As the technological realm becomes more pervasive, whom can we trust? Each week, Liberty Nation brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception.
Trump Holds Summit on Social Media Censorship
One might have suspected that President Trump was gearing up to tackle censorship on social media after the administration called for members of the public in May to submit their stories online. On July 11, the White House hosted a Presidential Social Media Summit, to which online pundits and “influencers” were invited.
The event was widely panned in the media – in fact, it has been virtually impossible for this author to locate anything but overtly negative coverage – accusing the president of giving voice to conspiracy theorists, peddlers of “fake news,” and promoters of hate speech. It has also been noted who Trump did not invite – representatives of social media companies themselves. Rather than Facebook or Twitter executives, the guests were notable Trump supporters who claim to have suffered at the hands of Silicon Valley in the form of censorship and false accusations. Some reported invitees included James O’Keefe of Project Veritas; Bill Mitchell, host of online television program YourVoice America, and Twitter meme creator “CarpeDonktum.”
In his public remarks, the president said:
“So this is a historic day. Never before have so many online journalists and influencers … come together in this building to discuss the future of social media. Each of you is fulfilling a vital role in our nation. You’re challenging the media gatekeepers and the corporate censors to bring the facts straight to the American people … you communicate directly with our citizens without having to go through the fake-news filter. It’s very simple. Together, you reach more people than any television broadcast network by far – not even close.”
Though the meeting itself was held behind closed doors, this is not likely to be the last we hear of the matter – Trump has already said the White House will be “calling a big meeting” with social media companies.
US-France Tensions over Digital Tax: New Trade War on the Horizon?
A while ago, it seemed there was a never-ending supply of stories concerning Facebook – now, it appears the baton has passed to France. The French Macron government has been active in its relationship with Big Tech, appearing alternately friendly and adversarial.
Silicon Valley multinationals have been accused of paying less than their share of taxes in countries in which they sell their services but do not have a physical headquarters. An earlier proposal for a European Union-wide digital tax was scuppered due to the opposition of several member states, and so France has gone it alone.
On July 11, the French parliament approved a 3% digital services tax. The charge will apply to any tech company with revenue of more than €750 million ($850 million) with at least €25 million ($28 million) generated in France. The tax will apply retroactively from the beginning of 2019 and is expected to raise €500 million ($560 million) in the first year.
This is mostly aimed at companies that sell online advertising and will primarily affect big names in Silicon Valley, hence the nickname “GAFA” (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) tax. The US has already criticized the move, and the Trump administration has launched an investigation, through section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, into whether the French law “unfairly targets American companies.” US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement that, “The President has directed that we investigate the effects of this legislation and determine whether it is discriminatory or unreasonable and burdens or restricts United States commerce.”
Some have predicted the situation may result in punitive tariffs against France, since the previous investigation of this type looked at Chinese trade practices and ultimately lead to the US-China trade war. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire responded to the investigation by declaring that France was “sovereign and decided its own tax rules.” He added, “I want to tell our American friends that this should be an incentive for them to accelerate even more our work to find an agreement on the international taxation of digital services.”
The same day that France passed its digital tax, UK Chancellor Philip Hammond pushed ahead with a similar plan, which has been in the works since 2018. France and the UK are not likely to be the last countries to broach the matter, but the ultimate tactic may be to use these threats as a bargaining chip to form a behind-the-scenes international agreement of rules. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an intergovernmental body made up of the US and mostly European nations, is “working toward a consensus-based long-term solution by the end of 2020.” London has agreed to drop its tax if an OECD agreement is reached.
Libra Draws Skeptical Voices
Facebook has recently launched its own cryptocurrency, called Libra. According to LN’s Andrew Moran, Libra “allows users to pseudonymously purchase items, send money to others with nearly zero fees, patronize third-party wallet apps, or cash out your Libra units of currency.” The social media giant will not have full control over the currency, but will depend on an open-sourced blockchain. Nevertheless, the development has concerned lawmakers on both sides of the aisle; a group of Democrat members of Congress, headed by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), called on Facebook to halt the project, while President Trump on July 11 tweeted about his distaste for Libra and digital currencies in general:
“I am not a fan of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air. Unregulated Crypto Assets can facilitate unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity. Similarly, Facebook Libra’s “virtual currency” will have little standing or dependability. If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they must seek a new Banking Charter and become subject to all Banking Regulations, just like other Banks, both National and International.”
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell was, the previous day, cautious in discussing the issue before the House Financial Services Committee, saying that the project had raised “serious concerns” for regulators.
This is unlikely to be the last cryptocurrency launched by Silicon Valley powerhouses; Mr. Moran predicts that Amazon too will, sooner or later, launch its own currency in one form or another.
The constellation Libra is associated with the scales of law and justice; with Big Tech slowly but surely taking over every facet of society, where will the balance fall this time?
That’s all for this week from You’re Not Alone. Check back in next Monday to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.