Brad Smith and Mary Snapp

Knowing what you know now about the internet and how your venture turned out, what do you wish you had done differently from the beginning?

We would have worked harder to adapt to new regulation, rather than resisting it.

Today, governments at all levels expect more responsibility and accountability from technology companies than ever before. We’ve clearly entered an era of rapidly expanding global technology regulation—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Many might remember Microsoft’s history with antitrust and competition regulation more than twenty years ago. That experience delivered valuable lessons that have helped shape who we are today. We are acutely aware of our opportunities and the benefits of adapting to regulation rather than fighting against it. Today, we believe it is possible to both adapt to new rules and innovate successfully.

We live in a world where many healthy markets exist with regulatory guardrails. We take this for granted in the cars that we drive, the airplanes in which we fly, the groceries and medicines we purchase, and the financial services on which we rely. In short, if a product or service is of fundamental importance to society, then it is likely regulated.

We also live in a world of cross-industry digital transformation at a global scale. We are exposed almost daily to the risks and harm presented by malevolent digital actors. And we have witnessed firsthand how, instead of hampering growth, regulation can actually spur advancements that benefit humanity and our environment and help keep people safe. 

We would have recognized earlier that healthy journalism is critical to the democracies in which our businesses thrive.

From advances in technology and access to the internet came surges in both generated and stored content. Access to unlimited and generally free, curated content dramatically changed how readers, viewers and listeners engage with the news—with their news.

The impact of the internet over the past decade, and particularly the impact of social media, has disrupted the traditional business model of newsrooms. Over time, the number of newspaper reporters in the United States has more than halved, dropping from 71,000 in 2010 to 35,000 today. In the past year alone, seventy local newsrooms closed across the country, resulting in additional news deserts and “ghost” newspapers, and further widening the gaps between trusted news sources. This in turn has contributed to a rise in disinformation. 

In March of this year, Brad Smith testified before the House Judiciary Committee, saying that what happened on January 6, 2021, was an assault not only on the Capitol, but also on the peaceful transfer of power. In our view, this event reflected, in part, an unprecedented amount of disinformation at a time when the country cannot rely on the traditional base of established and trustworthy news and journalism—a bedrock of American democracy since the country was founded.

It is true that mobile technology advancements now enable anyone to create a newsworthy story. When used for good, such access can be truly transformative, helping to elevate historically oppressed voices and shed light on real, often overlooked experiences of others. For example, Darnella Frazier, a high school student, won a special award and citation from the Pulitzer Prize board in 2021 for her courage in recording the murder of George Floyd.

We’ve seen time and again the value of trustworthy reporting and we appreciate the role journalism holds in a healthy democracy—and the risk that comes when it’s undermined. Knowing what we do now, we are proactively supporting journalism in several ways, in addition to our partnerships with news publishers on our own news channels like Bing and MSN News. We are helping to combat disinformation with media literacy programs for consumers. We’re researching technology that identifies manipulated or false information, then seeks to slow its distribution. And we’re piloting a new community-based program that provides journalists and newsrooms with new tools, technologies and services to expand the reach and efficiency of local news outlets.

We would have partnered more boldly to harness technology toward equitable outcomes for people and the planet. 

For decades, we addressed our corporate and social responsibility through an employee giving program that is first in its class; donations of our software and services to nonprofits, charities and libraries; and by providing direct cash grants to organizations whose missions align with our values.

Today we know that is not enough. Doling out cash and software is not enough—we need to be willing and ready to provide the support that other organizations need in order to ensure those resources are managed and leveraged effectively. And we must develop and use cutting-edge technology responsibly from the start. 

Modern tools such as artificial intelligence present opportunities to transform how our global society addresses some of our biggest challenges, including health outcomes, racial equity, environmental sustainability and humanitarian relief efforts. Today, we recognize that this opportunity starts with companies like Microsoft that advance technology, work with companies creating tools to harness it, and then help other organizations navigate their use. We must engage boldly not only in corporate and social responsibility, but also in technology and social responsibility—because together with our partners and customers across industry, government and nonprofit sectors, we can achieve more, for good, than we ever could alone.

Lessons From the First Internet Ages

What is the future of the internet? Thirty years after the creation of the first web page, what have we learned about the impact of the internet on communication, connection, and democracy?   Join the Knight Foundation for Lessons from the First Internet Ages, a virtual symposium that will explore and evaluate what key figures in the development […]

October 11, 2021
Lessons From the First Internet Ages