Big Tech – S1E8 – Ben Scott on the Internet’s Evolving Role in Politics

In this episode of Big Tech Taylor Owen sits down with Ben Scott, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Luminate, to discuss how the internet has evolved throughout Scott’s time in Washington, DC. Scott has worked for Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the State Department and then on her election campaign. Discussing Scott’s evolving role in digital policy, Owen says: “wherever the internet has been, you have been.”

While working on cable regulations in Washington DC in 2003, Scott realized that the internet was the next major form of communication technology, sparking an interest in net neutrality regulations. “And then in a very short period of years before it [the internet] becomes monetized and concentrated power takes it over, it becomes controlled by a handful of commercial interests and then people give up trying to fight against that and that becomes status quo. And we had intervened at that moment, stopped cable and telecom industries from grabbing hold of the internet and kept it decentralized.” Scott joined Barack Obama’s presidential campaign to draft the first ever internet policy agenda for a presidential candidate.

While in the State Department, Scott saw the spread of the internet and its ability to promote democracy and enable societal change — the Arab Spring for example. During the same period, platform companies continued to grow their influence in Washington DC, and eventually, Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign illustrated just how easily the internet could be manipulated. As Scott puts it: “if everybody’s using the same tools of online manipulation and distortion and organized amplification of messages that don’t actually have that much support in the public, if you are willing to go totally over the top with the most outrageous, the most sensational, the most divisive, the most controversial, provocative — that, ultimately those messages spread farther, faster than anything else.”