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The White House whines, and Twitter crashes

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With this issue, The Interface is going on its annual summer vacation! My colleagues on The Verge's p
 
July 11 · Issue #356 · View online
The Interface
With this issue, The Interface is going on its annual summer vacation! My colleagues on The Verge’s policy desk tell me they may want to send out a bulletin or two while I’m away, so you may be hearing from them. I’ll be back July 29th.
At the White House today, amid much concern that conservative voices are being silenced by social media platforms, President Donald Trump (after a “morning of tweets [that] was off the rails, even by his standards”) stood before a group of activists to deliver a message of support. “Some of you are extraordinary,” the president said. “The crap you think of is unbelievable.”
Unfortunately, as we discussed here yesterday, the crap that conservative voices think of does not always reach the maximum possible audience. Sometimes conservatives do not appear as high as they would like to in search results. Sometimes they get suspended, or even banned. This has led to much conspiratorial thinking that liberal-leaning Silicon Valley is throttling their access in an effort to tip the scales of democracy.
Today, those conspiratorial thinkers gathered together to complain about how social platforms limit their reach, in a high-profile public event that was covered widely by much of the media. It culminated with the president saying he would soon bring representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter to the White House to berate them in person. Roberta Rampton and David Shepardson report:
At a meeting with conservative social media users at the White House, Trump said he would “be calling a big meeting of the companies in a week or two — they have to be here.”
Trump said he would invite members of U.S. Congress to the meeting, and added he may also invite conservative social media users. The White House declined to offer additional details.
Conservatives typically take great pains to protect the free market from undue interference from the government. But social networks are powerful enough that, in this case, Republicans intend to intervene.
What’s less clear is what that intervention might look like. The president’s remarks on the subject barely rise above the level of gibberish. (“To me free speech is not when you see something good and then you purposely write bad,” he said today. “To me that’s very dangerous speech, and you become angry at it. But that’s not free speech.”
Elsewhere, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) has proposed legislation that would require large social networks to treat every political opinion equally — which would be great news for Nazis. But even in such a world, feed-based platforms will still have to rank and recommend content — and many conservative complaints revolve around the fact that they do not always rank at the top.
And one person’s bias is another person’s personalization. Twitter said Thursday it would test the ability to let users in Canada hide replies to their tweets. How long before the first conservative Canadian politician complains that they have been shadowbanned when replying to a viral tweet?
The truth is that moderation is necessary for platforms to perform, and any platform that moderates post will always face accusations of bias. To see this you had to look only so far as … the social media summit itself. Attendees were required to submit questions in advance, leading Vox’s Jane Coaston to quip: “So their content is going to be moderated?” Meanwhile, a live stream of the event had comments disabled. “Why am I being deplatformed?” a joking Ashley Feinberg demanded.
So yes, the hypocrisy was thick at the White House today. But so was the comedy. For just as activists had assembled to complain about the unreliability of social platforms, Twitter took the opportunity to completely collapse. The service went down for an hour or so globally, the effect of a “configuration change,” a spokesman said.
While the president focuses on bias, social platforms like Twitter appear to have a more pressing concern: outages. Reddit also went down today; LinkedIn collapsed the day before; and Facebook and Instagram had day-long outages a week ago.
Over the past twelve months, the amount of downtime suffered by Facebook’s services has skyrocketed, data shared with Business Insider by outage-monitoring service Downdetector shows, contributing to frustration among the company’s 2.7 billion users around the world, who rely on Facebook’s services to do everything from communicate with their friends to support their businesses and put food on the table.
Instagram’s downtime over the first six months of 2019 has almost doubled compared to the same time period a year previously, jumping 90%. And for Facebook, the spike is even more severe — nearly quadrupling, hitting 281%.
I assume that all these glitches are unrelated — various security firms emailed to tell me that today’s Twitter outage in particular showed no signs of being an outside attack. And yet it’s hard for me not to anthropomorphize these platforms, looking around at all the crybabies whining that they don’t treat every single user exactly the same in every situation, and collapsing in frustration. A temporary, universal deplatforming is an increasingly serious matter, as I wrote here last week. But I’m sympathetic to any algorithm that observed today’s social media summit and wished that absolutely everyone would just shut up.

Pushback
On Tuesday I complained that by focusing on policy writing rather than enforcement, Twitter was fixing the wrong problem. A spokesman wrote in to say the policy change really was necessary — previously, its hate speech rules applied only to tweets targeted at individuals. So under the rules you could tweet “Protestants are scum,” for example, but not “Casey’s Protestant scum.” Now both are disallowed, and that seems like a good thing.
Democracy
France passes controversial tax on tech companies
The YouTube Candidate: How Joey Salads could meme his way into Congress
Bitcoin slides after Fed chair says Facebook’s cryptocurrency raises ‘serious concerns’
The tech industry is starting to doubt Facebook will be able to launch its Libra currency by 2020
How U.S. Tech Giants Are Helping to Build China’s Surveillance State
Chinese Tech Companies Are Coming for America’s Influencers
Elsewhere
Here’s How To Stop Data Companies From Targeting Ads At You On Facebook
Wildlife Traffickers Use Facebook, Instagram to Find Black-Market Buyers
Reddit’s ‘Manosphere’ and the Challenge of Quantifying Hate
Reply All: "Louder"
HQ Claims Player Violated Its Rules In Refusal To Pay Out $20K Jackpot
Twitter takes on diversity problem with new engineering apprenticeship program for women and minorities
Who’s Listening When You Talk to Your Google Assistant?
The Families Who Use Slack, Asana, Trello, and Jira
Launches
Google Is Making Yet Another Social Network With Shoelace
Takes
‘Love Island’ Is a Lesson in Surveillance
And finally ...
It Looks Like a Lake Made for Instagram. It’s a Dump for Chemical Waste.
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and recommendations for things to do in Seattle: casey@theverge.com.
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