Apr 22, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

I hope everyone got some Easter eggs yesterday, but here are some more for anyone who didn't get enough, or prefers the software kind to the dyed or plastic ones.

1 big thing: Violence prompts social media crackdown

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

When mass violence breaks out, world leaders are increasingly looking to find the off switch for the internet, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: Shutting down part or all of the internet has its appeal, but some experts argue that such heavy-handed reaction could unintentionally make the problems worse instead.

Driving the news: Sri Lankan officials have temporarily blocked social media and messaging apps in the country to curtail the spread of fake news after multiple bombings killed hundreds of people on Easter Sunday.

  • Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Viber, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger have been blocked in Sri Lanka, according to data from internet monitoring group NetBlocks.

Yes, but: Experts worry that by taking strong measures to disconnect the internet, leaders could be making the situation worse for a few reasons.

  • Rumors spread in a vacuum. "Given the awful events in #SriLanka, it is understandable, but counterproductive, to shut down social media platforms. Rumor spreads most easily in a vacuum. The best way to tackle misinformation to counter it with accurate factual information," Peter Cunliffe-Jones, founder of Africa Check, an independent fact-checking organization, said in a tweet.
  • It gives bad actors an opportunity for more damage: “What we’ve seen is that when social media is shut down, it creates a vacuum of information that’s readily exploited by other parties,” Alp Toker, executive director of NetBlocks, said to AP. “It can add to the sense of fear and can cause panic.”

Other research shows that blocking social networks can actually result in an increase in violence.

  • Jan Rydzak, associate director of Stanford's Global Digital Policy Incubator, concluded in a 2016 paper examining social media shutdowns in India, "Shutdowns are found to be much more strongly associated with increases in violent collective action than with non-violent mobilization."
  • "Violence does not seem to require use of social media and messaging applications," Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, said. "This violence is at least in part animated by the efforts of key domestic actors perfectly capable of doing gruesome work without social media."

The big picture: A pattern is emerging separating countries that outright shut down or censor networks from those that vow to pass tougher laws.

  • "It's clear that governments that are less committed to fundamental human rights are taking a far more interventionist stance," Nielsen said.

In large democratic nations, strong measures to regulate social media and messaging apps have emerged in the wake of violence, but there haven't been any efforts to outright block networks.

But in other countries, particularly developing nations where social media and messaging apps have become synonymous with the internet, leaders are rushing to stop the spread of hate speech by shutting off networks altogether, usually temporarily.

Go deeper: Sara has more here.

2. Big Tech loses its luster at TED

Carole Cadwalladr. Photo: Bret Hartman/TED

For Big Tech, TED is usually a friendly place. Companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft have used past conferences to show off new advances, while executives from those companies mingle with leaders from finance and government.

Context: In years past, despite some skepticism about the future of robots and artificial intelligence, the large companies themselves have generally enjoyed a warm reception. This year, though, things got decidedly chillier at TED 2019, which ended Friday.

Driving the news:

  • 2 prominent Facebook critics spoke: U.K. journalist Carole Cadwalladr and Roger McNamee. Many attendees I talked to pointed to Cadwalladr's talk as the most notable of the event, in particular her claim that Facebook had subverted Western democracy.
  • As for the tech companies, Facebook was a sponsor, but declined an invitation to send a top executive. Twitter's Jack Dorsey did appear, though the general consensus was he didn't help the company's cause, largely reiterating past pledges to improve the dialogue without much in the way of new proposals.
  • There was one talk from Google: Ivan Poupyrev showed off Jacquard, an effort to weave technology into everyday objects. Although Jacquard has been around for some time now, Poupyrev struggled to get his touch-enabled Levi's jacket to control the slides.

The bottom line: Even the elites think it's time for action, not talk, from social media companies.

3. Microsoft has its James Damore moment

Microsoft made headlines last week after Quartz reported that some inside the company have been questioning the value of diversity efforts.

What's happening: In posts to an internal discussion forum, according to Quartz, a female program manager at Microsoft knocked the company for a policy she says "financially incentivizes discriminatory hiring practices," adding that she's referring to incentives given to senior management for hiring those who aren't Asian or white men.

  • “I have an ever-increasing file of white male Microsoft employees who have faced outright and overt discrimination because they had the misfortune of being born both white and male," she wrote in another post, per Quartz, which elected not to name the employee.

Why it matters: While most large tech companies work to boost the presence of female, black or Latinx employees, there are some who say this amounts to a different kind of discrimination.

  • This viewpoint was most notably voiced by Google's James Damore, who was fired after writing a memo in which he said women were less biologically suited to tech work. He has since filed suit against Google.
4. CIA warns Britain over Huawei spying

Photo: Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The CIA is warning Britain about its use of Huawei's technology to develop a 5G network after it was found that the Chinese telecom company accepted money from varying branches of Beijing's state intelligence network, The Times reports.

Why this matters: This allegation directly links the world's largest telecom equipment manufacturer to the Chinese state, per The Times.

  • Huawei has previously denied that the company spies for China, but Chinese law forces companies to work with the security branches.

Go deeper: U.K. oversight board slams Huawei's "cybersecurity competence"

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Earnings season kicks off in earnest this week, with Snap, Twitter and eBay slated to report on Tuesday; Microsoft, Facebook and PayPal on Wednesday; and Intel and Amazon on Thursday.

Trading Places

  • The Democratic National Committee named Nellwyn Thomas as CTO, the first woman to hold the post. Thomas previously worked on Hillary Clinton's campaign, as well as at Facebook and Etsy.
  • WeWork promoted Jen Berrent, formerly COO, to the role of co-president and chief legal officer. Eugen Miropolski, who has served as managing director for WeWork for the Europe, Pacific and China regions, will take over as COO. 

ICYMI

  • A joint venture between Qualcomm and a Chinese province to make server chips will shut down by the end of the month, sources told The Information.
  • The Department of Homeland Security wants to dramatically increase its use of facial scanning at airports. (Quartz)
  • "60 Minutes" explored what it sees as a growing partnership between cybercriminals and the Russian government. (CBS News)
6. After you Login

Check out the Fail Card, a punch card for things that go wrong. When you hit 10, you celebrate.

Ina Fried