Aug 10, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

It's been a blast writing this newsletter for the past week, but tomorrow my fun ends and Ina will be back at the Login wheel — after what I hear was an epic week of Lego projects.

Join Axios Navigate author Joann Muller Tuesday at 12:30pm ET for a conversation on the future of autonomous vehicles with Mothers Against Drunk Driving national president Helen Witty, Los Angeles Department of Transportation general manager Seleta Reynolds, and American University department of public administration and policy professorial lecturer Selika Josiah Talbott.

Today's Login is 1,507 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech's reluctant road to taking on Trump

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests and a looming election have brought long-simmering conflicts between tech platforms and President Trump to a boil, as Facebook, Twitter and other services start to take presidential misinformation seriously.

What's happening: Wary of becoming arbiters of political speech, tech's platforms have carved out a range of exceptions and immunities for Trump and other political leaders — but that accommodation is coming undone, Axios' Sara Fischer and I report.

The big picture: Trump has leveraged the vast reach of social media for years to promote his messages, stir up his followers, and often misinform the public. His Twitter account is his megaphone, and Facebook and YouTube are at the heart of his digital advertising strategy.

Driving the news: Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have now drawn red lines around certain kinds of information — in particular, deceptive messages about voting and inaccurate statements about COVID-19 — and started enforcing them, sometimes even against Trump.

  • Facebook and YouTube removed a video post from Trump's campaign last Wednesday in which he falsely told Fox News that children are "almost immune" to COVID-19.
  • Twitter took action against the same Trump video post later on Wednesday evening. It suspended the president's campaign account, which had posted the video, until the campaign took it down.
  • It's the first time either platform had taken steps to fully remove a post shared by the president.

Yes, but: So far the action hasn't prompted a response from Trump — perhaps because the post originated from his campaign account rather than his personal handle, which retweeted it.

Timeline: Here's how the tech platforms arrived at this moment.

  • March 5: Facebook said it was taking down campaign ads from Trump that encouraged people to "take the Official 2020 Congressional District Census today." Census misinformation is one "red line" for the social network.
  • May 29: Twitter added a warning label to a Trump tweet that advocated shooting looters during racial justice protests, which violated Twitter's rules against promoting violence.
  • June 3: In response to that same tweet, Snapchat said it would no longer promote President Trump's account on its "Discover" page of curated content.
  • June 18: Facebook took down an ad from the Trump campaign that criticized antifa and leftist groups alongside an inverted red triangle in a black outline, a symbol the Nazis used for political dissenters.
  • June 29: Reddit banned its controversial subreddit channel r/The_Donald, a longstanding hub of support for President Trump.
  • June 29: Twitch issued a temporary suspension of Trump’s channel "for comments made on stream."
  • Aug. 5: Facebook, YouTube and Twitter removed the video where Trump claims kids are “almost immune” to COVID-19. Twitter suspended the Trump campaign account until the post was removed.

Be smart: The new willingness to challenge the president is coming only as Trump's presidency is weakened by a deadly pandemic and an economic meltdown.

Between the lines: Critics say Facebook, fearful of bias charges, bends over backwards to protect conservatives.

  • New evidence supporting that case emerged Friday with reports on BuzzFeed and NBC suggesting that conservative media outlets and activists used a fast track to reverse adverse content moderation decisions.

What's new: CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been outspoken in his opposition to COVID-related misinformation. In breaking Facebook's rules on that front, Trump and his campaign seem to have finally triggered some reaction.

  • In an earnings call last week, Zuckerberg criticized the federal response to the pandemic and added there is "no end in sight" to working from home for employees.
  • Zuckerberg also hosted a Facebook Live event last month with NIAID director Anthony Fauci, the disease expert whose relationship with Trump has been rocky.
2. Report: TikTok complications spiral

The debris is still settling from President Trump's executive orders Thursday placing bans on two Chinese-owned apps, TikTok and WeChat.

What's happening: The situation with TikTok promises to only get messier, with weekend reports suggesting the CIA has no evidence supporting the security justification for the ban; TikTok is readying a lawsuit; and another Big Tech firm may try to outbid Microsoft in the race to find a U.S. acquirer for TikTok and forestall the ban.

Assessing TikTok's China threat:

  • CIA analysts tasked with gauging the security threat posed by TikTok, which is the ostensible rationale for Trump's ban, concluded that the video-sharing service poses only a potential problem, according to a New York Times report.
  • China might be able to use TikTok to intercept U.S. users' data, but there's no evidence it has actually done so.

TikTok strikes back:

  • The viral video-sharing platform plans to sue the Trump administration over its order as soon as Tuesday, according a story from NPR.
  • The suit will charge that the president's order is unconstitutional because the company had no chance to respond and argue the national security rationale is baseless (see above).

Twitter as a dark horse TikTok acquirer:

  • Microsoft has the inside track as TikTok seeks an American savior to acquire it within the 45 days mandated by Trump's orders. But the Wall Street Journal says Twitter has been involved in the talks, too.
  • A Twitter deal might raise fewer antitrust concerns than one with Microsoft. But Twitter lacks Microsoft's deep pockets, and would probably need other financial partners.
3. DuckDuckGo study pushes search default choice

Google could lose 20% of the mobile search market that it dominates if more users had the option to choose their default search provider via a preference menu, privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo argues in new research shared exclusively with Axios, Ashley Gold reports.

The big picture: DuckDuckGo has met with Justice Department regulators about requiring Google to create a preference menu so Android users can easily switch to a different search provider. This study fleshes out that idea and gives DuckDuckGo ammunition it can give authorities investigating Google for anticompetitive practices in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia.

Context: The Justice Department and states are reportedly preparing to bring antitrust cases against Google this year.

  • Google developed the Android operating system, which is used by roughly 80% of the global mobile market, and Google's search tools are built into Android in a variety of ways.

How it works: DuckDuckGo conducted user testing of 12,000 people in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, where Google market share in mobile search is 95%, 98% and 98% respectively.

  • A preference menu could reduce those market shares by 20%, 22% and 16% respectively, the testing found.
  • EU Android users gained access to a similar menu earlier this year after EU authorities fined Google $5 billion over competition concerns involving Android.

What they're saying: "Our pitch for it is that it could be better than other things discussed [as potential remedies]," Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DuckDuckGo, told Axios. "It's very simple, its implementation is not very complicated, it can be done quickly, and move market share now."

The other side: "Our focus is firmly on providing free services that help people every day, lower costs for small businesses, and enable increased choice and competition," a Google spokesperson told Axios.

4. The silver linings of online school

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Online learning can be frustrating for students, teachers and parents, but some methods are working, Axios' Erica Pandey reports.

The big picture: Just as companies are using this era of telework to try new things, some principals, teachers and education startups are treating remote learning as a period of experimentation, too.

1. Teachers are taking advantage of the deconstructed school day's flexibility.

  • Jori Krulder, a high school teacher in Paradise, California, found time to do regular one-on-one conferencing with her students because of the looser schedule in the spring.
  • Other teachers are recording lessons for students to watch on their own time and using their video calls with kids solely for personalized instruction.

2. The forced switch to remote learning is shaking up teaching and learning for the first time in decades.

  • "Now that we don’t have a captive audience in front of us, engagement — or lack thereof — becomes a lot more obvious," says Krulder. "Kids can easily multitask or not show up."
  • That's prompting teachers to think outside of the traditional lecture method. "We've already been doing that, but I think this'll just accelerate it," she says.
  • This stint of remote learning could also prepare students better for the future of work.

3. Pandemic-era remote learning has also spurred innovation and made way for new types of companies.

  • SitterStream, a Boston-based startup that launched at the beginning of the pandemic, is an Uber for child care. It offers on-demand virtual babysitting and tutoring to kids, both individually and in small pods.
  • Transportant, a Kansas startup, has been working with school districts to try to solve some of remote learning's inequities. The company, which outfits buses with WiFi, had to pivot when the pandemic halted travel. It started working with school districts to turn its buses into rolling WiFi hotspots that service students without access to the internet.
5. Take note

On Tap

  • IAC announces earnings after the markets close.

Trading Places

  • Casey Aden-Wansbury is joining Instacart as VP of policy and government affairs. She previously worked at Airbnb.


6. After you Login

Move over, bird of paradise; there's a new challenger for the title of the internet's greatest avian dancer.

Ina Fried