January 26, 2021

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The Technology 202: It’s not just social media: Capitol violence spurs changes at Airbnb, GoFundMe and more

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Peloton, the maker of Internet connected fitness equipment, meanwhile has banned mentions of #StopTheSteal in tags on its leaderboard, which allow people to communicate with others during cycling classes, as the Verge first reported. Company spokeswoman Amelise Lane said in a statement that Peloton has a “zero tolerance policy against hateful content.” 

GoFundMe banned users from fundraising for travel to political events where there’s a “risk of violence.” And Shopify took down two Trump-associated stores from its service. 

The moves signal the broad corporate soul searching underway in Silicon Valley. 

It’s not just Facebook, Google and Twitter. “The technology companies have to do something,” said Samuel Woolley, a professor and director of a propaganda research team at the University of Texas at Austin. “Now the magnifying glass is being placed on companies like Airbnb or Peloton or Shopify because the fact of the matter is people gather, talk about politics and all sorts of other things via the tools that these companies create.” 

The shift isn’t limited to consumer-facing apps. 

A wide range of smaller infrastructure and business tools that power the Internet but are rarely seen by consumers also took action. There’s been a great deal of attention on Amazon Web Services’ decision to suspend Parler’s service, effectively knocking it offline. But companies including the secure sign-on tool Okta and the customer service company Zendesk also dropped the social network favored by conservatives as a client, dealing another blow to its efforts to keep operating. 

The wide range of actions are almost like a domino effect, with smaller companies following watershed actions by Facebook and Twitter to suspend Trump’s account. In a lengthy thread on Twitter’s decision last night, CEO Jack Dorsey said he thought companies were coming to these decisions independently, though it’s fair to say the companies are under pressure as journalists and the public more closely scrutinize the role companies can play in advancing damaging claims about democracy. 

These same companies could also be vulnerable to any policy changes aimed at regulating online speech. 

A rapidly-evolving regulatory environment could also be influencing  tech companies’ moves to take a tougher line on hate and violence. The same day that the violent mob descended on the Capitol, Democrats narrowly regained control of Congress following a pair of victories in the Georgia runoffs. That increases the odds that Democrats might be able to follow through on their promises to crackdown on tech companies. 

Lawmakers have zeroed in on making changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects companies from lawsuits for content users post. That provision is often widely cited in relation to Facebook or Twitter, but any changes could also have an impact on the likes of Airbnb, Amazon and others. Airbnb for instance has cited the provision in seven lawsuits to avoid responsibility for listings on its site that violate home-renting laws, as the Wall Street Journal reported.

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he does not “feel pride” in the company’s decision to ban Trump. 

Dorsey described the move as a “failure” to create a service that could sustain civil discourse and healthy conversations, my colleague Elizabeth Dwoskin writes. The tweetstorm marked his first public remarks on the move. 

Snap also announced late yesterday that it would permanently ban Trump from its app. It builds on the company’s announcement last week that Trump was indefinitely suspended. 

“In the interest of public safety, and based on his attempts to spread misinformation, hate speech, and incite violence, which are clear violations of our guidelines, we have made the decision to permanently terminate his account,” Snap spokesperson Rachel Racusen said in a statement.

Sheryl Sandberg deflected blame for the Capitol riot. But new evidence highlights the platform’s role. 

The Facebook chief operating officer has sought to downplay the social network’s role in the violence, instead pointing the finger at smaller, right-leaning services such as Parler. 

“I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate, don’t have our standards and don’t have our transparency,” Sandberg said in an interview Monday that was live-streamed by Reuters.

The #StopTheSteal hashtag was widely used on the service until Monday, when a search on Facebook reported that 128,000 people were talking about it and in many cases using it to coordinate for the rally in Washington, according to Eric Feinberg, a vice president with the Coalition for a Safer Web. The rally ultimately turned violent when a mob stormed the Capitol, resulting in the deaths of a police officer and four others. 

In a statement, Facebook spokeswoman Liz Bourgeois said, “Sheryl began by noting these events were organized online, including on our platforms — with the clear suggestion we have a role here.”

“She was making the point, which has been made by many journalists and academics, that our crackdowns on QAnon, militia and hate groups has meant large amounts of activity has migrated to other platforms with fewer rules and enforcement,” Bourgeois added. She denied that Sandberg sought to deflect blame.

QAnon has reshaped the Republican party and fueled militant extremism. That could haunt the Biden era. 

QAnon, a baseless conspiracy theory, is fueled by right-wing outrage online and in the real world. (The Washington Post)

“The takeaway from this is that disinformation is a threat to our democracy,” said Joel Finkelstein, co-founder of the Network Contagion Research Institute, a research group that studies online disinformation. “And we’re not nearly done.”

The movement’s evolution into a hallmark of pro-Trump violence signals the danger it poses over the next week. 

The intense online organizing seen ahead of last week’s violent mob is building again. A QAnon group on Gab has grown by more than 40,000 members since the violence. Thousands more have flocked to QAnon-affiliated spaces on the private-messaging app Telegram. One 12,000-member channel was so flooded with new members that those behind the forum temporarily paused the chat feature.

Rant and rave

Where should the Andrew Yang’s Hype Houses be? My vote is Murray Hill. 

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Cat Zakrzewski


2021-01-14 09:08:36


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