The ethics of internet culture: a conversation with Taylor Lorenz

Taylor Lorenz was in high demand this week. As a prolific journalist at The Atlantic and about-to-be member of Harvard’s prestigious Nieman Fellowship for journalism, that’s perhaps not surprising. Nor was this the first time she’s had a bit of a moment: Lorenz has already served as an in-house expert on social media and the internet for several major companies, while having written and edited for publications as diverse as The Daily Beast, The Hill, People, The Daily Mail, and Business Insider, all while remaining hip and in touch enough to currently serve as a kind of youth zeitgeist translator, on her beat as a technology writer for The Atlantic.

Lorenz is in fact publicly busy enough that she’s one of only two people I personally know to have openly ‘quit email,’ the other being my friend Russ, an 82 year-old retired engineer and MIT alum who literally spends all day, most days, working on a plan to reinvent the bicycle.

I wonder if any of Lorenz’s previous professional experiences, however, could have matched the weight of the events she encountered these past several days, when the nightmarish massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand brought together two of her greatest areas of expertise: political extremism (which she covered for The Hill), and internet culture. As her first Atlantic piece after the shootings said, the Christchurch killer’s manifesto was “designed to troll.” Indeed, his entire heinous act was a calculated effort to manipulate our current norms of Internet communication and connection, for fanatical ends.

Taylor Lorenz

Lorenz responded with characteristic insight, focusing on the ways in which the stylized insider subcultures the Internet supports can be used to confuse, distract, and mobilize millions of people for good and for truly evil ends:

Before people can even begin to grasp the nuances of today’s internet, they can be radicalized by it. Platforms such as YouTube and Facebook can send users barreling into fringe communities where extremist views are normalized and advanced. Because these communities have so successfully adopted irony as a cloaking device for promoting extremism, outsiders are left confused as to what is a real threat and what’s just trolling. The darker corners of the internet are so fragmented that even when they spawn a mass shooting, as in New Zealand, the shooter’s words can be nearly impossible to parse, even for those who are Extremely Online.”

Such insights are among the many reasons I was so grateful to be able to speak with Taylor Lorenz for this week’s installment of my TechCrunch series interrogating the ethics of technology.

As I’ve written in my previous interviews with author and inequality critic Anand Giridharadas, and with award-winning Google exec turned award-winning tech critic James Williams, I come to tech ethics from 25 years of studying religion. My personal approach to religion, however, has essentially always been that it plays a central role in human civilization not only or even primarily because of its theistic beliefs and “faith,” but because of its culture — its traditions, literature, rituals, history, and the content of its communities.

And because I don’t mind comparing technology to religion (not saying they are one and the same, but that there is something to be learned from the comparison), I’d argue that if we really want to understand the ethics of the technologies we are creating, particularly the Internet, we need to explore, as Taylor and I did in our conversation below, “the ethics of internet culture.”

What resulted was, like Lorenz’s work in general, at times whimsical, at times cool enough to fly right over my head, but at all times fascinating and important.

Editor’s Note: we ungated the first of 11 sections of this interview. Reading time: 22 minutes / 5,500 words.

Joking with the Pope

Greg Epstein: Taylor, thanks so much for speaking with me. As you know, I’m writing for TechCrunch about religion, ethics, and technology, and I recently discovered your work when you brought all those together in an unusual way. You subtweeted the Pope, and it went viral.

Taylor Lorenz: I know. [People] were freaking out.

Greg: What was that experience like?

Taylor: The Pope tweeted some insane tweet about how Mary, Jesus’ mother, was the first influencer. He tweeted it out, and everyone was spamming that tweet to me because I write so much about influencers, and I was just laughing. There’s a meme on Instagram about Jesus being the first influencer and how he killed himself or faked his death for more followers.

Because it’s fluid, it’s a lifeline for so many kids. It’s where their social network lives. It’s where identity expression occurs.

I just tweeted it out. I think a lot of people didn’t know the joke, the meme, and I think they just thought that it was new & funny. Also [some people] were saying, “how can you joke about Jesus wanting more followers?” I’m like, the Pope literally compared Mary to a social media influencer, so calm down. My whole family is Irish Catholic.

A bunch of people were sharing my tweet. I was like, oh, god. I’m not trying to lead into some religious controversy, but I did think whether my Irish Catholic mother would laugh. She has a really good sense of humor. I thought, I think she would laugh at this joke. I think it’s fine.

Greg: I loved it because it was a real Rorschach test for me. Sitting there looking at that tweet, I was one of the people who didn’t know that particular meme. I’d like to think I love my memes but …

Taylor: I can’t claim credit.

Greg: No, no, but anyway most of the memes I know are the ones my students happen to tell me about. The point is I’ve spent 15 plus years being a professional atheist. I’ve had my share of religious debates, but I also have had all these debates with others I’ll call Professional Strident Atheists.. who are more aggressive in their anti-religion than I am. And I’m thinking, “Okay, this is clearly a tweet that Richard Dawkins would love. Do I love it? I don’t know. Wait, I think I do!”

Taylor: I treated it with the greatest respect for all faiths. I thought it was funny to drag the Pope on Twitter .

The influence of Instagram

Alexander Spatari via Getty Images

Jack Dorsey records podcast with fitness writer who claimed “vaccines do indeed cause autism”

Jack Dorsey, known for making tone-deaf statements on the platform he co-founded, is in the middle of another controversy. This time it is for plugging a podcast he recorded with fitness writer Ben Greenfield. Greenfield has espoused anti-vaccination views on Twitter and other platforms, continuing to do so despite measles outbreaks in the United States.

Dorsey retweeted Greenfield’s tweet about their podcast interview, commenting “Great conversation, and appreciate all you do to simplify the mountain of research focused on increasing one’s healthspan.”

Greenfield recently doubled down on the disproven claim that vaccines cause autism and has repeatedly included anti-vaccine propaganda on his podcast and social media pages.

TechCrunch has contacted Twitter for comment. A company spokesperson told Recode that neither Dorsey, who has done a string of podcast appearances recently, or the company was aware of Greenfield’s stance on vaccines and that the topic was not discussed during the interview.

Dorsey’s endorsement of Greenfield is especially striking considering that other tech companies, including YouTube and Facebook, are currently clamping down on anti-vaccination content. For example, YouTube recently announced it will demonetize anti-vaccination videos, while Facebook is down-ranking vaccine misinformation on its News Feed and hiding it on Instagram. Pinterest, which has prohibited anti-vaccination content in its terms for years, also recently said it will stop returning any search result related to vaccines.

Dorsey recently generated backlash for a tweet thread about his meditation retreat in Myanmar that neglected to mention the Rohingya genocide and declaring that Elon Musk is his favorite Twitter user, despite the fact that Musk’s tweets have landed him in legal trouble, including with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Twitter co-founder Ev Williams to step down from the company’s board

Ev Wiliams, a co-founder of Twitter and the social media business’s former chief executive officer, is stepping down from its board of directors effective at the end of the month, according to documents submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday, first reported by CNBC.

In a series of tweets, Williams addressed the news.

“I’m very lucky to have served on the board for 12 years (ever since there was a board),” he wrote. “It’s been overwhelmingly interesting, educational—and, at times, challenging… Thank you, and for starting this crazy company with me—and continuing to make it better and better. And to my fellow board members, new and old—some of the most thoughtful people I’ve ever known.”

Wiliams, the founder and CEO of online publishing platform Medium and co-founder and partner at Obvious Ventures, served as Twitter’s chief executive from 2008 to 2010 following Jack Dorsey’s, Twitter’s current CEO, original stint as CEO. Williams was succeeded by Dick Costolo, who after a five-year stint at the helm, relinquished the throne back to Dorsey.

Twitter’s board of directors includes Bret Taylor, president and chief product officer at Salesforce; Debra Lee, president and CEO of BET Networks; and executive chairman Omid Kordestani.

Twitter’s stock closed up 3 percent Friday, trading at nearly $32 a piece for a market cap of north of $24 billion.

Twitter considering a tweet ‘clarifying’ function

Clarification hasn’t always been Twitter’s strong suit. Fittingly, there’s a bit of confusion around the long standing succession that the service could add an “edit” button in order to save users from silly typos and, well, much much worse.

At a Goldman Sachs event this week, Jack Dorsey clarified that, rather than adding a controversial edit function, Twitter might just let people “clarify” earlier statements. The feature, it seems, is less aimed at the typo part of the equation than the whole on-going thing with people living to regret some horrible thing they said to the world years prior.

“The other thing that we’re seeing more broadly within the culture right now in this particular moment is people quote-unquote ‘being cancelled’ because of past things that they’ve said on Twitter or various other places in social media,” the executive said in quote reported by Recode. “There’s no credible way to kind of go back and clarify or even have a conversation to show the learning and the transition since.”

To clarify the clarification (which, one imagines, would get a slightly punchier name ahead of launch), the feature would essentially add a permanent addition to the original problematic tweet. The idea is to add context that would be lost in all of the retweeted screencaps that went out after the original was deleted.

Users then would only be able to retweet the clarification. Think of it like a quote retweet, albeit one that’s permanently  attached. It could be an interesting feature for news outlets, not to mention all of the now famous folk who might have tweeted something questionable back in the day. More so, certainly, than telling the world that you use the wrong “their” there.

As Dorsey notes, however, “Not saying that we are going to launch that but those are the sorts of questions we are going to ask.”

Thanks for the clarification.

Square finds its Sarah Friar replacement with new CFO Amrita Ahuja

Founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey says Square has poached Amrita Ahuja from Blizzard Entertainment, a division of the gaming company Activision Blizzard, to lead finance at the merchant services and mobile payments company.

Ahuja will join Square later this month, about three months after long-time Square chief financial officer Sarah Friar exited the company in favor of a CEO opportunity at Nextdoor, a neighborhood social networking site. Friar, often described as Dorsey’s right-hand woman, joined Square in 2012 and led the startup through an initial public offering that valued the company at about $3 billion.

Prior to an eight-year stint at Blizzard, Ahuja clocked in a few years at Fox Networks Group, the Walt Disney Company and Morgan Stanley, where she was an analyst in the investment banking division.

“In Amrita, we have found an amazing, multidimensional business leader,” Dorsey said in a statement. “Amrita brings the ability to consider and balance opportunities across our entire business, and she will help strengthen our discipline as we invest, build, and scale.”

Shares of Square [NYSE: SQ] dropped more than 8 percent on Thursday.

Twitter’s newest feature is reigniting the ‘iPhone vs Android’ war

Twitter’s newest feature is reigniting the flame war between iOS and Android owners.

The U.S. social media company’s latest addition is a subtle piece of information that shows the client that each tweet is sent from. In doing so, the company now displays whether a user tweets from the web or mobile and, if they are on a phone, whether they used Twitter’s iOS or Android apps, or a third-party service.

The feature — which was quietly enabled on Twitter’s mobile clients earlier this month; it has long been part of the TweetDeck app — has received a mixed response from users since CEO Jack Dorsey spotlighted it.

Some are happy to have additional details to dig into for context, for example, whether a person is on mobile or using third-party apps, but others believe it is an unnecessary addition that is stoking the rivalry between iOS and Android fans.

Interestingly, the app detail isn’t actually new. Way back in 2012 — some six years ago — Twitter stripped out the information as part of a series of changes to unify users across devices, focus on service’s reading experience and push people to its official apps where it could maximize advertising reach.

That was a long time ago — so long that TechCrunch editor-in-chief Matthew Panzarino was still a reporter when he wrote about it; he and I were at another publication altogether — and much has changed at Twitter, which has grown massively in popularity to reach 330 million users.

Back in 2012, Twitter was trying to reign in the mass of third-party apps that were popular with users in order to centralize its advertising to get itself, and its finances, together before going public. Twitter’s IPO happened in 2013 and it did migrate most users to its own apps, but it did a terrible job handling developers and thus, today, there are precious few third-party apps. That’s still a sore point with many users, since the independent apps were traditionally superior with better design and more functions. Most are dead now and Twitter’s official apps reign supreme.

Many Twitter users may not be aware of the back story, so it is pretty fascinating to see some express uncertainty at displaying details of their phone. Indeed, a number of Android users lamented that the new detail is ‘exposing’ their devices.

Here’s a selection of tweets:

I could go on — you can see more here — but it seems like, for many, iPhone is still the ultimate status symbol over Android despite the progress made by the likes of Samsung, Huawei and newer Android players Xiaomi and Oppo.

While it may increase arguments between mobile’s two tribes, the feature has already called out brands and ambassadors using the ‘wrong’ device. Notable examples including a Korean boyband sponsored by LG using iPhones or the Apple Music team sending a tweet via an Android device. Suddenly spotting these mismatches is a whole lot easier.

TikTok parent ByteDance sues Chinese news site that exposed fake news problem

There’s worrying news from China’s online media world as ByteDance, the $75 billion company behind popular video app TikTok is taking a news site to court for alleged defamation after it published a story about ByteDance’s fake news problem in India.

U.S. tech firms have come to rely on media to help uncover issues, but Chinese tech news site Huxiu has become the latest litigation target of ByteDance, which reportedly surpassed Uber’s valuation after raising $3 billion. The company has sued internet giants Tencent and Baidu in the past year for alleged anti-competitive behavior.

This time around, ByteDance — which is backed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund, KKR and General Atlantic among others — has taken issue with an op-ed published earlier this month that spotlights a fake news problem on its Indian language news app, Helo.

Launched in July as part of ByteDance’s push in India, Helo competes with local media startups such as Xiaomi-backed ShareChat and DailyHunt as well as Facebook. ByteDance operates news app Jinri Toutiao with over 250 million monthly active users in China, according to data services provider QuestMobile. TikTok, branded as Douyin in China, has a reach well beyond its home front and claims 500 million MAUs worldwide with an additional 100 million users gleaned from its Musical.ly buyout.

“An insult and abuse”

On December 4, Huxiu published an opinion piece that condemned Helo and ShareChat for allowing misinformation to spread. One Helo post, for instance, falsely claimed that a Congress leader had suggested that India should help neighboring rival Pakistan clear its debt rather than invest in the State of Unity, a pricey local infrastructure project.

In response, ByteDane filed a lawsuit against Huxiu, saying that the Chinese news site made defamatory statements against it in translating an op-ed by contributor Elliott Zaagman. Tech blog TechNode — TechCrunch’s partner in China — ran an edited English version of the story but it is not part of the suit.

Zhang Yiming, founder of ByteDance, poses for a photograph at the company’s headquarters in Beijing, China. Photographer: Giulia Marchi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“Technode edited the piece and removed some of my words. Huxiu was, and is with most of my articles, true to my original words,” Zaagman wrote on his WeChat timeline.

To adhere only to “facts” as part of its editorial process, TechNode removed “colorful” parts of Zaagman’s article, according to the blog’s editor-in-chief.

What goes missing on TechNode is what incensed ByteDance. Zaagman’s unfiltered statements on Huxiu “constitute an insult and abuse against ByteDance” by “claiming that Chinese companies have influence over the Indian election,” a ByteDance spokesperson told TechCrunch.

“The content on Huxiu is obviously a rumor and libel. It’s malicious slander. Whether it’s Chinese or foreign publications, Chinese or foreign authors, they must respect the truth, laws, and principles of journalism,” the spokesperson added.

The unedited English version is posted on Zaagman’s personal LinkedIn account here. Here is one paragraph that TechNode removed:

Maybe still Zhang is simply a victim of his own success. Few entrepreneurs start a company expecting it to be worth $75 billion. But what he has created may have far broader ramifications. As is demonstrated by Russia’s use of American social networking platforms to interfere in Western elections, misinformation campaigns can be a tool used by adversaries to disrupt a country’s internal politics. At this current moment when China faces greater international tensions, a pushback to their rising influence in Asia, and territorial disputes along their border with India, the last thing that Beijing needs is accusations from an opportunistic Indian politician sounding the alarm about how Beijing-based Chinese companies are spreading misinformation among the impressionable Indian electorate….

And this as well:

Although, on second thought, maybe it makes perfect sense that Zhang Yiming is peddling products that he himself would likely never use. After all, any good drug dealer knows not to get high on their own supply.

In a statement, Huxiu dismissed ByteDance’s accusation for being “wildly untrue” and bringing “major repercussions” for the online publication’s reputation. A spokesperson for Huxiu told TechCrunch that it hasn’t received any summons as the court is still processing the complaint.

In a peculiar twist to the incident, Huxiu actually pulled its Chinese version of Zaagman’s piece days leading to the ByteDance suit. The removal came as a result of “negotiations among multiple parties,” said the Huxiu representative who declined to share more details on the decision. In China, an online article can be subject to censorship for containing material considered illegal or inappropriate by the media platform itself or the government.

The problem of AI

douyin tiktok musically

The logo for ByteDance’s popular video app TikTok (called Douyin in China) at an electronic dance music festival. / Credit: ByteDance

In the U.S., Facebook has responded proactively to issues raised by the media — for example by banning accounts that stoke racial tension in Myanmar — while Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey went so far as to suggest that journalists sniffing out issues on his service is “critical” to the company. Beijing-based ByteDance hasn’t commented on the fake news problem highlighted in Zaagman’s article, but staff from its Indian regional app previously acknowledged the presence of misinformation.

“We work very closely with our local content review and moderation team in harnessing our algorithms to review and take down inappropriate content,” a Helo spokesperson told local newspaper Hindustan Times.

The concerns about Helo are the latest blow for ByteDance, which has marketed itself as an artificial intelligence company delivering what users want to see based on what their online interaction in the past. As has been the case with Western platforms, such as Google-owned YouTube which also uses an algorithm to feed users videos that they favor, the outcome can mean sensational and sometimes illegal content.

Along those lines, ByteDance’s focus on AI at the expense of significant “human-led” editorial oversight has come in for criticism.

In July, the Indonesian government banned TikTok because it contained “pornography, inappropriate content and blasphemy.” At home, Chinese media watchdogs have similarly slammed a number of the company’s other content platforms, and regulators in the country went so far as to shutter its humor app for serving “vulgar” content.

But ByteDance is hardly the only tech company entangled in China’s increased media scrutiny. Heavyweights including Tencent, Baidu, and ByteDance’s archrival Kuaishou have also come under attack at various degrees for hosting content deemed problematic by the authorities over the past year.

Jack Dorsey and Twitter ignored opportunity to meet with civic group on Myanmar issues

Responding to criticism from his recent trip to Myanmar, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he’s keen to learn about the country’s racial tension and human rights atrocities, but it has emerged that both he and Twitter’s public policy team ignored an opportunity to connect with a key civic group in the country.

A loose group of six companies in Myanmar has engaged with Facebook in a bid to help improve the situation around usage of its services in the country — often with frustrating results — and key members of that alliance, including Omidyar-backed accelerator firm Phandeeyar, contacted Dorsey via Twitter DM and emailed the company’s public policy contacts when they learned that the CEO was visiting Myanmar.

The plan was to arrange a forum to discuss the social media concerns in Myanmar to help Dorsey gain an understanding of life on the ground in one of the world’s fastest-growing internet markets.

“The Myanmar tech community was all excited, and wondering where he was going,” Jes Kaliebe Petersen, the Phandeeyar CEO, told TechCrunch in an interview. “We wondered: ‘Can we get him in a room, maybe at a public event, and talk about technology in Myanmar or social media, whatever he is happy with?'”

The DMs went unread. In a response to the email, a Twitter staff member told the group that Dorsey was visiting the country strictly on personal time with no plans for business. The Myanmar-based group responded with an offer to set up a remote, phone-based briefing for Twitter’s public policy team with the ultimate goal of getting information to Dorsey and key executives, but that email went unanswered.

When we contacted Twitter, a spokesperson initially pointed us to a tweet from Dorsey in which he said: “I had no conversations with the government or NGOs during my trip.”

However, within two hours of our inquiry, a member of Twitter’s team responded to the group’s email in an effort to restart the conversation and set up a phone meeting in January.

“We’ve been in discussions with the group prior to your outreach,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch in a subsequent email exchange.

That statement is incorrect.

Still, on the bright side, it appears that the group may get an opportunity to brief Twitter on its concerns on social media usage in the country after all.

The micro-blogging service isn’t as well-used in Myanmar as Facebook, which has some 20 million monthly users and is practically the de facto internet, but there have been concerns in Myanmar. For one thing, there was been the development of a somewhat sinister bot army in Myanmar and other parts of Southeast Asia, while it remains a key platform for influencers and thought-leaders.

“[Dorsey is] the head of a social media company and, given the massive issues here in Myanmar, I think it’s irresponsible of him to not address that,” Petersen told TechCrunch.

“Twitter isn’t as widely used as Facebook but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have concerns happening with it,” he added. “As we’d tell Facebook or any large tech company with a prominent presence in Myanmar, it’s important to spend time on the ground like they’d do in any other market where they have a substantial presence.”

The UN has concluded that Facebook plays a “determining” role in accelerating ethnic violence in Myanmar. While Facebook has tried to address the issues, it hasn’t committed to opening an office in the country and it released a key report on the situation on the eve of the U.S. mid-term elections, a strategy that appeared designed to deflect attention from the findings. All of which suggests that it isn’t really serious about Myanmar.

Twitter, why are you such a hot mess?

Today, Jack Dorsey tweeted a link to his company’s latest gesture toward ongoing political relevance, a U.S. midterms news center collecting “the latest news and top commentary” on the country’s extraordinarily consequential upcoming election. If curated and filtered properly, that could be useful! Imagine. Unfortunately, rife with fake news, the tool is just another of Twitter’s small yet increasingly consequential disasters.

Beyond a promotional tweet from Dorsey, Twitter’s new offering is kind of buried — probably for the best. On desktop it’s a not particularly useful mash of national news reporters, local candidates and assorted unverifiable partisans. As Buzzfeed news details, the tool is swimming with conspiracy theories, including ones involving the migrant caravan. According to his social media posts, the Pittsburgh shooter was at least partially motivated by similar conspiracies, so this is not a good look to say the least.

Why launch a tool like this before performing the most basic cursory scan for the kind of low-quality sources that already have your company in hot water? Why have your chief executive promote it? Why why why

A few hours after Dorsey’s tweet, likely after the prominent callout, the main feed looked a bit tamer than it did at first glance. Subpages for local races appear mostly populated by candidates themselves, while the national feed looks more like an algorithmically generated echo chamber version of my regular Twitter feed, with inexplicably generous helpings of MSNBC pundits and more lefty activists.

For Twitter users already immersed in conspiracies, particularly those that incubate so successfully on the far right, does this feed offer yet another echo chamber disguised as a neutral news source? In spite of its sometimes dubiously left-leanings, my feed is still peppered with tweets from undercover video provocateur James O’Keefe — not exactly a high quality source.

In May, Twitter announced that political candidates would get a special badge, making them stand out from other users and potential imposters. That was useful! Anything that helps Twitter function as a fast news source with light context is a positive step, but unfortunately we haven’t seen a whole lot in this direction.

Social media companies need to stop launching additional amplification tools into the ominous void. No social tech company has yet exhibited a meaningful understanding of the systemic shifts that need to happen — possibly product-rending shifts — to dissuade bad actors and straight up disinformation from spreading like a back-to-school virus. 

Unfortunately, a week before the U.S. midterm elections, Twitter looks as disinterested as ever in the social disease wreaking havoc on its platform, even as users suffer its real-life consequences. Even more unfortunate for any members of its still dedicated, weary userbase, Twitter’s latest wholly avoidable minor catastrophe comes as a surprise to no one.

White House says a draft executive order reviewing social media companies is not “official”

A draft executive order circulating around the White House “is not the result of an official White House policymaking process,” according to deputy White House press secretary, Lindsay Walters.

According to a report in The Washington Post, Walters denied that White House staff had worked on a draft executive order that would require every federal agency to study how social media platforms moderate user behavior and refer any instances of perceived bias to the Justice Department for further study and potential legal action.

Bloomberg first reported the draft executive order and a copy of the document was acquired and published by Business Insider.

Here’s the relevant text of the draft (from Business Insider):

Section 2. Agency Responsibilities. (a) Executive departments and agencies with authorities that could be used to enhance competition among online platforms (agencies) shall, where consistent with other laws, use those authorities to promote competition and ensure that no online platform exercises market power in a way that harms consumers, including through the exercise of bias.

(b) Agencies with authority to investigate anticompetitive conduct shall thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws, as defined in subsection (a) of the first section of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 12, or any other law intended to protect competition.

(c) Should an agency learn of possible or actual anticompetitive conduct by a platform that the agency lacks the authority to investigate and/or prosecute, the matter should be referred to the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Competition of the Federal Trade Commission.

While there are several reasonable arguments to be made for and against the regulation of social media platforms, “bias” is probably the least among them.

That hasn’t stopped the steady drumbeat of accusations of bias under the guise of “anticompetitive regulation” against platforms like Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter from increasing in volume and tempo in recent months.

Bias was the key concern Republican lawmakers brought up when Mark Zuckerberg was called to testify before Congress earlier this year. And bias was front and center in Republican lawmakers’ questioning of Jack Dorsey, Sheryl Sandberg, and Google’s empty chair when they were called before Congress earlier this month to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Justice Department has even called in the attorneys general of several states to review the legality of the moderation policies of social media platforms later this month (spoiler alert: they’re totally legal).

With all of this activity focused on tech companies, it’s no surprise that the administration would turn to the Executive Order — a preferred weapon of choice for Presidents who find their agenda stalled in the face of an uncooperative legislature (or prevailing rule of law).

However, as the Post reported, aides in the White House said there’s little chance of this becoming actual policy.

… three White House aides soon insisted they didn’t write the draft order, didn’t know where it came from, and generally found it to be unworkable policy anyway. One senior White House official confirmed the document had been floating around the White House but had not gone through the formal process, which is controlled by the staff secretary.