet Dhillon

Partner, Dhillon Law Group

Harmeet Dhillon is a nationally recognized lawyer, trusted boardroom advisor, and passionate advocate for individual, corporate and institutional clients across numerous industries and walks of life. Her focus is in commercial litigation, employment law, First Amendment rights, and election law matters. In 2017, she represented James Damore in his lawsuit against Google. Previously, she was Of Counsel at the firm Orrick, Herrington, & Sutcliffe. Prior to that, she also worked at the firms Cooley Godward, Sidley & Austin, and Shearman & Sterling. She also served as a law clerk for Hon. Paul V. Niemeyer on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Dhillon received her juris doctor from the University of Virginia, and her Bachelor's from Dartmouth.

James O'Keefe

Founder, Project Veritas

James O’Keefe is the founder and President of Project Veritas, a non-profit organization, and Project Veritas Action, dedicated to investigating corruption, dishonesty, waste and fraud in both public and private institutions. O’Keefe is a graduate of Rutgers University. He founded an independent newspaper in College called The Centurion. He is a 2014 recipient of the Young Professional Conservative Leadership “Buckley Award” awarded to “young professionals in recognition of significant achievements in advancing the conservative cause.” He is the recipient of the Robert Novak Award for Journalistic Excellence (2011), has been named “Fox News Power Player of the Week” twice, and was on the Forbes “30 Under 30” for media moguls.



Garrett Johnson

Co-founder and Executive Director, Lincoln Network

Garrett Johnson is a co-founder and executive director of the Lincoln Network. He also co-founded, a venture-backed Y Combinator startup launched in 2011. He served as professional staff to the Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where his oversight portfolio included Afghanistan, Pakistan and Haiti. Originally from Florida, Garrett holds a Bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and also read for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford, England as a Rhodes Scholar. Garrett currently lives in San Jose, CA.

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