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Protocol | Policy

The Capitol Hill riot scrambled FCC Republicans’ Section 230 plans. What now?

The FCC's top tech agitators have been almost silent about Big Tech's Trump bans.

The Capitol Hill riot scrambled FCC Republicans’ Section 230 plans. What now?

The commissioners will gingerly walk a line of condemning the tech platforms without seeming like they are condoning the rhetoric that led to Trump's suspensions or the takedown of Parler.

Photo: Jonathan Newton-Pool/Getty Images

Brendan Carr, one of the Federal Communications Commission's two Republicans, spent the better part of 2020 blasting Big Tech platforms for allegedly censoring conservative speech, appearing on Fox News and right-wing podcasts to claim that social media companies exhibited bias against President Trump and the GOP more broadly.

But in the weeks since Twitter, Facebook and YouTube suspended former President Trump and removed large swaths of his supporters in the wake of the violent riot on Capitol Hill, Carr has remained largely silent about the deplatforming, except to condemn the violence. "Political violence is completely unacceptable," Carr told reporters days after the riot. "It's clear to me President Trump bears responsibility."

The Jan. 6 riot, which the former president incited and which led to his indefinite suspension from social media, has scrambled the debate around content moderation within the FCC and left Carr, as well as the newly-confirmed Republican FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington, in a bind as they carve out what Carr calls a "conservative path forward on Big Tech." Simington in particular had helped push forward Trump's agenda on Section 230 from his perch at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration before being confirmed at the FCC. Now, former FCC officials say he and Carr will have to gingerly walk a line of condemning the tech platforms without seeming like they are condoning the rhetoric that led to Trump's suspensions or the takedown of Parler, the social networking site that was used in part to organize the violence.

"The reality is, these commissioners recognize that these events are a game-changer in the way people are talking about Section 230 and internet gatekeepers writ large," said one former FCC official. The official said the commissioners are staying mum for now because they are "cognizant of the fact that the conversation is so associated with that horrible attack." Capitalizing on it, the official said, would "[distract] from the core issue."

Last weekend, Simington was set to speak at a meetup in Las Vegas where right-wing speakers, including some on the party's fringe, discussed topics including "woke tech" and political censorship, but he backed out at the last minute. "Despite initial plans to do so, I did not attend or otherwise participate in the Claremont event this weekend, and I did not prepare or submit remarks," he told Protocol.

Simington's spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

Experts who watch the FCC said it's unlikely that Simington or Carr will back off completely from talking about Section 230. "I don't think that this is going to go away," said Zach Graves, head of policy at the Lincoln Network, a right-leaning tech group. But he said they might strike a more conciliatory tone, particularly now that the Democrats will be in control. "What might happen is while [Republicans] are out of power, they might be more sophisticated in the kinds of policy recommendations they push for on tech," Graves said.

In one of his final acts as FCC chair, Republican Ajit Pai chose not to move forward with a rule-making on Section 230, which was laid out in Trump's social media executive order.

Carr, meanwhile, said that he believes it is within the FCC's jurisdiction to review the law, and he told reporters earlier this month that he plans to "continue to advocate for Section 230 reform." "It's clear we're having failures in different directions," Carr said.

Conservatives in recent weeks have particularly homed in on Amazon Web Services' decision to cut off service for Parler, a massive display of power for the cloud company that typically functions more as neutral infrastructure than a platform with content moderation policies. The former FCC official predicted that will be the next turn in the conversation about internet freedom within the FCC. "I think [Simington and Carr] will be careful in the way they engage with that, trying to make sure they're not seen as defending Parler, but really talking about the future of internet freedom," the official said.

Another former FCC official told Protocol that they believe what AWS did to Parler "will become part of the net neutrality debate. I think conservatives are going to [say], 'OK, great, want to talk about net neutrality and free speech on the internet? Let's talk about cloud and web-hosting.'"

Democrats on the Commission, meanwhile, have made it clear that they do not believe the FCC should play a role in dictating the future of platform speech issues, including Section 230. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who Biden chose to serve as acting chair Thursday, told Protocol last year that it is "not a provision where Congress specifically asked us to enact rules, nor has the FCC had a history of acting in this area."

Mignon Clyburn, who worked with Carr during her tenure as an FCC commissioner in 2018 and remains close to the agency, said the events on Capitol Hill illustrated that social media platforms have "been used to weaponize hate" and "spread mis- and disinformation." But she doesn't think the FCC has the ability to take on Section 230.

"Does [Section 230] need a refresh?" Clyburn said. "Does it need modification? I think that it would be a prudent and worthy exercise to answer those questions — and that job, respectfully, is Congress'."

Protocol | Workplace

The Activision Blizzard lawsuit has opened the floodgates

An employee walkout, a tumbling stock price and damning new reports of misconduct.

Activision Blizzard is being sued for widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination.

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Activision Blizzard is in crisis mode. The World of Warcraft publisher was the subject of a shocking lawsuit filed by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing last week over claims of widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination against female employees. The resulting fallout has only intensified by the day, culminating in a 500-person walkout at the headquarters of Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine on Wednesday.

The company's stock price has tumbled nearly 10% this week, and CEO Bobby Kotick acknowledged in a message to employees Tuesday that Activision Blizzard's initial response was "tone deaf." Meanwhile, there has been a continuous stream of new reports unearthing horrendous misconduct as more and more former and current employees speak out about the working conditions and alleged rampant misogyny at one of the video game industry's largest and most powerful employers.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Over the last year, financial institutions have experienced unprecedented demand from their customers for exposure to cryptocurrency, and we've seen an inflow of institutional dollars driving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to record prices. Some banks have already launched cryptocurrency programs, but many more are evaluating the market.

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Protocol | Workplace

Founder sues the company that acquired her startup

Knoq founder Kendall Hope Tucker is suing the company that acquired her startup for discrimination, retaliation and fraud.

Kendall Hope Tucker, founder of Knoq, is suing Ad Practitioners, which acquired her company last year.

Photo: Kendall Hope Tucker

Kendall Hope Tucker felt excited when she sold her startup last December. Tucker, the founder of Knoq, was sad to "give up control of a company [she] had poured five years of [her] heart, soul and energy into building," she told Protocol, but ultimately felt hopeful that selling it to digital media company Ad Practitioners was the best financial outcome for her, her team and her investors. Now, seven months later, Tucker is suing Ad Practitioners alleging discrimination, retaliation and fraud.

Knoq found success selling its door-to-door sales and analytics services to companies such as Google Fiber, Inspire Energy, Fluent Home and others. Knoq representatives would walk around neighborhoods, knocking on doors to market its customers' products and services. The pandemic, however, threw a wrench in its business. Prior to the acquisition, Knoq says it raised $6.5 million from Initialized Capital, Haystack.vc, Techstars and others.

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Megan Rose Dickey
Megan Rose Dickey is a senior reporter at Protocol covering labor and diversity in tech. Prior to joining Protocol, she was a senior reporter at TechCrunch and a reporter at Business Insider.
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Protocol | Workplace

What’s the purpose of a chief purpose officer?

Cisco's EVP and chief people, policy & purpose officer shares how the company is creating a more conscious and hybrid work culture.

Like many large organizations, the leaders at Cisco spent much of the past year working to ensure their employees had an inclusive and flexible workplace while everyone worked from home during the pandemic. In doing so, they brought a new role into the mix. In March 2021 Francine Katsoudas transitioned from EVP and chief people officer to chief people, policy & purpose Officer.

For many, the role of a purpose officer is new. Purpose officers hold their companies accountable to their mission and the people who work for them. In a conversation with Protocol, Katsoudas shared how she is thinking about the expanded role and the future of hybrid work at Cisco.

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Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

Protocol | Fintech

The digital dollar is coming. The payments industry is worried.

Jodie Kelley heads the Electronic Transactions Association. The trade group's members, who process $7 trillion a year in payments, want a say in the digital currency.

Jodie Kelley is CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association.

Photo: Electronic Transactions Association

The Electronic Transactions Association launched in 1990 just as new technologies, led by the World Wide Web, began upending the world of commerce and finance.

The disruption hasn't stopped.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

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