On Monday, an interesting new tool called Big Tech Funding went live on the Chrome Web Store. The browser extension allows Twitter users to see disclosures on the profiles and tweets of users who "are affiliated with think tanks, academic centers, and advocacy groups that are funded by Big Tech,” but many users are unlikely to realize that it’s being funded by far-right political operatives.
Behind the project is a far-right advocacy group funded by dark money known as the American Principles Project, which has the main goal "to make the family the most powerful, well-represented special interest group in Washington, D.C." To that end, the organization supports a variety of family-oriented political objectives like opposing Black Lives Matter, abortion access, LGBTQ rights, the bogeyman of critical race theory, and more.
The extension appends people’s Twitter profiles with a disclaimer: "Disclosure: This person is affiliated with an organization funded by,” followed by the organizations they’re purportedly involved with. Most of the people sharing the tool online initially were not aware of the connection to the American Principles Project.
“The extension relies on publicly-available data sources, compiled by staff at American Principles Project, including company funding disclosures, nonprofit annual reports, IRS documents, and news stories. The information is available in aggregate at BigTechFunding.org,” the app’s store page notes.
The American Principles Project did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
Big Tech Funding is the latest example of how right-wing interests have glommed on to criticism of large tech companies, albeit usually because of concerns over supposed censorship of conservatives rather than the many substantive issues pointed out by progressives and the left over the years. Indeed, while politicians like Republican Senator Jim Jordan decry the power of Big Tech companies, they also throw a fit and descend into conspiracies when someone (i.e. FTC Chair Lina Khan) tries to address the real issues around competition.
The American Principles Project’s other interests read like a laundry list of current fixations of the conspiratorial right-wing. For example, the organization claims that Black Lives Matter was a “rhetorical Trojan horse” that was injecting dangerous ideas into the country and fomenting “revolution.”
"Black Lives Matter isn't about saving Black lives—it's about staging a political and cultural revolution," one report by the group reads. "It's about shredding the Constitution and overthrowing our Republican form of government. It's about abolishing the rule of law and replacing it with an identiarian race-based caste system."
The organization’s stances on other issues, such as abortion, are no more measured. "I am personally opposed to killing abortionists," founder Robert P. George wrote as a contribution to a 1994 symposium titled Killing Abortionists. "However, inasmuch as my personal opposition to this practice is rooted in a sectarian (Catholic) religious belief in the sanctity of human life, I am unwilling to impose it on others who may, as a matter of conscience, take a different view.” George goes on with a tongue-in-cheek contribution that compares abortion to the murder of doctors who perform abortions.
In September, ahead of the general election, the group and its PAC proudly announced a $4 million ad campaign aimed at exposing the "transgender radicalism" of Democratic candidates. “Three digital ads were released this week in Michigan drawing attention to Joe Biden’s and Sen. Gary Peters’ support for policies which would allow biological males to compete in women’s sports and push children into dangerous, life-altering sex-change sterilization procedures at young ages,” said a press release by the group at the time.
The group is also concerned about another popular bogeyman for conspiracy-minded right-wingers: the proliferation of critical race theory. It endorsed Tom Cotton's Stop CRT Act which would stop federal funding for schools that "promote CRT" or "compel its adoption" as well as stop federal agencies or contractors from "indoctrinating employees in CRT."
“CRT is a pernicious ideology which holds that Americans should not look at each other as equals but rather see one another as fundamentally different, with some being oppressors and others victims based on the color of their skin,” said APP president Terry Schilling in a statement. “And it also denies that America’s founding ideals were truly central to our country, instead telling us that the U.S. was and still is an inherently racist society.”
Why is a group like this so keen on speaking out about “Big Tech”? As it turns out, most of the group’s opposition to Big Tech has pertained to concerns about Big Tech censorship of conservatives—specifically by reforming Section 230. We have yet to see from this group, or really any major right-wing network, a condemnation of monopolies in and of themselves except those that are great rhetorical targets.
Take the telecom industry, which is largely dominated by anti-competitive firms that wield their enormous power to kill public alternatives, hijack prices, lay off scores of workers, and generally degrade the quality of their products and services. “The telecom industry routinely engages in this exact behaviour. As attention has fixated on the perils of social media and big tech mergers, wave upon wave of anti-competitive, price-hiking telecom mergers have sailed through the bipartisan approval process,” telecom reporter Karl Bode wrote for Motherboard in 2019. “A few examples: Comcast’s superunion with NBC, Spectrum’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable, AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV, or T-Mobile’s looming merger with Sprint.
In fact, in its press release announcing the new tool, the group's top lobbyist, Jon Schweppe, reiterated that the group’s main point of contention is supposed censorship of conservatives.
“Last fall, powerful Big Tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google waged an all-out attack on our democracy by suppressing news stories, banning users, blocking advertisements, and manipulating algorithms to promote one political party over another,” Schweppe said in a statement. “America won’t survive long if large swaths of our population are cheated out of participation in the public square. At this point, reining[sic] in Big Tech needs to be a litmus test in the Republican Party—if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”
Given the sort of society American Principles Project is fighting for—a deeply reactionary, exclusionary, and bigoted one—it’s hard to imagine why anyone should want to be with the “us” they claim to be fighting for.