Editors note: With the election approaching, we asked some folks we admire: What does this election mean to Silicon Valley? Between now and the election on Nov. 6, we’ll be running the responses we received. Kicking things off is Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.org.
By Craig Newmark
This election has some deep implications not only for how Silicon Valley does business, but also for how government reflects the values of the American people.
I feel that if you work hard and play fair, you can succeed in America, since we have a fairly level playing field. Also, on the Internet, people can say what they want; we’re serious about that free speech thing.
Seriously, if you want to think about American exceptionalism, that’s a real big deal.
Disclaimer: I’m a “libertarian pragmatist,” favoring market solutions unless the market fails to get the job done.
However, in Washington, the level playing field can be tilted via payments of influence and/or cash to lobbyists and politicians. That’s been a problem forever, however, it might get way worse, according to a recent report from Politico:
“While President Obama has managed to maintain his support among a voting coalition comprised of many disparate groups, he has never quite been able to gain the support of the Lobbying Lobby. In a new report from Politico, the word on K Street is that, despite criticism of the true efficacy of President Obama’s anti-lobbyist rules, the lobbying community can’t wait to show him the door, and usher in a more lobbyist-friendly Mitt Romney administration.”
The deal is that to do business in Washington, you sometimes have to play this game. It could become much worse, where your competitors find it easier to throw some money at lobbyists and politicians, instead of actually competing.
The Citizens United decision makes it much easier to do this.
Turns out, paying for privilege doesn’t take a lot of money by Silicon Valley standards.
However, pretty much everyone I’ve met at Silicon Valley companies would prefer to compete on a level playing field.
The Internet is more or less a level playing field due to the principle of “Net Neutrality.” That basically means ISPs can’t charge to give one customer advantages at the expense of another. (Yes, lobbyists have managed to confuse this issue, I hear, so they can bill more hours, but that’s the gist.)
A number of ISPs are throwing a lot of money around so they can make this happen. However, there’s an emergent “Internet Freedom” movement trying to maintain the Internet as a fairly level playing field. Turns out that the Democratic party platform supports the level playing field; the Republican platform attacks it.
Finally, a fundamental American value is free speech, and a fairly obscure law “CDA 230″ protects that. Specifically, it protects web sites with user-generated content from the actions of users who might get involved in criminal activity.
Without CDA 230, it might be much easier to take down a site. Someone who wants to do that could post criminal content, anonymously, and the site operators would take the fall.
This all means that the people of the Internet, particularly in the US, are serious about playing fair on the Net and in business in general. Our political parties have made it clear what they’re going to do about that.