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The Facebook devil is in the Facebook details

Image: Protocol

The Facebook devil is in the Facebook details

Good morning! This Thursday, Facebook's poor record on civil rights, Microsoft's improvements on video calls, and why the elevator might be key to getting back to the office.

Follow-up from yesterday: I included the wrong link for the Scooter Championships video. (Thanks to everyone who let me know!) Here's the right link. Crazy, right?

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People Are Talking

Rather than take attention away from climate change, Al Gore said the pandemic has increased it:

  • "I think that the pandemic is also driving people to take these sustainability factors into account in the planning for a post-pandemic world. So that the emergency response, the recovery plans, will drive us toward a better world."

After Microsoft killed Mixer, Ninja is a free-agent gamer again, and he's testing a new platform:

  • "FIRST YOUTUBE STREAM EVER THIS IS LIT"

President Trump suggested that a TikTok ban would be a good way to punish China:

  • "It's something we're looking at, yes. It's a big business. Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they've done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful."

The Big Story

The Facebook devil is in the Facebook details

Facebook released the results of a two-year civil rights audit yesterday, led by former ACLU director Laura Murphy, Issie Lapowksy wrote on Protocol. The report concluded that, over several recent posts in which President Trump shared misleading information, "civil rights expertise was not sought and applied to the degree it should have been, and the resulting decisions were devastating."

The introduction to the report was especially telling. "When I first started on this project, there was no commitment to publish reports and top management was not actively engaged," Murphy wrote. Facebook commissioned this report, and previous ones, but seemed to have little interest in how it went. To Sandberg's credit in particular, Murphy said, that did eventually change, but it was a struggle to make Facebook leadership care about something as fundamental and important as civil rights.

All of which is a windup to what is increasingly my grand unified theory about Facebook: It's so big that it doesn't know how to focus on any group smaller than "everyone on Facebook."

Facebook's power is concentrated in the hands of a few people, and those few people spend their time thinking about Facebook as a whole. In the same way Google doesn't like to make products that can't reach a billion people, Facebook doesn't like to make policies that won't matter to 2.6 billion users. (Which is deeply ironic for a company built on super-specific ad targeting, but I digress.) But the only thing unifying everyone on Facebook is that they're on Facebook. And that's a problem.

  • As a result, the company is too tied to the idea that one set of rules should govern all 2.6 billion users, and bends over backwards trying to make zero exceptions — even for the President.
  • Facebook has a history of making bold platform-wide changes, but is often too quick to hide behind the fact that it catches most bad things, rather than acknowledge that the things it does miss are really important.
  • I think that's why Murphy worked so hard to make the case that "civil rights" is actually about everyone. " Our work also applies to every user of Facebook who will benefit from a platform that reduces discrimination, builds inclusion and tamps down on hate speech activity," she wrote.

Facebook's approach to civil rights is "too reactive and piecemeal," Murphy said, which is also a good way to describe Facebook's approach to everything. It's not like it can't do things:

  • Just yesterday, Facebook deleted more than 100 accounts and pages connected to Roger Stone, for "coordinated inauthentic behavior."
  • It also deleted accounts posting misinformation on behalf of Jair Bolsonaro, and others doing the same thing in Ukraine.

But Facebook mostly doesn't do things, at least not without sustained public pressure. In the last few days, I think NAACP president Derrick Johnson summed it up better than anybody. "None of this is hard, especially for one of the world's most innovative companies whose founder coined the term move fast and break things," he said after a meeting with Facebook on Tuesday about hate speech and racism. "Mark Zuckerberg, you aren't breaking things, you are breaking people."

Video

Microsoft upgrades the gallery view

Most people are deeply tired of video chat. That's anecdotally obvious, but it's also backed up by a study Microsoft's been running with brain sensors since even before the pandemic. The not-so-surprising upshot: It's harder to concentrate on a video call than in an in-person meeting. Somewhere around 25 minutes in, staring at a grid of faces just gets to be too much.

So Microsoft designed a solution, which it thinks is a less stressful way to video chat.

  • A new feature coming to Teams, called Together, swaps the familiar grid of faces for something that looks more like everyone's in the same room. You can stick everyone in a lecture hall, seat them at a conference table across from you or even make it look like a cafe. Teams cuts out everyone's background and drops their floating heads on to whatever new background you choose.
  • Because everyone has the same background and is seated roughly in your field of view, Microsoft's research found that it can help with video-call fatigue.
  • It also, apparently, helps when you can't see yourself. Because most people seem to spend most of their meeting time looking at themselves, and that turns out to be pretty stressful.
It's another step in one of my favorite trends to watch. Zoom's gallery view is a huge improvement over most previous video-chat systems, and competitors have rushed to mimic it, but it's clearly not the only or best idea. Now there are products like Mmhmm and Shindig based on providing new ways for people to virtually talk and present and mingle, and features like Together trying to make the whole system a bit easier to handle. "Everyone's on video" isn't the end of the process for these products; it's the very beginning.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger Care ... from anywhere, to anywhere

At Philips, we're pioneering stronger care networks with technologies we've spent decades innovating. With connected care solutions from telehealth to at-home monitoring, today's healthcare workers can face today's greatest challenges with smarter virtual tools. See how our telehealth technologies help doctors and nurses deliver care from anywhere, to anywhere.

Learn more.

Back to the office

Heading back to work? Consider the elevator

Michael Colacino thinks the whole remote-work thing is a little overblown. Of course, he would think that: He's the president of SquareFoot, a commercial real estate company that helps companies find their offices. But he's convinced that the office isn't dead yet. "People just want to be together," he said.

As companies start to rethink their floorplans and office setups, Colacino said a bunch of things are going to have to change:

  • Leases are going to get even more flexible. Already, he said, the days of the 10- and 20-year leases are going away. "They're great for me, more commission!" he said. "But most companies don't want them." Instead things are getting shorter and simpler.
  • Satellite offices are going to spring up everywhere. Rather than have one huge office that's only 10% full, he said, why not have a bunch of smaller offices, nearer where people actually live? Shorter commutes, simpler crowd management, everybody wins.

One thing that will be more complicated than anyone realizes? Elevators, he says. Sure, you can tell everyone that it's only four people per car, but Colacino said he's found that most people already find the wait for the elevator interminable. Besides, "what are you going to do, have armed elevator concierges?"

  • The best crowd-control solution for elevators that Colacino's seen? The systems where you press the button for the floor you're going to and it tells you which elevator to take. He told me to expect to see those everywhere before long.

Making Moves

Twitter is hiring a team for "a subscription platform" that it's calling Gryphon. No details on what that means, really. My initial thought was "Twitter for Business!" but it could also be something more like YouTube and Twitch subscriptions, giving people the option to subscribe to individual accounts. We'll see.

Paul Grewal is the new chief legal officer at Coinbase. He joins from Facebook, where he was VP and deputy general counsel. As crypto gets more mainstream, it's not surprising that it's going to face a number of thorny legal questions.

Speaking of Coinbase: Mohammad Almalkawi is leaving the company and joining Clubhouse. He was previously Coinbase's engineering lead, and has worked at Twitter, Microsoft and elsewhere.

In Other News

  • Amazon has a new plan to combat counterfeits: It'll require U.S. sellers to list their names and addresses on their profile, as it already does in a few other countries. The policy goes into effect in September.
  • On Protocol: Quibi's subscriber numbers are starting to become clear, as everyone's three-month free trials come to an end. And the figures don't look great.
  • Slack bought a company called Rimeto, a business-directory app that it plans to both integrate into Slack and also sell as its own product. Turns out if you're going to kill email, you've got to figure out contacts too.
  • Don't miss this story about Robinhood from The New York Times. It describes how the company has managed to get so many young traders using the platform, and the devastating real-world effects when people get in over their head.
  • Get ready for Uber boat rides. At least in London, anyway: The company's reportedly taking over the Thames Clippers system, which it'll now call Uber Boat. Add ferries to the list of commuter options Uber's hoping to integrate.
  • On Protocol: Google's shaking up open source. It will put some of its most promising open-source projects into a group called the Open Usage Commons, which keeps control in Google's hands but opens up the use of trademarks to others.
  • There's a new video codec in town. It's called VVC, and it promises to make streaming video about 50% more efficient. Which would, obviously, be a huge deal for basically everyone. But we've heard big codec promises before, and they haven't always played out.

One More Thing

The Sims is coming to a different screen near you

Imagine "Survivor," but instead of trying to make your way on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere, you're sitting in front of a computer, and your goal is to build a virtual "Survivor" set in an hour. That, I think is roughly the setup for "The Sims Spark'd," a show premiering next week on TBS. The whole thing seems like both an overpriced ad for The Sims 4 and a really terrible idea, but if you're into watching people do Sims-related challenges as they try to win $100,000, then you're in luck. Personally, I'd be way more excited if this was a take on Rollercoaster Tycoon. But maybe that's for next season.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger Care ... from anywhere, to anywhere

At Philips, we're pioneering stronger care networks with technologies we've spent decades innovating. With connected care solutions from telehealth to at-home monitoring, today's healthcare workers can face today's greatest challenges with smarter virtual tools. See how our telehealth technologies help doctors and nurses deliver care from anywhere, to anywhere.

Learn more.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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