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Facebook vs. Mark Zuckerberg
Good morning! This Tuesday, Facebook's inner turmoil spills into public view, book publishers sue the Internet Archive, and a 30-year-old video game gets played for the first time.
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People Are Talking
Tech-company statements keep coming, but the one most worth reading so far is Evan Spiegel's long note to Snap staff:
- "Recognizing that I am in no way an expert, and at the ripe old age of 29 I have much to learn about the workings of the world, below I will share my own perspective on what is needed to create the change we crave in America. We cannot end systemic racism without simultaneously creating opportunity for all people, regardless of their background."
A group of civil rights leaders met with Mark Zuckerberg and were not impressed:
- "We are disappointed and stunned by Mark's incomprehensible explanations for allowing the Trump posts to remain up. He did not demonstrate understanding of historic or modern-day voter suppression and he refuses to acknowledge how Facebook is facilitating Trump's call for violence against protesters. Mark is setting a very dangerous precedent for other voices who would say similar harmful things on Facebook."
- "I hope Facebook revises its policies, so that won't be necessary. Mark & Sheryl are smart & savvy, and will likely listen to the growing concerns (including from their own employees) & take action. But if they don't, they will — and should — lose other partners & advertisers."
The Big Story
There's a revolt inside Facebook
Jason Toff, a director of product management at Facebook (and a longtimer in Silicon Valley, with stints at Google, Twitter and Vine) tweeted on Sunday night that "I work at Facebook and I am not proud of how we're showing up. The majority of coworkers I've spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voice heard."
He was right. Lots of people at Facebook felt the same way after the company declined to take action on President Trump's tweets last week and remained largely silent on the matter of George Floyd and the subsequent protests and riots of the last few days. Internal dissent isn't new to Facebook — anyone who worked there the day after Election Day in 2016 knows that. But this time, more than I can ever remember, it's spilling out into public view:
- Dozens of Facebook employees staged a "virtual walkout," The New York Times reported. With no offices to actually leave, they simply refused to work and added auto-responders saying they were doing so in protest.
- Many employees changed their social media icons to a white fist on a black background, sometimes with #takeaction written underneath. Then they started posting publicly with that branding.
- Isha Pathank, an engineer at the company, tweeted one of the group's most common messages: "@Facebookʼs recent decision to not act on posts that incite violence ignores other options to keep our community safe. I stand with my Black colleagues + allies and demand our leadership #TakeAction."
- Ryan Freitas, the director of product design for News Feed, summed up the feelings shared by many of his colleagues: "Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind."
It's not a coincidence that most of the public discussion about the goings-on at Facebook happened on Twitter. Many Facebook employees feel Twitter has done a better job of improving the conversation online, and have praised the company's decision to put warnings on Trump's tweets about violence and protests in Minnesota. (Though Twitter's facing a barrage of new tests of its policies — not least from Matt Gaetz, who likened Antifa to a terrorist organization in a tweet that Twitter says "violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.")
- Zuckerberg has framed moderation as a binary thing: You either leave something up or take it down. His employees argue there are more options, and better ones — something that Twitter has been demonstrating.
- This was Facebook's statement: "We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community. We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership. As we face additional difficult decisions around content ahead, we'll continue seeking their honest feedback."
There's a disconnect here, I think. It feels like Zuckerberg is saying: There's no problem, this post doesn't break our rules. And Facebook employees are responding: That is the problem, we need better rules.
- Zuckerberg is more or less omnipotent at Facebook, and doesn't have to do anything.
- But this does all at least seem to have gotten his attention: He moved Facebook's all-hands meeting up from Thursday to today. I'm guessing there will be some tough questions for the CEO.
Oh, and it's not just Facebook. We're hearing that some Google employees are planning to take action together later this week, too.
Is the Internet Archive a library?
A group of publishers sued the Internet Archive over the 1.3 million books that the group has made freely available online. (The system normally works sort of like a library, where one person gets access at a time — but during the pandemic the IA just gave everyone access to everything.)
- "Without any license or any payment to authors or publishers, IA scans print books, uploads these illegally scanned books to its servers, and distributes verbatim digital copies of the books in whole via public-facing websites," the complaint says. "With just a few clicks, any Internet-connected user can download complete digital copies of in-copyright books from Defendant."
- Douglas Preston, the president of the Authors Guild, called the IA "a book piracy website masquerading as a public service."
The Internet Archive's defense is simple: We're just a library! "Publishers suing libraries for lending books, in this case, protected digitized versions, and while schools and libraries are closed, is not in anyone's interest," IA founder Brewster Kahle told The New York Times.
- He also said publishers could easily opt-out of the program — which is exactly what Google said when its Google Books program got into trouble back in the day for doing exactly what the IA did.
- That defense didn't work for Google, and it seems unlikely to work here.
A MESSAGE FROM WALMART
How Walmart is Helping Associates Live Better
To support associates' wellbeing, Walmart is:
- Extending its emergency leave policy
- Waiving co-pays for telehealth visits
- Providing free counseling to all associates and their families
How to improve your next all-hands
Something tells me a lot of companies are going to have all-staff meetings in the coming days. There's … a lot to discuss. And actually, since the pandemic started, I've heard from a number of execs who said that replacing the all-hands has been one of the hardest things about going remote.
- There seems to be something about the honesty and togetherness of a no-holds-barred conversation that means a lot to companies.
That was the thinking behind Askaway, an app built by a team at a software studio called MyPlanet. It's a pretty simple product: a quick Q&A tool that lets people ask questions, upvote others' questions to get them answered sooner, and set the agenda for the meeting. Since it's just a web app, you can screenshare it into whatever conferencing tool you use.
- "It provides a structure that we found really, really powerful and actually still quite engaging, even in a remote format," MyPlanet CEO Jason Cottrell said. It makes it harder for one question-asker to dominate or one answerer to deflect, and keeps things moving.
- Cottrell and his team has been using Askaway for years internally, but it recently open-sourced the app to let others use it. It's a lot better than just dumping questions into a Google doc.
One big question Cottrell says he gets a lot: Should you allow anonymous questions? He said that, while it has sometimes brought in more critical questions, "we'd rather people ask the questions anonymously, so that we actually get the real view of what people are thinking and we can address them."
Richard Tom is the new CTO of WarnerMedia. He's a longtime partner of new CEO Jason Kilar: They worked together at both Hulu and Vessel, and will continue hacking together on the future of entertainment at Warner.
Forcepoint hired Myrna Soto as its new chief strategy and trust officer. She was previously the COO at Digital Hands, and will also join Forcepoint's Security Council.
Stitch Fix is laying off 1,400 people in California, and said it plans to hire 2,000 more — but the company's looking in lower-cost cities like Dallas, Minneapolis and Austin, rather than the Bay Area.
In Other News
- On Protocol: Michael McConnell, one of the chairs of Facebook's new Oversight Board, read a quote containing the "n-word" last week in front of a class at Stanford. Now his judgement is being seriously called into question.
- Rent prices in Silicon Valley are falling fast. After years of everyone saying "the real-estate bubble is about to burst," it appears to be happening. At least for now.
- Sony postponed the PS5 event that was scheduled for Thursday, saying "we do not feel that right now is a time for celebration."
- Pax built a web app after getting kicked out of Apple's App Store. The fight between platforms and the open web continues to be an interesting one, but I can't say I pictured vapes being part of it.
- India rejected Flipkart's application to get into food retail. The Walmart-owned ecommerce company wants to be part of the grocery game — kind of like Amazon buying Whole Foods or opening Go stores — but India's regulators said they won't allow it.
- Google has worked hard to keep coronavirus content off its platforms. Its ads? Another story. One study found that Google's ad network was generating revenue for 84% of COVID misinformation and conspiracy-theory sites.
One More Thing
Bringing back a game that never was
It's like one of those bonkers old Google interview questions: If I gave you a bunch of floppy disks and data tape, and told you there was an awesome video game in there somewhere, what would you do? The Video Game History Foundation figured it out. They spent months recompiling data, fixing and formatting drives and futzing with source code, before reconstructing a 30-year-old, unreleased Nintendo game called Days of Thunder. It's a great story, and a delightful racing game.
A MESSAGE FROM WALMART
Walmart Hires 200,000 Associates Since March
Walmart used an expedited hiring process and worked with companies that have furloughed workers, including the restaurant and hospitality industries, to hire over 200,000 associates since March.
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