With help from John Hendel
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— Here we go again: Social media is sure to get tangled up in the second impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump — which begins today — after the former president used mainstream sites like Twitter to incite the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
— This is the song that never ends: As Congress pressures tech platforms to do more to protect the country’s chaotic, behind-schedule vaccine rollout, Facebook is (again) ramping up efforts to fight anti-vax misinformation.
— Squeeze it on in: Sen. Ed Markey is making moves to tack on funding for the FCC’s E-Rate subsidy program, which supports virtual learning, in the next pandemic relief package.
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IMPEACHMENT TUESDAY — Trump’s second impeachment trial begins today in the Senate, and the tech world is on high alert to see how social media gets roped in. Democrats are expected to point to social media posts, photos and videos to help make their case against Trump, the only U.S. president to be impeached twice — but we’re also watching how the platforms themselves are implicated.
— “Be there, will be wild!” Those were Trump’s words on Twitter back in December, urging his followers to show up in D.C. to protest on Jan. 6. That day, as rioters descended on the Capitol, he tweeted: “USA demands the truth!” And a few hours later: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots.” The riot grew as big and as violent as it did with the help of both mainstream and fringe social platforms where Trump’s followers found inspiration and organized.
— In the one month since the Capitol riot, Democrats across both chambers of Congress have put social media’s role and response under the microscope. House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said explicitly that the panel would investigate and hold hearings on the topic, while Homeland Security lawmakers pledged to look into the issue further. House Oversight members said on Twitter that Trump had used social media in his capacity as “instigator-in-chief of the Jan 6th attack on our democracy” and they called for him to “be tried and convicted by the Senate.” Senate leaders have also voiced concerns. The impeachment action only adds to that momentum.
FACEBOOK’S GLOBAL VACCINATION DRIVE — Two months since the first Covid vaccine was administered in the U.K., Facebook is kicking off a global push to help get shots in arms. The campaign comes as a chaotic, behind-schedule vaccine rollout and fast-spreading variants are giving way to greater distrust in, and more myths about, the effectiveness of the vaccines. And it comes in the wake of a high-profile ruling by the Facebook oversight board that determined the platform had erred in past handling of Covid-related misinformation. “As we noted last month in response to guidance from the Oversight Board, we are committed to providing more transparency around these policies,” Facebook’s vice president of integrity, Guy Rosen, said in a Monday blog post announcing the updates.
— Internet mis- and disinformation and online conspiracy theories have been undermining public trust in the shot since long before it was even available, prompting Facebook and other social platforms recently to update their content policies and add personnel to protect the enormous, lengthy and high-stakes rollout (not unlike what they did around the 2020 elections). Facebook announced Monday it was expanding its fight against anti-vaccine misinformation more broadly and now taking down baseless claims that vaccines in general are ineffective and that “it’s safer to get the disease than to get the vaccine.” Enforcement action will focus on repeat offenders among Facebook groups and pages, in addition to individual accounts, and could translate into more suspensions.
— Concerns about the prevalence of online anti-vax and Covid disinformation are still high in Washington. As recently as last week, lawmakers on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee called on the leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter to divulge details about Covid vaccine misinformation on the platforms and steps they’re taking to address it.
DEMOCRATS MAY HITCH E-RATE BOOST TO NEXT PANDEMIC PACKAGE — Markey wants to see Congress wrap serious money expanding the FCC’s E-Rate subsidy program into its next pandemic relief package — a key delineation as Democrats plot out both pandemic aid and subsequent infrastructure legislative goals.
— Some nuance: Markey told Incompas summit attendees on Monday that this broadband boost for E-Rate, aimed at supporting online learning, would be distinct from Democrats’ more comprehensive digital ambitions, which would come later, as part of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure deal-making. Those include $100 billion for a series of broadband infrastructure and digital training investments in a measure led by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. The top priority for Democrats now is pandemic relief, which could be passed without GOP support if Democrats move forward using budget reconciliation. Biden didn’t explicitly address such funding as part of his so-called $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
— Markey cited his own push for at least $4 billion to bolster E-Rate: “And we want more!” the lawmaker added. During a University of Virginia event last week, Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) said top Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are prioritizing finding this money. “I was personally really disappointed when the E-Rate program was not included in December’s Covid bill package,” Meng said.
— View from the White House: Biden backs an expansion of E-Rate “and is happy to work with Congress on how to best address the digital divide for students,” a White House spokesperson told John when asked about Markey’s advocacy. But Biden’s initial Covid proposal seeks to address these connectivity challenges not through that FCC program but, as the spokesperson said, through “flexible funding for schools to facilitate distance learning and address the digital divide.”
TECH QUOTE DU JOUR, VIA HOUSE E&C REPUBLICANS — “Remember 25 years ago when you logged onto a computer like this to Ask Jeeves? Big Tech like Facebook, Twitter & Google didn’t even exist yet. That’s so 1996, and so is the Communications Act. It’s time for an upgrade—including for Section 230,” the committee’s GOP lawmakers tweeted. “As was the case with floppy disks, the laws that govern our communications marketplace are relics of the past, and must be updated.”
Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.) will co-chair the Rural Broadband Caucus. … Klon Kitchen, former director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Technology Policy, has joined the American Enterprise Institute as a resident fellow focused on defense technology, AI, quantum and robotics. … Justin Kintz, an early Uber employee who was most recently its vice president of public policy, has joined Peloton as a senior vice president and its first-ever head of government affairs and public policy. … Ex-House staffer Ian Rayder, Colorado’s former deputy secretary of state, is joining the Klein/Johnson Group as a principal in Denver focused on growing the lobbying firm’s technology practice.
Maggie Farry, former policy advisor for Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, joined New America’s Open Technology Institute as a policy analyst. … Sarah Meat Finch, former vice president for policy and strategy at the National Partnership for Women & Families, has joined Instacart as its new director of policy research and development.
T-Mobile announced the launch of the Magenta Scholars program to fund scholarships for students at historically Black colleges and universities; the NextTech Diversity Program to train and place underrepresented candidates in 5G-related jobs; and Magenta Edge to support entrepreneurs at Black-owned small businesses.
Oscar IPO on the horizon: “The New York-based health insurance unicorn has raised well north of $1 billion during its life, making its public debut a critical event for a host of investors,” TechCrunch reports.
Robots, but make it salad: “DoorDash said it is acquiring robotics startup Chowbotics,” WSJ reports, “signaling increased interest in automating food production when ordering in is at an all-time high.”
Warning from the former Google CEO: The “flawed approach to 5G” in the U.S. is threatening the country’s “digital future,” Eric Schmidt writes in the Financial Times.
ICYMI: “The chair of the House Oversight Committee demanded Monday that alternative social network Parler disclose any communications it had about former President Donald Trump possibly gaining an ownership stake in the platform,” Cristiano reports.
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