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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Thanks to the coronavirus crisis, Big Tech, after battling criticism for the last several years, has an opportunity to show the upside of its scale and reach.
Why it matters: If companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon are able to demonstrate they can be a force for good in a trying time, many inside the companies feel they could undo some of the techlash's ill will and maybe blunt some of the regulatory threats that loom over them.
What they're saying: According to insiders I talked to, the companies all view their roles similarly: to keep existing products working even amid new demand, to provide accurate information and fight misinformation, and to help in the broader fight against the coronavirus.
"We just realize the seriousness of the moment and the importance of getting it right at a moment when our services are really needed."— Facebook vice president Molly Cutler
When you ask people at the companies, they say they want to help because it is the right thing to do. But many acknowledge they also hope that the public will start to see their companies they way they do.
These companies start with central positions in our new, virus-transformed lives.
Now the companies are pushing hard not just to connect isolated people, but also to promote reliable information that's desperately needed.
Yes, but: Despite these efforts, misinformation remains a constant problem.
Our thought bubble: Critics who have raised alarms about Big Tech's concentration of power, manipulation of attention and misuse of user data aren't likely to give up their analyses just because the firms pitched in during a public health crisis. Nonetheless, the companies suddenly have a new opening to burnish their public images and win some more hearts and minds.
With some cities ordering residents indoors and a general decrease in urban activity in other places, scooter rental companies Lime and Bird are suspending their services in certain cities, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.
The big picture: San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area instituted a shelter-in-place order on Monday, calling on residents to stay home except for essential needs like going to the grocery store or to the doctor, with other U.S. cities likely to follow.
It's unclear whether either company plans to compensate workers affected by the suspension of operations. Lyft, which also owns bike rental services in a number of major cities, says it's not halting bike and scooter rentals at this time (Axios has also reached out to Uber).
Be smart: The coronavirus can spread when people touch a contaminated surface and then touch their faces, so riders using shared bikes and scooters are encouraged to disinfect handlebars, wash their hands before and after, and avoid touching their faces.
Meanwhile: Uber and Lyft (and Via's NYC service) suspended their carpool services on Tuesday to minimize the danger of passengers riding in cars with strangers.
Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images
TikTok will announce a new group today that will help guide the Chinese-owned platform's content moderation policies. The group of outside advisers includes people with expertise in child safety, hate speech and misinformation, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.
The big picture: Online platforms are facing intense scrutiny from lawmakers and the Justice Department over how they decide what their users can and can't say and do.
Details: TikTok's Content Advisory Council will discuss existing and potential future policies against misinformation and election interference at its first meeting later this month, TikTok U.S. general manager Vanessa Pappas wrote in a blog post.
Other members include:
"We want to surround ourselves with experts who can both evaluate the actions we've taken and provide guidance on additional measures we could be pursuing," Pappas said.
Background: TikTok in October said it was working with lawyers from the firm K&L Gates — including former Congressmen Bart Gordon and Jeff Denham — to help form the external advisory group.
Amazon is shifting focus to make sure it can supply the most-needed products during the coronavirus pandemic.
Why it matters: Amazon delivers much-needed goods to an increasingly isolated population, and customers have come to assume it can ship almost anything overnight, often in a matter of hours. That's less likely to be the case for a while, at least for less essential products.
"In the short term, we are making the decision to temporarily prioritize household staples, medical supplies and other high demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so we can more quickly receive, restock and ship these products to customers."— Amazon, in a blog post
As a result, the company is telling third-party merchants that it will temporarily limit the inflow of goods to its warehouses to "essential products" like household goods, baby products, personal care items, pet food and so on.
Meanwhile: Amazon said yesterday it would hire 100,000 new full- or part-time employees and raise pay to meet the increasing demand for its services. Still, some say Amazon hasn't done enough to protect its workers from the virus. More than 1,500 have signed a petition demanding hazard pay, sick leave and the shutdown of facilities a worker tests positive.
We've seen maps of how the impact of the coronavirus has cut carbon emissions. But it's having more immediate effects on the environment too. Like turning the canals in Venice clear.