Hauenstein Center hosts discussion event on big tech


Courtesy / GVSU

Jacob DeWeerd, Staff Writer

Grand Valley State University’s Hauenstein Center hosted an event on Thursday night titled “Does Big Tech Equal Big Problems?” featuring guest speakers Carl Szabo and Josh Hammer. The discussion was attended by around 80 students, faculty, staff, and other members of the Grand Rapids community in person and virtually.

Guest speakers Szabo and Hammer were chosen because they are two of the leading voices on big tech policy in America. Szabo is Vice President and General Counsel for NetChoice, which is a prominent lobbying firm for several big tech companies. Hammer, on the other hand, is Opinion Editor at Newsweek and Counsel and Policy Advisor at the Internet Accountability Project.

Topics discussed at the event include how tech companies dominate the online market, laws associated with big tech policies and how the public’s perception of tech companies has changed since misinformation issues plagued the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. 

Jakob Bigard, Program Manager for the Common Ground Initiative at the Hauenstein Center, said that the discussion topics were chosen because of the many positives and negatives technology has shown over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So many developments in the world of technology have allowed us to stay connected and interact, Zoom being a prime example for personal and professional opportunities to stay connected,” Bigard said. “Though at the same time, we’ve seen many of the shortcomings of technology and social media companies through the mis/disinformation of the pandemic and 2020 election, which further polarizes Americans and enhances tribalistic sentiment and echo chambers.”

Although Szabo and Hammer are both politically conservative, their views on big tech policy couldn’t be more different. Szabo and NetChoice are on the side of tech companies, and Szabo is the lawyer who defends NetChoice member organizations like Facebook, Twitter and Google. Hammer has been very critical of tech companies in his writing, on social media and at speaking events, and has pushed for more government intervention regarding what tech companies are allowed to censor online.

Before the discussion, students and other attendees could participate in a lunch event and a networking reception. These are opportunities for students to make valuable connections and gain valuable insights by talking with speakers and other members of the Hauenstein Center team.

“Before this event, I wasn’t familiar with the differing perspectives on big tech policy, and with my major being advertising and public relations, I want to be knowledgeable about both sides of the debate going forward,” said fourth-year student MacKenzie Payton. “I also attended the networking reception and that was a great networking opportunity for everyone involved.”

Despite the potentially controversial subject matter, the discussion progressed smoothly throughout its roughly two-hour runtime. Bigard was pleased with how everything played out.

“Last night went really well, we had a first-time partnership with the Acton Institute,” Bigard said. “This provided us the opportunity to tap into a new segment of the population in the Grand Rapids community.”

The event was streamed on YouTube and Zoom for online attendees. A recording was posted on the Hauenstein Center’s YouTube channel

Next month, the Hauenstein Center will be celebrating Veterans Day in partnership with the Veterans Resource Center and Office of The President by featuring First Sergeant Matt Eversmann who was immortalized in the film “Black Hawk Down”. In December, author and historian H.W. Brands will return to GVSU to present his forthcoming book, “Our First Civil War”.