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Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

The link you’re not allowed to click

Image: Jamison Wieser / Protocol
Can't touch this

Good morning! This Thursday, more content-moderation chaos, Zoom's plan to be the next iPhone, and the brutal fight over Prop 22.

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The Big Story

'Warning: This link may be unsafe'

After the New York Post published a cover story yesterday claiming it had gotten emails that showed Joe Biden met with Ukrainian executives at the behest of his son Hunter in 2015, things got complicated for the social platforms.

  • The article's claims struck most people as somewhere between "a leap of logic" and "total nonsense." And that's if the emails are even real, which some evidence says they're not.

Facebook quickly said it was "reducing [the story's] distribution" on its platform, pending a third-party fact check. The company directed us to a part of its year-old viral misinformation policy, which says it will take such action if it has "signals that a piece of content is false."

  • Everybody immediately lost their mind at that. Josh Hawley, the Senate's resident Mad At Tech member, accused Facebook of partiality. The whole internet loudly wondered what "signals" Facebook had, but we've gotten no answer yet.

Then Twitter went nuclear, banning the link from being tweeted and throwing up a warning — "this link may be unsafe" — if you clicked on it. Twitter cited its Hacked Materials policy, noting that the emails had been taken from a laptop left at a repair store last December, and said that the images in the article contained private information.

  • That decision was odd, given that Twitter's actually done a good job of staying outside the "leave it up or take it down" fight. And a lot of people thought Twitter went too far.
  • Even Jack Dorsey didn't like the way his team operated, tweeting that "blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we're blocking: unacceptable."

The story predictably went Full Streisand, giving it new life all over the internet. "The mainstream media doesn't want you to share this article," the House Judiciary GOP tweeted. "RT to make sure you do."

  • The situation made clear how difficult it is for platforms to enforce their own rules. Twitter banned two of the Post's Biden stories, but not its stories about the ban, or about Facebook's and Hawley's responses.
  • And it changed the tenor of the conversation. Facebook seemed to invoke the "freedom of speech vs. freedom of reach" argument, saying only that Facebook didn't want to promote and spread false information. Twitter made what looked to a lot of people like an editorial decision.

Protocol's Issie Lapowsky wrote a good piece about what happened and where it goes next. Two things are clearer than ever: Twitter and Facebook will continue to assert what they think is right and true, and every time they do that they're going to make a lot of people mad. Oh, and three, viral content still moves faster than the moderators.

Video

Zoom wants to be the new iPhone

It looks increasingly like video chat is going to be the next big platform, complete with app stores and new economic incentives and a big fight for market share. It's going to work on every screen you own, from your phone to your TV to your fridge, and be a new default mode of communication. (My hot take: Video is actually a stepping-stone to great augmented reality. But I digress.)

Zoom certainly sees things this way and is dead-set on making sure it's one of the dominant platforms in that market.

  • It launched two new platforms at its Zoomtopia conference yesterday: OnZoom, a soup-to-nuts platform for hosting and promoting virtual events; and Zapps, an app store for stuff you can do directly inside Zoom calls.
  • In both cases, Zoom's hoping to consolidate what's become a cottage industry of specific apps for selling tickets, promoting events, taking meeting notes and the like.
  • It's also pushing out new ways to use Zoom: a classroom mode that actually looks like a classroom, a similar idea for courtrooms, that kind of thing.

If video follows the smartphone playbook, we're due for a couple more years of mass expansion — new platforms, new companies, new hardware, new ideas — and then massive consolidation. Zoom's the first to cross the line from meeting tool to everyday essential, and Teams, Meet, WebEx and lots of others will try to do the same. Video, the technology, is easy now. Video, the platform, will be harder to win.

Regulation

The Prop 22 fight is everywhere

I got a notification yesterday from Uber telling me that Mothers Against Drunk Driving believes "Prop 22 will save lives." Then, in parentheses, it said: "This ad is paid for by Uber Technologies Inc." People were not thrilled to get this notification.

The gig-economy companies are scrambling to do everything they can to make sure Prop 22 passes. (Quick refresh: Prop 22 would exempt companies like Uber, Instacart and DoorDash from California's AB 5, which currently requires them to classify gig workers as employees.)

  • Uber and Lyft have together spent more than $185 million trying to get Prop 22 passed, making it the most expensive proposition in the history of the state.
  • Some Instacart workers have been instructed to put pro-Prop 22 stickers and fliers into shopping bags, Vice reported yesterday. So far it's only in one store, and Instacart said it's optional, but some shoppers are furious.

Prop 22 has become a national issue, because it has obvious national ramifications. It feels like an existential crisis to companies like Uber, Lyft, Postmates, DoorDash and others. Uber has said it'll have to kick nearly a million drivers off the platform if they become employees.

One reason they're fighting so hard is because of what voters will read on their ballot: "Exempts app-based transportation and delivery companies from providing employee benefits to certain drivers." Which sounds like something most people would be against, right? Some people think that means Uber and Lyft and the rest are starting the fight at a disadvantage, and thus have to fight even harder.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Strengthening healthcare interoperability and cybersecurity in the Covid era

A stronger healthcare system means connecting people, data and technology for a frictionless experience across care settings. At Philips, we're developing interoperable solutions that seamlessly transfer data so clinicians can stay focused on what matters most: the patient.

Learn more.

People Are Talking

Elon Musk announced that the Tesla Model S will now cost what you know he's always wanted it to cost:

  • "The prophecy will be fulfilled. Model S price changes to $69,420 tonight!"

Audrey Gelman, the former CEO of The Wing, wrote a long apology for how she ran the company:

  • "We had not subverted the historical oppression and racist roots of the hospitality industry; we had dressed it up as a kinder, gentler version. So no wonder our employees experienced the same indignities you'd expect at a restaurant, cafe or country club in their day-to-day work."

Bill Gates said he's glad Big Tech CEOs are taking antitrust battles seriously:

  • "I was naive at Microsoft and didn't realize that our success would lead to government attention. And so I made some mistakes — you know, just saying, 'Hey, I never go to Washington, D.C.' And now I don't think, you know, that naivete is there."

Google seems to have really touched a nerve in India, with GOQii CEO Vishal Gondal comparing its practices to British colonialism:

  • "This is not just about 30%. This is about this entire East India Company-like structure, which is trying to oppress us."

Making Moves

The We Company is now just WeWork again. Which means the company is now called … what everybody always called it. Progress!

Rick Klau is leaving GV. He's been at Google for 15 years and said he has no idea what's next: "Not knowing feels … exhilarating."

Meanwhile, Terry Burns is GV's newest partner. She's the firm's first Black female investing partner, and, at 26, its youngest ever. She's been at GV for three years.

In Other News

  • Amazon warehouse productivity quotas are back, despite Amazon saying it would suspend them during the pandemic. Employees called them "oppressive and dangerous." Amazon said it continued to provide additional time for hand washing.
  • The EU is honing its Amazon antitrust investigation, according to Reuters. The enquiry currently looks at both whether Amazon has an unfair advantage as a seller on its marketplace and how it uses data for the Buy Box, but officials may split that investigation in two.
  • Twitter followed Facebook in banning holocaust denial posts. The company said the posts are forbidden based on an interpretation of its hateful conduct policy and that the stance isn't new — though it didn't say how long this has been the interpretation.
  • July's Twitter hack was started by someone pretending to be a Twitter IT official, regulators said. In its report, the New York State Department of Financial Services said that social media platforms are "systemically important," and called for a new regulator that could officially designate and regulate them as such.
  • Google will provide digital skills training to 20,000 HBCU students, with an ultimate aim of reaching all 300,000 students by next academic year. It's spending an initial $1 million on the program.
  • The State Department has proposed adding Ant Group to the Entity List, Reuters reports, though that wouldn't stop Americans from investing in its IPO.
  • Governments have used the pandemic to limit online speech, according to Freedom House. It also said internet freedom in the U.S. has declined for the fourth year running.

One More Thing

The internet's one true villain

Everybody has their go-to GIF for when someone is evil or bad, right? (Mine's Emperor Palpatine, no question.) But according to one new study, there's one GIF villain that stands above the rest: Scar from "The Lion King." The whole top 10 is pretty strong, though I can see why Scar won.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Strengthening healthcare interoperability and cybersecurity in the Covid era

A stronger healthcare system means connecting people, data and technology for a frictionless experience across care settings. At Philips, we're developing interoperable solutions that seamlessly transfer data so clinicians can stay focused on what matters most: the patient.

Learn more.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Shakeel Hashim. 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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