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Analysts Examine Content Control Practices at Social Media Firms; Attorney Discusses Discrimination against Conservative Employees in Silicon Valley; Female Employees Allege Sexual Harassment and Misconduct at Tech Startups. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired December 9, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a principle that evil festers in darkness.

LAURIE SEGALL, CNN TECH SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Tech companies with power and control over what we see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All speech has consequences. This is evident. This can't be controlled and you shouldn't try to control it.

SEGALL: A culture war is bubbling under the surface.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They had a room at the office that was called the kink room.

SEGALL: Secret identities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a real fear.

SEGALL: People want to out people who are center right, as if it's like a sport.

SEGALL: And lies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was completely blackballed in the community.

SEGALL: Further on the margins, the rise of alternative tech platforms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so offensive.

SEGALL: And there's a delicate line between free speech and censorship.

MATTHEW PRINCE, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, CLOUDFLARE: We kicked them off at some level because they were jerks.

SEGALL: Is the very same technology designed to give everyone a voice dividing us further?

Let's start here, New York's Bryant Park on a beautiful day. And as Andrew McLaughlin, former director of public policy at Google tells me, a perfect metaphor for the Internet as we know it. ANDREW MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC POLICY, GOOGLE: For the

Internet we built this incredible common space, platforms like Facebook and Twitter were created, blogging platforms where anybody could show up and speak.

SEGALL: A virtual town square where freedom of expression would allow us to share our ideas. But that might have been idealistic.

MCLAUGHLIN: Economists for 100 years have had this principal which is called the tragedy of the commons which says if you have a common space, a park, and anybody can go and use it without controls, the tragedy will be that that space gets trashed.

SEGALL: Fast-forward to the Internet today. Social networks promised to democratize information, but in the last year Russians have bought ads on Facebook to target voters aiming to sway an election, an army of bots is spreading propaganda through Twitter and hate speech going viral turning off line. The virtual town square is getting overrun. As a result, these platforms are falling into an uncomfortable role as the gatekeepers of content.

MATTHEW PRINCE, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, CLOUDFLARE: I think it is really risky if you have a group of essentially 10 tech CEOs, that if you somehow offend all 10 of them you can effectively not be on the Internet anymore.

SEGALL: The irony, Matthew Prince is talking about himself. He's the founder of Cloudflare. It's a company that helps protect websites from attacks.

I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn't be on the Internet. No one should have that power. What a strong statement.

PRINCE: We kicked them off at some level because they were jerks. And I think we have a right to pick and choose who we do business with.

SEGALL: The customer he's talking about, a neo-Nazi site, "The Daily Stormer." The decision was a trigger, and the requests started pouring in.

PRINCE: Since that time there have been calls for over 3,500 different Cloudflare customers to be terminated. I worry that having made this one decision that it's going to be harder for us push back against those others.

SEGALL: Being the referee of free speech is complicated. Just ask Twitter cofounder and Medium CEO Ev Williams.

EV WILLIAMS, CEO, MEDIUM: Some people are calling there needs to be editorial guidelines, and you get into an area where most tech companies will be like it's not something that really fits in our model or that we would even be good at.

SEGALL: Increasingly, you guys, whether or not you like it, have to make decisions that are kind of editorial, wouldn't you say? WILLIAMS: There's judgments how the algorithm works, what the system

values, what the feedback loops are.

SEGALL: Those editorial decisions can be controversial.

MARISSA STREIT, CEO, PRAGERU: It started with this one e-mail from one of our supporters saying I pulled it up on my browser at the office and I wasn't able to find the video. What happened? Did you take the video down?

SEGALL: Marissa Streit is the CEO of PragerU. They produce videos for YouTube that promote conservative ideology. It was founded by Dennis Prager, whose no stranger to controversy.

DENNIS PRAGER: The massive amount of anti-Semitism and racism that the Trump election unleashed, that was all a lie, pure lie, 100 percent lie.

STREIT: We are not a university. We believe that not all universities, but many universities in America, for the most part, have a left wing ideological bias.

SEGALL: There are about 250 PragerU videos on YouTube. But around 35 are currently restricted.

STREIT: Most places of work and libraries, school libraries will put restrictions on the browsers because they don't want young people or employees sitting at libraries watching pornography and violence.

SEGALL: So they reached out to Google which owns YouTube.

STREIT: We kept going back to them and said there is no pornography in our videos.

SEGALL: Would you define some of these videos as controversial?

STREIT: I guess if you don't agree with our ideology you would say it's controversial, right.

SEGALL: Here's a look at what got restricted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All those diversity administrators, they depend for their livelihood, that means their paycheck, on creating victims.

[14:35:01] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The sexes are different. Rather than trying to quash this reality, which can only lead to more needless confusion and suffering, not less, we should step back and marvel at it.

SEGALL: On its site, YouTube says it uses a combination of video titles, descriptions, metadata, and community guideline reviews to filter out potentially mature content. When ask the specifically about PragerU, Gogole responded broadly in a statement, giving the viewers the choice to opt into a more restricted experience is not censorship. In fact this is exactly the type of tool that Congress has encouraged online. STREIT: Is Google the one who gets to decide what everybody gets to


SEGALL: Whether it's Google or Cloudflare, tech companies have the right to make these decisions, but increasingly there's the question of transparency.

PRINCE: We could have said they violated section 13G of our terms of service --

SEGALL: But that's kind of BS, right?

PRINCE: It would be BS if we did it, and it's BS when any other technology company does it. And that's the point which is important. There are arbitrary decisions that get made. We should own those editorial decisions.

SEGALL: Then there's the fundamental question of what happens when people get kicked off. Those no longer allowed in the virtual town square are now building out their own platforms and they're becoming a haven for fringe views and hate speech.

So we're here to talk to you about PewTube, a nice little playoff of YouTube.

Anthony Mayfield is the founder of PewTube.

ANTHONY MAYFIELD, FOUNDER, PEWTUBE: When they see this crackdown, even if it's not personally their content that's being censored, I think they're offended.

SEGALL: It's his alternative to YouTube.

Can you describe your users?

MAYFIELD: I knew that at the beginning it would be mostly fringe characters.

SEGALL: Here's what that looks like.

This is a pretty horrific title for a video.


SEGALL: So its racist images, or anti-Semitic images. That's pretty awful. I'm running into like trouble. Do we even show any of this, or do we just kind of scrap this because I don't actually think that some of these people deserve a platform. And clearly some of the tech companies don't either. But the news value there is that they have a platform and that they are gathering, and so you can't ignore it even if you don't agree with it.

PewTube is one of many alternative sites popping up. This is Cody Wilson. I spoke to him years ago when he was working on a pretty controversial project.

CODY WILSON, FOUNDER, HATREON: I think I'm known as one of the more radical free speech activists.

SEGALL: He was dubbed one of the most dangerous people on the Internet when he posted instructions showing how to 3-D print a homemade gun. Now he has a new crusade. It's called Hatreon. It's a place where extreme political content can get funding.

WILSON: You can call them fascists probably.

SEGALL: He's a very famous troll.

WILSON: Yes, sent to federal prison and other things for the way he trolled AT&T. You get somebody like -- it's a nice endorsement.

SEGALL: He's one of the worse trolls on the Internet is a good get for you.

WILSON: I think so.

SEGALL: Just remember that narrative. OK.

WILSON: Mr. Spencer I think is considered a pretty successful cultural troll.

SEGALL: Keep in mind Richard Spencer's ideal is to have a white ethno state. The fundamental question is should these people get a platform, and where should the line be drawn?

Are you worried that some of this speech that's getting funded will incite violence, will you draw the line there?

WILSON: No. I'm not worried about it. I mean, when I'm talking about like inciting, I'm talking about you're outside of someone's home, there's a mob, and you say there he is, get him. That's not protected speech. But these personalities that use Hatreon right now, they represent elements of a political speech that should not be censored.

SEGALL: While he doesn't align himself with all their world view, Wilson is enabling what he calls the political speech of these characters. He's taking a cut too. He gets five percent of every dollar raised on Hatreon. Scratch the surface and you'll find out that it's about more than just free speech.

WILSON: I like catching interesting fish, creating interesting problems from small things. I'll probably end up creating a much bigger turmoil on a site like this because it's just sitting there waiting to be attacked by a government, a platform, something. We'll see what interesting fish we attract.

SEGALL: What do you think the interesting fish is going to be for this one?

WILSON: I think it could be very big.

SEGALL: How big? WILSON: Maybe a service like Hatreon could be influential in the

ultimate failure of the European project, the breakup from Europe. The closest my politics comes to any traditional school is anarchism, to undermine the powers of traditional liberal institutions.

SEGALL: Coming up next on "Divided We Code."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a real fear.

SEGALL: Conservatives in hiding in Silicon Valley.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I walked into work with a "Make America Great Again" hat. They were you're a fascist.

[14:40:01] SEGALL: And an unlikely group of people who think that they're the new underdog. Who are they? The multimillionaire tech entrepreneur.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a real fear.

SEGALL: He's not hiding his identity because he's committed a crime or because he's worried about his safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I describe myself as a blend of conservative and libertarian.

SEGALL: He's an entrepreneur who's worked with several big names in tech and he's conservative in Silicon Valley. It's enough to make him want to go incognito.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is saying that I want more border security, are go people going to complain to HR, I'm going to get fired for saying that?

SEGALL: And he's not the only one in hiding. We speak to several others who said the stakes were simply too high to share their identity. Here's another conservative from a major tech company. He spoke with us on the condition of anonymity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I walked into work with a "Make America Great Again" hat. They were like you're a fascist. People would take it as a personal affront. I would expect to be out of the company within about a month.

SEGALL: These are the undercover conservatives are Silicon Valley. It's the perfect equation for a culture war playing out in what has long been a mecca for liberal politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a big deal, these tech companies have more and more control over the things you see. Easy content distribution coupled with viewer gatekeepers, and people in these companies are going to have far more power. Which is why I think it's a sad state where conservatives feel they might lose their jobs if they speak out about some of the editorial positions that could be made. [14:45:17] SEGALL: But much of Trump's rhetoric is counter to the ethos of Silicon Valley, and increasingly tech CEOs are becoming more vocal.

MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, FACEBOOK: Instead of building walls, we can help people build bridges.

JACK DORSEY, CO-FOUNDER, TWITTER: We benefit from integration. We benefit from diversity. We benefit from including more people.

SATYA NADELLA, CEO, MICROSOFT: We believe the DREAMers are contributing to Microsoft. We're taking a pretty public stance that we will fight for the rights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the CEO has the stated position on something, where it comes to business, generally everyone falls in line whether or not you agree with it or not, you just do it.

SEGALL: Those sentiments behind closed doors came to a head in August.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: A 10-page memo written by a software engineer at Google is causing all kinds of waves when it comes to diversity in the workplace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fired Google engineer, now he's speaking out, telling our Laurie Segall own why he wrote the memo.

SEGALL: This is James DaMore.

JAMES DAMORE, FORMER GOOGLE ENGINEER: There are many conservatives that are in the closet quite literally in Silicon Valley. I'm a centrist and I still can't express many of my views.

SEGALL: In that memo DaMore criticized Google's lack of ideological diversity. He said the company had left bias and called on Google to stop alienating conservatives. He also took issue with its diversity initiatives. And he said that the lack of women in tech was due to biological reasons. He said that women on average are more neurotic and have higher anxiety.

Computer science hasn't always been dominated by men. It wasn't until 1984 that the number of women studying computer science started falling. So how does that fit into your argument as to why there aren't more women in tech?

DAMORE: It was simply different kinds of work. It was more like accounting rather than modern-day computer programming.

SEGALL: You say those jobs are more like accounting. Look at Grace Hopper who pioneered computer programming, Margaret Hamilton who created the first ever software which was responsible for landing humans on the moon. Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughn, they were responsible for John Glenn accurately making his trajectory. Those aren't accounting type jobs.

DAMORE: Yes. So there were select positions that weren't. And women are definitely capable of being competent programmers.

SEGALL: He was fired. Google CEO said his comments on women violated the company's code of conduct. But some believed he was fired for his ideological beliefs.

HARMEET DHILLON, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Conservatives at Google who are already on edge are terrified of being fired and being found out.

SEGALL: Harmeet Dhillon is a civil rights attorney. She's now representing DaMore and she says she's been getting calls from other conservatives who say they've been discriminated against as well.

DHILLON: Google managers have openly said that they blacklist people who step out of line, and that means out of line politically.

SEGALL: Where do they say this? I haven't heard this.

DHILLON: So inside the company there are list serves where managers brag about blacklisting people.

SEGALL: A Google spokesperson said the company doesn't condone blacklists. They're a violation of Google's policies. And they investigate and take action when necessary.

DHILLON: If you're a young man in your 20's and making a quarter million dollar whatever with your salary and your bonus and your stock, do you want to be the martyr of conservative rights by standing up and saying hey, I'm a conservative who's been discriminated against?

SEGALL: The multimillionaire tech entrepreneur, and unlikely poster boy for discrimination.

DHILLON: I've always had a penchant for the underdog, and right now conservatives are the underdog in Silicon Valley.

SEGALL: How does that discrimination play out?

DHILLON: What it looks like is being disciplined for innocent remarks, it's being not considered for job opportunities and internal promotions, and it's being abruptly terminated for manufactured reasons.

SEGALL: Just so ironic because I feel like you could literally take that exact thing that you just said and apply that to some the women's cases at these tech companies. I'm sure you got a lot of calls from conservatives. I got a lot of calls from women in tech saying I feel demeaned by a lot of this rhetoric.

DHILLON: I've suffered sexual harassment as a women as well. So the fact that that exists does not take away from the fact that political and viewpoint discrimination exists in Silicon Valley. Both can exist.

SEGALL: Conservatives might think they're the underdog, but here's another story. DAISY BERNS, FORMER UPLOADVR EMPLOYEE: I would every once in a while

find underwear.

SEGALL: You had to clean up underwear from your office space?


SEGALL: The reality for some women in Silicon Valley after the break.


[14:52:53] ELIZABETH SCOTT, FORMER UPLOADVR EMPLOYEE: Everybody talks about how it progresses and so forward thinking.

SEGALL: Silicon Valley promised to code solutions to the world's problems but it can't seem to fix one of its own.

SCOTT: Gender discrimination, sexual discrimination, harassment.

In May, Elizabeth Scott filed a lawsuit against her former employer, UploadVR. It's a powerful startup in Silicon Valley, and it also had a reputation for its parties.

DAISY BERNS, FORMER UPLOADVR EMPLOYEE: I thought these are young like me, and we're go getters.

SEGALL: Daisy Berns is another former employee.

BERNS: I was blown away by what I had got myself into.

SEGALL: Young founders, millions in funding, a party culture -- it created a perfect storm according to Elizabeth's lawsuit.

BERNS: One male employee would talk about how he refuses to wear a condom and has sex with over 1,000 people. Male employees engaged in sexual conduct in the office.

SEGALL: According to the lawsuit there was a space called the kink room.

BERNS: You had a kink VR demo in there.

SEGALL: The lawsuit says male employees used the room for sexual intercourse during parties. Screenshots obtained by CNN show internal chat boards where, quote, "random sex sessions" were joked about.

BERNS: I would every once in a while find underwear in that room and we would make jokes about it and have to clean it up.

SEGALL: You had to clean up underwear from your office space?

BERNS: Yes. That was a part of it. Start-up life I guess.

SEGALL: Also according to the lawsuit, female employees were expected to act as, quote, "mommies."

BERNS: Women are viewed as the people that clean up underwear and do the dishes.

SEGALL: The lawsuit also alleges more subtle instances of sexism, like inappropriate comments made about female employees looks and an allegation that Elizabeth was cut out of a marketing campaign because of her body shape.

BERNS: It was asked to be removed ASAP because Elizabeth was not the demographic that they were trying to appeal to. It was her size and shape. And it was really sad.

SEGALL: Elizabeth says she was fired days after complaining to a manager.

SCOTT: That was kind of the breaking point for me mentally.

SEGALL: After seeing Elizabeth's lawsuit, Daisy and other employees sent a letter requesting the founders stepped down. When they refused, she quit.

[14:55:03] Here's what the founders are saying now.

TAYLOR FREEMAN, CO-FOUNDER, UPLOADVR: I totally understand how a young woman just moving to San Francisco and then walking into an Upload event where there was loud music and there was an open bar, I could totally understand how that could feel uncomfortable.

SEGALL: The very specific claims of these women were more than I was uncomfortable at a party. It was, oh, I was uncomfortable because I had to pick up underwear from the party. Oh, I was uncomfortable because there was a male employee talking about having sex with 1,000 women and not wearing a condom. I want to give you guys the opportunity to respond to that.

FREEMAN: Yes. I mean, I think the whole team has realized sort of the party culture nature of the company. We've really put a lot of structure. We established an HR department.

SEGALL: Were women expected to do tasks like the dishes, whereas men weren't?

FREEMAN: There were things that we were doing that we didn't realize the impact they were having. There was never anything where we intentionally, where Will and I were thinking she's a woman so she shouldn't do this. I promise you there was never any of that thinking.

WILL MASON, CO-FOUNDER, UPLOADVR: I don't think we had the experience early on to recognize that shift that in tonality that needed to happen.

SEGALL: But for some women, it's just not enough.

SCOTT: This has to stop. If it it's helped one person, then I know I did the right thing.

SEGALL: The question remains, now what? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)