Source Code: What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning
Snap puts Trump in the corner
Good morning! This Thursday, inside Snap's decision to stop promoting President Trump, the VC firms trying to fund underfunded entrepreneurs, and a look inside the Dyson car that never was.
(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day.)
People Are Talking
A group of early Facebook employees wrote an open letter saying the company needs new community guidelines:
- "It claims that providing warnings about a politician's speech is inappropriate, but removing content from citizens is acceptable, even if both are saying the same thing. That is not a noble stand for freedom. It is incoherent, and worse, it is cowardly."
Investor Pascal Cagni has a three-category system for what he wants to fund going forward:
- "We have three ways of looking at it: the 'stay home,' the 'never again,' and the 'make this world great again.'"
One way to improve diversity in tech? Start in the boardroom, Ursula Burns said:
- "Before you even look at the companies, look at the boards. Most of the boards still have zero or one African American on board, and that, I think that pressure in that area can help to speed up progress and transitions for companies."
The Big Story
The middle ground of moderation
There are unintended consequences of social media, and then there are the events of recent weeks. I think we can safely say that when social media companies originally set up moderation policies, they didn't imagine having to debate whether a tweet from the president was newsworthy enough to leave up even though it incited violence. These are, in so many ways, unprecedented times.
Across the social landscape, companies are trying to figure out what to do. What they even can do. Yesterday, Snap charted a new path: After it found President Trump's Snapchat account to have promoted violence, the company decided that it wouldn't delete the account — but it wouldn't promote it either.
- "We are not currently promoting the president's content on Snapchat's Discover platform," Snap said in a statement. "We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover. Racial violence and injustice have no place in our society and we stand together with all who seek peace, love, equality, and justice in America."
I'm told this process started on Saturday, after Trump's tweets about protestors being met with "vicious dogs" and "ominous weapons." Snap decided that Trump violated its principles about how people should act both on and off its platform.
- Users who subscribe to his account will still see it at the top of their feeds, and they'll still be able to search for his name. But in the curated For You section of Discover, where Snap's curation team and algorithms put the platform's best stuff and biggest stars, there will be no more Trump.
- Most comments I saw were from people who applauded the move, and those who have been asking Facebook to do more seemed to especially like it.
- The Trump campaign put out a statement condemning the whole thing.
It's a years-old idea: Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom of reach. Even if a platform takes it as gospel that users can say whatever they want, those platforms by definition play a huge role in deciding what happens next. It's virtually impossible for YouTube to keep all the objectionable stuff off its platform, or for Twitter to block every hateful person and tweet — but it's much easier for them to keep those things out of people's news feeds and recommendations. That's not a speech question, but a reach question.
- There are lots of ways to control reach, even beyond Snap's approach. Twitter's method of flagging tweets with labels and information is one path. Reddit's strategy of "quarantining" problematic communities, so they can continue to exist but can't infect the rest of the platform, is another.
- Twitter said that it believes "Twitter shouldn't determine the truthfulness of Tweets," but also that "Twitter should provide context to help people make up their own minds in cases where the substance of a Tweet is disputed." Its goal is not to stop people from talking, but to help all the people who see the tweet make sense of it.
This wasn't a particularly difficult decision for Snap, I'm told. The company's always been clear that it's not a public square — that it plays a huge role in what people see and where, and doesn't prize free speech above all else.
- And as Evan Spiegel wrote in his long note to staff, "we simply cannot promote accounts in America that are linked to people who incite racial violence, whether they do so on or off our platform." Those are the rules.
A back-up plan for a deplatformed president
The Trump campaign has been quietly preparing for moves like Snap's for months. In case Trump gets deplatformed, it's been building its own platform: The Trump app, "Trump 2020," launched in April in place of pandemic-canceled rallies. It serves as a direct line to voters now.
Protocol's Sofie Kodner explored the app. Here's what she found:
- Inside the app, you're inside Trump's world. First, there's the news. The app's news stream is impressive. We're not just talking links to articles from Breitbart and Fox: The feed includes original content produced by the Trump campaign itself, updated multiple times a day. The app often sits near the top of the App Store's news app rankings.
- Plus, there are social media feeds of Trump and his favorite voices, and a number of daily virtual events. Just today, you can register for "Women for Trump: MOM TALK," "Black Voices for Trump Prayer Call," and "Team Trump Online! Triggered." That last one you can also join within the app itself.
- The Biden app, in contrast, provides little new information; no news or social feeds. It does have virtual events, but they are less frequent, harder to find, and automatically filtered by area code. Other than training or phone banking, no community event came up for the Bay Area until June 12: "African Americans for Biden Fireside Chat."
Another key difference between the two candidates' apps is how you log in. With Biden's app, you sign up by answering 5 questions about yourself (name, email, zip, etc.) and making a 12-digit password. With Trump 2020, you just need one thing: a phone number. According to campaign manager Brad Parscale, in politics, the cellphone number is gold.
- "When we receive cellphone numbers, it really allows us to identify them across the databases. Who are they, voting history, everything," Parscale told Reuters.
Trump's app also tries to keep the user base growing. The app has a carefully crafted reward system, where users earn points for sharing Trump news to social media, getting friends to download the app, and more.
- The reward points can then translate into real dollars for campaign gear or even a photo with the man himself.
A MESSAGE FROM WALMART
Walmart Debuts Express Delivery
With many American families sheltering in place and relying heavily on online deliveries, Express Delivery will offer Walmart customers another no-contact shopping option – one that arrives in less than two hours.
VCs prepare to spend on diversity
This phrase has been floating around on social for the last few days: hire or wire. Skip the corporate statements about diversity, people say, and instead either hire that diverse candidate or wire the investment.
Yesterday, two of the industry's biggest investors decided to do just that.
- Andreessen Horowitz launched the Talent x Opportunity Fund, led by Nait Jones. "We are looking for entrepreneurs who did not have access to the fast track in life but who have great potential," the company said in the announcement. It will look at ideas both in and outside of tech, and all returns from investments will go back into the pool, to finance future entrepreneurs.
- SoftBank, meanwhile, announced The Opportunity Growth Fund. "This fund will only invest in companies led by founders and entrepreneurs of color," SoftBank International CEO Marcelo Claure wrote to his team. "Our focus will be on companies that use technology to disrupt traditional business models." Its mission is very much the same, but the specifics are slightly different: SoftBank won't take a management fee, and plans to donate a portion of returns to related organizations.
In both cases, the relative amount of money is starting small: TxO is starting with $2.2 million in donations from A16z partners and a matching promise from Ben and Felicia Horowitz of another $5 million. (Already, the donations seem to be pouring in.) SoftBank is spending $100 million, which is a lot! But not from the company that poured almost $20 billion into WeWork's sinking ship.
There was some interesting controversy around the announcements. Backstage's Arlan Hamilton tweeted about starting a "$13 fund for straight white men" to get the marketing and leads. She said it wasn't directed to anyone in particular, but Jones appeared to take it to heart in a tweet that was later deleted.
Mitch Rose is Comcast's new EVP of federal government affairs, overseeing all the company's advocacy and lobbying in Washington.
Google Cloud hired two execs from its rivals: Andi Gutmans from AWS and Abdul Razack from SAP. Both will be VPs in the Cloud organization.
In Other News
- On Protocol: Microsoft, Amazon and other tech companies have expressed solidarity with protestors. Activists want them to prove it, by canceling the lucrative deals they've made with law enforcement.
- Skydio might draw similar pushback. The self-flying-drone maker, which used to be all about automatically taking cool videos of your runs, has found a big business in selling its "selfie drones" to the DEA, the Army and other government and military groups.
- Speaking of flying things: Kitty Hawk is giving up on its flying car program, and shifting its focus to an electric aircraft known as Heaviside that can fly at 180mph over cities. You know, something easier to pull off.
- Google's facing a $5 billion lawsuit that alleges the company violates users' privacy by tracking them even in incognito mode. Google doesn't even deny that it does that — but it says users know what they're getting into.
- Apple's also facing a lawsuit, this one saying that Tim Cook misled shareholders in 2018 by saying that he was expecting strong iPhone demand in China, but then slowing down production just a few days later.
- And a lawsuit for Amazon, too, after three workers claimed the company forced warehouse employees to work in unsafe conditions, and prevented them from adequately safeguarding themselves from COVID-19.
One More Thing
A closer look at the Dyson car that never was
Dyson spent years, and hundreds of millions of dollars, on an electric car project it eventually scrapped. We knew this already. What we didn't know was just how far the company really got — and how completely it had rethought everything about the car. Dyson published a bunch of photos and videos of the car, and Autocar has a great story about the project. If you thought the Cybertruck looked like a prop from a dystopian science-fiction movie, wait till you get a load of this thing. Personally, the steering wheel is my favorite part. I'm curious: What do you make of it?
A MESSAGE FROM WALMART
Walmart Launches a Service that Delivers in Less Than Two Hours
The coronavirus pandemic has upended life as we knew it, and also changed how customers shop – that's why Walmart rolled out Express Delivery, a new service that leverages machine learning to deliver orders in under two hours.
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.