There will be lots of tech talk in this week's episode of "Axios on HBO," including my interview (with Mike Allen) of Apple CEO Tim Cook. It airs at 6:30pm ET/PT. And we'll have more from the Cook interview in Monday's Login.
Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images
While Facebook was defending itself in its latest hurricane of controversy, it also unveiled new plans to retool and improve the way it handles problematic content and user complaints.
Driving the news: In a novel move, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that beginning in 2019 the company would experiment with forming an independent body that will serve as a kind of court of appeals for users who disagree with decisions Facebook has made about removing (or permitting) content on its platform.
"I have come to believe that we shouldn't be making so many important decisions about free expression and safety on our own," Zuckerberg told reporters.
Facebook hasn't determined how this "oversight body" would be chosen or how it would function. The new group would serve as the last stop in a more extensive appeals process that would provide users with a clearer and more transparent means of challenging the company's content-moderation decisions.
Reality check: This is fraught territory. Facebook can shift responsibility elsewhere, but whoever it appoints as its judiciary will come under its own scrutiny, either for being not independent enough or being too powerful.
Down-ranking sensationalism: Zuckerberg also said that Facebook would begin to penalize content that doesn't violate its rules but comes close.
Our thought bubble: Good. We've been saying for a while now that Facebook and Twitter have the power to do this and should. They use their algorithms to prioritize all kinds of things. It's time to use some of that energy toward making sure that marginal posts, near-hate speech and other content isn't amplified.
Yes, but: The more Facebook and Twitter fiddles with the dials, the more likely it is that people will accuse it of putting its hand on partisan scales, with so-called "shadow-banning."
We say bring it on. Facebook and Twitter aren't required to give equal weight to all posts — they already don't — and if they really believe in healthy conversations they need to act more decisively to create the environment they seek.
Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg have an interesting defense to the company's involvement with a D.C.-based opposition research firm that had tried to link an anti-Facebook campaign to billionaire philanthropist George Soros. We had no idea, say both top executives, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.
Why it matters: Sharp-elbowed political consultants are common in the world of corporate lobbying. But a long series of crises, including the Cambridge Analytica privacy breaches and the election-meddling misinformation campaigns, have eroded Facebook's morale and run down its credibility reserves, giving the company's leaders little room to maneuver.
Background: Definers Public Affairs is a consulting firm founded by former Republican campaign staffers that specializes in opposition research. It has done a bunch of work against Apple, seemingly at the behest of both Facebook and Qualcomm.
Who knew? On a call with reporters Thursday, Zuckerberg said he learned about the relationship via the New York Times piece that was published Wednesday, and quickly decided to end it.
Our thought bubble: It's hard to understand how top executives wouldn't know that a firm was being paid by the company for months to conduct opposition research and manage press strategy around the Russian election interference scandal while Sandberg was testifying before Congress last September.
Yes, but: Facebook works with dozens of third-party groups, from ad agencies to accounting firms to lobbying groups and event vendors.
Facebook headquarters in California. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
A Pennsylvania philanthropist and former hedge fund executive named David Magerman was the initial donor behind a high-profile campaign urging regulators to break up Facebook, he confirmed to Axios' David McCabe for the first time on Thursday.
Why it matters: Magerman has given more than $400,000 to the campaign, called "Freedom from Facebook," because he believes Facebook has too much power over how the world communicates.
Magerman told Axios he felt that Facebook had a “huge financial disincentive to protect users’ data.”
Reality check: Magerman’s funding pales in comparison to Facebook’s lobbying operation. The company spent roughly $11.5 million on federal lobbying last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and employed 11 outside lobbying firms.
Go deeper: Read David's full scoop.
John Skipper at the U.S. launch of DAZN. Photo: Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for DAZN
John Skipper, who resigned as head of ESPN late last year, is back and looking to build a new global sports media giant.
What's new: On Wednesday, his company, DAZN, announced a deal with Major League Baseball that will allow it to show live look-ins throughout its prime-time programming in the U.S.
Why it matters: Although DAZN (pronounced "Da Zone") is more focused on its global business, the U.S. market is still strategically important as it looks to build relationships with leagues based here.
Yes, but: In trying to compete in the U.S., Skipper not only needs to compete against ESPN's many cable channels, but also its ESPN+ over-the-top service and other big league sports services. And when it comes to bidding rights, the company will have to contend with ESPN, the big networks and more.
"We understand we are coming in as the upstart into a very crowded, very good market," Skipper told Axios. "We think we will actually punch above our weight."
Lessons learned: Skipper, who left ESPN amid an extortion attempt related to his cocaine use, said he is in a better place, personally and professionally.
"Change can be a good thing however inelegantly it may occur," he said. "I happen to be very happy where I am working. I am very happy with my personal life."
Read more of the story here.
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.
Election Day traffic to national news sites saw four times the visits compared to an average day in October 2018, Axios' Marisa Fernandez reports, citing fresh data from Adobe Analytics.
The big picture: The spike in Election Day-related traffic and engagement mirrored what proved to be the highest percentage of U.S. midterm-election voter turnout since 1914, per WSJ.
By the numbers: Adobe analyzed 400 national news sites and over 150 billion visits and app launches, then compared traffic to an average day for October 2018.
Miles Scott, aka Batkid, who captured San Francisco's heart a few years back, is cancer-free.