Jan 21, 2021 - Technology

Tech companies worry about becoming targets

Illustration of a target paper with a cursor on it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tech employees are on high alert about their own personal safety as their employers roll out policies to ban or limit the reach of far-right extremists angry over former President Donald Trump's defeat.

Why it matters: As tech companies impose aggressive policies after the Capitol riot, employees will be the target of vitriol from aggrieved people who think tech and the media are conspiring to silence Trump and conservatives more broadly.

What's happening: Facebook told its employees shortly after the Capitol riot not to wear company-branded gear or carry company-branded accessories, The Information reported.

  • On Tuesday, Facebook wrote in an internal post that it has not identified any credible threats targeting employees or work spaces but that employees should remain vigilant, a Facebook employee told Axios.
  • One employee at a major tech firm told Axios they were told to remove their name from a quote about a particular deplatforming decision for their own safety, and received threatening messages on LinkedIn about the change.
  • Some Twitter employees made their accounts private and hid their employer from their online profiles to avoid attention from Trump supporters, and several Twitter executives now have personal security, the New York Times reported.

Companies were reluctant to share details about the security measures they put in place.

Meanwhile: In pro-Trump online communities, vague threats about a reckoning coming for Big Tech companies are circulating widely, as they have been for some time.

  • If there are more specific plots to attack tech companies, they're being cooked up in more private channels.
  • Last week, Trump supporters' plans to mount a protest at Twitter's offices in San Francisco set some observers on edge, but the event was a bust (and Twitter employees are working from home due to the pandemic anyway).

Still, the concern over the possibility of an attack is very real. And there's precedent for tech employees being in put in danger as a result of company policy decisions.

Flashback: In 2018, a woman opened fire at YouTube's headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., wounding three people before fatally shooting herself.

  • Police believe the woman, Nasim Aghdam, was motivated by YouTube demonetizing and limiting the reach of her videos.

The big picture: Tech platforms have moved against the far right this month, worried over the risk of Trump and others inciting more violence following the Capitol attack.

  • They're also less concerned about GOP backlash to moderation decisions now that Republicans are out of power in the White House and both chambers of Congress.

What's next: As the Biden presidency kicks off and the public hears from Trump via other mediums, the vitriol against employees may subside, at least from public view.

  • Yes, but: We can't see what's going on in encrypted communications channels, where far-right groups and Trump supporters are increasingly moving after being kicked off mainstream channels.
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