Alexander Hall is a staff writer for MRC TechWatch
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Google has bought its way into health care through fitness tracking. Is the European Union (E.U.) right to call foul? Both U.S. and E.U. regulators are wary of Google’s $2.1 billion purchase of fitness tracking company Fitbit last November. The New York Post announced that the Department of Justice would be looking into the acquisition last December, and the E.U.’s European Data Protection Board (E.D.B.P.) cited that this purchase by an already powerful company “could entail a high level of risk to privacy and data protection.”
About 300 Oracle employees have staged a virtual walkout over their founder and chairman’s support for President Donald Trump. Oracle employees were outraged when they found out that Big Tech billionaire Larry Ellison was hosting a pro-Trump fundraiser at his estate. On Thursday, Feb. 20 a protest was launched in response to a petition signed by thousands of employees. The protest, as Protocol summarized, “asked employees to log off and spend the rest of the day contributing to causes such as immigration, gender equity or the environment.
A leaked demo revealed a new system that may change the way Twitter users get information on the platform.Twitter confirmed a leaked demo of upcoming anti-“misinformation” features, reported NBC News. The demo was one of a few variants of possible anti-“misinformation” policies that are being prepared for a March 5 rollout. As NBC News described, “disinformation or misleading information posted by public figures will be corrected directly beneath the tweet by fact-checkers and journalists who are verified on the platform.” Common users may also have some power to fact-check, reported NBC News, as there may be a “community reports” feature, which the demo compared to Wikipedia.
Facebook’s plans for regulating Big Tech have not met the expectations of some bigwigs in EU leadership. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg toured Brussels earlier this week, meeting with press and politicians and also publishing a white paper on regulating Big Tech called “Charting the Way Forward: Online Content Regulation.”
Facebook is finding some forms of government regulation to be too much for the company, even as CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls for more of it. Facebook has been "legally compelled," according to Bloomberg News, by the government of Singapore to block access to a fringe news website States Times Review (STR) after it posted rumors about the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Facebook told Bloomberg News that it would comply on Feb. 19, but declared it is "deeply concerned about the precedent this sets for the stifling of freedom of expression.
The fate of free speech on the internet could be discussed at an upcoming discussion hosted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The News Media Alliance (NMA), a thousands-strong coalition of U.S. news organizations, is criticizing the scope of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provided legal protection for tech companies from the consequences of users’ posts. The NMA seeks to “propose limits” to this rule which it says, “to-date, has helped Big Tech companies dodge responsibility for the content people upload to their platforms” an Axios newsletter summarized.
The origin of the coronavirus is still being debated, but Twitter has responded to one skeptic outlet by censoring it. The ZeroHedge founder reportedly, under the pseudonym Tyler Durden, asked “Is This The Man Behind The Global Coronavirus Pandemic?” and theorized about the coronavirus’s true origins.
In a country where the squeaky wheel gets the grease, the Democratic Party may be getting led astray by a small but vocal minority on social media. A Pew Research Center study released Feb. 3 found that “The political views and primary candidate preferences of Democrats on Twitter differ from those who are not on the platform.” The report released some dire numbers, including how “The 29% of Democrats who use the platform are more liberal and less inclined to say the party should elect a candidate who seeks common ground with Republicans than are Democrats who are not on Twitter.” These same liberals also “express different preferences” for whom the Democratic Party should choose to be its 2020 nominee
YouTube, once again, is doing everything it can to stop discussion about the alleged “whistleblower.” YouTube removed a clip of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) of him speaking on the Senate floor, the National Review reported. In the video, Paul asked “why Chief Justice John Roberts had blocked a question of his, which some have speculated contained the name of the Ukraine whistleblower.” In response, he condemned the video platform, saying in a statement: “It is a chilling and disturbing day in America when giant web companies such as YouTube decide to censure speech.
The man whose complaints single handedly caused an entire adpocalypse on YouTube has returned to the platform to “flood its airwaves with leftist propaganda.” Carlos Maza is leaving Vox to establish his own channel according to The Verge, where he will “talk about media, propaganda, and socially conscious topics that relate to how people get their news from a progressive perspective.” The New York Times gave this “New York-based socialist” a prominent feature in their business section with two gigantic photos on separate pages.
How dangerous is a single tech-savvy conservative? Enough to politically divide Silicon Valley itself and get a CEO to rant about the future of “democracy.” Digital Content Next CEO Jason Kint, in an article-filled tweetstorm, ranted about Facebook’s free speech stance on political advertising. He condemned how the social media giant will reportedly make a profit of “$800mil in political ads,” while “being toxic to democracy [and] allowing misleading ads microtargeted at us - thereby refusing to follow their peers' leadership at Google or Twitter.”
The British government may be free from Europe thanks to Brexit, but it appears to be sliding into authoritarianism as it drafts regulations to crack down on freedom of speech. Ofcom, the United Kingdom’s media watchdog, according to Forbes’ Feb. 12 coverage, “is to be given the power to regulate social media companies, holding them to account for harmful content.” The UK has already reportedly threatened to begin jailing tech executives for not policing their own platforms enough.
Far-left media outlet The Young Turks launched a new project to train a new generation of liberals to dominate local media -- all funded by Big Tech giant YouTube and its owner, Google. Axios announced that the Cenk Uygur-founded progressive digital publisher, The Young Turks, is now receiving funding in “the mid-six figures range” from Google-owned YouTube to launch “TYT Academy.” TYT Academy, according to Axios, will be an educational course that teaches users how to create “digital-first local news.” The goal, as Axios phrased it, is “to get everyday people engaged in digital media so that they can help report on their local communities.
When actor/comedian Sacha Baron Cohen blasted Facebook, world famous industrialist Elon Musk was quick to support him. Cohen, known for his prankster “Borat” role, slammed Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg in a Feb. 5 tweet. He asked, “Why do we let 1 man control the information seen by 2.5 billion people? Facebook needs to be regulated by governments, not ruled by an emperor!” Musk, known for his hot takes, responded, in a concise tweet: “#DeleteFacebook It's lame."
Oh how the times have changed. One of the most popular liberal tech writers has lamented that Republican social media strategy in the Trump era has changed the game. Recode co-founder and New York Times contributor Kara Swisher wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times headlined “Sorry, Republicans Rule the Internet.” Her accompanying tweet to the Feb 4 article lamented that “GOP tech arsonists are winning, while Dems fiddle.”
The billionaire candidate who came out of nowhere has apparently decided that paying young social media stars to promote him is the key to success.The Daily Beast alleged that former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg is using Tribe, a talent pool of young “micro-influencers” described as social media stars with between “1,000 to 100,000 followers,” seemingly to make his presidential run look like it has grassroots youth support.
Will Facebook’s new oversight board be the platform to ensure free speech or a Big Tech kangaroo court? The site’s in-house newsroom posted a developer blog on Jan. 28 which announced the platform’s upcoming oversight board. While its actual members will be chosen and announced “[i]n the coming months,” Facebook staff did reveal that “the first Director of Oversight Board Administration will be Thomas Hughes.” Hughes was described as the “former Executive Director for Article 19, an international non-governmental organization with a focus on freedom of expression and digital rights” who will “lead the board’s administrative staff.”
Meme creators and free speech advocates feel they will be the first casualty of the latest war on “manipulated content” by Big Tech. Twitter Safety announced via tweet on Jan 4 a new rule that forbids “manipulated media,” possibly including humorous video edits or memes. Such content may now either be labeled or removed from the platform entirely.
The GOP thinks that fighting Big Tech censorship might be a winning election issue. So much so, that the party is surveying voters about the issue as part of a nationwide grassroots effort. Former D.C. bureau chief for Investor's Business Daily and author Paul Sperry tweeted “BREAKING: New RNC questionnaire mailed to voters nationwide asks: ‘Do you believe social media companies are suppressing conservative messages in order to influence public opinion and elections?’
Facebook declared in its terms of service update that "denying existence" of people based on “protected characteristics” is a violation of its community standards on "hate speech." Facebook updated its community standards with little fanfare this past December. In a statement, the social media giant explained that it is forbidden to target a person or group of people on the basis of “aforementioned protected characteristic(s)” or “immigration status.”