Jun 22, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

If you need more Axios in your life, I've got two pieces of good news.

"Axios Today":

  • Situational Awareness: The first episode of "Axios Today" podcast, with host Niala Boodhoo, is out! Subscribe to start your day with the top stories that matter.

"Axios on HBO" — On tonight's episode:

  • Former Georgia House minority leader Stacey Abrams says Trump's executive order on police reform is the "least he could do" (clip).
  • Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian says the airline won’t forcibly remove someone from a plane if they take their mask off (clip).

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

Today's Login is 1,396 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Calls for Facebook ad boycott grow louder

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Several prominent advertisers are pulling their spending on Facebook — at least temporarily — amid increased dissatisfaction over how the tech giant moderates content, Axios' Sara Fischer reports. 

Why it matters: Tension between advertisers and the tech giant has existed for years, but now — as the country faces a reckoning over systemic racism — marketers feel more compelled to take a public stand against companies that waffle on filtering hate speech.

Driving the news:

  • On Sunday, Patagonia became the third major outdoor brand to say it was boycotting Facebook and Instagram. The company tweeted that it will "pull all ads on Facebook and Instagram, effective immediately, through at least the end of July, pending meaningful action from the social media giant."
  • The move followed The North Face and then REI on Friday announcing their own suspensions of advertising on Facebook-owned platforms.
  • Also, in an email to clients obtained by the Wall Street Journal Friday, 360i, a digital-ad agency owned by global ad holding group Dentsu Group Inc., urged its clients to support the ad boycott being advocated by civil rights groups. 
  • Earlier this month, Talkspace CEO Oren Frank tweeted that the company discontinued its partnership discussions with Facebook, saying, "We will not support a platform that incites violence, racism, and lies." He later told Axios that he hoped action by other companies would increase the pressure on Facebook.

What they're saying: "We deeply respect any brand's decision and remain focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information," Facebook VP of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson said in a statement to Axios. "Our conversations with marketers and civil rights organizations are about how, together, we can be a force for good."

Catch up quick:

  • The push for an ad boycott began last week, when six civil rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP, began urging marketers to stop buying ads on Facebook, using the hashtag #stophateforprofit, in a bid to pressure the company to take firmer action against hate speech and other harmful material.
  • Facebook critics like Sleeping Giants, a social media activist organization, and early Facebook investor-turned-critic Roger McNamee started to pressure marketers on social media using that hashtag. 
  • All this followed a tense meeting early this month between Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg and a number of civil rights leaders, which led attendees to issue a statement blasting the company.

Yes, but: Scattered boycotts rarely amount to significant revenue losses for the company, which saw almost $70 billion in ad revenue last year.

This time, however, the threat of protests comes as the industry is already struggling due to the coronavirus-induced recession, with 2020 digital ad revenue now expected to come in nearly $16 billion below original estimates.

  • Major ad-buying agency GroupM said said in a new forecast out last week that it expects digital ad spending in the U.S. to decline 2.3% during 2020, following nearly a decade of double-digit growth. 
  • Facebook, Google, and other tech giants, which are now the largest ad businesses in the world, are expected to bear the brunt of those losses. 

Go deeper: A trickle of Facebook advertisers depart in protest

2. FDA approves first video game therapeutic

Photo: Akili Interactive Labs

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a video game as a prescribable therapeutic for kids with ADHD, Axios' Bryan Walsh reports.

Why it matters: The move marks the first time a video game can be legally marketed as a therapy for a health condition, and it shows the gradual progress of the wider field of digital therapeutics.

What's happening: The game, called EndeavorRx and developed by Akili Interactive Labs, rewards players with stars for navigating a fantasy landscape and finishing tasks.

  • The game is built on algorithms demonstrated to strengthen neural networks in the brain, aiding with reducing the effects of ADHD, according to reporting by STAT.
  • While Akili has made the game available for the past few months for free to eligible children, the FDA's decision means that physicians can now prescribe it, and insurers may cover it.

Context: The market for digital therapeutics — which range from games like EndeavorRx to apps focusing on addiction — has been growing in recent years. The pandemic gave the industry a push, as the lockdown led the FDA to relax regulations on a range of mental health and telemedicine apps.

  • "We are seeing a 20% to 30% growth of people seeking help on anxiety and depression during the pandemic," says Adnan Asar, CEO of Lucid Lane, a digital health platform.
3. Snapchat explains its Juneteenth filter

Snapchat's head of diversity apologized to employees Saturday for a widely criticized Juneteenth filter that encouraged people to "smile and break the chains." However, in the same note, the executive insisted that it was white employees who raised concerns and black employees who suggested it was fine.

Between the lines: While the letter offers some clarity about the process that led to the filter's release, it's not clear that it makes the company look much better.

What they're saying: "For the record, and the avoidance of all doubt: the two Snap team members who on separate occasions specifically questioned if the 'smile' trigger was appropriate for Juneteenth were two white team members," VP of diversity and inclusion Oona King said in an email to employees seen by Axios.

  • "The Snap team members who suggested the smile trigger to begin with, and said it was acceptable to use, were Black Snap team members, and/or members of my team."

Our thought bubble: Snap clearly wants the world to know that this blunder was not a matter of an all-white team stumbling into a race-politics gaffe, but rather the failure of a process that involved a racially diverse set of employees. Yet it's not the makeup of Snap's team that's at issue — it's the content the company put before the public.

  • The company faced similar backlash over a "4/20" Bob Marley filter that many perceived as akin to digital blackface.
4. Trump critics faked demand for rally tickets

Tactics the right has long used to attack mainly mainstream news outlets online are now being used by anti-Trump activists on social media, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Driving the news: Scores of online users posted to TikTok and other social media platforms this weekend alleging that they registered potentially thousands of times to receive free tickets to President Trump's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Saturday to artificially boost registration numbers, according to the New York Times.

Details: Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale ahead of the event tweeted that there were 1 million ticket requests, but the Tulsa Fire Department said Sunday that the fire marshal in attendance only scanned 6,200 tickets, per CNN. The venue holds just under 20,000.

  • Parscale later tweeted that "Radical protesters, fueled by a week of apocalyptic media coverage," interfered with supporters at the rally, but press on the ground didn't cite protesters at the event.

Yes, but: Nothing the pranksters claimed to have done should have diminished turnout, as there were unlimited free tickets to the event. Their goal seems to have been rather to dupe the Trump campaign.

The big picture: This species of prank — organizing online multitudes to swamp surveys and signups — is as old as the internet itself.

Right-wing trolls have notoriously been behind many of the internet's sign-up and poll pranks.

  • In 2018, far-right trolls created a coordinate network of fake Twitter accounts masked as liberals to mock them online.
  • In 2016, conservative trolls flooded app stores to give one-star reviews of apps belonging to mainstream news outlets like CNN, USA Today, Quartz and Mic.
  • In 2009, users on 4chan, an anonymous message board popular with far-right trolls, hacked the results of the annual Time 100 online survey with an auto-voting program.

Be smart: Where the left and the right usually differ is over ownership of this activity.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference kicks off with a keynote at 10am PT. Axios will have live coverage and analysis, with more in tomorrow's Login. Meanwhile, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman offers a good look at what to expect.
  • Lesbians Who Tech kicks off its week long (not IRL) Pride Summit.

Trading Places


  • Arm is locked in a dispute with the head of its Chinese joint venture, who refuses to accept his ouster by the unit's board. (Bloomberg)
  • Nextdoor is ending a feature that let users forward posts directly to police, though other ways to do so remain. (The Verge)
  • A decade's worth of data, including banking information and images of suspects, from more than 200 police departments and other law enforcement entities has apparently leaked online. (Krebs on Security)
  • Spotify is testing in-app ads for podcasts to take the place of audio-only ads that send listeners to a website with a promo code. (The Verge)
6. After you Login

Someone managed to use the leaking of John Bolton's manuscript as the premise for an epic "Rick roll."

Ina Fried