Jun 8, 2020

Axios Login

Tonight on "Axios on HBO":

  • Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms opens up about the protests in a raw and heartfelt interview (clip).
  • Rep. Val Demings "would say yes" to being Joe Biden's running mate (clip).
  • Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church explains "holy rage" and calls out Trump's Bible "photo op."
  • Rep. James Clyburn tries to describe how he felt watching the video of George Floyd's killing.
  • Plus Columbia University professor Robert Fullilove unpacks the health effects of racism.

Watch at 11pm ET/PT on all HBO platforms.

Today's Login, meanwhile, is 1,271 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Founder's resignation puts spotlight on Reddit

Photo by Pedro Fiúza/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian's resignation Friday from the company's board served as a reminder that it's not just Twitter, Facebook and YouTube wrestling with how to regulate speech online, Axios' Sara Fischer and I report.

The big picture: Reddit is a granddaddy of social media, preserving the look and feel of a bygone era — as well as some of its anything-goes mentality. But just like other platforms, it now finds itself torn between giving wide latitude to all forms of speech and having a zero-tolerance policy for hate.  

Driving the news: In a video posted to Twitter, Ohanian said he resigned as a member of the Reddit board and asked the company to fill his seat with a black candidate, a request that CEO Steve Hoffman, in an open letter, said will be honored.

  • Ohanian will use profits from future gains on his Reddit stock to serve the black community — chiefly "to curb racial hate," he said — starting with a $1 million donation to Colin Kaepernick's Know Your Rights Camp.
"I am saying this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks, 'What did you do?' ... I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership to people in power right now."
— Ohanian, who is married to Serena Williams

Between the lines: Ohanian didn't explicitly raise any objections about how Reddit is run. But his resignation and push for more black representation in the boardroom align with longstanding calls for Reddit to take firmer action against white nationalists and other extremists on its platform.

That very concern spurred former Reddit president Ellen Pao to rip Huffman last week, ahead of Ohanian's resignation.

  • She said Huffman should have removed the Reddit channel for Donald Trump supporters, r/The_Donald, instead of "amplifying it and its hate, racism, and violence. So much of what is happening now lies at your feet," she tweeted.
  • Reddit "quarantined" the forum last year, following death threats that users were making against Oregon lawmakers. The quarantine meant r/The_Donald remained open, but posts on it couldn't make it to Reddit's front page, and only registered users could access it. It is now largely inactive.

In his open letter, Huffman said Reddit is exploring short- and long-term solutions to curbing hate on the platform, but he didn’t commit to any specific immediate action.

Yes, but: Ohanian, Pao and Huffman, despite their different perspectives, share what they frame as a commitment to making online platforms more inclusive and less tolerant of hate speech. But the path to doing so is a politically perilous one.

  • Just last month, Republican lawmakers threatened in a letter to Reddit that they might take action against the tech company for cracking down on r/The_Donald.

History lesson: Perhaps best known for its AMA ("ask me anything") interviews with celebrities, Reddit is one of the oldest discussion forums still popular on the internet.

  • It's home to more than 130,000 ongoing discussions, known as subreddits, ranging from controversial forums dealing with race and politics to more mundane topics, such as jokesscience and "showerthoughts."

Be smart: While Reddit's system of upvotes and downvotes suggest a measure of democracy, critics say the service’s design and culture have left it dominated by the white, male voices that formed its early user base and leadership, often discouraging diverse and emerging voices.

Go deeper: Axios' Dan Primack spoke with Ohanian about Reddit's future last year

2. Google CEO's advice to the class of 2020

A young Sundar Pichai, wearing a Stanford sweatshirt. Photo: Google

Google CEO Sundar Pichai got personal in his address Sunday to the class of 2020, sharing his own story of coming late to the PC revolution, while also encouraging this year's graduates to take on the problems they see in modern society.

Why it matters: Pichai, also CEO of Google parent company Alphabet, remains fairly unknown outside tech circles. And his earnestness and origin story could prove to be an asset as the company faces increased regulatory scrutiny.

Details: Pichai, who grew up in India, told graduates he was 10 when his family got its first telephone, his family's TV — when they finally got one — only had one channel, and he didn't have regular access to a computer until he came to America for graduate school.

And he pushed graduates to challenge the things they find wrong with the industry.

  • "There are probably things about technology that frustrate you and make you impatient," he said.
  • "Don't lose that impatience. It will create the next technology revolution and enable you to build things my generation could never dream of."

Pichai's talk was delivered Sunday on YouTube, but recorded before the killing of George Floyd.

The big picture: Pichai encouraged students to raise questions in other important areas, too. "You may be just as frustrated by my generation's approach to climate change, or education," he said. "Be impatient. It will create the progress the world needs."

3. Report calls to end outsourced content moderation

A new report from NYU finds that a heavy reliance on contractors to handle content moderation at Facebook, Google and YouTube has led to bad working conditions and a lack of attention to real-world harms caused by inflammatory or deceptive content.

Why it matters: A great deal of attention is paid to these platforms' content policies, but much of the actual moderation work is being left to people who don't even directly work for the companies.

What they're saying: "The widespread practice of relying on third-party vendors for content review amounts to an outsourcing of responsibility for the safety of major social media platforms and their billions of users," said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights and author of the report.

Details: In addition to bringing the moderation process in house, the report recommends that social media companies:

  • Double the number of content moderators.
  • Hire content moderation "czars."
  • Expand content moderation in countries where online-fueled violence is likely.
  • Provide better medical and mental health care to moderators.
  • Fund research into the health effects of content moderation on workers.

Go deeper: The Trauma Floor: The secret lives of Facebook moderators in America (The Verge)

4. Alexa education app startup branches out

An image from a promotional video for the Bamboo Luminaries trivia app. Screenshot: Axios (via YouTube)

Bamboo Learning, a startup led by a former Amazon executive that primarily delivers educational content to Alexa-enabled smart speakers, on Monday comes to Google's rival ecosystem for the first time.

The big picture: Smart speakers offer opportunities for new categories of applications, but it remains difficult to make money in the market, which helps explain the relative dearth of startups focused on the space.

Details: Bamboo is bringing to Google Assistant its Bamboo Luminaries app, a trivia game that covers both prominent and lesser-known influential historical figures from fields ranging from literature and science to sports, film and social justice.

  • Bamboo's other titles, which include math, music and books apps, remain Amazon-only for now. Most of Bamboo's apps and content remain free.
  • Ian Freed, who once led Amazon's Kindle business, is CEO of the six-person company.
  • "Our goal is to build a large audience," Freed said. "We've made steady progress on that," he added, declining to give any usage numbers.

The company did say it has seen a marked increase in usage this year, as kids were sent home from school during the pandemic. Giving kids a laptop and Zoom can work out for older students, but it's not an option for working parents with kids in the early grades.

  • "It's the elementary school kids left without anything to be able to do independently" that Bamboo aims to help, says Irina Fine, Bamboo's co-founder and a 30-year veteran of elementary education curriculum work.
  • Young children — even pre-readers — can run smart speaker apps without needing a parent around, Fine said.
5. Take Note

On Tap

  • MongoDB is holding its rescheduled — and now online — MongoDB Live conference Tuesday and Wednesday.

Trading Places

  • Former Microsoft and Qualcomm executive Tim McDonough has joined Intel as VP and GM of marketing for consumer and business PCs.


6. After you Login

In what could be a sign of the future, check out these delivery robots queued up outside a grocery store.