Jan 11, 2021

Axios Login

How crazy are things right now? CES officially starts today and it is only item No. 4.

Today's Login is 1,395 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech broadens moves to muzzle the far right

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Twitter's decision Friday to kick President Trump off Twitter proved just the opening salvo in a broadening series of other consequential moves by tech companies cracking down on those who took part in or encouraged last week's insurrection at the Capitol.

Why it matters: The moves have renewed debate over how much power tech companies should have to decide whose content lives on the internet.

The big picture: Despite much outcry, the U.S. government has done next to nothing to regulate misinformation on large tech platforms — leaving the companies to set their own rules, which are often changed on the fly.

It's not just Twitter and Facebook that hold the key. Payment processors, hosting companies and other infrastructure providers operating behind the scenes also exercise considerable power.

  • They all cite terms-of-service agreements that bar incitement of violence as the basis for their bans.

Catch up quick: Since Twitter permanently banned Trump on Friday...

Flashback: The involvement of infrastructure companies in adjudicating speech issues remains controversial.

Between the lines: Banning potentially dangerous speech doesn't necessarily end it. Sometimes the speech just gets pushed it into more obscure online corners that are harder to observe and regulate.

  • 8chan, for example, changed its name to 8kun, found a new server, and lives on as an influential platform for conspiracies.

Meanwhile: Tech companies — including Apple and the cell phone carriers — are also finding themselves dealing with a variety of requests from law enforcement as agencies look to track down those who took part in the storming of the Capitol.

  • Many participants have been identified already through the work of citizens searching through publicly available social media.

Go deeper: All the platforms that have banned or restricted Trump so far

2. Big Tech's free speech showdown

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tech’s purge targeting far-right incitement brings three decades of hot argument over online speech to a boil, Axios' Scott Rosenberg reports.

Why it matters: Four years of a president who behaved like a boundary-pushing online troll, fostering mayhem that culminated in Wednesday's assault on the Capitol, finally forced the executives who control today's internet to draw lines.

Amazon, Apple and Google, in acting against Parler, maintain that they are simply enforcing long-standing rules.

  • Yes, but: It took until there was an insurrectionary attack on the Capitol for them to take that enforcement action.

Be smart: No laws, and no terms of service, are ever fully enforced.

  • Enforcers always have limited time and resources, and they choose who and what to go after.
  • It's up to the rest of us to assess whether they are acting fairly and legitimately.

Amazon's move on Parler is momentous because Amazon's Web Services is more like a utility provider than a broadcaster.

  • If you use the internet, you interact with AWS constantly, but you don't realize it, because Amazon is just providing the back-end computing power to run other apps and services.
  • In the eyes of many on the right as well as some on the libertarian left, that makes the Parler crackdown less like booing a speaker off the stage than cutting off the electricity to a building.

Our thought bubble: You can view this debate through three different lenses.

  • Freedom: Parler's supporters say their freedom of speech is being curtailed. Amazon and other online services are also free to operate their businesses according to rules they set.
  • Power: Parler claims a place in the internet's tradition of empowering individual voices. A handful of Big Tech firms and CEOs today wield vast and largely unaccountable power.
  • Justice: A mob stirred up by a U.S. president — both relying on tech-provided services — tried to violently overturn the results of a U.S. election. Executives and employees at every company that serves as a public square are taking a fresh look at ways to prevent a repeat.
3. Democrats' menu for striking back at Big Tech

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Many Democratic legislators say Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other online services stood by while the president used them to discredit a lawful election and his supporters used them to organize a violent assault on the Capitol.

Why it matters: Right at the moment that Democrats are about to take over the White House and both houses of Congress, the Capitol riot poured gas on the fire of the party’s anger at Big Tech platforms, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill and Ashley Gold report.

If you were a Democratic leader, here are the avenues you’d be exploring to come down on those companies:

Clip tech's liability shield. Democrats have already floated amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to stem the spread of hate speech, misinformation and incendiary rhetoric. The riot may boost the odds that they'll see that through.

  • The leader of the House consumer protection subcommittee, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), plans to move forward quickly with legislation that would limit Section 230 protections for companies that fail to enforce their terms of service.

Shrink Big Tech with new antitrust laws and enforcement: Watch for antitrust leaders on Capitol Hill, such as Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), to cite the riot as a prime example of the real-world damage resulting from tech giants' unchecked scale and reach.

  • That may propel sweeping new antitrust legislation that could follow a roadmap House Democrats laid out last summer.

Flex their oversight muscle: Online platforms' role in the planning of the siege will take center stage as lawmakers press federal law enforcement for answers on why they weren't better prepared.

  • Lawmakers can also haul in tech executives directly for hearings. Expect tech leaders, particularly Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter's Jack Dorsey, to continue being familiar faces on Capitol Hill in the new Congress.

Stand up a new agency: The idea of a new federal agency that exists solely to regulate tech practices is very much a long shot, but it could get fresh life as lawmakers grasp for tools to prevent a repeat of last week's events.

Margaret and Ashley have more here.

4. Oh yeah, it's CES, too — sort of

It was already shaping up to be a very strange CES this year, with the world's largest consumer tech show going virtual. Now, CES also has to compete with a constitutional crisis and worsening pandemic.

The big picture: The Consumer Technology Association, which puts on CES, has done its best to move the big press events and keynote online.

  • Yes, but: Much of what makes the show essential can't be replicated online: the formal and informal one-on-one meetings, the side conversations and parties.

That said, prepare for a flurry of tech product announcements this week.

Catch up quick:

  • A few products have already been announced, including new augmented reality smart glasses from Lenovo, a bending TV from LG, and some novel new laptops from HP.
  • Today is "media day," with a series of press conferences from the likes of Sony, Samsung, LG, Intel and Phillips.
  • The keynotes begin with Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg this afternoon. GM CEO Mary Barra, AMD chief Lisa Su and Best Buy CEO Corie Barry speak Tuesday. Microsoft president Brad Smith speaks Wednesday, as does Walmart CEO Doug McMillon.

Of note: This year's CES lineup is noticeably more diverse than in years' past, with three female CEOs speaking on Tuesday alone.

Meanwhile, the biggest single product announcement expected this week, Samsung's new Galaxy S21, is being unveiled at a separate online event Thursday.

The bottom line: CES will have to work next year to reclaim its position as a central gathering point for the tech industry. On the flip side, by next January, people may be so eager to meet they are happy to put up with the bad food and long cab lines that typically accompany the massive Vegas confab.

5. Take note

On Tap

  • CES runs today through Thursday (see above).

Trading Places

  • Patrick Hackett, the co-creator of VR painting app Tiltbrush, is leaving Google for a new VR project.


  • Baidu is partnering with Chinese automaker Geely to make electric cars. (CNBC)
  • NYT has an in-depth look at Tim Berners-Lee's efforts to put people back in charge of their online data. (New York Times)
  • Intel is said to be in talks with TSMC, Samsung and others about outsourcing some of its chip manufacturing amid continuing internal production issues. (Bloomberg)
6. After you Login

This one is an oldie-but-goodie: A hedgehog camping trip.