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Election 2020 updates

Facebook and Google are still banning political ads on their platforms, but that hasn't stopped Republican super PACs from spending millions of dollars on other platforms, including Hulu, to reelect Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. The only difference: On those platforms, there's no way of knowing what the ads say.

After the 2016 election, Facebook and Google created imperfect but extensive databases of every political ad that runs on their sites, complete with information on who's running them and how much they're spending. But these measures are entirely self-imposed and haven't been adopted by the majority of companies, including large streaming platforms. When Facebook and Google decided to prohibit all political ads after the U.S. election — and then decided to extend that ban, likely through the end of the year — they more or less pushed all digital ad spending for the Georgia runoffs onto platforms that offer no transparency at all.

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"We're not going to know what the content of these ads are," said Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center. "It'll be much harder in the Georgia senate race to identify what digital messages these super PACs are disseminating to voters and make it harder to correct the record if misinformation is distributed."

The Campaign Legal Center reviewed Federal Election Commission filings for digital ads targeting the Georgia runoffs and found that as of Tuesday, the vast majority of the spending is coming from Republican super PACs. Americans for Prosperity Action, the Koch brothers-funded group, has reported $1 million in spending this month on digital ad expenses in support of Perdue and in opposition to his Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff. Another group, the National Victory Action Fund, reported $2.75 million in online advertising, email communication and SMS messages to support Loeffler and Perdue, though it's not clear what percentage of that went into ads.

The groups aren't required to say where their ads are running, but one group, FreedomWorks for America, reported spending about $346,000 in pro-Loeffler and Perdue ads directly on Hulu.

All in, the Campaign Legal Center found Republican super PACs have spent over $5 million on digital ads and outreach in the Georgia runoff, compared to under $700,000 in digital ads from Democrats. None of those ads are visible to anyone who wasn't targeted by them.

"Many of the ads are pretty ugly," Fischer said of the Georgia attack ads running on television. "We're seeing some of those kinds of inflammatory messages being disseminated in public. You could only imagine what kind of messages would be communicated in secret with targeted ads that are not otherwise publicly available."

This is not the first time the Campaign Legal Center has found millions of dollars in advertising flowing to platforms that don't disclose political ads. But Facebook and Google's ongoing ad ban essentially ensures that those platforms with no accountability are the only place digital political ads can go.

To Fischer, this is yet another data point to illustrate why Facebook and Google's self-imposed transparency initiatives are insufficient and why the country needs laws that make digital platforms subject to the same record-keeping and disclosure requirements that television and radio broadcasters are held to. New York state passed a law imposing disclosure requirements on digital political ads targeting the state, but federal efforts to pass such reforms through a bill called the Honest Ads Act have stalled out in Congress.

Democrats have vehemently opposed Facebook and Google's ongoing ad ban, arguing it gives Republican incumbents, both of whom are independently wealthy and may be able to afford bigger budget TV ads, a leg up. "Facebook and Google are putting their fingers on the scale for millionaire Republican candidates while ignoring the rampant disinformation on their platforms and engaging in their own version of voter suppression," Ossoff communications director Miryam Lipper recently told Protocol in a statement. "Facebook and Google should exempt Georgia Senate candidates from the ban."

When they testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey will undoubtedly try to convince lawmakers that their companies took unprecedented actions this year to protect the 2020 election.

If lawmakers actually do their job this time, they could get answers about whether any of those actions worked.

Yes, the last Senate hearing featuring Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Sundar Pichai (who will not attend Tuesday's hearing) was an unmitigated partisan disaster, and there's no guarantee this one will be any different. But with the election behind us and attempts to undermine it still very much ongoing, members of the committee have a chance to redeem themselves by getting to the bottom of important questions about how these platforms have dealt with those attempts from President Trump on down.

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The hearing was initially scheduled after Facebook and Twitter limited the spread of a viral New York Post story about president-elect Biden's son Hunter in October. Now, Republicans seem even more primed to cry censorship than when the hearing was first announced, given the huge volume of warning labels the two companies have since slapped on President Trump's own posts. That means if anyone is going to get to the bottom of whether the platforms' strategies were effective, it will likely be the Democrats.

Perhaps the most important question Zuckerberg and Dorsey could answer is whether warning labels actually stopped or slowed the spread of misinformation. That's nearly impossible for researchers outside of the companies to figure out. "As external researchers to those platforms, it's difficult to measure the effects of their interventions because we don't know what those interventions are or when they happen, or what combination of interventions are happening," Kate Starbird, an associate professor at the University of Washington, said on a recent call with the disinformation research group the Election Integrity Partnership.

Twitter hinted at some of these answers in a blog post last week, in which executives said tweets that included warning labels saw a 29% decrease in quote retweets. But that figure didn't distinguish between the subtle labels that appeared below some tweets and the more forceful ones that required users to click through an interstitial before they could view the tweet at all.

Twitter also touted its "pre-bunk" notifications, which informed users that voting by mail was safe and that the election results might be delayed at the top of their feeds. Those prompts were viewed by 389 million people, according to Twitter, but that number says very little about the impact those prompts had on those people.

So far, Facebook hasn't shared any such numbers illustrating its labels' effectiveness. "We saw the same posts on Twitter and Facebook receive pretty different treatments," said Jessica González, co-CEO of the advocacy group Free Press. "Facebook had a more general message, which was almost the same as the message they put on any post people posted that had anything to do with the election. I'm worried about the milquetoast nature."

González said lawmakers should use this opportunity to press both companies on whether and how they're studying those qualitative questions about their warning labels and what results, if any, they've found so far.

Erin Shields, national field organizer at MediaJustice, which is part of a group called the Disinfo Defense League, said Zuckerberg and Dorsey need to answer questions about their treatment of repeat offenders. This is a concern other disinformation researchers at the Election Integrity Partnership have recently raised as well, regarding a slew of far-right personalities who have repeatedly spread voting misinformation. Twitter recently permanently suspended an account belonging to Steve Bannon over a video in which he argued Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI director Christopher Wray should be beheaded. Facebook took down the video, but left Bannon's account untouched.

"At what point do those rule violators get suspended?" Shields said. "Regular, everyday people get booted off the platform and get their accounts suspended for much less. It's interesting to see how much grace these platforms are giving political actors who are consistently violating their policies."

One related question from Shields: How much of the violative content consisted of live videos, like Bannon's, or memes? And how much longer did it take to take action on those posts, as opposed to posts containing text? The answer to that question, Shields argues, could say a lot about how porous these platforms' defenses are when it comes to video and imagery.

"We know they have some ability to check words, but what are they doing about memes and graphics and, in particular, live video where disinformation and misinformation is being shared with no pushback from the platforms?" Shields said.

This question is what makes YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki's absence from the hearing so conspicuous. YouTube took by far the most hands-off approach to election misinformation, allowing videos falsely declaring President Trump's victory to remain on the platform and rack up views. YouTube added subtle warning labels to some videos and removed their ability to run ads, but was far less proactive than either Facebook or Twitter in directly contradicting misinformation within warning labels.

YouTube has pushed back on some of the criticism it's faced, stating that 88% of the top 10 results in the U.S. for election-related searches come from authoritative sources. But that stat elides the fact that people often encounter YouTube videos on other websites or social media platforms, without ever touching YouTube search. Given how much coordination there was between tech platforms and federal agencies leading up to Election Day, it's unclear why YouTube took such a markedly different approach. "YouTube has been let off the hook here," Shields said. Without Wojcicki there, the Senate will have to save those questions for another day.

If politics is all about people, the tech industry might be set for an excellent four years. Analysis by Protocol shows that Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and their teams have close and sprawling links to the industry, with almost all of the major tech companies represented in some capacity.

To better understand the incoming administration's ties to tech, Protocol mapped out those connections. The map reveals a complex web of relationships, with familial and professional ties overlapping to create a network of interests.

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Some of the ties are simple: Apple is linked to the transition team through former VP Cynthia Hogan; Harris' brother-in-law is Uber's chief legal officer. But others are more complex: Harris' niece, Meena, used to work at Uber, Slack and Facebook, and Meena's husband is a current Facebook executive. Biden's son-in-law, meanwhile, is involved in a health-tech investment firm, and Airbnb staff are well-represented in the transition team. Oh, and Harris attended Sean Parker's wedding.

Protocol used certain criteria to make this map: To be included, people must be current or former employees of Biden or Harris (so people that only worked for former President Obama in the last Democratic administration are excluded), or must have well-known, close professional or personal links to one of the two. Potential Cabinet members and people on the transition's agency review teams are also included. Click on individual people and connections to see more detail on the links.

Do you know of other people that should be included on the map? Email shakeel@protocol.com and we'll add them.

Additional reporting by Emily Birnbaum, Anna Kramer, Issie Lapowsky and Biz Carson.

When Joe Biden won the presidential election last week, he joined a rarified group. Sure, he'll be one of just 46 men to have ever served as president — but he's also one of the only politicians ever to draw more attention on Twitter than President Trump.

During the first week of November, Biden's tweets received more likes and retweets on average than President Trump's, even as Trump's Twitter feed swelled with a relentless stream of baseless voter fraud claims. That's according to new data from the social media insights company Conviva. According to its data, Biden has only bested Trump at Twitter engagement once before in 2020 — narrowly, in September. This time, Biden pulled in an average of 300,000 engagements per tweet in a single week, roughly double that of an average month for Trump.

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Image: Conviva

It's unclear what role Twitter's decision to hide Trump's tweets behind misinformation labels played in those numbers. But it is clear that Biden's social media audience has expanded exponentially in November. While Biden had amassed just 7.67 million Twitter followers between January and October, he got another 4.76 million followers in the first eight days of November alone. Between Nov. 3 and 8, he gained 11.4 million followers across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. That's compared to roughly 4 million new followers for Trump across those platforms in the same time frame.


Image: Conviva

Of course, Trump's social media audience is so immense that getting new followers isn't really the problem, and Biden still has a long way to go to catch up with Trump's overall audience. As of Nov. 8, Trump had 146.8 million followers across those four social networks, compared to Biden's 32.7 million. He also has a massive network of hyperpartisan media companies and personalities working overtime to echo his unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud, including on Twitter. While Biden may be gaining ground on Trump's personal Twitter engagement, on Facebook, Trump is still getting millions of interactions a day on his posts.

According to CrowdTangle data, at a certain point on Tuesday afternoon, Trump's Facebook page was drawing 89% of all interactions on presidential and vice presidential candidates' pages. On Wednesday, groups like Nationwide Recount & Audit 2020 and Stop the Steal topped CrowdTangle's charts among Facebook groups discussing voting in the U.S. election. Meanwhile, Trump's own page and other conservative pages that support him continue to dominate the top U.S. posts containing links on Facebook.

In any other race, getting the most interactions on social media doesn't win you much more than bragging rights. But in this spectacularly peculiar election, in which the sitting president is pushing an alternate reality to nearly 150 million people in which he claims he didn't actually lose the election, social media chatter has consequences. According to a new study published Tuesday, Trump's tweets about alleged voter fraud have serious deleterious effects on his followers' trust in elections.

As for who's winning the race on Instagram? Neither Trump nor Biden can claim that title for November. Vice president-elect Kamala Harris ran away with it.

Image: Conviva

The announcement, which Facebook made in an update to a blog post Wednesday, fueled mounting frustration among Democrats, who say that the ban is limiting Georgia senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock's ability to reach voters ahead of a crucial runoff election in January.

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Joe Biden's transition is absolutely stacked with tech industry players, according to a list of Biden agency review teams released Tuesday.

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Now that Joe Biden has been elected to the presidency, it's time to update your contacts.

We're entering a new phase in Washington, and that means there are new power players who merit attention. Over the coming months, tech Democrats with ties to Bidenworld will help shape the future of the industry, one friendly phone call at a time.

There's a list of obvious Democrats to watch during a Biden administration. It will be fascinating to see how Eric Schmidt, Reid Hoffman, Dustin Moskowitz and Sheryl Sandberg spend the next four years. But there's a different cast of characters to pay attention to in a Biden administration: the lesser-known Washington Democrats working in tech who have ties to his campaign and inner circle.

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We've assembled a list of the Democrats in tech that you need to know over the next four years, according to tech lobbyists, tech executives and Democratic Hill aides that spoke to Protocol. Some of them could be considered for jobs in the administration; others will have an outsized voice on tech issues thanks to their links to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Either way, they will be at the frontlines of the tech industry's efforts to influence and adjust to the new administration.

You might not have heard them all yet, but it's time to change that.

Jay Carney, Amazon, SVP of global corporate affairs

D.C. insiders have been chattering about the future of Amazon executive Jay Carney, the former Obama White House spokesman who served as Biden's press secretary from 2009 to 2011 and acted as a bundler for his campaign. One source close to Carney said they hadn't received any indication that he's interested in leaving his prime position at Amazon to join a Biden administration; a tech executive said, "I don't see Jay having any intention of leaving Amazon." But his close ties to the president-elect and his orbit could benefit Amazon as the company faces intensifying scrutiny of its labor practices and antitrust issues in a Democratic Washington.

Tony Russo, T-Mobile, VP of federal government relations

Biden is literally the godfather of Tony Russo's daughter. The two men have shared a close bond for decades, since Russo served as Biden's legislative counsel in the mid-1990s.

Today, Russo heads legislative affairs at T-Mobile and has access to Biden's ear on tech and telecom issues. "Tony is in that small universe of people who not only know the vice president but also understand his history, and his thought processes, and how he looks at these issues," said one longtime Biden advisor.

The president-elect has a much longer history dealing with telecom issues than the Silicon Valley giants. And Russo will play a role as the administration grapples with the best approach to the future of 5G and closing the so-called "digital divide."

"I'm very happy where T-Mobile is situated for some of the goals of this administration," Russo told Protocol. "We have a lot of similar interests. The devil's in the details always, but I would say that we're very optimistic."

Chris Lehane, Airbnb, head of global policy and communications

Chris Lehane is best known in tech circles as the fiery Airbnb executive with a direct line to CEO Brian Chesky and a penchant for picking (and winning) fights. But in Washington, he's widely known as the prominent Democratic strategist who helped defend the Clintons through a string of scandals and served as the spokesman for former Vice President Al Gore. Those positions have left him with friends and respect among the Democratic players who will fill a Biden administration.

An operative with equally bold reputations in Washington and Silicon Valley, Lehane will certainly use his political savvy to make Airbnb's case over the next four years.

Lehane told Protocol that he believes the tech industry should be focusing energy and attention on how to help fight COVID-19. "Tech should not be asking the Biden administration what it can do for tech, but what tech could do for the country," Lehane said.

Airbnb is well-positioned to work with a Biden administration, considering many senior staff have ties back to Obamaworld and Democratic politics. Nick Papas, Airbnb's director of global corporate and policy communications, formerly worked in the Obama White House and administration. And two Airbnb employees, Courtney O'Donnell and Kim Rubey, are currently on leaves of absence to work for the Biden campaign.

Tony West, Uber, chief legal officer

The next four years could be particularly rough for Uber as a Biden administration takes on gig economy companies regarding how they treat their workers. Both Biden and Harris have pledged to side with drivers in their ongoing labor disputes with Uber and Lyft — which leaves Harris at odds with her brother-in-law Tony West.

West, one of Harris' top political advisors since 2003, was the public face of Uber's fight against Proposition 22 in California. A Harris spokesperson told the LA Times that West has never lobbied Harris or anyone on her campaign on behalf of Uber, but it's hard to imagine that the connection will be irrelevant during a Biden-Harris administration. Gig economy issues will likely be a focus of the new Labor Department under Biden.

West was a bundler for Biden, and Protocol has learned of some speculation within Uber that he could leave his job for a Biden administration position.

Jason Mahler, Oracle, VP of government affairs

Over the last four years, Oracle has solidified its reputation as a Trump-friendly tech company: Its CEO, president and top lobbyist all maintained ties to Trumpworld. Democrats recently criticized the company over its handling of a possible deal with TikTok, accusing Oracle of capitalizing on its ties to the president.

Now, the company and its lobbying shop will have to pivot if it hopes to save face with the new Biden administration, lobbyists and Hill aides told Protocol.

"They're going to have a lot of work to do here," said one tech lobbyist. "It's the flip of a coin. The more you leaned into Trump, the more cleanup you've got to do."

At least for now, some of that work will fall on Jason Mahler, the company's top Democratic lobbyist and a well-respected veteran of tech policy circles.

Mahler, who formerly served as a legislative assistant to California Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo, has lobbied for Oracle since 2010 and mostly maintains a low profile. But several sources said Oracle would be smart to put him out front more often in the coming months — and to hire some new Democrats, too.

Allen Thompson, Intel, VP of US government relations

Allen Thompson came on as the head of Intel's lobbying shop only four months ago, and his hire was likely a good bet for the company as the Democrats come into power. Thompson worked for Democrats on the House Committee on Homeland Security and was a principal at the prominent lobbying firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas. He spent the past six years at Raytheon Technologies and maintains relationships within the Biden camp.

The next administration's decisions on U.S.-China relations will be consequential for Intel, and Thompson will be a friendly face for establishment Democrats as he leads the company's lobbying efforts in D.C.

"The big thing we're looking to work with a Biden administration [on] is continuing the Congress' work to incentivize U.S. semiconductor manufacturing to maintain America's technological leadership," Thompson told Protocol.

Lisa Jackson, Apple, VP of environment, policy and social initiatives

Apple arguably has the quietest and most fastidiously nonpartisan lobbying shop of the four Big Tech companies. It's also known to stay out of the fray when it comes to some of the most divisive issues in tech, remaining narrowly focused on specific policy areas like tariffs and trade. But sources close to the company said one of Apple's biggest assets in a Biden administration will be Lisa Jackson, an Apple policy executive and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama. Jackson and Biden worked together on energy issues and maintain a positive relationship now — not to mention that Cynthia Hogan, who worked under Jackson at Apple, is now a prominent staffer on Biden's transition team.

Tom Manatos, Spotify, VP of government relations

Tom Manatos spent the first 12 years of his career as a big Democrat-about-town: nine years in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, a year and a half as a senior adviser to the chair of the Democratic National Committee, and two months as a deputy director on Obama's presidential inaugural committee in 2012. He's since veered into the world of tech lobbying, first at the Internet Association and now as Spotify's head of government relations, but he maintains deep ties within Democratic circles and the Biden campaign. Last year, he spoke at an event held by the University of Delaware's Biden Institute.

Since 2016, Manatos has led Spotify's efforts on antitrust in the U.S., and his voice will remain pivotal as the Department of Justice and state attorneys general continue to pursue antitrust investigations into the tech giants.

Amanda Anderson, Square's head of policy and government relations for the Americas

There aren't many tech lobbying shops headed by Democrats in Washington, but Amanda Anderson is one of the best-known and connected Democrats leading a government affairs team outside of the Big Tech companies. Anderson spent five years at Uber before becoming Square's head of policy and government relations last September.

Before that, Anderson spent seven years working in the Obama White House, first as a special assistant to the chief of staff and then in the legislative affairs office. She's seen as a fresh, energetic voice on tech issues and will likely know many of the Democrats flooding into the White House.

Rebecca Prozan, Google, senior manager for government affairs and public policy

Rebeca Prozan is one of the main D.C. tech players who maintains a close relationship with Harris. Prozan was Harris' campaign manager the first time she ran for San Francisco District Attorney and currently boasts "Alum for VP Elect @KamalaHarris" in her Twitter bio. Harris is expected to play an important role in shaping tech policy during the Biden administration, considering her familiarity with the issues and close ties to Silicon Valley, and Prozan will be at the forefront as Google continues to navigate a new maze of thorny issues including antitrust and Section 230.

Other prominent Democrats at Google include Johanna Shelton, Google's director of public policy and former counsel for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Alexandra Veitch, a former Obama White House staffer and YouTube's public policy lead in the Americas and emerging markets.

TBD, Facebook

Several lobbyists and executives said it's hard to name a top Democrat focused on policy and government relations at Facebook, a gap that the company will surely need to fill in order to save face as it deals with escalating scrutiny during a Biden administration.

Of course, Sandberg is a reliable Democrat at the top of the company who was once considered for Hillary Clinton's Treasury Secretary (though she stayed away from contributing directly to Biden's campaign this year). And Facebook executive Nick Clegg was formerly the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the U.K. But Facebook's D.C. office is dominated by Republicans, including Joel Kaplan, Kevin Martin and Greg Maurer.

Some sources named Brian Rice, a former legislative assistant to John Kerry and Verizon lobbyist, as one of the best-known Democrats in Facebook's policy shop. But the company's government relations team is going to have to work aggressively to shake off its Trump-friendly reputation. "I would not be surprised if you see some changes there," said one tech executive.

The fate of the United States Senate will be determined by two Georgia runoffs scheduled for less than two months from now — and Democrats say Facebook and Google are already screwing it up.

The two companies have been temporarily blocking all political ads from running on their platforms since Election Day. But the ad ban didn't account for the fact that the races for both of Georgia's senate seats would end in runoffs — one between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock, and another between Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff. Now, Democrats say the ad ban is costing Warnock and Ossoff critical days for both fundraising and getting the word out about the races.

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"There is no replacing missed high-leverage moments in online fundraising. And ads are a HUGE part of that. Every day @Facebook and @Google wait to turn ads back on they cost @ReverendWarnock a huge number of donations AND volunteers," Tim Tagaris, former digital fundraising director for Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2016 campaign, tweeted Monday. "A big gift to self-funding Kelly Loeffler."

"The biggest challenge is that Democrats are focused on Georgia right now, and our candidates lack the most critical means to engage supporters and raise funds," said one Democratic digital strategist involved in the runoffs. "Early money will allow those campaigns to plan." The strategist was hopeful that ad functionality would turn back on "in time for most of the in-state messaging."

Google declined to comment for this story, and Facebook didn't respond to Protocol's request for comment. It's unclear when either company will turn its spigot back on or whether they'll create an exception for the Georgia races.

This is not the first dustup about ad bans between Democrats and social media platforms. The week before the election, Facebook instituted a ban on any new political ads, which ended up taking down a wide array of political ads that were already running, some of which didn't get turned back on for days. The screwup inspired President-elect Biden's digital director Rob Flaherty and others to lash out at Facebook. "It is abundantly clear Facebook was wholly unprepared for this election despite having four years to prepare," Flaherty wrote in a statement at the time.

Both Facebook and Google decided to prohibit ads after Election Day in hopes of preventing anyone from using ads to undermine the election results. Not to be deterred, President Trump and his followers have just been doing that through regular old organic posts instead.


Gary Shapiro

President & CEO at Consumer Technology Association

This election divided us and now it is time to accept the result and support President-elect Biden. Part of what separates us from other nations is a history of peaceful transitions of leadership. National unity won't be easy, but all Americans can unite around creating a better life for our children and keeping our nation the global innovation and technology leader.

A Biden administration can help by focusing on jobs, skills, training and apprenticeships. Our annual Future of Work Study found that three in four technology companies face difficulty finding candidates with the right skills and abilities. Filling American tech jobs also requires a fresh look at immigration reform, with an emphasis on high-skilled immigration policy. Smart, motivated immigrants create new companies and American jobs!

Biden can also help our competitiveness by stabilizing trade relationships and promoting — and protecting — innovation in our best companies. This includes a fact-based look at Section 230, the cornerstone of free speech online, and ensuring it continues to provide protections to companies both large and small. Imagine if Facebook, Nextdoor and Yelp have to start charging everyone to fight lawsuits for things people post!

Despite the protests and depressing headlines, we can emerge from this election as a strong, united country. It's time to show the world that America is still the nation of diversity, freedom and innovation.

Victoria Espinel

President & CEO at BSA | The Software Alliance

First, an immediate and primary focus for the Biden administration will be inclusive economic recovery. Software technology has a major role to play here as a job creator and a job supporter. Many businesses, workers and students have been relying on software technology to operate their businesses, work and learn remotely, connect with loved ones, and access essential services through the pandemic. We as a nation have an opportunity to increase access to economic opportunity by focusing on education, worker training and reskilling programs, promoting high-speed internet access across the country, and expanding access to technology for underserved communities.

Second, I expect that the Biden administration will raise concerns about Big Tech, its power and accountability, and its use of data. We look forward to working with the administration on solutions that encourage the responsible use of technology and data. We also expect to see, and welcome, renewed attention on privacy by the administration, both in support for strong privacy legislation and for protections for consumers.

Third, looking beyond our borders, the administration will begin to work on rebuilding foreign alliances. There is potential to make progress on a range of issues important to tech including climate change, digital trade, surveillance norms, digital tax rules, international data transfers, and shared concerns with autocratic technology policies that are not in keeping with U.S. values. The administration's commitment to investing in research and development will support U.S. leadership in technology.

The Biden administration and Congress have important work ahead as they aim to respond to the pandemic and move forward on economic recovery. That work should include ensuring that everyone can benefit from the digital economy by supporting job creation, expanding access to training programs, and investing in research and development. The software industry is enthusiastic to join this effort.

Berin Szóka

Senior Fellow and Founder at TechFreedom

Trump called "Sleepy Joe" a tool of the "radical, socialist left." Biden insisted his primary victory was a mandate for centrist pragmatism. Perhaps nowhere will Biden's leadership be tested more than in tech policy.

Congress hasn't passed substantial tech legislation since 1996 — and even that overhaul of the Communications Act (of 1934!) mostly reflected pre-internet assumptions and fears. Congress used to make regular course-corrections through biennial reauthorization of federal agencies — but stopped in 1998, the year Congress became pure political spectacle. The Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission have since been left to improvise. The FCC's long been a "junior varsity Congress": same political baggage, no electoral accountability. The more serious FTC is trending that way. Each change of the White House means increasingly large shifts in tech policy.

These problems are as thorny as our broken judicial nomination process — and equally unlikely to be corrected through our broken legislative process. If Biden wants to be remembered for resolving them, he'll need to do for tech what he's proposed for the courts: convene an expert bipartisan commission with a clear mandate to develop once-in-a-century legislation, and then get 'er done.

Biden's nominations for FCC and FTC chairs will reveal whether he's genuinely interested in leading on tech or on content, like Trump and Obama, to exploit tech issues to excite his base. Strong chairs could build congressional consensus for significant, but viable and therefore moderate, legislation. But if he picks bomb-throwers over problem-solvers, we'll have four more years of the same digital culture wars — and creating a stable digital-era regulatory framework may have to wait several more presidencies.

Bruce Mehlman

Executive Director at Technology CEO Council

President-elect Biden will face the same challenges as President Trump has with respect to technology: The accelerating fourth industrial revolution will be solving immense global and national challenges while at the same time failing to protect consumers, accelerating inequality, reshaping geopolitics and often undermining competition. The core technology policy objective of Congress and the next several presidents this decade will be ensuring that the U.S. remains the global leader in innovation and entrepreneurship while also developing smart and well-targeted new policy approaches that maximize inclusive growth while minimizing externalities from businesses inclined to move too fast and break too many things.

We expect focus in 2021 on competition policy such as modernizing antitrust; digital consumer protections such as privacy, content moderation and algorithmic fairness; national security imperatives including 5G, updated export controls, cybersecurity and supply chain resilience; and new societal paradigms, such as supporting the gig economy, STEM education and lifelong learning platforms.

Nicol Turner Lee

Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will inherit a host of unsettled technology policy issues, including the governance of internet and artificial intelligence systems, mounting calls for stronger antitrust enforcement and platform regulation, the lack of a federal privacy standard, and an ambiguous (and often impulsive) approach to international tech issues, especially with China. The Biden administration means that these and other issues will shape the technology agenda at least for the first year of the new administration. But tech policies will not supersede the administration's immediate focus on the never-ending pandemic and the resulting economic fractures, as well as growing racial polarization.

These realities will consume the administration's time and may foreclose opportunities to leverage technology as part of the cure of these immediate concerns. If the Biden administration leveraged the transformational capabilities of technology to support the public good or prioritized closing the digital divide, these topics would add the potential reform of the nation's Universal Service Fund to the list of tech policy priorities, ensuring more ubiquitous broadband access for rural, urban and tribal communities.

COVID-19 revealed the unfortunate alignment of the lack of digital access with a host of systemic inequalities, like poverty or geographic isolation. Consequently, citizens are constrained in commerce, workforce, housing and other essential services. Since the thrust of the Biden-Harris campaign was centered around equity, their presidency means that closing the digital divide, ensuring viable jobs and careers in tech-related industries, and instituting measures for fairness and equal access among tech industries should be on top of the other outstanding issues.

Jason Oxman

President & CEO at Information Technology Industry Council (ITI)

As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19 and the economic fallout from the pandemic, revitalizing and growing the U.S. economy will be a top priority in a Biden-Harris administration. The tech industry can be a partner to the new administration on this all-important effort, as well as on policies that maintain America's global leadership and foster greater opportunity across all communities.

We anticipate and welcome the Biden-Harris administration having a more robust federal role in encouraging domestic innovation, including investment in research and development. This is critical to helping curb the current crisis through the development of therapeutics and vaccines, as well as essential to ensuring the U.S. continues to lead its global competitors in creating transformative technologies like AI and quantum computing.

President-elect Biden has also identified education and workforce development reform as top priorities. We anticipate his administration will expand on efforts to diversify the workforce by providing STEM education, closing skills and opportunity gaps, and supporting high-skilled immigration. We also anticipate the administration to seek long-awaited certainty for DACA recipients through pushing for quick passage of the DREAM Act, legislation our industry strongly supports.

On an international stage, the tech industry supports Biden's multilateral approach to trade policy and a renewed collaboration with allies to achieve U.S. trade and economic objectives, including with respect to China. Such an approach — one that encourages open markets, reduces barriers to trade, and promotes a competitive tax system — is crucial to supporting American businesses and innovation.

The tech industry is committed to working constructively with the next administration to ensure that the United States adopts policies that support the well-being of all Americans.

Matthew T. Cornelius

Executive Director at the Alliance for Digital Innovation

President-elect Biden's tech priorities will almost assuredly be tied to his top campaign issue: crushing coronavirus and restoring the health of Americans and the American economy. We can expect his first focus will be on a massive fiscal stimulus package that, among other items, will include substantial increases in technology investments to combat COVID-19, such as contact tracing, advanced data analytics and high-performance computing.

But Biden will also focus on ensuring that the government can acquire and leverage the best commercial technology capabilities American companies have to offer (as his campaign has consistently focused on supporting American companies and American workers). Federal agencies, as well as state and local offices, will be at the front lines of delivering benefits, services and program outcomes to combat the coronavirus, prop up the economy, support families and address critical issues such as continued high unemployment. Doing this effectively means overcoming years of legacy IT in government with a burst of modern technology products and digital services that will enable federal agencies to deliver better results quickly and effectively.

More broadly, a Biden administration is likely to focus on scaling research and development funding to support America's leadership in the technologies of the future, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and hyper automation, with an additional, targeted focus on ensuring we have a skilled and able workforce to understand and make maximum use of these emerging capabilities.

See who's who in Protocol's Braintrust (updated Nov. 4, 2020).

Questions, comments or suggestions? Email braintrust@protocol.com

Joe Biden's election as the 46th president of the United States gives the tech industry a reason to breathe a brief sigh of relief, following a days-long count of ballots during which Facebook and Twitter raced to contain a swell of misinformation, much of it coming from President Donald Trump himself.

Since he clinched the Democratic nomination, Biden has been the overwhelming favorite in the presidential race among those in the tech sector. The industry has butted heads with the Trump administration at almost every turn of his presidency: over immigration, trade, net neutrality and, more recently, content moderation on social media. This last week offered a prime example of that fraught relationship as the president repeatedly flouted tech platforms' election policies in an attempt to undermine the results.

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With Biden's election, some in the industry anticipate a return to some semblance of normalcy. "I think the thing that everyone would love […] is a boring presidency that's relatively calm. Not the anxiety and chaos that we have with Trump every single day," investor Bradley Tusk recently told Protocol. "Volatility is a problem."

But tech leaders shouldn't expect everything to go back to the way it was during the Obama years, when the president touted Silicon Valley as a bright spot during a dark time for the nation's economy. Too much has changed since then. President Trump's election in 2016 — and all of the controversy surrounding it — irrevocably altered the public perception of tech giants and invited well-deserved scrutiny from lawmakers and the public. That scrutiny won't evaporate under a Biden administration.

Throughout his campaign, the president-elect has neither hugged the industry close like Obama did nor punched it in the nose like Trump has. Instead, he's held the industry at arm's length, making it hard to predict exactly what comes next. That's especially true given that Biden may well lead a divided Congress. Democrats will control the House, but control of the Senate is still up for grabs.

Of course, some things are abundantly clear, like the fact that Biden seems poised to overturn many of the executive orders on immigration President Trump signed, including restrictions to high-skilled immigration. Over the course of four years, the Trump administration added new hurdles to the H-1B visa application and renewal process, leading to massive backlogs that have created uncertainty for foreign tech workers, their families and the companies that employ them. Biden has promised to increase the number of visas for "permanent, work-based immigration" and eliminate limits on employment-based green cards by country.

Much of that work, of course, would have to happen with Congress' help. But it would be within Biden's power to scrap the restrictions the Trump administration has put in place, which would likely obviate a number of lawsuits that trade groups like TechNet are currently fighting.

"I would be surprised if on day one or two they didn't just strike all those executive orders. That would alleviate a lot of the problems," said Linda Moore, CEO of TechNet. Moore said she's encouraged by the support that TechNet has gotten in this fight from right-leaning groups like The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Their voices will be critical, she said, in pushing Republicans in Congress to support broader immigration reform, no matter who controls the Senate. "We feel like we've gotten good indications from Republicans and Democrats and the Biden team that they want to do that," Moore said. "But that's going to take political capital."

Another area of clarity: net neutrality and broadband access. President-elect Biden has indicated that he fully supports Obama-era rules that allowed the Federal Communications Commission to punish companies that try to block, throttle or force consumers to pay for broadband service. Re-instituting those rules would fall to Biden's eventual FCC chair, and several of the likely contenders for that role under a Biden administration, including Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, are champions of net neutrality.

Biden has also laid out a plan to invest $20 billion in broadband infrastructure, but that would take Congressional support. This sort of investment would be a welcome development in the tech sector, said Jason Oxman, CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council. But it's also one of the few tech policy issues that is central to a pandemic recovery plan, which is undoubtedly Biden's top priority heading into office and could lend itself to more bipartisan support. "The Biden campaign has talked a lot about how crucial broadband infrastructure is to remote working, remote learning, distance medicine and all kinds of technologies that are important during a pandemic," Oxman said. "That's [an] area we're very focused on and feel the Biden administration will have an emphasis on."

The dueling health and economic crises facing the country, however, mean that many of the other pet tech issues that President Trump obsessed over may fall far down the list of priorities under a Biden administration, or at least be handled with a far lighter touch.

That begins with Section 230 reform. While Biden did call for repealing Section 230 in January, he's scarcely discussed the issue since. Arguably the only reason President Trump has continued to prioritize that law in the midst of a pandemic is because, as a prolific social media user who has repeatedly run afoul of tech platforms' rules, it affects him so personally. Those priorities will likely shift once the president of the United States isn't also one of Twitter's biggest troublemakers.

"If Biden is president, is that high on the list of things that need to be addressed?" Oxman asked. "How many Americans are going to the ballot box pulling a lever because of the candidate's position on Section 230? Probably not a lot."

That doesn't mean the topic of Section 230 reform would disappear, as Republicans in Congress are likely to keep pressing tech giants on content moderation. But Moore and others say it's unclear exactly how aggressively Biden would pursue it. "I think there's more to be seen and more to be fleshed out," Moore said.

It could be a similar situation for Chinese tech companies like TikTok, which President Trump has attempted to strong-arm into a sale in recent months, further souring relationships with China. Biden will enter office with an agenda that requires China's cooperation on everything from climate action to containing the COVID-19 pandemic, so he'll need to tread a fine line between diplomacy and confronting the range of ways that Chinese technology could pose a threat to Americans. Experts say it's unlikely he'd go about addressing that threat in quite the same way as Trump did.

"I don't know that they'll try to use TikTok or another flashy shiny object as a wedge issue to pick a fight with China," said Garrett Johnson, co-founder of Lincoln Network, a right-leaning group focused on the intersection of tech and government. "Can you really pick a fight on TikTok and still get some common ground and move forward on a new version of the Paris Climate Accord? I don't know."

Perhaps the biggest unknown for the tech industry heading into a Biden administration is his approach to antitrust issues. More specifically, will the president-elect make good on the progressive wing of the party's calls to break up big tech companies? During the primaries, that was a core campaign message for both Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who have rallied their fervent followers behind Biden. "The progressive wing of the party held their fire and did everything they could to help get him elected," said Jesse Lehrich, a former Hillary Clinton campaign staffer and co-founder of the advocacy group Accountable Tech. "There will be momentum on this stuff, and he'll be responsive to it."

It's also one of the few policy areas around which there is actually bipartisan support. "There might not be a big difference between a Trump or Biden antitrust division," said Robert McDowell, a former Republican FCC commissioner, who is now a partner at Cooley.

If antitrust investigations and legal battles against Big Tech continue, the next four years may not prove as challenging for the tech sector as the last four have been, but they won't be easy, either. Given the outpouring of financial support for Biden from tech employees and the innumerable crises they faced under President Trump, it seems that was a chance they were willing to take.

Additional reporting by Emily Birnbaum


Hello and welcome to Pipeline. If you're like me, all you've probably consumed this week is hours of election results plus an inordinate number of Nevada slow-counting TikTok videos. So let's take a (small) break to recap what happened in the venture and startups world. This week: The VC version of a news dump, the rise of "Small Tech" and my new favorite merger name: GoPuffMo!

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Overheard

  • A GitHub page won the election. Some people may have watched CNN nonstop, but a lot of the tech industry ended up staring at a GitHub page created by a group of engineers that tracked every time the count was updated in swing states.
  • "Most of California voted on a service, while the Bay Area voted on a company," Stratechery's Ben Thompson wrote this week, summarizing what I thought was one of the most interesting election results (in what's already an interesting election). Prop 22 passed in California, but the Bay Area delivered a "no" verdict against the measure, going against its hometown companies of Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates and Instacart.
  • There's a VC version of a news dump. While Election Day was expected to be a day for companies to bury their bad news, venture capital firms tried to be sneaky and file Form D paperwork for new fundraises. TechCrunch caught the filings, which showed that Precursor Ventures, Insight Partners and Hustle Fund are all raising new money.
  • Pencils (momentarily) down. Two weeks ago, Pipeline published three different election scenarios and what could happen to investor interest in funding rounds depending on how the election went. DocSend's CEO Russ Heddleston predicted then that it'd be "pencils down" if the election were contested — and that came true. "On Monday and Tuesday, pitch deck interest fell fractionally, and on Wednesday we saw a big dip likely fueled by election uncertainty," he said. "On Thursday, interest rebounded." DocSend will update its pitch deck interest index on Monday for a deeper look at how things are playing out as this drags on.
  • "Is that the 'Gilligan's Island' theme?" It sounds like a 2020 television plot. In the backdrop of giant world problems, a tech exec and a billionaire are squabbling over a Dale Chihuly sculpture, ocean views and whether playing the "Gilligan's Island" theme song warrants a restraining order.

Biz on Biz

Talk of the town: What people in the VC world are thinking following the election

Election Day dragged into election week, and frankly left a lot of people with more questions than answers about what it will look like for our nation moving forward. It's already been dissected what a Biden or Trump win would do for venture capital (if Biden pulls through, think higher capital gains taxes) — but that's not what's on investors' minds.

Instead, I reached out to a handful of people in the venture capital world to see how they spent their election nights and what's on their mind now as they process the outcome from the last few days. From watching WrestleMania 3 to pondering what a Republican-led Senate might mean for governing, here's a snapshot at how a few investors are thinking:

Ann Miura-Ko, Floodgate:

  • How she spent election night: "My husband grilled steaks and Caesar salad, and my 9-year-old made garlic mashed potatoes, and we sat down and channel surfed between CNN, ABC and Fox News to get a sense of what everyone was saying. I think I had my nose in Twitter half the night as well."
  • On her mind now: "In general I think that having a majority Republican Senate with Biden as president may generally be better for the country. This close election suggests that there isn't a universal mandate in any direction, and while I believe that it makes things harder to get things done, my hope is that it moderates any actions that we do take so that we aren't swinging from one extreme to the other every four years. Ultimately I want to see a more unified country, which means we need to create economic opportunity for all, pride in and respect for all forms of work and a renewed trust that collective truth can exist. I believe that tech can play a role in creating this type of abundance for our country and for the world."

Trae Stephens, Founders Fund:

  • How he spent election night: "I spent election night with my family, watching the election returns and talking with my kids (5 and 7) about how blessed we are to live in a democracy where we have the ability to pick our leaders, vote on policies, and be civically engaged in building a better society, especially with people with whom we may not agree about everything.
  • On his mind now: "While it has certainly been exciting to watch an election filled with so many unprecedented moments unfold, I'm even more interested in what a potentially new (or continuation of the current) administration means for the future of defense. Specifically, it is critical to ensure new and emerging technologies are supported and fielded within the defense department and that we continue to look for pathways for Silicon Valley and the department to work together more effectively."

Pam Kostka, All Raise:

  • How she spent election night: "My family and I watched "'The Mandalorian" as a distraction from politics while my husband and I kept surreptitious watch on our cell phones of the early returns and texted with friends. I went to bed at 10 figuring the only way to make myself feel worse was to be sleep-deprived …and I got a solid eight hours!"
  • On her mind now: "We have deep schisms that are separating us, and it's time we begin to bridge the gap rather than cementing into our poles. One of the things I believe everyone can get behind, no matter their political affiliation, is the need for more diversity in leadership, in both government and the private sector. It was heartening to see that like 2018, 2020 has been a record-breaking year for women running for office. At All Raise, we're inspired by that as we work on lifting women into positions of power in tech and venture capital."

Hunter Walk, Homebrew:

  • How he spent election night: "Once it became clear that we were in for 48-72 hours of vote counting, I stopped tracking results, put my kid to bed and watched parts of WrestleMania 3 — comfort food content from my childhood where I knew the good guy won in the end."
  • On his mind now: "How my daughter was born into an Obama presidency and now gets to see Kamala Harris as our first female VP. And the work I need to do, we all need to do, to reknit the country together. None of the startup stuff matters if we don't build our companies on top of healthy solid ground."
Josh Felser, formerly Freestyle:
  • How he spent election night: "At home in Marin with my partner, Jessica Scorpio, medicating with Joe's Stone Crabs, cream spinach and key lime pie while meditating to desperately calm our frayed psyches."
  • On his mind now: "There have never been two candidates so diametrically opposed to such a global, foundational and existential challenge: climate change. Biden has a $2-trillion-dollar climate plan that might just save the world, create millions of new jobs and restore the USA's leadership. Trump is pushing the equivalent of a negative trillion-dollar plan, injecting gigatons of C02 into our atmosphere and increasing global suffering. So yes this election is top of mind for so many of us directly engaged in battling climate change."
Mitchell Green, Lead Edge Capital:
  • How he spent election night: "I sat on CNN, and around 10 p.m. I got bored so I turned it off."
  • On his mind now: He shared a text message from a friend that he thinks sums it up: "Amazing that market rallying — the only thing people seem confident about is technological progress, which is good for us! Elections are like family reunions. This one felt like everyone got older and fatter. All they wanted to do is bitch and realized they really don't like each other. Ugly. I think America is waking up to the fact that [its] dysfunctional behavior has less to do with Trump and more to do with a society that doesn't want to change, to take on new challenges. It should open the door to new opportunities for China to become more of a global leader. But then they act just as reactionary as the U.S. with this Ant fiasco. What a crazy world! I wish we could just check out and go to a beach or casino!"

What else is on your mind? Email biz@protocol.com and I may include a few answers in next week's Pipeline edition.

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Inside Track

  • Section 230 challenges aren't going away — no matter the presidential election outcome. But instead of repealing it, Craft Ventures' David Sacks thinks Section 230 should be amended, and the First Amendment could become tech's "life preserver."
  • Of the millions of people who got Expensify's email to vote for Biden, 0.5% ended up responding to the company. Among the chief complaints: Trump is not a threat, Biden is a socialist, politics and business shouldn't mix, and also how the email violated their trust (and why Expensify disagrees).
  • Investors are distracted and trying to wrap up rounds already in progress, says Hustle Fund's Elizabeth Yin. Here's why she thinks right now is a terrible time to fundraise.
  • The ethics of tech companies were back in the news this week, but where should people start to learn more? Several people pointed to the Omidyar Network's Ethical Explorer pack as a starting resource for people to learn how to build ethical tech tools and companies.

Need to Know

  • The U.S. sued to block Visa's acquisition of Plaid. The DOJ says Visa will take out a nascent competitor while Visa argues that Plaid isn't a payments company. Either way, expect the SPACs to be circling if this thing falls through.
  • "Small Tech" is becoming a thing now. With the government coming for Big Tech, The Information reported that smaller internet companies, from Etsy to startups like Reddit and Patreon, are looking to form their own political coalition to fight back against policy decisions. Reddit has already been vocal about how revisions to things like Section 230 could devastate its business, so expect "small tech" or "little tech" to start fighting back.
  • GoPuffMo! The SoftBank-backed essentials delivery service GoPuff was nearing a deal to buy California liquor store chain BevMo! for $350 million, according to Bloomberg. I had no idea BevMo! was so cheap, but it does give GoPuff a way into the California markets to compete with DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates on under-an-hour delivery. My best read of it is that it's a very small-scale Amazon-Whole Foods deal and one to keep an eye on.
  • Making moves: More people leave SoftBank, including its COO and four other partners. Trinity Ventures loses top deal-maker after pausing fundraising for its new fund earlier this year, according to The Information. There's been a lot of chatter this year around what will happen to the firm, which was already going out to raise a smaller fund, but now there's a bigger question mark on its future.
  • From Protocol: Facebook and Twitter are finally calling out election misinformation. Is it working?
  • This week in VC history: I looked back fondly on the stories I wrote for Business Insider on the 2016 election night, which gave us some gems like investor Shervin Pishevar calling for California to form its own nation.
  • And your weekend watching: You probably need to relax after this week, so I'll recommend the Netflix limited series "The Queen's Gambit" for a show that turns chess into a gripping drama.

Thanks for reading this week's Protocol Pipeline. If you like what you're reading, sign up here to get it in your inbox. Send story tips and newsletter feedback to biz@protocol.com.

The decisions Facebook and Twitter have made this week to stop the spread of election misinformation would have been unimaginable just four years ago. On Twitter, President Trump's feed has become an infinite scroll of warning labels. On Facebook, one of the fastest growing groups in the company's history, called Stop the Steal, got shut down in a matter of days. Twitter slowed recommendations of tweets that had been labeled as election misinformation, and Facebook is reportedly cooking up plans to do the same.

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The companies' swift and aggressive action led some to speculate that tech giants — with the exception of YouTube — had succeeded in averting the mess they made in 2016.

But have they really? Is it worth cheering Facebook for shutting down a group over the risk of offline violence when armed protesters have already gathered at the gates and new groups are popping up in its place? Is it really enough for Twitter to label Donald Trump Jr.'s tweet as "disputed" when what he's calling for in that tweet is "total war"? As debunked rumors about dead people voting and watermarks on ballots continue to grow days after the election, is it really fair to say tech companies have fought the good fight against misinformation and won?

To put it in language we're all well-familiar with by now: It's too early to call.

"I really hate a lot of the reporting that's going on that's like they passed or they didn't pass," Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, said on a call with reporters Friday organized by the Election Integrity Partnership. "It's not that simple … In some cases they did really well. In some cases there's lots of room for improvement. And I don't think we can just dilute that down."

First: Credit where it's due. Recent research from Harvard has shown that President Trump and other elite conservatives are the biggest spreaders of misinformation about voter fraud, and this week has certainly proved the case. Both online and off, President Trump has continuously claimed without evidence that the election is being stolen. Facebook and Twitter have taken aggressive action on those claims, stringently policing the accounts of Trump and his inner circle.

"Facebook and Twitter are saying to Donald Trump, 'This disinformation on the platform won't fly, and we're going to enforce our policies,'" said Daniel Kreiss, a professor of media and communications at the University of North Carolina, who specializes in tech and policy. "From an elite perspective, I think they sent a message that they play a democratic role and will protect free and fair elections. That's an unmitigated good."

Trump's efforts to undermine the election results were something the tech platforms foresaw and had solid plans in place for, said Emerson Brooking, a resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab. "They prepared a lot for a contested result and contestation coming from the President of the United States, and I think they've done as reasonable a job as you could," Brooking said on the Election Integrity Partnership call.

But their record has been mixed when it comes to the broader landscape of misinformation and disinformation. The EIP tracked the spread of the #Sharpiegate conspiracy, for one, which falsely claimed that Arizona ballots would be rejected if they were filled out with Sharpie. They found that tweets related to Sharpiegate started off being shared by unverified accounts with relatively small audiences Wednesday and rapidly ballooned as they were picked up by larger accounts over the course of the day. That's even after Arizona election officials debunked the rumor on Twitter.

Misinformation that begins on Facebook and Twitter has been spreading quickly to smaller platforms with less robust monitoring. One example: Twitter has repeatedly labeled tweets from the account @PhillyGOP for spreading false information. But according to Renee DiResta, a technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, posts that were identical to @PhillyGOP's would nearly simultaneously turn up on platforms like Parler, which bills itself as a "free speech social network." "They're just watching the Twitter account, and then they want to be the first person on Parler to spread the news," DiResta said on one of the EIP's press calls.

There's little Facebook and Twitter can do once posts have left their sites, but the researchers say there's a lot more they could be doing to at least prevent repeat offenders from continuing to violate their rules and amass a larger audience in the process. "The fact that you have the same accounts, who violate these rules over and over again that don't get punished is going to be something the platforms have to address," Stamos said. "If you can keep on getting punished, but in doing so, you increase your follower account, and there's no risk of your entire account being taken away, it's completely logical to do this."

The question of what to do with repeat offenders is particularly fraught when it comes to elected officials, like newly elected congresswoman and QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose unsubstantiated tweets about the election being stolen were repeatedly masked under warning labels this week. And yet, she shows no signs of stopping. "These platforms have to consider permanently removing U.S. officials from platforms if they use them so destructively," Brooking said. "That will be a big challenge in the weeks ahead."

Facebook and Twitter, it's clear, are trying. Their websites are wallpapered with warning labels. But what good is wallpaper if you peel it back and find the walls are rotting?

By almost any measure, misinformation and disinformation on social media have been as prolific as ever this week. Much of that informational pollution came from the president himself and the media channels that exist to support him. Tech platforms were never going to be able to fully defend themselves against such an onslaught. But it's still unclear how formidable the defenses they do have in place have been. Did labels actually slow the spread of these rumors? What kind of a life did these posts take on on other platforms? What connection did all the online chatter have to offline action? Answering those questions will take more considered research than can be completed in a few days.

What is clear is at the moment, the country is teetering on the edge of instability, with hoards of angry and often armed voters taking to the streets and intimidating election officials. In some cases, they're doing it because of the things they saw online, which they've been conditioned over time by conservative media and tech companies' lax policies or lack of enforcement to believe are true. Do those same companies now deserve pats on the back for finally, suddenly telling them they're not? That, it seems, would be a premature declaration of victory.

The so-called Stop the Steal 2020 group had amassed more than 300,000 users, but it was taken down by Facebook on Thursday.

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Over the past 24 hours, both Twitter and Facebook have slapped a relentless stream of labels on misleading posts about voting and election results — most prominently from the president himself.

Misinformation researchers have praised some of their efforts. But a much larger question hangs over each of these decisions: Do these labels even work?

Some preliminary studies have found that warning labels on fake news stories can have the unintended effect of making readers more willing to share unlabeled stories — even if those turn out to be untrue as well. Still, other surveys have suggested that in search, when websites are rated as containing unreliable information, the majority of people are less likely to share news from those sites. The impact Facebook, Twitter and YouTube's labels have had over these last few days, however, remains a mystery.

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"There's been no research on the effectiveness of this," said Aimee Rinehart, U.S. deputy director of the misinformation project First Draft News.

As election results came in Tuesday and Wednesday, researchers applauded Twitter's strategy — particularly the most heavy-handed labels from the social media platform, which require users to click through an interstitial and prevent them from sharing or engaging with the post.

"Twitter's been the fastest to actually append effective labels and to actually hide objectionable content," said Emerson Brooking, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab.

The company took forceful action against tweets from President Trump falsely claiming Democrats were trying to "STEAL the election," hiding it behind a label that said some of the content in the post was "disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process."

Facebook's approach has, meanwhile, received more middling reviews. It also labeled President Trump's posts about election stealing, but those labels appeared beneath the post and did not limit users from sharing or engaging with the underlying message. "Final results may be different from initial vote counts," Facebook's label reads. Facebook has also begun applying the same label to all posts from both Biden and Trump, despite the fact that only the Trump campaign has prematurely declared victory, leading some to wonder whether the labels might confuse Facebook users about who's telling the truth.

Researchers have expressed similar concerns about YouTube, which has affixed small, subtle "information panels" with factual information directly under videos and search results related to the election, an approach that experts said could confuse people trying to differentiate between misinformation and reputable news sources. "Too often, YouTube has tried to get away with doing the minimum, and this is another instance of that," said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

YouTube spokesperson Ivy Choi said in a statement that YouTube "remains vigilant with regards to election-related content in this post-election period."

"In this post-election period, our teams are continuing to work around the clock to quickly remove content misleading people about voting or encouraging interference in the democratic process, raise up authoritative news publishers in search results and 'watch next' panels, and reduce the spread of harmful election-related misinformation," Choi said. "On Election Day, we removed several livestreams for violating our spam policies, and our election results information panel is prominently surfaced above search results and under videos about the election."

Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center, said Twitter's labels are likely the most effective because they provide "friction," requiring users to click through warnings with relevant context about why the posts are inaccurate. That process can slow people down and force them to reconsider what they're interacting with.

But Twitter has mainly reserved such muscular actions for the president's tweets. When Trump aides, including White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Eric Trump, prematurely declared Trump had won Pennsylvania on Wednesday afternoon, Twitter affixed a less aggressive label underneath their posts. "Official sources may not have called the race when this was tweeted," the Twitter label reads.

"As votes are still being counted across the country, our teams continue to take enforcement action on tweets that prematurely declare victory or contain misleading information about the election broadly," said a Twitter spokesperson. "Our teams continue to monitor tweets that attempt to spread misleading information about voting, accounts engaged in spammy behavior, and tweets that make premature or inaccurate claims about election results."

One key question is whether any of this is slowing the spread of misinformation. Researchers are doubtful. "The information we have so far regarding the effectiveness of labeling generally is it doesn't really reduce the spread of content," Brooking said.

Some of Trump's most devoted followers have started to copy and paste the tweets that Twitter hides, according to the Election Integrity Partnership, which created an even bigger mess for Twitter to deal with. As of last night, "some of them were cleaned up [and] some of them weren't," said Kate Starbird, a researcher with the EIP.

In some cases, groups like the Real Facebook Oversight Board, a collective of academics and activists focused on accountability at Facebook, reported that misinformation continued to go viral on multiple platforms, even after it got labeled. "#StopTheSteal went from Twitter and transferred over to Facebook with millions of views," said Shireen Mitchell, a member of the group and founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women, in a statement. "It was labeled as inaccurate but it was still spread. It's the perfect example of digital voter suppression."

Beyond the impact information labels have on the spread of those posts, there are even trickier questions to answer, like do the labels actually convince people not to believe the underlying message? Do the labels unintentionally create a sort of Streisand effect, driving people to the original posts purely because they have labels? How much can a single misinformation label really accomplish now when, for four years, the president has been using social media to seed the idea that voter fraud is rampant in America, entirely without objection from Facebook or Twitter? By Election Day, was it already too late?

Getting to those answers would require more sophisticated polling of social media users, which so far, doesn't exist.

On Facebook, at least, that could change. Earlier this year, Facebook announced it would be working with a 17-person independent team of researchers to study the platform's impact on the 2020 election. Among the areas of study was the role Facebook plays in the spread of political misinformation. But it's unclear if the researchers will specifically look at whether people are actually processing the labels in ways that limit the misinformation's spread or, at the very least, helps deter people from believing in the misinformation themselves. Neither Facebook nor the lead researchers on the project responded to Protocol's request for comment.

Of course, it's noteworthy that tech companies are making an effort on this front at all. It's more than they could say they did in 2016 when misinformation went entirely unchecked by every social platform. And there are limits to what these companies alone can do. On Wednesday, even as Facebook and Twitter tried to correct the record on the president's claims about election stealing, his campaign was sending the same message to voters by email — where no one could say he's wrong.

Update: This story was updated at 4:52 p.m. PT to include statements from Twitter and YouTube.

The law will replace the California Consumer Privacy Act, which was passed in 2018, following a separate push to get a privacy measure on the ballot that year. The author and chief financial backer of Proposition 24, real estate mogul Alastair Mactaggart, was behind CCPA's passage as well.

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Right-wing figures are spreading misleading narratives about voter fraud in Pennsylvania and Georgia on Twitter and Facebook while an unknown entity is robocalling voters in Michigan, a deluge that could confuse voters and depress turnout in swing states on a pivotal Election Day.

Conservative influencers with millions of followers spent the morning spreading falsehoods about voting by mail and individual polling stations, particularly in Pennsylvania and other battleground states, said misinformation researchers with the Election Integrity Partnership and Zignal Labs.

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Twitter took action against multiple tweets from the Philly GOP official account alleging unproven instances of voter fraud during the first half of the day, but tweets about unsubstantiated instances of voter suppression continued to circulate. Twitter also labeled and limited the spread of false content alleging voter machines were locked down and broken in districts that voted for Trump in 2016.

Viral falsehoods are also spreading about election technology malfunctions in Georgia. While there have been some technological mishaps at various voting stations, researchers said those claims were being used to allege partisan interference. "Viral claims around these malfunctions allege they're intentionally caused to achieve partisan ends," the EIP tweeted. "There's no evidence to suggest this: election technology glitches happen & provisions are in place. We encourage voters to check with their local election officials for updates."

Misinformation about battleground states will likely continue to spread quickly throughout the day on Tuesday, posing a serious test for the platforms as they seek to prove they have learned their lesson since 2016. As researchers warned ahead of time, the toughest challenges will come as American influencers use their enormous platforms to promote lies or misleading narratives.

So far, the majority of the voter fraud claims are emanating from the right-wing influencers and accounts. But Kate Starbird, who researches misinformation for the University of Washington, said she believes many people on the left are going to be "susceptible" to spreading false narratives as the day wears on. "If the results aren't clear tonight, many on the left are expecting something in terms of a more clear win," Starbird said during a webinar. "I think people are going to be vulnerable [to spreading misinformation] on both ides of the political spectrum."

Meanwhile, Michigan officials are warning of robocalls spreading disinformation and warning voters to stay home on Tuesday, particularly in Flint, a majority-Black city.

"We received reports that an unknown party is purposefully spreading misinformation via robocalls in Flint in an attempt to confuse voters," tweeted Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The FBI is currently investigating the calls, according to The Washington Post.