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Elon Musk has ‘simply not been serious’ on ensuring Twitter is actually safe, regulated: Expert

Color of Change President Rashad Robinson joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss President Biden’s State of the Union address, Big Tech antitrust questions, and Elon Musk.

Video transcript


DAVE BRIGGS: Strong start to the year for tech, but President Biden's second State of the Union address tonight, and he's expected to call for tougher regulations for big tech.

Joining us now is Rashad Robinson, Color of Change president. Rashad, nice to see you, sir. What do you expect to hear from the president tonight regarding big tech? And if it's different, what would you like to hear?

RASHAD ROBINSON: Well, I think the president has been clear that big tech needs to be reined in. And what I'm hoping that he goes into is the actual steps to get there, right? So often when we hear these State of the Union addresses over the last several years, they're a list of policy proposals.

Unfortunately, listing out policy proposals alone in this climate doesn't mean we get ourselves any closer to achieving those goals. So we both have to hear from the president on what actually needs to be done to deal with a self-regulated industry, which is-- which, in so many ways, gets to set its own rules, gets to set its own terms, and creates all sorts of harm.

What we need to hear is how do we actually get there, right? Who needs to be held accountable? Why has this industry been allowed to be unregulated and self-regulated for so long? Who is standing in the way of change? And where do people need to actually put their pressure and energy?

Simply saying that we need regulation, simply listing off a set of policies is only the first step in the strategy towards actually getting there. People need to understand where they need to show up because when it comes to big technology companies, we will always lose in the back rooms if we don't have people lined up at the front door. And so the president needs to use his speech to get us all sort of motivated and aligned with the doors that we need to show up, the pushing we need to do, and the people that need to be held accountable.

SEANA SMITH: President Biden has been very critical. Also DOJ and FTC have been pretty aggressive here, the recent reports that the FTC is preparing possible lawsuit against Amazon. When you take that into account, you're talking about the change, what needs to happen, what do you think should be the priority here of the administration? When you're talking about changes, what exactly does that look like?

RASHAD ROBINSON: It looks like a couple of things. So at Color of Change, we've released something called the Black Tech Agenda, which we recognize, if we get a set of these policies, it helps everyone because, in many ways, when you start off with the people who are oftentimes most harmed and hurt by what's happening in big tech, you raise the floor for everyone.

So one of-- a couple of the areas that really are important for us are dealing with antitrust, the sort of deep consolidation of power that makes it incredibly hard to move anything forward, the fact that a company like Facebook can control over 70% of the messenger market when it comes to WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook and what that does for setting rules-- really dealing with algorithmic bias, protecting net neutrality, thinking about, in so many ways, ending surveillance and the private sharing of data, and of course, the exposure and the more transparency around algorithms and reporting.

We all have freedom of speech and should have freedom of speech online. But freedom of speech is not the same as freedom of reach. And right now, it gets conflated. Platforms put all sorts of money behind content that is harmful, that is-- that oftentimes promotes violence. And that is very different than someone posting something that we might not like when the platforms actually are amplifying it, sharing it, pushing and monetizing it, and profiting off of it.

And so there's so much that we can do and needs to happen. And then finally, there's something called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that gives these platforms a level of immunity that they simply should not have to violate civil rights law, to violate a whole set of things. And that needs to change because we need to make sure that the technology that has so much potential to move us into the future doesn't drag us into the past.

DAVE BRIGGS: You mentioned hate speech. Some feel that has been amplified under Elon Musk's reign at Twitter. You had the chance to meet with him. How would you evaluate what he's done with the platform?

RASHAD ROBINSON: Well, Elon Musk has created an absolute mess. It's sort of like-- me and my friend sometimes like fantasy sports. And we kind of think of ourselves of-- what would we do if we got to manage that team? But there's something very different from having the fantasy of managing something very complicated to actually having the job where you have to do it.

He was an active user who had a lot of ideas about how the technology should work. But what became very clear in the meeting that I was in with him was that he actually didn't know what needed to be done. He made a set of promises that he actually tweeted out about what he would do to protect, to do to deal with protection election-- protection of elections and content moderation and then immediately began firing and getting rid of the very people that would have kept those promises in place.

He talked about Twitter as a public square. But public squares can't be owned by private people. And just because something is a public square doesn't mean that it doesn't end up with all sorts of inequities and harms. I mean, he is from South Africa. Now he's in the United States.

We can look at how public squares in both South Africa and the United States have been places where deep levels of inequity harm, and violence have happened to marginalize and attacked people. And so the fact of the matter is he's just simply not been serious about the work of actually ensuring that this platform is safe. And the problem is that he's been able to do that because this industry is unregulated.

Now, our cars are not safe because of the benevolence of the car industry. They are safe because we have infrastructure, accountability, regulations, and rules when these companies violate it. And the reason why technology companies need to have the same rules that-- whether it's our food industry, our auto industry, the way buildings are built, is that we need to have an environment where there are standards, where there's a floor and there's a ceiling. And our government has to step in and make sure that there's rules in place because these companies will always incentivize growth and profit over safety and integrity and security.

SEANA SMITH: We'll wait and see what President Biden has to say about all that tonight. Rashad Robinson, thanks so much.