The social media censorship showdown
Good morning! The clash of competing social media rulings is setting up a potential Supreme Court showdown that would have lasting consequences for tech platforms. Meanwhile, the video game industry is facing its own showdown: between giant studios and their unionizing workforces. Let’s dive in.
‘Censorship’ laws cause chaos
Floridians who want to stick it to Big Tech will have to wait another day, after an 11th Circuit appeals court found that the crux of the state’s anti-social media “censorship” law violates the First Amendment.
Earlier this month, a 5th Circuit court of appeals lifted an injunction on a very similar law in Texas, without offering an opinion. That decision allowed the Texas law to take effect immediately, causing chaos for just about every major tech company. The fate of that law is now before the Supreme Court, which could reply to an emergency application on its shadow docket any day now.
The Florida opinion could offer the justices a road map. Here’s what the court said about the law:
- Social media companies, no matter how large, "are 'private actors' whose rights the First Amendment protects,” the court clearly stated.
- It said provisions of the law that prohibit platforms from “deplatforming” politicians, prioritizing or deprioritizing posts by or about them or removing content from “journalistic enterprise[s]” are plainly against those First Amendment rights.
- The court also said parts of the law that require platforms to give a “thorough rationale” of every content moderation decision they make likely violate the First Amendment, too.
This could tee up the Supreme Court for a much bigger ruling. Its decision in response to the emergency application will only decide whether Texas’ law stays in effect while the 5th Circuit appeals case remains ongoing.
- If the 5th Circuit ultimately takes Texas’ side, which it now seems likely to do, that will create a split between circuits, which is just the kind of thing SCOTUS likes to sink its teeth into.
- If that happens, the Supreme Court could be asked to decide once and for all whether social media companies have First Amendment rights, or whether they are, in fact, the common carriers of a new era.
The impact of that decision would be an earthquake for tech platforms — and would have huge ramifications for their users.
Gaming’s seismic shift
Until this week, not a single major American game developer had a unionized workforce of any kind. That just changed.
Workers at Raven Software voted to unionize on Monday. A group of more than 20 employees at the Activision Blizzard-owned company cast ballots in a NLRB-sanctioned election to determine whether Raven management would be forced to recognize the group. The union won, 19-3, making the Game Workers Alliance the first of its kind at a major American game studio.
- The Communications Workers of America has been working for years now to try to unionize game studios and combat worker exploitation.
- Since January, Activision Blizzard has waged a lengthy anti-union campaign at Raven.
- Activision Blizzard said in April it would convert thousands of contract workers to full time and hand out pay raises, but it excluded Raven’s union members from the bump.
The union was spurred by layoffs and Activision Blizzard’s ongoing crises. In December, Raven quality assurance testers went on strike for five weeks to protest layoffs. Parent company Activision, which is in the process of being acquired by Microsoft, is in the midst of its own turmoil.
- A California lawsuit filed last summer kicked off a reckoning at the game publisher, leading to numerous other lawsuits, high-level firings and resignations, management reshuffles, employee protests and a growing unionization movement.
- The NLRB found that Activision Blizzard had illegally threatened employees and violated their rights through intimidation and an overly broad social media policy.
- The NLRB plans to sue the company if it doesn't settle the charges.
Activision Blizzard has one week to appeal the decision before it must begin bargaining in good faith over a union contract. But statements and internal messages to staff make clear that management is not happy. However the company reacts, the GWA’s union contract will have a ripple effect throughout the industry and its fast-growing labor movement.
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People are talking
Intel CEO (and former VMware CEO) Pat Gelsinger is mixed on Broadcom’s potential acquisition of VMware:
- “If it helps VMware be a more compelling, innovative growth story, then it’s good — if it does not, then it’s not good."
Early Twitter exec Jason Goldman thinks Elon Musk is chaos for the company:
- “We went through a lot of terrible times, a lot of them self-inflicted. This is by far the worst. This is an externally imposed chaos agent who is not acting in good faith.”
And Gwynne Shotwell defended Musk against allegations of sexual misconduct:
- "I have worked closely with him for 20 years and never seen nor heard anything resembling these allegations.”
Terra investor Hassan Bassiri is certainly committed to the cause:
- “An algo stable will exist in the next five-to-seven years ... And it has to exist or else what are we even doing in this space?”
Adrian Cockcroft is retiring from Amazon after close to six years with the company. Cockcroft was most recently vice president of Sustainability Architecture.
Chime named Vineet Mehra chief marketing officer. He previously led growth and experience at Good Eggs.
Xiaomi inked a long-term partnership with Leica. Their first collaboration will be a smartphone released in July.
In other news
The world’s 50 richest people lost half a trillion dollars between them so far this year — at least on paper. Elon Musk alone has lost close to $70 billion, or about 1.5 Twitters.
Snap will miss its revenue and earnings guidance for the quarter. It will slow hiring in response.
Andy Jassy has a big AGM to deal with on Wednesday. He'll face shareholder questions about Amazon's working conditions, executive pay and tax.
Broadcom might pony up as much as $60 billion for VMware, according to the WSJ.
Shareholders of Didi voted to delist the company from the New York Stock Exchange.
Samsung said it would invest $350 billion over five years in next-generation technologies, mainly in South Korea.
Airbnb is reportedly planning to exit China. The company is expected to take down all listings in the country this summer.
Meta will give researchers access to targeting data for political ads, finally giving the academics the access they’ve wanted for years.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine is suing Mark Zuckerberg over his responsibility for the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The changing tech pay package
The tech job market isn’t cooling off (yet), but the economic downturn could change the way workers get paid. Fat salaries aren’t disappearing anytime soon, but tech companies will look to cut costs in other ways.
Cushy benefits packages and huge annual merit increases are easy places to cut back, according to compensation consultants. The amount of equity companies give to employees and the frequency of stock grants will also be scrutinized.
But experts also say the time is ripe for startups to land top talent. Many tech giants plan to slow hiring — or freeze it altogether — this year, which will make the market less competitive. And Big Tech workers looking for a fresh challenge might want to jump ship for an exciting growth opportunity.
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