Jul 9, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Hi from DC. That was just 3 words. Here are 1,180 more (~4 min read.)

1 big thing: White House summit shows right's new tech divide

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The White House's Thursday "social media summit," gathering conservative critics of social media platforms, will highlight how Trump-era politics have split the right on tech issues, Axios' David McCabe reports.

Why it matters: As with trade, tech is an area where Trump's ascendancy has scrambled traditional power dynamics and policy positions. Free-market thinkers who drove the conservative side of the conversation for years have lost ground to social media personalities who are more open to government intervention against Big Tech — and have the ear of people in power.

Details: Invitations have gone out to a wide range of pro-Trump players for the Thursday meeting, which the president is expected to address. (Elements of the guest list were first reported by the Washington Post.)

  • Invitees range from the Media Research Center, which has drawn attention by claiming anti-conservative bias at platforms like YouTube and Facebook, to activists like Ryan Fournier, the chairman of Students for Trump, to social media stars like the pseudonymous "CarpeDonktum."
  • Facebook wasn't invited nor, reportedly, was Twitter.

Yes, but: Conservative charges of censorship have never been backed by more than anecdotal evidence. The president has praised Twitter in the past and still uses it heavily.

Flashback: For years, conversations about tech policy have been dominated by deregulatory rhetoric from free market experts and think tanks, and their positions have helped to shape a business climate that gave tech companies a free hand to grow massive and massively profitable.

The big picture: As Trump has transformed the Republican Party in his nationalist and pugnacious image, the tech policy debate on the right has followed.

  • Republicans have increasingly seized on the charges of anti-conservative censorship as a sign something must be done about Silicon Valley's giants.
  • That idea is taking root. Last month, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) released a proposal to strip large web platforms of their immunity against lawsuits for user-generated content if the Federal Trade Commission judges that their content moderation practices aren't politically neutral.

"The intellectual currents that are filling the void in the post-Trump era, it’s hard to see exactly which direction they’ll take, but it seems to not be going in a libertarian direction," said Zach Graves, the head of policy for Lincoln Network, who co-wrote a piece recently saying that tech companies should be willing to work with more than just libertarian conservatives.

  • He and his co-author said that tech companies "engage in a more robust dialogue with groups on the right they aren’t comfortable talking to, particularly those who have expressed grievances with them."
  • Berin Szoka, the president of the free-market group TechFreedom, tweeted in response to Graves' piece that "there's no one left in the 'conservative movement' to 'hold back the growing tide of anti-tech populism' because today's GOP is ENTIRELY about anti-elite populism and 'owning the libs.'"

The other side: More traditional conservative players are pushing back.

  • The Koch political network has been financing efforts to fight drastic regulation of tech companies, for example.

Our thought bubble: The real test of the right's new "regulate Big Tech" wing will come not in White House theatrics but in attempts to pass actual legislation. Doing that will require them to work with Democrats motivated by very different beefs with the tech platforms.

2. Group seeks ban on government use of facial recognition

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Digital rights group Fight for the Future is calling on Congress to ban government use of facial recognition. The announcement, made Tuesday, comes in the wake of weekend reports that federal authorities used facial recognition on millions of driver's license photos.

Fight for the Future says facial recognition is unlike any other form of surveillance because of its ability to monitor an entire population.

What they're saying: “Imagine if we could go back in time and prevent governments around the world from ever building nuclear or biological weapons. That’s the moment in history we’re in right now with facial recognition,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future. “This surveillance technology poses such a profound threat to the future of human society and basic liberty that its dangers far outweigh any potential benefits. We don’t need to regulate it, we need to ban it entirely.” 

Others, including Microsoft and Amazon, have called on the federal government to regulate, but not necessarily ban, use of the technology.

The bottom line: The status quo — with few, if any, guardrails and little transparency or accountability — isn't protecting anyone. But activists say industry-backed legislation won't go far enough, and the question should really be whether we want the technology used at all.

Our thought bubble: An all-out ban is unlikely, but the position makes for a strong opening salvo in the looming fight over regulating facial-recognition tech.

3. Facebook's war to win over creators

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook is stepping up its efforts to help creators monetize their content ahead of a big conference for video influencers, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

The big picture: It's doing so amid increased competition to win over the hearts of creators from other Big Tech companies, like YouTube and TikTok, as well as platforms that are designed specifically for creative business management, like Patreon.

Why it matters: Investment in creators helps fuel the businesses of major tech platforms that rely on their content to sell ads and keep users engaged.

Details: Facebook announced Tuesday that it's introducing a new set of tools to help creators make money off of their work, manage their businesses and engage their fans. 

Between the lines: Reports have suggested that Facebook has struggled to lure video creators amid increased competition from other video platforms, like YouTube, TikTok and Twitch.

  • Content creators told the Economic Times last week that "they do not see a strong monetary incentive in switching to Facebook since there is more user engagement for YouTube videos. The YouTube videos also offer better tools, features and improved ways of making money."

There's also the issue of Facebook taking a higher cut of fan-base subscription payments than Patreon and other competitors. 

  • Facebook reportedly wanted to take a 30% cut of revenue (minus fees), compared to 5% by Patreon, according to a report from TechCrunch. YouTube currently takes a 30% cut, including fees, and Twitch takes a 50% cut, per TechCrunch. 

Our thought bubble: Patreon's ability to cater to creators' needs across platforms has given it a business advantage over the individual platforms. Several smaller platforms, like Memberful and Podia, are also trying to compete for cross-platform creator opportunities. 

What's next? VidCon kicks off Wednesday in Anaheim, California. The conference, which was acquired by Viacom in 2017, pulled in over 75,000 fans and attendees last year. 

Go deeper: Sara has more here

4. Scam callers' changing tactics

Three-quarters of recent scam victims surveyed by call verification firm First Orion said that the scam caller already had some of their personal information, adding weight to their fraudulent pitch.

  • Nearly one-third of those surveyed said the scammer appeared to be representing a familiar business.

Why it matters: The scammers are getting smarter, meaning consumers and businesses need to be increasingly alert, too.

5. Take note

On tap

Trading places

  • Group Nine Media's Thrillist named former VICE executive Meghan Kirsch as chief content officer.
  • Ride-sharing app Via is adding movie industry trade group head (and former U.S. diplomat) Charles Rivkin to its board of directors.


6. After you Login

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Ina Fried