with Tonya Riley
Tech companies are increasingly cracking down on President Trump — but they’re doing so in wildly inconsistent ways.
Video-streaming service Twitch took the extreme step of temporarily suspending the president’s account in part because it streamed his remarks at a recent rally in Tulsa that violated policies against “hateful content,” company spokeswoman Brielle Villablanca told me.
Twitch will permanently remove Trump’s comments from Tulsa accusing a hypothetical “very tough hombre” of “breaking into the window of a young woman whose husband is away as a traveling salesman or whatever he may do” – and from a recently re-posted rally in 2015 at which Trump called some Mexican immigrants “rapists” who were “bringing crime” to the United States. (Twitch is a subsidiary of Amazon. Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Yet the full video of the Tulsa rally is still available on plenty of other social networks. The footage of Trump making the same statement has more than 6.1 million views on Facebook, where company spokesman Andy Stone says it doesn’t violate the company policies. It’s also on YouTube, where it has racked up more than 280,000 views and spokesman Farshad Shadloo says it doesn’t break the company’s rules. Not to mention it was also broadcast on Fox, where nearly 8 million viewers tuned in for the highest-rated Saturday night in the network’s history.
The attempted crackdown could benefit Trump more than it hurts him – as long as the tech industry’s rules are out of sync.
The inconsistencies show how the president still can find a big online audience even as more companies stand up to him.
At the same time, Silicon Valley’s actions in the wake of nationwide protests and recent advertising industry boycotts are giving Republicans more fuel for their unproven claims of anticonservative bias – and a new avenue for the Trump campaign to collect people’s phone numbers.
Trump campaign spokesman Timothy Murtaugh called on supporters yesterday to text the Trump campaign line and download its campaign app in response takedowns from Twitch and Reddit, which shut down a popular forum for Trump supporters, r/The_Donald, along with about 2,000 other “subreddits” as it adopted tougher policies against hate speech.
Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist, told me that the campaign is “smart” to seize on the recent momentum to build its own database of phone numbers and push its app on more phones.
“I don’t think these moves really affect the Trump campaign” in terms of limiting its reach, Wilson said. “They’ve very wisely been building out their database of supporters, for whom they have contact information. They’ve always recognized that being able to directly contact voters is going to be really crucial to their campaign strategies, so they’re not reliant on what Facebook and Twitter and other social media platforms are doing.”
Trump could end up moving some of his most incendiary content to platforms with less policing.
Recent weeks have seemed like a turning point as Twitter has been taking a harder line on Trump’s posts, recently hiding some of his tweets behind a warning label for breaking its rules on abusive behavior or its policy on glorifying violence. Snap has limited the president’s reach on its platform, no longer allowing the president to appear on its “Discover” tab.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Trump’s campaign is considering dedicating more resources to Parler, an app that boasts freedom from the “ideological suppression and privacy abuse” of larger tech companies. Republicans including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) have recently flocked to the app.
The president himself was uncharacteristically silent as the companies cracked down this week, but it probably won’t be for long: He frequently turns to Twitter to blast tech companies as being biased against him and silencing conservatives — even though the companies have denied their moderation decisions are based on partisan ideologies and there is no credible research to support that claim.
Republicans did push back against Reddit’s decision to ban /The_Donald forum. From Jim Banks (R-Ind.):
In March, I sent a letter calling out @Reddit‘s targeted censorship of conservatives. 2020 is approaching fast, so Reddit outright banned their only large, pro-Trump community.
It’s clear, leg is needed to stop Big-Tech from interfering in our elections.https://t.co/GbwC0aRh0s
— Jim Banks (@RepJimBanks) June 29, 2020
Reddit also closed the left-wing forum r/ChapoTrapHouse.
There are some signs that the companies are beginning to adopt more similar policies when it comes to dealing with Trump.
Facebook recently decided it would join Twitter in labeling some posts from politicians that violate its standards. But it’s unclear how far the most popular social network will go — and its rules are confusing and not always enforced in a consistent manner.
Even under its new policy, Facebook would not flag a controversial Trump post that said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” as Twitter did. That post applies to a different Facebook policy, currently under review, involving “state use of force,” my colleagues Rachel Lerman and Craig Timberg reported.
Our top tabs
Zoom is launching a $1.2 million partnership with a South Carolina-based historically black university.
The five-year partnership with Claflin University will include internships, scholarships and other general support. Zoom chief operating officer Aparna Bawa will join the university’s board. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) helped facilitate the deal.
Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley, visited Claflin during a 2018 tour, which brought politicians and venture capitalists to visit colleges and tech companies in southern states. Khanna told me in an interview that he’s been looking for a tech company to partner with Claflin for years.
“It’s not enough to just sprinkle money, we have to create pathways for improvement,” Khanna said. “I’m hopeful it’s going to make a concrete dent in the digital divide.”
Zoom will create at least two paid internships for selected Claflin students to work at the company during the fall and spring, and the company will earmark three of its summer internships for students from the university. The company will also establish four $10,000 academic scholarships for selected students.
Tech companies are increasingly under pressure to examine their track record on diversity and race issues, as the Black Live Matters movement gains momentum amid nationwide protests. “While the recent BLM movement and broader fight for racial and social equity undoubtedly made our commitment to this kind of a partnership even more relevant and urgent, Zoom had been in conversation with Claflin University for some time,” Zoom chief diversity officer Damien Hooper-Campbell said in a statement. “We believe that as part of the Diversity & Inclusion strategy we are developing, partnerships with HBCUs like Claflin University will play a critical role in the larger goal of realizing racial and social equity within the Black community.”
Khanna has been working on initiatives to bring high-tech jobs to rural and southern areas that have been left behind by the tech boom in major coastal cities. He hopes this will inspire other similar partnerships. “If I can show some seeds of success, it could be the tech companies taking initiative themselves,” he said. “My hope is that Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon, and other members of Congress and governors will look at this and say we ought to be doing this too.”
Ford will suspend all national social media advertising for the next 30 days, signaling growing pressure on Facebook to stamp out hate speech.
The carmaker is the latest to join the #StopHateForProfit campaign launched by civil rights groups earlier this month asking advertisers to stop spending on Facebook in July in protest of the platform’s handling of hate speech and misinformation.
“The action is core to Ford’s aspiration to be the world’s most inclusive and diverse company,” Ford spokesman Said Deep told the Detroit Free Press. “Society and corporations can no longer stay silent to social injustice.”
Adidas, Conagra, Clorox and HP also announced yesterday they would suspend Facebook advertising at least through July, CNBC reports.
Microsoft also suspended advertising on Facebook and Instagram, according to an internal post on an employee forum, Ina Fried at Axios reports. Chris Capossela, chief marketing officer at Microsoft, says the company is working with Facebook directly to address the concerns that its ads were appearing next to “inappropriate content” and that it was not taking part in the larger boycott.
India’s government banned TikTok over security concerns.
India’s tech minister accused TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps of stealing user data and using it to undermine India’s national security, Rajesh Roy and Shan Li at the Wall Street Journal report. The bans demonstrate the increasingly digital nature of the conflict between China and India, where military tensions are rising over a disputed border.
Chinese apps dominate the Indian app market, and the bans could cost TikTok and other companies millions of users.
India’s actions could also bolster U.S. criticism of the app. U.S. officials have also accused TikTok of stealing user data and transmitting it in an unauthorized manner. Members of Congress have called for investigations into the app and many military branches have banned its use.
The ban also included popular Chinese messaging app WeChat.
Rant and rave
Venture capitalists got the “I know a spot” meme treatment on Twitter. Avenify co-founder Justin Potts:
VCs be like “I know a spot” and take you to the Blue Bottle in South Park
— Justin Potts (@PottsJustin) June 29, 2020
Vice reporter Edward Ongweso Jr.:
VCs be like “I know a spot” then privatize everything in your life
— Edward Ongweso Jr (@bigblackjacobin) June 29, 2020
Sonar’s Benjamin South Lee:
VCs be like “I know a spot” then take you to Clubhouse
— Benjamin South Lee (@bnj) June 28, 2020
The digital race to 2020
Stacey Abrams say Facebook’s recent promises to cut down on disinformation about polling conditions don’t go far enough.
The founder of the voting rights group Fair Fight and potential Joe Biden running mate criticized the company’s recent announcement that it would increase resources to remove false claims about polling conditions in the 72 hours leading into Election Day. She’s one of many Democrats who say Facebook’s guards against election disinformation don’t go far enough to protect voting by mail.
“As long as disinformation continues without context and without truth it’s not going to solve the problem,” the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate said at an event on disinformation hosted by George Washington University yesterday. “In the era of covid-19 voting starts almost 40 to 60 days ahead of election day. Seventy-two hours cannot solve the problem when you have vote by mail sweeping the country.”
Abrams also pointed to Facebook and other platforms’ failures to fully crack down on misleading statements from the president about vote by mail, pointing to a recent tweet from the president that she said misrepresents the differences between absentee ballots and vote-by-mail.
Inside the industry
Uber made an offer to acquire rival delivery service Postmates.
The deal could be reached early this week, sources tell Mike Isaac and Erin Griffith at the New York Times. Representatives of both companies declined to comment.
Uber was also recently in talks to acquire GrubHub, but the deal fell through early this month. Lawmakers were quick to raise antitrust concerns about the deal, which would have given Uber more than 40 percent of the food delivery market in the United States.
Postmates, which filed to go public in February, makes up just about 10 percent of the U.S. food delivery market.
Amazon is dealing with employee criticism of its handling of the coronavirus by firing workers, current and former employees allege.
Dozens of current and former Amazon employees from both warehouses and corporate ranks alleged that the retail-giant has inconsistently enforced health and safety protocols, Recode reports. The company has reprimanded or terminated employees who have spoken out, they allege. Six employees recently fired by Amazon disputed the company’s explanations for their terminations.
Amazon has been tracking efforts to unionize at its warehouses since as early as the 2000s, the report also says. But workers expressed fear that efforts to unionize would result in firings, Recode reports.
“When I worked there, I joked that if I even said the word ‘union,’ I’d be kicked out. We called it [unions] the ‘u-word,’” Jana Jumpp, a former warehouse employee, said. “There’s a lot of talk about unions, but I don’t know if they’ll work or not.”
Amazon has pushed back. Dave Clark, who oversees Amazon’s global warehouse network, told Recode in May, “I’ve been here 21 years, and I have never seen anybody punished or terminated or anything for speaking out or having a contrary opinion or debating something. And that continues to be the case.”
More workforce news:
Paranoia about secret government plots thrives in times of uncertainty, when strange things happen, and when people are bored. This summer is a trifecta.
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