with Tonya Riley

The right-leaning app Parler is surging in popularity after tech companies cracked down on President Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. 

The Twitter alternative that pitches itself as a haven for free speech became the top new app download over the weekend in Apple’s App Store. The company had 7.6 millions user accounts as of Monday, compared to 4.5 million about a week ago, Parler’s chief operating officer Jeffrey Wernick told my colleagues Elizabeth Dwoskin and Rachel Lerman

Wernick says that Facebook and Twitter have gone too far in moderating content from conservatives, and that’s driving people to his service.

“I want people to have choices,” he said. “I want there to be one platform out there that people can choose to say, ‘Trust us, we understand there’s a world of disinformation and misinformation, but let us process it.’”

Mark Levin, a conservative radio host whose tweets have been labeled by Twitter in the past week for including disputed content that could "be misleading about an election or other civic process," tweeted that his followers should join him on Parler. He said he might not stay on Twitter and Facebook if they “continue censoring me.” Other prominent figures on the right including former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), Fox News host Maria Bartiromo and Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis have made similar calls. Ironically in many instances, they're using Facebook and Twitter to bolster their calls on the alternative social network. 

Tensions over measures Silicon Valley took to prevent the spread of election disinformation will be front and center next week. 

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey are scheduled to again testify in front of the Senate, this time at a Republican-led hearing titled “Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression and the 2020 election.” Republicans, including Trump and lawmakers, have been escalating their criticism of tech companies' stepped up content moderation amid the president's false declarations of victory and efforts to undermine the projected victory of Joe Biden. 

Republicans said in a news release that the hearing would “provide a valuable opportunity to review the companies’ handling of the 2020 election.” 

Conservatives are already seizing on recent moves by the tech companies as ammunition for their long-running claims of industry bias, which are based on specious evidence. As Twitter slapped label after label on Trump's rule-breaking tweets last week, he tweeted that Twitter was “out of control.” He also took aim at Section 230, a decades-old law that provides tech companies broad immunity from lawsuits for their content moderation decisions. 

The hearing was called weeks before the 2020 election, as conservatives criticized the tech companies for taking unusual steps to limit the spread of New York Post articles on their service, which focused on the alleged emails of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. The Post has not substantiated the emails. 

The hearing highlights the competing pressures confronting the tech companies in the delicate post-election period. 

Companies have been investing in election integrity for years, and bolstering their defenses against disinformation in the wake of Russian interference on their platforms in the 2016 election. But this time, the disinformation is largely coming from inside the White House, where Trump is using his megaphone on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to amplify charges of election fraud without evidence.

Democrats and disinformation experts have raised concerns that tech companies are not doing enough to crack down on the disinformation, especially as Twitter rolls back some of its defenses from election week, such as labels on false claims of victory. But the continued political pressure from conservatives and threats to move to services like Parler could put pressure on the companies to be more hands-off. 

So far Facebook is not taking measures to stop people from moving to Parler. 

Facebook has a history of preventing rival services from gaining momentum on its site, through blocking links to download apps and limiting the display of cross-posted content, Bloomberg reports. But the company is not deploying such strategies in Parler's case – at least not yet. 

That could be at least in part because the company is facing intense antitrust scrutiny in Washington, and it could be hit with an antitrust lawsuit as early as this month. 

“Letting Parler thrive by keeping links alive on its pages could help Facebook claim the market is competitive and push back on lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who criticize the company’s dominance,” Bloomberg wrote. 

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Brewer is the former governor of Arizona. 

Our top tabs

Biden is relying on tech talent to bolster his White House transition – but largely not from the most controversial big companies.  

The president-elect's list of names for his Agency Review Teams," includes several prominent tech players from Airbnb, Amazon, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Lyft, Uber, Salesforce and Stripe. The teams will be tasked with assisting the transition of power from the Trump administration to a Biden administration. 

Many of the tech workers aiding the transition played roles in the Obama administration, which historically was known for its friendly relationship with Silicon Valley. 

Biden is expected to take a more aggressive approach in regulating the tech giants than his Democratic predecessor, as he said during the campaign he intends to revoke a key law that protects companies from lawsuits for the content people post on their services, known as Section 230. It's notable that the list does not include any lobbyists from large tech companies increasingly in Washington's regulatory glare, including Apple, Twitter and Facebook. There are also no Google staffers on the list, though it does include Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google's parent company Alphabet focused on urban innovation. 

The Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department's transition teams include several tech-focused experts. Laura Moy, the director of Georgetown Law's Communications & Technology Law Clinic, will serve on the FTC transition team. Gene Kimmelman, a senior adviser for consumer rights group Public Knowledge who testified during the House antitrust investigation into Silicon Valley, will serve on the Justice Department team. 

The list did not include the team working on the transition of the Federal Communications Commission. A Biden spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

TikTok is asking a court to delay the deadline for it to sell U.S. assets.

TikTok asked a D.C. federal appeals court yesterday to press pause on a Thursday deadline for its Chinese parent company ByteDance to sell its U.S. assets, Rachel Lerman and Jeanne Whalen report.

The popular video app is asking the court to review the actions of the government committee that demanded the divestiture, claiming that the government has given no “substantive feedback” on the deal TikTok proposed to address the national security concerns raised by the committee. 

The U.S. government argues TikTok is a national security threat because the Chinese government could require it to turn over the data it collects on U.S. customers. TikTok has denied the claims.

Trump issued an order in August requiring ByteDance to sell its U.S. operations by Nov 12. In September, the Trump Administration announced it would essentially ban TikTok by that same date unless the company sold its U.S. assets.

But that ban has been held up by court injunctions.

The company had been working on a deal that would bring Oracle and Walmart on as investors, but the company hasn't been able to finalize the process.

The Treasury Department and Walmart did not comment. Oracle didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) threatened to hold the confirmation of Trump's FCC nominee.

Blumenthal cited concerns with Federal Communications Commission nominee Nathan Simington's refusal to recuse himself from the agency's rulemaking process to clarify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The law provides Internet companies with protection from liability for content posted by users. 

Simington served on the Commerce Department team that brought a petition asking the FCC to reevaluate the liabilities.

“I believe that the independence of the FCC above all, whether we agree or disagree with the outcome of its decision, is of paramount value,” Blumenthal said, suggesting that Trump had nominated Simington to help push through changes to 230.

Simington said he would consult with the agency's ethics office as to whether his recusal was necessary. Simington largely deflected other questions from Democrats, including whether he believed that the agency could use specific Internet funds for schools to provide Internet to students and teachers at home.

Separately, leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons yesterday urging the Trump appointees to pause “partisan or controversial” decisions for the remainder of their tenures. The FTC is weighing taking action against Facebook.

QAnon believers are beginning to question the conspiracy theory. 

The disappearance of “Q,” the movement's anonymous leader, has sparked speculation about the conspiracy theory's legitimacy even among its most devoted fans, Drew Harwell and Craig Timberg report

The abrupt lack of posts from “Q” added to the uncertainty created by Trump's defeat, who stands at the center of the conspiracy theory. QAnon followers believe that Trump and his allies were working to vanquish a cabal of “deep state” child abusers and Satan-worshiping Democrats and celebrities. 

But even with the election called for Biden, many QAnon supporters continue to believe Trump will remain in control. The huge gap between the denial of the online conspiracy theorists and political reality could lead to physical violence.

“It’s a dangerous movement that truly believes that Biden and other Democrats are killing kids,” said Rita Katz, the executive director of SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online extremism. “And now, with Biden’s projected victory, the QAnon movement believes with the same zealous certainty that the whole thing is a sham. And that’s a major problem, because … these aren’t a bunch of harmless keyboard warriors — they’re adherents of a movement that has resulted in real-life violence.” 

Competition watch

E.U. antitrust regulators announced charges accusing Amazon of engaging in unfair business practices. 

E.U. antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager alleged the e-commerce company used data on its third-party sellers to identify popular products and offer its own at a sometimes lower price, Michael Birnbaum and Jay Greene report

The allegations are similar to those raised by House lawmakers in a recent antitrust investigation. Amazon says the practice is against its policies. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“Amazon illegally distorted competition in online retail markets,” Vestager told reporters. “This is a case about big data.” Amazon will have a chance to answer the preliminary charges in the coming weeks.

“We disagree with the preliminary assertions of the European Commission and will continue to make every effort to ensure it has an accurate understanding of the facts,” Amazon said in a statement. “Amazon represents less than 1% of the global retail market, and there are larger retailers in every country in which we operate.”

A ruling is expected next year.

Workforce report

A former Chan Zuckerberg Initiative employee filed a racial discrimination claim against the organization.

The former employee, Ray Holgado, accused the organization of failing to “build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future” for Black employees, according to a supporting document for the claim posted to his website

Holgado's complaint to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing also accuses CZI of underpaying, undervaluing and denying growth opportunities to Black employees. 

“Holgado was told that Zuckerberg and Chan did not view race as relevant to the issue of mass incarceration and that previous attempts to push the pair on this issue had contributed to a former employee being terminated,” according to the document.

Holgado's complaint echoes the tensions at the philanthropic company described by Black employees during the height of Black Lives Matter protests this summer, as Nitasha Tiku reported. Black employees accused co-founders Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan of ignoring the issue of racial justice in criminal justice reform in an effort to appear nonpartisan. In June, a group 74 employees sent a letter to Chan asking her to commit to racial justice.

CZI said in a statement that Holgado's allegations were independently investigated after he raised them internally and were found to be unsubstantiated. 

Rant and rave

In grizzlier news:

Trending

Daybook

  • The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation will hold a virtual briefing "Is the United States Tax System Favoring Excessive Automation?" Thursday at 9 a.m.
  • The Bipartisan Policy Center will hold an event on "What's Next for Telehealth: Sustaining and Expanding Access After COVID-19" Friday at noon.

Before you log off

In its third event of the year, Apple unveiled updated Macbook Air, Mac Mini, and Macbook Pro models with the company's new M1 chip on Nov. 11, 2020. (The Washington Post)