OAKLAND, Calif. — YouTube said on Tuesday that it had suspended President Trump’s channel over concern about “ongoing potential for violence,” the latest move by one of the large technology companies to limit the president online.In a post on YouTube’s official Twitter account, the Google-owned video site said it had suspended Mr. Trump’s account after one of his recent videos violated its policy for inciting violence.That meant Mr. Trump would not be able to upload new content to his channel, which had about 2.8 million subscribers, for at least seven days. YouTube also said it was disabling …
OAKLAND, Calif. — More than 225 Google engineers and other workers have formed a union, the group revealed on Monday, capping years of growing activism at one of the world’s largest companies and presenting a rare beachhead for labor organizers in staunchly anti-union Silicon Valley.The union’s creation is highly unusual for the tech industry, which has long resisted efforts to organize its largely white-collar work force. It follows increasing demands by employees at Google for policy overhauls on pay, harassment and ethics, and is likely to escalate tensions with top leadership.The new union, called the Alphabet Workers Union …
Twitch, the livestreaming platform popular among video game players, unveiled new guidelines on Wednesday aimed at cracking down on hateful conduct and sexual harassment on its site.The site, which is owned by Amazon, said it had broadened its definition of sexual harassment and separated such violations into a new category for the first time so it could take more action against them. Under the new guidelines, Twitch will ban lewd or repeated comments about anyone’s physical appearance and expressly prohibit the sending of unsolicited links to nudity.The company also said it would prohibit streamers from displaying the …
Kat Panchal hadn’t yet learned how to use her sewing machine when the pandemic started. But in March, on leave from her job as a flight attendant with American Airlines and cooped up alone in her Philadelphia apartment, the 34-year-old taught herself to sew. Soon, she was stitching masks and donating them to health care workers.With no sign of her job coming back anytime soon, Ms. Panchal — now furloughed — put her masks on Etsy, the online marketplace where crafters and artists around the globe sell handmade and vintage goods. Since April, she has sold more than 400 masks, raking …
SAN FRANCISCO — One by one, they left. Some quit. Others were fired. All were Black.The 15 people worked at Coinbase, the most valuable U.S. cryptocurrency start-up, where they represented roughly three-quarters of the Black employees at the 600-person company. Before leaving in late 2018 and early 2019, at least 11 of them informed the human resources department or their managers about what they said was racist or discriminatory treatment, five people with knowledge of the situation said.One of the employees was Alysa Butler, 25, who worked in recruiting. During her time at Coinbase, she said, she told her manager several times about …
From the moment President Trump took office, big businesses were thrust into the culture wars like never before.
In the days after Mr. Trump’s inauguration in 2017, companies protested his temporary ban on all visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Months later, a slew of chief executives objected to the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Soon after that, a pair of business groups advising the White House disbanded, following Mr. Trump’s equivocating response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va.
It wasn’t the first time major companies had engaged with political issues. During the 1980s, some big corporations stopped doing business with South Africa because of its apartheid system, while others took progressive stances on gay rights. And during the Obama administration, companies, including Salesforce and Bank of America, took stands against laws that would have curtailed transgender rights.
But Mr. Trump’s extreme policies on things as far-flung as immigration and climate change — and the ensuing outrage of employees and customers — made it nearly impossible for big corporations to avoid entering the political fray. Even if they had tried to stay on the sidelines, Mr. Trump wouldn’t let them, as he routinely called for boycotts of companies that he felt had crossed him.
“Over the past four years, companies have had to be even more outspoken with their messages,” said Aaron Levie, the chief executive of Box, a cloud computing company, and a vocal critic of the president.
But with Joseph R. Biden Jr. now the president-elect, corporate America may be in line for a breather. Instead of having to respond to every incendiary policy or public position from Mr. Trump, companies may soon be able to advance their interests without becoming embroiled in the hurly-burly of partisan politics.
“When it comes to climate change, when it comes to bringing in talent from all around the world, when it comes to making sure our companies are diverse — these are generally things that people across the population believe in,” Mr. Levie said. “They get framed in these ideological terms that make them political when they’re actually not. My hope is that, for the next four years, we can get to a place where we can talk about policies in a more normal way.”
So far, business leaders say they expect to continue speaking out for issues they believe in.
“I don’t think we’re going to see backsliding in the business community,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation and a board member at PepsiCo, Ralph Lauren and Square. “The leaders I know are committed to change and know that change is necessary to advance their business interests.”
The last four years may have made companies more confident about publicly addressing sensitive topics, even if it means courting controversy.
“Even though you have half the country who voted for President Trump, this is important to customers, and it’s clearly important to investors,” said Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner of the accounting firm PwC, referring to issues like inclusion and the environment.
But the election has also revealed just how popular Mr. Trump remains around the country.
While Mr. Trump never won over a majority of the electorate in his runs for president, 2020 showed that the support for him in 2016 was no fluke. More people voted for Mr. Trump this election — upward of 70 million — than did so four years ago. And they cast their ballots after a first term in which he rolled back environmental protections, denied that systemic racism is a problem and cracked down on immigration, stances that corporate America largely opposes.
“Going into this year’s presidential election, we all knew the U.S. was deeply divided,” BlackRock’s chief executive, Larry Fink, wrote in a note to employees on Wednesday. “These divisions were brewing for years, along a range of social and economic issues, and have been exacerbated by the pandemic. This election, however, has made clear how deep these rifts really are — America is a nation divided.”
However, the prospect of a divided government — should Republicans retain control of the Senate — appeals to businesses for a variety of reasons. Wall Street has warmed to the idea, believing that such a situation would restore credibility to the White House but prevent progressive policies that target businesses from being enacted.
Beyond that, there are economic issues championed by Republicans and Democrats that big business is likely to support. For example, Republicans have been advocating liability protections for companies, to protect them from Covid-related claims, something many big corporations support, while Democrats are eager to invest in infrastructure, another policy favored by corporate America.
“If we get a Republican Senate and a President Biden, I see much more of an opportunity for businesses to pick their spots, to work with both sides, rather than have to take these political stands,” said Ronnie Chatterji, a professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business who studies business and politics.
With Mr. Biden in the White House, some executives expressed hope that some of the issues that had become highly charged in recent years might become much less so. Surveys show broad public support for action to combat climate change and racism, even among supporters of Mr. Trump.
“Without President Trump drawing attention to social and cultural issues, I see a very different role for C.E.O. activism,” Mr. Chatterji said. “The issues that are going to be hot are going to be less the hot-button social issues and more the bread-and-butter economic issues.”
And after four years of an often testy relationship with the Trump administration, executives said that the prospect of a Biden presidency could offer the chance to engage with the White House on a range of issues.
“Corporate leaders will find opportunities to partner with the Biden administration in ways they didn’t with the Trump administration,” Mr. Walker said. Such areas could include new investments in 5G cellphone networks, new support for schools and immigration reform that makes it easier for companies to hire workers from abroad.
Rich Lesser, chief executive of the Boston Consulting Group, said that in such a situation, “there will be real opportunities for businesses to work productively on a number of issues, whether it’s climate, or the digital divide, or win-win solutions on immigration.”
Until recently, the conventional wisdom had it that investors preferred companies to stay out of politics. That has changed in the Trump era. Mr. Fink has repeatedly said that he expects companies to focus not just on profits but also on being good corporate citizens.
And last year, the Business Roundtable, an influential lobbying group that represents large companies, put out a statement arguing that companies should no longer advance only the interests of shareholders. Instead, the group said, they must also invest in their employees, protect the environment and deal fairly and ethically with their suppliers.
Mr. Levie said that after he spoke out against Mr. Trump’s travel ban, he heard from investors who applauded him for taking a stand.
And while Mr. Ryan of PwC said he has received pushback from some employees who have accused him of wading into politics, he said that on balance, engaging with social issues has been good for the firm.
“Most times when business have taken stances, consumers have rewarded them,” he said.
That’s not to say there aren’t risks.
In August, Mr. Trump called for a boycott of Goodyear, the tire maker, after reports that the company had banned MAGA hats at its workplaces. Over the last several years, Mr. Trump has called for boycotts of the National Football League, Apple, AT&T, Harley-Davidson and many other companies for perceived slights against him or his policies.
And when companies dip into politics, it can also be demoralizing for employees. Vanessa Burbano, a professor at the Columbia Business School, has studied how workers respond when their companies stake out positions on hot button issues. Her research found that employees who don’t agree with a company’s stance can become disillusioned.
That creates a problem for big companies with diverse work forces spread out across red and blue states.
“Companies are cross-national entities,” Ms. Burbano said. “You can’t have one political stand for your employees in California and another one for your employees in Texas.”
But while threats from the president can create an unwelcome news cycle, few companies have walked back their positions as a result of his bluster.
“These issues are ingrained,” said Mindy Lubber, chief executive of Ceres, a nonprofit organization that advocates sustainable business practices. “Companies are seeing that their investors care, their consumers care and their employees care. The wind is finally at our back.”
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the country this summer, many companies have pledged to increase diversity within their ranks. And on climate change, in particular, companies appear to be moving forward with ambitious plans to decrease their carbon footprints and increase their use of renewable energy.
“Three years ago, companies were slow in saying they would commit to a net-zero future,” Ms. Lubber said. “It is not a radical idea today. They’re all moving forward.”
OAKLAND, Calif. — For months, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube prepared to clamp down on misinformation on Election Day.
On Tuesday, most of their plans went off without a hitch. The social platforms added labels to misleading posts by President Trump and notified their users that there was no immediate outcome to the presidential race. On television, news anchors even cited fact-checks similar to those made by Twitter and Facebook.
Then came Wednesday. With ballots still being counted and the absence of a clear result, the flow of misinformation shifted away from seeding doubts about the vote to false claims of victory. Twitter rapidly labeled several tweets by Mr. Trump over the course of the day as being misleading about the result of his race, and also did the same to tweets from others in his circle, such as Eric Trump and the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany. And Facebook and YouTube used their home pages to show people accurate information about the election.
The actions reinforced how even a smooth performance on Election Day did not mean that the social media companies could relax, fighting a relentless flow of toxic content. In fact, the biggest tests for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are still looming, misinformation researchers said, as false narratives may surge until a final result in the presidential race is certified.
“What we actually saw on Election Day from the companies is that they were extremely responsive and faster than they’ve ever been,” said Graham Brookie, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. But now, he said, misinformation was solely focused on the results and undermining them.
“You have a hyperfocused audience and a moment in time where there is a huge amount of uncertainty, and bad actors can use that opportunistically,” he said.
Twitter said it was continuing to monitor for misinformation. Facebook said, “Our work isn’t done — we’ll stay vigilant and promote reliable information on Facebook as votes continue to be counted.” YouTube said it also was on alert for “election-related content” in the coming days.
The companies had all braced for a chaotic Election Day, working to avoid a repeat of 2016, when their platforms were misused by Russians to spread divisive disinformation. In recent months, the companies had rolled out numerous anti-misinformation measures, including suspending or banning political ads, slowing down the flow of information and highlighting accurate information and context.
On Tuesday, as Americans voted across the country, falsehoods about broken voting machines and biased poll workers popped up repeatedly. But the companies weren’t tested until Mr. Trump — with early results showing how tight the race was — posted on Twitter and Facebook just before 1 a.m. Eastern time to baselessly lash out at the electoral process.
“They are trying to STEAL the Election,” Mr. Trump posted on the sites, without being specific about who he meant.
Twitter moved quickly, hiding Mr. Trump’s inaccurate tweet behind a label that cautioned people that the claim was “disputed” and “might be misleading about an election or other civic process.” Twitter, which had started labeling Mr. Trump’s tweets for the first time in May, also restricted users’ ability to like and share the post.
On Wednesday morning, Twitter added more labels to posts from Mr. Trump. In one, he tweeted that his early leads in Democratic states “started to magically disappear.” In another message, Mr. Trump said unnamed people were working to make his lead in the battleground state of Pennsylvania “disappear.”
Twitter also applied other labels to posts that falsely asserted victory. One was added to a post by Ben Wikler, head of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, in which he asserted prematurely that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had won the state. The Associated Press and other news outlets later called Wisconsin for Mr. Biden, though Mr. Trump called for a recount.
On Wednesday afternoon, Twitter also affixed context to tweets from Eric Trump, one of Mr. Trump’s sons, and Ms. McEnany when they preemptively claimed that Mr. Trump had won in Pennsylvania, even though the race there had not been called. The company also fact-checked other assertions from Mr. Trump claiming victory in several battleground states such as North Carolina and Georgia, where the race has not been called, and restricted his false statements about voter fraud from being shared.
“As votes are still being counted across the country, our teams continue to take enforcement action on tweets that prematurely declare victory or contain misleading information about the election broadly,” Twitter said.
Facebook took a more cautious approach. Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, has said he has no desire to fact-check the president or other political figures because he believes in free speech. Yet to prevent itself from being misused in the election, Facebook said it would couch premature claims of victory with a notification that the election had yet to be called for a candidate, if necessary.
On Tuesday night, Facebook had to do just that. Shortly after Mr. Trump posted about the election’s being stolen from him, Facebook officials added labels to his posts. The labels noted that “no winner of the presidential election had been projected.”
After the polls closed, Facebook also sent users a notification that if they were waiting to vote at a polling place, they could still vote if they were already standing in line.
On Wednesday, Facebook added more labels to new posts from Mr. Trump, checking his claims by noting that “as expected, election results will take longer this year.”
Unlike Twitter, Facebook did not restrict users from sharing or commenting on Mr. Trump’s posts. But it was the first time Facebook had used such labels, part of the company’s plan to add context to posts about the election. A spokesman said the company “planned and prepared for these scenarios and built the essential systems and tools.”
YouTube, which is not used regularly by Mr. Trump, faced fewer high-profile problems than Twitter and Facebook. All YouTube videos about election results included a label that said the election might not be over and linked to a Google page with results from The Associated Press.
But the site did encounter a problem early on Tuesday night when several YouTube channels, one with more than a million subscribers, said they were livestreaming election results. What the live streams actually showed was a graphic of a projection of an election outcome with Mr. Biden leading. They were also among the first results that appeared when users searched for election results.
After media reports pointed out the issue, YouTube removed the video streams, citing its policy prohibiting spam, deceptive practices and scams.
On Wednesday, One America News Network, a conservative cable news network with nearly a million subscribers on YouTube, also posted a video commentary to the site claiming that Mr. Trump had already won the election and that Democrats were “tossing Republican ballots, harvesting fake ballots and delaying results” to cause confusion. The video has been viewed more than 280,000 times.
Farshad Shadloo, a YouTube spokesman, said the video did not violate the company’s policy regarding misleading claims about voting. He said the video carried a label that the election results were not final. YouTube added that it had removed ads from the video because it did not allow creators to make money off content that undermined “confidence in elections with demonstrably false information.”
Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, said the tech companies still had a fight ahead against election misinformation, but were prepared for it.
“There will always be a long tail of disinformation, but it will become less impactful,” he said. “They are still working, for sure, and will try to maintain this staffing level and focus until the outcome is generally accepted.”
But Fadi Quran, campaign director at Avaaz, a progressive nonprofit that tracks misinformation, said Facebook, Twitter and YouTube needed to do more.
“Platforms need to quickly expand their efforts before the country is plunged into further chaos and confusion,” he said. “It is a democratic emergency.”
Rob Rhinehart, a co-founder of nutritional drink start-up Soylent, declared in a blog post last week that he was supporting Kanye West for president.
“I am so sick of politics,” Mr. Rhinehart wrote. “Politics are suddenly everywhere. I cannot avoid them.”
David Barrett, the chief executive of Expensify, a business software start-up, went in another direction. In an email to his company’s 10 million customers last week, he implored them to embrace politics by choosing the Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“Anything less than a vote for Biden is a vote against democracy,” Mr. Barrett proclaimed.
With days to go before the election on Tuesday, Mr. Rhinehart and Mr. Barrett represent the twin poles of a start-up culture war that has openly erupted in Silicon Valley. Start-ups such as the cryptocurrency company Coinbase and the audio app Clubhouse have become embroiled in a debate over how much politics should be part of the workplace. And venture capitalists and other tech executives have weighed in on social media with their own views.
“I have never seen another instance like this in my career,” said Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist and political consultant. “There’s no real separation anymore, in the current political climate, between politics and everything else. It has permeated absolutely everything.”
Silicon Valley tech workers have long been regarded as liberal but not politically overactive. After President Trump’s victory in 2016, however, workers at large tech companies such as Google and Amazon began agitating more on issues like the ethics of artificial intelligence, immigration and climate change.
Now many start-up workers, who have been sold on a mission of changing the world, expect their employers to support their social and political causes, entrepreneurs and investors said. This summer’s protests against police violence prompted many tech companies to re-examine their own issues with race. And the pressure to make political moves before the election has only intensified.
The shift has grown partly out of a realization that no tech platform is completely neutral, said Katie Jacobs Stanton, who invests in start-ups through her venture capital firm, Moxxie Ventures. Founders who build companies with millions of users “really have an obligation to have a point of view and make sure their products are being used for good,” Ms. Stanton said.
“It’s disingenuous and it’s also the luxury of the privileged to say, ‘We don’t have a point of view,’” she added.
But others said they feared becoming a lightning rod or inflaming tensions at a hypersensitive moment during the coronavirus pandemic. Some worried that their companies could be sued by employees who might say they were discriminated against because of their political beliefs. Others said any move could be attacked by those who found the actions inauthentic or not enough.
Keep up with Election 2020
Those tensions exploded in public last month when Brian Armstrong, the chief executive of Coinbase, penned a 2,000-word blog post to “clarify” his company’s culture. Mr. Armstrong wrote that he wanted Coinbase to generally avoid engaging with broader social issues and workplace conversations about politics. He said it was a way to minimize distraction and focus on the start-up’s mission of creating “an open financial system for the world.”
Two months earlier, dozens of Coinbase employees had staged a walkout after executives were slow to express solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters and minority employees, several workers said. In his post, Mr. Armstrong said employees who disagreed with his “no politics” stance could leave.
His position immediately created waves across Silicon Valley. Some praised the move, with one Coinbase investor comparing Mr. Armstrong to Michael “Jordan in his prime.” Others said opting out of politics was itself a political statement.
Dick Costolo, a former chief executive of Twitter, tweeted that “me-first capitalists who think you can separate society from business” would be shot in “the revolution.” He deleted the post after, he said, it set off violent threats and harassment.
In an interview, Mr. Costolo said it was impossible for companies to separate their mission from their impact on the world. “If you try to separate the social contract from the economic contract, don’t be surprised when there’s an uprising, because they’re linked,” he said.
Some Coinbase workers disagreed with Mr. Armstrong. “I’m just so mystified by the apparent lack of awareness in the blog post,” Ryan King, a Coinbase engineer, wrote on the company’s internal Slack messaging system. The message was reviewed by The New York Times. “A declaration that we’re not going to touch ‘broader societal issues’ fails to acknowledge that we’re a part of society.”
About 60 Coinbase employees, or 5 percent of the work force, have resigned, the company said. A spokeswoman declined further comment.
Fred Wilson, an investor at Union Square Ventures and a Coinbase board member, said in an interview that there were no easy answers for start-up leaders. “Many, many C.E.O.s have told me privately that they would like to have done what Brian did but don’t want to take the heat that he has taken,” he said.
On Monday, Mr. Wilson wrote a blog post about removing start-up chief executives who have “failed to manage numerous important challenges.” The post prompted speculation that he was referring to Mr. Armstrong, but Mr. Wilson said it was a metaphor for President Trump.
The political debates among Silicon Valley start-ups have ramped up since the Coinbase episode. Last week, Soylent’s Mr. Rhinehart published his post supporting Mr. West’s presidential bid. Mr. Rhinehart, who is on the board but not involved in the company’s day-to-day operations, also attacked the political system and the media, writing that “politics has always been based on jokes.”
Demir Vangelov, Soylent’s chief executive, said Mr. Rhinehart’s post did not represent the company. Soylent’s focus is on bringing “the best complete nutrition to everyone,” he said, and it does not take political stances.
At Expensify, based in Portland, Ore., Mr. Barrett took a different position. After spending more than a decade in Silicon Valley, where he found a “uniform view” that politics was not good for business, he moved to Portland four years ago. Now, he said, “choosing not to participate is also a choice — it’s a choice to defend the status quo.”
So when Expensify employees drafted an email to tell customers to vote for Mr. Biden, after concluding in an internal discussion that re-electing Mr. Trump would be a threat to democracy, Mr. Barrett favored sending it out. While roughly a third of Expensify’s top management opposed sending the email because it could alienate customers, the majority ruled, Mr. Barrett said.
Last Thursday, Expensify blasted its message to its 10 million users. “Not many expense reports get filed during a civil war,” Mr. Barrett wrote.
The email instantly drew criticism and praise on social media. Job applications, web traffic and customer sign-ups have since spiked, Mr. Barrett said. But he also received death threats, prompting him to hire private security. No customers have quit, potentially because Expensify’s system takes months to switch out of, he said.
Tayo Oviosu, chief executive of Paga, a payments start-up in Lagos, Nigeria, said Expensify’s email had crossed a line. Mr. Oviosu isn’t opposed to companies’ speaking up on social justice issues, “but that is very different than leveraging the fact that you used my personal information to tell me I have to vote in a certain way,” he said. “That is wrong.”
Mr. Oviosu, who was using a trial version of Expensify and was considering adopting the paid version, said he now planned to look at alternatives. “I think they lost me completely on this,” he said.
The start-up culture wars are also evident on Clubhouse, where people join rooms and chat with one another. The app has been a popular place for investors such as Marc Andreessen and other techies to hang out in the pandemic. (Mr. Andreessen’s venture firm, Andreessen Horowitz, has invested in Clubhouse, Coinbase and Soylent.)
On Oct. 6, Mr. Andreessen started a Clubhouse room called “Holding Space for Karens,” which describes having empathy for “Karens,” a slang term for a pushy privileged woman. Another group, “Holding Space for Marc Andreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessen,” soon popped up. There, people discussed their disappointment with the Karen discussion and other instances when, they said, Clubhouse was hostile to people of color.
Mr. Andreessen and others later started a Clubhouse room called “Silence,” where no one spoke. Andreessen Horowitz declined to comment.
At a “town hall” inside the app on Sunday, Clubhouse’s founders, Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, were asked about Coinbase’s and Expensify’s political statements and where Clubhouse stood. They said the company was still deciding how Clubhouse would publicly back social causes and felt the platform should allow for multiple points of view, a spokeswoman said. She declined to comment further.
Yet even those wishing to stay out of politics are finding it hard to avoid. On Saturday, Mr. Armstrong shared Mr. Rhinehart’s blog post endorsing Mr. West on Twitter. “Epic,” tweeted Mr. Armstrong.
Several users pointed out the hypocrisy in Mr. Armstrong’s sharing something political after telling employees to abstain. One of his employees, Jesse Pollak, wrote that Mr. Armstrong had shared something with “a large number of inaccuracies, conspiracy theories, and misplaced assumptions.”
Soon after, Mr. Pollak and Mr. Armstrong deleted their tweets.