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Why Facebook, Google, and Twitter Must Clean Up Their Act—Data Sheet

July 16, 2019, 12:07 PM UTC

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Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the hate-speech fighting Anti-Defamation League, delivered a powerful challenge to Facebook, Google, and Twitter Monday at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference.

“There’s something different going on,” he said, explaining how white supremacist ideology has been nurtured by the social-media platforms, leading to real violence. As for the companies that host the filth that infects our society, “they haven’t done more because they don’t see it as their responsibility,” Greenblatt said. “These are businesses plain and simple,” he said, asserting that the Silicon Valley triad could kick off miscreants from their networks just as easily as Shake Shack or the registration desk at the St. Regis hotel, where the conference is underway in Aspen, Colo., would toss out a customer who said vile things in their establishments.

Greenblatt, a former tech entrepreneur who has run teams of engineers, offered five specific remedies the tech companies could follow:

  1. Re-set algorithms to diminish the prominence of harmful messages.
  2. Slow down the postings of all content to give artificial-intelligence software time to review it and then hand off problematic content to human moderators.
  3. Stop profiting, via advertising revenue, from hateful posts.
  4. Eject or label bots, which have no place on the platforms to begin with.
  5. Commit to third-party audits of their efforts to police the platforms.

It was a powerful talk, and I urge you to watch it.

Other memorable moments:

  • Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said he admires Amazon’s speed and innovation. And he denied there are tensions among his company’s U.S. e-commerce business and the rest of Walmart.
  • Microsoft quantum computing executive Krysta Svore said the software giant has open-sourced its quantum-related software because it can’t possibly hire all the talent it needs to make the new technology a reality.
  • Stitch Fix CEO Katrina Lake explained her company’s methodical use of data and revealed that she still occasionally works as a stylist for Stitch Fix customers.
  • RBC analyst Mark Mahaney on the proliferation of Internet TV services: “I think Pringles potato chips is going to launch a streaming service.”
  • Singer-songwriter FLETCHER on her relative financial success, partly due to the exposure and analysis she gets from Spotify: “I’m a baller on a budget.”
  • Slack’s Stewart Butterfield, speaking just as his company’s post-direct listing “quiet period” expired, explained why history is on his company’s side in its fight with Microsoft. He also showed a video of his mom ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. It turned the hard-bitten crowd of tech big shots to mush.

Suffice it to say it was a good day. Most of the event is livestreamed on the web beginning at 9:15 a.m. Mountain time today.

Adam Lashinsky

On Twitter: @adamlashinsky



What did I say. Along with Greenblatt's remarks, a lot of people noticed that President Trump tweeted something racist on Sunday, but Twitter did not label the tweet as violating the company's standards. "I have to wonder: What would it take? What would he have to say to fall within the scope of their policies?” Malkia Devich-Cyril, executive director of advocacy group MediaJustice, told The Washington Post.

Follow the money. Leading ride sharing service Uber released its annual diversity report on Monday, showing that the percentage of woman in leadership roles rose to 28% from 21% a year ago. Uber also tied the 2022 compensation of top execs, including CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, to meeting diversity and inclusion goals.

Follow the money, part two. Stock market investors should get a chance to invest in a few more well-known tech and tech-ish companies this year. Airbnb, iHeartMedia, and the company formerly known as WeWork (now called the We Company) are among the top candidates to go public soon, along with Peloton, Postmates, Robinhood, and Casper.

On the outside. Program manager Meredith Whittaker is leaving Google. One of the company's most vocal employees criticizing its policies, Whittaker helped organize last year's walkout of workers to protest the way Google handled sexual harassment complaints.

Antivirus. The rumored acquisition of cybersecurity firm Symantec by chipmaker Broadcom is now rumored to be dead. Shares of Symantec fell 11% on Monday.

Nabbed. App install advertising company Vungle is being acquired by private equity firm Blackstone for a reported price of $750 million. As part of the acquisition, Vungle and Blackstone reached a settlement in the wrongful dismissal lawsuit filed by founder and former CEO Zain Jeffer.

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Anish Acharya will join Andreessen Horowitz as a general partner focused on fintech investing. Acharya most recently served as the vice president of product management at Credit Karma...Walmart lost its e-commerce chief revenue officer, senior vice president Scott Hilton, Bloomberg reports. No word on a replacement yet...Former YouTube and Vine executive Jason Toff is joining Facebook as product management director for the company's new NPE said CFO Michael Echenberg is resigning effective at the end of August and Michael Goss, VP of Finance, will be named acting CFO.


Some see the solution to Google's Internet domination in a break up of the tech giant. But pursuing that option would be legally difficult and have many unintended consequences. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, has a different idea, as he explains in a Bloomberg piece. Epstein's proposal is to force Google to share it gigantic index of the web with other companies via a simple API. Here's what would happen next, he writes:

Within a year or two, thousands of new search platforms might emerge, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Many would target niche audiences—some small, perhaps, like high-end shoppers, and some huge, like all the world’s women, and most of these platforms would do a better job of serving their constituencies than Google ever could. These aren’t just alternatives to Google, they are competitors—thousands of search platforms, each with its special focus and emphasis, each drawing on different subsets of information from Google’s ever-expanding index, and each using different rules to decide how to organize the search results they display.


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We've previously told you to watch the third season of Netflix's Stranger Things, as has Jeff Bezos. If you've already streamed it, you know that a fictional version of the classic 1980s-era shopping mall plays a prominent role. New York Magazine's Vulture site has an interesting essay strolling down memory lane to examine the mall in the show and pop culture. Worth a read.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.