The Technology 202: Snap’s decision could have implications for Trump’s young voter outreach

with Tonya Riley

Snap’s decision to limit President Trump’s reach could hamper his reelection campaign’s strategy to reach young voters online. 

The Snapchat parent company announced yesterday that it would no longer feature Trump’s account in the app’s “Discover” tab, which suggests stories and accounts from politicians and celebrities to users who don’t yet subscribe to them, after a week of controversy between social media companies and the president. Trump will continue to have a public account, which anyone can follow, but users will have to actively search for it. 

It’s a blow to the Trump camp, which has been using the popular ephemeral photo-sharing service to broadcast memes and news about the president to an audience that Bloomberg News reported includes more than 1.5 million followers. The campaign has even made custom augmented-reality lenses for Trump supporters to share, which add red “Keep America Great” or “Black Voices for Trump” hats to their photos. 

One Twitter user shared a video: 

The decision could put greater pressure on other major tech companies to limit the president’s reach on their platforms. 

Snap’s move is a reminder that companies have more options than just deciding whether to remove or label a post or account that violates its terms of service. They can direct their products and algorithms not to further amplify it. 

Snap is the latest battleground in Trump’s ongoing feud with tech titans over their handling of his social media presence. Last week, Twitter appended a warning to one of Trump’s posts that it said violated its policies against glorifying violence, which read, “When the looting starts the shooting starts.” Facebook so far has not acted. Snap’s decision was particularly notable because the company said it reached its own decision over the weekend not because of activity on its own service, but because of some of the president’s tweets. 

Particularly, the company took issue with the president’s tweets that threatened protestors at the White House would be “greeted with the most vicious dogs and ominous weapons, I have ever seen.” Twitter did not take action against that tweet.

“I’m astonished at the decision for Snapchat to make policy about its platform based on activity on another social media platform,” said Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist.

Recently, the company has been emerging as a greater force in the political arena. 

Snap’s influence on the political debate doesn’t get as much attention as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but the social network has a significant share of users. Snap reported that it had 229 million daily active users in the first quarter of 2020, significantly more than Twitter, which reported 166 million daily active users in the same period. The company has said it reaches 90 percent of all 13- to 24-year-olds and 75 percent of all 13- to 34-year-olds in the United States, underscoring the significant role it can play with young voters. 

Axios recently reported that Snap was able to register 450,000 people through its app during the 2018 midterms. New data from the non-partisan non-profit DemocracyWorks shows that 57 percent of Snapchat users last cycle that registered on the platform did indeed cast a ballot. Of those that registered, 57 percent were between the ages of 18 and 24, a demographic that usually has lower voting turnaround rates.

The Trump campaign quickly lashed out at the company’s decision. 

The campaign claims that Snap was trying to “rig the election” in favor of former vice president Joe Biden and that the company was biased against conservative users. 

“Snapchat hates that so many of their users watch the President’s content and so they are actively engaging in voter suppression,”  Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement. “If you’re a conservative, they do not want to hear from you, they do not want you to vote. They view you as a deplorable and they do not want you to exist on their platform.”

Trump has threatened Twitter, the other company that has taken significant steps to limit the reach of his rhetoric, with greater regulation. After Twitter took the unprecedented step of labeling two of the president’s tweets that made misleading comments about mail-in voting, Trump last week signed an executive order that could pave the way for federal regulators to reconsider the scope of Section 230, a key legal provision that gives social media companies legal immunity for the photos and videos people share on their services. Already, a group backed by major tech companies has brought a legal challenge against the order. 

Biden has been making a bigger push on Snapchat, too. 

Biden’s campaign has also been escalating its use of Snapchat. The campaign wouldn’t say how many followers it has, but it has been used the service to conduct Q&A sessions with young voters. Biden recently did an interview with journalist Peter Hamby on his Snapchat news program “Good Luck America.” It has its own augmented-reality lens, too, which allows people to superimpose the former senator’s signature aviators on their photos. 

Biden responded on Snapchat. From Matt Hill, deputy national press secretary, on Twitter: 

Republicans believe this move is giving Biden an unfair advantage. 

Wilson, the Republican digital strategist, told me he believes that Snap’s decision to promote one presidential candidate’s account but not another could be viewed as an illegal “in-kind” political donation. The Trump campaign also suggested in its statement that Snap’s move was illegal. 

But the company maintains that no account has the right to the additional promotion that comes with being on the Discover tab. Snapchat continues to feature politicians from both parties in the Discover tab. The company features accounts from Republican Reps. Will Hurd (Texas), Steve Scalise (La.) and Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), as well as Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. Democrats include New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.). 

“Racial violence and justice for all are non-partisan issues,” said Snap spokeswoman Rachel Racusen. “We will happily promote accounts from both sides of the aisle that reflect the need for peace, love and positive change.” 

Snap chief executive Evan Spiegel has gone further than most tech titans in his calls to address racial injustice this week, saying the United States needs a reparations commission and taxes to address racial injustice. 

“We may continue to allow divisive people to maintain an account on Snapchat, as long as the content that is published on Snapchat is consistent with our community guidelines, but we will not promote that account or content in any way…. we will make it clear with our actions that there is no grey area when it comes to racism, violence, and injustice – and we will not promote it, nor those who support it, on our platform,” Spiegel wrote in a memo to employees this week. 

Our top tabs

Nearly three dozen early Facebook employees slammed Mark Zuckerbergs decision not to moderate Trumps controversial posts.

The letter urged Zuckerberg to reconsider his position and called the decision a “betrayal” to the companys principles, reports Mike Isaac of the New York Times.

“Facebook isn’t neutral, and it never has been. Making the world more open and connected, strengthening communities, giving everyone a voice — these are not neutral ideas. Fact-checking is not censorship,” the former employees wrote. “Labeling a call to violence is not authoritarianism.”

Some of the letter’s writers helped shaped the company’s original community guidelines on posting. The letter also expressed support for current employees protesting the decision. 

“We see you, we support you, and we want to help,” they wrote. We hope you will continue to ask yourselves the question that hangs on posters in each of Facebook’s offices: ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’”

Facebook did not immediately comment on the letter.

Facebooks oversight board, which has the power to overturn moderation decisions, also addressed the controversy by making clear Wednesday that it would not yet review posts, including Trumps. The board said in a blog post that it would not be operational until later this year.

A group of Amazon warehouse employees is suing the company over working conditions they allege put them and their families at risk of coronavirus. 

It is the first lawsuit to attribute a third-party death to Amazon, Josh Eidelson and Spencer Soper at Bloomberg News report. One of the three Staten Island workers bringing the suit claims that she passed the disease along to her cousin, who lived with her and later died of covid-19.

The lawsuit claims that Amazons safety measures “sought to create a facade of compliance” and that work conditions make it impossible for employees to effectively socially distance and sanitize. The lawsuit says the company only traces which workers may have been exposed through surveillance footage, not interviews. 

Amazon punishes employees who speak out about workplace safety and tells workers not to inform others if they are affected, the lawsuit alleges. Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, told investors last week that the company does not retaliate against workers who speak out about workplace conditions.

The lawsuit adds to workers complaints lodged with federal regulators about the retailer’s working conditions during the pandemic. A growing chorus of state attorneys general and congressional lawmakers have also raised concerns with the company about its warehouse working conditions.

Amazon told Bloomberg News that it is reviewing the complaint.

Ride-hailing companies are at odds with city officials over whether they are essential services as cities across the country adopt curfews. 

The gray area that Uber and Lyft occupy has left their operations at the whim of local officials or sometimes the business interests of their rivals, Faiz Siddiqui reports. Both companies argue that they provide an essential service. 

In San Francisco, Uber initially refused to suspend service after the curfew unless its competitor Lyft also did. Both companies ultimately ended up shutting down in the city on Sunday and Monday nights. They continued to operate after curfew on Tuesday, with Lyft urging riders to take only essential trips. 

Meanwhile, New York shut down ride-hailing services entirely, as Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) declared on CNN that looters were using the services. His office and the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission declined to provide evidence for this claim. 

The companies are taking a risk in arguing that they provide essential services like taxis. That’s at odds with legal arguments they have used to deny drivers the rights and benefits of full-time employees.

Uber and Lyft are just beginning to recover from a steep drop in business during the coronavirus pandemic. Lyft was seeing rides increase in cities including Seattle, Denver and New York, but now those cities have curfews in place. 

Seed change

More than 150 black tech leaders signed a pledge urging the industry to stand against violence against black communities in the Bay Area and beyond. 

Signers of the “Black Tech for Black Lives” pledge commit to:

  • Seek justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade
  • Support police reform
  • Hire and fund black employees and founders
  • Elect leaders who support racial and social justice

The core leaders behind the pledge include ReadySet chief executive Y-Vonne Hutchinson, Aniyia Williams of Black and Brown Founders and Zebras Unite, Fastly’s Maurice Wilkins, and Darrell Jones III of Just Cities and the TechEquity Collaborative, TechCrunch reports.

“We as Black people in tech have a unique position and opportunity to respond to violence against Black people’s bodies. While we’re proximate to the pain, we largely avoid its most brutal physical outcomes,” the pledge’s founders wrote. “But we, too, feel the blows. We carry the scars on our psyches and hearts as our voices go largely unheard in the workplace and beyond.” 

The pledge is just one way that leaders in Silicon Valley have responded to racial injustices in the start-up world.

Top venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz announced yesterday a new $2.2 million fund for underrepresented founders. The firm said the fund was already in the works for months before recent protests, but its timing places it squarely in a discussion of what venture capitalists should do to source more diverse founders.

Hill happenings

Democrats are demanding answers about the Justice Department’s surveillance of protesters.

Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee wrote to the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI demanding documents related to the surveillance by June 19 and a briefing no later than June 12. 

The request comes amid broad uncertainty about what surveillance is being conducted and who’s conducting it. The Drug Enforcement Administration was granted the authority to “conduct covert surveillance” on protesters, according to an agency memo obtained by BuzzFeed News

But it is not clear what the agency will do. The DEA is limited by statute to enforcing drug-related crimes, so Attorney General William P. Barr’s approval for the agency to operate outside of the scope raises unprecedented questions.

That prompted a new wave of concern among lawmakers.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.)

Rant and rave

While Zume Pizza may be no more, an important piece of its history went up for auction today: an unused double-decker party bus. Investor Sheel Mohnot:

Investor Kim-Mai Cutler:

The Wall Street Journals Eliot Brown had another idea:

New York Times reporter Erin Griffith already wrote up the museum placard: “sock puppet of the unicorn era.”

Maybe the winner will donate it as a tax write-off?



  • George Washington University’s Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics will host a virtual forum on the coronavirus and social media disinformation on June 16 at 10 a.m.

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