• Fri. Nov 27th, 2020

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Technology

The Technology 202: Chaotic debate makes social media more important for Biden and Trump

On social media, Biden highlighted his best soundbites and offered fact checks of Trump’s repeated false claims. His campaign team also tried to seize on potentially viral moments and was swiftly out with a link to buy a t-shirt with the line of the night, “Will you shut up, man.”

Meanwhile Trump was using powerful Facebook advertising tools to amplify misinformation. He was running dozens of ads last night that implied Biden was wearing an earpiece during the debate – after such false rumors festered on social media and were covered by conservative news outlets. 

Facebook declined to comment on the ad, but the company does not fact check ads from politicians. The company’s fact-checking partners did debunk and label similar claims from accounts that did not belong to politicians. 

The travesty of a debate further proves campaigns’ digital strategies matter more than ever in 2020. 

The coronavirus pandemic has forced most campaign events – especially on the left – to go virtual already this year. The presidential debates would have been among the few political events this year that changed little from their traditional format during this unorthodox year.

But now that last night’s performance is being called the “worst presidential debate in living memory” by many observers, it’s unclear how many voters will tune in to the remaining two showdowns between Trump and Biden. That means more people could be turning to social media for information about the candidates that ever before – for better or worse. 

Social media companies were among the clear losers of the night. 

CNN’s fact checker said the president spread “an avalanche of lying” during the debate. That’s only going to increase the challenge for social media companies who are under pressure to ensure that misinformation – especially about voting processes – does not spread on their platforms. Trump’s lengthy and largely false diatribe about mail-in voting on TV comes as the companies have been criticized for not doing enough to rein in his false claims on their platform. 

The intense back and forth could also lead to an increasingly polarized political environment, which could intensify some of the existing issues with online discourse. 

The Biden campaign was preparing for this dynamic. 

Trump’s brash style increased the pressure on his campaign and the Democratic National Committee war room to provide lengthier fact checks on Twitter – particularly through the @Truth account they unveiled ahead of the debate to fact check the presidents’ remarks. 

“Donald Trump has lied to the American people more than any president in our history — by far,” Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said ahead of the debate. “The American people deserve to remember what it’s like to have a president who tells the truth again.”

Throughout the night, that account was trying to provide more context to Biden’s pushback of Trump onstage, often linking to news stories from outlets including The Washington Post and CNN that debunked the president’s claims. 

The Biden campaign had some strong viral moments before the debate started. 

Biden has traditionally struggled to keep pace with Trump on social and has a significantly smaller online following than the president. But last night he appeared to be upping his game as he hit back against viral misinformation about the earpiece and suggestions that he might take performance enhancing drugs with his Twitter account: 

Meanwhile, Rob Flaherty, Biden’s digital director, was ready with a very 2020 tweet. He commissioned a video of former Trump 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to give Biden a pump-up speech via the Cameo, an app that allows people to commission videos from celebrities and online influencers.

Trump, meanwhile, used his Twitter and Facebook presence to make false claims about what happened in the debate. 

In addition to the Facebook ad, Trump also shared a highly edited video on Twitter that suggested Biden wanted to defund the police – even after Biden strongly denied onstage that he supported defunding the police. 

Trump also sought to focus on “law and order” in his messaging on social media, falsely suggesting that Biden wouldn’t even say the words:

Biden actually said he was in favor of “law and order with justice, where people get treated fairly.”

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Online extremists took Trump’s comments to “stand back and stand by” as a call to arms.

The president made the comments in an effort to deflect a question from moderator Chris Wallace asking him if he would condemn violent militias and white supremacists who have become a dangerous presence at recent protests.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, Trump said. But I’ll tell you what I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem.

The right-wing extremist group took the president’s comments to “stand back and stand by” as marching orders instead, Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny at NBC News report.  Proud Boys’ main group, which has been kicked off most major social media platforms including Facebook, posted about the comments on Telegram.  

“President Trump told the Proud Boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA … well sir! we’re ready!!” Proud Boys organizer Joe Biggs also posted. Another member incorporated Trump’s comments into a new logo for the group.

Proud Boys, a far-right “Western chauvinist” group that has been associated with white nationalist rhetoric, have recently involved themselves in violent protests that have erupted in Portland over police brutality. Antifa is an ideological movement and not an organized group.

Biden, who condemned white supremacists during the debate, called that post “Trump’s America.” 

The Trump administration is ramping up scrutiny of past Chinese investments in U.S. start-ups.

The federal arm that monitors foreign investments for national-security risks has sent dozens of inquiries about deals dating back years, Jeanne Whalen reports. 

The letters point to an increasingly contentious economic relationship between the two powers that has made some Silicon Valley companies wary of accepting Chinese investment, and Chinese investors wary of investing

“You have discussions with companies, ‘You need to think about this very seriously, it could open you up to CFIUS investigations … if you have alternatives, you should consider them,’” said Michael Borrus, the founding general partner of XSeed Capital. “They usually see the wisdom.” 

The inquiries are the first steps for the Treasury Department-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States in deciding on whether it will investigate an investment, as it did with TikTok. CFIUS is most focused on companies and apps that collect sensitive personal information or are involved with critical technologies like batteries and biotechnology, lawyers familiar with the letters told Jeanne.

While normally CFIUS reviews target recent investments, the approach appears to have changed under the Trump administration.

Historically, it was unusual for [CFIUS] to reach back more than three years,  said Stephen Heifetz, a lawyer at Wilson Sonsini. But there is in theory no time limitation, and we are increasingly hearing about long reach-back periods.” 

Amazon warehouse injury rates are spiking despite safety investments, internal documents show.

Amazon facilities recorded 14,000 serious injuries that required a day off or restrictions in 2019, a 33 percent jump from 2016, Will Evans at Reveal reports. 

“While the reports show a committed drive to improve processes with technology or design changes, they don’t propose reducing the intense workload for Amazon’s warehouse employees, which is what helps drive Amazon’s speed,” Evans reports. Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos owns The Post. 

The internal records obtained by Reveal also show injuries spike during Prime Day and Cyber Monday contrary to Amazon’s claims to the press and lawmakers. Amazon employees are encouraged to use in-house medical care to help keep reported injuries down, Evans reports. In Colorado, Amazon contracted a medical care provider who advertises its services as “treating injuries such that they are not OSHA recordable.

Warehouse employees and medical experts say the company’s expansion of robotics has made quotas unsustainable and increased injury rates, disputing the company’s claims that increased use of robotics has made warehouses safer. Amazon’s own data showed the rate of serious injuries from 2016 to 2019 was more than 50 percent higher at warehouses with robots than facilities without them.

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our teams. So far in 2020, we have committed over $1B in new investments in operations safety measures, ranging from technology investments in safety to masks, gloves, and the enhanced cleaning and sanitization required to protect employees from the spread of Covid-19,” Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty said in an email to Reveal.

Social media companies are falling short in implementing election disinformation policies, according to a new report. 

The majority of social media platforms have taken steps to prevent election misinformation and voter suppression, but the companies have failed to provide transparency into how those policies are enforced, according to a new report from a think tank, New America’s Open Technology Institute. 

OTI flags that there is no consensus around how to approach election misinformation in political ads. The report’s authors also expressed doubts that Facebook’s “Get Voting Information” label would have a meaningful impact because it has been applied to both posts from the president alleging voter corruption and straightforward ads encouraging voters to vote.

The report recommends that platforms take measures to notify users who have engaged with misleading election content and to direct them to credible information.

Of the ten platforms reviewed by OTI, only Snap had no restrictions on false or misleading content that may support voter suppression. The report urges policymakers to take legislative steps including updating the Voting Rights Act to clarify that voting suppression through intimation and deception applies online.

Rant and rave

While tech policy didn’t come up last night, the debate still gave off big Internet vibes.

The constant interruptions added to the chaos. 

Sometimes a Zoom can just be an email!

Not even the robots can help us now.

Workforce report

Seattle voted to give Uber and Lyft drivers a $16 minimum wage. 

The newly approved law makes Seattle the second city after New York City to provide ride-share drivers with the protection, the New York Times reports.  

“The pandemic has exposed the fault lines in our systems of worker protections, leaving many front line workers like gig workers without a safety net,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement. Lyft spokesman CJ Macklin called the plan “deeply flawed.” 

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Daybook

  • New America’s Future Tense will host an event, “Free Speech Project: So Long Internet, Hello Internets,” today at noon.
  • The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on proposals to strengthen antitrust laws and restore competition online Thursday at 1 p.m.
  • New Americas Open Technology Institute will hold a virtual panel exploring how Internet platforms are addressing the spread of election-related misinformation Thursday at 1:30 p.m.

Before you log off

Only Stephen Colbert could make me smile after that performance:

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