Thiel, the vocal libertarian who co-founded PayPal and Palantir and sits on the board of Facebook Facebook board member, also expressed concerns about technology theft and artificial intelligence, and called for greater restrictions on Chinese investment in the US and vice versa.
The event was called “The Nixon Seminar on Conservative Realism and National Security,” and the topic of discussion was “Big Tech and China: What do we need from Silicon Valley?”
Here are Thiel’s 17 best quotes from the seminar, lightly edited and condensed for clarity:
1. “Shockingly little innovation happens in China. But they have been very good at copying things, stealing things.”
2. “I criticized Google a few years ago for working with Chinese universities and Chinese researchers. And since everything in China is a civilian-military fusion, Google was effectively working with the Chinese military. One of the things that I was sort of told by some of the insiders at Google was they figured they might as well give the technology out the front door, because if they didn’t give it, it would get stolen anyway.”
3. “I had a set of conversations with some of the DeepMind AI people at Google. I asked them, ‘Is your AI being used to run the concentration camps in Xinjiang?’ and they said, ‘Well, we don’t know and don’t ask any questions.’ You have this almost magical thinking that by pretending everything is fine, that’s how you engage and have a conversation, and you make the world better.”
4. “If you look at the big five tech companies, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft all have very, very little presence in China. So they aren’t a naturally pro-China constituency. Apple is probably the one that’s structurally a real problem, because the whole iPhone supply chain gets made from China.”
5. “We need to call companies like Google out for working on AI with communist China. I also think we should be putting a lot of pressure on Apple.”
6. “At Facebook, during the Hong Kong protests a year ago, the employees from Hong Kong were all in favor of the protests and free speech. But there were more employees at Facebook who were born in China than who were born in Hong Kong. And the Chinese nationals actually said that it was just Western arrogance, and they shouldn’t be taking Hong Kong’s side and things like that. The internal debate felt like people were actually more anti-Hong Kong than pro-Hong Kong.”
7. “TikTok is problematic because it has this incredible exfiltration of data about people. You are creating this incredibly privacy-invading map of a large part of the population of the Western world. It is a fairly powerful application of AI in a certain sense, as they find ways to make it especially addictive and figure out what videos to show you to keep you watching more and more. It doesn’t seem that if you shut it down, it would be an economic catastrophe.”
8. “In a totalitarian society, you have no qualms about getting data on everybody, in every way possible. That makes AI a very tricky technology, because there are a lot of ways we don’t actually want to apply it in the US or West.” – highlighting the Chinese government’s use of AI for widescale facial recognition.
9. “People often say crypto or bitcoin is a vaguely libertarian technology. If crypto is kind of libertarian, AI is kind of communist.”
10. “Even though I’m sort of a pro-crypto, pro-bitcoin maximalist person, I do wonder whether bitcoin should be partly thought of as a Chinese financial weapon against the US. It threatens fiat money, especially the US dollar, and China wants to do things to weaken the dollar. If China’s long bitcoin, perhaps the US should be asking some tougher questions about exactly how that works.”
11. “An internal stable coin in China – that’s not a real cryptocurrency. That’s just some sort of totalitarian measuring device.”
12. “Make it harder for Chinese investors to invest in the US, and perhaps we should also make it a little bit harder for American investors to invest in China. We have US investors that invest in China and become a big constituency for open capital flows. I think a decent part of the Wall Street crowd is pretty bad in this regard. I would dial it back on both sides – making it harder for US investors to invest in China is an almost equally important part of this.”
13. “China doesn’t like the US having the reserve currency, because it gives us a lot of leverage over Iranian oil supply chains and all sorts of things like that. You can think of the Euro in part as a Chinese weapon against the dollar. China would have liked to see two reserve currencies.”
14. “One of the very strange dynamics in Silicon Valley is people don’t do very much with semiconductors anymore. One of the weird problems with 20 years of intellectual property theft, and where IP doesn’t really have as much value as it used to, is that you learn not to invest in things like that.”
15. “People are too anchored to doing things that worked in the past or copying some model. Building a new search engine was the right thing for Google to do in 1999. It’s probably not the right thing to do today. It’s very hard to compete against Google by doing the exact same thing they are doing.”
16. “You can think of big tech as something that’s very natural. It’s maybe unnaturally big. It’s unhealthy. It’s too strong. But there’s something in the nature of tech to be big. Big science is actually an oxymoron. If you have some giant science factory, there’s probably not much science going on at all.” – criticizing how science has become overly institutionalized and dominated by large corporations.
17. “De-platforming President Trump was really quite extraordinary. That does feel like you really crossed some kind of Rubicon where you declare war on maybe a third, 40% of the country – that seems really crazy.”
That’s because you have to shell out designer prices for the London-based indie brand’s ergonomically designed, sleek modern-meets-’70s vibe, which are priced from £190 to £220, or $200 to $260. The line continues to grow, with two new styles just launching, a cat-eye frame named “The Ally” and a more oval frame named “The August.”
For the record, Lexxola’s CEO and founder is a millennial, and the 27-year-old Zane Saleh told Insider that since launching less than two years ago, in late 2019, they’ve viewed everything as an experiment. “That freedom of thought to just say ‘try everything’ has really allowed us to figure out what’s working quite quick and figure out what isn’t and just push forward,” he said.
Along the way, Saleh says he hit upon a Gen Z-friendly business model: direct collaboration with his customers. Instead of designing based off his own inspiration, Saleh said he uses a community-sourcing model to create styles – a creation process that has the potential to reshape fashion retail.
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It’s a strategy that’s worked, as Lexxola might be small and young, but it’s growing. The company has evolved from just Saleh running the whole show to four employees working remotely. At time of publication, several styles were sold out, available only for pre-order, and with the US being its biggest market, Saleh said the company is planning to open a warehouse in Virginia and headquarters in New York City this year so it can offer domestic shipping rates to US customers.
Lexxola has operated under pandemic conditions for the majority of its existence, and the brand is growing at an unlikely time, as 2020 hit the retail industry harder than the Great Recession did. From February to April of last year, Deloitte found, retail sales plunged by 20%, with an 89% decline in clothes and accessories. By June, Insider Intelligence predicted that retail sales worldwide for the year would be down 5.7% from 2019.
But Saleh said that being a young, agile, and digital company at a time when brick-and-mortar stores were closing left it uniquely placed to grow and gather market share. A solely online presence speaks to a Gen Z community which often shares and expresses itself digitally, he said. According to screenshots of Lexxola’s analytics dashboard that Saleh sent to Insider, Lexxola’s sales grew by over 5,500% from February 2020 to February 2021, and annual revenues for this year are projected to exceed $6 million.
Saleh spoke to Insider about launching Lexxola, growing it through the pandemic, and his community-led approach. What’s emerged is a brand made by a millennial for a Gen Z audience, with social media at its heart.
Made for the city
Saleh originally studied economics, but said he quickly realized finance wasn’t for him. He found himself in the art world for five years, and he began getting Lexxola off the ground while he was working at Sotheby’s. He ultimately left, his full-time job three months before Lexxola’s official launch.
Growing up, he said he noticed that sunglasses marketing campaigns were always about summer. “It was the guy and the girl running down the beach,” he said. “Whereas the eyewear experience that I knew was about wearing a product year-round, it was something for city life.”
He long wondered why there wasn’t a brand speaking to that concept, and decided to fill the gap himself. The year prior to Lexxola’s 2019 launch, the global sunglasses market was valued at $14.5 billion and growing, thanks to an increase in disposable income. While sunglasses stores declined in revenue during the pandemic, IBIS World found, it predicts revenue to grow as the the economy rebounds. Americans are now sitting on more than $1.6 trillion in savings, some of which will likely be deferred disposable income.
Saleh described beginning Lexxola as “diving into the deep end,” as he had no prior experience in the eyewear sector. He managed to source a factory in Italy and find a warehouse, both of which were hugely important, he said.
“When we first set up our warehouse, it was probably a bit early, but if we didn’t have that we’d for sure be out of business,” he said. “Putting the right building blocks into place in the first sort of six to eight months of the business, prior to the pandemic, really allowed us to springboard through it.”
A community-led approach
Saleh said he did everything when first launching, from packing boxes to answering customer service. Now that the team has expanded to four, he said he still has touch points in all aspects of the business.
Lexxola’s community-led creation process involves aggregating data on Gen Z consumers to create new styles for them. It’s a contrast from many fashion companies, Saleh explained, which are typically headed by a singular figure creating a product, putting it to market, and hoping that people like it.
“What we do is speak with our community,” he said. “We’re almost in a position where we’re a brand that actually acts as a service to create a product.”
A post shared by Jude Taylor (@jude)
But Saleh said this strategy has some challenges, such as ensuring they have styles that meets everyone’s needs. Continuous iterations of new sunglasses can also be quite labor and time-intensive, he said, but ultimately worthwhile. He cited a time when the team gathered product-return data, which helped it make specific changes to a product that led to 90% fewer returns.
The data process also enable them to design an upcoming frame named “The Antonio” combines the brand’s two best-sellers, “The Jordy” and “The Damien,” in what Saleh says is “almost a mathematical form.”
Product evolution is “never finished,” according to Saleh, “it’s just something that can get better.”
Speaking to Gen Z
Lexxola’s community-led approach helped Saleh understand and cultivate a Gen Z community, Saleh said, along with strategically hiring full-time and part-time Gen Z employees.
Saleh said the company found its feet with influencers six months in. Since then, it’s been a “knock-on” effect, as “People see other people wearing them and they become aware of the brand … it just sort of balloons that way.”
It helps, too, that Lexxola capitalizes on some of the things that matter the most to Gen Z when deciding where to spend their money. It’s part of a growing genderless market that WWD considers the future of the fashion industry. In recent years, designers have been launching genderless collections and unisex lines to appeal to changing norms and the Gen Z consumer. Lexxola was a step ahead by launching a unisex brand from the start.
More than half (56%) of Gen Z consumers shop “outside their assigned gendered area,” Phluid Project founder Rob Smith said at a 2019 WWD Culture Conference.
A post shared by Kaia (@kaiagerber)
Sustainability has also been a focus from the get-go. The sunglasses are produced in factories fueled by renewable energy, dispatched from LED-lit warehouses, transported via eco-integrated carriers, and delivered in recycled cardboard packaging. Lexxola also donates 1% of its annual sales to 1% For The Planet Organization.
That’s a plus for the 62% of Gen Z who prefer to buy from sustainable brands, according to a consumer spending analysis by First Insight. They’re more willing than any other generation (72%) to pay more for sustainable products.
There, too, is Lexxola’s curated modern aesthetic. A quick scroll through its Instagram grid shows colorful close-ups and selfies of the fashion-forward artfully posing against a backdrop of city streets or nature, making it difficult to discern campaign shots from real-life photos.
Such an integrated feed is part of Lexxola’s social strategy, according to Saleh, who said his audience loves to see real people wearing Lexxolas in real situations. Once the company began creating campaign content that visualized this and ran it alongside user-generated content, he said Lexxola’s social platforms took off.
A post shared by Lexxola (@lexxola)
“Gen Z are mobile natives, they’re digitally minded,” Saleh said. “They want authenticity and they’re extremely pragmatic.”
Right now, Saleh is focused on improving the way Lexxola designs new products. His team is currently working to develop an online page where customers can suggest new styles or colors they want to see.
What they’re really trying to do is build out more data points to inform future decisions for production, he said. “We try to build products that inspire confidence,” he added.
“Everyone’s still learning as we go,” he said. “It’s very much business as usual, and continuing to not rest on our laurels and improve.”
Getting banned on social media isn’t just a nuisance for influencers and creators. Oftentimes these platforms are a huge part of their livelihood – and the longer they’re unable to create content and share it with their audience, the more money they lose out on.
Bans are often instituted by a platform for reasons including harassment, bullying, or copyright or policy violations, but they can also happen for unknown reasons or by accident.
They’re also surprisingly common: Twitter suspended roughly 925,000 accounts during the first half of 2020 alone, and, in June 2019, Instagram conducted a “meme page purge,” removing accounts with a combined reach of 30 million followers. Those pages’ creators lost out on tens of thousands of dollars in placements, sponsorships, and advertising income.
Three creators and a lawyer shared how to avoid getting removed from a platform.
Know the risks of using third-party materials
A 30-year-old influencer who goes by the name Produced By Blanco has been making music professionally since 2018. He’s worked with artists signed to major labels including Atlantic, Roc Nation, Sony, Columbia, Republic, and Universal, has 12,500 followers on Instagram, and has driven millions of views on YouTube.
Blanco told Insider he avoids terms-of-use violations, like sharing unauthorized content, by only sharing his own content or content made by artists he’s worked with.
“It’s the safest route,” Eric Lauritsen, a Los Angeles-based music industry attorney who’s represented clients who’ve been banned from platforms like Twitch and TikTok, told Insider. But creators don’t have to follow Blanco’s all-or-nothing approach as long as they understand the risks.
“To be safe, make it a policy not to use material owned by third parties,” he said. “But, if you intend to use third-party material anyway, you may be OK doing it, but at a minimum, accept the fact that a third-party will claim the revenue or your content is at risk of removal. Some parties may go further though and may want to pursue a claim against you for statutory damages,” he added, citing the landmark Napster case in 2000, where Metallica sued for $100,000 in damages per song illegally downloaded on the site.
Most social media platforms treat the use of copyrighted material the same, whether it’s by accident (for example, someone else’s song playing in the background of your livestream) or on purpose (like blatantly stealing it). And saying “no copyright infringement” won’t protect you, either.
Control as much of your content as possible
Matthew Pettito, 18, has 3.8 million followers on TikTok, 192,000 followers on Instagram, 26,000 followers on Twitch, and is sponsored by energy-drink company Bang Energy. He first downloaded TikTok in July 2019 and said he had one million followers by June 2020.
He began livestreaming on TikTok to start making money through the TikTok Creator Program (per the Creator terms, you need at least 1,000 followers to be eligible to monetize your livestream). While hosting a TikTok livestream one night, Pettito was also on Omegle, a free app that facilitates chats with strangers online.
“There are no community guidelines, so it’s not uncommon for people on the website to be saying or doing vulgar things,” Pettito told Insider. “I was on track to make $1,000 that night, and all of a sudden, I was removed from the app and banned for 48 hours.” He lost the $1,000 due to the vulgar comment being picked up on his livestream.
Pettito recommended other influencers use caution while streaming live “because you can’t edit or take back anything,” he said. Some users even record livestream content and upload it to other platforms, so whatever you say or do can take on a life of its own – for better or worse.
Consider hiring an attorney if you have a significant amount of money at stake
Dakota Elder, 27, had his YouTube account banned in 2019 and his TikTok account banned in 2020. At the time, he said he had 100,000 subscribers on YouTube and 500,000 followers on TikTok.
He told Insider he still doesn’t know why either account was banned and didn’t hear back from either platform when he asked why. Elder was on track to make about $2,500 in revenue the following month from both accounts.
Elder now has over 4.4 million followers on his new TikTok profile but chose not to recreate his YouTube channel. Despite being permanently banned from both, he created the new TikTok account by just signing up again.
“Making the new account was smooth as butter,” he said. “I had no problems, and I haven’t had an issue since the first video on the new account.” It was easy to sign back up again, he said, although he couldn’t access the old account, followers, or content.
Taking the revenue hit was likely the most cost-effective option for Elder, but for creators with a significant amount of money at stake, consulting an attorney could be worth it.
“I have seen scenarios where clients had music taken down from streaming services, reached out, did not receive a response, then hired me to follow up and I was able to get information,” Lauritsen said. “There is an extra air of legitimacy using an attorney to at least help get you more information.
ByteDance, the Chinese owner of video app TikTok, may be worth $250 billion – a valuation that beats Coca-Cola and far outranks Twitter, Bloomberg reports.
Coca-Cola is valued at $228 billion, and Twitter is $48.8 billion, according to Markets Insider data. Just last month, ByteDance was trading at a valuation of $200 billion on the secondary market, according to Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the matter.
In April 2017, the Beijing-based startup was valued at $140 billion, according to CB Insights. Shares have risen as the company considers an initial public offering and investor confidence increases, Bloomberg said, citing the sources.
ByteDance did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
ByteDance’s app TikTok has come under scrutiny in Western countries for potentially sharing user data with the Chinese government, but the company has denied the claims.
TikTok, which has more than 100 million active users in the US and about the same in Europe, previously had a spat with the US government, which was planning to ban the app under former President Donald Trump.
The app aims to create unbiased news in real-time and bills itself as “TikTok for news.”
It creates news stories, averaging at around 70 words, which users can read in less than nine seconds. The stories are listed in-app in a swipe format that’s easy on the eye. This is crucial to make the app attractive to its millennial target market, Vazirani said.
A post shared by Volv ☁️ (@volvmedia)
People in their teens and 20s often check their phones before they even get out of bed, logging into various apps to view the latest newsfeed updates. On Volv, users can scroll through and see all the major news stories at a glance.
In this way, the app can show people the top political and financial stories and covert non-news readers, while also offsetting heavy stories with lighter reads.
This approach is paying off. Volv publishes around 50 stories a day and its articles have been read nearly 8 million times so far. Its founders said it has a high retention rate, too.
A post shared by Volv ☁️ (@volvmedia)
Volv launched a week before the US went into lockdown but perhaps this was fortunate timing. People staying at home spend more time online. In addition, major news events have drawn readers in. This includes the Black Lives Matter movement, tumultuous 2020 presidential election, Capitol siege, and of course, the ongoing pandemic.
“It sort of pushed us in at the deep end,” Almeida told Insider.
Being unbiased is a key part of the app’s identity. Its founders also recently launched a feature called timeline news. This allows readers to get a broader view of the topic and understand how a story has developed, without moving away from the short-format feature.
It has a team of fewer than 10 people – but it’s actively recruiting more so it can diversify its content.
Prior to launching the app, Almeida and Vazirani, emailed billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban on a whim for some advice. To their surprise, Cuban responded. He gave them tips on how to make the content more youthful and in sync with millennials. He also advised them on how to market the app and differentiate it from existing news sites.
Almeida and Vazirani had no tech experience before creating Volv. Instead, they created the app from a consumer angle, the pair told Insider. They also applied this to the interface of the app, which has neutral colors and no bold headlines to create a calm, seamless experience, Vazirani said.
So far, Volv has used purely organic marketing. It’s been featured by YouTubers and tech bloggers, and has a page on Product Hunt, which helps spread the word and give it a global audience, Almeida said. Although it’s shunned paid marketing so far, it’s looking to try it out in the future, she added.
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Volv received pre-seed funding through Snap’s accelerator Yellow, which Vazirani said gave it “instant validation.” As well as the funding, Yellow has also given Volv access to a range of resources, including sessions hosted by guest speakers. Snapchat and Volv share the same target market and are both based around speed and short pieces, so the pairing made sense, Vazirani said.
The founders told Insider Volv is going to be raising its seed round soon but did not provide further details.
TikTok is a popular social media app built around an enormous library of user-created short-form videos. Owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, TikTok is projected to surpass 1 billion active monthly users in 2021 – that makes it one of the largest social media apps with roughly the same amount of activity as Instagram.
TikTok is relatively safe
Any social media company with that much reach is likely to undergo substantial scrutiny – Facebook, for example, has repeatedly come under fire for its privacy policies throughout its history. But TikTok has gotten outsized attention in the last few years. The Trump administration repeatedly sought to ban the app, citing the potential for ByteDance to share its trove of user data with the Chinese government. Even President Biden – as a candidate in the fall of 2020 – referred to TikTok as “a matter of genuine concern.”
Many cybersecurity experts suggest keeping all this in perspective. “Of all the serious cyber risks facing the average consumer, TikTok isn’t on the top of the list. Most Americans ought to be way more concerned about credit card fraud and password protection than TikTok,” Monica Eaton-Cardone, co-founder and chief operating officer of Chargebacks911, said.
Chester Wisniewski, principal research scientist at Sophos, agreed: “TikTok doesn’t pose any more risk to a user than any other social media sharing application. That isn’t to say that there isn’t risk, but it’s not really different from Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.”
In fact, while politicians continue to discuss legislative actions against TikTok – Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Rick Scott introduced a bill in 2020 to ban all federal employees from using the app on government devices, for example – there’s still little evidence of harm. Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate with Comparitech, was most critical of the climate against the app: “TikTok’s supposed risks to national security were mostly, if not all, politically motivated embellishments with no evidence to back them up.”
Concerns about TikTok
Bischoff’s criticism notwithstanding, concern about TikTok isn’t without some merit. Cybersecurity experts point to privacy issues like data mining, device permissions, and a potential risk to national security as common causes for concern.
Like any social media app, TikTok collects data about its users – but the extent to which TikTok mines user data is extraordinary. Aliza Vigderman, a journalist at Security.org, said that TikTok can collect as many as 50 kinds of information from users 13 and older – everything from age, username, gender, and email address to details about your mobile device, content of messages, and tracking data about your online activities. Because the company shares information with “advertising, marketing, and analytics vendors,” Vigderman assessed that “your information is not safe with TikTok.”
Similarly, many apps require users to agree to give permission to various aspects of the phone, and TikTok is no different. To use TikTok, a user must allow the app to access the microphone, camera, contacts, clipboard, and location service. To create content on the app, some of those permissions are clearly necessary – but others are not.
Regarding national security concerns, it’s unclear if TikTok poses a risk to the US. Clearly, many US politicians believe that China could use TikTok to spy on US citizens or mine their data, and some worry that data will be given to the Chinese government, as that’s legal under Chinese laws. TikTok says it stores data from US users on servers in the US to shield them from Chinese government requests, but “there’s some legal debate on whether or not the company would be subject to US or China laws regarding these servers,” Vigderman said.
There’s minimal risk for the average TikTok user
All things considered, “TikTok does not pose any particular risks to average users.” That’s the assessment of Brian Turner, chief technical officer of Convert Binary. His perspective echoes that of many other security experts who have evaluated the risks posed by the social media giant.
Certainly, there is potential for the substantial volumes of user data collected by TikTok to be shared with partners, but that’s not substantially different than when using Facebook. Said Bischoff: “Yes, there are some risks in giving up personal information. But anyone who uses any major social network in the past 10 years has taken similar risks. There’s nothing outstanding about TikTok except the fact that it’s Chinese-owned. If your job makes you responsible for national security or trade secrets, then you might want to avoid making yourself a target and stay off the app.”
In general, if you have concerns about any potential risks of using TikTok, your best bet may be to not use the app at all. Nonetheless, there are steps you can take to minimize the digital footprint you leave within TikTok.
Don’t overshare: Don’t use your full name or specify your age. Keep identifiable personal landmarks like street signs and schools out of view.
Make your account private: By setting your account to “private” in TikTok’s settings menu, you need to approve anyone who tries to follow you, and only your friends can see the content you have liked.
Don’t allow other users to find you: By default, TikTok shares your content with the entire app’s community. To prevent that, you can turn off “Suggest your account to others” in settings.
Don’t let other users interact with you: Also in TikTok’s settings, you can disable privacy options like “Allow your videos to be downloaded” and to restrict “Who can send you direct messages” to just friends.
Eli Servais posted a since-deleted video on TikTok in September showing ways he and his coworkers wish they could respond to demanding customers. “There were no customers there. We were closed or about to be closed, so we were just having fun. Nothing was broken or vandalized,” he told Buzzfeed.
A Starbucks spokesperson told Buzzfeed that “there is an expectation that partners create a respectful, safe and welcoming environment.”
As TikTok’s popularity has grown, companies have struggled with how to deal with posts from employees. In July, an Ohio college student was fired by Sherman-Williams for his viral paint-mixing videos. Four airport employees in Fresno, California were fired last year after making videos of dance trends using airport equipment as props. A California Chick-fil-A worker said she was fired after posting a video of a menu-hack that gained millions of views.
These are just a few cases that have gained attention as companies decide how to police social media posts on the job. Nurses and cops are frequent offenders too, sometimes getting into trouble with managers, Fast Company reported.
Employees tend to feel that they’re giving companies positive attention.
“I personally don’t believe it is fair for employees to be fired over viral videos,” fired Chick-fil-A employee Ana told Insider in August. “I’m sure I gave Chick-fil-A a bunch of free publicity and don’t believe I should have been fired.”
In the case of the Fresno airport service agents, comments were almost entirely positive and commenters said that they shouldn’t have been fired. One of the workers, Tommy Chan, said that the head of airport social media told them “Nice video.”
The firing decisions can also be confusing to people outside the company. There are thousands of TikToks seemingly made by Starbucks baristas at work, and most don’t make the news. Law professor Elizabeth C. Tippett wrote that “even the most innocuous videos likely violate standard corporate social media policies.“
Employees are often bound by social media policies that prohibit speaking on behalf of the company and using the brand without permission. Starbucks declined to share any further details about this specific case with Insider.
Until relatively recently, there were few ways for a young, low-level employee to create something about business viewed by millions, Kalinowski Equity Research founder Mark Kalinowski told Insider. Now it’s easy thanks to social media, most recently TikTok, and “ultimately any large company wants their brand to become more valuable over time, so they want to control their image,” Kalinowski said.
White people who are popular on social media tend to make more money than Black stars, according to Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek.
The same is true for when Black influencers have more followers or are doing creative work that’s later appropriated by white people, the report found, citing interviews with dozens of influencers. Sometimes they’re not paid but instead given products from brands.
In one example Bloomberg reported, 22-year-old Sydnee McRae, who is Black, has more than 1 million followers on TikTok, most of whom took interest in her account after she made a “viral” dance video that choreographed a dance to “Captain Hook” by Megan Thee Stallion.
It led to a $700 deal with the Universal Music Group to promote rapper Lil Tecca’s “Out of Love.” A white influencer, Addison Rae Easterling, was paid thousands by Lil Tecca just to emulate it. Easterling has more followers than McRae, totaling more than 78 million, but white influencers with smaller followings typically make $5,000 for dances. McRae is still getting $500.
There are several similar examples highlighted by Black influencers in the report, including McRae, Stacy Thiru (1.4 million TikTok followers), Kenny Knox (843,000 Instagram followers), Jordan Craig (52,000 Instagram followers), Layla Qasim (2.4 million TikTok followers), Dare Ajibare (1 million TikTok followers), and Challan Trishann (915,200 TikTok followers).
The disparity goes against the meritocratic promises of the social media platforms, where supposedly anyone can get famous, and disadvantages Black creators in a market worth $10 billion each year, the report said.
Their accounts are also heavily monitored, with Knox losing a Target gig for using the N-word in a recent video. Other white influencers like Felix Kjellberg appeared to get away with worse, including anti-Semitic jokes, filming dead bodies, and throwing un-masked parties during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the racial reckoning of 2020, marketers seemed more willing to work with Black influencers and engage in conversations about inequity, the report found. Previously Black creators were told not to post about Black Lives Matter or law enforcement.
In June, Instagram’s product chief said the company was taking a harder look at whether its algorithms held a bias against Black people. About two years prior, an Instagram employee who worked with the influencer partnerships team, resigned over concerns about the disenfranchisement of Black people on the platform.
But creators are skeptical about whether the brands are actually changing their ways, Bloomberg reported.