With Twitter and Facebook under fire from lawmakers over censorship, tech-billionaire Bill Gates, drawing from his own tussle with the Department of Justice during the 1990s as CEO of Microsoft, is weighing in on how these companies should be dealt with.
“Certainly, scrutiny is important,” Gates said during an hour-long conversation at the GeekWire Summit earlier this week. “These companies are shaping communications, commerce, and politicians have to think, OK, what are the rules here?”
Gates, who is the world's second-richest man with a net worth of $118 billion, according to Forbes, co-founded Microsoft, which ultimately agreed to change business practices, avoiding a forced breakup.
“I think the main mistake I made, which was not realizing how important it would be to develop relationships in Washington, be engaged there — these companies are not making the same mistake that I made,” Gates said. “They have lots of people -- Jeff [Bezos] even has a nice house in Washington, D.C.
The House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee has suggested a common set of remedies for a number of issues across a variety of companies.
“I think it’s kind of unfortunate that they’re grouping the companies together because there're so many different mutations" he explained. “If they want to get serious, they’re going to have to focus in, enumerate the issues, and then debate them,” Gates added. “So I’d say we’re kind of at the beginning.”
Tech CEOs testified in July before the subcommittee, and more testimony is scheduled to start October 28. Social media companies will face increased scrutiny because of the censorship allegations in connection to the apparent suppression of a report about Hunter Biden's Ukraine business connection emails, which resulted in Twitter shutting down White House Press Secretary Kaleigh McEnany's account for sharing the New York Post story that first reported on the correspondence.
Twitter has since altered its policy, but not before drawing criticism from some sectors for its initial reaction. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said he will make it a priority to "clarify" Section 230 of the 1934 Communications Act, which applies to social media company protections.
“They may even be making some other mistakes," Gates said. "But everybody saw what I did and knows better now."