Let's Protect Free Speech Online

That Was The Week, 2021, #2

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As you will know I tend to a libertarian point of view. I do not like state interference in private life, although I welcome it in the provision of social security, education, healthcare, infrastructure and the like. So long as Facebook, Twittter and others took a "we're a platform not a publisher" approach to free speech, or only reacted when a post was illegal or when section 230 was used, I was against regulating them.

In the aftermath of the permanent banning of Trump and the takedown of Parler I have changed my mind. Mike Maples (@m2jr) tweeted this week that

"free speech is not just a legal issue. It's an issue of values. You own it as your core philosophy or you don't."

I agree. And it is a core philosophy for me. I do not believe that private companies, professing to be platforms for people to publish on, should be entitled to act to take down legal posts or publications they disapprove of. The power to do so, exercised over 2-3 billion people, should not be in the hands of a private company.

With the passing of power from Trump to the Biden administration, and the relief that comes with it, now is a good time to consider an Internet Bill of Rights that extends to any open platform, whether run by a private company or a not for profit, or indeed a distributed autonomous organization.

The US Bill of Rights, that led to 10 amendments to the US Constitution, starts with the wording that resulted in Amendment 1:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

I suggest we re-word it for use in an Internet Bill of Rights:

“Internet platforms, whether public or private in their ownership, shall not ban, or prevent publishing, from any person, based on an establishment of religion, or ideology, prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition  for a redress of grievances, except when such publishing is in breach of the law of the land. In that case it will require explicit take down requests from a legal authority”

This Bill of Rights would protect open discourse and force due process in any removal of published content. Of course it may need better drafting than my initial attempt here, but you see the goal.

This week's That Was The Week carries fourteen articles around the fall out from the attack on the Capitol as it relates to technology. The opinions are diverse, and I disagree with many of them. This newsletter is better for including them all.

I also make Parler my "startup of the Week" as it shamefully remains inoperative following decisions by Apple, Google and AWS.

--News Of The Week:



And the rest is here:

News You Can Use: For Founders

The Best of the Rest: For VCs

Startup Of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

--News Of The Week:

Trump v. Facebook


  • Facebook has decided to ask its new, independent Oversight Board to rule on its decision to suspend Donald Trump indefinitely .
  • Again, Facebook is obligating itself to follow the decision of the Board only in the matter of Trump; the case is limited.

Joe Biden's Reality Show

And Now For Something Completely Different

Keen On

The idea of “reality”, once the esoteric realm of philosophy, is about to be radically democratized. The Joe Biden show - in contrast with the reality-television Trump spectacle of the last four years - is going to be all about how, exactly, we should define “reality”. Biden laid this out very clearly in yesterday’s inaugural speech. His ambition, he made clear yesterday, was reuniting America by getting everyone to share a common ontology. If we can agree on the facts, on reality, Biden said, then America can be put back together.

Even calling this a Biden “show” is a bit cheeky. The Trump regime was, of course, just a show - an always-online media spectacle that reveled in deep fakery. That’s why, as the now ridiculed host of a failed reality-tv show, he is already a distant memory. The one thing America excels in is forgetting. But while Trump is now history, Trumpism - that ontological assault on reality - certainly isn’t.

Biden’s task, then, is to reunite America by taking that perennial Philosophy 101 class: What Is Reality? But it’s not going to be easy. After all, all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again. Indeed, as the Canadian writer Stephen Marche told me yesterday, “America’s Next Civil War” may already be inevitable.

Facebook’s Oversight Board will review Trump’s suspension


Facebook’s Oversight Board will decide whether to restore Donald Trump’s access to that platform and Instagram. Both services locked the former president out of his accounts for 24 hours earlier this month over policy violations in the wake of the US…

Meet the new tech bureaucracy

Protocol — The people, power and politics of tech

Tech billionaires and the people who work for them overwhelmingly supported Joe Biden's election in November. Now, as he takes the oath of office and becomes the 46th president of the United States, the real work begins.

For the tech industry, that means working with or battling a new administration over everything from antitrust to workforce labor issues. While Biden will undoubtedly set the agenda, the work itself will be carried out by the new heads of federal agencies and the rank-and-file bureaucrats working underneath them.

Over the last several months, Biden has announced an ever-growing list of nominations to powerful positions within his administration. Here are the ones who are most likely to wield that power over the tech industry.

Facebook and Twitter made special world leader rules for Trump. What happens now?

Vox — Recode

  • After Trump was elected, Facebook and Twitter came out with their policies on posts that they saw as “newsworthy” or of “public interest” — which was pretty much anything the president of the United States (or other world leaders) said on their platforms.
  • Trump’s ban came after years of the social media giants allowing him to push their limits, creating and adjusting their rules about world leaders to avoid having to take action against him — and to avoid positioning themselves as the arbiters of acceptable political speech.

What Biden, Democrats May Mean For Tech And Investing

Crunchbase News

  • With Democrat Joe Biden set to become the 46th president of the United States tomorrow and his party set to control both branches of Congress, issues such as a possible capital gains tax increase, antitrust scrutiny concerning “big tech,” and new areas of focus in the sector all will be watched closely by investors and those in the industry as the political environment tilts Democrat for the first time since 2009–10.
  • “I don’t think there will be tax increases,” said Tusk, adding even if there are, he does not see them making significant changes in the investing market.

How Big Tech took over

spiked — humanity is underrated

  • 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.
  • 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.

Online speech and publishing s

Benedict Evans

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 familiar metaphors, we probably need to engage with the thing itself.

How to Start Fixing Social Media

Will Oremus - OneZero — Tech and Science News, and Articles About the Future — Medium

  • As the dust cleared from the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and Donald Trump was re-impeached (early candidate for word of the year), many blamed the social media platforms on which his most rabid supporters organized.
  • To return to those larger platforms, I think Twitter’s Dorsey got one big thing right: Banning users is a way of treating a symptom of social media dysfunction, not the dysfunction itself.

Big Tech and Big Media Have Made Up: Now What?

Inside the New Era in the Tech and Media Wars

The Information

Despite all the knives pointed at big tech right now, some longtime antagonists to the tech industry seem to be taking a back seat in the fights. These are the big media companies whose leaders have for years poked, prodded and attacked tech leaders at every chance they got.

While talk of decentralized software and blockchain technologies is easy to dismiss as fringe—and the technology is not yet scalable—leaders of both big tech and big media companies would be wise to pay more attention to the rumblings. New ways of sharing information at scale that are harder to censor are beyond inevitable—and may not be that far off.
These technologies, which could be largely invisible to users, will pose a major threat to the largest technology platforms and media companies of today. If information is spread across millions of servers, there is no clear way to shut it down.
In other words, as the tensions between big tech and big media ease and the differences between them collapse, the world is coming at both sectors with pitchforks.

Milton and Freedom of Speech | Online Library of Liberty


  • 3. The licensers in general shall be the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, or their deputies: for books to be printed at Oxford or Cambridge, the Vice-Chancellor of the University.
  • It was resolved to continue the restrictions on the freedom of printing; but, as the Stationers’ Company, incorporated in Mary’s reign, was not thought a fit body to decide, under a Protestant Queen, what should or should not be published, it was determined to put the licensing power in other hands.

The Great Unraveling

Bari Weiss - Substack

Thought comes before action. Words come before deeds. Media that profits from polarization will stoke it. Lies — maybe harmless for the moment, maybe even noble — create a lying world.

I’ve known this for a while. It’s why I left The New York Times. And it is why, as much as I miss doing journalism, I’ve been cautious at every next step.

Hate sells, as the journalist Matt Taibbi has convincingly argued, and as anyone looking at Twitter trending topics over the past few years can see. If Americans are buying rage, is there a real market for something that resists it?

Hate sells and hate also connects. Communities can grow quite strong around hatred of difference, and that’s exactly what’s happened to the American left and the right. It is painful to resist joining a mob when that mob includes most of your friends. It feels good, at least in the short term, to give in.

Why Biden needs a National Technology Council

Protocol — The people, power and politics of tech

  • Rather than a growing multiverse of agencies scrambling for the soccer ball, we need a coordinated effort to better ensure the U.S. government’s technology leadership can turn on a dime, whether in response to imminent cyber threats, marshaling federal resources to close the digital divide or creating more incentives for private sector innovation and investment.
  • Without greater coordination and leadership from the top, a fast-proliferating warren of competing federal agencies — all with a rightful claim of technology’s importance to their work — has no hope of uniting to help our digital economy “build back better.”

How AWS and Other Cloud Providers Became the Internet’s Most Powerful Moderators

OneZero — Tech and Science News, and Articles About the Future — Medium

When Amazon Web Services decided to stop hosting the alt-right social network Parler last week following the insurrection at the Capitol, it looked like the site was doomed to go offline.

Migrating an app successfully between cloud providers, and ensuring it works on the other side as expected, is hard enough. But moving the vast amounts of data associated with a social network (likely hundreds of terabytes of information) would be agonizingly slow, taking far longer than the 24-hour warning Amazon gave Parler.

Unfortunately for Parler, virtually every other vendor was ditching them as well. With cloud providers rejecting them and no physical servers of its own, Parler has nowhere to go and now says it may never return.

The swift shutdown of Parler illustrates a wonder of the modern internet. It’s simple to get a website or service online without ever physically seeing or touching a server. Developers can choose from an array of hosts, from Amazon Web Services to Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud, click a few buttons, and be online in a few minutes. These companies manage vast data centers full of servers, renting them out by the hour, so you don’t need to think about setting up your own gear. They have centralized much of the web, which gives them unprecedented power to police it.

China’s economic centre of gravity is moving south

The Economist - Graphic detail

“DON’T INVEST beyond Shanhaiguan” has been a popular quip in China for years, referring to a pass in the Great Wall that leads to the north-eastern rust belt. Online pundits have recently updated the maxim to “don’t invest outside the Southern Song”, a dynasty that fell almost 750 years ago whose territory was roughly the same as China’s southern half today. The joke contains a kernel of truth: China’s southern provinces are outperforming northern ones in nearly every economic dimension.

On January 18th China announced that its GDP grew by 2.3% in 2020, making it one of the few countries to expand in the virus-blighted year. The recovery was unbalanced, with factories at full throttle but consumption subdued. Things should improve after the pandemic ends, as people move around more. The north-south imbalance, by contrast, was worsening before covid-19 and is likely to outlast it.

Fintech startups and unicorns had a stellar Q4 2020 


  • The fourth quarter of 2020 was as busy as you imagined, with super late-stage startups reaching new valuation thresholds at a record pace, and total venture capital funding in the United States recording its second-best result of all time.
  • At the time, we noted that American startups raised an average of $428 million each day last year, a sum that helps illustrate how rapid the private markets moved during the odd period.

European VC Report 2020: Strong Fourth Quarter Closes Out 2020 

Crunchbase News

  • Crunchbase data shows European startups raised $3.8 billion in early-stage funding during the fourth quarter, down from the third quarter.
  • The funding pace picked up in the fourth quarter, typically a slower funding period, when VC to European startups totaled $11.8 billion — the strongest quarter over the past two years.

London tech firms raise £7.6B VC investment in 2020: who were the top investors?

UKTN (UK Technology News

  • The London-based VC firm specialises in seed, startup, Series A, early venture, mid venture, late venture, emerging growth, and growth capital investments.
  • In 2020, they made seed investments in London-based tech startups like Cosmos Video, Omnipresent, Novoic and more.

The Rise of Cloud in Europe

· Bessemer Venture Partners

  • We share the signals giving us confidence in Europe as a new technology leader, the macro trends driving the European cloud ecosystem, and the predictions we believe will inform our investments.
  • In the past four years, we’ve seen meaningful growth among the top five European founded public cloud companies.

The Fastest Growing Sectors of Startup Fundraising in 2020

Tomasz Tunguz

  • Maybe 6 of the 10 fastest growing startup categories are influenced by the pandemic with the others (Quantum Computing, Battery, Quality Assurance, and Developer APIs) fueled by other waves.
  • Testing & measurement is a broad category that includes home diagnostics companies for medical testing, electronic sensors for measuring hardware and equipment, and even application performance monitoring.

Introducing The New CEO


  • Most of the time the team is shaken up, things are not going well, they are nervous.
  • He/she needs to connect with the team, tell them who they are, what they care about, and, most importantly, where they are going to lead the Company.

How Coinbase ran its first 100+ person online “offsite”

The Coinbase

  • While Gather helped us solve some of the video monotony, we also wanted to make the experience as immersive as possible — creating an environment where people could have fun doing something other than just work.
  • To help solve these challenges, we put together a cross-functional team to guide our organization through the change, answering questions like “how do we ensure people have the right technology to work from their home?”

3 Ways To Get The VC Valuation You Deserve 


  • For a valuation, the market landscape, the VC’s incentives, and the strength of your network can all factor into the discussion as much, if not more so, than business economics.
  • The market landscape, the VC’s incentives, and the strength of your network can all factor into the discussion as much, if not more so, than business economics.

The new math in ventureland

Protocol — The people, power and politics of tech

  • Previously, a typical $300 million venture fund would buy 20% of 20 to 30 startups, looking to back at least one company that could lead to a big $5 billion exit.
  • TL;DR: Rounds are getting done much faster, deal sizes and valuations are climbing in some sectors, traditional venture firms are investing more than usual and more nontraditional investors are coming in earlier.

Andreessen Horowitz Looks to Launch Opinion Publication as Its Media Ambition Grows

The Information

Silicon Valley investment firm Andreessen Horowitz, which once courted attention from the news media, is ramping up its own media efforts. The firm plans to expand its publication of content related to technology and business on its website through an opinion section that publishes articles from outside contributors, according to people briefed on the discussions.

Global Venture Capital Clusters in Fewer Firms

The Wall Street Journal

More venture capital is concentrating in fewer hands, a trend seen around the world. In North America, the region that drew the majority of newly committed venture capital globally, fewer funds raised substantially more money in 2020 than in the prior year, according to preliminary data from Preqin Ltd.

Tech is bridging the divide between private equity and venture capital 

Private Equity News

Private equity firms are investing more in VC-backed tech startups, chasing higher returns and early access to the best private companies. The trend is set to continue and probably will accelerate after Covid-19 pandemic recedes.

How To Raise a Venture Capital Fund

Winter Mead

After having worked as an institutional investor for the better part of a decade, I reflected on what I had learned investing into venture capital funds. It began as an informal process of jotting down notes. I first thought about the different parts of the fundraising process and how I would teach this process to an aspiring venture capitalist. I then asked myself, “If I were new to raising a venture capital fund, how would I do it and what would I want to know?”

Launching the 2021 Venture Capital Investor Prominence Rank

Blog | Dealroom

  • In the past, the prominence rank has focussed on European Seed and Series A round investors.
  • Every year Dealroom releases a quantitative ranking of Europe’s most prominent venture capital investors.

Startup of the Week: Parler


Tweet of the Week: Disruption