June 30, 2020
In addition to the event Dan Primack and I are hosting today on inequalities in venture capital, Axios will be hosting a live, virtual event on how the coronavirus outbreak has upended small businesses. Join Axios co-founder Mike Allen and cities correspondent Kim Hart Wednesday, July 1, at 12:30pm ET for a discussion featuring Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Madison Black Chamber of Commerce president Camille Carter, and Timber Hill Winery owner and winemaker Amanda Stefl.
- Register here.
Today's Login is 1,479 words, a 6-minute read.
1 big thing: Tech finally begins to crack down on Trump
Social media giants are no longer giving President Trump, his supporters and the alt-right a free pass for inflammatory or misleading speech online.
Why it matters: For years, Trump and far-right extremists have relied on the loose content policies of tech platforms to reach millions of Americans unfiltered. Ahead of the 2020 election, social media may be turning down the volume on Trump's online megaphone.
Driving the news: As of Monday, nearly every major social media platform has taken action against Trump or far-right channels that support him.
- Reddit Monday said it would take action against users and groups that violated its hate speech rules, banning a number of forums including the controversial subreddit channel r/The_Donald, one of the company’s largest political communities and a longstanding hub of support for Trump (albeit much diminished since being quarantined last year).
- Twitch, the live-streaming platform owned by Amazon, around the same time announced that it had temporarily banned Trump's channel for hateful content.
- YouTube later Monday said it had banned several prominent white supremacist channels, including those belonging to Stefan Molyneux, David Duke, and Richard Spencer, per The Verge.
Catch up quick: Efforts to clamp down on Trump's social media content began in late May in the wake of George Floyd's death and the ensuing protests. Those events pushed Big Tech companies to start taking action against posts and ads from Trump that they felt violated their hate speech policies.
- Twitter was the first to take action when it fact-checked a pair of Trump's tweets, and then added warning label to Trump tweets that it thought incited violence.
- Snapchat a week later said it would no longer promote Trump in its content arm, Discover.
- Facebook, which has been heavily criticized for not taking enough action against the president's posts, eventually removed some Trump campaign ads in mid June for using Nazi symbolism. It said Friday it will begin labeling posts that break its rules but are deemed otherwise newsworthy.
The big picture: Trump and his Republican allies in Congress have for years alleged that social media companies are attempting to censor Republican voices ahead of the election with these actions.
- After initially being fact-checked by Twitter, the president signed a toothless executive order targeting protections for social media platforms.
- He and Republican allies are now encouraging supporters to join an alternative social networking app called Parler.
- The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Trump campaign was searching for alternatives to big social platforms. Axios reported in February that the campaign was looking to diversify its ad spend away from Facebook.
Yes, but: Historically, efforts by Republicans to rally a big enough base on alternative right-wing platforms have fallen flat. New networks like thedonald.win, Gab, and 8kun never really took off among the Republican masses, forcing the president and other conservatives to remain on traditional tech platforms.
Be smart: Social media crackdowns may only burnish the perception among Trump's supporters that he's a victim of the establishment.
- "He has a steady base and they may see these moves as a rallying cry for him," says Andrea Hickerson, the associate dean of the College of Information and Communication at the University of South Carolina. "Arguably it reinforces the belief that Trump is unfairly marginalized by 'the media' — which used to be legacy media but has grown to encompass social media."
What's next: The actions Monday are already being met with calls of censorship on the right.
- "R/The_Donald played an outsized role in helping Trump win in the 2016 election. With 2020 fast approaching, they just can’t help themselves," said Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind, said in a statement to Axios.
2. Reddit's ban on Trump forum marks end of an internet dream
The saga that led to Reddit shutting down r/The_Donald puts a final nail in the coffin of one particular dream of internet idealists: the idea that online discussion spaces could, and should, serve as a universal meeting ground, Axios' Scott Rosenberg writes.
Why it matters: There's a dwindling number of environments where Americans across the Trump era's great political divide speak or listen to each other. For all its early promise of free and open discussion, social media is proving just as fractured as any other forum.
Flashback: In the social media era, Reddit, started in 2005, has become a bastion of old-school online conversation, with all the advantages of that format, including openness, variety and spontaneity, along with the disadvantages — vapidity, flaming and trolling.
- Like its predecessors in the long tradition of online forums, Reddit assumed that if everyone could join the conversation, everyone would benefit. But also like those predecessors, it had some rules setting the outer legal and moral limits of expression.
Long before Donald Trump entered politics, this model had proven problematic: Reddit, like every previous experiment in open online forums, found that its environment often worked against the voices of women, LGTBQ users, minority group members and anyone else who didn't fit a white-male baseline.
Reddit's structure, in which groups of users are free to form smaller "subreddit" communities with their own cultures and quirks, aimed to build a big tent with room enough for groups that might not get along.
- But it also left space for hate, discrimination and nastiness to flourish — and even cordoned off in a subreddit, that behavior offended and outraged others on and off Reddit.
The divisions of the Trump era kicked these dynamics into overdrive.
- Reddit just wanted everyone to get along. But many users on r/The_Donald — which flourished during Trump's 2016 campaign and early presidency with hundreds of thousands of users incubating memes, conspiracy theories, and racist tropes — wanted to push the service's rules to the limit and beyond.
Reddit acted slowly against the forum — too slowly, according to critics. But last June it "quarantined" r/The_Donald, removing its posts from the site's home page listings and search results and requiring users who wanted to see posts to click through an opt-in screen.
- With little sign of change among the users, and a sea-change in U.S. attitudes on race following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Reddit finally closed down r/The_Donald altogether.
Our thought bubble: Commercial platforms never provide absolute free speech since they have legal obligations to prohibit certain kinds of content, including copyright violations and abusive images of children, and content rules that to a greater or lesser degree bar some speech, including in many cases harassment and hate speech.
- Decisions to enforce these rules ultimately shape who feels welcome, who participates, and who leaves.
The bottom line: Like everything else in the U.S., online conversation will continue to split into left and right echo chambers.
- Facebook and Twitter hope that they can continue to serve users across that divide.
- But the pressures of the moment mean that Trump and his supporters will keep testing the platforms' limits, while Trump's enemies will cry foul and launch boycotts.
- Neither platform is likely to make both groups happy. Along with everyone else, they will have to pick sides.
3. India bans 59 Chinese-owned apps, including TikTok
Citing national security and privacy concerns., the Indian government announced Monday it would ban 59 apps developed by Chinese firms, Axios' Marisa Fernandez reports.
Why it matters: The applications blocked include ByteDance’s TikTok, a massively popular short-form video app that has come under scrutiny in the U.S. and elsewhere amid growing concerns about technological threats from China. India is TikTok's largest market, according to TechCrunch.
- The ban also affects messaging app WeChat and community and video call apps from Xiaomi — India's top smartphone vendor.
- Read the full list of blocked apps.
The big picture: The decision comes amid heightened tensions between the two Asian giants, after 20 Indian army troops were killed in a violent clash with Chinese forces in a disputed border region high in the Himalayas.
4. Niantic partners with immersive theater firm, nears beta for Catan
Pokémon Go creator Niantic is partnering with immersive theater firm Punchdrunk, the team behind Sleep No More. Meanwhile, the company says it is nearing beta testing for its next release, an augmented reality adventure based on the board game Settlers of Catan.
Why it matters: Niantic has been making lots of acquisitions and content deals in the AR space as it aims to create a playable map of the world that can be used by a range of games and other apps.
5. Take Note
- New America is hosting an event entitled "Will 2020 Change American Tech?" featuring LinkedIn founder and current Greylock partner Reid Hoffman, in conversation with New America CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter.
- Sophia Dominguez is joining Snap as head of camera platform partnerships.
- Hootsuite named former Zendesk COO Tom Keiser as its new chief executive with founder and CEO Ryan Holmes remaining chairman.
- Opendoor has hired Mark Kinsella as VP of engineering. Kinsella was previously head of driver engineering at Lyft.
- Microsoft hasn't advertised on Facebook or Instagram in the U.S. since May and recently paused advertising globally, according to an internal post seen by Axios.
- Lululemon is buying fitness startup Mirror for half a billion dollars. (Axios)
- Uber has made an offer to acquire Postmates, as consolidation pressure continues in the delivery space. (New York Times)
- The New York Times is pulling out of Apple News, saying the partnership with Apple wasn’t driving readers to the Times’ own site. (New York Times)
- Amazon has launched a “Watch Party” feature to let up to 100 Prime Video users stream video together. (TechCrunch)
- Facebook is changing its News Feed algorithm to prioritize original reporting, Axios’ Sara Fischer exclusively reports. (Axios)
6. After you Login
Nature is healing. And, by healing, we mean fighting over who will take over now that the humans have retreated.