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Big Tech will be under attack in Washington today, as President Trump promises allegations of anti-conservative bias will top the agenda of his “social media summit.” But almost 3,000 miles away, many in Silicon Valley say the event is barely on their radar.
Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning he plans to address tech companies’ “tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression” at the White House gathering of some of the president’s most ardent online supporters, Republican lawmakers and strategists:
A big subject today at the White House Social Media Summit will be the tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies. We will not let them get away with it much longer. The Fake News Media will also be there, but for a limited period..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2019
But some techies are not taking the summit seriously — and say it’s just more of the same political theater.
“Does this actually lead to new regulation?” Kim-Mai Cutler, a partner at the San Francisco-based venture capital firm Initialized Capital, said of the summit. “New rules? New norms? What is materially different from the White House and the Republican Party have otherwise been signaling all along?”
Silicon Valley’s broad dismissal of the president’s pledges to tackle anti-conservative bias — arguably the top item of his tech agenda — highlights the deepest gulf between industry and Trump’s Washington right now. Many are dismissive of the accusations that tech companies are suppressing conservative voices, which they say are based on a flawed understanding of how algorithms work and not supported by valid evidence. The companies have been repeatedly denied that they are politically biased.
The companies Trump typically targets will reportedly not be in attendance at today’s event. But ahead of the summit, the Internet Association, which represents Facebook, Twitter and Google in Washington, was proactive in defending against the president’s repeated claims that Silicon Valley companies discriminate against a political ideology.
“Online platforms are the best tool for promoting voices from all political perspectives in history,” said Michael Beckerman, chief executive of the Internet Association in a statement to The Technology 202 yesterday. “Internet companies are not biased against any political ideology, and conservative voices in particular have used social media to great effect. Internet companies depend upon their users’ trust from across the political spectrum to grow and succeed.”
Today’s event stands to highlight the very complicated relationship that Trump has with social media. Twitter remains his favored means of communicating with constituents — even about, ironically, his anger at social media companies themselves, like we saw in this morning’s Twitter thread.
And social media played a key role in his rise to the White House. My colleagues Tony Romm, Michael Scherer and Amy B Wang noted in a piece earlier this week that the White House’s guest list for the summit is drawing criticism that the president “could end up empowering online provocateurs who have adopted controversial political tactics entering the 2020 election campaign.”
At today’s event, he’ll host some of the online influencers who helped stoke support for him on the right online. Twitter user “CarpeDonktum,” who is known for making a heavily edited meme of former vice president Joe Biden that Trump shared on his own Twitter feed will be in attendance. So will Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe and Bill Mitchell, a Trump supporter who has promoted a Q-Anon conspiracy, according to Kevin Roose of the New York Times.
Some social media experts told Kevin that today’s summit won’t just be about bashing Big Tech, but about the rising influence of these online personalities in politics. “I think the White House social media summit is an opportunity to say thank you for the community that has been at the president’s side these last three years and enlist their help in the fights to come,” said Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist.
But even as the president rolls out the welcome wagon for this cast of Internet supporters, he maintains he (probably) could have won in 2016 without social media:
The White House will be hosting a very big and very important Social Media Summit today. Would I have become President without Social Media? Yes (probably)! At its conclusion, we will all go to the beautiful Rose Garden for a News Conference on the Census and Citizenship.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2019
BITS, NIBBLES AND BYTES
BITS: Amazon plans to announce today that it will retrain a third of its U.S. workers as advances in technology threaten to displace their jobs, the Wall Street Journal’s Chip Cutter writes. The company plans to spend $700 million on the initiative, which aims to retrain 100,000 workers by 2025 through new programs as well as an expansion of existing ones.
“Technology is changing our society, and it’s certainly changing work,” said Jeff Wilke, chief executive of Amazon’s world-wide consumer business, told the Wall Street Journal. He also said that the initiative is meant to help workers “be prepared for the opportunities of the future.”
Some workers in fulfillment centers will be able to retrain for IT support roles, such as helming the machines that operate in Amazon’s centers. The programs will also be available to corporate workers, like non-technical employees who will have the opportunity to retrain as software engineers without returning to school. It’s one of the biggest retraining programs ever announced — and breaks down to an investment of about $7,000 per worker at the company.
The initiative comes as Amazon faces a shortage of technical workers. The company currently has more than 20,000 jobs open in the U.S., more than half of which are in Seattle.
At the same time, the initiative could also provide the company with political cover as it faces broad criticism from labor groups and progressive politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for the treatment of its workers. The company last year raised its minimum wage for U.S. employees to $15 per hour under intense pressure.
NIBBLES: The White House launched an investigation into France’s plans to impose a revenue tax on U.S. tech companies Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, my colleagues Jeanne Whalen and Tony Romm reported yesterday. The unexpected action by the White House has already drawn praise from tech companies and industry groups.
“We applaud the Trump Administration for taking decisive action against France and for signaling to all of America’s trading partners that the U.S. government will not acquiesce to tax and trade policies that discriminate against American businesses,” Amazon told The Post. Google has also called the French tax “discriminatory.”
The probe would determine whether the 3 percent “is discriminatory or unreasonable and burdens or restricts United States commerce unfair to U.S. businesses,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer said in a statement. A similar investigation led to tariffs against China last year.
Trump rebuked the E.U. for using U.S. tech companies as “easy money” in an interview with CNBC last month, adding the United States “should be doing what they’re doing.” (Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos also owns The Post.)
BYTES: The price of bitcoin fell sharply today after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell raised concerns about Facebook’s cryptocurrency initiative Project Libra, according to CNBC’s Ryan Browne. Bitcoin fell 12% to about $11,450 on Thursday, according to CoinDesk data.
The sharp slide underscores the gravity of Powell’s warning to the House Financial Services Committee yesterday that the project raises “serious concerns” about “privacy money laundering, consumer protection and financial stability.”
“It cannot go forward without there being broad satisfaction with the way the company has addressed” those concerns, Powell told the committee. “All of those things will need to be addressed very thoroughly and carefully.” Powell joins a chorus of concern from lawmakers, including House Financial Services Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) who co-wrote a letter to Facebook calling for a “moratorium” on Libra until regulators and Congress can assess the project.
“I have a lot of questions about Libra,” Waters told CNBC after the hearing. “I’m concerned about the fact that it’s based in Switzerland. We have a lot of information about Switzerland and money laundering.” Waters also called Libra a “threat to the dollar.”
Increased scrutiny from Washington has fueled doubts in Silicon Valley, where “even companies that want to see Facebook succeed with Libra have reservations about whether it will happen,” writes CNBC’s Salvador Rodriquez. Libra top executive David Marcus will testify before the Senate Banking Committee next week.
— IBM announced its support for a new proposal that would curb a key legal shield that applies to platforms such as Google and Facebook — making it contingent on the actions the companies take to limit abuse, Bloomberg News’s Naomi Nix and Ben Brody reported yesterday. The company joins a growing number of lawmakers and advocates who are trying to update Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a decades-old legal provision that grants Internet companies protection from legal liability for content posted to their platforms.
IBM is endorsing a “reasonable care” approach, which requires companies to act as soon as they are aware of a problem. In essence, it would make companies legally accountable for addressing offending content while still giving them immunity from liability for it appearing on their platforms.
“We simply believe companies should also be held legally responsible to use reasonable, common-sense care when it comes to moderating online content,” Ryan Hagemann, IBM government and regulatory affairs technology policy executive, wrote in a blog post yesterday. “This means, for example, quickly identifying and deleting content focused on child pornography, violence on child-oriented sites, or online content promoting acts of mass violence, suicide, or the sale of illegal drugs.”
— News from the public sector:
— News from the private sector:
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