Joe Biden is escalating his months-long battle with Facebook. 

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee yesterday unveiled an open letter calling on Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to lay out clear rules for everyone — including President Trump — that prohibit “threatening behavior or lies about how to participate in an election.” He also wants the company to promptly fact-check viral election material. The former vice president's campaign has also circulated a petition to millions of supporters, calling them to sign on to the letter. 

Biden's campaign is even planning to launch ads on Facebook promoting the letter, a campaign spokesman told me. Biden supporters have tweeted out the message with the hashtag #MoveFastFixIt, an apparent play on Facebook's early internal motto to “Move fast and break things.”

Simultaneously, the Biden campaign is significantly stepping up its digital advertising, especially on Facebook. 

It's part of a broader strategy to seize on momentum — especially among young voters — in the wake of widespread protests against racism and police brutality. 

Last week, the campaign spent $1.6 million on Facebook ads in a single day, more than triple Trump's record, according to company data first reported by the New York Times. In the past seven days, the Biden campaign spent nearly $4.8 million on Facebook ads, compared to the Trump campaign's nearly $1.3 million, according to the same tracker. The Trump campaign has traditionally significantly outspent Democratic candidates on ads on the social network. 

The Democrats' relationship status with Facebook: “it's complicated.” 

The party can't live with the company and constantly blasts the social network for amplifying President Trump's baseless conspiracy theories and lies to millions. But they also can't live without Facebook. As Biden's recent spending underscores, Democrats can't win elections without heavily investing in ads on the platform. 

It's particularly jarring to see these figures as some businesses take a moral stand against spending on Facebook or developing business partnerships with the company. Recently some small businesses told the New York Times they were pulling back from buying ads on Facebook, following its decision to not take any action against a post from Trump that said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” appearing to incite violence against the protesters. 

“The current developments have now rendered it morally impossible for us to continue feeding the same hand that complacently offers its services as the major platform for hate-mongering, promotion of violence, and disinformation,” Simris, an algae-growing business in Sweden, wrote in a LinkedIn post. 

The Biden campaign views Facebook as a major problem, saying in the open letter that inaction on disinformation by the company “corrodes our democracy.” Yet it continues to funnel millions to the social network in advertising spending, underscoring the powerful grip that Facebook has on politics. The Biden campaign declined to comment on why it's still spending heavily on ads on the social network while criticizing the company. 

Biden's battles with Facebook aren't new, but the public petition released by the campaign represents an escalation. The Wall Street Journal reports that initially the campaign sought to convey its concerns to Facebook in private, through discussions between Biden's campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, and Nick Clegg, Facebook’s top policy and communications executive. But after no progress was made over the last six weeks, the campaign took its concerns public. 

The Biden campaign last year sent a letter to tech companies calling for tougher rules on political ads, after the Trump campaign ran an ad that made false claims. 

Other Democrats have also struggled with this Gordian Knot. 

Tensions have become strained between Democrats and major tech companies since revelations of the Russian operation on social media to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was the toughest critic of the company in the Democratic presidential primary field, sparking calls to break up the company. Yet she too spent heavily on ads on Facebook. 

“We use the same tools as everybody else, and we worry about those tools the same way as everyone else,” she told me in a 2019 interview

Facebook is under pressure from both campaigns — and it's siding with Trump by not fact-checking politicians.

The Trump administration is also turning up the heat on social networks. Trump recently signed an executive order taking aim at social media companies, following Twitter's decision to label two of the president's tweets that made misleading claims about mail-in voting. 

“Two weeks ago the President of the United States issued an executive order directing Federal agencies to prevent social media sites from engaging in activities like fact-checking political statements,” Facebook said in a news release. “This week, the Democratic candidate for President started a petition calling on us to do the exact opposite.” 

Facebook is now calling on elected officials to set the rules. 

“Just as they have done with broadcast networks — where the US government prohibits rejecting politicians’ campaign ads — the people’s elected representatives should set the rules, and we will follow them,” the company said in a statement. “There is an election coming in November and we will protect political speech, even when we strongly disagree with it.”

Biden campaign digital director Rob Flaherty pushed back on the statement:

Our top tabs

Microsoft said it won't sell facial recognition to U.S. police until there are federal rules in place. 

The company's announcement reflects the growing pressure on the industry to pull back from selling facial recognition to law enforcement amid protests over police brutality, my colleague Jay Greene writes. Amazon announced a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial recognition yesterday, and IBM said it would halt sales of the technology entirely. 

Microsoft President Brad Smith announced the decision yesterday at a Washington Post Live event. Smith said Microsoft has not sold its facial-recognition software to police departments. The company also has backed legislation in California that would allow police use of the technology with some restrictions.

“We will not sell facial-recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology,” Smith said.

Microsoft has tried to position itself as a leader in developing ethics around facial recognition. Smith said the company now plans to put in place “review factors” that he said would “go even beyond what we already have” to determine the use of the technology beyond law enforcement.

“The bottom line for us is to protect the human rights of people as this technology is deployed,” Smith said.

Twitter took down more than 23,000 accounts it says are linked to China’s Communist Party. 

The accounts were stealthily spreading propaganda to counter the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and undermine criticism of the Chinese government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, my colleagues Ellen Nakashima, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Anna Fifield report. The tactics weren't as sophisticated as the Russian efforts to divide Americans ahead of the 2016 elections on social media, but experts said it was notable that China is covertly seeking to spread its message on social media. 

“While the Chinese Communist Party won’t allow the Chinese people to use Twitter, it is happy to use it covertly to sow propaganda and disinformation internationally,” Fergus Hanson, director of the International Cyber Policy Center at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which issued a report Thursday analyzing the Chinese campaign, told my colleagues. “Persistent, covert and deceptive influence operations like this one demonstrate the extent to which the party-state will target external threats to its political power.”

The campaign has also recently expanded to target the protests in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody. 

Twitter’s announcement that it had removed the accounts follows an action last year in which it removed other accounts that the company linked with China’s ruling party.

Tech companies are unveiling new funds to promote racial justice and bolster black users of their services. 
  • Apple announced it would dedicate $100 million to a Racial Equity and Justice Initiative. Lisa P. Jackson, an Apple executive who served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama administration, will lead the initiative. Apple will focus specifically on education, economic equality and criminal justice reform for people of color, particularly in the black community. The company is also unveiling a new developer entrepreneur camp for black developers.
  • YouTube unveiled a new $100 million fund to amplify black artists and creators. The company also said it would reevaluate its policies on hate speech and harassment, with a particular focus on how black people are affected by its platform.
  • PayPal announced a $530 million commitment to address systemic racial injustice and support black-owned and minority-owned businesses. The company will also improve its own diversity and inclusion programs.

Rant and rave

Snap chief executive Evan Spiegel said during a company meeting that he wouldn't release the company's diversity numbers because it would just reinforce the perception that the tech industry isn't diverse, Business Insider reports. 

From Tracy Chou, who initially pressured many tech companies to release their numbers several years ago: 

Another Twitter user joked:

More coverage of Snap to watch:

Hill happenings

The White House has tapped Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) to work on legislation targeting Section 230. 

The Hawley effort would target the legal shield tech companies currently enjoy for posts, photos and other content that users share on their services, Margaret Harding McGill reports for Axios. This follows Trump's executive order, and other legislation that Hawley has introduced that takes aim at the legal provision as he takes aim at the companies for being biased against conservatives. 

Hawley also sent a letter to Zoom, as protest leaders in Hong Kong accuse the company of shutting down their accounts and cutting live events under pressure from the Chinese government.  “Trading American values for Beijing profits never ends well," Hawley wrote. 



  • Data & Society Research Institute announced Meredith D. Clark and Shaka McGlotten will be its 2020-2021 faculty fellows. 


  • George Washington University’s Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics will host a virtual forum on the coronavirus and social media disinformation on June 16 at 10 a.m.
  • The House Financial Services Committee will host a hearing on how cybercriminals are exploiting the covid-19 pandemic on June 16 at noon.
  • The Energy and Commerce Committee will host a hearing on online disinformation on June 24. The hearing will cover disinformation related to covid-19 and the recent racial unrest. 

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