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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has had, historically, a cozy relationship with big tech companies. Many of them are based just outside her San Francisco district, and they've been her donors. She's been their booster. Lately, the relationship has been a bit rocky. Scandals in the tech industry plus Russia's use of social media to spread disinformation have given Pelosi pause. And now House Democrats are looking at whether the tech industry has grown too powerful. NPR's Tim Mak has more.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Prior to 2016, big tech was a sector where Democrats could obtain clean money - uncontroversial funds to propel their campaigns. Jeff Hauser heads a watchdog group - the Revolving Door Project.
JEFF HAUSER: The Democratic Party in the '90s found Wall Street money to be quite amenable. They liked all these well-educated elites on Wall Street. That became toxic in 2008, and that funding source for Democrats has been replaced by big tech for the last decade.
MAK: Speaker Pelosi is no exception. Over her career, she has received six-figure sums from Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent of Google. She has also taken in more than $76,000 from Facebook. Here's Sheila Krumholz, who leads the Center for Responsive Politics, talking about the total amount of money Pelosi has received from tech firms.
SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: They've delivered over $1.3 million over many years.
MAK: Congress has had a hands-off attitude for this industry. But for many Democrats, the 2016 Russian disinformation campaign was a turning point, and there have been rising concerns about consumer privacy. Here's Sarah Miller, who is a co-chair of Freedom From Facebook, a progressive coalition calling for Facebook's breakup.
SARAH MILLER: I don't think that progressives really understood the core business models of these companies and how they are based on kind of deep surveillance of their users.
MAK: And this problem was made personal for Facebook when this altered false video, suggesting she was drunk, made the rounds on Facebook.
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NANCY PELOSI: Basically saying back to me, why would I work with you if you're investigating me?
MAK: In reality, Pelosi doesn't even drink. But Facebook kept the video up, choosing instead to flag it as false and limit the video's distribution. Pelosi was indignant in an interview with NPR affiliate KQED.
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PELOSI: Facebook has proven, by not taking down something they know is false, that they were willing enablers of the Russian interference in our elections.
MAK: Pelosi and her fellow Democrats have now launched an aggressive investigation into whether tech giants have become too powerful. Congressman David Cicilline leads that probe and says the concentration of power in America is part of the reason for wage stagnation.
DAVID CICILLINE: We are living in a monopoly moment. And if you look at, in particular, the digital marketplace - these large, dominant platforms - there's tremendous market concentration. And that presents special implications for workers and consumers and users of those platforms.
MAK: Following the fake Pelosi video that made the rounds on Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a phone call to the speaker. A source familiar with Pelosi's views told NPR that even now, weeks after the call, she hasn't called Zuckerberg back. And not only that, the source says she has taken a meeting with Chris Hughes, an original Facebook co-founder who is now calling for Facebook to be broken up. Cicilline also said that he had met with Hughes.
CICILLINE: It's very clear these technology companies cannot be trusted to regulate themselves.
MAK: Some of the same tech companies who have been among Pelosi's strongest supporters may soon discover that the instinct to celebrate their innovation is being replaced with an inclination to regulate.
Tim Mak, NPR News, Washington.
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