Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the best 2020 presidential candidates of any party on internet and press freedom, according to a new study by Free Press Action, a nonpartisan, nonprofit that advocates on media and technology issues.
The study looked at candidates’ records and platforms in six categories: privacy rights, net neutrality, affordability of communications, network reliability, media monopolies, and press freedom, and the public comments and policy positions of all nine candidates who poll at at least 3 percent.
“If a new administration comes in in 2021, they’re going to have a unique opportunity to dig in and do the right thing,” Craig Aaron, Free Press Action's President, told Motherboard.
“We’re trying to point out who’s actually grappling with this broad range of issues and taking the strongest position,” Aaron said. “It’s definitely true that Senator Warren, Senator Sanders are checking all the boxes on our broad scale. It’s definitely notable that they pass—and then some—across all the issues. Plus a strong notable mention for [Senator Amy] Klobuchar, who’s much of the way there.”
Sanders’ and Warren’s respective scores don’t reflect identical positions, but rather an indication both have genuinely engaged on the issues, said Dana Floberg, Free Press Action's policy manager.
“A lot of our communications and tech issues connect to bigger conversations that come across these campaigns,” Floberg told Motherboard. “A lot of these candidates have spoken about how ICE has interacted with folks at the border, what kinds of tools law enforcement has to surveil these types of communities.”
“These candidates aren’t just saying generally positive platitudes about racial justice, but how how we restore telephone service in Puerto Rico, how surveillance social media works when we cross the border,” Floberg added. “There’s a lot of overlap in fighting for racial justice and fighting for communications justice.”
By far the worst scorer is President Trump, who appointed Ajit Pai, an FCC chair with a longstanding opposition to net neutrality and who frequently demonizes the press in public statements, making him the only candidate to get a failing grade by all six measures.
“At least he opposed the AT&T-Time Warner merger,” Aaron said. “The Trump administration did one thing that we liked. In most cases there’s either no policy or they’ve pursued a harmful one.”
“When you’re running on press freedom, against Donald Trump, the bar is pretty low,” Aaron said. “Saying the press is not the enemy of the people is a good start, but some candidates have actually put forth plans about how they’re doing it.”
Perhaps the easiest category to measure is net neutrality, an issue that wasn’t a particularly partisan one until it suddenly, drastically was in 2014, when Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s then-FCC Chair, created new net neutrality rules. That prompted a conservative backlash about a “socialist internet,” and both parties wrote their stances—Democrats for, Republicans against—in their respective party platforms for the first time in 2016. Once elected, Trump appointed longstanding Pai to Wheeler’s former position, who overturned his predecessor’s rules despite their popularity. Besides Trump, only three candidates haven’t signaled clear support for net neutrality: Democrats Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg, and Republican Bill Weld.
It’s not too late for most candidates—with the likely exception of Trump—to improve their standing, Aaron said.
“As these issues of expansion and access to tech become more important in people’s daily lives, they also have some real questions about their lives, their livelihood, their democracy, and they’re expecting someone who leads that democracy to have some answers,” he said.
“We’ve now lived through an administration that has done some real damage, so these things really matter,” he said. “Everybody running for president should be paying attention to these media tech issues—they’re some of the most important that will come across their desk.”