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Facebook and YouTube have blocked mentions of the alleged name of the whistleblower who sparked the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. But the name keeps surfacing on another major Internet platform: Reddit.
In recent days, Reddit users have been posting the name of the CIA officer who they believe is the whistleblower on various message boards devoted to politics, conspiracy theories and pro-Trump sentiment -- in one instance, a post outing the government official garnered about 5,800 upvotes from users. The pro-Trump forum “r/The_Donald” — which Reddit has previously quarantined due to violent threats — hosted about a dozen posts naming the supposed whistleblower as of Monday.
“We do not have a specific policy around ‘whistleblowers.’ Our policy encourages an open discussion regarding issues of public and political relevance, however it forbids posting of personal information, or the encouragement of harassment or vigilantism,” Reddit spokeswoman Anna Soellner said in a statement. “Context is important in these matters and we have and will continue to action posts and users that are in violation.”
Reddit's policy on the whistleblower diverges from Facebook and YouTube, which said Friday they would remove every post referencing the person’s name and photo under their policies against “coordinating harm.” The posts on Reddit, the sixth largest website in the United States, come as Trump and his allies call for the whistleblower to be unmasked and even testify publicly in House impeachment hearings starting this week.
The Reddit posts underscore how conservatives trying to unmask the whistleblower can move to other corners of the Internet as the larger social networks take a more aggressive approach to banning mention of the name. Some Reddit posters referred to Facebook and YouTube's decision to scrub the name from their platforms, calling it censorship and referring to the companies as the “thought police.”
Tweets naming the person are also circulating online, as Twitter last week broke from the other companies and said it would permit photos of the person, as long as they didn’t include personal details like addresses or financial details.
The companies’ policies are under the microscope as Trump's allies launch a broad online campaign to out the whistleblower, my colleagues Isaac Stanley-Becker and Craig Timberg wrote. The efforts went more mainstream last week as Donald Trump Jr. retweeted a post from Breitbart naming the supposed individual. Many of the posts on Reddit naming the person link to outlets like Breitbart and the Washington Examiner, which have published the name in news articles.
Many major news outlets — including The Washington Post — have decided not to publish the whistleblower’s name. U.S. officials have also kept the name confidential, in step with federal law designed to prevent retaliation.
Reddit has long taken a different approach to content moderation than its tech peers. Reddit chief executive Steve Huffman recently testified on Capitol Hill about the company's heavy reliance on volunteer community moderators. While Reddit has broad policies governing what is and isn't allowed on the site, these individuals control what posts can appear in individual forums. Content rules can vary widely from forum to forum as a result.
“Volunteer community moderators are empowered to remove any post that does not follow the community rules, without any involvement or direction from Reddit, Inc.," he said in testimony submitted to the committee. “The self-moderation our users do every day at this community level is the most scalable solution we’ve seen to the challenges of moderating content online.”
The clout of such community moderators is keeping the whistleblower's name public on Reddit in at least some cases. As a post naming the whistleblower in the “r/conspiracy” forum gathered 5,800 upvotes, one moderator wrote the community had received close to 250 reports it should be removed for “doxing” or maliciously publishing personal information online. But the moderator argued this wasn't a case of doxing because the person's name was widely available through a Google search and in conservative publications.
BITS, NIBBLES AND BYTES
BITS: Google is working on a secret project with the country's second-largest health-care system to collect and analyze the personal health information of tens of millions of patients, Rob Copeland at the Wall Street Journal reports. The project, which Google appears to be using at least in part to design new artificial intelligence-driven software to suggest changes in patient care, eclipses the scale of similar efforts by competitors Amazon, Apple and Microsoft to collect personal health data.
At least 150 employees have access to data obtained by the code-named “Project Nightingale,” which includes a complete health history, patient names and date of birth, according to people familiar with the matter and internal documents. Privacy law generally allows hospitals to share such information with business partners “only to help the covered entity carry out its health-care functions, Rob reports.
None of the patients or doctors named in the data set have been notified about the partnership. Some employees of St. Louis-based Ascension, the health system partnering with Google, have raised concerns about how the data is being shared and collected, Rob reports.
The project is fully compliant with federal health law and includes robust protections for patient data, Google told the Journal. An Ascension spokesman had no immediate comment.
NIBBLES: Twitter is soliciting feedback on its draft policy to moderate deepfakes and other manipulated media. Twitter first announced late last month under pressure from lawmakers that it would introduce a policy to address media altered with artificial intelligence.
Solutions proposed by the company include placing a notice next to tweets it deems have shared synthetic or manipulated media, issuing a warning to users before they share such tweets, or adding a link to credible sources explaining why the media is inauthentic, according to the blog post. Twitter may remove the tweet if its safety team says it “could threaten someone's physical safety or lead to other serious harm.”
“We’re committed to serving the public conversation on Twitter and doing our work in an open and transparent manner,” wrote Del Harvey, vice president of trust and safety at Twitter.
Twitter users will have until Nov. 27 to take a survey or tweet feedback about the policy.
BYTES: Amazon's aggressive recruitment of Chinese manufacturers and merchants has come at the expense of consumers and sellers outside China, Jon Emont at the Wall Street Journal reports. Over half of the sellers responsible for unsafe products identified by the Wall Street Journal are based in China, raising questions about Amazon's oversight of its third-party sellers as it faces growing backlash in Washington.
Counterfeit and deceptively advertised products have “all gone through the roof with the rise of Chinese sellers,” said Chris McCabe, an investigator for Amazon until 2012 and now a consultant for Amazon sellers. The Journal found numerous other cases of sellers using fraudulent descriptions to advertise items, which were removed only after Journal reporters flagged them.
The onslaught of products from China has squeezed sellers in the United States and Canada. After Chinese seller flooded Amazon with knockoffs of his water-powered brushes, Utah seller Kevin Williams had to lower his prices, lay off employees and lost out on one retail deal because negative reviews. The process of getting counterfeits of his product removed can take weeks, he tells the Journal.
“Bad actors make up a tiny fraction of activity in our store and, like honest sellers, can come from every corner of the world,” an Amazon spokesman told Jon. Regardless of where they are based, we work hard to stop bad actors before they can impact the shopping or selling experience in our store.” Amazon also uses automated tools to detect for counterfeits, the company says.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.
RANT AND RAVE
SoftBank is in talks to tap T-Mobile CEO John Legere as the next CEO of WeWork following the exit of Adam Neumann, Sarah Krouse and Maureen Farrell at the Wall Street Journal report. The potentially controversial choice to lead the struggling company into its next stage was met with buzz on Twitter.
Georgetown Law professor Gigi Sohn raised questions about what Legere's potential departure would mean for the T-Mobile and Sprint merger.
So @JohnLegere is talking 2 @WeWork about becoming its CEO? Thought he was going 2 be at @TMobile forever 2 ensure that the numerous promises it is making 2 @FCC & @JusticeATR in exchange 4 the merger w. Sprint are kept. Oh well. https://t.co/t63sC1Insw— Gigi Sohn (@gigibsohn) November 11, 2019
Many reporters were quick to point out the similarities between the two longhaired, black clothing-loving CEOs. Bloomberg News's Ellen Huet:
Yahoo Finance's Sam Ro riffed on a popular meme:
There were a lot of hair jokes to be made. Bloomberg deals reporter Ed Hammond:
— News from the private sector:
— News from the public sector:
— News about tech workforce and culture:
— Tech news generating buzz around the Web:
- The Brookings Institution will host an event on algorithms and online biases at 2 p.m.
— Coming up:
- The House Committee on Veterans Affairs will host a hearing on “Hijacking our Heroes: Exploiting Veterans through Disinformation on Social Media” on Wednesday at 2 p.m. Eastern time
- The House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee will host its fourth hearing on online platforms and market power, focusing on the perspectives of the anti-rust agencies, on Wednesday at 2 p.m.
- The House Financial Services Committee will host a hearing on the role of big data in financial services on November 21 at 9:30am