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Facebook’s self-styled ‘oversight’ board selects first cases, most dealing with hate speech

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A Facebook -funded body that the tech giant set up to distance itself from tricky and potentially reputation-damaging content moderation decisions has announced the first bundle of cases it will consider.

In a press release on its website the Facebook Oversight Board (FOB) says it sifted through more than 20,000 submissions before settling on six cases — one of which was referred to it directly by Facebook.

The six cases it’s chosen to start with are:

Facebook submission: 2020-006-FB-FBR

A case from France where a user posted a video and accompanying text to a COVID-19 Facebook group — which relates to claims about the French agency that regulates health products “purportedly refusing authorisation for use of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin against COVID-19, but authorising promotional mail for remdesivir”; with the user criticizing the lack of a health strategy in France and stating “[Didier] Raoult’s cure” is being used elsewhere to save lives”. Facebook says it removed the content for violating its policy on violence and incitement. The video in questioned garnered at least 50,000 views and 1,000 shares.

The FOB says Facebook indicated in its referral that this case “presents an example of the challenges faced when addressing the risk of offline harm that can be caused by misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic”.

User submissions:

Out of the five user submissions that the FOB selected, the majority (three cases) are related to hate speech takedowns.

One case apiece is related to Facebook’s nudity and adult content policy; and to its policy around dangerous individuals and organizations.

See below for the Board’s descriptions of the five user submitted cases:

  • 2020-001-FB-UA: A user posted a screenshot of two tweets by former Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in which the former Prime Minister stated that “Muslims have a right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past” and “[b]ut by and large the Muslims have not applied the ‘eye for an eye’ law. Muslims don’t. The French shouldn’t. Instead the French should teach their people to respect other people’s feelings.” The user did not add a caption alongside the screenshots. Facebook removed the post for violating its policy on hate speech. The user indicated in their appeal to the Oversight Board that they wanted to raise awareness of the former Prime Minister’s “horrible words”.
  • 2020-002-FB-UA: A user posted two well-known photos of a deceased child lying fully clothed on a beach at the water’s edge. The accompanying text (in Burmese) asks why there is no retaliation against China for its treatment of Uyghur Muslims, in contrast to the recent killings in France relating to cartoons. The post also refers to the Syrian refugee crisis. Facebook removed the content for violating its hate speech policy. The user indicated in their appeal to the Oversight Board that the post was meant to disagree with people who think that the killer is right and to emphasise that human lives matter more than religious ideologies.

  • 2020-003-FB-UA: A user posted alleged historical photos showing churches in Baku, Azerbaijan, with accompanying text stating that Baku was built by Armenians and asking where the churches have gone. The user stated that Armenians are restoring mosques on their land because it is part of their history. The user said that the “т.а.з.и.к.и” are destroying churches and have no history. The user stated that they are against “Azerbaijani aggression” and “vandalism”. The content was removed for violating Facebook’s hate speech policy. The user indicated in their appeal to the Oversight Board that their intention was to demonstrate the destruction of cultural and religious monuments.

  • 2020-004-IG-UA: A user in Brazil posted a picture on Instagram with a title in Portuguese indicating that it was to raise awareness of signs of breast cancer. Eight photographs within the picture showed breast cancer symptoms with corresponding explanations of the symptoms underneath. Five of the photographs included visible and uncovered female nipples. The remaining three photographs included female breasts, with the nipples either out of shot or covered by a hand. Facebook removed the post for violating its policy on adult nudity and sexual activity. The post has a pink background, and the user indicated in a statement to the Oversight Board that it was shared as part of the national “Pink October” campaign for the prevention of breast cancer.

  • 2020-005-FB-UA: A user in the US was prompted by Facebook’s “On This Day” function to reshare a “memory” in the form of a post that the user made two years ago. The user reshared the content. The post (in English) is an alleged quote from Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, on the need to appeal to emotions and instincts, instead of intellect, and on the unimportance of truth. Facebook removed the content for violating its policy on dangerous individuals and organisations. The user indicated in their appeal to the Oversight Board that the quote is important as the user considers the current US presidency to be following a fascist model

Public comments on the cases can be submitted via the FOB’s website — but only for seven days (closing at 8:00 Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday, December 8, 2020).

The FOB says it “expects” to decide on each case — and “for Facebook to have acted on this decision” — within 90 days. So the first ‘results’ from the FOB, which only began reviewing cases in October, are almost certainly not going to land before 2021.

Panels comprised of five FOB members — including at least one from the region “implicated in the content” — will be responsible for deciding whether the specific pieces of content in question should stay down or be put back up.

Facebook’s outsourcing of a fantastically tiny subset of content moderation considerations to a subset of its so-called ‘Oversight Board’ has attracted plenty of criticism (including inspiring a mirrored unofficial entity that dubs itself the Real Oversight Board) — and no little cynicism.

Not least because it’s entirely funded by Facebook; structured as Facebook intended it to be structured; and with members chosen via a system devised by Facebook.

If it’s radical change you’re looking for, the FOB is not it.

Nor does the entity have any power to change Facebook policy — it can only issue recommendations (which Facebook can choose to entirely ignore).

Its remit does not extend to being able to investigate how Facebook’s attention-seeking business model influences the types of content being amplified or depressed by its algorithms, either.

And the narrow focus on content taken downs — rather than content that’s already allowed on the social network — skews its purview, as we’ve pointed out before.

So you won’t find the board asking tough questions about why hate groups continue to flourish and recruit on Facebook, for example, or robustly interrogating how much succour its algorithmic amplification has gifted to the antivaxx movement.  By design, the FOB is focused on symptoms, not the nation-sized platform ill of Facebook itself. Outsourcing a fantastically tiny subset of content moderations decisions can’t signify anything else.  

With this Facebook-commissioned pantomime of accountability the tech giant will be hoping to generate a helpful pipeline of distracting publicity — focused around specific and ‘nuanced’ content decisions — deflecting plainer but harder-hitting questions about the exploitative and abusive nature of Facebook’s business itself, and the lawfulness of its mass surveillance of Internet users, as lawmakers around the world grapple with how to rein in tech giants.  

The company wants the FOB to reframe discussion about the culture wars (and worse) that Facebook’s business model fuels as a societal problem — pushing a self-serving ‘fix’ for algorithmically fuelled societal division in the form of a few hand-picked professionals opining on individual pieces of content, leaving it free to continue defining the shape of the attention economy on a global scale. 

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No one knows what anything is worth

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Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Click here if you want it in your inbox every Saturday morning.

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.


It was yet another week of startups that became unicorns going public, only to see their valuation soar. Already marked up by their IPO pricing, seeing so many unicorns achieve such rich public-market valuations made us wonder who was mispricing whom.

It’s a matter of taste, a semantic argument, a tempest in a teacup. What matters more is that precisely no one knows what anything is worth, and that’s making a lot of people rich and/or mad.

This is not a new theme. I’ve touched on it for years, but what matters for us today is that there appear to be three distinct valuation bands for companies, and the gaps between them do not appear ready to shrink. You could even argue that they have widened.

Band 1 is the private capital cohort. These are the folks who valued Affirm at $19.93 per share in its September 2020 round and Roblox at $4 billion in February of 2020. Now Affirm is worth $116.58 per share, and Roblox is worth $29.5 billion. Whoops?

Band 2 is the long-term public investing cohort. These are folks critical in the IPO pricing context. They are willing to pay more for startups than the private capital crew. Affirm was not worth under $20 per share to this group, instead it was worth $49 per share just a few months later. Whoops?

Band 3 is the retail cohort, the /r/WallStreetBets, meme-stock, fintech Twitter rabble that are both incredibly fun to watch and also the sort of person you wouldn’t loan $500 to while in Las Vegas. They are willing to pay nearly infinite money for certain stocks — like Tesla — and often far more than the more conservative public money. Demand from the retail squad can greatly amplify the value of a newly listed company by making the supply/demand curve utterly wonky. This is how you get Poshmark more than doubling a strong IPO valuation on its first day.

Most investors do well in today’s world. Though Band 1 likes to blame Band 2 for not being willing to pay Band 3 prices, it always sounds like the private capital folks are merely complaining about sharing some of the winnings with another party.

Regardless, who really knows what anything is worth? I was recently chatting with an early-stage founder who has a history of investing — narrowing it down to 17,823 people, I know — about the price of software companies both private and public and why they may or may not make sense. He said that old valuation models at banks presumed that software companies’ growth would go to zero over time, and that profits would be rare among SaaS concerns. Both concepts were wrong, so prices went up.

But I have yet to have anyone explain to me why companies that would have been valued at 10x next year’s revenues can now get, at median, 18.1x. I have a working theory of what’s going on, but none of it points to sanity, or pricing that is grokkable through a lens that isn’t hype.

(You can hit reply to this email and tell me why I am dumb if you’d like. I will buy the person with the best valuation explanation coffee when the world works again.)

Milestones and megarounds

On the milestone front, it was a huge week for leaving the private markets and joining the Big Kid Club. Namely for Affirm and Poshmark, which priced well and started to trade. And for Bumble, which filed to go public. They are targeting a good IPO window.

But there was lots more going on, including a milestone that caught my eye. M1 Finance, a fintech startup that brings together lots of pieces of the fintech playbook into a single service, reached $3 billion in assets under management (AUM) this week. The company had reached $2 billion in AUM last September, after reaching $1 billion in February of 2020.

Why do we care? The company previously told TechCrunch that it works to generate revenues worth around 1% of AUM. If that percentage has held past its October, 2020 Series C, the company just added around $10 million in ARR in under half a year. That’s a pace of revenue creation that made me sit up and take notice. (Shoutout Josh for never shutting up about the Midwest.)

But I really bring up the M1 Finance milestone for a different reason. Namely that I am consistently surprised at how deep certain markets are. Neobanks that are still growing; the OKR software market’s surprising depth; the ability of M1 to accrete deposits in a market with so many incumbents and well-funded startups.

Perhaps this is why prices make no sense; if you can’t see the edge limits of TAM, can anything be overpriced?

Moving on, some quick notes on things from the week that mattered:

  • GitLab is now worth $6 billion and hit $150 million in annual recurring revenue last year. It grew 75%, we presume year-over-year in its most recent quarter.
  • Fintech upstart LendingPoint raised $125 million at an undisclosed valuation.
  • NYC-based Paige raised $100 million. It uses computers to help make diagnoses.

One more VC Visa-Plaid take

Aziz Gilani, a managing director at Mercury Fund and an advocate of Texas (observe his Twitter handle), wrote in late regarding our query for investor notes on the Visa-Plaid breakup. You can read the rest here.

But who are we to deprive you of useful notes. And Gilani is a nice person. So, here are his $0.02:

My big take-away on the Plaid/Visa deal falling apart is about how fast everything in 2021 is moving. Arguably the biggest advantage of SPACs over direct listings and IPOs is how fast those liquidity events can get done. In a world in which valuation[s] change week to week, the delays created by the DOJ can kill a deal – even if the DOJ would eventually lose in court.

I’m philosophically super negative about the government imposing their will, but I’m also personally excited about the current wave of insurgent startups not getting gobbled up by the FAANGs of the world. For the last several years too many startups fell victim to the “quick exit” mentality personified by Mint selling so fast to Intuit. With fast/cheap capital freely available, today’s crop of startups are going big.

Worth chewing on.

Odds/Ends

What a week. I have only a few things left for you, including some early-stage rounds that I could not get thanks to waves arms around generally but wanted to flag all the same.

  • Goldman Sachs chose Marqeta for Marcus. If you know what those words mean, they matter. If you don’t, congrats on having a life.
  • Nayya raised $11 million for what VentureBeat calls “an insurance benefits management platform,” including money from Felicis.
  • Minna raised €15.5 million for what Tech.eu called a “subscription management app.”
  • Muniq closed a  $8.2M Series A to sell a shake-sort-of-thing that could help with blood sugar control.
  • And from TechCrunch two more highlights, this neat Crossbeam round and more money for Moss.

Hugs,

Alex

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Human Capital: Labor issues at GitHub, Facebook’s new civil rights exec and a legal battle against Prop 22

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This week kicked off with a report of a GitHub worker who was fired after cautioning his coworkers in the DC area to stay safe from Nazis during the assault on the U.S. Capitol. Meanwhile, Facebook created a new executive role pertaining to civil rights and California’s Proposition 22 faced its first legal challenge this year.

All that and more in this week’s edition of Human Capital.

Facebook hires VP of civil rights

Facebook hired Roy Austin to become its first-ever VP of Civil Rights and Deputy General Counsel to create a new civil rights organization within the company. Austin is set to start on January 19 and will be based in Washington, DC.

Austin most recently served as a civil rights lawyer at Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP. Prior to that, Austin co-authored a report on big data and civil rights and worked with President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Prop 22 faces lawsuit challenging its constitutionality

A group of rideshare drivers in California and the Service Employees International Union filed a lawsuit alleging Proposition 22 violates California’s constitution. The goal of the suit is to overturn Prop 22, which classifies gig workers as independent contractors in California.

The suit, filed in California’s Supreme Court, argues Prop 22 makes it harder for the state’s legislature to create and enforce a workers’ compensation system for gig workers. It also argues Prop 22 violates the rule that limits ballot measures to a single issue, as well as unconstitutionally defines what would count as an amendment to the measure. As it stands today, Prop 22 requires a seven-eights legislative supermajority in order to amend the measure.

Best tech companies to work for, according to Glassdoor

Glassdoor released its annual ranking of the best companies to work for in 2021. We broke out the top 10 tech companies from the list of large businesses (1,000+ employees) as well as from the small to medium-sized business list.

Despite recent allegations of wrongful firings and demands of better workplace conditions, Google ranked number three on the list of best tech companies, while Facebook ranked fifth. 

Netflix releases first diversity report

This was not the first time Netflix had shared this type of data, but the company had not put a bow on it until now.

Worldwide, women make up 47.1% of Netflix’s workforce. Since 2017, representation of white and Asian employees has been on a slow decline, while representation of Hispanic or Latinx, Black, mixed race and folks from native populations has been on the rise. In the U.S., Netflix is 8.1% Hispanic or Latinx, 8% Black and 5.1% of its employees are mixed race, while 1.3% of employees are either Native American, Native Alaskan, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and/or from the Middle East or North Africa.

Github faces backlash after firing of Jewish employee who made comment about Nazis

On the day a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, a worried GitHub employee warned his co-workers in the D.C. area to be safe. In an interview with TechCrunch, the now-former employee said he was genuinely concerned about his co-workers in the area, in addition to his Jewish family members. 

TechCrunch agreed to keep the identity of the terminated employee confidential due to fears of his and his family’s safety.

After making a comment in Slack saying, “stay safe homies, Nazis are about,” a fellow employee took offense, saying that type of rhetoric wasn’t good for work, the former employee told me. Two days later, he was fired, with a human relations representative citing a “pattern of behavior that is not conducive to company policy” as the rationale for his termination, he told me.

Now, the terminated employee says he is currently seeking counsel to ensure his family is protected, as well as figure out if he can receive damages or some other form of reconciliation. The fired employee said GitHub has reached out to him for help in the internal investigation, but is waiting to engage with the company until he has legal representation in place.

You can read the full story here.

Dropbox lays off 315 people

Dropbox laid off 11% of its global workforce, which comes to 315 people affected. In an email to employees, CEO Drew Houston said the company simply doesn’t need as much in-office support due to the shift to remote work, “so we’re scaling back that investment and redeploying those resources to drive our ambitious product roadmap

In the note, Houston said the changes will make Dropbox more efficient and nimble this year.

Apple launches racial justice and equity programs

Apple unveiled a few key projects as part of its $100 million commitment to racial equity and justice. 

The first is a $25 million investment in the Propel Center, an innovation and learning hub for HBCUS. As part of the investment into the Propel Center, Apple employees will help to develop the curriculum and offer mentorship to students. 

In Detroit, Apple will launch a developer academy for young Black entrepreneurs in collaboration with Michigan State University. In all, Apple hopes to reach 1,000 students per year in Detroit.

Additionally, Apple invested $10 million in VC firm Harlem Capital, $25 million in Siebert Williams Shank’s Clear Vision Impact Fund and donated an undisclosed amount to the King Center.

Amazon warehouse workers scheduled to vote on union starting next month

The National Labor Relations Board has scheduled a mail-in voting process for Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama to begin on February 8 and end March 29. Workers at the facility will decide whether or not to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The bargaining unit includes about 6,000 workers, including hourly full-time and regular part-time fulfillment workers, as well as the hundreds of Amazon’s seasonal workers, and others.

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Stay gold, ‘Plaid for X’ startups

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A failed acquisition usually triggers the same series of questions: What does this mean for early-stage startups in the sector? Will a chilling effect occur and hurt valuations? Will VCs stop funding this category? How will the exit environment look going forward?

This week gave that narrative a bullish twist. Visa and Plaid announced that they have reached a mutual agreement to no longer pursue a merger. The $5.3 billion deal had been under antitrust scrutiny from the DOJ, and eventually ended amid these regulatory challenges.

Fintech VCs and startups alike reacted to the fallen deal with aggressive optimism about Plaid’s future as an independently-owned fintech startup.

The most common arguments?

  • Plaid’s price in this current moment is far beyond $5.3 billion, so now that it is a free bird it will pursue a much larger exit
  • Plaid will go public through SPAC because it is in charge of its own destiny.
  • And my favorite: One day, Plaid will buy Visa.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Plaid CEO Zach Perret wouldn’t give too many details on the future (and whether a SPAC is involved), but he did say he has new ‘clarity’ going forward.

The fact that fintech is bullish on the future of fintech isn’t quite surprising. I will say that while one deal can never make or break a sector, a flopped merger certainly can surface the current temperature in the market. Startups Weekly readers will remember last week’s edition about how P&G’s decision not to acquire Billie could hurt DTC exit opportunities. Fintech seems unbothered and, in fact, celebratory. The only counterargument I got, via Twitter DM, is that it could set a bad precedent on big fintech mergers.

“Or maybe…corporations learn from this and look to make riskier acquisitions earlier in a company’s lifecycle because they know that if they let the company get too big they’ll lose the chance,” Rami Essaid, founder of Finmark, told me.

Only in 2021 could a $5.3 billion break-up and a DOJ investigation be considered a blessing. Rock on, ‘Plaid for X’ startups.

Before we go on, make sure to follow me on Twitter for my bad jokes and early-stage startup coverage. You can also always reach me at natasha.m@techcrunch.com.

Columbus is the new Miami which is new the San Francisco

I hope that sub-hed gave you a headache, because that’s exactly what debates about where the best place to start a company do to me. The rise of Work From Anywhere has emboldened VCs to leave San Francisco for markets such as Miami or Austin in search of the next unsung hero of their portfolios.

For investors, though, the financial benefit of moving to an emerging market might not be apparent within months, but instead years. Venture is a long game (at least most of the time).

Here’s what to know, per Silicon Valley editor Connie Loizos: Drive Capital, a venture capital firm based in Columbus, Ohio, and started by two ex-Sequoia investors now has over $1.2 billion in assets. But before it had breakout companies like Root and Olive AI, Drive had to play the unusual role of investing in a region without key investing infrastructure.

Etc: Founding partner Chris Olsen explained how they set up their roots:

“We’ve had to spend a lot of time going into the universities and putting new seed managers in business and helping them fundraise and sort of building all of this infrastructure from scratch so that the next entrepreneur is out here [versus moves away], and it works. In our first year, we had inbound interest from 1,800 [startups], then it went to about 3,000 and now it’s up to about 7,000, which is more than I’ve heard any other venture firms say that they see in California. And I don’t think it’s because we’re great. I think that’s more [a reflection of the] scale of the opportunity that’s here now. One of the things that we would love to see more of is more venture capitalists coming here, because there’s certainly more opportunity than we can invest in.”

Ideal paper world powered with alternative wind and solar energy. environmental concept.

Image Credits: Paula Dani/ABlse (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The CFO Tech Stack

If you want to start a company, go to a startup and look where employees are still using an Excel sheet. The best products are the ones fueled by frustrations, right?

Here’s what to know per managing editor Danny Crichton: For a trio of Palantir alums, 15 collective years at the now-public government tech company showed a huge gap in technology for CFOs. So, they started Mosaic, a techstack to help financial officers better communicate and perform their jobs.

Etc: Co-founder Bijan Moallemi describes the mistake other platforms are making:

“Everyone wants to be strategic, but it’s so tough to do because 80% of your time is pulling data from these disparate systems, cleaning it, mapping it, updating your Excel files, and maybe 20% of [your time] is actually taking a step back and understanding what the data is telling you.”

GettyImages 946391800

Image via Getty Images / alashi

The future of consumer hardware startups beyond Peloton

Are wearables still exciting? Is consumer hardware ever going to get easier to pull off? What was the strategy that made Peloton so successful?

These questions and more are answered in the latest consumer hardware-focused Extra Crunch Survey, which brings together VCs from SOSV, Lux Capital, Shasta Ventures, and more.

Here’s what to know: Everyone is studying the Peloton success recipe. But the big question for consumer hardware startups is if the at-home fitness market’s boom is translating to other use cases.

Etc: Cyril Ebersweiler of SOSV noted that supply chain distribution disruption during COVID-19 has been difficult for category startups, but the need for innovative solutions has never been more clear.

“Everybody is waiting for new and mind-blowing experiences, and I guess we’ve all experienced the shortcomings or the magic of some IoT products over the shelter-in-place [orders]. Spatial and ambient technologies that work well will be in demand (audio or visual), while “holographic Skype” will invade households thanks to Looking Glass.”

Also: In another investor survey, five VCs weighed in on the future of cannabis in 2021.

3D render, visualization of a man holding virtual reality glasses, electronic device, head surrounded by virtual data with neon green grid. Player one ready for the VR game. Virtual experience.

Pop goes the public market

We had yet another noisy week of privately-held startups going public to a Very Warm Wall Street reception. The most opulent story of the week was definitely Affirm’s debut, which doubled its already-increased price when it started to officially trade.

Here’s what to know, per our resident IPO reporter Alex Wilhelm, who writes The Exchange:

Etc:

GettyImages 1155292858

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 11: PayPal Co-Founder & Affirm CEO Max Levchin visits “Countdown To The Closing Bell” at Fox Business Network Studios on June 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)

Around TechCrunch

Extra Crunch Live is returning in a big way in 2021. We’ll be interviewing VC/founder duos about how their Series A deals went down, and Extra Crunch members will have the chance to get live feedback on their pitch deck. You can check out our plans for ECL in 2021 right here, or hit up this form to submit your pitch deck. Episodes air every Wednesday at 3pm ET/12pm PT starting in February.

And if you’re feeling extra generous, take this survey to help shape the future of TechCrunch

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Glassdoor: Best tech companies to work for in 2021

Signal’s Brian Acton talks about exploding growth, monetization and WhatsApp data-sharing outrage

Two-year-old NUVIA sells to Qualcomm for $1.4 billion

Loop launches out of stealth to make auto insurance more equitable

Nuclear fusion tech developer General Fusion now has Shopify and Amazon founders backing it

Seen on Extra Crunch

Lessons from Top Hat’s acquisition spree

12 ‘flexible VCs’ who operate where equity meets revenue share

Dear Sophie: What’s the new minimum salary required for H-1B visa applicants?

Equity (and a bonus Equity)

The news keeps coming so we keep recording. This week, the trio chatted about the Plaid-Visa deal, but also about the Palantir mafia‘s next big bet. In early-stage news, I covered a fintech accelerator that pivoted into an edtech accelerator and a new startup coming out of Austin that makes car insurance more equitable. We also debated SPACs for a bit, and Danny was…optimistic?

Listen to our episode, follow the pod on Twitter, and if you so please, tune into our bonus Equity episode that just came out today. It’s an episode dedicated entirely to the barrage of payments and e-commerce funding that came out this week.

Until next week,

Natasha 

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