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Tech job listings darken: Lab 'overlord,' well-being research, self-harm policy

Tesla needs community relations help, Facebook seeks loneliness researchers and Color aims to automate its coronavirus lab.

A person staring at a blank screen

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, YouTube is hiring for several human managers to deal with topics including election misinformation and self-harm.

Photo: Artur Debat

So much for office-perk coordinators and happiness ambassadors. In the age of coronavirus, new tech job postings have taken a distinctive turn to more pragmatic, crisis-oriented roles.

Where just a few months ago we cataloged a glut of listings for data-savvy recruiters and niche personnel at moonshot startups, this month's most intriguing job listings from Silicon Valley and beyond skew dark, hinting at uncertain waters ahead for both tech companies and the users who rely on them.

In the early weeks after COVID-19 shutdowns began, before unemployment hit Depression-era numbers, we tracked a surge in jobs revealing companies' need to adjust to public health concerns, like space planning and office cleaning. Google's suddenly very noteworthy Verily life sciences division was hiring as well.

Now that it's clear the pandemic will be an enduring feature of the labor market for the foreseeable future, companies are diving deeper into this murky new world.

It's noteworthy how many open jobs are at big tech companies and well-positioned startups, given that many other sectors of the economy are in free fall. Amazon lists a whopping 34,373 jobs on its website, and there were some 2,300 global positions at Facebook and its subsidiaries posted to LinkedIn in the last month.

Here are five of the most illuminating job postings currently online:

Tesla: Community Relations Partner

Fremont

Last week was a chaotic one for Tesla personnel tasked with reopening the company's 10,000-person Silicon Valley factory at the direction of CEO Elon Musk, despite local government orders to keep the plant closed in line with COVID-19 orders. If that sounds like a fun political saga to navigate, Tesla is hiring a community relations lead in the factory's home city of Fremont. This person will act as "the primary interface with local community officials and business leaders." Given that there's disagreement between state, county and city officials over how manufacturers like Tesla should be expected to operate during a pandemic, it's guaranteed to be an interesting ride. Godspeed!

Requirements: MBA, MPP, JD or other advanced degree preferred; five years of experience in policy advocacy; "ability to diffuse situations and forge consensus among divergent views."

Color: Automation Engineer, COVID-19 (Temporary)

Burlingame

Genetic testing startup Color is one of many health tech companies wading into the nascent market for COVID-19 testing. But to get its new Silicon Valley testing lab all the way up and running, the company has a need for a very specific kind of contractor: "a highly motivated robotic overlord to wrangle our semi-sentient liquid handling and sample processing robots into submission!" Don't ask me exactly what that means, but the job listing calls for a scientist or engineer to join Color's R&D team and help automate the testing process to scale up and expedite operations.

Requirements: Bachelor's or master's in engineering; expertise in lab or manufacturing automation; "you have probably designed a Raspberry Pi-controlled device to needlessly automate some aspect of your life."

Facebook: Well-being Quantitative Researcher

Menlo Park

Facebook's "well-being team" is tasked with no less than "understanding of the impact Facebook and our family of apps have on people's lives." In complicated times like these, when concerns abound about health misinformation, conspiracy theories and fake news, it makes sense that the company is hiring for a social scientist with "subject matter expertise in well-being, loneliness, social capital" or related fields. The researcher will work with external researchers and teams at Facebook subsidiaries like Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus to design and execute studies to help "develop novel approaches where traditional methods won't do."

Requirements: Master's or doctorate in the social sciences; knowledge of data manipulation and programming; desire to establish "research partnership opportunities with leading academics."

Twitter: Crisis Management Analyst

Manila, Philippines

Yes, the U.S. is flailing now when it comes to containing COVID-19. But Twitter knows that's not the only crisis it's likely to have to confront. The company, which announced this week that it will allow many U.S. employees to permanently work remotely, is hiring for an analyst in Manila to plan and implement strategies for handling the social media chaos that often results from "major business threats such as shootings, election support, natural disasters, riots, etc." In addition to creating proactive risk assessments, this analyst will be one of several other people in similar roles to rotate on-call duty to respond to new or unfolding crises.

Requirements: Bachelor's degree or local equivalent; 12 years of related experience; "can speak for and collaborate directly with the management team"

YouTube: Policy Enforcement Manager, Suicide and Self-Harm

San Bruno

Content moderators who police some of the darkest corners of the internet are a class of tech workers that have proven especially difficult to adapt to remote work. With AI moderation systems going haywire in recent weeks, it's little surprise that YouTube is hiring for several human managers to deal with topics including election misinformation and self-harm. The policy enforcement manager focused on suicide and self-harm will be a full-time employee who works with contractors to spot trends and prevent "violative content" from showing up on YouTube. The role will be subjective, with the manager asked to "review decisions about the appropriateness of different content, including considerations of cultural and political sensitivities."

Requirements: Bachelor's degree in business, experience with mental health, SQL and spreadsheets, "ability to work nonstandard, on-call rotation work hours."

People

Expensify CEO David Barrett: ‘Most CEOs are not bad people, they're just cowards’

"Remember that one time when we almost had civil war? What did you do about it?"

Expensify CEO David Barrett has thoughts on what it means for tech CEOs to claim they act apolitically.

Photo: Expensify

The Trump presidency ends tomorrow. It's a political change in which Expensify founder and CEO David Barrett played a brief, but explosive role.

Barrett became famous last fall — or infamous, depending on whom you ask — for sending an email to the fintech startup's clients, urging them to reject Trump and support President-elect Joe Biden.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Politics

Silicon Valley is cracking down on Congress

Big Tech's pause on PAC contributions highlights how powerful it's become.

Democrats are particularly frustrated by Facebook, Google and Microsoft's decision to halt PAC contributions altogether, rather than targeting particular Republican lawmakers.

Photo: Tobias Hase/Getty Images

Congress has failed to act on every opportunity it had to seriously rein in the power of Big Tech over the last several years. Negotiations over a federal privacy bill fell apart last year, antitrust reform hit partisan headwinds and every debate over content moderation since 2016 has devolved into a theatrical yelling match that left the parties more divided over solutions than ever.

And now, the bigger-than-ever Silicon Valley is flexing its muscles with impunity as companies cut off violent extremists and wield the power of their political donations, acting more like a government than the U.S. government itself. They're leaving Republicans and Democrats more frustrated and powerless than ever in their wake.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Trump wants to spend his final week as president getting back at Twitter and Facebook for suspending him.

Photo: Oliver Contreras/Getty Images

President Trump has been telling anyone who will listen that he wants to do something to strike back at Big Tech in the final days of his presidency, promising a "big announcement" soon after Twitter permanently banned him last week.

In a statement that Twitter has taken down multiple times, Trump hammered usual targets — Section 230, the "Radical Left" controlling the world's largest tech platforms — and pledged he would not be "SILENCED." But at this point, as he faces a second impeachment and a Republican establishment revolting against him in the waning days of his presidency, there's likely very little that Trump can actually do that would inflict long-lasting damage on tech companies.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

We need Section 230 now more than ever

For those who want to see less of the kind of content that led to the storming of the Capitol, Section 230 may be unsatisfying, but it's the most the Constitution will permit.

Even if certain forms of awful speech could be made unlawful, requiring tech sites to clean it up would be even more constitutionally difficult.

Photo: Angel Xavier Viera-Vargas

Many conservatives are outraged that Twitter has banned President Trump, calling it "censorship" and solemnly invoking the First Amendment. In fact, the First Amendment gives Twitter an absolute right to ban Trump — just as it protects Simon & Schuster's right not to publish Sen. Josh Hawley's planned book, "The Tyranny of Big Tech."

The law here is clear. In 1974, the Supreme Court said newspapers can't be forced to carry specific content in the name of "fairness," despite the alleged consolidation of "the power to inform the American people and shape public opinion." The Court had upheld such Fairness Doctrine mandates for broadcasters in 1969 only because the government licenses use of publicly owned airwaves. But since 1997, the Court has held that digital media enjoys the same complete protection of the First Amendment as newspapers. "And whatever the challenges of applying the Constitution to ever-advancing technology," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in 2011, "'the basic principles of freedom of speech and the press, like the First Amendment's command, do not vary' when a new and different medium for communication appears."

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Berin Szóka

Berin Szóka (@BerinSzoka) is president of TechFreedom (@TechFreedom), a technology policy think tank in Washington, DC.

Politics

The other reason Facebook silenced Trump? Republicans lost power.

Yes, the president's acts were unprecedented. But Facebook is also preparing for a new Washington, controlled by Democrats.

Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook's head of public policy Joel Kaplan have spent four years bending to conservatives' demands. Now, Facebook is bending in a new direction.

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

In his post announcing that President Trump would be blocked from posting on Facebook until at least Inauguration Day, Mark Zuckerberg wrote that the president's incitement of the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday was "fundamentally different" than any of the offenses he's committed on Facebook before. "The risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great," he wrote on Thursday.

That may be true. But there's another reason why — after four years spent insisting that a tech company has no business shutting up the president of the United States, no matter how much he threatens to shoot protesters or engages in voter suppression — Zuckerberg finally had a change of heart: Republicans just lost power.

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
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