Capitol rioters
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How the Capitol riots changed tech

Source Code

Good morning! This Thursday, a look at what’s changed since Jan. 6, 2021, and Instagram pleases everyone with the promise of a chronological feed. I’m Issie Lapowsky, and I’m not ready to give up on Christmas carols yet!

The more things change …

There was a brief point in time when it almost looked like tech platforms were going to emerge from the 2020 U.S. election unscathed. They’d spent years nursing their wounds from 2016 and building sturdy defenses against future attacks. So when Election Day came and went without some obvious signs of foreign interference or outright civil war, tech leaders and even some in the tech press considered it a win.

One year ago today, it became clear those declarations of victory were as premature as President Trump’s. Plenty has been written about Big Tech’s failures in the lead up to the riot. The question now is: What’s changed in a year, and what impact, if any, have those changes had on the spread of election lies and domestic extremism?

The most immediate impact of the riot was that it revealed room for exceptions to tech platforms’ most rigid rules.

  • Trump’s suspension was a watershed moment, indicating a new willingness among these platforms to actually enforce their existing rules against high-profile violators.
  • Up until that time, platforms had rules on the books but somehow always found ways to justify why Trump wasn’t running afoul of them.
  • “Since Jan. 6, the major platforms — I’m thinking particularly of Twitter and Facebook — have grown much more willing to enforce existing policies against powerful political figures,” said Daniel Kreiss, a professor at University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

Other work that began even before Jan. 6 took on new urgency after the riot.

  • Facebook stopped recommending political and civic groups after internal investigations found that the vast majority of the most active groups were cesspools of hate, misinformation and harassment.
  • Facebook also said late last January that it was considering reducing political content in the News Feed, a test that has only expanded since then.

Platforms also started taking a more expansive view of what constitutes harm, looking beyond the Russian troll farms of old and focusing also on networks of real users who wreak havoc without trying to mask their identities.

  • In January of last year, Twitter wiped out 70,000 QAnon-linked accounts under a relatively new policy that forbids “coordinated harmful activity.”
  • Facebook wrestled with this question, too, in an internal report on its role in the riot. “What do we do when a movement is authentic, coordinated through grassroots or authentic means, but is inherently harmful and violates the spirit of our policy?” wrote the authors of the report, first published by BuzzFeed.

The answers to those questions are still far from decided. So is the question of whether any of these tweaks and changes mattered — and whether it was naive to ever believe they could.

  • The great deplatforming of 2021 only prompted a “great scattering” of extremist groups to other alternative platforms, according to one Atlantic Council report.
  • Steve Bannon’s War Room channel may have gotten yanked from YouTube and his account may have been banned from Twitter, but his extremist views have continued unabated on his podcast and on his website where he’s been able to rake in money from Google ads.
  • Deplatforming can also create a measurable backlash effect. One recent report on Parler activity leading up to the riot found that users who had been deplatformed elsewhere wore it like a badge of honor on Parler, which only mobilized them further.

Tech giants have had plenty to make up for this last year. But ultimately, there’s only so much they can change at a time when some estimates suggest about a quarter of Americans believe the 2020 election was stolen and some 21 million Americans believe use of force would be justified to restore Trump as president.

They believe that not just because of what they see on social media, but because of what the political elites and elected officials in their party are saying on a regular basis. “The biggest thing that hasn’t changed is the trajectory of the growing extremism of one of the two major U.S. political parties,” Kreiss said. “Platforms are downstream of a lot of that, and until that changes, we’re not going to be able to create new policies out of that problem.”

— Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)

A version of this story first appeared on Protocol.com. Read it here.

A MESSAGE FROM ZOOM

While we were all Zooming, the Zoom team was thinking ahead and designing new offerings that could continue to enable seamless collaboration, communication and connectivity while evolving with the shifting workplace culture. Protocol sat down with Yuan to talk about Zoom's evolution, the future of work and the Zoom products he's most excited about.

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People are talking

Juror Wayne Kaatz said the jury for Elizabeth Holmes was upset it couldn’t agree on some counts:

  • “We were very saddened. We thought we had failed.”

Elizabeth Warren told Google to stop pushing Jonathan Kanter out of its lawsuit:

  • “These efforts to bully regulators and avoid accountability … are untethered to federal ethics law and regulations.”

Allyship means “showing up” in the workplace, ReadySet’s Y-Vonne Hutchinson said:

  • “It's not just about showing up in a way that feels comfortable, but showing up and doing something when it doesn't feel comfortable in a way that might also feel risky.”

Making moves

Lisa Banks, JiNa Han and Mark Brodahl joined SpotOn as CFO, chief people officer and CRO, respectively. Banks is from ServiceNow, Han’s from Dialpad and Brodahl’s from Groupon.

Rene Villegas is Starry’s new CMO. He most recently led marketing and sales at Amazon.

Joshua Wright is FinMkt’s new chief product officer. Wright previously worked on lending product strategy at Citi.

Amazon and Stellantis are working together on cars. The two will make cars and trucks that include Amazon software in the dashboards.

TikTok partnered with Atmosphere, a TV-streaming service for businesses, to bring content to TVs instead of phones.

In other news

French regulators fined Google and Meta over cookies. Specifically, the fact that both companies' websites make it really easy to accept cookies ... and really difficult to reject them. The fines totaled 210 million euros.

Instagram is officially bringing back the time-ordered feed. Users will be able to choose between a home feed that uses an algorithm, a feed that offers content from a selected list of accounts and a chronological feed.

Meta stopped working on a software system for its VR and AR products, sources told The Information. Hundreds of employees worked on the project over the past few years.

Peacock will livestream the winter Olympics. The platform will present NBC Universal’s coverage of the Beijing games, which begin next month.

China’s strict rules are hurting its tech firms, according to The New York Times. Companies are facing big losses and layoffs as the Chinese government continues to put regulatory pressure on them.

General Motors has a new electric pickup truck. It’s a Chevrolet Silverado, and the model is set to arrive at dealerships by early next year.

Alexa, are we on the moon yet? Lockheed Martin is working with Amazon to place an Alexa on a spacecraft that may head to the moon in a couple years.

Ronald Weinstein died at 83 years old. The pathologist helped develop breakthroughs in telemedicine and led the Arizona Telemedicine Program for over two decades.

How are you tracking your habits?

Jan. 17 is an important day for Strava’s Michael Horvath. It’s “quitter’s day,” or the day traffic on the exercise app typically drops off because people gave up on their New Year’s resolutions. Getting past that milestone is hard if you don’t have the right tools to keep you on track.

We want to know how you keep up with new habits. Do you make a Pinterest board of motivational quotes? Do you have a go-to app that helps your new habit stick? Reply to this email to let us know, and Protocol’s David Pierce will include some of the best recommendations in the Sunday edition of Source Code.

A MESSAGE FROM ZOOM

While we were all Zooming, the Zoom team was thinking ahead and designing new offerings that could continue to enable seamless collaboration, communication and connectivity while evolving with the shifting workplace culture. Protocol sat down with Yuan to talk about Zoom's evolution, the future of work and the Zoom products he's most excited about.

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

Correction: This was updated Jan. 6, 2022 to clarify that Facebook was just considering reducing political content in the new News Feed on its late January earnings call.

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