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Policy / DCN perspectives on policy, law, and legislative news surrounding digital content

Election 2024: What the results will mean for digital publishers

March 4, 2024 | By Adriana Santoni Vicens, Associate – Dentons Global Advisors
The topline: Much is being said about the presidential candidates. But do they really differ in their attitude towards the media? Either way, they'll have some big decisions to make about Big Tech. 

As November 5 draws increasingly near, the rhetoric surrounding the 2024 election is almost inescapable. Although think pieces, pundits, and poll numbers populate publications across the country, much less is said about how the outcome of this monumental election will affect the future of these outlets.

At first glance, the attitudes of President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump about digital publishers appear to be diametrically opposed. Former President Trump’s adversarial attitude towards the media industry requires little preamble; after all, the term “fake news” is synonymous with his tenure and persona.

Meanwhile, President Biden has embraced legacy media and publishers, choosing to author op-eds in some of the nation’s most prominent outlets, such as the Washington Post and The New York Times. However, while a return by former-President Trump to the White House would probably mean another four years of him snubbing the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, his policies surrounding the industry wouldn’t be all that different to President Biden’s.

Regardless of their personal attitudes towards the media and digital publishers, the winning candidate will have to make important decisions that will have deep implications for the future of the industry. Even amidst the polarization that permeates the halls of Congress, lawmakers have found surprising agreement in their critiques of Big Tech. Proposals to regulate these companies, such as the rolling back of Section 230 protections, would send ripples across the entire industry.

This increased scrutiny has also opened the floodgates of antitrust considerations, and, if elected, Biden and Trump would both face historic antirust considerations surrounding the tech industry. Without doubt, their motives differ: President Biden being spurred by concerns over the effects of the industry’s shifting tectonic plates and former-President Trump being spurred by personal dislike and distrust towards internet companies. However, both are likely to take actions to try and halt Big Tech from dominating most aspects of modern society.

With that being said, we summarize below some of the most pressing policy issues at the intersection of Big Tech and digital media, as well as the actions President Biden and former-President Trump are expected to take that are likely to impact those in the business of digital media.  

Regulating Artificial Intelligence (AI)

If there is one topic that has galvanized the industry during the past year it is without a doubt AI. Its promise and perils have made it the most controversial topic across industry discussions, and the approach taken by the whomever is sworn in on January 20, 2025, will send waves across the industry.

For a Biden administration, their top AI priorities would center on ensuring that agencies comply with the directives and deadlines established in the AI Executive Order, published in October of 2023. Earlier this year, the White House touted that all agencies had completed their 90-day deliverables.

However, the most relevant deliverable for digital publishers won’t arrive until mid-2024, when the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is expected to issue recommendations to the President on potential executive actions relating to copyright and AI. Earlier this month, Ben Buchanan, White House Special Advisor for AI, stated that while the Administration does not yet have an official stance on AI and copyright issues, the Administration’s general priorities are “making sure that we have an innovative AI ecosystem and making sure the people who create meaningful content are appropriately compensated for it.”

For a Trump administration, it can be expected that a significant portion of the USPTO’s recommendations will be adopted, given that these are set to arrive only a few months before election day. Although earlier this month former-President Trump stated that AI was “maybe the most dangerous thing out there,” he has given little indication as to what his administration’s policies would be.

Nonetheless, it is expected that a Trump administration would give special focus to AI’s potential discrimination or censorship of conservative or MAGA voices. For example, given the former President’s acrimonious attitude towards his adversaries, he is sure not to be content with Chat GPT’s refusal to produce a poem in his administration.

Data privacy policy and online safety

Following the landmark hearing on Big Tech held earlier this year, children’s online safety has dominated the national discussion surrounding data privacy. A Biden administration can be expected to throw its weight behind the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), which has shaped up to be the paramount bill on the topic.

This legislative effort, which has faced several roadblocks since its introduction in 2022, is closer than ever to this finish line, now that is has earned the backing of over 60 senators including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). As presently written, KOSA has limited applicability to digital publishers, although its eventual passage, coupled with more stringent data privacy efforts being proposed across multiple states, might signify stricter privacy requirements for publishers further down the road.

At a broader level, President Biden is expected to announce executive actions aimed at preventing foreign adversaries from illegitimately gaining access to Americans’ data sometime in 2024. Such actions would probably impose new data privacy requirements on digital publishers, although the span of these requirements would be determined by the breadth of the actions announced. However, these new requirements and publishers’ compliance with them could boost consumer trust, at a time when data breaches are more rampant than ever.

It can be expected that if elected, President Trump would also support KOSA, given its broad bipartisan support. However, he can also be expected to reject international data privacy standards, as well as rescind any actions taken by the current FCC on net neutrality or broadband privacy.

Corporate taxes

A Biden administration is expected to continue its support for progressive tax reforms, including increasing the corporate tax rate. As part of his FY2024 budget, President Biden proposed to increase the corporate tax rate from 21% up to 28%. President Biden is also expected to close certain tax loopholes that could impact corporate financial strategies, as well as increase funding for social programs.

Meanwhile, if elected, former-President Trump would at the very least focus on maintaining the corporate tax rate at 21%, although he could very well attempt to lower the rate to 15%, the rate the former-President initially sought for the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. When asked about the possibility of lowering the corporate tax rate to 15% during a September interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, former President Trump stated that he’d “like to lower them a little bit.” More broadly, a Trump administration would seek to extend, or even make permanent, a majority of provisions from the 2017 tax cuts, such as the Qualified Business Income Deduction.

What’s next?

Many of most relevant decisions regarding the future of digital publishing lie outside the purview of the executive branch. As brought up in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on AI and Copyright, members of Congress are exploring legislation that would require the implementation of licensing agreements between publishers and AI companies, as well as legislation that would at the very least “clarify” the applicability of Section 230 and copyright law to content scraping carried out by AI companies. Additionally, other major questions surrounding copyright law are in the hands of the courts, as is the case with The New York Times’ lawsuit against Open AI and Microsoft.

Still, a multitude of regulatory decisions will land on the desk of whomever is elected on November 5, 2024. What is of most concern to digital publishers isn’t necessarily which candidate emerges victorious, but how to best advocate for the protection and preservation of the digital publishing industry amidst a confluence of interests and voices that will crowd the White House on these industry-defining issues.