Democrats and Republicans unite to beat Big Tech, but Luddite populism is helping nobody

Populism is usually a partisan tactic. Reactionary and reductive, cynical and manipulative; almost always the mother of bad laws, government incursions and incursions civil liberties. The democratic process, the back and forth of left and right, is usually designed to manipulate the resulting legislation.

However, there is a form of populism that has historically brought left and right together in mutual spasms of conservative hysteria: Luddite populism. These politically desired demonstrations of performative solidarity are always a reaction to panic over new technologies or related trends satisfying and cathartic for concerned parents; Red and blue. And pleasant to unionsand company, both tired of the interruption. The resulting laws are often short-sighted and dangerous. What is worse, the political opposition lacks the mediating power, so the risk of them getting into the law is higher. Libertarian lawmakers are doing what they can, but are always outnumbered outliers. Historically a handful activist technologists have the task of defending the future and technological progress.

In recent months, US politics has witnessed a resurgence of Luddite populism numerous bills move forward with bipartisan support. The political deadlock and failure to pass President Biden’s Build Back Better plan has made Democrats realize that, in the words of Susan Collins, “in a 50-50 Senate is the only way to get important gains for the American people is to work across the aisle.” So they crossed it and started making laws.

First there was the EARN-IT Lawwhich almost certainly would be the case discourage the use of end-to-end encryption by major online services and undercutting § 230 liability protection. Introduced by Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Richard Blumenthal, it has 11 Republican co-sponsors and 10 Democrats. Next is the NUDGE Act that would see government-approved content curation algorithms, something that almost is certainly unconstitutional. This bill was created by Democrat Amy Klobuchar and introduced by Republican Cynthia Lummis. The Open App Market Act was another introduced by Blumenthal in early February that would force Apple to allow apps to be installed outside of its AppStore. This could jeopardize many consumer protection features Apple built voluntarily– many of which achieve exactly the same goals as regulations. His sponsors? 4 Democrats and 6 Republicans. And just last week, the Children’s Online Safety Act was – again by Blumenthal – introduced. Which, among other things, would force social media platforms to give parents of children under the age of 16 parental controls, many of which iOS and Android already do.

Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), left, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), right, greet each other with an elbow bump.

Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images

To understand this political moment, the risks it poses and what is at stake, we need to look back at past Luddite populism and the bad laws it almost and sometimes spawned.

The 1950s saw the infamous Anti-Comic Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, which consisted of two Republicans and two Democrats. All four fueled the moral panic caused by doubtful Research by psychologist Fredrick Wertham and a companion book that led to comic book burns in several states. Wertham claimsamong other things, that Batman and Robin could promote homosexuality because in his opinion they are clearly a couple. In a televised congressional hearing, Wertham said, “I think Hitler was a rookie compared to the comics industry.” The hearing made the front from The New York Times and the industry would soon adopt it Comics Code Authorityan annoying list of content rules that decimated the industry, specifically banning LGBT characters or content up until the 1980s.

In 1985, Tipper Gore, wife of then-Senator Al Gore, responded to concerns about rock music. educated the Parents Music Resource Center, which included wives of prominent Democrats and Republicans. The goal? The dirty 15– a series of songs they claimed needed to be criticized to protect children. On a TV show hearing in the Senate Al and Tipper Gore confronted rock stars. Mr. Gore once asked Dee Snider if his band’s fan club, Sick Motherfucking Fans of Twisted Sister, was Christian. Ms. Gore would release a book titled a few years later Raising PG Children in an Adult Society.



Sally Nevius (left) and Tipper Gore (right) of the Parents Music Resource Center at a Senate hearing on September 19, 1985.

Photo by Mark Weiss/Getty Images

In 1991, then-Senator Joseph introduced Biden legislation that would ban encryption – the bill was supported by two Democrats and one Republican. This is famous motivated Phil Zimmerman finishes and releases his open source encryption program PGP. Supporting broad mass adoption of the technology. Then, in 1993, the Clinton administration made another attempt at encryption using the Clipper chip– an encryption backdoor that Al Gore was tasked with promoting. In response, Phil Zimmerman released a sequel to PGP, PGPphone, to make the chip irrelevant. After much protest and a paper pointing to a vulnerability in the chip, the plan was abandoned.

That same year, concerns about video game violence increased. A 1993 Senate hearings on video games was organized by Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl, where Mortal Kombat and other games have been blamed for a rise in violence – much like television did back then.

With the 1996 election approaching, the Clinton campaign turned to another chip mandate – television censorship V chip– as an appeal to parents concerned about the influence of television on children. At a press conference, Bill Clinton and Tipper Gore sat with their parents, where they lamented the slide of television into violent debauchery, Power Rangers to be her role model. Separately, Clinton promised that the V-chip “could become a powerful voice against teen violence, teen pregnancy and teen drug use.” The mandate was part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which included another determination to ban internet porn promoted in the Senate via a folder full of internet smut. The act is over 90 percent support and was signed into law (the porn ban was later ruled unconstitutional.)

After the Columbine massacre in 1999, those narratives came back to haunt Democrats Republicans and the NRA capitalized on prior concerns via video games and musical lyrics to distract from the gun control debate. Not only have the Democrats failed to meaningfully push back these fallacies — probably because they helped create them — they embraced them with President Clinton saying “Like video games Mortal Kombat, killer instinct and DOOM…make our children more active participants in simulated violence.” Hillary Clinton would succeed her husband as Senator in 2005 when she called “We must treat violent video games the way we treat tobacco, alcohol and pornography.”


Bill Clinton holds an ad for a children’s video game that reads, “What kind of psycho drives a school bus into a war zone?” in June 1999.

Photo by Paul J Richards/Getty Images

Blaming music and video games for violence, drug use and promiscuity has since become a less bipartisan notion. Progressive politicians are once again falling for the comfortable pull of Luddite populism, with social media as the new bogeyman.

In 2018, the Center for Humane Technology (with help by Common Sense Media) and later released the Netflix blockbuster documentary The social dilemmathe presented unfounded Claims as facts while deny the fountain-documented History of unfounded fears of new technologies. The group’s co-founder – Tristan Harris – would do it to appear on Joe Rogan’s podcast, where he uncritically pointed out new Chinese laws pushing “patriot videos” (propaganda) onto social media feeds and enforcing screen-time restrictions. He insisted he wasn’t praising this heavy-handed approach when Senator Josh Hawley introduced the SMART Act, his organization’s draconian social media law Newsletter would list it as a legislative gain in which it implied it played a role in influencing.

Right-wing organizations such as the Heritage Foundation have followed suit with a recent one report to “killer apps” that make many of the same unsubstantiated claims about social media and mental health. This narrative offers a convenient scapegoat for gun violence and allowed NRA aligned Candidates like Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers appeal to concerned parents proclaim Social media is also her main concern as a parent opposite Masking in schools and voting for looser gun controls.

The bipartisan appeal of Luddite populism continues, and as in the past, we scapegoat new trends to explain complex societal problems. That myopia has legislative opportunity costs, just like it did after Columbine — when the time spent discussing 16-bit virtual guns could have been about real 17-caliber ones.

While bipartisan legislation can feel like progress amid political deadlocks, history shows – when fueled by storm Chinese populism – that it is almost certainly in decline. Democrats and Republicans unite to beat Big Tech, but Luddite populism is helping nobody

Russell Falcon

Russell Falcon is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Russell Falcon joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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