October 31, 2022
Image: Christian Marquardt/Getty Images; Protocol
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today I’m listening to spooky music and thinking about how running a giant international company may actually require some sacrifices and compromises for Musk. Plus, questions are swirling about whether Russia hacked Liz Truss’ phone, and Lyft is both the savior of, and biggest liability for, a California ballot initiative.
During Elon Musk’s first few days in charge of Twitter, he retweeted conspiracy theories about the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, began to get rid of the people who make the site the tolerable, and oversaw a spike in hate speech despite promising advertisers he wouldn’t let the service “become a free-for-all hellscape.” Many of those controversies arose in the U.S. market or the company’s San Francisco HQ. The truth is, though, that Musk’s headaches at home may prove miniscule compared to the pressures he’ll face abroad.
Take, for instance, the major world regions where the minimally moderated Twitter that Musk wants to see is going to run into legal problems.
At the same time, international governments already seem to be trying to ally with Musk, influence him, or draw him (further) into their own foreign policy struggles.
Musk’s show of responding to calls for new content policies makes it that much harder for him to dodge the difficulties on these issues.
Balancing all this was always difficult for the people who ran Twitter full-time. For Musk, it could be almost unsustainably chaotic — in a way that worsens things back home.
In addition, whatever Congress wants to do — or at least to threaten to do — to tech in the next two years will come down on Twitter as well. If he can’t get control of the international issues, Musk may very well find he has fewer allies than he thought among Republicans, and he could find few friends among Democrats. His main headaches may be international, but Musk may soon find out just how easily trouble crosses borders.— Ben Brody (email | twitter)
U.S. self-driving truck company TuSimple is under investigation by the FBI, SEC, and CFIUS for its ties to a small Chinese firm, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Several tech companies including Google, Apple, and Microsoft signed onto amicus briefs urging the Supreme Court to leave affirmative action rules in place. The justices are hearing arguments in the case on Monday.
The White House this week is hosting a summit on ransomware. Representatives of both foreign countries and the private sector are due to attend.Amid a potential repeat of efforts to undermine confidence in midterm election results, CISA Director Jen Easterly touted her “confidence in the integrity of our election infrastructure.”
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Lyft’s funding of a California ballot measure to subsidize EV’s saved the initiative, but now that money has become a liability. Opponents of Prop 30, who have their own corporate ties, have painted the measure as a giveaway to the company, resulting in strange bedfellows on either side of the issue trading accusations.
Eric Schmidt will tell anyone who’ll listen that the U.S. is losing a battle against China for AI supremacy. Yet Schmidt, with extensive ties to both the Pentagon and the business world, also happens to be one of the most prominent investors in the AI sector that’s poised to benefit from the resulting sense of urgency.
TikTok is facing intense scrutiny in its role spreading election misinformation, but former staff say high turnover plays a role in the problem.
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The U.K. government is facing calls for an investigation following an unverified report that Russia hacked a phone belonging to former Prime Minister Liz Truss ahead of her brief tenure.
A ProPublica report found Google’s ads business makes it possible for disinformation sites in Europe, Latin America, and Africa to monetize their dreck despite the company’s stated mission to stamp out falsities. In one case, Google’s tools continued to let advertisers pay for space on a site that the U.S. sanctioned for its ties to a prominent Bosnian Serb separatist.
Musk’s plan to juice revenue from Twitter reportedly includes a $20/month charge to maintain verified status. This is both a sort of fun thumb in the eye to a certain class of know-it-all Twitter obsessive (e.g., me) and a very bad idea if you like having a gauge on the accuracy of information coming from news outlets, reporters, government bodies, activists, market participants, first responders, public health officials, and anyone else who might be valuable to spoof. It also wouldn’t raise much money. Many high-profile users are responding unfavorably to the idea.
CrowdTangle, the social media analysis tool owned by Meta, reportedly told a number of journalists and academics it’d be kicking them off when it wasn’t actually going to. With the midterms coming up, people who have studied social media’s effect on elections were particularly worried, but Facebook has now said the alerts went out in error.
Some celebrities have announced — or at least claimed — they’ll be leaving Twitter now that Musk is in charge. According to NBC, Shonda Rhimes, Sara Bareilles, and Toni Braxton are all logging off.
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Thanks for reading — see you Wednesday!