Hearing complaints

This week in Technical Difficulties... 

  • I found hope in a hopeless place (a never-ending House E&C hearing with many dodgy tech CEOs)

  • We want to ban surveillance advertising -- and so do 40 other national and international advocacy organizations + Silicon Valley’s Congresswoman

  • Instagram for kids... what could go wrong? (spoiler: everything)

  • Why was Mark Zuckerberg dressed as the QAnon Shaman? Just one highlight from amazing work happening across the movement

HEARING COMPLAINTS

On Thursday, Big Tech CEOs were back before Congress for a House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on social media’s role in promoting disinformation and extremism. Out of respect for you, dear readers, I’m not gonna spend too much time recapping the marathon hearing, which was familiarly frustrating. As NPR aptly put it, the #1 takeaway was ‘everyone is mad’ – and that includes those of us who spent 6 hours of our lives watching that ordeal.

(See headlines such as These House hearings on tech are a waste of time and everyone knows it and Yes or no: Are these tech hearings doing anything?)

I certainly share this snark and exhaustion – but I do think there were a few silver linings here. First: Congress is clearly much better informed and prepared for these things than they were a couple years ago; that may be a low bar, but clearing it is a critical first step toward legislating. Second: It wasn’t a partisan sh*tshow; the focus was on real issues, and there even seemed to be new bipartisan openings, like on combating harms to children. Third: Members actually took aim at Big Tech’s underlying business model, not just individual pieces of problematic content.

  • CNET: Big Tech's danger to kids finally aligns Democrats, Republicans

  • Business Insider: 'You're not bystanders': Lawmaker spars with Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai as the CEOs evade questions about how Facebook and Google profit off misinformation

Speaking of the underlying business model… In case you missed it this week, Accountable Tech and 40+ other advocacy organizations across the antitrust, privacy, and civil rights spaces launched a new coalition with a singular demand: Ban surveillance advertising. You can read our coalition’s joint letter and learn more on our coalition website, which includes an explainer video and an in-depth "real costs of the business" section outlining harms associated with surveillance advertising.

  • WIRED: This Group Wants to ‘Ban Surveillance Advertising’

  • TechCrunch: US privacy, consumer, competition and civil rights groups urge ban on ‘surveillance advertising’

  • NBC News: Big Tech’s critics have organized for years. Now, some are speaking with one voice.

The call-to-action is already gaining steam. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) – whose district includes Silicon Valley – announced at the hearing that she was working on legislation along these lines with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

And it looks like Hillary Clinton is on board too.

KIDSTAGRAM

When your company’s claims to fame are eroding democracy, amplifying hate and conspiracy theories, and a litany of egregious privacy violations, your next move should definitely be launching a new product aimed at...children?

  • Buzzfeed: Facebook Is Building An Instagram For Kids Under The Age Of 13

Children under the age of 13 – notoriously experts at discerning fact from fiction – are Facebook’s new target demographic for a version of Instagram specially made for kids. As IG’s VP of Product Vishal Shah declared, Facebook is “building a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time,” which raises several questions, chief among them: Oh, you can just make platforms safe for users now? If so, should we not do that across the board?

Now, unless Facebook suddenly decides to change its business model (or you know, is compelled to do so by policymakers / regulators / courts...), IG Jr. seems more likely to build a child-army for the Proud Boys than to enrich the youth experience. Seriously though, this is a disaster in the making, certain to exacerbate the very threats to children that Congress was grilling tech CEOs over – although Zuck doesn't seem particularly worried.

  • CNET: Instagram for kids could be coming, and it would be disastrous  |  Commentary: The platform incites feelings of jealousy and inferiority that would be detrimental to young minds. It's a tough enough battle as an adult.

  • Mashable: Zuckerberg shrugs off concerns about Instagram for kids in congressional hearing

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S... BIG TECH CRITICS

Three months into the new administration, nominations to fill important posts are rolling in—and if these appointments are early indicators of how aggressively the Biden admin intends to pursue accountability for Big Tech, consider us thoroughly encouraged. 

Already, the admin has tapped antitrust celebs like Lina Khan and Tim Wu for key roles; Khan as an FTC commissioner, and Wu as Biden’s top advisor on tech and competition policy at the NEC. They’ve nominated outspoken Big Tech critics from within the civil rights community for Associate AG (Vanita Gupta) and Assistant AG for Civil Rights (Kristen Clarke) – both of whom would serve under AG Merrick Garland, who has a strong antitrust background in his own right.

And now, Jonathan Sallet – who helped craft the Obama admin’s net neutrality rules, as well as the 38-state bipartisan antitrust suit brought against Google in December – is being vetted by the White House for a top antitrust post.

  • NPR: Big Tech Showdown Looms As Biden Taps Top Critics Lina Khan, Tim Wu

  • POLITICO: Top Obama lawyer being vetted for antitrust post

ACROSS THE MOVEMENT

Beyond our exciting launch of the coalition to ban surveillance advertising, our partners from across the tech accountability movement – which continues to grow – churned out an incredible amount of noteworthy products this week. I can’t possibly capture all the amazing work that’s being done in this space here, but including some highlights below:

  • Public Citizen released a report about Big Tech & lobbying (spoiler: Facebook and Amazon are now the largest corporate lobbying spenders in the country);

  • Avaaz released a report about Facebook’s role in disinformation, from the election to the insurrection; they also co-launched a campaign with Guns Down Americacalled Face of Tech Harm, aimed at showing the human impact of dangerous disinformation;

  • Center for Countering Digital Hatecalled on platforms to ban the twelve leading online anti-vaxxers, which got its fair share of attention at the hearing on Thursday;

  • The Anti-Defamation League released a report on online hate and harassment with fascinating data highlighting the scope of the problem and the appetite for bold reform, as well as their new REPAIR Plan: a framework for fighting hate in the digital world;

  • SumOfUs underscored social media giants’ role in paving the way for the January 6th insurrection by – among other things – setting up a 7-foot cardboard cutout of Mark Zuckerberg dressed as the QAnon Shaman at the Capitol, an image that will forever haunt my dreams;

  • Tech Transparency Project released a report showing that despite bold promises to crack down on militia groups, Facebook is not only failing to tackle the problem, but indeed continuing to auto-generate pages for white supremacists;

  • The Consumer Federation of America published a new blog post calling for a ban on surveillance advertising. As author Susan Grant so perfectly put it: “It’s time to move away from this oppressive system of tracking, profiling and targeting individuals and toward more just and fair ways to advertise; a system that promote products and services on the basis of values such as good quality and reasonable prices, not that treats us as commodities for sale to the highest bidder.” 

POTPOURRI

  • The Hill: UK's watchdog says Facebook acquisition of Giphy raises competition concerns

  • The Verge: Amazon keeps trying to troll US Congress members in perplexing new PR strategy

  • BuzzFeed: Hundreds Of Far-Right Militias Are Still Organizing, Recruiting, And Promoting Violence On Facebook

  • Media Matters: TikTok is prompting users to follow far-right extremist accounts

  • BBC News: Facebook removes accounts of 'China-based hackers' targeting Uighurs

  • Axios: Social media's great misinformation clean-up act

  • CNBC: Mozilla leads push for FCC to reinstate net neutrality

  • Washington Post: Racist anti-Asian hashtags spiked after Trump first tweeted ‘Chinese virus,’ study finds

FLoC-ed up

NOTE: I think we’re just gonna send these on Sundays now – seems more worthwhile than Friday afternoons, and also, I keep failing to get it out on Friday. So now it’s a Sunday newsletter.

THIS WEEK: Google sells us on privacy, but check the fine print; a new report finds Facebook is, indeed, a bastion of right-wing disinformation; Twitter rolls out a strike system for COVID vaccine lies; and more...

FLoC-ED UP

Amid heightened scrutiny of Big Tech’s ethically questionable practices, this week Google announced new limitations on how they’ll track users and target them for advertising, earning headlines like “Google says goodbye to individual user tracking” and “Google to Stop Selling Ads Based on Your Specific Web Browsing.”

If you’re thinking, ‘sounds great, what’s the catch?’ – stop being so cynical!

Just kidding, there are indeed several gigantic catches here:

  1. It doesn’t apply to mobile, which is convenient because 85% of the world’s smartphones run on Android, and mobile now accounts for more than 60% of all online advertising.

  1. It doesn’t apply to first-party data, which is convenient because Google has more first-party data than just about any company in the world. They’ll still surveil you individually through Chrome, Google Search, Google Maps, YouTube, Gmail, Maps, Nest, Waze, etc. and use that data to personalize your ads on their platforms.

  1. While Google will stop allowing third-party tracking and ad targeting based on unique profiles, it intends tostart creating ‘cohorts’ of unique profiles for ad targeting...

Let’s dig into that last point, because – given Google’s mammoth market power – it may reshape the entire digital advertising landscape. The new ‘privacy-friendly’ approach Google has been touting is called ‘Federated Learning of Cohorts’ (FLoC). Google would still surveil users, but rather than selling third-party advertisers access to each individual, it would tag small groups with similar behavioral profiles so advertisers could target them by… flock, if you will. 

As our friends at EFF explained, this means FLoC will keep intact the very tools that “have frequently been used for exploitation, discrimination, and harm.” In short, Google is not taking a moral stand against invasive advertising, so much as they are bowing to the pro-privacy winds in a way that squeezes competitors and further entrenches their dominance. Yay?

  • OneZero: Google’s ‘Privacy-First Web’ Is Really a Google-First Web

  • Recode: Google is done with cookies, but that doesn’t mean it’s done tracking you

  • The Hill: Tech giants in brewing battle over tracking, ads

ALRIGHT, ALL-RIGHT, ALT-RIGHT

In news that is as surprising as death and taxes, NYU’s Cybersecurity for Democracy research initiative found that Facebook’s most reliably profitable content is far-right misinformation. As the report details, right-wing Facebook news (“news”) pages known for spreading disinformation saw more engagement than any other ideologically-aligned news (“news”) pages.

  • NYU's Cybersecurity for Democracy: Far-right news sources on Facebook more engaging

  • Protocol: The most engaging political news on Facebook? Far-right misinformation.

  • CNN: Right-wing misinformation on Facebook is more engaging than its left-wing counterpart, research finds

As Zuck stares down the late-March congressional interrogation over social media giants’ role in the Capitol siege, this report matters for a couple of reasons. First, it pours cold water on Facebook’s claims about their very serious efforts to mitigate harmful lies. In fact, as the report points out: "Being a consistent spreader of far-right misinformation appears to confer a significant advantage [for Facebook].” 

And second, the report provides perhaps the most conclusive evidence yet that conservatives’ claims of being disproportionately censored and shadow-banned by Big Tech are… the opposite of true. The report found that right-wing misinformation not only outperformed every other ideological category of misinformation, but far-right pages (like Dan Bongino’s) earned way more ‘organic’ engagement than any other category. 

TWITTER STRIKES ANTI-VAXX

This week, Twitter announced it would target coronavirus vaccine misinformation with labels and a strike system that hits repeat offenders with escalating penalties, culminating with permanent suspension.  This tracks with a similar approach they rolled out in January for violations of their civic integrity policy.

  • TechCrunch: Twitter rolls out vaccine misinformation warning labels and a strike-based system for violations

  • Kaiser Health News: Twitter To Flag Misleading Covid Vaccine Posts, Block Repeat Offenders

Since before the election, we’ve maintained (no, really: page 8) that social platforms need to implement strike systems like this one against repeat offenders who drive a disproportionate amount of harmful disinformation (once again, like Dan Bongino). And with the White House announcing that we’ll soon have enough vaccines for every American to get their first shot, it’s increasingly important that platforms cull anti-vaxx lies, stewarding healthy online communities so we can live in healthy offline communities, too.

POTPOURRI

  • The Verge: Parler drops federal lawsuit against Amazon — but files another in state court

  • NBC News: Google advised mental health care when workers complained about racism and sexism

  • CNBC: U.S. is ‘not prepared to defend or compete in the A.I. era,’ says expert group chaired by Eric Schmidt

  • Axios: Miami mayor acknowledges Big Tech plans could hurt the city's poor

  • Protocol: Apple and Google lobbyists are swarming Arizona over a bill that would reform the app store

  • Forbes: Twitter To Launch Paid ‘Super Follows’ Feature 

  • Wall Street Journal: India Threatens Jail for Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter Employees

Google to AI researchers: Don't be ethical

This week, in a special Sunday evening edition of Technical Difficulties: Google fires its ethical AI lead (again), gets accused of discrimination (again); Zuck gets caught tipping the scales in favor of far-right influencers (again); Congress continues advancing the case for antitrust action, and more...

DON’T BE EVIL ETHICAL?

For many years, Google’s famous “don’t be evil” motto was enshrined in their corporate code of conduct. These days, “don’t be ethical” feels more apt.

Last week, the tech giant axed its second top AI ethics researcher in three months. Margaret Mitchell had been under fire from Google executives since standing up for her co-lead, Dr. Timnit Gebru, who’d been pushed out for raising concerns about... unethical AI and Google’s discriminatory practices. In other words, both women were fired for doing their jobs.

  • TechCrunch: Google fires top AI ethics researcher Margaret Mitchell

Google asserted that Mitchell violated the aforementioned code of conduct, in particular via the “exfiltration of confidential business-sensitive documents” – an apparent reference to Mitchell running automated scripts through corporate emails for evidence of discriminatory treatment of Dr. Gebru. Which, again, seems like a pretty… ethical use of AI.

Mitchell also released the email she sent to colleagues before being fired detailing the dual impact of Google’s “underpinnings of racism and sexism” on their corporate culture and AI systems.

“Please know I tried to use my position to raise concerns to Google about race and gender inequity, and to speak up about Google’s deeply problematic firing of Dr. Gebru. To now be fired has been devastating.”

— Google AI ethics founder, Margaret Mitchell

Google executives have been facing both internal and external outrage over their handling of this whole ordeal, and seem to know they have a problem on their hands. While they’ve refused to release the results of an investigation into Dr. Gebru’s firing, they did announce new policies to ostensibly address the underlying failures. We’ll see how that goes...

  • Reuters: Google pledges changes to research oversight after internal revolt

  • Axios: Google tweaks diversity, research policies following inquiry

  • Fast Company: ‘This is bigger than just Timnit’: How Google tried to silence a critic and ignited a movement

ZUCK’S RULE

In case you missed it, last week, BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman and Ryan Mac broke yet another incredibly damning story on the extent to which Mark Zuckerberg and Brooks-Brothers-Rioter-Turned-Facebook-Policy-Chief Joel Kaplan have bent the rules to accommodate influential right-wingers – in this case, seeding the ground for insurrectionists.

  • BuzzFeed: "Mark Changed The Rules": How Facebook Went Easy On Alex Jones And Other Right-Wing Figures

  • “Zuckerberg didn’t consider the Infowars founder to be a hate figure, according to a person familiar with the decision, so he overruled his own internal experts and opened a gaping loophole: Facebook would permanently ban Jones and his company — but would not touch posts of praise and support for them from other Facebook users. This meant that Jones’ legions of followers could continue to share his lies across the world’s largest social network.”

  • “Internal documents obtained by BuzzFeed News and interviews with 14 current and former employees show how the company’s policy team — guided by Joel Kaplan, the vice president of global public policy, and Zuckerberg’s whims — has exerted outsize influence while obstructing content moderation decisions, stymieing product rollouts, and intervening on behalf of popular conservative figures who have violated Facebook’s rules.”

There are a bunch of eye-popping (and infuriating) new details included in the full report, and I could go on and on about how this debacle underscores the need for fundamental, structural reforms to Big Tech. But instead, I’ll leave you with the poignant thoughts of Lenny Pozner, father to a six year-old child who was murdered in the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012—one of the many shootings Alex Jones repeatedly claimed ever happened:

“At some point, Zuckerberg has to be held responsible for his role in allowing his platform to be weaponized and for ensuring that the ludicrous and the dangerous are given equal importance as the factual.”

— Lenny Pozner, father of Sandy Hook victim

COMPETITIVE MOMENTUM

Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee questioned witnesses in the tech world about their mistreatment by Big Tech and the harmful consolidation of power by ‘gatekeeper’ tech companies like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Google.

The Verge’s Makena Kelly had a great summary of  lawmakers’ three major areas of focus, so I’m just gonna quote that directly here, rather than writing my own less helpful version:

  • Data interoperability and portability: Users should be able to take their data elsewhere with ease. Example: Think about how you can move your phone number between carriers. Before the 1996 Telecommunications Act, that wasn’t always an option!

  • Nondiscrimination: Basically, a dominant platform shouldn’t be able to preference its own products over those of its competitors. 

  • Structural remedies: Breaking apart different lines of business or platforms under one company.

This was the first in a series of tech antitrust hearings the House plans to conduct early this year as they work toward updating U.S. competition policy. And on the other side of Capitol Hill, Sen. Amy Klobuchar – chair of the pertinent subcommittee – has already introduced a sweeping bill to overhaul our antitrust laws.

  • Axios: House begins brewing new tech antitrust laws

  • CNET: House lawmakers argue to update antitrust laws to rein in tech giants

All of this comes as the European Union and other democracies worldwide pursue ambitious reforms to rein in Big Tech, and Facebook and Google navigate a slew of antitrust lawsuits in various courts. Suffice it to say, the global momentum for more accountability seems unlikely to dissipate anytime soon.

POTPOURRI

  • New York Times: Facebook Strikes Deal to Restore News Sharing in Australia

  • Recode: Bias, disrespect, and demotions: Black employees say Amazon has a race problem

  • Axios: The digital dollar is now high priority for the Fed

  • The Verge: Disinformation experts aren’t happy about the trailer for HBO’s QAnon series

  • BuzzFeed: New York Times Columnist David Brooks Blogged For Facebook's Corporate Site

  • New York Times (Sway): Sacha Baron Cohen has a message for Mark Zuckerberg

  • Politico: Is Twitter angling to become Big Tech?

  • Buzzfeed: Everything You Need To Know About Dispo: The New Social Media App That's "Anti-Instagram"

  • Axios: Facebook says it will pay news industry $1 billion over 3 years

Blunder Down Under

This week: Facebook, Google, and the Australian government rumble – and everyone loses except Rupert Murdoch..... Tech CEOs prepare for another grilling on Capitol Hill, the first since their platforms helped facilitate the violent insurrection on [checks notes] Capitol Hill..... Health care workers, and a new 'Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab,' surge capacity on the frontlines of the infodemic, and more.

BLUNDER DOWN UNDER

This week in Australia, Facebook really took the old “no news is good news” adage to heart. But let’s take a step back.

So, broadly speaking, Facebook and Google have helped crush local news. They’ve siphoned ad revenue away from publishers while aggregating their content with negligible compensation – and thousands upon thousands of journalism jobs have been lost. This is bad for democracy. So publishers and governments alike have started fighting back, demanding the tech giants share a sliver of their profits with the news industry they’ve starved.

This all came to a head in Australia this week, as a revenue-sharing mandate careened toward becoming law. One unfortunate drawback of this particular piece of legislation is that it happens to be… bad? The intent is good – we’re proud to work with groups that have outlined thoughtful proposals to this end, like Free Press’s targeted-ad tax for a Public Interest Media Endowment, and Public Knowledge’s Superfund for the Internet

But the Australian bill aims to charge Facebook and Google every time a news link is posted on their platforms. It says they must cut deals with each publisher on that basis, or enter forced arbitration. It says they must alert publishers 28 days before any changes to their news ranking algorithms – which change second-by-second. And it favors mass media conglomerates like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. rather than actually directing money to journalists, independent media, and news-gathering.

Nevertheless, Facebook managed to steal the show with its villainry... In the dead of the night – days before the law even passed – Facebook banned *all* links to news in Australia. There were many ways they could’ve underscored the bill’s flaws in ongoing negotiations, but instead they opted to summarily strip the platform of authoritative information in the middle of a pandemic (and swept up a bunch of emergency service pages in the process). Facebook was ostensibly trying to prove a point; but the only point they proved is how much societal harm they're willing to inflict to protect their bottom line. Australia was not impressed, and the rest of the world was taking notes.

  • Washington Post: Facebook’s brazen attempt to crush regulations in Australia may backfire

  • The Australian: Fakebook’ shows all it cares about is profit, not people

  • The Guardian: Misinformation runs rampant as Facebook says it may take a week before it unblocks some pages

  • Reuters: Canada vows to be next country to go after Facebook to pay for news

  • Business Insider: Facebook took the nuclear option in Australia. It may be on a collision course with at least 7 other countries.

THE BOYS ARE (ALMOST) BACK IN TOWN

This week, it was announced that Mark, Jack, and Sundar will be coming to Washington to testify before the House next month. (One day, Congress will learn about the existence of YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki…)

What could those three, famously uncontroversial, possibly be coming to testify about? Oh, the usual—just the insurrection at the Capitol fomented on their platforms, ongoing promotion of anti-vaxx disinformation, etc.

  • Washington Post: House to grill Facebook, Google, Twitter CEOs as Washington seeks to crack down on disinformation, antitrust

  • The Verge: Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, and Jack Dorsey will appear at March misinfo hearing

This will be the third time in six months that the tech CEOs have been hauled before Congress to reaffirm that their companies are totally still forces for good in the world. Luckily, their pal Jeff Bezos lives locally and could probably let them stay in one of his eleven bedrooms.

FRONTLINES OF THE INFODEMIC

No, the coronavirus vaccines will not implant a microchip into you so Bill Gates can control your brain. That’s just one of countless anti-vaxx conspiracy theories circulating widely in various communities. Thankfully, efforts to push back on these pernicious narratives are expanding.

First – as if our heroic frontline health care workers hadn’t already done enough – a growing coalition of doctors and nurses have been spending their ‘off’ hours organizing online to fight vaccine hesitancy and defend one another when anti-vaxxers stoop to harassing advocates (which they do quite regularly). And second – this week, Voto Latino and Media Matters announced a new partnership that will bring much-needed  countering Spanish-language disinformation.

  • POLITICO: Doctors bring the fight to anti-vaxxers online  |  Health care workers are organizing online networks to promote Covid shots, strategically aiming to drown out vaccine opponents active on those sites.

  • NBC News: Liberal groups launch 'Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab' to combat Covid, election messaging  |  Voto Latino and Media Matters are collaborating with a former DNC chairman to combat political and health misinformation aimed at Hispanic communities.

POTPOURRI

  • Business Insider: Facebook's news ban heightens the risk of misinformation and conspiracies spreading in Australia, critics warn

  • Axios: Audio takes off during the pandemic

  • Bloomberg: Citadel’s Griffin, Robinhood CEO to Testify at GameStop Hearings

  • TechCrunch: Following backlash, WhatsApp to roll out in-app banner to better explain its privacy update

If you build it, they will clone

This week, a new poll from Accountable Tech shows a majority of people blame social media for radicalization; Facebook announces plans to copy Clubhouse’s homework; platforms ban vaccine disinformation—again?; state leaders tackle Big Tech; and more...

CLONEHOUSE

Audio chat app Clubhouse is the latest social media platform to take the world by storm, pairing the eternal allure of exclusivity with the year-two-of-a-pandemic allure of hearing actual human voices that don’t belong to your cohabitants. It’s like a super-secret, invite-only digital VIP lounge—only instead of the super-secret part, you sacrifice any semblance of privacy...

  • OneZero: “For example, say you have an ex or even a harasser you’ve tried to block from your life, but they still have your number in their phone; if they upload their contacts, Clubhouse will know you’re connected to them and make recommendations on that basis.”

So, Dear Readers, what happens when disruptive social media platforms begin to find success? [Everyone together now]  Facebook clones them!

  • New York Times: “Facebook is building an audio chat product that is similar to the popular young app Clubhouse…  Facebook is also known in Silicon Valley for being willing to clone its competitors. Instagram in 2016 copied one of the marquee features of rival Snapchat, ‘Stories,’ which allow users to share ephemeral videos and photos. Last year, Instagram debuted Reels, a TikTok-like video product. When the teleconferencing service Zoom became popular last year, Facebook quickly created Rooms”

While Clubhouse is young, it’s already facing serious issues—the kind of issues Facebook leads on (read: echo-chambers, racism, anti-Semitism, etc.)  So it just makes sense that Facebook is trying to recreate this cesspool. I mean, what else are they gonna do, innovate?

Anyways, this is why nobody in Silicon Valley trusts Facebook. You might even say, they have a massive antitrust problem on their hands…

  • Fortune: “Facebook appears to be relying on its age-old playbook even as antitrust regulators investigate the company for anti-competitive behavior.”

THE SAME OLD PLAN(DEMIC)

Remember the whole ‘Plandemic’ nightmare, and the lessons we hoped platforms had learned about stopping slickly-produced COVID disinformation campaigns before they go viral? Yeah, about that… 

This week, Media Matters released a jaw-dropping report about ‘Planet Lockdown,’ which racked up 20 million hits across Facebook and YouTube while parroting false claims about the pandemic. That included lies about the vaccine causing infertility and containing a microchip, validating the concerns of the 84% of Americans who think social media ‘has played a role in radicalizing people,’ as found in our new poll out this week.

  • Axios: Exclusive: Majority polled believe social media radicalizes people

  • Media Matters: YouTube and Facebook allowed another COVID-19 conspiracy theory video to go viral

Ironically, both of those claims would theoretically have been caught and scrubbed under Facebook’s newly announced ban on vaccine disinformation (though in classic fashion, nary a company spokesperson can explain exactly how Facebook will enforce this ban). Even more ironically, Facebook and YouTube had already banned content promoting the microchip lie and other COVID conspiracies, so the video never should have gone viral in the first place. 

So long as platforms are permitted to shrug away these catastrophes and avoid structural changes or real accountability, we’re likely to see Planet Lockdown 2, Planet Lockdown 3, and Planet Lockdown: Tokyo Drift sooner than later.

THE REGULATORY STATES

Maryland lawmakers today approved the nation’s first law taxing the revenue Big Tech makes from digital advertising. The tax would apply to ads shown in the state, with the projected $250 million windfall going to fund public education initiatives (constitutionality pending…).

Maryland isn’t the only state getting aggressive about taking matters into their own hands. Virginia is on the brink of passing a sweeping online privacy law similar to the one enacted in California, North Dakota Republicans are working to restrict companies from selling people’s data without their consent, and so forth.

All of which is to say, perhaps we should swiftly act to rein in Big Tech at the federal level instead of relying on an increasingly complex patchwork of state crackdowns to do the trick.

POTPOURRI

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