What Biden’s State of the Union means for tech accountability and combatting extremism

By: Anthony DeAngelo

8 February 2023

As America grapples with inflection points on the rising threats of hate, disinformation and extremism, President Biden addressed them head-on in his annual State of the Union address.

Tackling Online Harms and Big Tech

This is not the first time President Biden called out big tech platforms during his State of the Union speech. Last year, Biden focused on children and privacy, calling on Congress to “hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit,” and saying it was “time to strengthen privacy protections; ban targeted advertising to children; [and] demand tech companies stop collecting personal data on our children.”

Biden’s remarks this year look familiar. He said once again that, “we must finally hold social media companies accountable for the experiment they are running on our children for profit,” continuing to say that it is, “time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children, and impose stricter limits on the personal data these companies collect on all of us.”

Before his remarks, the White House put out a statement pledging that the Biden Administration will build on efforts such as the newly created National Center of Excellence on Social Media and Mental Wellness to address threats facing children online, but most of his calls to action will need to be addressed by a newly divided Congress.

With Republicans retaking the House during last year’s midterm elections, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) now chairs the powerful Energy & Commerce Committee. While there are a number of issues where McMorris Rodgers and her fellow Republican committee members differ from the President, she has expressed similar concerns about the impact big tech platforms have on children.

In fact, during the last Congress, McMorris Rodgers joined then Chairman (and now Ranking Member) Frank Pallone (D-NJ) to introduce a bill that would address privacy standards. The American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA) was passed out of the House, but met a significant roadblock in the form of Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who stood in strong opposition to it.

How the two chairwomen work together across the aisle and across the two chambers will be a significant determining factor in whether President Biden’s State of the Union call to action will be delivered in 2023, or back on the list of asks for 2024.

Calling for Unity Against Extremism

Another issue that served as a call for unity by President Biden was the threat of political violence. With Paul Pelosi, the husband of Congresswoman and former Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), as one of his guests, Biden stated that, “for the last few years our democracy has been threatened, attacked, and put at risk,” citing the January 6th attack on the Capitol and the ideologically-driven assault on Pelosi as examples.

ISD’s research and analysis on the rising threat of political violence can be found here, as well as our series on the second anniversary of the January 6th attack,.

Biden, who launched his campaign for president in 2019 with countering violent extremism at its core, went on to state that, “there is no place for political violence in America,” and that, “we must give hate and extremism in any form no safe harbor.”

Like many of the issues he covered, Biden sought to frame protecting our democracy not as a “partisan issue”, but an “American issue.” The days, weeks, and months ahead will determine if both parties can truly find common ground or leave another set of unfinished challenges to be addressed again next year.