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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

War in Ukraine highlights limits of the Facebook oversight board

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Tuesday! Below: The Russia-Ukraine information war tears apart a freelancer community, and the FTC looks into how users sign up for Amazon Prime. First:

War in Ukraine highlights limits of Facebook oversight board

Weeks into the war in Ukraine, Facebook parent company Meta is poised to tap its oversight board for guidance about a policy shift allowing users in Ukraine to post some calls for violence against Russian invaders.

It would mark the first time the panel has formally weighed in on the technology giant’s flurry of actions in response to the war, and it could shape its rules on violent rhetoric moving forward.

But the seemingly narrow scope and late timing of the board’s entrance highlights the limits of its powers, particularly involving critical decisions happening in rapidly unfolding global conflicts.

Since Russia launched its invasion, the technology giant has shut down access to Russian state media in Europe and limited the reach of their posts, blocked digital advertising and monetization tools in Russia, and most recently temporarily exempted users in Ukraine in some cases from rules against calling for violence, as my colleague Elizabeth Dwoskin reported.

Its latest policy shift marked an unusual exception to Facebook’s hate speech policies prohibiting calling for violence against a targeted group. The company has also been on the hook to make thorny calls about graphic war content.

But so far, its oversight board has been relatively quiet on the conflict, not yet accepting any new cases related to the war and only now gearing up to weigh in on a portion of Meta policies.

In a recent internal post reviewed by my colleague Naomi Nix, Meta vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg said the company would be referring the guidance it issued to moderators, calling for some posts promoting violence against Russian invaders to be permitted, to the oversight board. Clegg said the move would ensure the matter is “properly examined and scrutinized for how it fits with the underlying principles of our policies.”

Dex Hunter Torricke, the oversight board’s head of communications, told The Technology 202 that the panel is expecting to receive a request from Meta “to examine how they’re enforcing some of their content policies in the context of the war,” likely in the form of a policy advisory.

Hunter Torricke said he could not speak to the full scope of the referral until it is made, but he said he expects it to be “quite focused” since the violent rhetoric policy “is a very significant issue all on its own.” Meta declined to comment on its referral plans.

The oversight board has effectively been unable to weigh in on any of the massive policy shifts in recent weeks, and now that it will, it’s on “a very small slice of what Facebook’s doing,” said Evelyn Douek, a lecturer at Harvard Law School.

“It’s taking all sorts of other steps, many of which are outside the ambit of what the board can review,” Douek said. “The board really is at the mercy of Facebook in terms of how much information it’s going to be given, what kind of questions it’s going to be allowed to review” and “that’s a severe limitation in a situation like this,” she added.

Caitlin Vogus, deputy director at the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Free Expression Project, said the board could shed light on how Meta is making decisions about content related to the war, particularly useful given its often opaque process.

“It helps people see and understand how both the oversight board and Meta are thinking about this issue and why they’re making the decisions they’re making,” she said.

But crafting those advisories and rulings take time, meaning many weeks if not months may go by before the board formally weighs in on anything related to the war. That could limit the impact of any input it gives Facebook’s parent company.

“The timeliness issue is absolutely a limitation for the board,” Vogus said. “It can take a long time for it to review these cases, and Facebook here is having to make decisions really quickly, often minute by minute during the conflict.”

Douek said she doesn’t think the board should necessarily function as a rapid-response advisory council for Meta and its platforms. “But there certainly should be capacity for the board to respond maybe more quickly than three months from now,” she added.

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Information war plays out on platform for freelancers

Workers from Russia and Ukraine use the Toptal freelancing platform, which has become a microcosm of the war playing out in the workplace amid the conflict in Ukraine, Danielle Abril reports. Workers on both sides of the war have shared their perspectives on Toptal’s internal Slack channels, leading to “friction, anger, shock, and, in at least a couple of cases, the banning of some pro-Ukraine workers from the channels,” Danielle writes.

“Earlier this month, Toptal CEO Taso Du Val sent an email to workers saying the company aimed to help the ‘thousands’ of workers affected by providing financial, logistical and safety support,” Danielle writes. “It also told The Post that it moderates its internal Slack channels based on a standard code of conduct. Toptal acknowledged it ‘regrettably’ had to temporarily ban a couple of Ukrainian workers from the Slack channels and has issued two warnings to Russian workers.”

Workers have also complained about the company’s relocation efforts. The company set up a Slack channel for relocation efforts but didn’t help in any actual efforts to get freelancers out of Ukraine, freelance software developer Oleksii Rytov told Danielle. “They didn’t do anything,” he said. “They just let us discuss our problems.”

The FTC has scrutinized Amazon Prime sign-up pages

Amazon has for years been aware that customers have felt manipulated by its design choices encouraging them to sign up for free trials of Amazon Prime, Insider’s Eugene Kim reports. The company has tested fixes but they resulted in smaller subscription growth and executives ended up not applying them.

Under Chair Lina Khan, the FTC has warned companies that engage in “dark patterns,” which are design changes that trick users into doing things they don’t want to do. The FTC has also examined Amazon, Kim reports.

“The FTC has asked Amazon about its subscription practices in recent years, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on [the] condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from Amazon,” Kim writes. “Amazon corporate lawyers held private meetings with members of the Prime team as recently as 2021 in response to these inquiries, these people said.”

(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Restaurant group accuses Google of directing users to unauthorized order pages

The company’s lawsuit accuses Google of using “bait-and-switch” tactics that get customers to order through “new, unauthorized, and deceptively branded webpages,” Ars Technica’s Tim De Chant reports. The lawsuit argues that Google never got consent from restaurants to direct customers to food delivery companies, and “purposefully designed its websites to appear to the user to be offered, sponsored, and approved by the restaurant, when they are not — a tactic, no doubt, employed by Google to increase orders and clicks.”

Google disputes the allegations. Spokesman José Castañeda told the outlet that it gives “tools for merchants to indicate whether they support online orders or prefer a specific provider, including their own ordering website. We do not receive any compensation for orders or integrations with this feature.” The company told the outlet it will defend itself against the accusations.

The plaintiff in the case, Left Field Holdings, is seeking class action status, arguing that it believes there are “tens of thousands” of potential plaintiffs.

Rant and rave

Twitter brought back its reverse-chronological feed after users complained. Stadio co-founder Musa Okwonga:

Vice Australia’s Brad Esposito:

Our colleague, Taylor Lorenz:

Agency scanner

The FTC’s new enforcement weapon spells death for algorithms (Protocol)

Inside the industry

Inside Apple’s decision to blow up the digital ads business (The Information)

Tencent faces possible record fine for anti-money-laundering violations (Wall Street Journal)

Apple supplier Foxconn in talks to build $9 billion factory in Saudi Arabia (Wall Street Journal)

Workforce report

British tech champion Arm to slash hundreds of jobs (The Telegraph)


After Walt Disney, Robert Iger heads to the metaverse (Wall Street Journal)


  • Ashley Durkin-Rixey, who previously worked at ACT | The App Association, has joined the Glen Echo Group as senior director.


  • Federal Reserve of Richmond senior economist and research adviser Nicholas Trachter and former Justice Department official Gregory Werden speak at an Information Technology & Innovation Foundation event on antitrust Wednesday at 10 a.m.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s communications and technology panel holds a hearing on 5G and wireless technology on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
  • The R Street Institute hosts an antitrust event on Wednesday at noon.
  • The Atlantic Council hosts an event on China’s role in setting technology standards on Wednesday at noon.
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology acting director James K. Olthoff testifies at a House Science Committee hearing on technical standards on Thursday at 10 a.m.

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