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Meme stocks and moderation

GameStop Stock

Good morning! This Friday, the real tech story inside the GameStop story, Facebook goes on an anti-news crusade in Australia and the privacy laws coming to the U.S.

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The Big Story

Everything is moderation

Protocol's Issie Lapowsky called this a while ago: To the extent that the GameStop meme stock saga is a story about technology, it's actually a story about content moderation.

  • Most of yesterday's hearing was the type of finance talk you'd tune out at any bar in the Financial District, with a lot of chat about payment for order flow and what clearinghouses do. (Except for when Keith Gill, a.k.a. Roaring Kitty, a.k.a. u/DeepFuckingValue, started his testimony with "I am not a cat." The man is truly an internet legend.)
  • But when the lawmakers got around to asking about tech, they kept asking different versions of the same questions: Are platforms responsible for making sure their users are safe? And what does safe even mean? Which is to say, if I bought a bunch of GME stock at $450 a share so I could post a screenshot in my favorite subreddit, was that my fault? Reddit's? Robinhood's? The government's?

The two tech CEOs at the hearing — Robinhood's Vlad Tenev and Reddit's Steve Huffman — both made the case that their platforms are filled with smart people doing smart-people stuff, not a bunch of rubes being duped by a dude in a red headband.

  • "On Reddit, I think, the investment advice is actually probably among the best," Huffman said, in the rare moment he was actually asked a question, "because it has to be accepted by many thousands of people before getting that sort of visibility."
  • But he also acknowledged that Reddit admins did step in during the height of the GameStop insanity to try to cool off some moderator disagreements.
  • Tenev, who was the subject of the most questioning, said that "giving people what they want in a responsible way is what Robinhood is about. We don't consider that gamification. We know that investing is serious."

The takeaway from Congress' perspective, Protocol's Tomio Geron wrote, was that something's wrong but it's not clear how to fix it. Some lawmakers wanted more regulation; others wanted less. So, much like every other Congressional hearing then.

Regulation

Oh look, more privacy laws

With Congress dithering over Section 230 and coronavirus measures, a number of states continue to take tech legislation into their own hands. The result? A patchwork of laws with varying rules and regulations, or what tech companies like to say is their nightmare scenario.

The hot bill of the moment is Virginia's new privacy legislation, which has passed the state legislature and the governor has promised to sign. It's essentially a copy of Washington state's proposed privacy bill from last year, a much more business-friendly version of the CCPA.

  • The basic foundation of the law was proposed by an Amazon lobbyist, Protocol's Emily Birnbaum reported, who provided the text of the bill to Virginia legislator David Marsden.
  • Consumer advocacy groups have called the legislation "weak" and business-friendly, which Marsden doesn't deny. "If it has a business focus to it," he said, "it's because the folks who put it together, they're the ones who showed up."
  • One sticking point for privacy advocates: Neither the Virginia nor Washington bills give individuals the right to sue companies, unlike the CCPA.
  • Washington is looking at another attempt to pass its bill again this year, and it looks more likely to succeed this time around.

The legislative dominoes are set up all over the country: privacy and antitrust in New York, privacy and speech in Florida, and even Washington is getting ready to argue over another privacy bill. That patchwork looks like it could get messier real quick.

We'll have more on this story later today, so stick around.

Facebook

No news for you!

Facebook has been attempting to keep news off its platform in Australia for a day or so now. How's it going? Well, if you've followed Facebook's messy, haphazard, overbearing, underwhelming, frequently hilarious journeys into content moderation, it's going exactly as you'd expect.

  • Its news-blocking bots also took down a bunch of totally unrelated government pages in Australia, including those of a fire department, a number of charities and the Bureau of Meteorology.
  • Facebook framed the whole thing as the government's fault: "As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted."
  • OK, then, Facebook, how do you explain having also blocked your own page in the process?

This is all a not-very-subtle bargaining tool, like taking away your kid's toys until they clean their room. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that, "Facebook's actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing."

  • They're also working, so far. International traffic to Australian news sites has fallen by 20% in a day, Chartbeat found, along with a 10% drop from within Australia.

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON

Amazon

Amazon proudly supports the Raise the Wage Act and its goal of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour—the same starting wage we've provided U.S. workers since 2018. We've seen the positive benefits firsthand, and we urge Congress to take action to help America's hourly workers and boost our economic recovery.

Follow Up

A few people responded to yesterday's issue with a good point: When I wrote that the Australian law pertaining to Google and Facebook was "trying to reset the balance between publishers and the distributors that destroyed their business," I was actually making the same mistake the lawmakers were. You're right! Google and Facebook didn't destroy the news business; that has lots of culprits, but mostly it's the internet as a whole — and the news business failing to adapt — that did it. Google and Facebook are bogeymen as much as anything.

Also, the more I think about and talk to folks about this, the more I come back to one thing: that a link tax (which is essentially what Australia is pushing for) might be a bad idea, incompatible with the internet as an open and accessible thing.

Thanks as always for the feedback, keep it coming!

People Are Talking

On Protocol | China: A former ByteDance employee told us about life inside ByteDance's censorship machine:

  • "I knew ByteDance's army of content moderators were using the tools and algorithms that I helped develop to delete content, change the narrative and alter memories of the suffering and trauma inflicted on Chinese people during the COVID-19 outbreak. I couldn't help but feel every day like I was a tiny cog in a vast, evil machine."

Bill Gates thinks @realDonaldTrump should be allowed back on social media:

  • "I think at some point he probably will be allowed back on and probably should be allowed back on."

Clubhouse is working because it understands how cults work, Sam Lessin said:

  • "Perhaps the most distinctive thing about the Clubhouse chat-room model is that it provides a stage where leaders can talk while followers listen as part of an audience — and sometimes wait to be called on. This is nothing new in the physical social world, but it is revolutionary in the digital social world, where groups and shared messenger threads have historically always been communal spaces."

Making Moves

Mona Sutphen is joining Spotify's board of directors. By day, she's an adviser at the Vistria Group, and was Obama's deputy chief of staff for policy.

Anthony Lin is the new head of Intel Capital, a job he's had on an interim basis since August.

Apple's hiring 6G engineers, in a sign that it wants to be an early and influential player in the technology.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: Zuckerberg, Pichai and Dorsey will testify again. In a March 25 hearing, they'll discuss anti-vaxx and election fraud claims, and platforms' roles in helping them spread.
  • The U.K. Supreme Court said Uber drivers are workers. That means they're entitled to minimum wage and holiday pay, which could have ramifications for the entire gig work sector. Uber cannot appeal this ruling.
  • President Biden will order a review of semiconductor and rare earth metal supply chains, CNBC reported. Meanwhile, automakers and medical device manufacturers asked the White House to subsidize building chip factories in the U.S.
  • The Internet Association sued Maryland for its online ad tax. It and various other trade groups said the tax is unconstitutional.
  • IBM might sell Watson Health, The Wall Street Journal reported. The unit reportedly has $1 billion in revenue but isn't profitable.
  • Oracle software was marketed to Chinese police, The Intercept reported. One company presentation implied that its analytics software was used to help surveillance in Liaoning.
  • Huawei's smartphone component orders will fall by over 60% this year, it reportedly told suppliers, a clear sign that U.S. sanctions are having a significant effect on its business.
  • Nvidia launched GPUs dedicated to crypto mining. At the same time, it said software would halve the mining efficiency of its new RTX 3060 gaming GPU, in an effort to "help ensure GeForce GPUs end up in the hands of gamers."
  • Anthony Levandowski shut his AI church, donating its $175,172 in funds to the NAACP.

One More Thing

Mars!

I never thought I'd be so excited about a low-res, black-and-white picture of a bunch of rocks, shot through what looks like an airplane window. But when the first images of Mars came back from the Perseverance rover (also known as Percy), I admit, I squealed a little. If you want to get goosebumps, just watch the last few minutes right before touchdown.

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON

Amazon

Amazon proudly supports the Raise the Wage Act and its goal of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour—the same starting wage we've provided U.S. workers since 2018. We've seen the positive benefits firsthand, and we urge Congress to take action to help America's hourly workers and boost our economic recovery.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your weekend; see you Sunday.

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