Big tech was a big target at CPAC, but conservative startups face challenges

Big technology was once again in the limelight at one of the largest annual gatherings of conservative politicians and personalities.

In speeches at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), elected officials, including Sens. currently being considered by the Supreme Court.

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Co., said in her speech Saturday: “I called for the removal of 230 protections from these big tech companies that are hiding behind section 230, and they’re acting like editors instead of publishers.”

But unlike last year’s conference, the speakers steered away from a grand utopian vision of a “parallel economy” to protect conservatives from the power of progressive values.

Instead, business leaders and elected officials took a more weathered view, criticizing the failed promises of technologies like cryptocurrency, which many conservatives embraced last year. They also acknowledged the unfairness of competing with tech giants and the difficulties of turning startups into companies that could eventually scale and thrive independently of politically motivated investors.

Devin Nunes, CEO of former President Donald Trump’s Truth Social, spoke openly on stage Friday about the difficulties his and other companies face in the “conservative parallel economy.

“The key was, could we build something that big technology couldn’t tear down and couldn’t stop?” he said. “I will tell you that there are real trends that we are learning, and I think Congress needs to look at it.”

At last year’s CPAC, Truth Social and conservative Twitter-clone Gettr were front and center, with conservatives touting the idea of ​​creating an alternate world in technology where conservatives could avoid what they saw as censorship and talk freely about their beliefs and values.

Since then, crypto markets have crashed, Elon Musk took over Twitter, and Meta decided that Trump could be allowed back on his platforms, leaving the viability of a parallel digital economy for most of the conservatives involved.

But not all Big Tech was a target. The speakers repeatedly praised Musk’s Twitter and specifically the “Twitter Files” project, in which Musk released internal records about Twitter’s old regime through several journalists and comments in an attempt to demonstrate political censorship in the company.

The creator of LibsofTikTok, Chaya Raichik, criticized the technology’s treatment of her accounts while also boasting about the number of followers on those platforms and promoting her book sold on Amazon.

Outside of Nunes’ appearance, Truth Social did not appear to have a significant presence at the conference, and Trump did not mention the platform in his keynote speech. Gettr, whose CEO Jason Miller recently left the company to work with Trump on his presidential campaign, did not have a significant presence at the conference.

Tech founders at the conference told NBC News that they believe some companies that were part of the “parallel economy” movement got ahead of themselves in their ambitions.

John McEntee, founder and CEO of the conservative dating app The Right Stuff and a former Trump administration official, said he thought some founders of companies aimed at replacing tech companies may not have understood the difficulties involved. there.

“I think a lot of people here were like, ‘oh, we can do that’ without realizing how hard technology stuff really is and how much a user expects,” said he. “They don’t understand how hard that is, you know, you try to change one thing and then all these things have to change.”

McEntee said that his own company is growing its user base of 30,000 users, and is on the road to financial sustainability with its premium membership product, but he described the challenge of users who are already saturated with different offers in the converting technology space.

“It’s very difficult to get them to do a new profile when they’re already on three others,” he said.

McEntee said the company’s seed funding round led by conservative tech mogul Peter Thiel can last them at least until the summer of this year, but they will have to start looking for another round of funding soon.

Andrew Riddaugh, who also worked in the Trump White House and is now CEO of Liberation Technology Services, which offers independent web hosting and development services, said he thinks the conservative companies that are finding success are the ones that are innovating in reality in the technology space rather than just providing an alternative.

“When you look back, those who worked on innovation and new user experience, or new products and tools, those are the ones you still see around,” he said. “If you don’t have something unique, users are going to default to what people already know and use.”

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