With help from Leah Nylen
Editor’s Note: Morning Tech is a free version of POLITICO Pro Technology’s morning newsletter, which is delivered to our subscribers each morning at 6 a.m. The POLITICO Pro platform combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.
— Bullies’ slippery free speech slope: Instagram unveiled new plans this morning to crack down on bullying online. But how will the platform balance user protection and content moderation with notions of free expression?
— Eyeballs watching emoji: House Judiciary’s antitrust report on Big Tech may or may not come out today, but while Washington waits, POLITICO obtained a copy of Colorado Republican Ken Buck’s response — offering indication about what’s to come.
— Vatican vs. social media: In a new encyclical, Pope Francis warned that modern technology is manipulating democracies and trapping people in ideological echo chambers that spread hate and prevent healthy debate.
IT’S TUESDAY; WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine. Trump or Biden, what will tech policy look like in the next administration? I’m moderating a Brookings Institution panel today on exactly that — register here and join us.
Got a news tip? Write to Alexandra at [email protected], or follow along @Ali_Lev and @alexandra.levine. An event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. Anything else? Full team info below. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
AS INSTAGRAM FIGHTS THE BULLIES, WHERE DOES FREE SPEECH FIT? — In a highly politicized moment when public discourse often brings harassment or the threat of being cancelled, Instagram is taking fresh steps to combat bullying online.
— The Facebook-owned platform this morning announced new tools in the app — for both the bully and the bullied — focused on cleaning up the comments section. One feature will allow users to hide potentially offensive comments echoing others that have previously been reported; the other will more aggressively warn repeat offenders, in real-time, about the consequences of their behavior. (Those accounts could be deactivated, for example.) Those build on various anti-bullying measures rolled out by Instagram head Adam Mosseri over the last year.
— But where does tamping down on potentially offensive comments spill over into censorship, particularly when public figures want to remove comments that show them in a bad light?
— Some context: Cancel culture is not new, but it’s reached new levels during the coronavirus pandemic as Americans spend more time on social media. Look no further than F-Factor diet founder Tanya Zuckerbrot, who faced a deluge of criticism recently over the questionable safety and efficacy of health products she was marketing to her devoted following on Instagram; she was also accused of deleting comments from Instagram users posting negative reviews or claiming they’d been harmed by her supplements.
Influencer Arielle Charnas, blasted for flaunting her privilege during the pandemic, has also long been accused of deleting negative comments. Both accounts are now switched to private, despite Instagram’s requirement that verified handles remain public. Where does hiding or deleting comments cross the line from self-defense to censorship?
— “Getting that balance right is the crux of everything that we try to do at Instagram,” Instagram’s global head of policy programs, Carolyn Merrell, told MT in an interview, noting that Instagram will continue removing comments that violate its policies and that with the platform’s focus on protecting young people, there are going to be trade-offs.
“It also just speaks to the complexity of bullying,” she added. “I think we’ve done a great job with machine learning, but machine learning can only do so much… you see how nuanced it is and then how it evolves when different features come out.” Today’s announcement coincides with the start of National Bullying Prevention Month.
HOUSE ANTITRUST BOMBSHELL: WILL THEY OR WON’T THEY? — The House Judiciary’s antitrust report on Big Tech could come today. Or maybe not. A panel aide said Republicans offered Monday to negotiate some aspects of the report, the product of a 16-month bipartisan probe by the antitrust subcommittee. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) has said he hoped some GOP members might sign off on the final product. Meanwhile, Cristiano got a copy of Rep. Ken Buck’s response, which outlines which Dem proposals he supports, a list of maybes and what he called “non-starters.”
— Buck’s maybes: The Colorado Republican outlined seven proposals from the majority that he believes require “further study.” Four relate to monopolization (in antitrust-wonk-speak, Section 2 of the Sherman Act) and three to mergers (Clayton Act Section 7).
— On mergers: The proposals on mergers would presume that vertical mergers by dominant platforms are illegal; ban the Big Tech players from future acquisitions of start-ups or potential rivals; and establish bright line rules for mergers where a buyer has a market share of more than 40 percent, or a seller more than 20 percent.
— On monopolization: The four proposals on monopolization would make it easier to bring cases on monopoly leveraging — when a dominant company uses its power in one market to obtain advantages in a different market a la the EU’s Google Shopping case — and predatory pricing (selling products below cost to gain market share). Other proposals include overruling the Supreme Court’s American Express decision; reviving the concept of “essential facilities,” where a company is considered so important that rivals cannot do business without it; and questioning whether monopolists can justify their conduct as product improvements.
PATENT PROBLEMS: TECH GROUPS BACK FTC QUALCOMM REHEARING — ACT | The App Association and the Fair Standards Alliance — which counts Apple, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Cisco and T-Mobile as members — all urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Monday to take up the FTC’s antitrust case against Qualcomm for reconsideration before the full appeals court.
— The skinny: The antitrust agency is seeking a redo after a three-judge panel on the 9th Circuit overturned the FTC’s antitrust win over Qualcomm’s patent licensing practices. In amicus briefs filed Monday, the groups threw support behind the FTC on a rehearing in what a coalition of 46 economics and antitrust professors called “one of the most important antitrust cases of the 21st century.” Qualcomm hasn’t yet weighed in on the FTC’s request but likely will this month.
TECH QUOTE DU JOUR: POPE THROWS SOCIAL MEDIA SHADE — “Things that until a few years ago could not be said by anyone without risking the loss of universal respect can now be said with impunity, and in the crudest of terms, even by some political figures,” Pope Francis writes in a new encyclical. “Nor should we forget that ‘there are huge economic interests operating in the digital world… creating mechanisms for the manipulation of consciences and of the democratic process. The way many platforms work often ends up favouring encounter between persons who think alike, shielding them from debate. These closed circuits facilitate the spread of fake news and false information, fomenting prejudice and hate.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has a new pup, Ginger the Bulldog. … Melissa Newman, most recently the vice president of external affairs and senior legal counsel at Transit Wireless, will serve as vice president of government affairs for the Telecommunications Industry Association. … Michael Masserman, former head of global policy and social impact at Lyft, and Paul Ansah, former CEO of the advisory firm Answer Group, have joined Albright Stonebridge Group as senior advisor and senior vice president, respectively.
Tamera Reynolds, a senior partner and associate general counsel for the media investment company GroupM, and Audrey Trainor, data policy and governance manager of MediaMath, have joined the board of directors for the Network Advertising Initiative. … Jordan Schneider, creator and host of the ChinaTalk podcast and newsletter, has joined the Center for a New American Security’s technology and national security program as an adjunct fellow.
Back in the online conversation: Hydroxychloroquine, NYT reports.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected], @bkingdc), Heidi Vogt ([email protected], @HeidiVogt), Nancy Scola ([email protected], @nancyscola), Steven Overly ([email protected], @stevenoverly), John Hendel ([email protected], @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima ([email protected], @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected], @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen ([email protected], @leah_nylen).