January 23, 2021

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The Technology 202: ‘You’ve got blood on your hands’: Silicon Valley’s reckoning is here

6 min read

Chris Sacca, an early Twitter and Instagram investor, took aim at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey – as well as employees at the companies. 

Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor who later authored “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe” wrote:

Under a wave of public pressure, Facebook and Twitter handed Trump an unprecedented punishment.

They temporarily locked Trump’s account after he sent mixed messages about the violence and a now-deleted video laced with false claims about the election. 

Trump’s Twitter account was expected to be reinstated this morning, twelve hours after he removed three tweets that violated the company’s guidelines. And the company also set the stage to deactivate Trump’s account, warning the president risks being kicked off he writes one more tweet that violates the company’s policies. Facebook suspended Trump’s account for 24 hours. YouTube also took down one of the president’s videos, but did not say it would limit his ability to post. 

But to many industry observers, the moves were too little too late.

Silicon Valley companies have resisted policing Trump’s account since his candidacy and argued that they wouldn’t hold him to the same rules as other users because the president’s missives were newsworthy. That’s allowed Trump to use his online megaphone to elevate conspiracy theories about election fraud, promote violent retaliation against Black Lives Matter protesters and send a steady stream of disinformation to his millions of followers. Before yesterday, the companies took no action in the most egregious cases, added warning labels to flag tweets that broke their rules. 

The suspensions, however, were a step short of tech experts and civil society groups’ calls to permanently ban him from the platforms, which are sure to escalate as four people died in the incident, including one rioter shot in unclear circumstances. Meanwhile, lawmakers had to be evacuated from the Capitol chambers as hundreds of Trump supporters broke through barricades, smashed windows and assaulted police who struggled to contain the mob. 

Trump, who urged his supporters to head to the Capitol earlier Wednesday, tweeted after the mob broke out that “[t]hese are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away.” 

Throughout the ordeal, there were signals of the online influence gripping the rioters. One man who was photographed standing with face paint in the Senate dais is a well-known supporter of Q-Anon, a conspiracy theory that grew online and infiltrated American politics. Another man outside the Capitol was seen wearing a mask of Pepe, a cartoon toad frequently depicted in racist and anti-Semitic memes. 

Also as of Jan. 6: Democrats have more power – and that too could mark a turning point for the industry. 

Democrats have long pushed companies to do more to limit disinformation, hate speech and other incendiary content – and now they have the power in Washington to make that a reality. 

Democrats yesterday regained control of the Senate with a pair of victories in the Georgia run-off elections. That increases the chances that the Biden administration will be able to make good on its campaign promises to reign in Facebook and other social media giants. 

From Jennifer Palmieri, Hillary Clinton presidential campaign communications director:

Tech companies said they were taking other additional steps to curtail the spread of incendiary content during the emergency. 

Facebook released a blog post detailing additional steps it was taking to remove content praising and supporting the storming of the Capitol, as well as calls to bring weapons to locations across the U.S. It said it would remove all calls for protests that violate the D.C. curfew, and it would prohibit any attempts to restage violence today and in the coming months. It also introduced additional emergency measures to protect Facebook Groups, which are known for facilitating incendiary content. 

The company said it would require Group administrators to review posts before they can go up, and it automatically will disable comments in Groups that start to have high rates of hate speech or violent content. The company is also using AI to demote content that might break its rules. 

YouTube removed multiple live streams that incite violence or show participants in the mob carrying firearms. The company’s rules also prohibit all content that alleges widespread fraud changed the outcome of the election. 

“As the situation at the United States Capitol Building unfolds, our teams are working to quickly remove livestreams and other content that violates our policies, including those against incitement to violence or regarding footage of graphic violence,” spokesman Farshad Shadloo said in a statement. “In addition, we’re continuing to raise up authoritative news sources on our home page, in search results and in recommendations. We will remain vigilant in the coming hours.”

And Twitter said it would restrict engagement with tweets that violated its civic integrity policies. 

But tech companies will continue to be vulnerable to violence and disinformation in the coming days. 

The thirteen remaining days until Joe Biden’s inauguration will be a critical test of the defenses the companies have adopted to ensure the integrity of civic processes. 

Karen Kornbluh, the senior fellow and director of Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative at the German Marshall Fund, warned: 

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Tech companies faced internal pressure from employees to suspend Trump’s account. 

Several Twitter employees that had previously defended the company’s decision to keep Trump’s account changed their position in the wake of the violence. 

NBC’s Ahiza García-Hodges, Ben Collins and Dylan Byers gained access to an internal company Slack discussion where employees weighed their options. “I’ve been part of the ‘he’s the president, we can’t deactivate him’ crowd for 4 years now but even I have to say, I feel complicit allowing this to happen and I would like to see him deactivated immediately,” one employee wrote, according to conversations seen by NBC News.

Some Twitter employees said it was a mistake to previously simply apply warning labels and not remove the president’s incendiary tweets. “If this isn’t enough to make us think our previous policy was a mistake, what would be?” said one employee.”I think ‘don’t foment coups’ is a fairly bright line to draw [to be honest]'” added another. 

Meanwhile, Facebook silenced employees on an internal message board who were discussing the violence at the Capitol. With no explanation, company administrators froze comments on at least three threads where employees had been talking about the siege, Ryan Mac at Buzzfeed News reports. 

“Donald Trump has directly incited a terror attack on Capitol Hill,” one Facebook employee wrote on a post where comments were later halted. “We need to take down his account right now. This is not a moment for half measures.” Facebook spokeswoman Liz Bourgeois said employees were actively discussing the events, but they had temporarily paused discussion on some threads.

Tech executives condemned the violence at the Capitol. 

The CEOs of Apple, IBM and Cisco released statements criticizing the rioters. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook called for those responsible to be held to account:

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins called for a peaceful transition of power:

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said the company condemned yesterday’s “unprecedented lawlessness”:

The CEOs of Facebook and Google have not yet publicly posted about the violence, but reporters shared internal communications that they sent to employees. From Ina Fried at Axios:

And Mike Isaac of the New York Times:

Mentions

– Zoom COO Aparna Bawa joined the executive council of TechNet. 

Daybook

– The Washington Post’s David Ignatius will interview Palantir chief executive Alex Karp to discuss how the company is helping governments manage their coronavirus responses on today at 10 a.m. EST. 

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Before you log off

Here’s how the siege happened: 

Cat Zakrzewski


2021-01-07 09:34:53


Read more from source here…

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