There’s a battle brewing deep in the heart of Texas. And the enemy is decidedly Big Tech and social media.
As Aaron mentioned yesterday, Twitter filed a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton alleging that the Republican retaliated against the company for banning former President Trump from its service. On Wednesday, Paxton said his investigation will continue despite Twitter’s lawsuit.
In January, Paxton opened the investigation into Twitter, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple for their alleged discriminatory policies that silence conservative voices. “The seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President of the United States and several leading voices not only chills free speech, it wholly silences those whose speech and political beliefs do not align with leaders of Big Tech companies,” Paxton said in a statement announcing the investigation.
Meanwhile, last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott backed a state bill that aims to crack down on social media companies for what Republicans claim to be unfair censorship of conservative views. Senate Bill 12, introduced earlier this month, would prohibit social media services from discriminating against users in the state for their political views or their location.
But are these moves just political theatrics or meant to create change?
“It’s primarily stoking the fire,” said Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology. “They’re primarily trying again to cast social media as being left-leaning in an effort to make them more right-leaning.”
Dempsey said that Paxton’s legal argument is a “hard case to make” and that the state bill will likely come under heavy scrutiny as possibly being unconstitutional. But Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said often times state pressure can create a movement that eventually could impact federal law, as seems to be the current situation in regards to legalizing marijuana.
“The movement began state by state,” he said. “The sense among many federal legislators is look, this marijuana ban isn’t as popular as it was in the 80s. Maybe this something we should be revisiting.”
The bigger question, he says, is whether social media companies should be viewed like phone companies, which aren’t held liable for what their users say but also can’t pick who speaks on their service, or like newspaper publishers, which are able to choose what they publish but can also be held liable for what’s in their publication. “Some people think platforms get the best of both worlds,” he said.
Joshua Tucker, co-director of the Center for Social Media and Politics at New York University, said the Texas attacks on social media and Big Tech only pile on to the growing call for more regulation of tech companies.
“What’s ironic about what’s going on in Texas is you have Republican state legislators who are introducing a bill that will increase state intervention of private companies,” he said. “It cuts against the grain of general Republican dogma that government should stay out of private business affairs.”
Whether or not Texas is able to make headway with these new moves is anyone’s guess. But in terms of making a fuss, as the old saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas.
Facebook fights back. Facebook has issued its first formal response to an antitrust complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general last year. The company’s request: Throw out the case. Facebook says the government is attempting a “do-over” by challenging acquisitions the FTC previously approved. It also said that by filing an antitrust complaint, the government is sending a “dangerous” message that no sale is ever final. In their complaint, the FTC and states claimed that Facebook engaged in anticompetitive behavior to protect its monopoly and called for the company’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram to be unwound.
Apple rejects Parler … again. Apple recently denied conservative social media site Parler re-entry into its app store. The tech giant said that problematic posts containing swastikas, white nationalist imagery, and homophobic content remain on its site, according documents reviewed by Bloomberg. Apple originally booted Parler from its app store just days after the riot at the U.S. Capitol, claiming the service didn’t properly moderate violent and hateful posts. On Wednesday, the social media service cut seven workers, including three who were the company’s remaining iOS developers.
Bye, bye bullies. TikTok is trying to combat bullying on its social network with new tools aiming to reduce problematic comments. A new setting, when enabled, allows users to approve which comments are displayed on their videos. The company also introduced an alert that will pop up when the company’s systems detect that a user is trying to post a comment that may be “inappropriate or unkind.” Bullies beware.
Audio, it’s all the rage. Twitter’s newly launched audio chat rooms, which aim to compete with the ultra-buzzy social app Clubhouse, will soon be open to everyone. The company is expected to allow all users to host a Twitter Space beginning in April. At least that’s the goal, according to The Verge. But if the content on Twitter Spaces is anything like that on Twitter … we’re in for a wild ride.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Startups are hoping to help the growing number of YouTube and TikTok stars make more cash, while the fledgling companies cash in themselves. A burgeoning group of startups are giving fans and viewers of social media influencers the ability to purchase votes that ultimately decide everything from what the influencers eat, to what they do, to who they respond to on the services. Taylor Lorenz of The New York Times explores this new group of startups, who are creating a future that looks like something what came out of the dystopian Netflix series Black Mirror. She writes:
"As the market gets more and more competitive — and the platforms and their algorithms remain unreliable — creators are devising new, hyper-specific revenue streams.
One comes in the form of NewNew, a start-up in Los Angeles, that describes its product as creating a “human stock market.” On the app, fans pay to vote in polls to control some of a creator’s day-to-day decisions.
For example, a creator can use NewNew to post a poll asking which sweater they should wear today, or who they should hang out with and where they should go. Fans purchase voting power on NewNew’s platform to participate in the polls, and with enough voting power, they get to watch their favorite influencer live out their wishes, like a real life choose-your-own-adventure game."
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Roblox CEO’s net worth zooms to $4 billion after company’s hot market debut By Aaron Pressman
Why Roblox wants more than just the pre-teens By Lucinda Shen
Are your NFTs on the wrong blockchain? By David Z. Morris
A startlingly low number of remote workers want to go back to their office routine after the pandemic By Lance Lambert
Meet the computer that must survive ‘the shake, rattle, and roll’ of a space launch By Jackie Snow
(Some of these stories may require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)
BEFORE YOU GO
A recent New York Times story has the East and West Coasts divided over a very serious issue. The claim: Some of the best New York-style bagels now come from … drumroll … California.
Tejal Rao, the writer and a former New York City resident, claims that Boichik Bagels in Berkeley has the bagels to beat. Rao goes on to list a number of other California bakeries cooking up some of the tastiest bagels. The claim, unsurprisingly, ignited criticism and complaints from the East Coast.
“Lies. All Lies,” Wall Street reporter Carleton English tweeted in response.
“You done did it this time @nytimes,” tweeted a user named Sruffpuff212, who posted a screen shot of a cursor hovering over the cancel subscription link for The Times.
But in my opinion, Melissa Colorado, a Bay Area reporter from New York, has the winning take: “This calls for an investigation.” Indeed, Melissa. A tasty, tasty investigation.