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LinkedIn, the social network best known for job-hunters and recruiters, is grappling with fake accounts, violent content and even child exploitation.
It's pulling back the curtain for the first time on how it removes content that breaks its rules: And its transparency report, provided first to The Technology 202, makes clear the popular professional site is dealing with many of the same problems plaguing other social media companies.
LinkedIn took down more than 21 million fake accounts in the first half of the year, and it removed more than 60 million pieces of spam including fake job postings. It also took down more than 16,000 instances of harassment, 11,000 posts containing obscene or pornographic content, nearly 2,000 posts showing violence or terrorism and 22 occurrences of child exploitation.
“Unfortunately, some people will use technology in ways that it was never intended,” LinkedIn general counsel Blake Lawit told me in advance of the report's release this morning. “So for us, we need to be vigilant and police it and take care of it, which is what we do.”
LinkedIn's announcement shows how technology companies are heeding Washington's calls for increased transparency about their decisions on content moderation in the wake of foreign interference that upended the 2016 election and terror attacks that originated online. Facebook began publicly reporting similar metrics last year, and this fall, it began reporting them for Instagram as well.
LinkedIn has only a fraction of as many takedowns as larger social networks such as Facebook, but the fact that it’s occurring on the service at all highlights the omnipresence of harmful content online.
“Any is too much,” Lawit said. “Part of being responsible, being accountable is providing transparency.”
It can be difficult to compare how companies stack up against each other in their efforts to combat violence, harassment and other harmful content, since the reports' methodology is inconsistent from company to company. For instance, Facebook includes some categories that LinkedIn doesn’t, like removals of drugs or firearm sales, or instances of self-harm.
Twitter and Google do not report the same granular data as Facebook about the content they're deciding to pull down. Twitter releases a similar transparency report, but unlike Facebook, it does not break out instances of self-harm and regulated goods like drugs. It recently started reporting reporting instances of impersonation and state-backed information operations. Google also reports government requests to delete content or instances where it pulls information down under European privacy law requests.
Facebook has criticized its tech peers for not being as transparent about these efforts, without directly naming rivals Twitter and Google.
“As a society we don’t know how much of this harmful content is out there and which companies are making progress,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters in a call about Facebook's most recent content moderation report.
It can be risky for companies to disclose how much content they're taking down because it can make it seem like their services host more harmful content than others. But Zuckerberg pushed back on that notion in the same call. “What it says is we’re working harder to identify this and take action on it,” he said.
LinkedIn was not under the same public pressure as Facebook on its content moderation efforts, but given the broader debate over the industry, it began seriously considering going public with its numbers last year, Lawit said.
“We're at a point now where we recognize that we have a responsibility,” he said. “Part of that is to provide more transparency and I think that's what led to the discussion and the action.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said Twitter does not break out removals of terrorist content. The company discloses those figures in its report.
BITS, NIBBLES AND BYTES
BITS: Entrepreneur Andrew Yang put a spotlight on tech policy last night. He pitched a plan to bring back the Office of Technology Assessment to give the United States an edge in competing with tech rivals such as China.
“We're in the process of potentially losing the [artificial intelligence] arms race to China right now, because they have more access to more data than we do, and their government is putting billions of dollars to work subsidizing the development of AI in a way that we are not,” said Yang, who claimed that the United States fell behind on technology when it shuttered the Office of Technology Assessment in 1995.
Calls to bring back the office have grown in popularity in recent years as Congress struggles to address emerging tech issues. Fellow candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also released a plan to bring back the office, arguing it would help curb corporate lobbying influence in shaping tech policy. A bipartisan group of members of Congress introduced legislation to refund the office in September.
Yang also presented a less-tested idea for a “World Data Organization” that would act as a World Trade Organization to regulate data.
Both South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) also hammered on the need for America to compete with China on tech innovation. Buttigieg pointed out the U.S. military spends just a “fraction of the attention and resources” for research on tech like artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, Booker accused China of “stealing technology, forcing technology transfer, and violating human rights.”
There were far less fireworks on tech than during the last debate, but there were many passing references to the issues. Booker took aim at the uneven distribution of venture capital dollars, saying 75 percent go toward three large metropolitan areas. Former vice president Joe Biden took a jab at Trump's tweets, saying it's time to "start talking civilly." Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) plugged her legislation to require greater transparency around political ads.
The candidates did not directly attack giants such as Facebook, Amazon and Google during this round. The only Amazon mention came when Warren compared a detention center at the border to " a giant Amazon warehouse filled with cages of women, cages of men, and cages of little girls and little boys." Amazon, whose chief executive Jeff Bezos also owns The Post, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Axios editor Dan Primack tweeted:
Amazon thought bubble: "That wasn't our warehouse"— Dan Primack (@danprimack) November 21, 2019
NIBBLES: Google will restrict political advertisers, including President Trump, from targeting specific categories of people based on their political affiliation, my colleague Tony Romm reports. The company is outlining its policies after largely remaining quiet in recent weeks while Facebook and Twitter took divergent approaches to political ads.
Political advertisers will only be able to target YouTube and Google users based on gender, age and postal code. Advertisers will still be able to use contextual targeting, such as providing ads to people reading about a topic, such as the economy.
Google also clarified its policy on false political ads, writing in a blog post it would take down deepfakes (media doctored with artificial intelligence), misleading claims about the census and ads “making demonstrably false claims that could significantly undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process.” It will not remove every political ad making false claims outside those clear violations; however, wrote Scott Spencer, the company’s vice president for product management on ads, in a statement.
Google will begin enforcing the new approach in the United Kingdom within a week ahead of its general election, in the European Union by the end of the year, and in the rest of the world starting on Jan. 6, 2020.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale accused Google of wanting to “rig elections,” saying the move went after Republicans and Democrats. Trump's reelection campaign similarly protested reports that Facebook was considering limiting political ad microtargeting in a tweet.
Re: Google— Brad Parscale (@parscale) November 21, 2019
Political elites & Big Tech want to rig elections - Dem primary & 2020 included. They’re targeting Trump because he’s the big dog, but they’re also after Dems like Sanders & Warren.
Won’t stop until they control all digital political speech.https://t.co/kpDpIAmHV7
BYTES: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and board member Peter Thiel quietly dined with Trump last month while the tech titan was in Washington to testify on Capitol Hill, NBC’s Dylan Byers and Ben Collins report. It was Zuckerberg’s second trip to the White House in a month, following his Oval Office visit during his September trip to Washington.
“As is normal for a CEO of a major U.S. company, Mark accepted an invitation to have dinner with the President and First Lady at the White House,” Facebook said in an emailed statement to NBC. It was not clear why the meeting wasn’t previously disclosed. The White House declined to comment to NBC.
Thiel is one of the most prominent conservatives in the tech sector, and one of Trump’s few allies in the industry. The dinner occurred as Facebook was fighting criticism from Democrats over its recent decision to not fact-check politicians’ ads -- including Trump’s. They've also criticized the company's outreach to conservatives in recent months, including a recent private meeetings with conservative pundits. The company also faced backlash over its decision to sponsor a Federalist Society event honoring Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Facebook has long been a favorite foil of Trump's as he claims that the tech industry is biased against conservatives and censoring them. Tech companies have denied this claim.
-- Lobbyists at Facebook have worked for 29 current members of Congress, Alex Kotch reports for the Guardian. A number of the lobbyists have also donated to their former bosses, raising questions about Facebook's enduring influence in Washington despite growing criticism from both parties.
Four Facebook lobbyists have worked for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); others have worked for Democratic Party leaders including Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). Current lobbyists have also worked for Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Klobuchar, sponsors of key legislation meant to regulate political advertising on Facebook.
Facebook lobbyists have also worked for Republicans including Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.).
Of the company's 68 federal lobbyists, 32 have worked for Democratic members of Congress or Democrats in the White House and 30 worked for Republicans.
— News from the public sector:
— News from the private sector:
— Tech news generating buzz around the Web:
U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios named Winter Casey and Dr. Lynne Parker as deputy U.S. chief technology officers for the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Casey previously served as the White House Office of Science and Technology policy asistant director for international affairs and senior advisor for technology policy. Parker previously served as OSTP’s assistant director for artificial intelligence.
- The House Financial Services Committee will host a hearing on the role of big data in financial services on November 21 at 9:30 a.m.
— Coming up:
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee will host an Federal Communications Commission oversight hearing on December 5.