May 13, 2022
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! For all the talk of free speech, everyone wants to take something down on social media, so today I’m looking into why we talk too much about what’s going to get left up. Plus, what’s next for those challenging Texas’ law, my sitdown with the European lawmaker behind the DMA, and Zuckerberg on mobile.
This morning, Elon Musk said — in a tweet, of course — that he’s pausing his $44 billion Twitter takeover while he looks into the platform’s spam and bots, which he wants to get rid of. Then, with the company’s stock price sufficiently rattled, he added he was “still committed” to the deal. One the one hand: shrug emoji, I guess. On the other, it’s a reminder that the bid Musk has gotten everyone to treat as being about free speech is really just about who’s in charge — and, yes, what kinds of things he’s ultimately going to want to take down.
These sorts of questions fray the nerves of tech-policy experts and social media lawyers, folks who have already had a tough week dealing with similar questions of quote-unquote free speech in a very different context.
Can we talk like adults here for one second and admit that neither Texas nor Musk are really planning a free speech revolution — and probably shouldn’t be?
That permission for takedowns sort of gives away the real goal. No one wants a game with no rules; they just want rules to help them win.
No one’s really shocked that powerful people manipulate popular notions when they want to bend the rules for themselves. Yet plenty of people persist in describing Texas and Musk as having a free-speech approach that’s just going to balance out MSNBC with Trump and a few more QAnon believers.
Ultimately, as Texas claims the mantle of free speech to tell private companies what content to leave up, users should know that, in the social new experiment, people with power will want certain things taken down — and they should ask what those things are going to be.
A version of this story appeared in Source Code; subscribe here.
Musk’s Twitter takeover — or at least his tease — has been good for conservatives on Twitter. A new Washington Post analysis found that follower counts for top Republicans, including Reps. Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sen. Ted Cruz, have surged since Musk first said he wanted to buy Twitter.
States can officially begin applying for a piece of the $45 billion in high-speed broadband funding set aside by the bipartisan infrastructure law. Applications are due in August, and the NTIA says it will likely begin awarding partial funding by late November.
The FBI told the Israeli government it had purchased Pegasus spyware to assist in investigations in a 2018 letter recently obtained by the New York Times. The FBI said at the time that it planned to use the technology “for the collection of data from mobile devices for the prevention and investigation of crimes and terrorism, in compliance with privacy and national security laws.” According to Times, though, the FBI never actually used the tool beyond testing.
After months of delay, the Senate confirmed Alvaro Bedoya to become the FTC’s fifth commissioner. Now Amazon, Microsoft, device makers, ISPs, anyone who uses data or AI, any company that wants to merge and firms with workers should buckle up.The FTC is also looking at putting ed tech at the center of children’s privacy enforcement and cracking down on fake influencer reviews.
Virginia is set to scrap its ban on police use of facial recognition, and California could be next. Amid rising crime rates, states and local governments are reconsidering the bans, some of which were put in place as recently as 2019.
New polling shows that American voters do not see regulating tech companies as a priority. Their top concerns are strengthening the national economy (38%), followed by controlling inflation (37%). By contrast, only 5% of respondents prioritized regulating tech companies.
Mark Zuckerberg spoke exclusively with Protocol’s Janko Roettgers about his metaverse plans and why this moment is similar to Facebook’s transition to mobile. You know, the period when Facebook made all those decisions that antitrust enforcers are asking the company to pay for today.
Andreas Schwab told Protocol why we’re going to have even more choice screens and why Big Tech needs to think seriously about spinoffs. The member of the European Parliament who led negotiations over EU’s landmark tech competition rules was in Washington meeting with U.S. lawmakers, and said the public may not know how far Congress’ own push has gotten.
NetChoice and CCIA are set to file an emergency application with the Supreme Court as early as today, sources told Protocol. The two industry groups will ask the justices to vacate the Fifth Circuit’s stay on the Texas social media law and are seeking amicus briefs in the case.
The list of tech companies offering to cover worker travel for abortions is growing. Protocol is keeping tabs on them here.
Researchers were left stranded after SafeGraph pulled access to data on abortion clinics in light of the Supreme Court’s leaked Roe decision. “I think it’s incredibly valuable to help us understand how people are responding to laws like SB 8 or overturning of Roe v. Wade,” one University of North Carolina researcher told Protocol.
Facebook’s attempt to prohibit advertisers from targeting “sensitive” categories isn’t going so great. The Markup found that while ad categories for, say, “Hispanic culture” had been removed, the ad category of “Spanish language” was still available. The same goes for lots of other categories as well.
Twitter fired two top executives, including Kayvon Beykpour, head of Twitter’s Consumer division, and Bruce Falck, general manager of Revenue. Beykpour tweeted that he was let go while on parental leave. "The truth is that this isn’t how and when I imagined leaving Twitter, and this wasn’t my decision," Beykpour wrote.
Up to 15%: Musk said he’s looking for confirmation “that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users” on Twitter, but a study found in 2017 found that between 9% and 15% of active accounts might be bots.
New polling shows voters' top tech policy concerns are cybersecurity and data privacy. Only 7% of respondents prioritized antitrust action and 1% prioritized changes to app store rules. In fact, the majority (58%) believe the pending tech antitrust legislation would cause more harm than help to consumers.
New York Magazine published a deep dive into all the dysfunction at Netflix. Netflix executives have largely decided that producing more new shows is a better use of money than investing in shows that have a loyal following but aren’t mega-successes like “Tiger King,” the magazine found. A competing executive told the outlet: “they’re commoditizing entertainment when they end shows so soon.” Now you can stop tossing and turning at night, wondering why “Haters Back Off” didn’t get renewed.
Thanks for reading — see you Monday!