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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Trump’s QAnon embrace could pose fresh tests for Silicon Valley

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

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Below: Meet the influencers who gained followings by promoting election fraud claims, and state regulators move quickly on crypto. First:

Trump’s QAnon embrace could pose fresh tests for Silicon Valley

Former president Donald Trump is suspended from most major social media platforms, but his apparent weekend salute to the QAnon conspiracy theory could still have ripple effects for Silicon Valley — and it highlights the challenge of policing the movement.

During a rally in Ohio on Saturday, Trump delivered remarks over music resembling a common QAnon theme, prompting a salute from audience members.

The incident underscores not only how the harmful and once-fringe theory has entered mainstream politics, but also how subtly it can be referenced or spread.

Trump’s song selection — which his team denied was linked to QAnon — is the type of wink-and-a-nod reference that can at-times escape detection on tech platforms, many of which only began cracking down on the conspiracy theory more forcefully in recent years.  

It’s a far more cloaked reference than he made in a separate post last week. As the Associated Press reported, Trump took to his Truth Social platform to repost “an image of himself wearing a Q lapel pin overlaid with the words ‘The Storm is Coming,’” both QAnon references.

But it wasn’t the first time; Trump reposted content from pro-QAnon accounts dozens of times on Twitter while in the White House, according to reports, without drawing the platform’s ire.

Trump’s more recent embrace of QAnon could embolden the movement and create fresh tests for how social media platforms police its supporters on their sites.

In October 2020, Facebook announced a ban on “accounts representing QAnon, even if they contain no violent content.” The same month, Google-owned YouTube said it had expanded its policies against hate and harassment “to prohibit content that targets an individual or group with conspiracy theories that have been used to justify real-world violence,” including QAnon.

After the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, Twitter announced the taking down of accounts “engaged in sharing harmful QAnon-associated content at scale and were primarily dedicated to the propagation of this conspiracy theory across the service.”

But it’s often unclear how more discreet references to the conspiracy theory, like Trump’s weekend salute, clips of which users have reposted online, fit into those policies.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week sharply criticized tech platforms for not taking more forceful action against the QAnon conspiracy theory far sooner.

“The dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory that started in 2017 spread unchecked on your platforms for years before you started to downrank and then banned it on your platforms,” Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) told executives from Facebook parent-company Meta and YouTube at a hearing last week.

Chris Cox, Meta’s chief product officer, said the “organization is labeled as a violence-inducing network and so is not allowed on our platform.”

“In general, we believe there is no place for terrorism, for violence-inducing content, for extremism across the network. We work hard to take that content down,” he said.

Neal Mohan, YouTube’s chief product officer, said that QAnon “is deemed to be a harmful criminal conspiracy” and that “we do not allow that content on our platform.”

The answers did not satisfy Peters. “This stuff was on your platforms for years, so it took you a long time to come to the conclusion that both of you have just come to,” he replied.

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A new generation of influencers got famous by spreading false claims about 2020 election

An analysis by The Washington Post found that some conservatives doubled or tripled their Twitter audiences by echoing former president Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud in the 2020 election, with some going from online obscurity to fame, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Jeremy B. Merrill report . To conduct the analysis, The Post identified 77 of the biggest spreaders of disinformation about the 2020 election and tracked their audiences and posts.

  • The list was drawn from Stanford, Harvard and Cornell universities, as well as the University of Washington, which looked for posts spreading misinformation about the election and finding which ones got the most retweets.
  • In the six months before the Jan. 6 riot, the group rose steeply in popularity, gaining 25 million followers on Twitter and Facebook. Those with large audiences grew their followings by at least 50 percent. Those with more modest follower counts — around 1 in 5 of the accounts on the list — surged in popularity.
  • Most members of the list didn’t respond to requests for comment or declined to be interviewed. Some of those who did respond defended their online behavior, saying that they were merely raising questions about complex subjects worthy of public scrutiny.

My colleagues write, “These accounts amassed followers despite vows by Big Tech companies to police election disinformation, The Post found. And they have gone on to use their powerful megaphones to shape the national debate on other subjects, injecting fresh waves of distortion into such culture-war topics as transgender rights and critical race theory.” 

State regulators are moving more quickly than their federal counterparts on cryptocurrency

Financial watchdogs at the state level like Alabama Securities Commission Director Joe Borg have been at the forefront of the policing of the trillion-dollar digital asset market, raising questions about how federal regulators are responding, Tory Newmyer reports

Borg and his counterparts in other states were months ahead of federal regulators in calling out the crypto banks behind much of this summer's crypto meltdowns, Tory reports. And he explains that Borg draws his authority from a 1946 Supreme Court ruling on what constitutes a security.   

“I didn’t anticipate we would end up in the driver’s seat,” said Joe Rotunda, the enforcement director of the Texas State Securities Board. “There’s a lot of money on the table, these are very complex cases, and it would be the job of the national regulator. I don’t know why the SEC isn’t out there in these areas right now.”

Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler, for his part, rejects the idea that the SEC hasn’t done enough. “We’ve worked well with the states,” Gensler said in a recent call with reporters, arguing that firms could have done more to protect members of the public.

“Should they move faster? That’s not my call to make,” Borg said of the SEC. “I can only work with them as fast as they’re willing to work with us.”

States ask appeals court to allow antitrust suit against Facebook parent Meta

The case was dismissed by a federal judge last year after he determined that the states had waited too long to file the suit. The states are arguing that Meta isn’t especially harmed by the suit because a similar case by the Federal Trade Commission was allowed to proceed, Bloomberg News’s Leah Nylen reports. The suit was filed in 2020 by 48 state and territorial attorneys general who argued that Meta monopolized the social network market through a strategy of buying or killing competitive threats.

“There was no harm to Facebook from the states suing in 2020 rather than a few years earlier,” New York Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood told a three-judge panel on the appeals court in D.C. “The delay was not unreasonable.” Meta attorney Aaron M. Panner argued that “conduct occurred years ago” and “the states’ claims were stale.”

The Justice Department has also argued that the case should be reinstated, Nylen reports.

Meta, which has criticized the lawsuit, said the appeals court shouldn’t let the case proceed. “We believe the district court’s decision dismissing the states’ complaint is correct, and that there are no grounds for overturning that decision,” Meta spokesperson Christopher Sgro told Bloomberg News.

Rant and rave

The iPhone 14 features an internal redesign that makes the phone much easier to repair than previous models, iFixit’s Kyle Wiens writes. Writer and editor Ernie Smith:

Software engineer Will Smidlein:

Technology columnist Joanna Stern:

Inside the industry

A landmark Supreme Court fight over social media now looks likely (Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow)

Gmail launches pilot to keep campaign emails out of spam (Axios)

Jack Dorsey will be deposed in Twitter-Musk lawsuit on Tuesday (Bloomberg)

Apple flexes muscle as quiet power behind app group (Bloomberg)

Workforce report

Instacart plans to focus IPO on selling employee shares (The Wall Street Journal)


OpenAI begins allowing users to edit faces with DALL-E 2 (TechCrunch)


  • A House Financial Services Committee panel holds a hearing on the national security impacts of alternate payment systems today at 10 a.m.
  • FTC Chair Lina Khan and Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee panel today at 3 p.m.
  • Andy Berke, the special representative for broadband at the Commerce Department, and Michael Powell, the president and CEO of NCTA — the Internet & Television Association, speak at a Washington Post Live event Wednesday at 10 a.m.

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