Happy Wednesday! Today I’m reminded of an age-old proverb: Be careful what CEOs you tweet poop emoji to. Send news tips and legal filing memes to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below: Twitter sues Elon Musk, and the FTC faces workplace turmoil. First up:
Members of the House special committee cited tweets by Trump that spurred on supporters who stormed the Capitol and the testimony of a former Twitter employee who said their internal warnings about the potential for violence were largely ignored.
“The creation of the internet and social media has given today’s tyrants tools of propaganda and disinformation that yesterday’s despots could only have dreamed of,” Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) said in his opening remarks at the panel’s seventh hearing.
The session offered the first public window into witness statements the panel has obtained from social media staffers and may provide a preview of other damaging testimony the committee will showcase down the line.
The former staffer, whose voice and identity the committee obscured, said they believed Twitter went easy on Trump for years because it “relished” the “power” of being his favorite platform.
“If former president Donald Trump were any other user on Twitter, he would have been permanently suspended a very long time ago,” the witness said in prerecorded testimony.
Twitter permanently suspended Trump two days after the insurrection, citing concerns he might incite further real-world violence.
But for years the platform faced criticism over its handling of his account, including a policy allowing some tweets by world leaders that otherwise would break its rules to stay up.
Raskin said the former staffer testified Twitter “considered adopting a stricter content moderation policy” after Trump told the extremist Proud Boys group to “stand back and stand by” during a presidential debate — but ultimately opted against it.
“My concern was that the former president for seemingly the first time was speaking directly to extremist organizations and giving them directives,” said the witness. “We have not seen that sort of direct communication before and that concerned me.”
Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Twitter’s vice president of public policy for the Americas, said in a statement that the company is “clear-eyed about our role in the broader information ecosystem” in regard to the Jan. 6 attack but that it “took unprecedented steps and invested significant resources to prepare for and respond to the threats that emerged” during the 2020 election.
Twitter has deployed “numerous policy and product interventions to protect the public conversation,” including declaring the Proud Boys a violent extremist group in 2018 and permanently suspending accounts tied to the group and the Jan. 6 attack, she said.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) said the panel has learned that, the day before the insurrection, “there were serious concerns at Twitter about the anticipated violence.”
“For months I had been begging and anticipating and attempting to raise the reality that … if we made no intervention into what I saw occurring, people were going to die,” the ex-employee said.
They added, “On January 5th, I realized no intervention was coming.”
“Today’s shocking whistleblower testimony confirms what many of us have known for years: Big Tech has repeatedly failed to rein in calls to violence on their platforms,” said Nora Benavidez, senior counsel and director of digital justice and civil rights for advocacy group Free Press.
While prior hearings have touched on tweets by Trump, none have spent considerable time on how social media companies’ content decisions factored into the attack.
The evidence is likely only a fraction of the testimony the panel has obtained about how social networks including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube shaped Jan. 6.
The committee has subpoenaed top social media platforms for a slew of documents related to their policies and handling of content tied to Trump’s attempts to overturn the election. The panel has also canvassed experts for research on social media’s role in the attack, as we reported.
But little has come to light about the committee’s plans for that information — until now.
Our top tabs
Twitter sues Elon Musk, kicking off epic legal bout
The lawsuit, which seeks to force the billionaire to follow through on his pledge to purchase the company for $44 billion, marks the “first legal volley in what is expected to be one of most high-profile business trials in recent history,” my colleagues Elizabeth Dwoskin and Rachel Lerman report.
“Having mounted a public spectacle to put Twitter in play, and having proposed and then signed a seller-friendly merger agreement, Musk apparently believes that he — unlike every other party subject to Delaware contract law — is free to change his mind, trash the company, disrupt its operations, destroy stockholder value, and walk away,” the company wrote in its suit.
“Experts said they anticipated months of agonizing legal drama to play out in the Delaware Court of Chancery, a tiny, clubby court that has decided the outcomes of some of the biggest business squabbles in the U.S.,” my colleagues wrote. “The process will likely submit Twitter to a grueling level of public scrutiny, forcing the platform to open up its books and expose internal deliberations in ways that might further damage its stock price and reputation.”
The FTC’s ranking sank on an annual worker survey during Khan’s first year.
The agency has long advertised that it ranks in the top of mid-size government agencies, my colleague Cat Zakrzewski reports. But in the latest rankings, the Federal Trade Commission plunged to 22 on the list.
The ratings were released as Chairwoman Lina Khan concludes her first year in office, which has been dogged by limited resources and an ever-expanding political agenda. Her ability to follow through on her big promises to transform tech regulation and improve the agency hinges on the morale of her staff.
“I can’t think of a manager on the planet who would not be worried about that kind of feedback,” said William E. Kovacic, a former Republican chair of the Federal Trade Commission. “You need the willing and committed support of your people, or you cannot do the bold things you want to do.”
Khan outlined the steps she was taking to strengthen communication and feedback within the agency, and embarked on a listening tour with individual staffers. She is also encouraging staff to submit anonymous suggestions to her.
Federal court strikes down FCC rules on foreign broadcast sponsors
A federal court rejected rules by the Federal Communications Commission requiring that broadcasters vet whether a foreign government paid a station to air material, Reuters’ David Shepardson reports.
“The FCC cannot require radio broadcasters to check federal sources to verify sponsors’ identities,” Judge Justin Walker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia wrote for the three-judge panel.
The National Association of Broadcasters trade group challenged the FCC rules requiring that broadcasters independently check sponsors, arguing they put an “onerous” burden on broadcasters. In response to the ruling, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement Tuesday, “Consumers deserve to trust that public airwaves aren’t being leased without their knowledge to private foreign actors.”
Rosenworcel told The Technology 202 in March that the dispute had “taken on new importance” in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which raised scrutiny of social media platforms, streaming platforms and broadcast networks carrying Russian propaganda.
Rant and rave
Twitter’s lawsuit against Musk was filled with memes the mercurial billionaire has posted about the legal saga.
The Verge’s Alex Heath:
A document for the ages pic.twitter.com/9f45eO5jyt— Alex Heath (@alexeheath) July 12, 2022
CNBC contributor Alex Kantrowitz, who earlier predicted Twitter would submit a poop emoji Musk tweeted as evidence:
Lol, they did it pic.twitter.com/gfp2QnV3IK— Alex Kantrowitz (@Kantrowitz) July 12, 2022
The Verge’s Adi Robertson:
The only silver lining of this case is the prospect of lawyers dragging out tortuously detailed explanations for Elon's meme posts in a courtroom https://t.co/RKno3ZSkKM— Adi Robertson (@thedextriarchy) July 12, 2022
Inside the industry
- Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) and executives from Amazon and Google speak at an event hosted by the Information Technology Industry Council today at 11 a.m.
- Consumer advocates discuss Europe’s Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act at an event on Thursday at 9 a.m.
- Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su discusses technology and the future of work at a Washington Post Live event on Thursday at noon.
- Brian Deese, who leads the White House’s National Economic Council, discusses the White House Competition Council at an Aspen Institute event on Thursday at 3 p.m.
- Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips, a Republican, speaks at an American Enterprise Institute event on the consumer welfare standard on Monday at 1:30 p.m.
- Patreon chief executive Jack Conte discusses the creator economy at a Washington Post Live event on Monday at 4 p.m.
Before you log off
The most cat thing ever- 😆🤣 pic.twitter.com/yK1bZxk3bi— Il Gatto Nero (@gattocciao) July 7, 2022
That’s all for today — thank you so much for joining us! Make sure to tell others to subscribe to The Technology 202 here. Get in touch with tips, feedback or greetings on Twitter or email.