Jan 7, 2021

Axios Login

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1 big thing: Facebook and Twitter belatedly muzzle Trump

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Facebook and Twitter both took their strongest actions yet to block President Trump after his messages egged on misinformation-fueled mobs storming the Capitol Wednesday.

Yes, but: Many critics say the social media companies bear some responsibility for the day's chaos for not reining in Trump sooner and harder — and the brief suspensions fell short of calls for the networks to permanently ban Trump's account for repeated rule violations, Axios' Sara Fischer and I report.

Driving the news:

  • Trump's comments praising the crowd and repeating false claims the election was stolen initially received labels from Twitter and Facebook for containing disputed information about election fraud. But by midday executives at both social media companies were discussing stronger actions.
  • In the end, Twitter removed three posts from the president, including a video in which he urged rioters to "go home" but also told them, "We love you, you're special" and once more falsely claimed he'd won the election in "a landslide." Twitter also locked Trump's account until the offending tweets were permanently removed and banned him from posting for 12 hours.

I'm told the decision was made using Twitter's standard decision-making process, which is headed by Vijaya Gadde, the company's Legal, Policy and Trust & Safety lead.

  • Facebook and YouTube also took down the video, with Facebook also banning Trump from posting for 24 hours.
  • Snapchat has also locked Trump's account.

What to watch: Trump will likely get the keys to his Twitter account back this morning. A Twitter spokesperson said the president deleted the offending tweets, which had been the condition for his lockout ending.

Between the lines: Facebook and Twitter's actions belatedly silenced Trump, as social media remains his preferred method of communication. Indeed, his only public response to Wednesday's events were the posts he made on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — each of which reached a wide audience before they were removed.

Yes, but: The services' many critics saw the moves as "too little, too late," and outside groups as well as people inside the companies pressed more strongly than ever for a complete ban.

At Facebook, employees railed on the company's internal network about the company's lack of action.

  • After 4 pm PT, Mark Zuckerberg, in an internal message, said Facebook was "treating this situation as an emergency" and implementing additional measures to keep people safe.
  • Roughly an hour later, the company announced its 24-hour ban on Trump. But that didn't quell the dissent.
  • "I don't think anything would meet employee expectations short of a permanent account deletion," one Facebook employee told me.

What they're saying: A complete ban on Trump is what many outside the company were seeking as well.

  • Former Facebook security executive Alex Stamos: "There have been good arguments for private companies to not silence elected officials, but all those arguments are predicated on the protection of constitutional governance. Twitter and Facebook have to cut him off."
  • Color Of Change president Rashad Robinson: "Enough is enough. It's time for Facebook and Twitter to kick Trump off their platforms," tweeted.
  • Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt: "Social media companies should suspend his accounts ASAP as they would do for anyone else advocating disinformation and promoting violence. It's time."

The big picture: Increased echoes of online conspiracies by the president, prominent Republican officials and right-wing media in recent weeks helped fuel calls for violence and protest leading to Wednesday's historic events, misinformation experts tell Axios.

  • Facebook on Tuesday finally took down the Red State Secession group, one of the places where people were actively planning Wednesday's actions.

What's next: The anger within Facebook is real, and is likely to show itself at a companywide meeting Thursday. One Facebook employee told me the internal mood has curdled to the point where surprising numbers inside the company are rooting for a severe regulatory backlash — or even a breakup.

2. The Capitol siege's QAnon roots

Trump supporters outside the Senate chamber. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Wednesday's assault on the U.S. Capitol was an appalling shock to most Americans, but to far-right true believers it was the culmination of a long-unfolding epic, Axios' Kyle Daly reports.

The big picture: A growing segment of the American far right, radicalized via social media and private online groups, views anyone who bucks President Trump's will as evil. That includes Democrats, the media, celebrities, judges and officeholders — even conservatives, should they cross the president.

Catch up quick: A great many Trump supporters spent recent weeks on heavily pro-Trump platforms like TheDonald.win and Parler openly discussing coming to Washington on Jan. 6 to launch an attack on the government.

  • Users on more mainstream platforms talked up plans to come to Washington on Jan. 6 to simply protest the certification of Joe Biden's electoral victory. Trump egged them on, repeatedly calling on supporters to swarm Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6.

Between the lines: Adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory, who imagine a vast deep-state cabal of pedophiles arrayed against Trump, have for years insisted that a moment of reckoning for their enemies is imminent.

  • But time is running out. Because Congress was slated to officially certify Biden's victory on Jan. 6, the day became the focal point of a new conspiracy theory — that Trump would, on that date, reveal mountains of evidence of electoral fraud, somehow invalidate Biden's win, and secure a second term.

The catch: That evidence does not exist. Instead, Trump Wednesday addressed the followers who came to Washington by reeling off a familiar list of grievances.

  • Determined to play their part in the foreordained events of Jan. 6, the mob descended on the Capitol.

Of note: The group swarming the Capitol complex included familiar faces from the far-right web, among them Tim "Baked Alaska" Gionet; ex-YouTuber Nick Fuentes; livestreamer Dylan "Angry Viking" Stevens; and Jake Angeli, a fixture at some pro-Trump rallies who calls himself the "Q Shaman."

The bottom line: The pro-Trump internet willed into being a siege on the Capitol that successfully delayed the certification of Biden's victory.

  • The images and video of Wednesday's events are sure to live on in online far-right mythology as symbols of victory — and recruitment tools.
3. Ga. results sweep away tech's regulatory logjam

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Georgia's election results handing Senate control to Democrats mean the incoming Biden administration can fill key seats at the agencies that regulate tech, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill and Ashley Gold report.

Why it matters: That will give Democrats a chance to turn tech policy talk into action and advance legislation on issues like privacy and competition.

At the agencies: Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai is leaving Jan. 20, and Federal Trade Commission chairman Joe Simons is widely expected to step down. Without new incoming chairs, both agencies — which oversee tech and telecom issues — would face deadlock. Democratic control of the Senate eliminates that scenario.

  • Democrats will take the reins as the FTC litigates its antitrust case against Facebook and launches a wide-ranging review of social media and streaming company data collection practices.
  • At the FCC, a Democratic majority will be able to pass new net neutrality rules and reform subsidy programs aimed at closing the digital divide.

Yes, but: It will likely take months before there are Democratic majorities at each agency.

On the Hill: The change in party control of the Senate also improves the prospects for advancing tech-related legislation on antitrust reform, privacy and changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online platforms from liability for user-contributed content.

Section 230:

  • While both parties have mulled changes to Section 230, Republicans' complaints about anti-conservative bias by social media companies have led many of them to embrace a full repeal of the law, while Democrats have largely pushed less sweeping revisions.
  • "I think the possibilities for meaningful but non-crazy reforms to Section 230 are possible now that Democrats are in charge," Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz told Axios.

Antitrust:

  • There already is some bipartisan agreement in the House on some changes to antitrust law, spearheaded by a House Judiciary Committee investigation.
  • "We've been running through brick walls and now there are holes there," one Democratic aide said of the push for antitrust legislation. "I would assume we'll go as big as possible."

Privacy legislation:

  • Democratic control of Congress means there might be new ways to move beyond the two sticking points that have so far stymied efforts toward a federal privacy law — allowing individuals to sue over privacy violations, and preempting state rules.

Our thought bubble: This will be a "put up or shut up" moment for Democrats, no longer blocked by a Republican majority, to decide what tech policies they want to push to the finish line.

4. Take note

On Tap

  • This is a trick question, right?

Trading Places

  • Longtime chip executive Jim Keller, who has done stints at Apple, AMD, Intel and Tesla, among other companies, has been named CTO of chip startup Tenstorrent.

ICYMI

  • Dina Bass has a must-read oral history of the original Xbox, how it came to be — and almost didn't. (Bloomberg)
  • Apple customers spent $1.8 billion on digital goods and services in the App Store during the week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, and then spent a new single-day record $540 million on New Year's Day. (Apple)
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