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U.S. Sen Joni Ernst of Iowa is worried there are too many Democrats moderating Americans’ social media content.

Congress this year has staged a series of hearings with social media industry leaders, most recently last Wednesday in a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Republicans and Democrats are using the televised events to channel public outrage about a wide variety of topics — fake news, election influence, political bias, addiction, sex trafficking and terrorism, to name a few. Both sides are equally assured that their interests are unfairly harmed by social media companies’ practices.

“The people that I hear from, of course, believe conservatives were wrongfully being silenced while those on the left were given basically free rein of your platforms,” Ernst said.

Ernst posed a question: “Do you have concerns about your ability to monitor disinformation on both sides of the political aisle equally, given that the majority of your employees typically do lean toward the more progressive side?”

Facebook’s Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Dorsey tried to allay Ernst’s concerns. Facebook relies on outside fact-checking organizations, and Twitter has an external appeals process, they said.

More to the point, both CEOs said the growth of telecommuting will allow them to diversify their staffs by geography, which we know is correlated with partisan politics.


“I’m really excited we are at a stage where we can decentralize our company even more. We do not need people to move to San Francisco. We can hire people all over the country. They can stay where they want to be,” Dorsey said.

To be clear, the federal government ought to have no part in scrutinizing the political beliefs of private-sector employees. It’s plainly antithetical to the American ideals of free enterprise and freedom of expression.

Nevertheless, Ernst’s line of questioning raises some other interesting questions. Are tech companies really liberal? And will decentralizing the employee bases make a difference? Yes and probably not.

It is well established that the average tech worker prefers Democratic candidates. Industry leaders acknowledge as much, and it’s backed up by data on campaign contributions.

Iowans who are given the opportunity to work remotely for California companies are more likely to live in one of the state’s few Democratic strongholds, where they have access to high-speed internet and lifestyle amenities such as bars that are open after 10 p.m.

It’s not obvious, however, that the left-leaning tech workers unduly favor their own side in work decisions. Analyses have come down on both sides, with enough opposing examples of apparent unfair treatment to keep the fight going.

If it seems like social media companies have been particularly harsh on Republicans the past four years, that’s largely because Republicans have recently wielded much more power, and President Donald Trump has made unique challenges against the law and institutional norms.

Last week wasn’t the first time Ernst spoke out in favor of a decentralized workforce. In 2018, she introduced the SWAMP Act, which calls to move federal offices out of Washington, D.C. The idea is to put bureaucrats closer to the people they serve, and spread out federal largesse to communities that could use the stimulus.

Iowa Republicans in the previous Legislature introduced a bill to award grants for employees of out-of-state companies working remotely from Iowa. The proposal faltered, but could see new life next year in light of changing work habits brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.


It’s not as simple as hiring more content moderators to telecommute from Des Moines. The reasons people sort themselves into locations, political ideologies and professions are interconnected.

Will Wilkinson, vice president for research at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Niskanen Center, last year published a lengthy report on urbanization and political polarization. Wilkinson was raised in Marshalltown and now lives in Iowa City.

Liberal Americans are drawn to big cities with ample economic and educational opportunities, while conservative Americans tend to stay in stagnating small communities, Wilkinson reports in his paper titled “The Density Divide.”

Technology entrepreneurs in particular have a predisposition for cosmopolitanism, meaning they embrace differences, according to a study published in 2017 by Stanford University researchers.

Unsurprisingly, people who are open to new experiences are more likely to be socially liberal. They also are more likely to be willing to relocate to San Francisco for a job, and to have access to the education necessary to be tech professionals.

And Iowans who are given the opportunity to work remotely for California companies are more likely to live in one of the state’s few Democratic strongholds, where they have access to high-speed internet and lifestyle amenities such as bars that are open after 10 p.m. (when there’s not an infectious disease pandemic, at least). In relative isolation from their co-workers, they will have a hard time changing the political climate of their companies, as Wilkinson pointed out to me.

So, it’s not that Facebook and Twitter are recruiting liberal employees. It’s that liberal applicants are seeking out Facebook and Twitter.

The bright side for conservatives is that those political psychology characteristics are tied to social issues, but not necessarily economics. Many young tech workers are skeptical of high taxes, overregulation and central economic planning. Republicans still can win their support if we try.


America is deeply divided, but it’s not really about partisan politics — it’s about geography, the economy, deeply ingrained social values, and access to education and technology. You can take tech workers out of liberal cities, but taking liberal values out of the tech workforce will prove more challenging.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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