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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Conservatives accuse social networks of prejudging Kyle Rittenhouse case

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

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Happy Tuesday and thanks for reading! Below: The Facebook Papers are going public and Europe is advancing its crackdown on the tech giants.

Conservatives accuse social networks of prejudging Kyle Rittenhouse case

It took more than a year for the courts to render a judgment on Kyle Rittenhouse, who was acquitted Friday of all charges for fatally shooting two people and injuring another last August in Kenosha, Wis., amid a wave of protests against police violence. 

It took just days after the deadly encounter last year for a Facebook leader to publicly declare it a “mass murder” and for the social media platform and others to begin restricting some content tied to the shooting, which became part of a polarizing national debate on guns, race and self-defense.  

Those early decisions now are fueling fresh blowback from conservative critics who accuse the companies of having prejudged Rittenhouse’s guilt.  

Two days after Rittenhouse opened fire in Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020, Facebook’s director of counterterrorism and dangerous organizations, Brian Fishman, said the shooter’s accounts had been removed. Facebook “designated the shooting as a mass murder,” meaning it would be “removing praise and support of the shooter” and blocking searches of his name, Fishman said.

Since then, Facebook and rival Twitter have faced steady criticism from conservatives and some users who say their accounts were restricted for expressing support for Rittenhouse.

In an op-ed last September, the Wall Street Journal editorial board accused Facebook of threatening Rittenhouse’s right to due process and called its policies on the matter “a bad look for a company that claims to be committed to civil liberties.” 

With Rittenhouse now acquitted of all five charges he faced, including homicide, critics on the right are dialing up calls for platforms to reverse course on any policies against posts praising, supporting or defending the shooter. 

“Big Tech think they’re above the law,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a prominent GOP critic of the social media companies, said in a statement, as Fox Business reported earlier. “They made up their minds on this case months ago, sought to deny Kyle Rittenhouse the presumption of innocence and censored those who disagreed.”

Rachel Bovard, policy director at the Conservative Partnership Institute, and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo):

At the same time, the social media platforms have faced pressure from left-leaning groups to more forcefully police against posts glorifying the violence in Kenosha and those rallying around Rittenhouse. 

Jessica González, co-CEO of advocacy group Free Press: 

Last year, Facebook faced criticism for not quickly taking down an event listing for a militia group that encouraged armed civilians to defend Kenosha from civil unrest, despite its having been flagged to the site. CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that the delay in removing the post was an error, Craig Timberg reported.

It’s the latest instance of the platforms being pulled into a contentious tug of war over content that requires them to make a ruling without knowing all the facts or having the benefit of clarity from the government. 

Matt Perault, a professor at the University of North Carolina and former Facebook public policy director, said it’s better for the platforms to lean on rulings from third parties when making calls on developing or polarizing incidents like the Rittenhouse shootings whenever possible. 

“It’s helpful for platforms who want to get out of the business of drawing these lines to rely on third-party adjudications, so it’s interesting to me that platforms would be rushing to make decisions about what constitutes murder, for instance, before courts had been in a position of doing that,” said Perault, who left Facebook in October 2019. 

Now that a jury has reached a verdict, it remains to be seen whether social media platforms will change how they handle content related to the deadly shootings.

Facebook did not return requests for comment on whether it still considers the shootings a “mass murder” or whether it is “removing praise and support of the shooter.”

YouTube spokesperson Jack Malon said the company is “monitoring the situation closely” and will remove content that breaks any of its rules against harassment, violence or hate, but did not say whether it would consider praise or support of Rittenhouse a violation.

Twitter spokesperson Elizabeth Busby said the company will continue to enforce its rule against abusive content, including under its glorification of violence policy, but did not say whether it would consider praise or support of Rittenhouse a violation. Busby said Twitter did act “in error” against a user who recently claimed they were suspended for tweeting the phrase, "Kyle Rittenhouse did nothing wrong.”

Our top tabs

European lawmakers advance legislation targeting Big Tech

The European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee advanced the Digital Markets Act, Bloomberg's Jillian Deutsch reports. The legislation aims to define major gatekeepers in the technology industry and introduce other restrictions like a ban on bundling digital services, Politico Europe’s Samuel Stolton reports.

Lawmakers are preparing to enact the legislation in the first three months of 2022, Stolton writes. 

“The DMA has been a source of contention in transatlantic relations, with the White House issuing a series of requests — including on the timeline of implementation, obligations and penalties and consultation rights for non-EU competition authorities — to EU capitals and the Commission” in a Nov. 10 letter, Stolton writes.

FTC Chair Lina Khan suspended a lawsuit into Amazon’s Ring cameras

It’s not clear why Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan stepped in to suspend the work as Amazon and FTC officials were negotiating a settlement over the case, the Information’s Josh Sisco reports. It could mean that she wanted to get up to speed on the case or file a broader suit against the company.

The Ring case centered on the cameras’ privacy and data security breaches, two people with knowledge of the investigation told Sisco. The FTC has been investigating Ring since at least 2019, he reports. 

“The FTC is pursuing a number of regulatory probes into Amazon related to both competition and privacy,” Sisco writes. “Most prominent is a sprawling antitrust investigation of Amazon, underway since 2019. It’s unclear how close the agency is to bringing a case, but its attorneys are continuing to collect information, according to multiple people familiar with the probe.”

Amazon and Ring spokespeople “did not comment” to the Information about the investigation, and “the FTC did not have a comment,” Sisco writes.

The Facebook Papers are going public

Gizmodo is partnering with independent experts to vet, redact and distribute a trove of documents first obtained by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, Gizmodo’s Dell Cameron, Andrew Couts and Shoshana Wodinsky write. The announcement comes around a month after The Washington Post and other news organizations published investigations based on the documents.

“Beyond privacy reasons, the documents require additional review to ensure that we aren’t just handing criminals and spies a road map for undermining what controls Facebook does have in place to defend against propaganda that spreads lies, hate and fear,” Cameron, Couts and Wodinsky write. “That would undermine any benefit the world stands to reap from this act of whistleblower justice.”

Rant and rave

Twitter users rejoiced after Gizmodo announced that it would be publishing some of the Facebook Papers. Gizmodo's Shoshana Wodinsky:

André Brock, an associate professor of media studies at Georgia Tech:

Triangle House's Yashwina Canter:

Inside the industry

FCC approves Verizon acquisition of TracFone Wireless (Reuters)

Samsung to Choose Taylor, Texas, for $17 Billion Chip-Making Factory (Wall Street Journal)

WhatsApp pushes privacy update to comply with Irish ruling (Associated Press)

Clearview AI does well in another round of facial recognition accuracy tests. (New York Times)

Workforce report

DoorDash will pay $5.3 million to San Francisco to settle allegations over benefits violations (The Verge)

Trending

‘Buy the Constitution’ aftermath: Everyone very mad, confused, losing lots of money, fighting, crying, etc. (Motherboard)

Mentions

  • Longtime House Judiciary Committee staffer Perry Apelbaum is joining the Justice Department’s antitrust division as senior counsel. Aaron Hiller will become the committee’s deputy chief counsel and deputy staff director. John Doty will be the committee’s deputy staff director and senior adviser.

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