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Power

As Facebook fights, Mark Zuckerberg’s voice is still the only one that matters

During an emotional all-hands call on Tuesday, Facebook employees pleaded for new ways to think about moderation. Their only hope: changing Mark Zuckerberg's mind.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

In the past, Mark Zuckerberg has reminded the staff at Facebook that the company "is not a democracy."

Photo: Alessio Jacona

Stop me if this sounds familiar: Mark Zuckerberg holds an all-hands meeting, and gets questioned on a corporate policy that many of his employees don't like. Zuckerberg reminds the staff that Facebook believes in free speech, and is not interested in being "an arbiter of truth." Eventually, he reminds his team: "This is not a democracy."

That story comes from last fall, when the topic of discussion was Facebook's allowing of, and refusal to fact-check, political ads. Now, months later, Facebook's back in a similar situation.

Zuckerberg took a more conciliatory tone on an all-hands call on Tuesday. The meeting was higher-stakes than usual, given the events of recent days. After Facebook declined to take action on President Trump's post saying "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," hundreds of employees protested the company's decision by simply declining to work. "People are in a lot of pain right now," one employee told me.

At least one engineer already publicly quit over the decision. Others have said they're turning down jobs they'd been pursuing with the company. And employees from around the company have criticized Facebook, and Zuckerberg himself. (That they're doing it on Twitter, you have to figure, probably makes it feel even worse.)

On Tuesday, Zuckerberg spoke on a video chat to about 25,000 Facebook employees, Vox reported. You can picture it: Zuckerberg, slightly too close to the camera and slightly overlit as he always is on these streams, in front of that light-wood wall.

First he reiterated his explanation for not taking down Trump's post. He said he was troubled by the post and agonized over the decision, but ultimately decided that what Trump posted had "no history of being read as a dog whistle for vigilante supporters to take justice into their own hands." Since it didn't clearly and imminently incite violence, he said, the post stayed online.

The explanation didn't seem to make anyone feel better — just as Zuckerberg's call with Trump and another with civil-rights leaders didn't seem to help. Zuckerberg wants his team to understand that he's just following the Facebook rules, but his team is shouting back that he needs to change those rules.

Like Zuckerberg has said, it's not a democracy. With just under 58% of the company's voting shares, the CEO is impossible to overrule. (And amid all this turmoil, Facebook shares are up slightly, so it's not like investors want his head.) Facebook's vaunted Oversight Board hasn't started working yet, and when it does it won't be able to get involved in issues like this. As Zuckerberg goes, so goes Facebook.

There does appear to be something of a moderation inner circle, though. Answering a question about who helped make the decision on Trump's post, Zuckerberg said that he, Sheryl Sandberg, controversial policy VP Joel Kaplan and head of diversity Maxine Williams (who was also the only black person Zuckerberg said he consulted) were all on his list, along with a couple of others who he didn't name. Notably missing? Guy Rosen, Facebook's head of integrity — the same job title Yoel Roth has at Twitter. Roth became the target of harassment after Twitter took its action on Trump's posts last week.

Still, there may be hope for employees seeking change. Bloomberg reported, citing anonymous sources from inside Facebook, that the company is already planning two new initiatives: a central hub where users can find election-related information, not unlike the one it built for COVID-19; and new initiatives for promoting racial justice.

Perhaps more interesting for employees railing against the decision about Trump's post, Facebook's also thinking about new ways to police content. Zuckerberg has always held that there are only two ways to handle moderation: leave content up, or take it down. But on Tuesday he said he was interested in exploring non-binary options, like a way to flag a violating post without removing it entirely. That's what Twitter has done a number of times now, to Trump and others, and many Facebook employees have said they liked that solution. He also said he's looking seriously at changing the overall moderation policies.

Will anything actually change? That's hard to know. Facebook has proven unusually good at weathering storms, even seemingly disastrous ones — just remember Cambridge Analytica. And on Tuesday, The New York Times pointed out, Zuckerberg echoed the things he's said through all those other crises — saying that "the net impact of the different things we're doing in the world is positive. I really believe it is."

It's not hard to believe Zuckerberg really means that. The fundamental goodness of connecting everyone has been a core belief of his — and, by extension, of Facebook's — since the company was founded. The good always seemed to outweigh the bad, the bad could always be seen as a small percentage of the content, and it was created by an even smaller percentage of users. But this time, critics say the bad is coming from the President, and those small percentages now register differently.

Unfortunately for Zuckerberg, there's only one person who can do something about it. Because Facebook is many things, but it's definitely not a democracy.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the surname of Facebook's head of diversity. It is Williams, not Waters. Updated June 3, 2020.

Policy

Arizona bill would reform Google and Apple app stores

HB2005 would allow app developers to use third-party payment systems.

HB2005 could make it through the Arizona House of Representatives as soon as this week.

Photo: James Yarema/Unsplash

Arizona State Rep. Regina Cobb hadn't even formally introduced her app store legislation last month when Apple and Google started storming into the state to lobby against it.

Apple tapped its own lobbyist, Rod Diridon, to begin lobbying in Arizona. It hired Kirk Adams, the former chief of staff to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, to negotiate with Cobb on its behalf. It quickly joined the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, which began lobbying against the bill. And lawyers for both Google and Apple went straight to the Arizona House's lawyers to argue that the bill is unconstitutional.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

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The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Power

Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Photo: Dustin Chambers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On this episode of the Source Code podcast: Issie Lapowsky dissects what's happening between Facebook, Google and the Australian government. Then Anna Kramer joins to explain why Atlanta is the next big U.S. tech hub.

For more on the topics in this episode:

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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