with Tonya Riley

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As the first impeachment trial of the social media era concluded yesterday, even the victory lap came in 280 characters or less. 

President Trump and his allies flooded Twitter with celebratory memes minutes after the Senate's vote to acquit the commander-in-chief on both impeachment charges. 

Trump's first public statement was a video that showed him running for president indefinitely, a parody of a Time Magazine cover that ended with the message "Trump 4EVA." While the tweet didn't mention impeachment directly, he subsequently followed up with an announcement that he'd make a public statement at noon today “to discuss our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax!”

Meanwhile, his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump were firing off their own messages -- including a video with the president's face superimposed on a boxer, dodging a blow while MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" plays.

The tornado of tweets stood in sharp contrast to the last time a president was acquitted in a Senate impeachment trial. According to the Washington Post Archives, President Clinton responded to his own acquittal in 1999 with a four-sentence statement in the Rose Garden, in which he was careful to not to show any hint of vindication and said he was "profoundly sorry."

Trump is the third president to be impeached, but he's the first to go through the process at a time when most Americans are online. This shift changed everything from how Americans followed along with developments in the process to how the president himself responded to new allegations. And the way it played out is sure to have implications heading into the 2020 election and beyond. 

Let's take a look at the legacy of the first social media impeachment: 

1. The president used Twitter as a bully pulpit.  This stoked concerns among Democrats that Trump was using his online presence to influence the process itself. 

They were particularly alarmed when the president was attacking the former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch during her testimony before the House, calling the move "witness intimidation." 

But Trump's tweets did not always serve his advantage: The House managers used the online stream-of-consciousness and targeted attacks -- including the ones on Yovanovitch -- to bolster their case in the trial. Even though Trump did not testify, his tweets were used as evidence of his mindset, noted Tim Naftali, a history professor at New York University and the former director of the Nixon Presidential Library. 

Still, Naftali said, the big-picture "effect on American politics rests in part on nation’s judgement in November." 

"If Donald Trump is reelected, then a generation of politicians will have learned public’s willingness to accept bad behavior in the Twitterverse," he said. "If Trump is not reelected, maybe some guardrails will go up." 

2. Echo chambers took root on social media. The hyperpartisan environment online allowed Trump's most ardent supporters to create an alternative reality. 

Increased access to social media and the Internet meant Americans had more choices about where to get their information about impeachment than ever before. Many of the president's supporters gathered in online communities where Trump's word was considered the truth and confirmation came from likes, my colleague Isaac Stanley Becker wrote. 

The echo chambers that take hold on social media reach beyond the effects of media coverage favorable to the president. 

“The effect of social media is to jack up the tenor of everything,” Carl Cameron, who spent more than two decades as a reporter for Fox News before leaving in 2017 and later helped launch a liberal news aggregation site, told Isaac. “There’s a statement made by a witness, or an interaction with a lawmaker, and users are able to put together a counter narrative in real time.”

Some observers worry that this increasingly divided media environment is leading to more polarization among the American public, and making it more difficult for people to agree on a common set of facts. 

3. Misinformation about the process cropped up. This underscored the challenge for tech companies to address falsehoods surrounding news events in real time. 

Nir Hauser, the chief technology officer and co-founder of the firm VineSight, told me his team saw misinformation spreading throughout the process. Much of it was directed at the witnesses in the House inquiry last year, as well as Republican politicians such as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) who were expressing skepticism of the president. 

"The volume was very high," Hauser told me. "It's very cyclical depending on what's happening in the news." 

The Technology 202 reported on some of the companies' efforts to crack down on misinformation related to the election, including Twitter's removal of accounts impersonating witnesses Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Fiona Hill. 

4. Warring political parties seized on powerful Facebook ad tools to get targeted messages about the process to voters. 

Trump was leading spending on Facebook ads related to impeachment at the height of the House inquiry last year, as his campaign said it proved to be a mobilizing issue with his supporters. 

Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist, said it was remarkable how "clearly and decisively" Republicans took advantage of impeachment as an issue for online fundraising. 

"You would have thought that impeachment was a negative outcome, but it's all Republicans have been talking about for the past few months." 

Wilson is unsure whether Republicans will continue to advertise on impeachment, given the fast-moving nature of the news cycle. But either way, it underscores how the party is savvy about leveraging an issue in the news for its fundraising advantage. 

"That probably diminishes as we move on to the next thing," he told me. 


BITS: Senior White House adviser Peter Navarro is accusing Jeff Bezos of backpedaling on an agreement to meet with him about the White House's efforts to address counterfeits online, my colleagues Jeff Stein and Abha Bhattarai report. The company has offered to send other senior executives for the meeting, Navarro said, escalating longtime tensions between the White House and the Amazon chief executive. 

Navarro says that's not sufficient, especially as Trump steps up his efforts to address counterfeits with an executive order

“The reason I want to see Jeff Bezos is because Jeff Bezos could, in the blink of an eye, put a complete halt to the counterfeiting that Amazon is facilitating,” Navarro told my colleagues. “It’s a rare occurrence where a single individual can have an enormous impact on the issue — but so far, it’s ‘see no evil.’ ” (Bezos also owns The Post.) 

The White House’s efforts to address counterfeits that damage American retailers cast a spotlight on Amazon's difficulties keeping counterfeit goods off its marketplace. And it could get costly: The Trump administration said last month it would begin imposing fines and other penalties on third-party websites such as Amazon that facilitated the import and sale of counterfeits.

Navarro wants Amazon to adopt a list of “best practices” outlined in a report from the Department of Homeland Security last month, including stricter vetting of third-party sellers and using rapid notice and “takedown” procedures.

Senior executives have met with Navarro and other White House officials, Amazon told my colleagues. Amazon says it already spends millions of dollars on the issue, including $400 million in 2018 fraud and abuse.

NIBBLES: Ride-share drivers for Uber and Lyft in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco filed claims for millions of dollars in lost wages and expenses in protest of the companies’ labor practices yesterday. The drivers hope their actions will spur the California Labor Commission to enforce AB5, a law that went into effect on Jan. 1 that imposes stricter criteria for how companies classify contract workers.

Lawmakers, some drivers and labor advocates say Uber and Lyft violate this law. But neither company has voluntarily reclassified its drivers. Uber insists the law doesn't apply to its workers. Both companies have joined with other gig economy companies to sponsor a $110 million ballot initiative that would exempt them from the law.

“What drivers know is that following the law would cost the companies far more,” Alex Carbone, an organizer with Rideshare Drivers United, which represents 10,000 drivers, said in a statement. “Workers and the public are forced to bear the burden of Uber’s and Lyft’s lawlessness.”

Drivers who filed yesterday spoke out about how the alleged misclassification has cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars — a cost that keeps rising.

“In 3 years, I put over 200,000 miles on my car,” driver Jose Funes said in a statement. “The money Uber owes me according to the federal mileage reimbursement rate could buy me a brand new car outright.”

Rideshare Drivers United worked with the Transport Workers Union to organize the wage-theft campaign.

BYTES: Child welfare activists are speaking out against Facebook’s move to encrypt all its messaging platforms, giving law enforcement a key ally in its renewed fight against encrypted technologies, Katie Benner and Mike Isaac at the New York Times report.

“Facebook has a responsibility to work with law enforcement and to prevent the use of your sites and services for sexual abuse,” a group of 129 child protection organizations, led by the U.K.-based National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, wrote in a letter to Facebook. “An increased risk of child abuse being facilitated on or by Facebook is not a reasonable trade-off to make.”

Law enforcement and child advocates argue that strong encryption would make it nearly impossible to catch the child predators who flock to the social media app as a means of finding victims and trading illicit materials. Just last week, U.S. Attorney General William Barr railed against encrypted technologies at a conference on human trafficking.

FBI Director Christopher Wray criticized Facebook's encryption plans as “dream come true” for online predators and urged against allowing Facebook to encrypt its platform at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday.

But Facebook is not buckling to the growing pressure.

“Encryption is critically important to keep everyone safe from hackers and criminals,” Facebook said in a statement to the Times. “We have led the industry in safeguarding children from exploitation and we are bringing this same commitment and leadership to our work on encryption.”


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—  Tech news generating buzz around the Web:


Clearview AI chief executive Hoan Ton-That defended the controversial social media-scraping facial recognition startup in an interview with CBS Morning News. Google and YouTube sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company, CBS reported.


— Today:

  • The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on DHS's use of facial recognition and other biometric technologies at 10 a.m.
  • The Future of Privacy Forum will host its 10th Annual Privacy Papers for Policymakers featuring a keynote speech by FTC Commissioner Christine S. Wilson on at 5:30 p.m.

— Coming up:

  • Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law & Policy in partnership with the Georgetown Law Technology Review will co-host a daylong conference on “Election Integrity in the Networked Information Era on Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • The House Energy and Commerce committee will host a hearing “Autonomous Vehicles: Promises and Challenges of Evolving Automotive Technologies" Tuesday at 10 a.m.
  • The Department of Justice will hold a public workshop in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 19, 2020, titled “Section 230 – Nurturing Innovation or Fostering Unaccountability"
  • Silicon Flatirons will host its “Technology Optimism and Pessimism” conference Feb. 9 and 10 at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder. Speakers include Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly and Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra.
  • Mobile World Congress takes place Feb. 24 to 27 in Barcelona.