Jan 28, 2021

Axios Login

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Today's Login is 1,288 words, a 5-minute read.

Situational awareness: Facebook's independent oversight board this morning announced its first slate of binding decisions on moderation calls by the social network, overturning four out of five content takedowns.

1 big thing: Tech platforms pull back from politics

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Big Tech firms, once hellbent on protecting political discourse as a core tenet of free speech, are now trying to pull back from politics, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Driving the news: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday said the company will stop providing recommendations for users to join civic and political groups on a long-term basis.

  • Facebook also plans to take steps to reduce the amount of political content in the News Feed, Zuckerberg said, although he didn't provide details about how it plans to do so.
  • "There has been a trend across society that a lot of things have become politicized and politics have had a way of creeping into everything. A lot of the feedback we see from our community is that people don't want that in their experience," he said.

Even the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, the philanthropic organization run by Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, appears to be shrinking back from politics.

Be smart: In the long lead-up and then explosive aftermath of a volatile U.S. election, it has slowly dawned on platforms that political speech may be too tough for them to adequately police without themselves getting whacked politically.

  • Ads: Twitter, TikTok and others have all banned political ads from on the platform, while Facebook and Google have started to implement political ads limits around elections and sensitive events.
  • Speech: Nearly every major Silicon Valley firm has either banned or restricted former President Donald Trump and some of his allies for hate speech or inciting violence.
  • Hyper-partisan news: Companies like Facebook and Google have tried to boost original reporting and quality news in an effort to steer eyeballs away from hyper-partisan outlets during breaking news events.
  • PAC contributions: Following the Capitol siege earlier this month, most major tech firms said they would freeze political spending in an effort to avoid inadvertently funding members of Congress that voted not to certify the 2020 U.S. election results.

Between the lines: While many of these changes are meant to address regulatory pressure, they also address user demands to make their apps more friendly and less divisive.

  • A Pew Research Center survey in August found that 55% of U.S. social media users say they are "worn out" by political posts and discussions.
  • A vast majority of users (70%) say it's "stressful and frustrating" to talk about politics on social media with people they disagree with, up from 59% in 2016.

Yes, but: Stepping away from politics is easier said than done.

2. Big Tech at war over privacy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The world's biggest tech firms are at each other's throats over how to manage data privacy, an issue that will shape the internet economy for years to come, Sara reports.

Why it matters: Absent any U.S. government intervention, tech companies are introducing rules that favor their own ideals and business models, sometimes at their peers' expense.

Driving the news: In conjunction with today being Data Privacy Day, Apple is unveiling a new campaign called "A Day in the Life of Your Data," which features a report illustrating how companies track user data across websites and apps. 

  • Apple also recently introduced changes to give users the chance to opt out of being tracked by other companies that sell ads online. And CEO Tim Cook is speaking at a European data privacy conference later this morning.
  • Facebook has waged a very public battle against Apple's privacy changes, which include putting privacy labels on apps in the App Store. Facebook says the move will harm small businesses, and likely its own bottom line. On Wednesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors, "Apple may say they're doing this to help people but the moves clearly track with their competitive interests."
  • Google on Wednesday joined the fight, for the first time publicly warning its advertising partners that focus on app-installs that they "may see a significant impact to their Google ad revenue on iOS after Apple's ... policies take effect."

The big picture: For years, tech giants lobbied against having any federal privacy rules at all.

  • But when a few states, particularly California, began rolling out their own laws, tech giants quickly realized that a single, less stringent, national privacy law would be better, and started to band together around it.
  • Once it became clear that a national law was still far off, tech giants began to address user privacy concerns on their own. This has caused tension between players that rely on ad revenue (Google and Facebook) and those that don't (Apple).
3. Scoop: Verified tweeters break misinfo record

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Verified accounts on Twitter shared more content from deceptive websites than ever in 2020, according to new research from the German Marshall Fund shared exclusively with Axios' Ashley Gold.

Why it matters: Verified accounts are supposed to help social media users seek out trustworthy information and know who they're hearing from. If verified users constantly share false information, it defeats the purpose and reinforces false narratives.

On Facebook, interactions with deceptive content also at an all-time high. GMF measured overall interactions on that platform, not just from verified accounts.

  • GMF defines "deceptive content" as false or manipulative according to NewsGuard, a service that ranks websites on their reliability.

Between the lines: The findings underscore the uncomfortable reality that certain conservative media outlets tend to be among the most unapologetic purveyors of false or misleading information, with Daily Wire, Newsmax, The Federalist and Gateway Pundit all ranking as deceptive sites.

By the numbers:

  • In Q4 2020, GMF measured 1.2 billion interactions with deceptive sites on Facebook. In Q4 2019, that number was 941 million.
  • In Q4 2020, GMF measured verified accounts sharing (tweeting or retweeting) material from deceptive sites on Twitter 47 million times, up from 28 million in the prior-year period.

What's happening: False information about the election outcome and COVID-19 mostly drove the increase in shares of deceptive information, the research shows.

  • Overall, engagement with deceptive sites is more than 2x higher than before the 2016 presidential election, though GMF credits Facebook for limiting spread of deceptive content to a certain extent by boosting more reliable information after the election.
4. The numbers behind Apple's big earnings numbers

Apple topped $100 billion in revenue last quarter and turned in record per-share earnings, but two other data points could indicate that Apple stands to gain further in the near term.

What's happening: Apple said it expects its year-over-year revenue growth to accelerate in the current quarter, and it shared just how many Apple devices are now in active use — 1.65 billion, including more than 1 billion iPhones.

Why it matters: Apple is in the middle of a major pivot to services, betting big on everything from fitness to music to cloud storage to TV to bundles. Having a huge install base gives Apple a major launchpad for selling such add-ons.

The big picture: Apple also saw strong growth around the world, setting records in each of its geographic regions.

  • Growth in China was especially noteworthy, as Apple is benefiting from the fact that 5G networks are more fully lit up there. That gives existing iPhone owners a reason to upgrade, as only the latest iPhone 12 line supports 5G.
5. Take note

On Tap

  • It's Data Privacy Day (see above).

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6. After you Login

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