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Delayed Iowa results ignite social media misinformation

With help from Zach Montellaro, Martin Matishak and Leah Nylen

Editor’s Note: This edition of Morning Tech is published weekdays at 10 a.m. POLITICO Pro Technology subscribers hold exclusive early access to the newsletter each morning at 6 a.m. Learn more about POLITICO Pro’s comprehensive policy intelligence coverage, policy tools and services, at politicopro.com.


— The Iowa mess: The results of the Iowa caucuses were delayed Monday night, lighting a firestorm of misinformation and conspiracy theories across social media — and testing the platforms’ policies against material that misleads voters.

— Where Mike Bloomberg blew past rivals: On Facebook ads. The billionaire spent $8.9 million on Facebook ads in the week before Iowa — more than any of his Democratic opponents have spent on the platform since launching their campaigns (except for Tom Steyer).

Delrahim out: DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim recused himself from the department’s antitrust investigation into Google over his past work for the search giant.

IT’S TUESDAY, AND FACEBOOK’S 16TH BIRTHDAY. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine. President Donald Trump will deliver his State of the Union address tonight — where’d the year go? — and we’ll be tracking for tech talk.

Got a news tip? Write Alex at alevine@politico.com or @Ali_Lev. An event for our calendar? Send details to techcalendar@politicopro.com. Anything else? Full team info below. And don’t forget: add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.

IOWA’S TROUBLES FUEL MISINFORMATION ACROSS SOCIAL MEDIA — As caucus-goers, campaigns and the country awaited results from Iowa into the wee hours of the morning, misinformation and conspiracy theories about the delayed final votes spread across social media — a harbinger of what we could see at next week’s New Hampshire primary and beyond. The Iowa Democratic Party’s communications director, Mandy McClure, attributed the delays to the need for “quality checks” to address “inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results.” She denied that the delay was due to the failure of a new app for handling the tabulations and the reporting, or due to “a hack or an intrusion.” McClure added that photos and a paper trail were being used to validate the results.

— President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, took to Twitter to suggest that “quality control = rigged.” Eric Trump weighed in late in the evening, too: “Mark my words, they are rigging this thing… what a mess,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is why people don’t want the #Dems running our [country].”

— Meanwhile, NBC’s Breaking News Twitter handle (a verified account with more than 9 million followers) saw a 12-year-old tweet — “BREAKING NEWS — REPORT: JOE BIDEN WILL DROP OUT OF PRESIDENTIAL RACE” — go viral. The tweet was re-shared thousands of times, prompting the outlet to put out a statement clarifying the post was from 2008. “This is being noted because this tweet is being tweeted by some users tonight as if it is new tonight,” the editor’s note said.

PLUS: WEB WARS, VIA POLITICO’S FACEBOOK AD TRACKER — Bloomberg spending a lot of money is not particularly new anymore. But the scale in which he’s spending on Facebook is just mind-boggling. Last week, Bloomberg’s campaign spent over $8.9 million on ads on the platform alone. That’s more than any other Democratic presidential campaign has spent in its entirety — save for fellow self-funder Tom Steyer. Bloomberg has also outspent Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in aggregate, since the beginning of 2018. Pros can read more in Zach Montellaro’s weekly Facebook ad roundup.

DELRAHIM OUT ON GOOGLE ANTITRUST PROBE — “Makan Delrahim, the head of the antitrust division at the Department of Justice, has recused himself from investigating Google,” The New York Times reported late Monday night, “because of a potential conflict of interest related to his past work for the internet search company, two people with knowledge of the decision said.” That conflict of interest, according to the report, involved lobbying work Delrahim did for Google more than a decade ago — which POLITICO reported on here.

HUAWEI LATEST — Senior Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee introduced a resolution Monday condemning the United Kingdom’s decision to give Huawei permission to build some of its 5G network. The Chinese telecom’s equipment is “absolute poison — providing them access to any aspect of a 5G network compromises the integrity of the entire system and will result in network data being sent back to Communist Party leaders in Beijing,” Reps. Michael McCaul of Texas, Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Mike Turner of Ohio and Ted Yoho of Florida said in a joint statement.

— In an exclusive sit-down last week with POLITICO, company officials said the Trump administration’s anti-Huawei campaign has nothing to do with any security risk (they have long denied claims that their products could be used for government espionage), and instead blamed the larger U.S.-China geopolitical situation.

FACEBOOK ESCAPES DEFAMATION SUIT — Aleksandr Kogan, the data scientist who made the quiz app that Cambridge Analytica used to harvest data from millions of Facebook users, cannot sue the social network or CEO Mark Zuckerberg for defamation, a court ruled Monday. Kogan sued Facebook, Zuckerberg and two other executives in New York state court, alleging the company sought to make him the scapegoat for their privacy scandals. The suit was later moved to federal court.

— Facebook won the dismissal by arguing that Kogan’s attorneys didn’t properly serve the company with the complaint. Kogan agreed to a settlement with the FTC in June over his involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

ANTITRUST COMMENTERS WANTED — The DOJ and FTC will hold two workshops in March focused on their proposed guidelines for vertical mergers. These guidelines, offered last month, are meant to address mergers that involve companies at different levels of a similar supply chain, such as one that creates content — Time Warner, for example — with one that distributes it — AT&T.

— Regulators have historically viewed vertical deals as less problematic than so-called horizontal mergers between competitors. But consumer advocates have expressed growing alarm at the enormous market power that vertically merged companies can wield, and the new proposed guidelines outline when federal antitrust enforcers might have concerns.

— The half-day workshops at Main Justice on March 11 and FTC headquarters on March 18 will highlight individuals who submitted comments on the proposal, which would be the first update to the guidelines since 1984. The agencies extended the comment deadline to Feb. 26 to allow more time for the public to weigh in.

POLITICO PLUG: TODAY AT NEW AMERICA’S OPEN TECHNOLOGY INSTITUTE — Your MT host will interview FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra today at a New America event on privacy and encryption. Following our chat, I’ll be moderating a panel discussion with Asad Ramzanali, legislative director for Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.); Katie McInnis, policy counsel at Consumer Reports; Keun Kim, senior managing counsel for digital solutions at Mastercard; and Hannah Quay-de la Vallee, senior technologist with the Center for Democracy & Technology.

— Recent debate about encryption has centered on how individuals’ privacy and digital security can be (sometimes, but not always) at odds with national security and public safety. We’ll explore that topic and others; here are the logistics. Hope to see you there!

Callie Strock is next week joining the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Republican staff from Texas Rep. Will Hurd’s office, focusing on tech, telecom, and consumer protection issues. … Drew Houston, co-founder and CEO of Dropbox, has been appointed to Facebook’s board of directors. … David B. Amy, former vice chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group (who now serves as a consultant to the company), has been named chairman of the Television Music License Committee; he succeeds Charles Sennett, who chaired the committee for decades and retired recently from Tribune Media Co. … Cat Blake has stepped down as senior program manager at Next Century Cities.

#BTS: “Behind Amazon’s HQ2 Fiasco: Jeff Bezos Was Jealous of Elon Musk,” via Bloomberg.

2020 chatter: Ahead of the Iowa caucuses, right-wing activists took to Twitter to spread claims of voter fraud, WaPo reports, foreshadowing “the possible perils ahead for a divisive election season.”

Plus, the ATM machine that is Silicon Valley: “Tech billionaires are funding the Democratic Party whether Democrats like it or not,” Vox Recode reports. “New records show that while Democrats might bash Silicon Valley, they’ll need its money to take on Trump.”

Drones have their day: The FAA is moving closer to green-lighting certain drones for package deliveries, a policy and regulatory victory for Amazon and other tech companies, WSJ reports.

Coronavirus, continued: Chinese citizens are turning to technology — including mapping programs and travel trackers — to try to avoid areas infected by the coronavirus, Reuters reports.

Mazel tov: Sheryl Sandberg is engaged, NYT reports.

Opinion: Jason Oxman, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, writes in The Hill about the top tech issues (including federal privacy legislation and broadband expansion) that the industry wants Trump to address at tonight’s State of the Union.

When money grows on trees: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid more than $16,000 in parking tickets as his mansion in Washington, D.C., was undergoing renovations, The Verge reports.

Droppin’ like flies: Author Stephen King has quit Facebook, citing concerns about privacy and the “flood of false information,” WaPo reports.

Now and then: “How Today’s Tech Run Differs From the Dot-Com Bubble,” via WSJ.

Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King (bking@politico.com, @bkingdc), Mike Farrell (mfarrell@politico.com, @mikebfarrell), Nancy Scola (nscola@politico.com, @nancyscola), Steven Overly (soverly@politico.com, @stevenoverly), John Hendel (jhendel@politico.com, @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima (clima@politico.com, @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine (alevine@politico.com, @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen (lnylen@politico.com, @leah_nylen).


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