VOX.COM - By Aaron Rupar@atrupar Jul 16, 2019, 12:00pm
President Donald Trump threatened to launch a treason investigation into Google in a Monday morning tweet for allegedly working with the Chinese government — based on an 11-second Fox News clip containing no evidence whatsoever.
How Peter Thiel’s Google conspiracy theory made its way from Fox & Friends to the White House.
Instead, the president cited unsubstantiated allegations made by billionaire investor and Facebook board member Peter Thiel on Monday’s installment of Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show.
Thiel, it’s worth noting, is a longtime Trump supporter and adviser — something of a rarity in left-leaning Silicon Valley.
At 7:46 a.m., Trump tweeted, “‘Billionaire Tech Investor Peter Thiel believes Google should be investigated for treason. He accuses Google of working with the Chinese Government.’ @foxandfriends A great and brilliant guy who knows this subject better than anyone. The Trump Administration will take a look!”
Trump’s tweet was posted about an hour after a Fox & Friends news segment featured an 11-second clip of Thiel’s interview with Carlson. Matthew Gertz of Media Matters for America posted the clip Trump reacted to:
Trump’s tweet was later given credence by being retweeted from the official White House Twitter account.
While Trump is taking Thiel’s claim seriously, there’s good reason to believe it should be taken with a grain of salt.
Thiel has a long-running beef with Google
Thiel’s comments on Carlson’s show — the ones that wound up in the Fox & Friends news wrap Trump watched — weren’t the first time in recent days that the Trump-supporting Facebook board member and Paypal co-founder made explosive allegations about a Silicon Valley competitor. Thiel made similar insinuations during his speech on Sunday at the National Conservatism Conference, suggesting that foreign intelligence agencies, including China’s, had “infiltrated” Google and contributed to the company’s “seemingly treasonous decision to work with the Chinese military and not with the US military.”
But as Axios’s Dan Primack writes, when Carlson lightly pushed Thiel for some evidence to back up his claim about Google being infiltrated, “Thiel demurred by saying he was just ‘asking questions.’” Primack also notes that Thiel’s comments raise suspicions he might have self-interested motives for pushing conspiracy theories about Google, such as the possibility he’s shorted Google’s stock or that the software company he founded, Palantir Technologies, is competing with Google for a major US government contract.
Thiel has been publicly critical of Google for years. As Vanity Fair reported in late 2017, Thiel called Google “a monopoly both in his book Zero to One and on stage at a conference with Google executive Eric Schmidt.” According to the Kansas City Star, just days before then-Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley opened an antitrust investigation into Google in November 2017, Thiel made a maximum donation to Hawley’s campaign. Both Thiel and Hawley denied any connection between the donation and the investigation, but Hawley — whose successful 2016 attorney general campaign received $300,000 from Thiel — has since gone on to be one of Google’s biggest critics in the US senate.
But the fact remains that Thiel has presented no evidence that the Chinese government has infiltrated Google. And in response to Thiel’s comments on Sunday, a Google spokesperson said in a statement that “As we have said before, we do not work with the Chinese military.”
Trump is turning his ire to tech companies
The specifics of the Thiel-Google feud aside, the broader significance of Trump’s tweet — beyond what it says about the Fox News-to-White House pipeline — is that this also happens to be the week that the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Hawley is a member, is holding an antitrust hearing with major tech companies, including Google.
Though Republicans tend to be pro-business, they have been increasingly critical of tech companies of late, particularly as they try to gin up suspicions that tech platforms are engaged in “censorship” stemming from anti-conservative bias. Trump’s tweet about Google comes while the White House, with help from Hawley and other Republicans, continues to push baseless conspiracy theories about tech giants and social media companies being biased against Republicans. To be clear, there are legitimate concerns about the size and scale of big tech companies that have been expressed by politicians on both sides of the aisle — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) did a commendable job last year interrogating Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook’s lack of competition, for instance, while Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is proposing to break up big tech — but Trump supporters like Hawley don’t usually express these concerns in good faith.
During a social media summit at the White House last week, Trump wound down his speech on a chilling note by threatening to take action against social media and tech executives unless they address his (baseless) bias claims.
“They’re not using what we gave them fairly and they have to do that,” Trump said. “And we don’t want to stifle anything, we certainly don’t want to stifle free speech, but that’s no longer free speech. See, I don’t think the mainstream media is free speech either because it’s so crooked, it’s so dishonest. To me, free speech is not when you see something good and then you purposely write something bad. To me, that’s very dangerous speech.”
Trump wants tech companies to know that he wields an incredible amount of power with the presidency, regardless of the underlying veracity of Thiel’s claims, and that they should know that he’s willing to use the power of regulation if companies get too eager to “censor” conservative viewpoints.
Of course, it also illustrates how the president is willing to capitalize upon anything and everything — even 11-second Fox & Friends clips — to make a case that companies he perceives as being insufficiently supportive are up to no good.
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