Jun 2, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Remember the carefree days when all you had to worry about was a fast-spreading deadly disease with no treatment or cure? Sigh.

Anyway, on with the news. And there is a lot of it.

Today's Login is 1,537 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: Facebook's first major public worker walkout

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Disgruntled Facebook employees, upset for days over the company's decision not to take down what they saw as calls for violence from President Trump, made their grievances public on Monday, with reportedly hundreds of workers staging a virtual walkout.

Why it matters: Facebook staffers have pushed back against controversial management choices in the past, but they've never before made public their dissent en masse. The protest suggests that the company — already battered by privacy scandals and political tensions — could be beginning to lose at least some of its workforce's trust.

Driving the news: Already upset with the company's decision not to act against a Trump post that declared, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts," workers were further agitated on Sunday, as Axios reported that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had spoken by phone with President Trump on Friday.

  • Many also didn't take well to Zuckerberg's late Sunday post in which he said the company would donate $10 million to unspecified racial justice organizations, but failed to take any new action with regards to speech on the platform.
  • Zuckerberg had told employees Friday that the company is now reviewing its policy that lets politicians on Facebook call for state force but didn't commit to any firm action, according to leaked audio The Verge reported on Monday night.

By Monday, Facebook dissenters planned their protest — though a virtual walkout had to suffice, since nearly all employees are working remotely due to the pandemic.

  • Some had taken to Twitter over the weekend to express their disagreement; others posted internally first, then went public Monday.
  • "Facebook's decision to not act on posts that incite violence against black people fails to keep our community safe," Facebook Messenger product designer Trevor Phillippi said in a tweet. "I'm asking that we revisit this decision and provide more transparency into the process, inclusive of black leadership."

Meanwhile, Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg met Monday evening with civil rights leaders, who left the meeting heaping fresh criticism on Facebook.

  • Three of them issued a joint statement saying they were "disappointed and stunned by Mark's incomprehensible explanations for allowing the Trump posts to remain up."
  • "He did not demonstrate understanding of historic or modern-day voter suppression and he refuses to acknowledge how Facebook is facilitating Trump's call for violence against protesters," said Vanita Gupta, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change. "Mark is setting a very dangerous precedent for other voices who would say similar harmful things on Facebook.”
  • Facebook put a positive spin on the meeting. "We're grateful that leaders in the civil rights community took the time to share candid, honest feedback with Mark and Sheryl," the company told Axios. "It is an important moment to listen, and we look forward to continuing these conversations."

The big picture: There was business fallout as well.

  • Talkspace CEO Oren Frank publicly announced the online therapy company was ending a planned partnership with Facebook that would have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for the firm.
  • "We will not support a platform that incites violence, racism, and lies," Frank said in a tweet.

Frank told Axios that the partnership, which was in the late stages of negotiation, would have involved Talkspace creating content for Facebook as well as Facebook paying for therapy for a portion of its users, beginning with college students.

  • Frank said he hoped others would put pressure on Facebook. "I deeply hope other companies will follow our lead and the Facebook employees' lead."

Separately, the independent oversight board Facebook created to handle its biggest speech disputes is enmeshed in its own fresh controversy over co-chair Michael McConnell recently reading his Stanford Law students a quote that included the n-word.

  • Both Stanford and the oversight board stood by McConnell. A board spokesperson told Axios the members "appreciate Michael's explanation of his pedagogic purpose, as well as his commitment not to use the word again."
2. Twitter acts against violent messages
Screenshot: Axios

As Facebook employees criticized the company for not moving against Trump's posts, Twitter took more action Monday against those using its platform to promote violence.

Driving the news: The company suspended a fake Antifa account linked to a white nationalist group and also flagged a tweet from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) that it said glorified violence.

Why it matters: The moves show that Twitter, long criticized for failing to crack down on tweets that violate its policies, is taking a more aggressive stance.

Driving the news:

  • Twitter said it had traced the account behind a widely cited tweet calling for violence on Sunday, "ANTIFA_US," to the white nationalist group Identity Evropa.
  • Twitter added a warning label to a tweet from Gaetz that said: "Now that we clearly see Antifa as terrorists, can we hunt them down like we do those in the Middle East?"

Context: As protests about the death of George Floyd spread nationwide over the past week, President Trump and his allies began charging, without evidence, that antifa — a label for a variety of far-left anti-fascist groups and activists — were responsible for the unrest.

Our thought bubble: When an account labeled "antifa" turns out to be controlled by a white supremacist group, it's a reminder that things online aren't necessarily what they appear to be — and that a lot of parties see benefit in spreading divisive lies.

The big picture: Twitter's moves come on top of the company's decision last week to flag two tweets from President Trump, one for potentially misleading people on the mechanics of mail-in voting and another for glorifying violence.

  • After Twitter's action on the mail-in voting tweet, Trump issued an executive order designed curb the power of social networks to curate speech.

Yes, but: Many people on the left feel Twitter hasn't gone far enough and should delete Trump's offending posts, if not his account entirely. Some on the right, meanwhile, view Twitter's actions as censorship.

3. Cisco, Sony postpone events amid protests

Screenshot from the Cisco CEO's statement

Cisco said Monday night that it is postponing the online version of Cisco Live, its major customer event, amid the ongoing protests that have followed the killing of George Floyd.

Why it matters: Cisco joins Sony, Electronic Arts and Google in delaying tech events planned for this week.

Driving the news:

  • Cisco announced the postponement of its event, which was scheduled to start tomorrow, in a YouTube video from CEO Chuck Robbins, who condemned as "horrific, maddening and truly abhorrent" the murder of George Floyd, as well as the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. "People across the U.S. and the world are dealing with so much pain, frustration and anger," Robbins said. "We want to give you space this week to do what you need to do within your own organizations and communities."
  • Sony announced earlier Monday it was postponing Thursday's PlayStation 5 event where it was expected to show off games for the new console set to debut this holiday season. Sony said it was delaying the event to "stand back and allow more important voices to be heard."
  • Google delayed an the Android 11 beta launch event, saying, "We are excited to tell you more about Android 11, but now is not the time to celebrate."
  • Electronic Arts delayed an event related to its Madden football franchise.
4. Senators unveil contact-tracing privacy bill

Senators introduced bipartisan legislation on Monday that would require commercial contact-tracing and exposure notification apps to only be deployed in collaboration with public health authorities, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: Lawmakers are trying to put privacy safeguards in place as health officials look to use tech — including a Bluetooth-based system from Apple and Google — to help Americans learn if they've come into contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.

Details: The "Exposure Notification Privacy Act" was introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell and Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is also joining them as a cosponsor.

Per Cantwell's office, in addition to barring the private sector from going it alone with apps not sanctioned by public health authorities, the bill would:

  • Ensure that the use of coronavirus contact tracing apps is voluntary and that they get opt-in consent before collecting information from consumers.
  • Prohibit any commercial use of data gathered through such tools, and limit the collection and use to only what is necessary for the system.
  • Allow users to delete their data.
  • Require that exposure notification systems only accept authorized medical diagnoses.

Big picture: This is one of several bills aimed at protecting privacy in contact-tracing apps. House and Senate Democrats teamed up on one in May aimed at coronavirus and future outbreaks, while Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker led Republicans in a more narrowly tailored bill.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Zoom reports earnings.
  • The Senate Judiciary intellectual property subcommittee will hear from the Eagles' Don Henley, Internet Association interim CEO Jon Berroya and others on whether the current system for taking down copyrighted material online is working.

Trading Places

  • Dish Network, which is preparing to enter the wireless business, announced several executive moves. It promoted Jeff Blum to EVP of external and legislative affairs, named COO John Swieringa to the additional position of president of wireless and tapped Michael Schwimmer to be president of the Sling TV business.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

Who isn't ready to spend some time in an alternate reality? For me, I'd like to visit this digital Van Gogh world.

Ina Fried