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Protocol | Policy

Yes, GameStop is a content moderation issue for Reddit

The same tools that can be used to build mass movements can be used by bad actors to manipulate the masses later on. Consider Reddit warned.

Reddit

WallStreetBets' behavior may not be illegal. But that doesn't mean it's not a problem for Reddit.

Image: Omar Marques/Getty Images

The Redditors who are driving up the cost of GameStop stock just to pwn the hedge funds that bet on its demise may not be breaking the law. But this show of force by the subreddit r/WallStreetBets still represents a new and uncharted front in the evolution of content moderation on social media platforms.

In a statement to Protocol, a Reddit spokesperson said the company's site-wide policies "prohibit posting illegal content or soliciting or facilitating illegal transactions. We will review and cooperate with valid law enforcement investigations or actions as needed."

It's still unclear whether any such investigations will result from this, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is "monitoring" the situation. But the fact is, Reddit writes lots of site-wide rules that have nothing to do with whether certain behavior is illegal. Reddit is unique among platforms in that it leaves much of its content decisions to the moderators of different subreddits.

Still, the company does have rules. It prohibits, for example, "directing unwanted invective at someone" or "following them from subreddit to subreddit," classifying that as harassing, bullying behavior. Redditors aren't allowed to send "large amounts of private messages to users who are not expecting them" or repeatedly post "unrelated/off-topic/link-farmed content," because, under Reddit's rules, that's spam.

That means if Reddit decides that what r/WallStreetBets is doing is dangerous or disruptive, it could very well take action. That would be tricky for Reddit. Given the range of offensive stuff that regularly appears on the platform, it could be tough to justify outlawing stock trade tips. So far, that hasn't happened, and the Reddit spokesperson was unable to comment on whether any content policies related to the GameStop issue might be implemented in the future. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, for one, seemed unconcerned in a Twitter thread Wednesday. "It's a perfect storm at a time when lots of people are hurting, interest rates are so low, inescapable student loan debts loom, and every major institution has caught Ls during a /global pandemic/ over the last year," Ohanian wrote. "This is something to believe in."

That may be true for now. But experts on social media manipulation argue the model WallStreetBets has created could morph into a bigger long-term problem for Reddit. "The WallStreetBets manipulation of [GameStop] is now the best template for how one could monetize an influence operation," tweeted Stanford researcher Alex Stamos who, as Facebook's former chief security officer, worked on detecting and rooting out foreign influence operations after the 2016 election. "I don't know if any laws were broken this time, but Reddit now has a problem: it is the home for a community of hundreds of thousands of people who have demonstrated the ability to move billions of dollars based upon the urging of, at most, a couple dozen anonymous accounts."

Facebook's current chief security officer, Nathaniel Gleicher, agreed with Stamos, tweeting: "Good reminder that while political [information operations are] a serious threat, there are many harmful cases of these tactics driving financial gain."

Gleicher added: "[Money] is a driver across security threats, from hacking to phishing to good old bank fraud, & [information operations are] no exception. Getting ahead of how these tactics enable fraud is essential to disincentivize bad actors."

To be clear: There's no evidence that the GameStop mob has any ties to a malicious influence operation, and aside from some hedge funds that tried to short GameStop in the first place, it's not immediately obvious who WallStreetBets is hurting. What are hedge funds anyway if not an institutionally sanctioned pool of people betting on the success or failure of businesses for profit? For now, it's easy to root for the underdogs banding together to stick it to the man.

But one thing that seems obvious from the last decade or more on the internet is that the same tools that can be used to build mass movements — be they political or financial — can be used by bad actors to manipulate the masses later on. If and when that happens, Reddit will have few excuses for not being prepared.

Protocol | Workplace

The pay gap persists for Black women

"The pay gap is a multifaceted problem and any time you have a complex problem, there's not a single solution that's going to solve it."

For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Photo: Christine/Unsplash

Last year's racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd led many tech companies to commit to promoting equity within their organizations, including working toward pay equity. But despite efforts, the wage gap for Black women still persists. For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Black Women's Equal Pay Day on Tuesday represents the estimated number of days into the year it would take for Black women to make what their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts made at the end of the previous year, according to the organization Equal Pay Today. And while the responsibility to fix the pay gap falls mostly on companies to rectify, some female employees have taken matters into their own hands and held companies to their asserted values by negotiating higher pay.

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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.

pay

What comes to mind when you think of AI? In the past, it might have been the Turing test, a sci-fi character or IBM's Deep Blue-defeating chess champion Garry Kasparov. Today, instead of copying human intelligence, we're seeing immense progress made in using AI to unobtrusively simplify and enrich our own intelligence and experiences. Natural language processing, modern encrypted security solutions, advanced perception and imaging capabilities, next-generation data management and logistics, and automotive assistance are some of the many ways AI is quietly yet unmistakably driving some of the latest advancements inside our phones, PCs, cars and other crucial 21st century devices. And the combination of 5G and AI is enabling a world with distributed intelligence where AI processing is happening on devices and in the cloud.

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Alex Katouzian
Alex Katouzian currently serves as senior vice president and general manager of the Mobile, Compute and Infrastructure (MCI) Business Unit at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. In this role, Katouzian is responsible for the profit, loss and strategy of the MCI BU, which includes business lines for Mobile Handset Products and Application Processor Technologies, 4G and 5G Mobile Broadband for embedded applications, Small and Macro Cells, Modem Technologies, Compute products across multiple OS’, eXtended Reality and AI Edge Cloud products.
Protocol | Workplace

Tech company hybrid work policies are becoming more flexible, not less

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are already changing their hybrid policies to allow for more flexibility.

Photo: FG Trade/Getty Images

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are all loosening up their strategies around hybrid work, allowing for more flexibility before even fully reopening their offices.

In the last week and a half, Twitter announced it's adopting an asynchronous-first approach, and both Asana and LinkedIn said they would increase the amount of time their employees can work remotely.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Power

Activision Blizzard scrambles to repair its toxic image

Blizzard President J. Allen Brack is the first executive to depart amid the sexual harassment crisis.

Activision Blizzard doesn't seem committed to lasting change.

Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Getty Images

As Activision Blizzard's workplace crisis rages on into its third week, the company is taking measures to try to calm the storm — to little avail. On Tuesday, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack, who took the reins at the developer responsible for World of Warcraft back in 2018, resigned. He's to be replaced by executives Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, who will co-lead the studio in a power-sharing agreement some believe further solidifies CEO Bobby Kotick's control over the subsidiary.

Nowhere in Blizzard's statement about Brack's departure does it mention California's explosive sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit at the heart of the saga. The lawsuit, filed last month, resulted last week in a 500-person walkout at Blizzard's headquarters in Irvine. (Among the attendees was none other than Ybarra, the new studio co-head.)

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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.
Protocol | Workplace

Alabama Amazon workers will likely get a second union vote

An NLRB judge said that Amazon "usurped" the NLRB by pushing for a mailbox to be installed in front of its facility, and also that the company violated laws that protect workers from monitoring of their behavior during union elections.

An NLRB judge ruled that Amazon has violated union election rules

Image: Amazon

Bessemer, Alabama warehouse workers will likely get a second union vote because of Amazon's efforts to have a USPS ballot box installed just outside of the Bessemer warehouse facility during the mail-in vote, as well as other violations of union vote rules, according to an NLRB ruling published Tuesday morning.

While union organizers, represented by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, lost the first vote by more than a 2:1 margin, a second election will be scheduled and held unless Amazon successfully appeals the ruling. Though Amazon is the country's second-largest private employer, no unionization effort at the company has ever been successful.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

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