Jan 12, 2021

Axios Login

Join Axios' Dan Primack and Dion Rabouin tomorrow at 12:30pm ET for a virtual event on the pandemic's impact on minority-owned small businesses, featuring Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and World Central Kitchen founder José Andrés.

Today's Login is 1,598 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: The online far right is moving underground
Data: Apptopia; Chart: Axios Visuals

The online purge of far-right figures and platforms that followed last week's Capitol insurrection looks to be driving radicalized users into darker corners of the internet, Axios' Kyle Daly and Sara Fischer report.

What's happening: Downloads have surged for messaging apps that are securely encrypted or designed to cater specifically to the ultra-conservative user.

Why it matters: Monitoring and curbing chatter that can spark real-world violence is even harder on private and ephemeral platforms than in more public forums.

Driving the news: After Twitter and Facebook shut down Trump's accounts, many other services and providers pulled the plug on organizations and forums that supported or served as organizing centers for the Capitol attack.

  • The closing of far-right-friendly social network Parler after Apple, Google and Amazon withdrew service drove some users to look for alternatives that commit to not policing right-wing content.
  • More neutral communication platforms like chat app Telegram and encrypted messaging platform Signal are also seeing a major spike in downloads and usage.

Between the lines: Other factors also drove Telegram and Signal's numbers.

  • An Elon Musk tweet late last week urging "Use Signal" likely accounts for at least part of that platform's pop.
  • But experts say far-right users are undeniably flocking to those platforms, where they can in some cases communicate in total secrecy.

"It's absolutely concerning," said Dipayan Ghosh, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. "And it was only to be expected that extremists pushed off of the mainstream social media platforms would move to end-to-end encrypted messaging platforms."

Where it stands: According to Apptopia data provided to Axios (see the chart above), downloads have skyrocketed for apps including Rumble, the right's answer to YouTube; MeWe, something of a conservative Facebook; and CloutHub, which resembles a combination of Facebook and Twitter; as well as for Telegram and Signal.

  • And far-right Telegram channels are filling up. One notable QAnon group had 35,000 members by the morning of Jan. 11, said Marc-André Argentino, a researcher who studies QAnon and other extremist movements.

Be smart: Platforms dedicated to serving the far right pose tough challenges for those seeking to stem the tide of misinformation and violence-inciting rhetoric.

  • The firms behind them reject even the spotty commitment that mainstream platforms showed to combating harmful content.
  • Law enforcement was already ill prepared to respond to the rhetoric that circulated openly online ahead of the Capitol siege. A far more factionalized social media landscape would further hamper their efforts.

Yes, but: Mainstream messaging platforms like Signal and Telegram could be the bigger problem, for two key reasons:

1. They're more sophisticated compared with the bootstrap platforms that serve the far-right audience.

  • Gab, a right-wing social network, groaned under the increased traffic that followed Parler's disappearance and spent the following days mostly failing to load.
  • Parler users unwittingly exposed identifying data in content that they'd uploaded to the site and that was easily accessed and downloaded en masse before Parler went down.
  • Telegram and Signal are far more stable and secure and could prove more enduring homes and recruitment stations for far-right groups.

2. They can become radicalization pipelines, with groups pushing people to further extremes away from the public eye.

  • On Telegram, Argentino says, open channels serve as a recruiting ground for violent extremists to target new recruits, then shift to more private avenues.

What's next: Parler is already showing signs of life.

  • It switched its domain registration Monday to Epik, a provider that has in the past revived other digital havens of the far right, including Gab, 8kun and neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer.
2. Tech companies press pause on political donations

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech companies, along with large businesses throughout corporate America, rushed to announce Monday that they were halting political donations in the wake of the attack on the Capitol, Axios' Ashley Gold and I report.

The big picture: Some limited their pullback to officials who refused to accept the results of the presidential election, while others said they were taking a break from making any political contributions.

Catch up quick: Here's a partial list of companies that have announced moves.

  • Pausing all donations: Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce.
  • Halt focused on those who challenged elections: Airbnb, AT&T, Cisco, Comcast, Intel, Verizon.
  • Re-evaluating political donation policy: T-Mobile.
  • Hedging: Dish Network said it was "disappointed" that some members of Congress objected to the results of a free and fair election, but stopped short of announcing specific constraints on future donations.
  • Still silent: Oracle, Charter.
  • Of note: Apple and IBM don't have PACs or donate to political candidates and Twitter dissolved its PAC entirely in November.

Between the lines: The move comes as tech companies are under fire for having supported candidates whose challenges to the legitimacy of the November election arguably set the stage for the Capitol siege.

  • "This is the death knell of PACs for tech companies with activist employees," one tech industry source told Axios. "This is the final straw."

Yes, but: Some Democrats, including Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, have cried foul, saying the companies were "treating the guilty and the innocent" — Republicans who promoted the Capitol riot and Democrats who had nothing to do with it — the same.

Our thought bubble: Now is an easy time to pause donations, coming just after the November elections and January runoffs in Georgia. The companies have left themselves plenty of time to resume political contributions before the next major cycle.

3. What stood out on Day 1 of CES

A very unusual CES kicked off in a familiar way Monday, with the biggest names in consumer tech launching their latest wares and showing off some cutting-edge prototypes.

The big picture: The move online has taken some of the spotlight off CES, for sure, but hasn't stopped a flood of tech news. As usual, the challenge is spotting the genuinely important advances. Fortunately, that's what we're here for.

The big picture: There were lots of new laptops and fancy TVs, of course, as well as a variety of content partnerships and concept devices.

Here are three things that caught my eye:

  • Intel: It's no secret the chip giant has been struggling with a host of issues, from manufacturing problems to competition from AMD to losing the Mac business to Apple-designed chips. On Monday, though, the company attempted to respond to all of these with a series of new chip families, including its next-generation chip architecture that borrows from the ARM approach of mixing high-performance and energy-efficient cores.
  • Rollable smartphones: Both LG and China's TCL showed phone models with flexible screens that can roll into themselves — a potentially interesting way to pack a large screen into a smaller device. Of note, TCL said its device is not just a prototype — it's expected to be available later this year.
  • Drones: Sony entered the business with a model focused on high-end aerial photography that can carry one of Sony's Alpha cameras. Verizon, which owns drone management firm Skyward, detailed its partnership with UPS on drone package delivery assisted by cell networks — though when this moves beyond the test stage depends on FCC approval.

Go deeper: We've collected all the big news in one place, so you can stay caught up on all the CES action here.

4. Serving up new ways to watch football


While CBS was handling the main broadcast of Sunday's wild-card game between the Bears and the Saints, my eight-year-old son and I were watching the game on Nickelodeon's first-ever NFL broadcast.

Why it matters: The coming years will see all manner of technology applied to sports broadcasting, from novel camera angles to real-time statistical overlays to virtual reality. But, as always, the key is reaching new audiences, and the latest in technology isn't always the answer.

Between the lines: Media giants pay a fortune for sports rights so it pays to maximize their investment and help build the next-generation audience. ABC's Freeform also broadcast the Ravens-Titans game Sunday, featuring commentary (and baking tips) from Ravens fan and Ace of Cakes star Duff Goldman.

The big picture: Technology did play a role, as Nick used special effects to digitally fill the end zone with slime after touchdowns. But the real breakthrough was summoning Spongebob Squarepants and other familiar characters to make it more approachable.

My thought bubble: The gambit worked in my house, as Harvey was talking all week about the upcoming game.

Yes, but: All the gimmicks in the world can't change the fact that NFL games are long and kids' attention spans are short. By the end of the game, I was the only one watching.

5. Take note

On Tap

  • CES continues online, with keynotes from three of the most prominent female CEOs in the industry: GM's Mary Barra, AMD's Lisa Su and Best Buy's Corrie Barry.

Trading Places

  • Facebook hired noted civil rights attorney Roy Austin as VP of civil rights, a new position.
  • Ripple nabbed Amazon's Devraj Varadhan to serve as senior VP of engineering.
  • GoFundMe named former Airbnb and Ford marketing exec Musa Tariq as chief marketing officer.
  • The Internet Association named K. Dane Snowden, a former official at cable and wireless trade groups, as its new president.


6. After you Login

I couldn't decide between a sports video or a cute pet video for After you Login. Fortunately, my online friend Sassafras Lowrey delivered with this dog-learning-to-dunk video. (For more, check out Lowrey's books and YouTube channel.)