Tech firms say they support George Floyd protests: here is what happening

Tech News posted on 6/6/2020 11:04:40 PM by christina , Likes: , Comments: 0, Views: 759

Tech firms say they support George Floyd protests: here is what happening
Here's a look at what Google, Facebook and Apple are doing, versus what they're saying, in the fight for racial justice and an end to police brutality.

Here's a look at what Google, Facebook and Apple are doing, versus what they're saying, in the fight for racial justice and an end to police brutality.

In the past week, companies including Apple, Google and Microsoft have expressed support for protests around the country sparked by the death of George Floyd. A bystander video depicting Floyd's final moments showed the 46-year-old black man warning police that he couldn't breathe and crying out for his mother as a white officer used a knee to pin him to the ground by his neck. The video went viral, shocking millions of people around the world, and leading to widespread condemnation of police tactics toward members of the African American community.

"George Floyd's death is shocking and tragic proof that we must aim far higher than a 'normal' future, and build one that lives up to the highest ideals of equality and justice," Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in a letter posted to the front page of the company's website on June 4.

"Coming together as a community and showing support is important, but it isn't enough," Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in an open letter to his team on June 3, in which he pledged $12 million to organizations addressing racial inequalities.

"There is no place for hate and racism in our society," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella tweeted on June 1.

The moves are just the latest way tech is speaking out on social issues. The trend began increasing in 2017, shortly after US President Donald Trump was inaugurated into office that January. Since then, the Trump administration has instituted orders banning travel from majority-Muslim countries, defended white supremacists and neo-Nazis marching in Virginia, and announced an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, which allowed people illegally brought into the country as children to remain in the states.

But the technology industry has struggled with diversity -- with opportunities for black men and women particularly limited. That's led to many tech companies releasing regular diversity reports, which have shown slow progress. 

Here's what the tech industry is saying and doing about racial inequality in the US.

Apple

On June 4, the iPhone maker posted a letter to the top of its website, one of the most popular in the world, speaking out on racism and pledging donations to organizations challenging "racial injustice and mass incarceration." One of those organizations is the Equal Justice Initiative.

"While our laws have changed, the reality is that their protections are still not universally applied," Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in the letter. "We've seen progress since the America I grew up in, but it is similarly true that communities of color continue to endure discrimination and trauma. To create change, we have to reexamine our own views and actions in light of a pain that is deeply felt but too often ignored. Issues of human dignity will not abide standing on the sidelines."

Apple, valued at more than $1.4 trillion and one of the richest companies in the world, didn't say how much it was donating.

Amazon

On May 31, Amazon said it will donate $10 million to racial justice initiatives, including the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, the Equal Justice Initiative and the United Negro College Fund. The company also posted a message saying that "the inequitable and brutal treatment of Black people in our community must stop."

"Together, we stand in solidarity with the Black community -- our employees, customers and partners -- in the fight against systemic racism and injustice," the company added.

But Amazon has been criticized for well over a year for its various ties to police, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the US Defense Department. The American Civil Liberties Union has often called out Amazon for its sale of facial recognition technology to law enforcement, which the nonprofit says could lead to excessive surveillance of the public. Immigration rights groups have protested on the streets against Amazon's alleged work providing tech to ICE, which the company hasn't confirmed.

Amazon's Ring video doorbell company has repeatedly been critiqued for its work sharing videos with hundreds of local police departments while not offering enough transparency about these partnerships.

Amazon, which didn't respond to a request for comment for this story, has been steadfast in its commitments to these organizations, and in 2018, CEO Jeff Bezos said Amazon will continue to work with the US Defense Department. 

"If big tech companies are going to turn their backs on the Department of Defense, we are in big trouble," Bezos said at the time. "This is a great country, and it does need to be defended."

Ring also has added more disclosures about its work with law enforcement and now gives its users more control over sharing videos with police.

Google

On June 3, Google said it's committing $12 million over two years to causes related to racial equity. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and its parent company Alphabet, said the tech giant would also hold an 8 minute and 46 second moment of silence -- the amount of time Floyd was restrained by the officer before his death -- to honor the memory of black people who'd lost their lives. 

Earlier in the week, Google displayed a black ribbon on its homepage, with the caption: "We stand in support of racial equality, and all those who search for it." In a tweet announcing the homepage tweak, Pichai wrote, "For those feeling grief, anger, sadness & fear, you are not alone."

Google also postponed a virtual event that would've taken place that week, where the company was set to unveil the next version of its Android mobile operating system. The event was delayed in light of the protests, with Google noting, "now is not the time to celebrate."

Meanwhile, at Alphabet's annual stockholder meeting on June 3, the company rejected a shareholder proposal that called for executives' pay packages to be tied to diversity and inclusion goals. The practice has been adopted by some other tech giants, including IBM and Intel. "We're asking Alphabet to put its money where its mouth is on inclusion, and drive improvement from the top," said Pat Miguel Tomaino, of Zevin Asset Management, who mentioned the George Floyd protests in his presentation to company leadership. 

Google has also faced scrutiny for scaling back its diversity efforts, including cutting and outsourcing employee training sessions, according to a report by NBC News. Reportedly, one of the nixed initiatives was called Sojourn, a comprehensive program focused on race and implicit bias, and on navigating those kinds of conversations in the workplace. Google denied it was scaling back its efforts, and Pichai said earlier this month that diversity is a "foundational" value for Google.

It's not the first time Google has been criticized over diversity and culture. Last year, a memo circulated around the company's workforce, written by a black employee leaving the company. The employee called out the "burden of being black at Google." The author described feeling uncomfortable with his colleagues' insensitive comments about protests over the death of Eric Garner, who was killed by police in New York in 2014. Like Floyd, Garner also said the words "I can't breathe" while being restrained by police.

Reached for comment, Google didn't answer questions about how its diversity issues could potentially undermine its statements in response to the George Floyd protests.

YouTube

Google's YouTube, the world's most widely used video service, said it will pledge $1 million to the Center for Policing Equity. The company has also spotlighted racial justice issues on its site.

"We stand in solidarity against racism and violence," the organization posted on its Twitter account. "When members of our community hurt, we all hurt."

But YouTube has been criticized in recent years for appearing to allow and promote harassing, racist and white supremacist videos, which have flourished on its site. Such videos have, for example, denied events like the Holocaust and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, during which a shooter killed 20 children and 6 adult staff members.

Last year YouTube said recommendations for those and similar videos have dropped dramatically, but a CNET investigation found that harassing and hateful videos still thrive in subcultures on the site, including gaming.

The company also removed abilities for some controversial YouTubers who brush up against the harassment policy to make money from the company's advertising program. 

Twitter

The social networking company, which has long played second fiddle to larger rival Facebook, is the place where many activist groups have organized and communicated. The bystander video of Floyd spread via Twitter, and it's where reporters and protesters alike have posted about crowds, government response and police misconduct.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, as Black Lives Matter protests there grew in response to the shooting of Michael Brown, tweeted out a statement on June 1 calling for "police policy reform now." He's also pledged money from his own fortune in Twitter stock to support various social justice causes, tweeting about the millions of dollars in grants he issued as protests flared across the country.

Twitter also posted a public statement in support of the protests, saying, "racism does not adhere to social distancing."

"Amid the already growing fear and uncertainty around the pandemic, this week has again brought attention to something perhaps more pervasive: the long-standing racism and injustices faced by Black and Brown people on a daily basis," the company added.

Twitter has long been a hotbed of racist rhetoric and trollish behavior that's made the social network off-putting for many people. Though the company doesn't allow racist content or language that incites violence, it's struggled with the volume of objectionable tweets. Dorsey has vowed on multiple occasions to do better.

Last month Twitter became a center of the political world when it added a fact-checking notice to one of Trump's tweets for the first time, with a link pointing to more information. The company did that again to a tweet from a Chinese official.

As protests began spreading around the country in response to Floyd's death, Twitter screened out a tweet by Trump that says, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." The notice obscuring the tweet says the post violates Twitter's policy against glorifying violence. But it also says it's in the public's interest to be able to review the president's statements, and it provides a View button people can click to go ahead and read the tweet.

The move infuriated Trump, who issued an executive order asking independent government agencies to reexamine speech laws that protect social media companies from lawsuits. He's also called for parts of those laws to be repealed.

Facebook

As Floyd protests sprung up across the US, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to his Facebook account to voice support.

"The pain of the last week reminds us how far our country has to go to give every person the freedom to live with dignity and peace," Zuckerberg wrote. "It reminds us yet again that the violence Black people in America live with today is part of a long history of racism and injustice. We all have the responsibility to create change."

Zuckerberg added that "to help in this fight, I know Facebook needs to do more to support equality and safety for the Black community through our platforms."

Like Twitter, Facebook has long struggled with trollish and racist behavior. Late last year, Reveal by the Center for Investigative Reporting published details about hundreds of cops who participated in extremist Facebook groups that promoted Islamophobic, misogynistic or anti-government militia messages. Only one of the 150 law enforcement departments took definitive action, firing the detective involved. Facebook, for its part, told Reveal it doesn't tolerate such behavior, but its programs still kept recommending new hate groups to Reveal's reporters.

Hate speech and harassment aren't the only problems Facebook struggles with. The company grappled with the same "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" remark Trump made on Twitter. Facebook chose to allow Trump's remark to remain untouched on its namesake site and on its Instagram photo-sharing service, even though Twitter had flagged it with an advisory notice about violence.

Zuckerberg insisted those Facebook and Instagram posts would remain, leading employees to publicly speak out in rare criticism of the company and its CEO.

But on late Friday, Zuckerberg publicly shared a note to employees, saying he would review the company's policies, including the ones that involving Trump.  


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