Oct 24, 2019

Axios Login

Good morning. We're still recovering from an Axios staff retreat and six hours of Zuckerberg testimony before Congress. Hope your week is less crazy.

Situational awareness: Twitter stock took a hit this morning as the company's earnings disappointed investors, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,505 words, < 6 minutes.

1 big thing: Mr. Zuckerberg goes to Washington, the sequel

Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

More than 50 members of Congress barraged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg from all directions at a 6-hour House Financial Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, Axios' Scott Rosenberg writes.

  • Its ostensible topic was Facebook's cryptocurrency project, Libra, but it ranged far afield.
  • The questions covered Facebook's handling of discrimination, civil rights and its lack of diversity; its role in elections; plus, free speech and content moderation, monopolistic behavior, anonymity, terrorism, child sexual abuse and more.

Why it matters: At the moment that Facebook is broadening its ambitions with Libra and aiming to revamp the global financial system singlehandedly, lawmakers from both parties are determined to hold the tech giant responsible for an ever-wider portfolio of troubles.

The big picture: A year and a half after Zuckerberg first testified before Congress amid the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Chairwoman Maxine Waters welcomed the CEO with an onslaught of criticism and made it clear that for many at the Capitol, distrust of Facebook has only hardened since then.

Details: Facebook is now positioning Libra as a processing platform for online payments, rather than as a substitute currency.

  • Zuckerberg pledged that Facebook would not launch the project anywhere in the world until it passed muster with U.S. regulators.
  • If the independent Libra Association tried to move forward with Libra before it got the OK from U.S. authorities, he said Facebook would drop out of the project.

What they said about Libra:

  • Zuckerberg argued Libra would bring disadvantaged people into the financial system and help keep the U.S. in the forefront of the finance industry by updating its "crufty" system.
  • Republicans worried a successful Libra could undercut the dollar's role as the world's reserve currency and asked how Libra could help the U.S. avoid falling behind China as cryptocurrencies and blockchain tech evolve.
  • Democrats charged that Zuckerberg's aim of helping the "unbanked" was a disingenuous cover for a power play.

What Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked about lying in political ads:

  • AOC: "Could I target ads against Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal?"
  • Zuckerberg: "I don't know the answer to that off the top of my head. I think, probably."
  • AOC: "Do you see a potential problem here with a complete lack of fact-checking on political advertisements?"
  • Zuckerberg: "I think lying is bad, and if you ran an ad with a lie, that would be bad." He added that in a democracy, Facebook should allow the public to judge for itself what politicians say.

Of note: AOC was not the only one — multiple representatives asked a version of, "Is Facebook really serious about letting politicians lie in ads?"

  • The answer: Yes.
Bonus: Other questions Zuckerberg answered

Zuckerberg's grilling covered a lot of bases. Here's more from Wednesday's hearing...

Republican Rep. Ann Wagner asked whether Facebook's plans to encrypt most of its service would make it harder to find and root out the millions of images of child sex abuse on the platform, citing a New York Times report.

  • The answer: "We actually do a better job than everyone else at finding it and acting on it, but you're right that in an end-to-end encrypted world, one of the risks I'm worried about is that it will be harder to find this behavior."

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib asked how Facebook can justify allowing anti-Muslim hate groups to organize via its events pages.

  • The answer: "It's hard to police every instance of this. ... We are improving."

Democratic Rep. Katie Porter asked whether Zuckerberg would be willing to spend an hour a day moderating violent or abusive video content.

  • The answer: "I'm not sure it would best serve our community."

Democratic Rep. Sean Casten asked Zuckerberg whether, when he met with President Trump, they talked about the antitrust investigations of Facebook.

  • The answer: "I don't think so, but the meeting was private overall."

Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley: "In your adult life, have you ever been underbanked?"

  • The answer: "I'm going to go with no."

Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton asked whether Zuckerberg was personally involved in Facebook's decision not to remove a manipulated video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that made it seem like her speech was slurred.

  • The answer, after a long pause: Yes.

The bottom line: Zuckerberg took hits from both sides of the aisle, but the criticism from Democrats was more focused, sustained and passionate. That could mean trouble for Facebook if 2020 elections bring a blue tide.

2. Republican FTC commissioner seeks social media inquiry

Republican FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson wants her agency to probe how social media companies use consumers’ information to shape the algorithms that determine what their users see and read, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: A wide-ranging study of social media data practices could lay the groundwork for more enforcement from the agency, as well as legislative recommendations to Congress.

Driving the news: Wilson said she supports studying how tech companies use children’s data, and then pushed for a broader review of data practices during an interview Margaret conducted for C-SPAN’s "The Communicators."

  • The FTC can order companies to answer questions about business practices for wide-ranging studies that don’t have a specific law enforcement goal.
  • As the FTC considers updates to its children's online privacy rules, advocates have pushed the agency to conduct such a study on children’s data. Wilson said she thinks the commission should do that, and more.
  • “I think more generally the social media companies that we interact with essentially every day raise significant and important questions that I think the FTC needs to delve deeper into,” Wilson said.
  • “So, for example, how information is collected and shared and monetized, and how that feeds into algorithms and how that affects the content curation of the algorithms and the promotion of certain content. The more we know in this area, the better.”

Meanwhile, the FTC is already conducting a study on broadband providers’ privacy practices, seeking information from Comcast, Google Fiber, T-Mobile, Charter, and AT&T and Verizon's advertising subsidiaries.

  • That effort, announced in March, is focused on the categories of personal information collected about consumers or their devices, whether customers have a choice in what’s collected, and the processes to change or delete the information.

The big picture: The FTC has already penalized Facebook with a $5 billion fine for privacy violations. Although critics said it wasn't enough to change the company's behavior, it was an unprecedentedly huge settlement.

3. 10% of Twitter users write 97% of political posts

Photo: Aytug Can Sencar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

97% of tweets from U.S. adults regarding national politics came from only 10% of users, per a yearlong analysis conducted by the Pew Research Center, Axios' Marisa Fernandez writes.

Why it matters: Those with intense opinions on President Trump — especially those who strongly disapprove of him — are "among the most prolific political tweeters," Pew notes.

By the numbers: Nearly 40% of users with public accounts tweeted at least once about national politics over the June 2018 through June 2019 study period.

  • Those with strongly negative views of Trump generate 80% of all tweets from U.S. adults and 72% of all tweets on national politics. They're also overrepresented on Twitter compared to the general public.
  • Those who strongly approve of the president produce 11% of all tweets from U.S. adults and 25% of all tweets on national politics. Similarly, they're underrepresented on Twitter compared to the general public.

Our thought bubble: An old saying on the internet has it that only 1% of any online community creates all the content. By that standard, political Twitter has an unusually high participation rate.

4. Qualcomm to launch $200M fund to back 5G

Qualcomm's venture arm today announced plans for a $200 million fund aimed at backing companies with the technology needed to build out or take advantage of next generation 5G cellular networks.

Why it matters: Companies with a stake in 5G technology — such as Qualcomm — are eager to tout its great potential.

  • However, achieving that potential will require lots more investment — first in the networks and their accompanying gear, and then in apps and services.
  • The global effort will look at companies with interesting 5G use cases, those helping bring 5G to businesses as well as those helping transform the networks themselves.

What they're saying: Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf said in a statement...

“The intent of this fund is to fuel innovative 5G businesses that will be poised to take advantage of the $13.2 trillion economic benefit that 5G will enable by 2035.”

Yes, but: For all the hype, 5G networks have been slow to reach consumers, with most of the U.S. networks launched this year covering only small parts of a few cities.

Go deeper: Axios' special report on 5G

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Besides Twitter, earnings reports will include Amazon and Intel.

Trading Places

  • NPR has hired former Amazon and Microsoft AI executive Noelle LaCharite as VP of digital technology.
  • The Justice Department has appointed antitrust litigator Ryan Shores as associate deputy attorney general and senior adviser for technology industries. As a reminder, the DOJ has launched a broad antitrust probe into Big Tech.
  • CenturyLink has hired Lindsay Solie Jensen as director of federal legislative affairs; she was previously a legislative assistant to Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan.


6. After you Login

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