Hillicon Valley — Billionaires boost online right-wing spaces

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Happy Friday (and “Midnights” release day) — we’re sad to report there are no data privacy songs after all!

Today we’ll dive into how billionaires, including the rapper Ye, are buying, creating or investing in social media apps in a way that will transform the online ecosystem.

Meanwhile, another report highlights how social media platforms are failing to enforce their election misinformation policies.

This is Hillicon Valley, detailing all you need to know about tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Send tips to The Hill’s Rebecca Klar and Ines Kagubare. 

Building up the right-wing online ecosystem

The rapper Ye’s purchase of the right-wing social media app Parler may do little to reignite the floundering platform. But taken as a piece in a larger puzzle of billionaires buying, creating and investing in social media apps, critics say the acquisition could further consolidate the power of ultra-wealthy men to shape the online ecosystem based on their own ideological views. 

Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, is part of a new wave of high-profile billionaires — also including the likes of Elon Musk, Peter Thiel and former President Trump — who are putting millions into platforms with the stated intent of enabling users, including themselves, to say what they want without the constraint of rules aimed at limiting abusive content.  

The market of social media apps that espouse that laxer content moderation philosophy — largely allowing the racism, antisemitism, misogyny and conspiracy theories prohibited on mainstream sites — is crowded.

Although none of those platforms, which cater to a right-wing audience, boast user numbers on par with those of mainstream sites, experts warn the alternative sites’ power to shape online narratives about elections and other hot-button events shouldn’t be underestimated — especially as billionaires’ deep pockets power their ability to grow. 

  • Jared Holt, senior research manager at ISD Global, said the consolidation of power in the social media market among the hyper wealthy was “already a sketchy enough problem as was, even if we think about the ‘trustworthy’ mainstream platforms, being subjected to the whims of their CEOs, the Mark Zuckerbergs and Jack Dorseys of the world.”
  • “That issue has really come to the forefront a bit more now that we’ve seen individuals that have questionable or far-right sympathetic visions for tech trying to get in on the fold,” Holt said. 

Read more here.  

TikTok, Facebook under fire for misinformation

TikTok and Facebook failed to remove ads spreading election misinformation that researchers submitted to test leading platforms’ election-related policies, according to a report released Friday.  

  • TikTok, which prohibits all political ads under its policy, fared the worst, failing to block all but two of the 20 ads tested by the research team, according to the report released by Global Witness and the Cyber Security for Democracy team at NYU.
  • Facebook blocked 13 of the 20 ads tested — 10 in English and 10 in Spanish — approving a total of seven, when posted from the U.S. When posted from accounts made in the U.K., two days before the U.S. test, just five of the ads were approved, according to the report.  

When tested on YouTube, all of the ads were rejected and the dummy YouTube channel created to host the ads was banned, according to the report. 

Read more about the report. 

〽️ DROPPING

Shares of Twitter fell Friday amid concerns driven by Elon Musk’s potential acquisition of the company and a federal government investigation. 

  • Twitter shares closed 4.9 percent lower Friday even as the stock market on the whole rallied into the weekend, slipping to $49.88 per share.
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 index and Nasdaq composite all rose more than 2 percent on the day. 

Musk is seeking to close a deal to purchase Twitter for $54.20 per share with the backing of several major financial institutions and foreign investment funds, a potential source of national security concerns.  

Read more here.  

???? BITS & PIECES

An op-ed to chew on: Why policymakers should embrace — not hinder — independent work 

Notable links from around the web: 

A.I.-Generated Art Is Already Transforming Creative Work (The New York Times / Kevin Roose) 

Sorry you went viral (The Washington Post / Drew Harwell and Taylor Lorenz) 

???? Lighter click: Where do we sign up?  

One more thing: Texas takes on Google

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) announced on Thursday that his office had sued Google over its collection of biometric data, or measurements of human bodies and characteristics.

“The lawsuit alleges that Google, in yet another violation of Texans’ privacy, has collected millions of biometric identifiers, including voiceprints and records of face geometry, from Texans through its products and services like Google Photos, Google Assistant, and Nest Hub Max,” Paxton’s office said in the announcement.

Paxton says that Google has failed to obtain millions of Texans’ informed consent before collecting biometric data, violating the state’s Capture or Use of Biometric Identifier Act.

Read more here.  

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Technology and Cybersecurity pages for the latest news, and explore more newsletters here. We’ll see you Monday.

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