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Below: Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) says he plans to put antitrust legislation up for a vote, and the FTC issues a policy statement on children's privacy. First:
But in a new open letter to the tech mogul, a group of veteran social media safety professionals warn Musk that doing so will take a lot more work than offering generic pledges to uphold “free speech.”
In a missive shared exclusively with The Technology 202, members of the newly formed Integrity Institute nonprofit organization told Musk that to achieve his goals, he will need to think a lot more deeply about how to actually implement those plans and to make thorny calls around harmful content that industry leaders have grappled with for years. And it won’t be as easy as granting everyone a digital podium.
Sagnik Ghosh, a member of the institute and former Facebook staffer, said the group felt the need to be “standing up for professionals in the space” and to push back on Musk’s aspersions, which Ghosh said suggest “there's just a bunch of fools running around in these companies who don't know what they're doing.”
“The Internet is not new. These issues are not new. These issues are incredibly challenging. I think we really want to push back on the point that there's really easy solutions to this,” he said.
In the letter, the group said that while they “agree that social media is pretty broken,” simply “giving everyone the mic” in the name of “free expression” doesn’t solve the problem.
Musk did not return a request for comment Thursday.
Ghosh said establishing guardrails around harmful content is in fact essential to protecting the free speech of many users, who might otherwise be isolated online.
“If you allow anyone to say whatever they want to amplify that as much as they want, it's very easy to drown out and silence a lot of voices, through harassment, through threats of violence … and so that doesn't guarantee freedom of speech for everybody,” he said.
And just because some potentially harmful posts may be allowed doesn’t mean they should be entitled to amplification. “Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom of reach,” he said.
The group wrote that while they agree with Musk’s goal of trying to boost algorithmic transparency, the key to building trust with users is making clear why some posts are performing better than others, and that requires sharing “public aggregate metrics.”
So far, Musk has floated boosting transparency by making Twitter's algorithm “open source.” Ghosh said that approach “doesn't make any sense” and won’t achieve what Musk is after.
“Just showing random coefficients in some big machine learning system is not going to be meaningful to anybody. … It's very difficult to be able to interpret any of that,” he said.
Ghosh said the key is to clearly show people how a platform’s algorithms are affecting everyone, and why they were designed that way — not just one-off decisions for a single user.
They wrote that it’s also crucial for “executives to support those employees on the ground level who are tasked with building” and “enforcing their decisions consistently.”
Ghosh said Musk’s recent remarks lashing out at decisions by Twitter’s safety teams and elevating criticisms of individual executives haven’t inspired confidence in that regard.
And while Musk has railed against some of Twitter’s past decisions as evidence of a “strong left-wing bias,” members of the Integrity Institute argued that a single person unilaterally making decisions about the company’s content decisions would be a step backward.
“We know that many people think we make decisions in a biased way to favor one side of the political aisle or another,” the group wrote. “Those decisions ought to be made in a principled way: by a transparent process, rather than any individual.”
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The FTC takes aim at education technology companies
The Federal Trade Commission unanimously voted to adopt a policy statement that warns such companies against using the data they collect from children for advertising, marketing and other commercial purposes, CyberScoop’s Tonya Riley reports. The statement clarifies how companies should comply with the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and warned that the commission would “vigilantly enforce the law” with the policy statement in mind.
In a statement, President Biden noted that he called for increased children’s privacy protections in his State of the Union speech. “I want to commend the Federal Trade Commission for unanimously taking a big step in that direction today,” he said.
Schumer plans to put antitrust legislation up for Senate vote in early summer
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) encouraged Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to edit the bill and committed to putting a version up for a Senate vote, Axios’s Ashley Gold reports. The bill cleared the Judiciary Committee in January.
“The bill, which would prevent Amazon, Facebook and other large tech companies from boosting their own products and services over their rivals’, is widely seen as a test of Congress’s ability to pass regulations targeting the influence of a handful of tech giants,” my colleagues Cat Zakrzewski and Gerrit De Vynck wrote at the time. “Its bipartisan sponsors position it as a long overdue check on the power and influence of Silicon Valley titans,” they wrote. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Rant and rave
Vijaya Gadde, the top lawyer at Twitter, told employees that there is “no such thing as a deal being on hold,” Bloomberg News's Kurt Wagner and Maxwell Adler report. Digital media consultant Heidi N. Moore:
CNBC's Ari Levy:
Jason Goldman, a former head of product at Twitter:
Inside the industry
- Paolo Carozza, Khaled Mansour and Pamela San Martin have joined Facebook’s Oversight Board.
- A House Energy and Commerce Committee panel holds a hearing on telecommunications legislation Tuesday at 11 a.m.
- Undersecretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez speaks at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council and Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
- A House Oversight and Reform Committee panel holds a hearing on the Technology Modernization Fund on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
- FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington discusses net neutrality at an R Street Institute event on May 26 at 3 p.m.