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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Freedom of Speech and Expression"

Facebook Decisions Were ‘Setbacks for Civil Rights,’ Audit Finds

Westlake Legal Group 08facebookaudit-facebookJumbo Facebook Decisions Were ‘Setbacks for Civil Rights,’ Audit Finds Zuckerberg, Mark E Social Media Sandberg, Sheryl K Rumors and Misinformation Presidential Election of 2020 Freedom of Speech and Expression Facebook Inc discrimination Computers and the Internet Civil Rights and Liberties

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook has not done enough to fight discrimination on its platform and has made some decisions that were “significant setbacks for civil rights,” according to a new independent audit of the company’s policies and practices.

In a 100-page prepublication report, which was obtained by The New York Times, the social network was repeatedly faulted for not having the infrastructure for handling civil rights and for prioritizing free expression on its platform over nondiscrimination. In some decisions, Facebook did not seek civil rights expertise, the auditors said, potentially setting a “terrible” precedent that could affect the November general election and other speech issues.

“Many in the civil rights community have become disheartened, frustrated and angry after years of engagement where they implored the company to do more to advance equality and fight discrimination, while also safeguarding free expression,” wrote the auditors, Laura W. Murphy and Megan Cacace, who are civil rights experts and lawyers. They said they had “vigorously advocated for more and would have liked to see the company go further to address civil rights concerns in a host of areas.”

The report, which was the culmination of two years of examination of the social network, was another blow for the Silicon Valley company. Facebook has been under pressure for allowing hate speech, misinformation and other content that can go against people’s civil rights to fester on its site. While rivals like Twitter, Snap and Reddit have all taken action in recent weeks to label, downplay or ban such content, Facebook has said it will not do so because it believes in free speech.

That has spurred civil rights groups to organize a “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign aimed against the social media company. More than 300 advertisers like Coca-Cola and North Face recently agreed to pause their spending on Facebook because it had failed to curtail the spread of hate speech and misinformation on its platform.

On Tuesday, civil rights leaders met with Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, and chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, with 10 demands, including appointing a civil rights executive. But those who attended said the Facebook executives did not agree to many of their requests and instead spouted “spin.”

Facebook’s executives had previously pointed to the civil rights audit as a sign that the company was seriously grappling with what was on its site.

In a statement on Wednesday about the audit, Ms. Sandberg said the report was “the beginning of the journey, not the end.” She added: “What has become increasingly clear is that we have a long way to go. As hard as it has been to have our shortcomings exposed by experts, it has undoubtedly been a really important process for our company.”

In the report, the auditors credited Facebook for making progress on some issues, including increasing hiring of in-house civil rights experts over the past two years. Mr. Zuckerberg had also personally committed to building products that “advance racial justice,” the report said.

But the report was critical of Facebook’s handling of speech — particularly speech from politicians — and the effects on users. The auditors said Facebook had been too willing to exempt politicians from abiding by its rules, allowing them to spread misinformation, harmful and divisive rhetoric, and even calls to violence.

The auditors said their concerns had increased over the past nine months because of decisions made by Mr. Zuckerberg and Nick Clegg, Facebook’s global head of policy and communications.

Their concerns were exacerbated last fall, when Mr. Zuckerberg delivered a speech at Georgetown University about his commitment to protecting free speech at all costs. Since then, the report noted, Facebook had refused to take down inflammatory posts from President Trump and had allowed untruthful political ads to be circulated.

“Elevating free expression is a good thing, but it should apply to everyone,” the auditors wrote. “When it means that powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules that everyone else does, a hierarchy of speech is created that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices.”

They added, “The prioritization of free expression over all other values, such as equality and nondiscrimination, is deeply troubling.”

In a series of recommendations, the auditors said Facebook needed to build a more robust civil rights infrastructure. They added that Facebook needed to be consistent in its policies and its enforcement, including “more concrete action and specific commitments to take steps to address concerns about algorithmic bias or discrimination.”

Facebook has pledged to make some commitments in response to the audit. In the report, the company said it would create a role for a senior vice president of civil rights leadership that will report up through the legal department and ultimately to Ms. Sandberg. Facebook also promised to develop new internal processes that support the civil rights of users, across its product and policy teams.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

TikTok to Withdraw From Hong Kong as Tech Giants Halt Data Requests

Westlake Legal Group merlin_174186102_b2707e58-d1fc-458c-88be-99a8b38b96c9-facebookJumbo TikTok to Withdraw From Hong Kong as Tech Giants Halt Data Requests WhatsApp Inc Telegram LLC Social Media Politics and Government Human Rights and Human Rights Violations Hong Kong Freedom of Speech and Expression Facebook Inc Computers and the Internet Computer Security

Google, Facebook and Twitter said on Monday that they would temporarily stop processing Hong Kong government requests for user data as the companies reviewed a sweeping national security law that has chilled political expression in the city.

The companies said they were still assessing the law, which has already been used to arrest people who have called for Hong Kong independence. Facebook said its review would include human rights considerations.

The surprising consensus from the rival American internet giants, which each used similar language in each statement, was a rare public questioning of Chinese policy. It was also a stark illustration of the deep quandaries the companies face with the sweeping, punitive law.

TikTok went even further than the American companies on Monday, saying it would withdraw its app from stores in Hong Kong and make the app inoperable to users there within a few days.

The video app is owned by the Chinese internet giant ByteDance but is not available in mainland China. TikTok has said that managers outside China call the shots on key aspects of its business, including rules about content.

Late Monday, Hong Kong released new rules that give the police powers to take down internet posts and punish internet companies that do not comply with data requests. The new rules explicitly give the authorities the ability to jail employees at internet companies if the firms do not comply with requests for user data. Because the new rules apply across the world, they open up the prospect of tech companies having to choose between releasing data on people writing from places like the United States or face a six-month jail sentence for an employee.

The American companies did not say whether they would ultimately decide to cooperate with parts of the law, just that they had temporarily stopped fielding government requests as they decided. What they decide and the ensuing legal challenges from Hong Kong’s government will most likely chart a course for the future of internet freedoms in the city, where the web has not been tightly censored as it has in mainland China. Many fear the law could lead to suffocating new controls like those in China, where Facebook, Twitter and Google are all blocked.

The companies have much to lose. Despite the blocks, Google, Facebook and Twitter have large advertising businesses in the country.

“We are pausing the review of government requests for user data from Hong Kong pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts,” Facebook wrote in a statement.

“We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions,” the statement added. The suspension of data reviews also applies to the messaging app WhatsApp, the company said.

On Monday, a Google spokesman said the company had paused processing data requests from the Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday, and Twitter said it had also stopped processing the requests. Telegram, a messaging app popular with Hong Kong’s protesters, said on Sunday that it would suspend the provision of user data until a consensus was reached on the new law. Telegram has offices in the Middle East and Europe.

The national security law, adopted in part to quash the antigovernment demonstrations that have smoldered in Hong Kong for more than a year, was introduced last week on the anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese control. Though officials insist that the sweeping and punitive new rules will affect only a small number of offenders, many worry that it will be used to widely curb dissent in Hong Kong, which, unlike mainland China, continues to have an array of civil liberties.

Riva Sciuto, a Google spokeswoman, said, “Last Wednesday, when the law took effect, we paused production on any new data requests from Hong Kong authorities, and we’ll continue to review the details of the new law.”

The law has already cast a pall over the city’s internet. Seeking safer ways to communicate, legions have downloaded the encrypted messaging app Signal, pushing it to the top of the list of app store downloads. Others, fearing prosecution for speech crimes, have deleted online posts, likes and even whole accounts.

The new rules announced by Hong Kong on Monday made clearer how the law would apply to online discussion.

The government said that if an internet company failed to comply with a court order to turn over data in cases related to national security, it could be fined almost $13,000 and an employee could face six months in prison. If a person is ordered to remove a post and he or she refuses, that person can face a jail sentence of one year. A separate provision also gave the police wide powers to order the deletion of internet posts that threaten national security. How widely the rules will be enforced remains unclear.

The rules leave internet giants like Facebook in a tricky place. The companies regularly provide user data to local law enforcement, yet the vaguely written national security law has criminalized certain types of political speech and branded some forms of vandalism terror crimes.

Going along with the law may be unpopular in the United States, where it has received bipartisan condemnation. Yet, standing up against it could raise the ire of Beijing, hurt companies’ bottom lines and put local employees at risk.

Daisuke Wakabayashi contributed reporting from Oakland, Calif.; Mike Isaac from San Francisco; and Raymond Zhong from Taipei, Taiwan.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Google, Facebook and Twitter Stop Hong Kong Data Requests

Westlake Legal Group google-facebook-and-twitter-stop-hong-kong-data-requests Google, Facebook and Twitter Stop Hong Kong Data Requests WhatsApp Inc Telegram LLC Social Media Politics and Government Human Rights and Human Rights Violations Hong Kong Freedom of Speech and Expression Facebook Inc Computers and the Internet Computer Security
Westlake Legal Group merlin_174186102_b2707e58-d1fc-458c-88be-99a8b38b96c9-facebookJumbo Google, Facebook and Twitter Stop Hong Kong Data Requests WhatsApp Inc Telegram LLC Social Media Politics and Government Human Rights and Human Rights Violations Hong Kong Freedom of Speech and Expression Facebook Inc Computers and the Internet Computer Security

Google, Facebook and Twitter said on Monday that they would temporarily stop processing Hong Kong government requests for user data as the companies reviewed a sweeping national security law that has chilled political expression in the city.

The companies said they were still assessing the law, which has already been used to arrest people who have called for Hong Kong independence. Facebook said its review would include human rights considerations.

The surprising consensus from the rival American internet giants, which each used similar language in each statement, was a rare public questioning of Chinese policy. It was also a stark illustration of the deep quandaries the companies face with the sweeping, punitive law.

Late Monday, Hong Kong released new rules that give the police powers to take down internet posts and punish internet companies that do not comply with data requests. The new rules explicitly give the authorities the ability to jail employees at internet companies if the firms do not comply with requests for user data. Because the new rules apply across the world, they open up the prospect of tech companies having to choose between releasing data on people writing from places like the United States or face a six-month jail sentence for an employee.

The companies did not say whether they would ultimately decide to cooperate with parts of the law, just that they had temporarily stopped fielding government requests as they decided. What they decide and the ensuing legal challenges from Hong Kong’s government will most likely chart a course for the future of internet freedoms in the city, where the web has not been tightly censored as it has in mainland China. Many fear the law could lead to suffocating new controls like those in China, where Facebook, Twitter and Google are all blocked.

The companies have much to lose. Despite the blocks, Google, Facebook and Twitter have large advertising businesses in the country.

“We are pausing the review of government requests for user data from Hong Kong pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts,” Facebook wrote in a statement.

“We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions,” the statement added. The suspension of data reviews also applies to the messaging app WhatsApp, the company said.

On Monday, a Google spokesman said the company had paused processing data requests from the Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday, and Twitter said it had also stopped processing the requests. Telegram, a messaging app popular with Hong Kong’s protesters, said on Sunday that it would suspend the provision of user data until a consensus was reached on the new law. Telegram has offices in the Middle East and Europe.

The national security law, adopted in part to quash the antigovernment demonstrations that have smoldered in Hong Kong for more than a year, was introduced last week on the anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese control. Though officials insist that the sweeping and punitive new rules will affect only a small number of offenders, many worry that it will be used to widely curb dissent in Hong Kong, which, unlike mainland China, continues to have an array of civil liberties.

Riva Sciuto, a Google spokeswoman, said, “Last Wednesday, when the law took effect, we paused production on any new data requests from Hong Kong authorities, and we’ll continue to review the details of the new law.”

The law has already cast a pall over the city’s internet. Seeking safer ways to communicate, legions have downloaded the encrypted messaging app Signal, pushing it to the top of the list of app store downloads. Others, fearing prosecution for speech crimes, have deleted online posts, likes and even whole accounts.

The new rules announced by Hong Kong on Monday made clearer how the law would apply to online discussion.

The government said that if an internet company failed to comply with a court order to turn over data in cases related to national security, it could be fined almost $13,000 and an employee could face six months in prison. If a person is ordered to remove a post and he or she refuses, that person can face a jail sentence of one year. A separate provision also gave the police wide powers to order the deletion of internet posts that threaten national security. How widely the rules will be enforced remains unclear.

The rules leave internet giants like Facebook in a tricky place. The companies regularly provide user data to local law enforcement, yet the vaguely written national security law has criminalized certain types of political speech and branded some forms of vandalism terror crimes.

Going along with the law may be unpopular in the United States, where it has received bipartisan condemnation. Yet, standing up against it could raise the ire of Beijing, hurt companies’ bottom lines and put local employees at risk.

Daisuke Wakabayashi contributed reporting from Oakland, Calif., and Mike Isaac from San Francisco.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Facebook Temporarily Stops Hong Kong Data Requests

Westlake Legal Group merlin_174186102_b2707e58-d1fc-458c-88be-99a8b38b96c9-facebookJumbo Facebook Temporarily Stops Hong Kong Data Requests WhatsApp Inc Telegram LLC Social Media Politics and Government Human Rights and Human Rights Violations Hong Kong Freedom of Speech and Expression Facebook Inc Computers and the Internet Computer Security

Facebook said on Monday that it would temporarily stop processing Hong Kong government requests for user data as the company reviews a sweeping national security law that has chilled political expression in the city.

The social network’s assessment of the law, which has already been used to arrest people who have called for Hong Kong independence, would include human rights considerations, the company said.

The Facebook decision is a rare public questioning of Chinese policy by a large American internet company, and it raises questions about how the security law will be applied online in Hong Kong, where the internet is not censored as it is in the rest of China. Although the social network may ultimately decide to cooperate with some forms of the law, the expression of uncertainty alone is likely to raise hackles in Beijing.

Late Monday, Hong Kong released new rules that give the police powers to take down internet posts and punish internet companies that do not comply with data requests.

Facebook’s move underscores the awkward position of American tech giants, which are blocked in mainland China but have large advertising businesses in the country. On Monday, a Google spokesman said the company paused processing data requests from Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday, and Twitter said it had also stopped processing the requests.

Telegram, a messaging app popular with Hong Kong’s protesters, said on Sunday that it would suspend the provision of user data until a consensus was reached on the new law. Telegram has offices in the Middle East and Europe.

The national security law, adopted in part to quash the antigovernment demonstrations that have smoldered in Hong Kong for more than a year, was introduced last week on the anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese control. Though officials insist that the sweeping and punitive new rules will affect only a small number of offenders, many worry that it will be used to widely curb dissent in Hong Kong, which, unlike mainland China, continues to enjoy an array of civil liberties.

“We are pausing the review of government requests for user data from Hong Kong pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts,” Facebook wrote in a statement.

“We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions,” the statement added. The suspension of data reviews also applies to the messaging app WhatsApp, the company said.

Riva Sciuto, a Google spokeswoman, said, “Last Wednesday, when the law took effect, we paused production on any new data requests from Hong Kong authorities, and we’ll continue to review the details of the new law.”

The law has already cast a pall over the city’s internet. Seeking safer ways to communicate, legions have downloaded the encrypted messaging app Signal, pushing it to the top of app store download lists. Others, fearing prosecution for speech crimes, have deleted online posts, likes and even whole accounts.

The new rules announced by Hong Kong on Monday made clearer how the law will apply to online discussion.

The government said that if an internet company failed to comply with a court order to turn over data in cases related to national security, it could be fined almost $13,000 and an employee could face six months in prison. If a person is ordered to remove a post and he or she refuses, that person can face a jail sentence of one year. A separate provision also gave the police wide powers to order the deletion of internet posts that threaten national security. How widely the rules will be enforced remains unclear.

The rules leave internet giants like Facebook in a tricky place. The companies regularly provide user data to local law enforcement, yet the vaguely written national security law has criminalized certain types of political speech and branded some forms of vandalism terror crimes.

Going along with the law may be unpopular in the United States, where it has received bipartisan condemnation. Yet standing up against it could raise the ire of Beijing, hurt companies’ bottom lines and put local employees at risk.

Daisuke Wakabayashi contributed reporting from Oakland, Calif., and Mike Isaac from San Francisco.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Reddit’s Steve Huffman on Banning ‘The_Donald’ Subreddit

Westlake Legal Group 30ROOSE-facebookJumbo Reddit's Steve Huffman on Banning ‘The_Donald’ Subreddit United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Social Media Reddit Inc Huffman, Steve (1983- ) Hate Crimes Freedom of Speech and Expression Computers and the Internet Advertising and Marketing

On Monday, Reddit — a site that for years was considered one of the internet’s dirtiest sludge pits — barred more than 2,000 communities as part of a broad crackdown on hate speech.

The crackdown’s most notable casualty was Reddit’s largest pro-Trump community, r/The_Donald. The group, which had nearly 800,000 subscribers, served as a virtual gathering place for President Trump’s fans, and a source of countless memes, slogans and conspiracy theories that made their way into the broader online conversation. (In more recent years, it had devolved into a cesspool of racism, violent threats and targeted harassment.)

These actions were a major shift for Reddit, which spent years resisting the idea of moderating users’ posts and refused to remove all but the worst content on its platform. Steve Huffman, Reddit’s co-founder and chief executive since 2015, when he returned to the company after six years away, has faced pressure to reckon with the site’s legacy of bigotry. This year, hundreds of Reddit moderators signed an open letter to Mr. Huffman and Reddit’s board demanding changes to the site’s policies.

On Monday, after the bans were announced, I interviewed Mr. Huffman about the decision to take down The_Donald and many other subreddits. These are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Can you explain, in the most succinct way possible, why you decided to take down these subreddits?

STEVE HUFFMAN Yes. We updated our content policy to add an explicit rule banning hate on Reddit, which has long been an implicit rule, somewhat by design. But not being explicit about it, I think, has caused all sorts of confusion over the years. And so we updated the rule.

And then any time we make a rule change, we evaluate communities against the rule change. And so, as a result, there were a number of communities we ended up banning.

A few weeks ago, you wrote a letter to your employees about Black Lives Matter and where Reddit stood on issues like hate and racism. How much do you think the political climate and the protests and the kind of reckoning we’re seeing played into this decision?

The current events certainly added more urgency to it. Now, that said, we’ve been working on an update to our content policy for quite some time, and we had a sense of where the gaps were, and the rough patches.

A few years ago, you were asked about banning The_Donald specifically, and you said “there are arguments on both sides, but ultimately, my view is that their anger comes from feeling like they don’t have a voice, so it won’t solve anything if I take away their voice.” What changed?

So The_Donald is complex, and I think reducing that community or any large political group to one thing or one viewpoint is impossible. One aspect of The_Donald is that it’s a very large political community that, at one point in time, represented the views of many Americans. Political speech is sacred in this country, and we applied that to Reddit as well.

At the same time, that community had rule-breaking content — content that was harassing or violence or bullying. And so our strategy has been to try to get that community to come in line with our content policies. We made moderator changes, different technical changes to try to bring The_Donald into line, some more successful than others, but ultimately not to the extent that we needed.

Something I’ve said many times is that the only way to scale moderation online is by working alongside our community members and the moderators, because they have the context to decide whether an individual piece of content is hateful or not, for example. Which means that if we don’t have agreement from our moderators and our communities that these are the rules that we’re all going to abide by, then a community that’s not willing to work with us has no place on Reddit. And I think that became abundantly clear with The_Donald over the years, and even the past few months.

Right now, Facebook is facing an advertiser boycott — companies pulling their ads in protest of the company’s policies and their failures to keep misinformation and hate speech off the platform. Reddit also has advertisers, who presumably have some of the same concerns. Was this a business decision?

No, although, of course, what you say is true — we have advertisers who care about these things. But this was a decision — a series of decisions, really — to make Reddit better.

The mission of Reddit is to bring community and belonging to everybody in the world. And we’ve long had this debate on Reddit and internally, weighing the trade-offs between speech and safety. There’s certain speech — for example, harassment and hate — that prevents other people from speaking. And if we have individuals and communities on Reddit that are preventing other people from using Reddit the way we intend, then that means they’re working directly against our mission.

In a call this week, you said something about how you were struggling to balance your values as an American with your values around human decency. Can you explain more what you meant by that?

I think this is something that a lot of people in the United States are going through right now.

When we started Reddit 15 years ago, we didn’t ban things. And it was easy, as it is for many young people, to make statements like that because: 1) I had more rigid political beliefs; and 2) I lacked perspective and real-world experience.

Over the years, we’ve been increasingly confronted with difficult decisions, and we have to weigh these trade-offs. And so here we are, believing that free speech and free expression are really important, and that’s one of the things that makes Reddit special, but at the same time, seeing that allowing everything is working against our mission.

The way out, for us, has been through our mission: What are we trying to accomplish on Reddit? And what’s the best path to get there?

You used to joke that you were Reddit’s “totally politically neutral C.E.O.” For a long time, it seemed like neutrality was sort of the aspirational goal of being a social media platform. And now it seems like a lot of platform leaders, you included, are admitting that that’s not a good goal, or at least not one that produces good outcomes. Do you think the era of the neutral platform is over?

I’m going to reject that statement just a little bit, in that banning hate and violence and bullying and harassment is less a political statement and more a statement of what are largely common values in this country. And there’s certainly the political debate over how far free speech should go. But just as in the United States, there’s no such thing as unfettered free speech, there are limits. And I will point out that the Supreme Court has also wrestled with this over hundreds of years, because these are really challenging debates.

I’m baiting you a little bit, so don’t ask the obvious follow-up question, but … although I have political views, they don’t surface through Reddit. And nobody, in all of my years on Reddit, has actually asked me my political views.

Well, OK What are your political views?

You’d have to give me a specific case. But I think my previous point stands, which is that working in service of our mission is not a hot take. Banning harassment is not a hot take.

But in today’s political environment, even saying something like “Black Lives Matter” places you on one side of a cultural divide and political divide. So how do you think about the fact that even if you don’t mean for these to be partisan decisions, people will interpret them as such?

You know, I think the answer is in your question. I think making statements, or making changes to our policies in the name of human decency, may be perceived as political statements. But for us, it’s doing the right thing and doing the practical thing.

In the past couple of weeks, the President has threatened to revoke legal protections for online companies, and he’s gone after Snapchat and Twitter and other platforms that have taken action against him. Are you worried about becoming a target of the president and his allies?

Well, I believe the latest thing through the Department of Justice was demanding that these platforms consistently enforce their terms of service. And so we are simply doing what he asked by enforcing our own terms of service.

I’m sure that will be a satisfactory answer to everyone in the Trump administration.

[Laughs] I think we’re good, right?

One thing that was said about social media for a long time, and that some platforms are still saying, is that social media is just a mirror for society. Like, the problems that exist on social media are just a reflection of the problems that exist in society, and the good things are a reflection as well. Do you think that analogy still holds?

Yes, but let me expand on that a little bit.

So when one looks into a mirror, the first thing they do is they see themselves. And the second thing they do is they fix their appearance. They brush their hair a little bit, or whatever. Mirrors aren’t one way, in that sense. It’s an opportunity to see what we really look like and decide, is that what we really want to be?

Nilay Patel, the editor in chief of The Verge, had an interesting tweet. The conversation was all about the political and legal and financial reasons that platforms might want to crack down on objectionable speech. And he said, “sometimes the answer is as simple as people looking at the thing that they’ve made and deciding that they would like to be more proud of it than they are.” Does that resonate with you?

It does. And to be honest, I’ve said those words at Reddit. When I came back my first day of 2015, I told the company “one of my goals is for you to be proud to work here.” Because back then, the company was not in a good place. The people who worked at Reddit simultaneously loved Reddit — you wouldn’t be at Reddit in 2015 unless you loved Reddit — and were not willing to wear their swag in public.

Like, their Reddit sweatshirts and T-shirts?

Precisely. And that made me sad. It’s, I think, a very natural human thing to want to make the world a better place. I know those words are cheap in this town, but some of us believe it.

Your general counsel said on Monday that there’s a place for President Trump on Reddit. But given how the president has been testing the limits and rules of all the platforms that he’s on, and creating all these headaches for their leaders, do you really want Mr. Trump on Reddit?

Look, nobody wants to be in an echo chamber, right? It’s boring and unhelpful to read a one-sided view of any issue. So we welcome political views across the spectrum. I think Trump’s rhetoric and campaign style is deliberately antagonistic, and that makes it easy to run afoul of our policies. But we have many conservatives on Reddit, and we have Trump supporters on Reddit who are perfectly capable of staying within our rules. And we hope that continues to be the case going forward.

Your co-founder Alexis Ohanian recently stepped down from Reddit’s board, saying that he wanted to make space for a Black board member. And when he made that announcement, he said that part of the reason that he did that was so that he’d have an answer when his daughter asked, “What did you do?” I don’t think you have kids, but when you’re making decisions like these, how much are you thinking about how future generations will look back on Reddit?

You know, when I look back on this time, and — hopefully — if I get to tell my kids about it, I can say that I didn’t quit, I was a part of this, and I did everything I could to stand up for my and our values, even though at times it’s very difficult.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The Complex Debate Over Silicon Valley’s Embrace of Content Moderation

Westlake Legal Group the-complex-debate-over-silicon-valleys-embrace-of-content-moderation The Complex Debate Over Silicon Valley’s Embrace of Content Moderation twitter Trump, Donald J Social Media Rumors and Misinformation Reddit Inc Google Inc Freedom of Speech and Expression Facebook Inc Executive Orders and Memorandums Computers and the Internet

The existential question that every big tech platform from Twitter to Google to Facebook has to wrestle with is the same: How responsible should it act for the content that people post?

The answer that Silicon Valley has come up with for decades is: Less is more. But now, as protests of police brutality continue across the country, many in the tech industry are questioning the wisdom of letting all flowers bloom online.

After years of leaving President Trump’s tweets alone, Twitter has taken a more aggressive approach in recent days, in several cases adding fact checks and marks indicating the president’s tweets were misleading or glorified violence. Many Facebook employees want their company to do the same, though the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said he was against it. And Snapchat said on Wednesday that it had stopped promoting Mr. Trump’s content on its main Discover page.

In the midst of this notable shift, some civil libertarians are raising a question in an already complicated debate: Any move to moderate content more proactively could eventually be used against speech loved by the people now calling for intervention.

“It comes from this drive to be protected — this belief that it’s a platform’s role to protect us from that which may harm or offend us,” said Suzanne Nossel, the head of PEN America, a free-speech advocacy organization. “And if that means granting them greater authority, then that’s worth it if that means protecting people,” she added, summarizing the argument. “But people are losing sight of the risk.”

Civil libertarians caution that adding warning labels or additional context to posts raises a range of issues — issues that tech companies until recently had wanted to avoid. New rules often backfire. Fact checks and context, no matter how sober or accurate they are, can be perceived as politically biased. More proactive moderation by the platforms could threaten their special protected legal status. And intervention goes against the apolitical self-image that some in the tech world have.

But after years of shrugging off concerns that content on social media platforms leads to harassment and violence, many in Silicon Valley appear willing to accept the risks associated with shutting down bad behavior — even from world leaders.

“Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves,” Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, wrote.

A group of early Facebook employees wrote a letter on Wednesday denouncing Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision not to act on Mr. Trump’s content. “Fact-checking is not censorship. Labeling a call to violence is not authoritarianism,” they wrote, adding: “Facebook isn’t neutral, and it never has been.”

Timothy J. Aveni, a Facebook employee, wrote in a separate letter that he was resigning and said: “Facebook is providing a platform that enables politicians to radicalize individuals and glorify violence.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_125996321_e0a62035-70a8-4a0a-ae9b-d31b8d0973b3-articleLarge The Complex Debate Over Silicon Valley’s Embrace of Content Moderation twitter Trump, Donald J Social Media Rumors and Misinformation Reddit Inc Google Inc Freedom of Speech and Expression Facebook Inc Executive Orders and Memorandums Computers and the Internet
Credit…Brian Flaherty for The New York Times

Ellen Pao, once the head of Reddit, the freewheeling message board, publicly rebuked her former company. She said it was hypocritical for Reddit’s leader to signal support for the Black Lives Matter movement, as he recently did in a memo, since he had left up the main Trump fan page, The_Donald, where inflammatory memes often circulate.

“You should have shut down the_donald instead of amplifying it and its hate, racism, and violence,” Ms. Pao wrote on Twitter. “So much of what is happening now lies at your feet. You don’t get to say BLM when reddit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long.”

A hands-off approach by the companies has allowed harassment and abuse to proliferate online, Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University and a First Amendment scholar, said last week. So now the companies, he said, have to grapple with how to moderate content and take more responsibility, without losing their legal protections.

“These platforms have achieved incredible power and influence,” Mr. Bollinger said, adding that moderation was a necessary response. “There’s a greater risk to American democracy in allowing unbridled speech on these private platforms.”

Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, shields tech platforms from being held liable for the third-party content that circulates on them. But taking a firmer hand to what appears on their platforms could endanger that protection, most of all, for political reasons.

One of the few things that Democrats and Republicans in Washington agree on is that changes to Section 230 are on the table. Mr. Trump issued an executive order calling for changes to it after Twitter added labels to some of his tweets. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has also called for changes to Section 230.

“You repeal this and then we’re in a different world,” said Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston. “Once you repeal Section 230, you’re now left with 51 imperfect solutions.”

Mr. Blackman said he was shocked that so many liberals — especially inside the tech industry — were applauding Twitter’s decision. “What happens to your enemies will happen to you eventually,” he said. “If you give these entities power to shut people down, it will be you one day.”

Brandon Borrman, a spokesman for Twitter, said the company was “focused on helping conversation continue by providing additional context where it’s needed.” A spokeswoman for Snap, Rachel Racusen, said the company “will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover.” Facebook and Reddit declined to comment.

Tech companies have historically been wary of imposing editorial judgment, lest they have to act more like a newspaper.

It is complicated when Mr. Dorsey begins doing that at Twitter. Does that mean a person who is now libeled on the site and asks for a fact check gets one? And if the person doesn’t, is that grounds for a lawsuit?

The circumstances around fact checks and added context can quickly turn political, the free-speech activists said. Which tweets should be fact-checked? Who does that fact-checking? Which get added context? What is the context that’s added? And once you have a full team doing fact-checking and adding context, what makes that different from a newsroom?

“The idea that you would delegate to a Silicon Valley board room or a bunch of content moderators at the equivalent of a customer service center the power to arbitrate our landscape of speech is very worrying,” Ms. Nossel said.

There has long been a philosophical rationale for the hands-off approach still embraced by Mr. Zuckerberg. Many in tech, especially the early creators of the social media sites, embraced a near-absolutist approach to free speech. Perhaps because they knew the power of what they were building, they did not trust themselves to decide what should go on it.

Of course, the companies already do moderate to some extent. They block nudity and remove child pornography. They work to limit doxxing — when someone’s phone number and address is shared without consent. And promoting violence is out of bounds.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

They have rules that would bar regular people from saying what Mr. Trump and other political figures say. Yet they did not do anything to mark the president’s recent false tweets about the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. They did do something — a label, though not a deletion — when Mr. Trump strayed into areas that Twitter has staked out: election misinformation and violence.

Many of the rules that Twitter used to tag Mr. Trump’s tweets have existed for years but were rarely applied to political figures. Critics like the head of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, have pointed out, for example, that the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has a Twitter account that remains unchecked.

“What does and does not incite violence is often in the eyes of the reader, and historically it has been used to silence progressive antiracist protest leaders,” said Nadine Strossen, a former head of the American Civil Liberties Union and an emerita law professor at New York University.

“I looked at Twitter’s definition of inciting violence, and it was something like it could risk creating violence,” she added. “Oh? Well, I think that covers a lot of speech, including antigovernment demonstrators.”

Corynne McSherry, the legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that defends free speech online, said people could be worried about Mr. Trump’s executive order targeting Twitter “without celebrating Twitter’s choices here.”

“I’m worried about both,” she said.

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Beijing Threatens Hong Kong’s Companies and Workers

HONG KONG — China and its allies are using threats and pressure to get business to back Beijing’s increasingly hard-line stance toward Hong Kong, leading companies to muzzle or intimidate workers who speak out in protest.

Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s former top leader, on Friday called for a boycott of HSBC, the London bank, because it had not publicly backed Beijing’s push to enact a new national security law covering the territory. “Neither China nor Hong Kong owes HSBC anything,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “HSBC’s businesses in China can be replaced overnight by banks from China and from other countries.”

Days earlier, a union representing financial workers filed complaints with Hong Kong financial regulators alleging that two Chinese banks had pressured their employees to sign a petition supporting the law. “Such behavior by a supervisor to compel employees to take political sides could be considered abusive,” the union wrote in letters to local officials.

Lawyers, bankers, professors and other professionals interviewed by The New York Times described a growing culture of fear in offices across the city. Employees face pressure to support pro-Beijing candidates in local elections and echo the Chinese government’s official line. Those who speak out can be punished or even forced out.

China and the United States are clashing over the future of Hong Kong, and global businesses are caught in the middle. President Trump on Friday said he would begin rolling back the special trade and financial privileges that the United States extends to Hong Kong after Chinese leaders pushed through the plan to enact the national security law, which critics fear will curtail the city’s independent judicial system and civil liberties.

Hong Kong’s success as a global financial hub stems from its status as a bridge between China’s economic miracle and the rest of the world. Now that balance is looking increasingly precarious.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_167620722_94931d10-3153-4573-9427-a26524456ee3-articleLarge Beijing Threatens Hong Kong's Companies and Workers Politics and Government Hong Kong Protests (2019) Hong Kong Freedom of the Press Freedom of Speech and Expression Demonstrations, Protests and Riots Courts and the Judiciary China Boycotts Banking and Financial Institutions
Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

“We’ve seen a rapid deterioration in free expression in Hong Kong since the anti-government protests began,” said Jason Ng, a former lawyer for BNP Paribas, the French bank.


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    Understand the Current Hong Kong Protests

    Updated May 27, 2020

    • Where we left off

      In the summer of 2019, Hong Kong protesters began fighting a rule that would allow extraditions to China. These protests eventually broadened to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy from China. The protests wound down when pro-democracy candidates notched a stunning victory in Hong Kong elections in November, in what was seen as a pointed rebuke of Beijing and its allies in Hong Kong.

      Late in 2019, the protests then quieted.

    • How it’s different this time

      Those peaceful mass rallies that occurred in June of 2019 were pointed against the territory leadership of Hong Kong. Later, they devolved into often-violent clashes between some protesters and police officers and lasted through November 2019. The current protests are aimed at mainland China.

    • What’s happening now

      This latest round of demonstrations in Hong Kong has been fueled largely by China’s ruling Communist Party move this month to impose new national security legislation for Hong Kong.

      To China, the rules are necessary to protect the country’s national sovereignty. To critics, they further erode the relative autonomy granted to the territory after Britain handed it back to China in 1997.


Mr. Ng was punished by his former employer for writing his political views on his Facebook page, using the phrase “monkey see, monkey do” to complain about pro-Chinese demonstrators. The comments, which were later taken down, were heavily criticized in China’s state media and on the Chinese internet. BNP apologized and pledged to take immediate action. Mr. Ng then left the bank.

“There is this awful environment now,” said Mr. Ng, who has co-authored a book about the pressure in Hong Kong called “Unfree Speech.” “The whole banking industry, at least Chinese-funded banks, they face quite a lot of pressure from China.”

Something similar happened to Ka-chung Law, a high-profile economist at Bank of Communications, a state-backed Chinese bank. For two decades, Mr. Law said he never felt any topic was off limits.

Last summer, as violence flared, Mr. Law was told not to talk about the role that the political chaos was having on the local economy. It was a difficult proposition. He could see it was having a direct impact.

Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Then in early October, Mr. Law said, he emailed an article to his team that was critical of China and discussed ways in which the United States could punish Beijing economically. One of his bosses called him in.

The bank distanced itself from the article. Mr. Law’s note had come from his work email, therefore implicating the bank. “That day I was told, ‘This is your view,’” he said. “I was not the author of the article, but I didn’t want to argue.”

Mr. Law said he was told to resign. He did. “I don’t want to stay in that kind of environment,” he said, “and I don’t think I deserve to stay in the position if I keep my mouth shut.” The bank declined to comment.

The silencing of views different from Beijing’s on the protests can be both subtle and overt.

Gios Choong works for a Chinese state-backed company doing quarantine checks and quality control inspection at the Hong Kong border. When he first started out more than two decades ago, most of his colleagues were Hong Kongers, and the atmosphere was more open, he said. But in recent years, resentment built up as Hong Kong employees like himself were replaced with mainlanders.

These days, when conversation at work turns to the protests, managers label them as riots. Mr. Choong, who is a supporter of the pro-democracy protests, said he found it alienating.

“My boss said to me, ‘Why do they go out?’” referring to the protesters. “‘You eat from China. Your food is from China. The water comes from China. So why?’”

On the Friday before Hong Kong held district council elections in November, Mr. Choong’s manager approached him with a request. Vote No. 2, he was told. That was the number for the pro-Beijing candidate in his district. He voted for the pro-democracy candidate instead. The pro-democracy camp swept the election.

Increasingly, multinationals have found themselves in Beijing’s censorship cross hairs. The N.B.A. was thrust into the harsh spotlight last year after the general manager of the Houston Rockets wrote a message on Twitter in support of the Hong Kong protesters. State media acted swiftly in retaliation, canceling the broadcast of preseason games.

Coach, Givenchy and Versace have also been forced to apologize for selling clothes with designs that suggested Hong Kong was separate from China.

Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Ming-tak Ng, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, has witnessed firsthand the fury of ordinary Chinese citizens.

Until August, many of his weekends were devoted to teaching part-time M.B.A. students in the mainland. Then he was photographed at a protest with Jimmy Lai, the owner of a media group who is critical of China.

When his students saw it, they wrote to university officials to complain about Mr. Ng’s participation, requesting in a letter that the university delete “any information about him during the process of our study and in our graduation thesis” and threatening to boycott events where Mr. Ng was in attendance.

After discussing the situation with the university, Mr. Ng agreed to stop teaching at the Chinese campuses. “I don’t blame them,” Mr. Ng said. “In China, everyone is under a tightly controlled system. I appreciate that they did this to protect themselves politically.”

Christina Wu, a spokeswoman for the university, confirmed Mr. Ng’s change of schedule but said it was done “purely based on academic considerations.” She said the university did not delete any information about Mr. Ng.

This week, as Beijing pushed on with plans to implement its national security law in Hong Kong, pro-Beijing groups fanned out across the city in search of support. According to some local workers, their bosses helped in the effort.

Managers at Chiyu Banking Corporation, a local bank owned by Xiamen International Bank, sent a WhatsApp message to employees asking them to sign a petition, according to a complaint filed by the Hong Kong Financial Industry Employees General Union. Once they had done so, the complaint said, they were told to screenshot their signature and share it.

Similar instructions were sent to employees at Wing Lung Bank, according to the union. Workers at other banks said they had received similar messages, said Ka-wing Kwok, the union’s chairman, but the union was unable to verify them.

Chiyu Banking and Wing Lung Bank did not respond to requests for comment. Hong Kong regulators declined to comment.

“Such behavior caused a chilling effect among employees,” the union wrote in letters to the Hong Kong authorities.

“Employees could not help worrying that if they do not obey the instructions of their superiors, they might either be singled out by the company or their personal work performance evaluation would be affected in the future.”

Cao Li contributed research.

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Twitter Had Been Drawing a Line for Months When Trump Crossed It

Westlake Legal Group 29twitter-facebookJumbo Twitter Had Been Drawing a Line for Months When Trump Crossed It United States Politics and Government twitter Trump, Donald J Social Media Rumors and Misinformation Freedom of Speech and Expression Executive Orders and Memorandums Dorsey, Jack Cyberharassment Corporate Social Responsibility Computers and the Internet Censorship

OAKLAND, Calif. — Jack Dorsey was up late Thursday at his home in San Francisco talking online with his executives when their conversation was interrupted: President Trump had just posted another inflammatory message on Twitter.

Tensions between Twitter, where Mr. Dorsey is chief executive, and Mr. Trump had been running high for days over the president’s aggressive tweets and the company’s decision to begin labeling some of them. In his latest message, Mr. Trump weighed in on the clashes between the police and protesters in Minneapolis, saying, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

A group of more than 10 Twitter officials, including lawyers and policymakers, quickly gathered virtually to review Mr. Trump’s post and debate over the messaging system Slack and Google Docs whether it pushed people toward violence.

They soon came to a conclusion. And after midnight, Mr. Dorsey gave his go-ahead: Twitter would hide Mr. Trump’s tweet behind a warning label that said the message violated its policy against glorifying violence. It was the first time Twitter applied that specific warning to any public figure’s tweets.

The action has prompted a broad fight over whether and how social media companies should be held responsible for what appears on their sites, and was the culmination of months of debate inside Twitter. For more than a year, the company had been building an infrastructure to limit the impact of objectionable messages from world leaders, creating rules on what would and would not be allowed and designing a plan for when Mr. Trump inevitably broke them.

But the path to that point was not smooth. Inside Twitter, dealing with Mr. Trump’s tweets — which are the equivalent of a presidential megaphone — was a fitful and uneven process. Some executives repeatedly urged Mr. Dorsey to take action on the inflammatory posts while others insisted he hold back, staying hands-off as the company had done for years.

Outside Twitter, the president’s critics urged the company to shut him down as he pushed the limits with insults and untruths, noting ordinary users were sometimes suspended for lesser transgressions. But Twitter argued that posts by Mr. Trump and other world leaders deserved special leeway because of their news value.

The efforts were complicated by Mr. Dorsey, 43, who was sometimes absent on travels and meditative retreats before the coronavirus pandemic. He often delegated policy decisions, watching the debate from the sidelines so he would not dominate with his own views. And he frequently did not weigh in until the last minute.

Now Twitter is at war with Mr. Trump over its treatment of his posts, which has implications for the future of speech on social media. In the past week, the company for the first time added fact-checking and other warning labels to three of Mr. Trump’s messages, refuting their accuracy or marking them as inappropriate.

In response, an irate Mr. Trump issued an executive order designed to limit legal protections that tech companies enjoy and posted more angry messages.

Twitter’s position is precarious. The company is grappling with charges of bias from the right over its labeling of Mr. Trump’s tweets; one of its executives has faced a sustained campaign of online harassment. Yet Twitter’s critics on the left said that by leaving Mr. Trump’s tweets up and not banning him from the site, it was enabling the president.

“It really is about whether or not Twitter blinks,” said James Grimmelmann, a law professor at Cornell University. “You really have to stick to your guns and ensure you do it right.”

Twitter is girding for a protracted battle with Mr. Trump. Some employees have locked down their social media accounts and deleted their professional affiliation to avoid being harassed. Executives, holed up at home, are meeting virtually to discuss next steps while also handling a surge of misinformation related to the pandemic.

This account of how Twitter came to take action on Mr. Trump’s tweets was based on interviews with nine current and former company employees and others who work with Mr. Dorsey outside of Twitter. They declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly and because they feared being targeted by Mr. Trump’s supporters.

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment. Mr. Dorsey tweeted on Friday that the fact-checking process should be open to the public so that the facts are “verifiable by everyone.”

Mr. Trump said on Twitter that his recent statements were “very simple” and that “nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media.” The White House declined to comment.

The confrontation between Mr. Trump and Twitter has raised questions about free speech. Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, social media companies are shielded from most liability for the content posted on their platforms. Republican lawmakers have argued the companies are acting as publishers and not mere distributors of content and should be stripped of those protections.

But a hands-off approach by the companies has allowed harassment and abuse to proliferate online, said Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University and a First Amendment scholar. So now the companies, he said, have to grapple with how to moderate content and take more responsibility, without losing their legal protections.

“These platforms have achieved incredible power and influence,” Mr. Bollinger said, adding that moderation was a necessary response. “There’s a greater risk to American democracy in allowing unbridled speech on these private platforms.”

For years, Twitter did not touch Mr. Trump’s messages. But as he continued using Twitter to deride rivals and spread falsehoods, the company faced mounting criticism.

That set off internal debates. Mr. Dorsey observed the discussions, sometimes raising questions about who could be harmed by posts on Twitter or its moderation decisions, executives said.

In 2018, two of the president’s tweets stood out to Twitter officials. In one, Mr. Trump discussed launching nuclear weapons at North Korea, which some employees believed violated company policy against violent threats. In the other, he called a former aide, Omarosa Manigault Newman, “a crazed, crying lowlife” and “that dog.”

At the time, Twitter had rules against harassing messages like the tweet about Ms. Manigault Newman, but left the tweet up.

The company began working on a specific solution to allow it to respond to violent and inaccurate posts from Mr. Trump and other world leaders without removing the messages. Mr. Dorsey had expressed interest in finding a middle ground, executives said. It also rolled out labels to denote that a tweet needed fact-checking or had videos and photos that had been altered to be misleading.

The effort was overseen by Vijaya Gadde, who leads Twitter’s legal, policy, trust and safety teams. The labels for world leaders, unveiled last June, explained how a politician’s message had broken a Twitter policy and took away tools that could amplify it, like retweets and likes.

“We want to elevate healthy conversations on Twitter and that may sometimes mean offering context,” Del Harvey, Twitter’s vice president of trust and safety, said in an interview this year.

By the time the labels were introduced, Mr. Trump was not the only head of state testing Twitter’s boundaries. Shortly before Twitter released them, the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, tweeted a sexually explicit video and the Iranian leader Ali Khamenei posted threatening remarks about Israel.

Last month, Twitter used the labels on a tweet from the Brazilian politician Osmar Terra in which he falsely claimed that quarantine increased cases of the coronavirus.

“This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules,” the label read. “However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”

On Tuesday, Twitter officials began discussing labeling Mr. Trump’s messages after he falsely asserted that mail-in ballots were illegally printed and implied they would lead to fraud in the November election. His tweets were flagged to Twitter through a portal it had opened specifically for nonprofit groups and local officials involved in election integrity to report content that could discourage or interfere with voting.

Twitter quickly concluded that Mr. Trump had posted false information about mail-in ballots. The company then labeled two of his tweets, urging people to “get the facts” about voting by mail. An in-house team of fact checkers also assembled a list of what people should know about mail-in ballots.

Mr. Trump struck back, drafting an executive order designed to chip away at Section 230. He and his allies also singled out a Twitter employee who had publicly criticized him and other Republicans, falsely suggesting that employee was responsible for the labels.

Mr. Dorsey and his executives kept on alert. On Wednesday, Twitter labeled hundreds of other tweets, including those that falsely claimed to include images of Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, an African-American man in Minnesota.

Mr. Trump did not let up. Even after Twitter called out his shooting tweet for glorifying violence, he posted the same sentiment again.

“Looting leads to shooting,” Mr. Trump wrote, adding that he did not want violence to occur. “It was spoken as a fact.”

This time, Twitter did not label the tweet.

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Why President Trump’s Order on Social Media Could Harm Him

WASHINGTON — President Trump, who built his political career on the power of a flame-throwing Twitter account, has now gone to war with Twitter, angered that it would presume to fact-check his messages. But the punishment he is threatening could force social media companies to crack down even more on customers just like Mr. Trump.

The executive order that Mr. Trump signed on Thursday seeks to strip liability protection in certain cases for companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook for the content on their sites, meaning they could face legal jeopardy if they allowed false and defamatory posts. Without a liability shield, they presumably would have to be more aggressive about policing messages that press the boundaries — like the president’s.

That, of course, is not the outcome Mr. Trump wants. What he wants is the freedom to post anything he likes without the companies applying any judgment to his messages, as Twitter did this week when it began appending “get the facts” warnings to some of his false posts on voter fraud. Furious at what he called “censorship” — even though his messages were not in fact deleted — Mr. Trump is wielding the proposed executive order like a club to compel the company to back down.

It may not work even as intended. Plenty of lawyers quickly said on Thursday that he was claiming power to do something he does not have the power to do by essentially revising the interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law passed by Congress in 1996 that laid out the rules of the road for online media. Legal experts predicted such a move would be challenged and most likely struck down by the courts.

But the logic of Mr. Trump’s order is intriguing because it attacks the very legal provision that has allowed him such latitude to publish with impunity a whole host of inflammatory, harassing and factually distorted messages that a media provider might feel compelled to take down if it were forced into the role of a publisher that faced the risk of legal liability rather than a distributor that does not.

“Ironically, Donald Trump is a big beneficiary of Section 230,” said Kate Ruane, a senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which instantly objected to the proposed order. “If platforms were not immune under the law, then they would not risk the legal liability that could come with hosting Donald Trump’s lies, defamation and threats.”

Mr. Trump has long posted false and disparaging messages to his 80 million followers on Twitter, disregarding complaints about their accuracy or fairness. In recent weeks, he has repeatedly issued tweets that essentially falsely accused Joe Scarborough, the MSNBC host, of murdering a staff member in 2001 when he was a congressman. Mr. Scarborough was 800 miles away at the time and the police found no signs of foul play. The aide’s widower asked Twitter to delete the messages, but it refused.

Mr. Trump and his allies argue that social media companies have shown bias against conservatives and need to be reined in. While they are private firms rather than the government, the president and his allies argue that they have in effect become the public square envisioned by the founders when they drafted the First Amendment and therefore should not be weighing in on one side or the other.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_172428240_3233d6c6-abd3-4d83-a8b7-1e2573bc38eb-articleLarge Why President Trump's Order on Social Media Could Harm Him United States Politics and Government twitter Trump, Donald J Social Media Rumors and Misinformation Freedom of Speech and Expression Executive Orders and Memorandums Conservatism (US Politics) Computers and the Internet Censorship
Credit…Glenn Chapman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The order that Mr. Trump signed said that an online provider that weighs in on some tweets beyond certain limited conditions “should properly lose the limited liability shield” of the law “and be exposed to liability like any traditional editor and publisher that is not an online provider.”

The order asks the Federal Communications Commission to draft regulations to that effect and directs the Federal Trade Commission to consider action against providers that “restrict speech in ways that do not align with those entities’ public representations about those practices.”

On Thursday, Mr. Trump framed his goal as combating bias. “Currently, social media giants like Twitter receive an unprecedented liability shield based on the theory that they’re a neutral platform, which they’re not, not an editor with a viewpoint,” he said in the Oval Office as he signed the order.

But some government officials said his plan was unenforceable. “This does not work,” Jessica Rosenworcel, a member of the F.C.C. first appointed under President Barack Obama, said in a statement. “Social media can be frustrating. But an executive order that would turn the Federal Communications Commission into the president’s speech police is not the answer. It’s time for those in Washington to speak up for the First Amendment. History won’t be kind to silence.”

Even some conservatives objected, warning that the president was handing control of the internet to the “administrative state” and creating a bonanza for liberal trial lawyers to go after unpopular speakers traditionally filtered out by the mainstream media — including those like Mr. Trump himself.

“Conservatives must appreciate the fact that social media has empowered countless new voices on the right and allowed them to garner millions of followers and billions of views,” said Patrick Hedger, a research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “The net effect of social media has been overwhelmingly positive.”

The Communications Decency Act was passed during the dawn of the modern information age, intended at first to make it easier for online sites run by early pioneer companies like Prodigy and AOL to block pornography even when it is constitutional without running afoul of legal challenges.

By terming such sites as distributors rather than publishers, Section 230 gave them immunity from lawsuits in many circumstances. Over time, the law became the guarantor of a rollicking, almost no-holds-barred internet by letting sites set rules for what is and is not allowed without being liable for everything posted by visitors, as opposed to a newspaper, which is generally responsible for what it publishes.

Since Section 230 was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, the courts have repeatedly shot down challenges to get around it, invoking a broad interpretation of immunity. In recent years, the court system has been flooded with litigants claiming that social media companies blocked them or their content.

As a result, Mr. Trump may face an uphill road with his order. Daphne Keller, who teaches at Stanford Law School and has written extensively on internet law and regulation, said the order appeared to be “95 percent political rhetoric and theater that doesn’t have legal effect and is inconsistent with what the courts have said.”

However, Ms. Keller, who worked as an associate general counsel at Google for 10 years, said that even if the order did not carry legal weight, it may still be challenged because it was potentially an abuse of power that could violate the First Amendment rights of the companies.

Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University Law School and a director of the High Tech Law Institute there, said that the order “doesn’t stand a chance in court” but that it could do some damage until a legal challenge reached the judicial system. “Section 230 is a magnet for controversy, and this order pours fuel on the fire,” he said.

While the courts have sided with the internet companies, Congress is a different matter. Both Republicans and Democrats have taken issue with the protections afforded to social media companies, even though they disagree on why.

Republicans have accused the companies of censoring conservative voices and violating the spirit of the law that the internet should be a forum for a diversity of political discourse. Democrats have argued that the companies have not done enough to remove problematic content or police harassment.

Jeff Kosseff, a cybersecurity law professor at the United States Naval Academy and the author of a book about the law, “The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet,” said he believed that Section 230 would be repealed by Congress in the next few years. He believes that the internet of 1996, when the law was written to protect start-ups, is different now and that many of the tech firms protected under the statute are among the most valuable companies in the world.

Without Section 230, courts would be forced to apply the protections of the First Amendment to the modern internet. “We haven’t had a test of that yet,” Mr. Kosseff said, “because there was always Section 230.”

In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s order may still have an impact. “I think what the order is trying to do is say a company like Twitter holds itself out to be a neutral platform, and when it is biased against conservatives, it is acting deceptively,” said Jeffrey Westling, a technology and innovation policy fellow at R Street Institute, a public policy research organization.

Mr. Westling said the legal theory would probably be difficult to pursue. “The issue I have and I think a lot of people are starting to realize is the executive order doesn’t need to be legally enforceable to still be a threat to these companies,” he said. “The companies will likely win any challenge, but no one wants to go through litigation. It becomes a cost-benefit analysis of, ‘Is it worth it to put a fact check the next time the president puts a false tweet out there?’”

Peter Baker reported from Washington, and Daisuke Wakabayashi from Oakland, Calif. Kate Conger contributed reporting from Oakland, and Maggie Haberman from New York.

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Now More Than Ever, Facebook Is a ‘Mark Zuckerberg Production’

SAN FRANCISCO — On Jan. 27, at a regularly scheduled Monday morning meeting with top executives at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg turned the agenda to the coronavirus. For weeks, he told his staff, he had been hearing from global health care experts that the virus had the makings of a pandemic, and now Facebook needed to prepare for a worst-case scenario — one in which the company’s ability to combat misinformation, scammers and conspiracy theorists would be tested as never before.

To start, Mr. Zuckerberg said, the company should take some of the tools it had developed to fight 2020 election garbage and attempt to retool them for the pathogen. He asked executives in charge of every department to develop plans for responding to a global outbreak by the end of the week.

The meeting, described by two people who attended it, helped vault Facebook ahead of other companies — and even some governments — in preparing for Covid-19. And it exemplified a change in how the 36-year-old is running the company he founded.

Since the day he coded the words “a Mark Zuckerberg production” onto every blue-and-white Facebook page, he has been the singular face of the social network. But to an extent not widely appreciated outside Silicon Valley, Mr. Zuckerberg has long been a kind of binary chief executive — extraordinarily involved in some aspects of the business, and virtually hands-off in areas that he finds less interesting.

The beginning of the end of Mr. Zuckerberg’s distanced leadership came on Nov. 8, 2016, with the election of Donald Trump. From that moment, a relentless series of crises — his casual dismissal of concerns over fake news as “a pretty crazy idea”; revelations that the platform had been used as a plaything for state-sponsored espionage; the Cambridge Analytica scandal — jolted Mr. Zuckerberg to tighten his grip.

Many of his consolidation tactics have been highly visible: He replaced the outside founders of Instagram and WhatsApp with loyalists, and he refashioned Facebook’s already-friendly board to be even more deferential, swapping out five of its nine members.

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With the attention of a quarter of the world’s population to sell to advertisers, Facebook is so colossal that org-chart moves have the effect of creating powerful new characters on the global policy stage. Mr. Zuckerberg has elevated lieutenants to win over hostile territories — the Republican operative Joel Kaplan in Washington, and the former deputy prime minister of Britain, Sir Nicholas Clegg, in the eurozone. And his more hands-on approach has caused, by the zero-sum logic of corporate clout, an effective sidelining of Sheryl Sandberg, his chief operating officer and the most high-profile woman in technology.

Now, the coronavirus has presented Mr. Zuckerberg with the opportunity to demonstrate that he has grown into his responsibilities as a leader — a 180-degree turn from the aloof days of 2016. It’s given him the chance to lead 50,000 employees through a crisis that, for once, is not of their own making. And seizing the moment might allow Mr. Zuckerberg to prove a thesis that he truly believes: That if one sees past its capacity for destruction, Facebook can be a force for good.

“Mark has taken an active role in the leadership of Facebook from its founding through to today,” Dave Arnold, a company spokesman, said in an emailed statement. “We’re fortunate to have such engaged leaders, including Mark, Sheryl and the entire leadership team. Facebook is a better company for it.”

The revamp has not gone without incident. In early May, Facebook struggled with how to handle a viral conspiracy video known as “Plandemic,” waffling as the footage spread to the screens of millions of users. Last week, reporters at the Detroit Metro Times showed that the company was blind to assassination-stoking activity on pages with 400,000 members.

Still, for Mr. Zuckerberg, the pandemic has the potential to be a more favorable backdrop than what 2020 would have ordinarily been dominated by — the presidential election and the difficulties of policing political speech.

In theory, the crisis plays to some of his strengths. Through his personal philanthropy, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, he has long been interested in curing and preventing disease. Covid is borderless, like Facebook itself, and will require a supranational response at a scale few other organizations are equipped to handle. Solutions, if they ever come, will be grounded in science and not emotion or politics.

Or the pandemic could take all that is dangerous about Facebook and amplify it. When the stakes are not merely a presidential election but global health, any role the company plays in elevating toxic information has the potential to make all its prior harms seem trivial. And if Mr. Zuckerberg is fully in control of his company in a way he wasn’t before — as acknowledged by interviews with more than two dozen people — the success or failure of its response will reside entirely with him.

“I think it’s going to piss off a lot of people,” Mr. Zuckerberg said of his new management style in an interview at a tech conference earlier this year. “But frankly, the old approach was pissing off a lot of people, too.”

In Silicon Valley, there is a certain kind of company founder whose title is C.E.O. but who presents himself as a “product guy.” A product-guy C.E.O. feels more at home developing what is for sale than actually running the company.

At Apple, Steve Jobs was a product guy, inventing the iPhone while leaving the supply chain to his C.O.O. At Amazon, Jeff Bezos is a product guy, obsessing about retail customers while others run the profitable web-hosting division. And at Facebook, for more than a decade, Mark Zuckerberg was a product guy’s product guy.

In practice, this meant Mr. Zuckerberg dove into important new products, giving direct orders to middle managers in charge of whatever feature he was obsessed with that week. It also meant he was comfortable delegating in areas that interested him less keenly — including the advertising machine that generated $70 billion in revenue last year. Even less compelling to Mr. Zuckerberg was the realm of Facebook policy around what kind of speech was and was not permitted. Those subjects fell into a specific category: Too important to ignore, but not exactly what a young billionaire wants to spend all of his time on.

Oversight of those areas went to his trusted inner circle, known as the M-Team. Short for “Mark Team,” its members knew they were never likely to succeed him as chief executive, but they could remain powerful and autonomous within their own departments. At the top was Ms. Sandberg, Mr. Zuckerberg’s second-in-command, whose portfolio spanned advertising, marketing, regulation, communications and beyond.

The 2016 election made it clear to Mr. Zuckerberg that the accommodation was no longer viable, as he and Ms. Sandberg were pilloried for being absent and distracted, if not willfully negligent. Afterward, Mr. Zuckerberg spent a chunk of 2017 on a state-by-state tour of America, but it wasn’t well received; mostly, his photogenic purple-state antics — sitting on tractors, attending church, bottle-feeding calves — just fed the rumor that he was making a run for president. Mr. Zuckerberg resolved to take control of the global superpower in which he already dominated the voting.

First, he made a show of owning up to its failures. “It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough,” he told reporters on a conference call in 2018, reflecting on the company’s string of missteps. “We didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse and thinking through how people could use these tools to do harm as well. We didn’t take a broad enough view of what our responsibility is, and that was a huge mistake.” He added: “It was my mistake.”

Not long after, in July 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg called a meeting with his top lieutenants. In the past, he had used the group’s semiannual gatherings to chart new courses for Facebook products, or discuss new technology he was interested in capitalizing on. This time, he told his executives that his focus was on himself. With Facebook constantly under attack from outsiders, Mr. Zuckerberg said, he needed to reinvent himself for “wartime.”

“Up until now, I’ve been a peacetime leader,” Mr. Zuckerberg said, according to three people who were present but not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly. “That’s going to change.” Mr. Zuckerberg said he would be making more decisions on his own, based on his instincts and vision for the company. Wartime leaders were quicker and more decisive, he said, and they didn’t let fear of angering others paralyze them. (Some details of the meeting were previously reported by The Wall Street Journal.)

Mr. Zuckerberg directed Facebook’s so-called “family of apps” — Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp and Facebook proper — to work more closely together. Instagram had to start sending traffic back to the flagship product; WhatsApp had to better integrate with its sister social media services. Rather than execute Mr. Zuckerberg’s vision, the heads of Instagram, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, left the company in September 2018, after earlier departures by the disillusioned founders of WhatsApp. Together, they forfeited more than a billion dollars in compensation.

Credit…Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

Mr. Zuckerberg also began to participate more directly in meetings that had previously been Ms. Sandberg’s domain — from the nitty-gritty of taking down disinformation campaigns, to winding philosophical discussions on how Facebook ought to handle political ads. Employees couldn’t help but notice a shift in the balance of power in one of technology’s most lucrative partnerships.

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Giving speeches and schmoozing policymakers were two of Ms. Sandberg’s specialties. Mr. Zuckerberg began to do more of that, too, starting with a lofty public address at Georgetown University’s hallowed Gaston Hall, where more than a century’s worth of dignitaries had orated from the same antique, carved-wood podium.

Mr. Zuckerberg continued the speaking tour with regulator-heavy engagements in Utah, Belgium, Germany and elsewhere. In Europe, where Facebook had an especially frosty relationship with government agencies, he tapped Mr. Clegg, who has grown into a new role as the company’s diplomat-in-chief.

Publicly, Ms. Sandberg has said her role at Facebook is larger than ever; she is directing a $100 million grant program for small businesses hurt by the pandemic. Many of the new hires, including Mr. Clegg, report to her, and she has said she has always wanted Mr. Zuckerberg to be more visible. “I think we don’t spend that much time worrying about our public image,” Ms. Sandberg said in an NBC podcast interview in February. “The issue is not what people think of me or Mark personally. What it is, is how are we doing as a company?”

But privately, Ms. Sandberg has worried that she was being pushed aside and that her role at Facebook has become less important, said two people who work within her department. Through a spokesperson, Ms. Sandberg declined to comment.

Facebook disputes that the relationship has changed. “There’s a clear structure. Mark is driving the product side of things, while Sheryl is running the business side of things,” David Fischer, Facebook’s chief revenue officer, said in an interview. “It doesn’t mean it’s all or nothing — it’s not zero-sum between them.”

Facebook devoted 2019 to a full-out lobbying assault on Washington, committing $16.7 million to influence policymakers. Only two other companies spent more. But even beyond cash, Facebook’s most powerful weapon was access to its C.E.O.

Mr. Kaplan — a well-connected veteran of the George W. Bush administration — began arranging for Mr. Zuckerberg to host dinners with influential conservatives, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and the Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Mr. Kaplan also nurtured a relationship between Mr. Zuckerberg and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law.

In September 2019, New York’s attorney general announced a multistate investigation into whether Facebook had broken antitrust laws. For Mr. Zuckerberg, it was the clearest indication yet that politics and government required his full attention — a potentially existential threat to his company that could no longer be delegated to others. A week later, he traveled to Washington to court members of both parties.

In a private room at Ris, an upscale restaurant next to the Ritz-Carlton, Mr. Zuckerberg dined with prominent Senate Democrats. The group included Mark Warner of Virginia and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut — both longtime critics of Facebook’s security and privacy practices — as well as officials newer to tech policy, such as Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Angus King, the independent from Maine.

Over grilled salmon, chicken potpie and roasted brussels sprouts, Mr. Zuckerberg gamely did the kind of basic D.C. give-and-take he’d long asked Ms. Sandberg to handle: He listened intently and made assurances about a range of Facebook issues, from foreign election interference to cryptocurrency.

“He’s an adroit performer,” Mr. Blumenthal said in an interview. “Almost certainly a result of professional advice, and maybe coaching and a lot of guidance from a heavy team of lobbyists here in Washington.” Mr. Warner added: “For a while, I think Facebook, along with a lot of tech companies in the Valley, thought that dealing with Washington was sort of beneath them. I think Mr. Zuckerberg has realized that it’s to his benefit to engage with us directly.”

The Democratic dinner was just a warm-up for the really important meeting, which came the next day: Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Kushner arranged for Mr. Zuckerberg to sit down with the president. The two men had never met. Ahead of the Sept. 19 session, Mr. Zuckerberg asked his Washington staff to brief him about Mr. Trump’s Facebook presence, so that he could casually rattle off some statistics in the Oval Office.

Credit…Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Wearing a dark blue suit and a burgundy tie, Mr. Zuckerberg sat between Mr. Kushner and Mr. Kaplan, facing Mr. Trump and his jumbo glass of Diet Coke. Mr. Zuckerberg quickly noted that the president had the highest level of engagement of any world leader on the social network. Mr. Trump — who had previously savaged Facebook on a range of issues — immediately adopted a new tone, describing the conversation in social media posts as “nice.”

A month later, the president invited Mr. Zuckerberg — along with Facebook board member and Trump supporter Peter Thiel — to a private White House dinner, which went undisclosed for weeks. Mr. Zuckerberg’s simple flattery seems to have paid off. Mr. Trump hasn’t publicly castigated the company since, and months later, he continues to tell audiences that he is “No. 1” on the world’s largest social network.

Within Facebook, Mr. Zuckerberg’s more engaged style was rankling employees. The discontent boiled over later in October, after Mr. Zuckerberg publicly laid out how Facebook would regulate political speech on the platform. In the name of free speech, he had said, the social network would not police what politicians said in political ads — even if they lied. Facebook was not in the business of being an arbiter of truth, nor did it want to be, Mr. Zuckerberg said.

In response, more than 250 employees signed an internal memo arguing that free speech and paid speech were different and that misinformation was harmful to all. Facebook’s position on political advertising is “a threat to what FB stands for,” the employees wrote. “We strongly object to this policy as it stands.”

Days later, on Halloween, Mr. Zuckerberg led a regular weekly question-and-answer session with employees. Near the end, someone dressed in an enormous, inflatable Pikachu costume lumbered toward the microphone and pressed the C.E.O. on his policy, according to three people who were present.

Mr. Zuckerberg, now less worried than ever about trying to make everyone happy, reiterated his position. When versions of the same question kept popping up during the session, he held firm.

“This is not a democracy,” he said.

“Not a democracy” could also describe Facebook’s nine-person board of directors. Mr. Zuckerberg chairs the group, holds a majority of voting shares and controls its dynamics.

The board isn’t exactly a check on his power. Last year, Kenneth Chenault, the former chief executive of American Express, suggested creating an independent committee to scrutinize the company’s challenges and pose the sort of probing questions the board wasn’t used to being asked. The idea, previously reported by The Journal, was swiftly voted down by Mr. Zuckerberg and others.

Other board disagreements, specifically around political advertising and the spread of misinformation, always ended with Mr. Zuckerberg’s point of view winning out. In March, Mr. Chenault announced he would not stand for re-election; soon, so did another director, Jeffrey Zients, who had also challenged some of Mr. Zuckerberg’s positions.

To replace them, Mr. Zuckerberg picked Drew Houston, the chief executive of Dropbox, who was also a longtime friend and occasional Ping-Pong partner, and Peggy Alford, the former chief financial officer of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Three other appointees are set to join the board this year, including executives from McKinsey and Co. and Estée Lauder. The remaining three board members are a friendly bunch: Mr. Thiel and Marc Andreessen, venture capitalists who are among Facebook’s earliest and most loyal investors, and Ms. Sandberg.

With his board issues in the rearview, Mr. Zuckerberg has been able to devote more of his attention to the coronavirus. He started following the disease early, fielding reports from experts including Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control. Mr. Zuckerberg was advised not to trust preliminary reports out of China that the virus was contained, or the baseless assurances from Mr. Trump that it would not greatly affect the United States. On March 19, well ahead of many states’ stay-at-home orders, Mr. Zuckerberg broadcast a live video chat with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease official, on his personal Facebook page.

Since the pandemic began, video and audio calls on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have more than doubled. Group calls in some especially hard-hit countries, like Italy, soared by 1,000 percent. Messaging across Instagram and Facebook is up 50 percent across many of the busiest countries. Homebound in Palo Alto, Mr. Zuckerberg has been pushing his employees to build new products that people can use to connect with one another. The latest is a rival to Zoom, which he hopes will corner the video-calling market.

“When the world changes quickly, people have new needs, and that means that there are more new segments to build,” he said on a conference call with investors in April. “I have always believed that in times of economic downturn, the right thing to do is to keep investing in building the future.”

It remains to be seen what an increasingly visible Mr. Zuckerberg will do when challenged by the powerful. In March, in an interview with The New York Times, he said Facebook would not tolerate “misinformation that has imminent risk of danger.” He cited as an example “things like ‘You can cure this by drinking bleach.’ I mean, that’s just in a different class.”

Days later, during a White House news conference, Mr. Trump wondered aloud about an “injection inside” of disinfectant. As poison control centers were flooded with questions and the makers of Clorox and Lysol issued statements imploring Americans not to ingest their caustic cleaners, Facebook wilted, and across the platform, video of the comments went swiftly viral.

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