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To fund their startups, Stanford students choose from many options The Stanford Daily
To fund their startups, Stanford students choose from many options The Stanford Daily
Minneapolis-based venture-capital firm for founders of color aims to raise $50 million Minneapolis Star Tribune
Joyous Day! Not one, but two reports now point to the end of the Touch Bar for forthcoming MacBook Pros. First, here’s Juli Clover summarizing a note from Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo obtained by MacRumors:
According to Kuo, Apple is developing two models in 14 and 16-inch size options. The new MacBook Pro machines will feature a flat-edged design, which Kuo describes as “similar to the iPhone 12” with no curves like current models. It will be the most significant design update to the MacBook Pro in the last five years.
There will be no OLED Touch Bar included, with Apple instead returning to physical function keys. Kuo says the MagSafe charging connector design will be restored, though it’s not quite clear what that means as Apple has transitioned to USB-C. The refreshed MacBook Pro models will have additional ports, and Kuo says that Most people may not need to purchase dongles to supplement the available ports on the new machines. Since 2016, Apple’s MacBook Pro models have been limited to USB-C ports with no other ports available.
Both the Touch Bar and MagSafe element was quickly corroborated by Mark Gurman for Bloomberg — though he notes: “The new Macs will look similar to the current versions, albeit with minor design changes.” Still, you could see a world in which the design is more similar to the iPhone 12, and yet doesn’t look that much different. I’m mainly curious if they’ll be thinner and lighter, or if Apple’s opts to keep some bulk for the insane battery life the M1 chips are getting in the old shells.
Anyway, the far more interesting bits are around Touch Bar and MagSafe. If the former really is going away — a feature I’ve disliked from the get-go — it will be a pretty big admission that it was a failure. A design flourish born out of “whether or not you could, not stopping to think if you should”. I do agree that some developers stumbled into some interesting use cases eventually, but certainly not enough to necessitate the whole bar — nor the feature at all for most people. Maybe they can do a ‘Touch Button’ going forward? A single customizable button? Right next to the Touch ID button — the only good part to come out of the bar…
I’m more torn on MagSafe. Like seemingly everyone, I loved it and miss it but I also love the convenience of needing one USB-C charger for many devices — including the iPad Pro. Of course, Apple still has not brought USB-C to the iPhone — and it’s looking increasingly like they never will, instead going straight to wireless-only charging. And new devices like the AirPods Max use Lightning too. So perhaps the intention is just to offer USB-C as an I/O standard, but stop using it for power in the few devices where they do?¹
I almost wish they’d make a compromise here and offer some sort of MagSafe USB-C accessory — a tiny dongle which plugs into a USB-C port and allows for a MagSafe power connection. As a bonus, that would bring MagSafe trip protection to all sorts of USB-C devices! But presumably this wouldn’t fulfill the faster charging rate that Gurman notes.
Mainly, since Apple is clearly feeling nostalgic, I want them to bring back the glowing Apple logos on the back of MacBooks — something they seem to want to do themselves if you just look at all their recent marketing!
¹ Though we’ll see what they do with the iPads Pro going forward. On one hand, there’s only the one port so seemingly both power/peripherals need to run through it. On the other, there is the Smart Connector, which routes power through things like the Magic Keyboard…
‘We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.’
These are the words of cyberlibertarian John Perry Barlow in his ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’, penned in 1996. This bombastic document articulates much of the promise idealists once saw in the internet. Above all, it was supposed to unleash free speech and self-expression beyond
anything previously imagined.
So central was free speech to the mythos of the online world that when the tech giants we know and fear today began to emerge, turning a once anarchic space into hugely profitable businesses, they often appealed to that very principle. Free speech, for these would-be oligarchs, provided them with some semblance of deeper purpose.
In 2012, Twitter’s UK general manager, Tony Wang, famously dubbed the social network ‘the free speech wing of the free speech party’. ‘Giving people a voice’ is the somewhat more bloodless formulation preferred by one Mark Zuckerberg when describing the moral mission of his social-media behemoth, Facebook.
Last week, those two companies banned Donald Trump, the still sitting president of the United States, from their platforms indefinitely, effectively depriving a democratically elected leader of his access to what now constitutes the public square. They crossed a line few ever thought they would cross, and reminded us just how far that old dream of the free internet now is from the authoritarian, corporate reality.
In the wake of the storming of the Capitol by Trumpist rioters last week, Twitter and Facebook claimed Trump’s ongoing presence on their platforms would incite more violence. But the mental gymnastics required to justify that claim made clear something else was going on. In its rationale for suspending Trump, Twitter cited a tweet in which he confirmed he would not be attending the inauguration of Joe Biden, saying it could be interpreted as a coded invitation to attack it.
In truth, the historic decisions taken by Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others last week were the culmination of a years-long campaign, waged from inside and outside these tech firms, to deplatform Trump. Supposed liberals and leftists have accused him of spreading hate and misinformation, and routinely heaped pressure on these companies to intervene.
For a long time, Big Tech just about held out against the tide – even as the platforms’ policies on policing speech became more and more prohibitive. Trump was still the president, after all. Warning labels and fact-checks were slapped on his most controversial posts instead, itself a remarkable intervention. That would have to suffice, it seemed, until he left office and would no longer be afforded special protection.
Perhaps it was the pressure of the moment. Perhaps the Capitol storming simply gave Twitter and Facebook an excuse. But those suggesting these bans were purely the result of the cool-headed application of Facebook’s and Twitter’s guidelines are deluding themselves, as are those who don’t seem to see the terrifying precedent this all sets.
These tech firms, which once claimed the mantle of free speech, have now become instruments of political censorship – arguably the most powerful the world has ever known. So powerful, in fact, that even the highest elected office in the free world is not enough to protect you from them. The question is: how did we get here?
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey at a House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing about Twitter’s transparency and accountability, on Capitol Hill, 5 September 2018.
The political leanings of Silicon Valley are at this point beyond doubt. An analysis by Wired ahead of the November election found that 95 per cent of donations by employees at the six big tech firms – Alphabet (parent company of Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Oracle – went to Joe Biden.
But to suggest that these companies were desperate from the outset to inflict censorship on their ideological opponents, to assume the role of moral arbiters and ministers of truth, is to ascribe to them a moral substance that is probably beyond them. In the end, they wanted to make money. And they have always been acutely aware that acquiescing to the calls for them to censor more and more content would plunge them into political controversy.
But acquiesced they now have. In recent years, at remarkable speed, Big Tech has extended its censorious writ over more and more aspects of online discussion. And in doing so these firms have offered a perfect case study in how swiftly censorship grows as soon as the principle is compromised.
There was arguably no golden age for unfettered free speech on these platforms. As soon as the digital public square became dominated by a handful of billionaires, the days of the free internet were numbered. But over the past five years in particular, censorship on these sites has been turbocharged in response to a slew of moral panics.
From 2016 onwards, a succession of hard-right figures were banned by the big platforms over alleged hate speech, from alt-lite troll Milo Yiannopoulos to anti-Islam thug Tommy Robinson to comical conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The old liberal arguments against censoring bigots – that the answer to bad speech is more speech, that censorship only drives hate underground – were dismissed, if indeed they were ever made.
Commentators and politicians demanded scalp after scalp. The taste for censorship was insatiable. And as hate-speech policies widened, more respectable voices were caught up in them. One was gender-critical feminist Meghan Murphy, permanently banned from Twitter for the crime of ‘misgendering’ an alleged sex offender.
Even amid all this, Big Tech tried to hold to a series of increasingly sketchy lines. In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg said, on record and unprompted, that it wasn’t Facebook’s job to censor Holocaust denial, however offensive he as a Jewish man found it. He did not want to rule on what is and isn’t true. When Alex Jones was booted off Facebook that same year, a spokesperson was at pains to say this was over Jones’ alleged ‘hate speech’ and ‘glorification of violence’ – not his madcap claims that the Sandy Hook massacre was a ‘false flag’ or 9/11 was an inside job.
But the logic of censorship is always towards more censorship. And Silicon Valley came under increasing political pressure to clamp down on online hate and misinformation, which leading Democrats in the US believe was instrumental to Trump’s election in 2016 – baffled as they are by the prospect that some voters might have simply preferred him to Hillary Clinton.
Last year, Joe Biden told the New York Times that Facebook was ‘propagating falsehoods’, pointing to attack ads he said had been run against him by Russians and Republicans. He called for Section 230 – which protects tech platforms from liability for what their users post – to be revoked.
When now vice-president-elect Kamala Harris was seeking the Democratic nomination, she also took aim at Facebook and Twitter over so-called hate speech. ‘We will hold social-media platforms accountable for the hate infiltrating their platforms’, she said.
Politicians hauled Zuckerberg et al before Congressional hearings, demanding that they do more to fact-check and censor, under the looming threat of their businesses being regulated or broken up. But time and again Democrats seemed less concerned about these firms’ monopolistic power and more about their apparent hesitance to wield it to the ends of censorship.
An effigy depicting the relationship between the German judiciary and Facebook, at the Rose Monday carnival parade in Dusseldorf, 24 February 2020.
2020 was the year this all came to a head.
First, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the big platforms abandoned any prior concerns they might have had about becoming the Ministry of Truth. YouTube began banning any content that deviated from the advice of the World Health Organisation. Facebook started doing pandemic fact-checking and tried to depress the spread of Covid-denying posts, but it was soon banning conspiracy theorists wholesale. (Zuckerberg’s uncharacteristically liberal approach to Holocaust denial was also dropped.)
Then came the US presidential election. And with some dark irony, fears that Trumpist misinformation would swing the result led Big Tech to make one of its most sinister interventions into electoral politics up to that point: the censorship of a mudslinging New York Post exposé about Joe Biden’s notoriously dodgy son, Hunter. Twitter locked the Post, America’s oldest daily newspaper, out of its Twitter account. Users were prevented from sharing the story, even in private messages. Facebook announced it was ‘reducing’ the story’s ‘distribution on our platform’, in line with ‘our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation’.
If Big Tech had simply, arrogantly assumed the right to restrict free speech and to meddle in democratic politics, that would have been bad enough. But the truth is that, at each turn, these corporate giants have had this role foisted upon them by a liberal establishment rattled by the Trump revolt and increasingly given to hysteria.
For all the liberal elites’ posturing against these monopolistic firms, they have handed Big Tech the moral authority to police the public square. The revolving door between Silicon Valley and the Democratic Party, not to mention the Big Tech alumni staffing Biden’s team, suggests the incoming administration is more than comfortable with this arrangement for now.
Even so, liberals and leftists are already starting to wake up to the danger Trump’s social-media bans pose, and the shadow they could cast over politics in the future. In a recent New York Times column, Michelle Goldberg sums up the now common doublethink: ‘I find myself both agreeing with how technology giants have used their power in this case, and disturbed by just how awesome their power is.’
Other world leaders have, as you might imagine, found it all unsettling. A spokesman for German chancellor Angela Merkel – no free-speech advocate herself – said the social-media clampdown was ‘problematic’. Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador went further, likening it to the Inquisition.
Most strikingly, the Polish government has said it will draft legislation to limit Big Tech censorship. Polish law is hardly free-speech fundamentalist, nor is its governing Law and Justice Party particularly liberal. Still, this nascent, sovereignist pushback against Big Tech censorship – which often goes well beyond the censorship practised by national governments – may be a taste of things to come.
When John Perry Barlow wrote his declaration 25 years ago, his aim was fixed squarely on the state. ‘Governments of the Industrial World’, he thundered, ‘I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.’ But in Western democracies today, at least, the primary threat to online free speech comes not from national governments, but from a Silicon Valley oligarchy that was elected by precisely no one.
How to challenge Big Tech censorship is an issue we believers in free speech will be grappling with for years to come – alongside the state censorship that has only grown in Britain and elsewhere of late. But perhaps the democratic nation state, so often painted as the problem, will prove to be part of the solution.
Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_
All photos by: Getty Images.
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Facebook has close to 2bn users, posting over 100bn things each day. The global SMS system, at its peak, had 20-25bn messages a day.
This is not a ‘publisher’, in the sense that a newspaper or radio station are publishers – or if it is, then we’ve stretched the word ‘publisher’ so far as to become meaningless. A human editor chooses ten stories for the front page of a newspaper, and ten stories for the 9 o’clock news, but there is no-one sitting in Menlo Park choosing a hundred photos for your Instagram feed each morning.
But on the other hand, a phone company does not write rules about what you can say, and social network do write rules, or try to, and they make decisions about what kinds of things should be in your feed, and why. This is not a publisher, but it’s not a phone company either, nor a restaurant.
Really, asking whether these systems are ‘platforms’ or ‘publishers ’ seems about as useful as people in the 1930s asking whether a radio station is really a book or a newspaper. Yes, it has aspects of both, but it isn’t either of them – it’s something new. I have no sympathy with the idea that somehow rules don’t apply to the internet, but rules do need to understand what it is and how it works. Rather than trying to wrestle it into pre-existing metaphors, we probably need to engage with the thing itself.
The metaphors are appealing, though, because without them, we don’t really know what we think about speech online. It’s a lot easier to say ‘Twitter is a newspaper!’ than to work out what we want Twitter to do. We spent hundreds of years evolving complex, mostly implicit social and cultural norms, institutional structures and laws around speech, where speech exists in many different spheres, from a private phone call to a bar to a newspaper. Actual laws in which the government stops you saying things are pretty limited, both in scope and by country, but there are great thickets of custom, ethical standards, convention and peer pressure about what can get onto the front page of a newspaper, the window of a bookshop or the evening news, and indeed what you can and can’t say in a bar.
That is, ‘What can you say?’ is complicated, hard to codify, and contextual, and it’s enforced (or not) by different gatekeepers – by your friends, colleagues or peers, or by a barman, or by a newspaper editor or bookseller or TV station and their peers and conventions, and very occasionally by a judge. And, of course, each of those norms are differerent in different places: we can mostly agree about incitement to violence or CSAM, but the UK, France and the USA have very attitudes to, say, libel law or privacy.
The internet is a new sphere, and it’s just as different from a newspaper as a newspaper is from a bar. In fact it’s not just one sphere but many, and very indistinct ones at that. An SMS or a WhatsApp message still count fairly straightforwardly as a private conversation, but at what point does a Facebook Group become ‘public’? With 10 members? 100? If I reply to your tweet, is that public? It depends. If I post to my Facebook feed, how many followers must I have before I’m ‘broadcasting’? If I have 100 Facebook friends, and 50 of them post the same link, is it Facebook’s decision if that link is at the top of my feed, or theirs, or mine for friending them? Is a tweet from a journalist that goes viral a publication? Who’s their editor?
The internet and then social platforms break a lot of our definitions of different kinds of speech, and yet somehow Facebook / Google / Twitter are supposed to recreate that whole 200-year tapestry of implicit structures and consensus, and answer all of those questions, from office parks in the San Francisco Bay Area, for both the USA and Myanmar, right now. We want them to Fix It, but we don’t actually know what that means.
You can see a microcosm of this in the US debate last year about political ads on Facebook. Do you run ads that tell lies? Newspapers do, and they run opinion pieces that their own reporting staff might disagree with. US TV stations aren’t allowed to block ads from qualifying candidates. Meanwhile a ban on advertising is good for incumbents, who already have organic reach, and populists and trolls, who can get it, but shuts out moderates and new entrants. But a lie on Facebook, spread with money (from who?), reaches new people. In the UK, political TV ads are regulated – should the US apply that? These are all interesting questions, but decides? For now, one 36-year-old called Mark.
This is part of the challenge: everyone at a big social media company thinks about these problems, but they do so conscious that they don’t have much legitimacy to make those kinds of decisions. They have neither the social legitimacy of a newspaper editor nor the political legitimacy of a regulator or a law. In 2015, most people in Silicon Valley would have said censorship was bad, and also unscalable – now ML means you can at least try to scale it (with tens of thousands of human moderators) and everyone understands how bad things can get and the responsibility to do something. But what? How does a 30-something PM in Palo Alto decide the basis of political speech in Malaysia? This is why Facebook calls for regulation, and sets up advisory boards, and that might be better, but doesn’t feel like the end point. Last month the EU introduced two new draft laws to regulate these companies, not as newspapers or telcos, but as something new. There will be more.
We’re excited to soft launch the fourth edition of our annual Venture Capital Investor Prominence rank. Every year Dealroom releases a quantitative ranking of Europe’s most prominent venture capital investors. It’s based primarily on the number of unicorns and future unicorns backed by investors and secondarily on the number of investment rounds in the last 12 months.
Give us your feedback on preliminary rankings
The final ranking will be published about a month from now, in early February. Today’s preliminary ranking are meant to give investors time to feed back about any missing data. You can use this data submission template and send any queries to [email protected] by 31st January.
A practical ranking
The Dealroom database contains over 98,000 investors. That’s a daunting starting point for an everyday situation. Say you’re looking for VCs to back your startup, (co-)investors for a funding round, the best VCs to work for, or investors to invite to a panel. The prominence rank gives you a useful starting point. It’s not a ranking of investor returns, that said, there’s probably a high correlation between fund performance and this ranking. And LPs use the ranking as guidance too.
In the past, the prominence rank has focussed on European Seed and Series A round investors. This year, we’re introducing a global ranking too. Venture capital is increasingly borderless, after all. This only relates to the location of the investments. Both rankings are agnostic about the location of the investor. The global ranking looks at both investments and investors globally. Meanwhile, the European ranking continues to count only European investments.
*New* general ranking
Like last year, we have separate rankings for Seed and Series A investors. This year, however, we re-introduce a general ranking, which combines late-stage, Series A and Seed investors. In order to allow for meaningful comparison, we introduce a dilution factor.
Investing in a unicorn at seed stage is much more impressive than investing at Series A stage, when its trajectory is already becoming more visible. The same applies to Series B/C vs. Series A. But how to quantify the difference? We looked at the median round sizes as an indication of valuation – a Series A round is 5x the size of a Seed round. We are applying a factor of 3x, to be conservative. This means that 1 unicorn investment at Seed stage counts the same as 3 unicorn investments at Series A stage.
The median Series B round is only 2.5x bigger than the series A round, but the Series C round is 5x bigger than Series A round. We again apply a factor of 3x between Series A and “late stage investors” (a mix of B, C, D+ rounds).
If you think we’re missing some of your portfolio transactions that may affect your position in the prominence rank, now is your chance to get in touch. Let us know what we’ve missed, as we make final adjustments ahead of the official ranking launch in February.
Unicorn and Future Unicorn criteria
Unicorn: Companies founded since 1990 that has reached USD$1B valuation. Sometimes represented as €800M, which is a rounded version of USD$1B
Realized unicorn: A company that has successfully exited at USD$1B+ valuation. This also includes companies that have since dropped below the USD$1B mark after going public.
Future unicorn: Fast-growing companies with valuations between USD$250M – 1B. We include only companies that have raised investment in since 2015. Sometimes represented as €200 – 800M, which is a rounded version of USD$250M – 1B.
Global Venture Capital Investment Market 2020 Analysis by Latest COVID19/CORONA Virus Impact with Market Positioning of Key Vendors: Accel, Benchmark Capital, First Round Capital, Lowercase Capital, Sequoia Capital, etc. | InForGrowth Murphy’s Hockey Law