The White House’s social media summit has an ulterior motive

President Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday.

President Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday.
 Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

With questions swirling about the growing size and influence of social networks, the president is determined to get some answers. And so in a bid to resolve the many outstanding concerns about the role of platforms in society, the Trump Administration on Thursday has organized a “social media summit” most notable for not inviting representatives for any of those platforms.

The summit has been peopled instead with meme makers, founders of alternative social networks, and conservative activists. The guest list is so far removed from a pre-Trump era White House policy summit that even those invited weren’t quite sure the invitation was real. Here’s Elizabeth Culliford reporting for Reuters:

When conservative meme-maker Carpe Donktum got an invitation to a White House summit, he thought the email might be spam.

“I asked around because I wasn’t sure if it was a mass marketing thing,” said the stay-at-home dad who lives in Kansas City, Missouri, declining to give his real name for fear of harassment against his family.

Of course, just because Facebook and Twitter aren’t invited doesn’t mean that no social network will be in attendance. For example, the summit will reportedly include the CEO of Minds.com, which, um … someone remind me which one Minds.com is?

Oh yeah:

A previous Motherboard investigation found that militant neo-Nazi groups connected to Atomwaffen Division—a violent American hate group connected to several murders—was using Minds as a platform for recruiting and spreading propaganda. Minds eventually banned the accounts when Motherboard showed them to the platform, but the company’s lax content moderation allowed them to proliferate unchecked for months.

Hmmm, this is starting to sound like a pretty grim affair. Who else is coming? Save us, Oliver Darcy!

Other eyebrow-raising attendees include James O’Keefe, the guerrilla journalist whose group Project Veritas tried to trick reporters at the Washington Post by planting a source who told the paper that she had been impregnated as a teenager by failed Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore; Charlie Kirk, the founder of the right-wing student group Turning Point USA who sometimes posts misleading information on social media; and Benny Johnson, the journalist-turned-activist who was fired for plagiarism by BuzzFeed and demoted at the Independent Journal Review for violating company standards.

Hoo boy.

What is the point of all this, exactly? Tony Romm, Michael Scherer, and Amy B. Wang offer an idea in the Washington Post:

In a statement, White House spokesman Judd Deere said the administration opted to convene the event after hearing from “thousands” of Americans across the political spectrum that they had been affected by bias online. He said Trump “wants to engage directly with these digital leaders in a discussion on the power of social media,” but he declined to provide a full list of attendees.

In recent months, Trump has intensified his attacks on Facebook, Google and Twitter for allegedly limiting his online reach, often citing disputed evidence in making his claims about bias. During a recent interview on Fox Business, the president even charged that Google seeks to rig the upcoming election. Twitter said any variation in Trump’s follower count is the result of the company’s efforts to delete automated accounts known as bots.

They go on to quote Christian Ziegler, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, who is scheduled to attend: “The president is taking the lead here. He’s really standing up for all Americans and making sure that conservatives aren’t silenced.”

Kevin Roose, who calls the event “a West Wing pity party,” offers a more plausible reason for the event: whipping up enthusiasm among conservative meme lords ahead of the 2020 election.

Mr. Trump may also be betting that the success of his 2020 re-election bid will hinge, at least in part, on the enthusiasm of his highest-profile internet supporters. In 2016, a “meme army” rose from the depths of 4chan and Reddit to support Mr. Trump’s candidacy by turning out a steady stream of pro-Trump images, videos and animation — the best of which were often shared by Mr. Trump and his inner circle on social media. Since his election, Mr. Trump has continued to look to his internet supporters as a kind of crowdsourced media consultancy, from which he draws slogans, video mash-ups and “Game of Thrones”-inspired memes.

“I think the White House social media summit is an opportunity to say thank you for the community that has been at the president’s side these last three years and enlist their help in the fights to come,” said Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist.

One thing no one seems to expect from the social media summit is evidence of systematic bias against conservatives from the platforms. (Because there isn’t any.) But at the risk of being a party pooper, here are some facts from NewsWhip and Axios on the subject. In short: articles about Democratic candidates written by conservative partisans are getting much more engagement on social platforms than articles written by the mainstream media.

Here’s Neal Rothschild on the new data, which covers campaign reporting over the past two weeks:

This tracker looks at all the attention 2020 Democrats are generating from stories on social media, but many of the most viral pieces are actually being published by conservative media, according to data from NewsWhip exclusively provided to Axios.

Why it matters: The stories drive at wedge issues like immigration, redistributive policies and the culture war du jour, painting the Democratic candidates as radical leftists and serving as a testing ground for attacks from President Trump.

Four of the five most popular stories about Kamala Harris in the past two weeks came from Fox News, Breitbart, and the Federalist Papers. Highly engaged stories about Cory Booker, Julián Castro, and Bernie Sanders similarly came from a handful of big conservative sites.

Of course, conservative complaints about social networks have generally focused on the experiences of their individual accounts, rather than on the performance of conservative media generally. The grievances likely to be discussed tomorrow will likely focus on temporary suspensions, some accidental; not appearing high enough in search results, or at all; and not being included in various algorithmic recommendations.

But while they fume theatrically for the television cameras tomorrow, the same algorithms they denounce will continue to recruit new viewers, followers, and donors on their behalf. The fact remains that despite the liberal leanings of many tech workers, social platforms have been an unqualified boon to the conservative movement — a fact that Republican lawmakers are curiously loath to admit. You might even say they’ve been silenced.

DEMOCRACY

Fed Chair Raises ‘Serious Concerns’ About Facebook’s Cryptocurrency Project

Libra had a rough day at the Federal Reserve, Nathaniel Popper, Mike Isaac and Jeanna Smialek report:

On Wednesday, the chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, said Libra raised a host of “serious concerns” around “money laundering, consumer protection and financial stability.”

“I just think it cannot go forward without there being broad satisfaction with the way the company has addressed money laundering” and other issues, Mr. Powell said as he testified before the House Financial Services Committee.

Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google to testify to Congress on antitrust

I’m honored and humbled to announce that I will be on vacation next week. So let me know how this goes!

Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google have been summoned to Capitol Hill to testify next week as part of House lawmakers’ wide-ranging investigation into big tech companies and the threats they may pose to competition.

The hearing, scheduled for July 16 in front of the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee that deals with antitrust, will bring simmering Democratic and Republican frustrations with Silicon Valley into public view, potentially setting the stage for further scrutiny — or regulation — of an industry that has long insisted that its size doesn’t harm rivals or consumers.

Congress faces ‘hard questions’ on facial recognition as activists push for ban

Colin Lecher explores new calls for Congress to regulate facial recognition technology:

Ahead of the hearing this week, a coalition of civil rights advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote to the Committee on Homeland Security asking for the Department of Homeland Security to “immediately suspend” its use of facial recognition. “They have good reasons to be concerned,” Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said in an opening statement at the hearing. The activist group Fight For The Future also launched a push around facial recognition, calling for a full ban on the technology.

Government officials, including from Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration, faced questions from lawmakers about how their agencies use the tools, and some suggested they were ready to take steps to rein in the technology. “It is imperative that Congress impose safeguards against mission creep,” Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) said.

Amazon, Microsoft wage war over the Pentagon’s ‘war cloud’

Matt O’Brien reports on the battle to build extremely ominous technology for the government:

Amazon and Microsoft are battling it out over a $10 billion opportunity to build the U.S. military its first “war cloud” computing system. But Amazon’s early hopes of a shock-and-awe victory may be slipping away.

Formally called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure plan, or JEDI, the military’s computing project would store and process vast amounts of classified data, allowing the Pentagon to use artificial intelligence to speed up its war planning and fighting capabilities. The Defense Department hopes to award the winner-take-all contract as soon as August. Oracle and IBM were eliminated at an earlier round of the contract competition.

Conservative groups push Congress not to meddle with internet law

Some conservative groups are pressing Congress not to eliminate Section 230 protections for social platforms, Makena Kelly reports:

Other right-leaning groups like FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity see any changes to the law as a mistake. According to these groups, changes to Section 230 would hurt Republicans and Democrats equally.

“Countless conservative voices benefit from the liability protections guaranteed by Section 230, and oppose any attempts to end this vital provision,” David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, said. “The internet flourishes when social media platforms allow for discourse and debate without fear of a tidal wave of liability. Ending Section 230 would shutter this marketplace of ideas at tremendous cost.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez faces legal challenges from critics she blocked on Twitter

If Trump has to unblock his Twitter critics, then so does AOC. Cat Zakrzewski reports:

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is now facing at least two lawsuits from critics she blocked on social media after a federal appeals court ruled President Trump cannot shut off his critics on Twitter.

Joseph Saladino, a YouTuber whose video pranks have been criticized as racist, told me in an interview yesterday he is filing a complaint that argues Ocasio-Cortez violated the First Amendment when she blocked him in May.

ELSEWHERE

The Fight for the Future of YouTube

Neima Jahromi explores how YouTube gradually came to house more racist and offensive speech:

The company featured videos it liked, banned others outright, and kept borderline videos off the home page. Still, it allowed some toxic speech to lurk in the corners. “We thought, if you just quarantine the borderline stuff, it doesn’t spill over to the decent people,” he recalled. “And, even if it did, it seemed like there were enough people who would just immediately recognize it was wrong, and it would be O.K.” The events of the past few years have convinced Schaffer that this was an error. The increasing efficiency of the recommendation system drew toxic content into the light in ways that YouTube’s early policymakers hadn’t anticipated. In the end, borderline content changed the tenor and effect of the platform as a whole. “Our underlying premises were flawed,” Schaffer said. “We don’t need YouTube to tell us these people exist. And counterspeech is not a fair burden. Bullshit is infinitely more difficult to combat than it is to spread. YouTube should have course-corrected a long time ago.”

YouTube’s Cleanup Efforts Are Driving Business Opportunities for Creators, Says Product Chief Neal Mohan

Meanwhile at Variety, Todd Spangler asks YouTube’s head of product, Neal Mohan, whether it would ever consider building a Facebook-style independent oversight board. Mohant punts:

At Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has proposed a plan for users to appeal content decisions through an independent body. The Facebook Oversight Board would be comprised of 40 outside participants to make “decisions would be transparent and binding” — a kind of Supreme Court to rule on individual cases when questions come up about what should stay and what should get removed.

Could that work for YouTube? Mohan said the Google-owned video platform remains focused on establishing a workable set of community guidelines with clear and efficient enforcement. “We have always worked with third parties and external organizations,” he said. “You need a combination of incredibly well-trained raters, as well as technology.”

Google’s 4,000-Word Privacy Policy Is a Secret History of the Internet

Charlie Warzel and Ash Ngu trace the development of Google’s privacy policy. Nerds!

Google changed dramatically during the late 2000s. There were acquisitions like YouTube (2006) and the ad-tech company DoubleClick (2008). This came alongside the rise of the desktop and banner advertising and the mobile revolution, which allowed new forms of advertising and tracking. Google’s privacy policy evolved to reflect those industry changes.

According to Mr. Ward, during this period, Google’s policy shifted “from a straightforward disclosure to a much more complicated device.” As Google began to take in more and more personal data to build an advertising model and business, he said, the company “moved from the ‘we don’t transfer your data’ to ‘we don’t sell your data’ model.”

We Analyzed More Than 1 Million Comments on 4chan. Hate Speech There Has Spiked by 40% Since 2015.

Speech on 4chan has grown more threatening over time, Rob Arthur reports:

On 4chan you’ll find anime, porn, and sports chatter. You’ll also find an endless stream of racist threats, stomach-churning memes, and misogynistic vitriol — and it’s getting worse, according to a VICE analysis of more than 1 million comments on one of the site’s most popular message boards.

On the heavily trafficked “politically incorrect” board, slurs against racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual or gender minorities have increased by 40% since 2015, while neo-Nazi propaganda has proliferated. And users on the forum are increasingly making violent threats against minority groups: Comments that include both hate speech and violent language have increased by 25% over the same period.

Facebook reportedly signs deal for Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed VR games

Facebook is looking to add some top-tier video game franchises to its Quest headset. Adi Robertson:

Facebook has reportedly signed an exclusive deal to put Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed games on its Oculus virtual reality headsets. The Information reported the newsthis morning, although it didn’t offer much detail about what those games would look like. The titles are apparently part of a larger push to acquire studios and back exclusive games, something Oculus has been doing on a smaller scale for some time.

Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed owner Ubisoft has published several VR games, including the Oculus Rift launch exclusive Eagle Flight and the cooperative game Star Trek: Bridge Crew. It’s also released a couple of Assassin’s Creed-based “VR escape rooms,” but they’re only available at specific locations, not on home VR headsets.

Zaful, Shein, Andie, Summersalt: why swimsuit brands are all over Instagram

Rebecca Jennings investigates:

“I kept clicking them because the women in the ads were hot,” writer Jamie Lauren Keiles told me over DM. “Then I guess because I click them, Instagram serves me more and more, which I keep looking at because I am horny, which begets more ads for a product I don’t wear or buy. Anyway, now my whole feed is bathing suits.”

Besides our collective horniness, the real reason Instagram has transformed into one giant bikini store is multifold. It relates to quirks in the algorithm, the sudden explosion of swimwear brands in the 2010s, and the foundational difficulties of shopping for the tiny pieces of clothing in which most people, multiple brands reminded me, will be the most naked they’ll ever be in public.

Microsoft might crush Slack like Facebook crushed Snapchat

Is Microsoft Teams going to steamroll newly public Slack? Microsoft gives it away as part of Office 365, so maybe! Rani Molla investigates:

Slack’s market share among the world’s largest companies is mostly flat, adoption rates are declining, and a bigger portion of these companies indicate they plan on leaving the service, according to a new survey by market research firm ETR, which asks chief information officers and other leaders at the world’s biggest organizations* where they plan to spend their company’s tech budget.

Meanwhile, Teams is seeing increased market share, relatively higher adoption rates, and low rates of defection, according to the data.

Scruff Acquires Jack’d, The Dating App That Exposed Users’ Nudes

Blake Montgomery reports on some consolidation in the gay hookup app space:

Just two weeks after being fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for exposing its users’ nude photos, the dating app Jack’d has found the exit sign.

Scruff, a privately held dating app that caters to gay and bisexual men, bought Jack’d for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition comes as Jack’d attempts to move past a privacy scandal and reassure users that their intimate communications remain unseen by prying eyes.

LAUNCHES

Snapchat announces new shows from Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others

Snap says its lineup of original programming has produced a number of hits, and so now it’s making some more. Josh Constine:

For example, Schwarzenegger will be providing motivational advice in a show called “Rules of Success,” while Thompson will weigh in on fashion and lifestyle trends on “Trend or End” and Gray offers beauty advice on “Glow Up.”

The shows will begin airing this month. They’re all exclusive to Snapchat, and many of them come from creators who have a substantial following on other platforms — Chamberlain, for example, was just described in The New York Times as “the funniest person on YouTube.”

Zoom to fix major Mac webcam security flaw today with emergency patch

The Zoom vulnerability that let hackers take over your webcam rather easily wasn’t quite a social networks-and-democracy story — but it’s still important for the large chunk of Silicon Valley that communicates daily on Zoom, and so yesterday’s move to begrudgingly patch the software is notable.

TAKES

Libra and Financial Inclusion

Adam Levitin casts a skeptical eye on Libra’s emergence as a payments network:

So what will get people signed up both as payors and payees? You’ve got to offer them something worthwhile. Here’s what Libra seems to be offering: (1) payment and safekeeping in alternative currency, (2) faster clearing, (3) greater convenience relative to brick-and-mortar, and (4) possibly lower fees. I see little attraction to that for most Americans, or indeed for most folks in the Western world. Unless Libra is made legal tender (so you can pay the government taxes and fees in it), you’re going to have to operate in two currencies, and who needs that hassle, plus the exchange rate risk? The faster clearing just isn’t that important to most people, Libra’s going to be competing against banks on-line, and there’s really no evidence that Libra’s fees are going to be so much lower as to matter. I just don’t see the value proposition for consumers or merchants in the western world.

The situation might be different in developing countries, where there is a lack of financial institution infrastructure and unstable currencies. In that regard, Libra could be making a play similar to what M-Pesa did in Kenya—providing a payment system through the Internet. But here’s the thing—it’s going to be very hard for Libra to comply with US AML expectations if it is serving developing country populations—how is it going to verify customer identity, for example? And Libra will have to price much lower in developing countries. Moreover, electronic payment systems are traceable, which is not something everyone likes, as they limit tax evasion and facilitate government surveillance. I’m just not seeing what Libra brings to the table.

Instagram’s new anti-bullying features: comment warnings and restricted accounts

Kaitlyn Tiffany wonders whether Instagram’s new anti-bullying features will really change anything:

The idea that Instagram might be able to use machine learning to control and mediate feelings of being excluded, or less-than, or no longer as important to someone as you used to be, is dubious mostly because Instagram is an image-sharing platform: Those kinds of behaviors are what Instagram is for, as much or more than it is for posting ur-happy moments that nobody in your life will take issue with or feel threatened by.

While these steps are interesting and hopefully useful, there’s no real solution to teenagers making each other feel bad on Instagram because teenagers are very, very good at making each other feel bad, and a platform that is fundamentally about boasting is a catalyst for that, no matter what.

AND FINALLY …

Why Kevin Smith’s Infamous Wife Tweet Is Still Breaking Brains — 10 Years Later

This week is the 10-year-anniversary of a very not-safe-for-work tweet from the director Kevin Smith in which he expressed admiration for his wife particularly profane terms. Miles Klee reflects on what it all means (it means nothing):

Smith’s “cheating on each other WITH each other” tweet, hereinafter referred to as “The Tweet,” is universally reviled. Many have noted their personal disgust at The Tweet, while nobody, to my knowledge, has ever defended The Tweet as good, except in ironizing fashion: It is so mind-bogglingly awful that it is, in fact, excellent. None of this, I’ll reiterate, is a judgment upon the intimacy of the Smiths, who seem like nice people, as entitled to hot sex as anyone else. Nevertheless, the fact remains: The Tweet is viscerally offensive. It should not exist.

There are a lot of tweets like that. But this one really is special.

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