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— On Trump’s Covid diagnosis: Lawmakers and celebrities blasted Twitter and Facebook for swiftly cracking down on posts wishing harm on the president after years of doing little to address the death threats endured by women and minorities.
— 2020 watch: Less than a month from Election Day, down-ballot candidates face the same disinformation threats as those vying for the Oval Office. How are tech and election-tech companies responding?
— On the calendar this week: The much-anticipated House antitrust report. A (hopefully more functional) vice presidential debate. Opening arguments in Google v. Oracle — and more. Ready, set, go.
IT’S MONDAY; WELCOME BACK TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Alexandra Levine. I forgot my phone in my apartment this weekend while visiting family hundreds of miles away, and after the initial panic passed, it became the best mistake I never knew I’d want to make. 72 hours unplugged — highly recommend!
Got a news tip? Write to Alexandra at [email protected], or follow along @Ali_Lev and @alexandra.levine. An event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. Anything else? Full team info below. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
IT’S A COVID WORLD, AND NOW TRUMP’S LIVING IN IT — It was a quiet weekend on Trump Twitter — the president tweeted only about a dozen times after announcing his positive Covid diagnosis on Friday (and the posts were mostly tame). But as he’s giving his fingers and body a rest, social media platforms have raced to reiterate and enforce their policies around what can and cannot be said online about the president’s condition.
— Facebook, for example, has been removing content targeted directly at the president wishing him death; Twitter and TikTok also do not allow posts hoping the president will lose his life to the virus. (Remember when then-president of the think tank TechFreedom tweeted in March that it would be “poetic justice” for Trump to die from the coronavirus? Yes, that was already six months ago, and yes, that got him in serious trouble.)
Asked how many accounts were suspended or how many posts were taken down over the weekend for comments wishing for harm or otherwise relating to the president’s diagnosis, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok did not provide numbers.
— Backlash: Many public figures took issue with Twitter’s position that “tweets that wish or hope for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against *anyone* are not allowed and will need to be removed” — a policy that prominent women and minorities said has been poorly enforced, at best, if not outright ignored for years. Author Roxane Gay; filmmaker Ava DuVernay; Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Katherine Clark and Lori Trahan; and other female leaders accused Twitter of being disingenuous and doing little to address assaults and death threats they’d endured on the platform. “We hear the voices who feel that we’re enforcing some policies inconsistently,” Twitter responded. “We agree we must do better.”
— Plus, monitoring misinformation on the president’s health: “The social media giants are straining to make real-time judgment calls on borderline content, having to quickly figure out what counts as a conspiracy and what’s just speculation at a time in politics when anything seems possible,” my colleague Nancy Scola reports. It’s the latest wave of misinformation that may swamp voters less than a month from the election. (Facebook also said Sunday night that it has been removing content suggesting the election has been postponed or cancelled.)
— Meanwhile, meddlers may meddle: “America’s national security apparatus is keeping a close eye on how foreign adversaries will try to exploit President Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis — a major potential vulnerability just weeks out from the presidential election,” POLITICO reports. National security officials said Friday that they are monitoring reactions, and potential disinformation and influence campaigns, from Iran, China, North Korea and Russia in particular.
ONE MONTH TO GO: ELECTION INTEGRITY BEYOND THE OVAL OFFICE — As the country fixates on the Trump-Biden contest, down-ballot races remain vulnerable to threats like disinformation and deepfakes, too, and tech companies are bracing to put out those fires. Ballotpedia — a nonpartisan online “encyclopedia” for federal, state and local elections in the U.S. that works with Twitter to verify political candidates’ handles — is now partnering with digital verification firm Truepic to strengthen its verification process during the 2020 cycle and beyond.
— How we got here, and the candidate that never was: Ballotpedia received a submission this past winter from someone claiming to be running for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District. After reviewing the candidate’s campaign website, Facebook and Twitter profiles, and a Ballotpedia survey he had completed, the platform published a profile about this “Andrew Walz” and added him to its official database of candidates, which Twitter then used to grant his page a prestigious blue verified checkmark.
Then, in February, a New York teenager revealed to CNN that he’d made the candidate up, creating Walz’s fake persona with the help of a website that uses AI to generate seemingly-real, synthetic images like deepfakes.
— Tech, civil society team-up: The hoax that duped both Ballotpedia and Twitter prompted the election site to revamp its policies earlier this year and partner with Truepic, which said it has now helped the organization verify more than 1,000 candidates across 49 states. “Our biggest concern is that rudimentary alterations to imagery, or even highly sophisticated synthetic imagery, will heavily sway opinions and information leading up to the election,” Mounir Ibrahim, Truepic’s vice president of strategic initiatives, told MT. While strong image verification is no silver bullet for deepfakes and disinformation, he added, Truepic’s goal is to use its so-called “controlled capture” technology to improve verification to at least mitigate the threats.
— Walter Reed wrinkle: Questions about image veracity swirled over the weekend over photos released by the White House of President Trump working at Walter Reed Medical Center. More on that here.
— But the dangers of fraudulent, deceptive imagery are larger than the election, and they’re larger than political misinformation. Fraud around digital identity and likeness online — that is, the creation of fake personas for illicit purposes — is happening across many industries and has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, Ibrahim told me. Organizations, businesses and consumers have largely replaced in-person interaction with online transactions during the Covid era, so “there’s ironically increased reliance on digital images and videos at a time when synthetic alteration tools are the best they’ve ever been,” he said. “It’s a really nasty combination.”
WATCHING: HOUSE ANTITRUST REPORT IMMINENT — The House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee has delayed the release of its highly anticipated report on alleged antitrust violations by Big Tech — initially scheduled for release on Monday — to Tuesday at the earliest. POLITICO’s antitrust reporter, Leah Nylen, has the latest.
And other happenings on tap this week:
— The vice presidential debate: Ahead of the Wednesday night face-off for second-in-command, join Playbook co-author and Women Rule editorial director Anna Palmer for a virtual discussion with Maya Harris, Christine Pelosi and Jennifer Palmieri on how Sen. Kamala Harris is prepping for the big night and whether the veep debate will revert to political norms. Register here.
— Google v. Oracle: Also on Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the closely-watched, decade-old copyright dispute between tech giants Google and Oracle. The Washington Legal Foundation is holding a preview this afternoon.
— Trump administration’s Google fight: The Justice Department and state attorneys general are expected to sue Google over its power in the search market as soon as this week for alleged antitrust abuses, Leah reports. But a separate case over advertising technology has been thrown into limbo after seven officials in the Texas attorney general’s office accused their boss, Ken Paxton, of wrongdoing, she reports.
Glenn Woroch, an adjunct professor emeritus at University of California-Berkeley, was appointed the FCC’s chief economist. … Mike Bloomquist, who served as staff director for House Energy and Commerce Republicans during the 115th and 116th Congresses, left the committee for the private sector; he’ll be succeeded by deputy staff director Ryan Long.
ICYMI: The CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter agreed to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on Oct. 28, less than a week before the election, John scooped late Friday.
Pulling back the customer service curtain: A ProPublica investigation looks at how customer service reps — often “cheap, disposable and isolated” workers for underground companies that contract their services to giants like Apple, Airbnb and Disney — are faring during the pandemic.
In profile: Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison, and what the TikTok deal could mean for one of the richest men in the world, via WSJ.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected], @bkingdc), Heidi Vogt ([email protected], @HeidiVogt), Nancy Scola ([email protected], @nancyscola), Steven Overly ([email protected], @stevenoverly), John Hendel ([email protected], @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima ([email protected], @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected], @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen ([email protected], @leah_nylen).