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Is social media to blame?

January 7, 2021, 3:00 PM UTC

Yesterday was a dark day for American history as pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol over what they believed to be a stolen election. And, true to form, social media services struggled with how to handle the President’s response.

After angry mobsters broke windows, invaded the Capitol buildings, and in some cases brawled with police, Trump took to social media. In a one-minute video that quickly went viral on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, he told the rioters to “go home in peace.” But he also repeated a baseless claim that he’s promoted across social media for weeks: The election was “fraudulent.”

“The President is a master at encoding things that spread his core message,” said Jennifer Grygiel, assistant professor who studies social media at Syracuse University. “At its core, this message is yet another incitement” for the “very people that would storm the Capitol.”

Social media services have wrestled with Trump’s tweets since his election in 2016. They claim their policies aim to balance newsworthiness, public interest, and freedom of speech with the potential for real-world harm and the dissemination of misinformation. But even with particularly high stakes on Wednesday, social media companies seemed to flail in their decisions once again.

Twitter labeled the tweet, saying it contained “disputed claims” about the election and notified users that they could not like or retweet it without including their own comments because of its potential to incite violence. Facebook, for a long while, did nothing. But the social network eventually opted to remove the post saying it was an “emergency situation” and that the video contributes to the “risk of ongoing violence.” YouTube did the same after the video was flagged. Hours later, Twitter also removed the video and in an unprecedented move temporarily suspended Trump’s account, threatening permanent suspension for future violations. 

But the video had already been seen and spread by hundreds of thousands of people, leaving many critics to blast the companies for doing way too little way too late. “This has moved well beyond protecting public conversation and public discourse,” Grygiel said. “This is an active coup attempt in the U.S.”

One solution, according to Grygiel, is quite simple: Social media companies should preview all posts by world leaders, publishing them on a delay in order to prevent harmful content from ever appearing. But Grygiel doesn’t expect that to actually happen. “Clearly the platforms are having a hard time stomaching this even during [an attempted] coup,” Grygiel said, referring to the companies’ delayed actions.

But photos and anecdotes from inside the chambers show lawmakers holding hands and, in some cases, praying as the chaos ensued. Could they come back with new fervor for regulating social media? We should get a better sense once the new administration takes office later this month.

Danielle Abril
@DanielleDigest
danielle.abril@fortune.com

If you’ve committed to an ambitious fitness regimen to start off the New Year, there’s a good chance your devices are involved somehow. In this episode of our Brainstorm podcast, Brian O’Keefe talks to Eric Friedman, a co-founder of Fitbit, about trends the company has seen from users over the course of the pandemic. And Michal Lev-Ram chats with Aly Orady, CEO of Tonal, about the intelligent home gym and personal trainer. Listen to the episode here.

NEWSWORTHY

Whats up, WhatsApp? WhatsApp, the encrypted messaging service owned by Facebook, reportedly began notifying users on Wednesday about its new terms of service that include deeper integrations with Facebook. This means that users who want to continue using the app must agree to allow Facebook to have access to their data, including transaction data on WhatsApp, information on how users interact with people and businesses on the app, mobile device information, and information users offer during registration. WhatsApp previously gave users the option to opt out of sharing their data with Facebook. But come Feb. 8, when the new terms take effect, users can either agree or leave.

Alexa, help me sleep. Amazon is reportedly working on a new device that uses radar to monitor sleep apnea, according to Business Insider. The Alexa-powered device is expected to track a users' breathing and sense sleep interruptions from a bedside table. The new tracking will allow users to get more data on possible sleep disorders without using a wearable device.

Smart glasses coming “soon.” Facebook has long been planning to release smart glasses, and according to Bloomberg, the new product will be released “sooner than later” this year. However, the new glasses, developed in partnership with Ray-Ban, won’t come equipped with the augmented reality features that have been part of the longer-term plan. And though Facebook has announced a general timeframe for the release of the glasses, it has yet to disclose details on what the glasses will actually do. 

Affordable housing aid. Amazon plans to invest more than $2 billion in affordable housing in three cities where it is a major employer over the next five years. The tech giant said it will offer low-cost loans and grants aimed at preserving or building affordable housing in Arlington, Va., Nashville, Tenn., and Seattle. Amazon is making the investment to respond to the housing shortages in those areas—some of which has been driven by tech employees moving into them.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

A venture capitalist and former Googler Hunter Walk explored an interesting problem he believes companies like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram should heed: burning out the creators who make videos on their services. His suggested solution? A three-pronged approach that includes establishing "seasons" of publishing for creators, introducing content caps for how much can be published in a set amount of time, and paid time off for creators who pass a specific threshold. It's a lofty approach, but one that may be worth considering given the growing industry.

"The falling economic costs of production and distribution have been replaced by a new set of taxes — physical, emotional, psychological — as your community expects new content, accessibility to their heroes and open book authenticity. Paired with the social media platform algorithms, which in themselves reward frequency and engagement, this combination saps joy and agency from the creative process and burns out the creators. Having to perform 24/7 comes with costs, and that’s only dealing with fans let alone the trolls," Walk wrote in a blog post.

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BEFORE YOU GO

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, the Houston Symphony is hoping to aid in the recovery of hospitalized patients. Texas Monthly reports that the symphony is playing personal virtual performances in hopes of helping patients fight off stress and strengthen their immune systems' response to the virus. Musicians are choosing pieces with tempos that match that of the resting human heart to create a calming effect. Could be a great form of therapy for coronavirus patients ... and everyone in America and beyond. Bring on the Mozart!