George Floyd Protests: Music Industry Vows 'Blackout Tuesday'; Snap CEO Calls for Reparation Commission; Cities Impose Midday Curfews
Here are the latest headlines regarding how the protests around the killing of George Floyd are impacting the Los Angeles startup and tech communities. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for the latest update.
- TikTok addresses 'tough but fair questions' about treatment of black creators
- L.A. VC's react
- L.A.'s top health official: racism fuels health inequities
- L.A.'s music industry will shut down for 'Black Out Tuesday'
- Hollywood, streaming services nod to Black Lives Matter
- Snap and Twitter reportedly used by ill-intentioned protesters to organize theft
- Snap CEO talks reparations and heartbreak
- Airmap's Santa Monica headquarters destroyed by looters
- Santa Monica, Beverly Hills announce 1 pm curfews for business districts
TikTok addresses 'tough but fair questions' about opportunities for black creators on the platform
TikTok sent a message out to "our black community" on Monday addressing what the company called "tough but fair questions" about whether the platform allows all creators the opportunity to have their content viewed.
In a message to its black community, Vanessa Pappas, TikTok's U.S. general manager and Kudzi Chikumbu, director of creator community, said "we hear you and we care about your experienced on TikTok.
"We acknowledge and apologize to our Black creators and community who have felt unsafe, unsupported, or suppressed. We don't ever want anyone to feel that way."
The company, which is owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based internet technology company, said that on May 19 black creators and their allies changed their profile pictures and connected on the platform to speak out against how they felt marginalized on TikTok. Then, last week, "a technical glitch made it temporarily appear as if posts uploaded using #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd would receive 0 views."
TikTok said that the company understands that many assumed the bug to be an intentional act to suppress the black community's experiences and invalidate their emotions. It's unclear why TikTok wrote about the glitch Monday, or if had intended to do so before recent demonstrations in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. A Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck while he pleaded for his mother and to breathe.
The company, which has its U.S. headquarters in Culver City, said it is donating $3 million in honor of black creators to nonprofits that help the black community, which has been disproportionately affected by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. TikTok also said it is committing $1 million to fighting racial injustice and inequality.
TikTok said it will standing in solidarity on Tuesday by participating in Blackout Tuesday, turning off all playlists and campaigns on its "Sounds" page to observe a moment of reflection and action. The company said it is also investing in technology. and better moderation strategies with a more user-friendly appeals process. It's also establishing a creator diversity council and developing a creator portal to expand communication and opportunities.
"We know we have work to do to regain and repair that trust," the post said.
-- Tami Abdollah
Los Angeles VC's reactArt by Candace Navi
It has been notoriously difficult for people of color to break into the insular world of venture capital, where who you know and previous success are are highly prized. Just 2% of investment professionals are black, which in turn makes it hard for black founders to get funded. Here is a sampling of some of the reaction from the Los Angeles VC community, many of whom have offices in Santa Monica near protests and looting:
LA County public health director calls police violence "a public health issue"
Los Angeles County top public health official Barbara Ferrer linked the unrest that has rocked the region to the deep health disparities that black Americans experience. Ferrer, who has been providing somber daily updates on coronavirus deaths and its spread, called police brutality a public health issue that must be addressed.
"It's important to comment on the connection between these two concerns the death of a black man at the hands of police and the experience of COVID-19 in L.A. County," she said in starting her briefing. "We know that black Americans fare worse than other groups on virtually every measure of health status. And it has become all too common to blame this on individual behaviors, when in fact the science is clear, the root cause of health inequities is racism and discrimination."
"Science also tells us that lifetime stress associated with experiences of daily acts of discrimination and oppression, play a major role," she said. "It starts at birth with higher rates of black infant mortality and shockingly higher rates of maternal mortality among black women and extends to adulthood, when we see black residents in L.A. County experiencing earlier onset of heart disease, hypertension and diabetes and earlier deaths."
"When I report each week that we have seen elevated numbers of black deaths in this county due to COVID-19, I am reporting on the consequences of these long standing inequities. And it's not just the direct victim of violence, the person who's beaten, or shot or asphyxiated who pays the price for brutality. It is an entire community that lives with the fear that the next time, it could be them or their son or daughter neighbor or friend. It is a consequence of that fear that we are seeing when we report instance after instance of inequality and health outcomes," she said.
"As the department responsible for public health in L.A. County and in acknowledgement of our national association, the American Public Health Association, declaring that addressing law enforcement violence is a public health issue, this rush to justice has to be part of our prescription, as well.
Los Angeles county and city declared a 6 p.m. curfew on Monday.
L.A.'s music industry will shut down for 'Black Out Tuesday'
Many organizations in the music industry are pledging to close on Tuesday as part of a 'Black Out Tuesday' campaign. Participants include the three major labels: Warner Music Group, Sony Music and Universal Music Group, along with many of their associated sub-labels.
The initiative started with a pop-up webpage calling for the music industry to shut down on Tuesday, published by Jamila Thomas, a marketing executive at Atlantic Records (owned by Warner Music Group), and Brianna Agyemang, an artist campaign manager at Platoon (owned by Apple).
"It is a day to take a beat for an honest, reflective and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the black community," the post said. "The music industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. An industry that has profited predominantly from Black art. Our mission is to hold the industry at large, including major corporations + their partners who benefit from the efforts, struggles and successes of Black people accountable… This is not just a 24-hour initiative. We are and will be in this fight for the long haul. A plan of action will be announced."
The post includes a list of links for suggested actions to take on Tuesday.
#TheShowMustBePaused has traveled widely through the music industry's social media. Santa Monica-based Interscope (owned by Universal Music) pledged to delay releasing new music this week.
Other organizations have been posting messages of solidarity to their social media accounts including Sony Music, Columbia Records (owned by Sony), Universal Music, and Atlantic Records (owned by Warner).
— Sam Blake
Hollywood, streaming services nod to Black Lives Matter
Over the weekend, several streaming companies took to social media to show support for the peaceful protests.
Some streaming platforms have changed their social media profile names and descriptions to express solidarity, including
HBO Max and Quibi. Other organizations with similar messages on their social media pages include
NBCUniversal, Disney, and Hulu.
On Sunday, various Hollywood union leaders weighed in as well.
SAG-AFTRA leaders Gabrielle Carteris and David P. White issued a statement. "The murder of George Floyd is deeply emblematic of a corrosive inequality and injustice at the heart of America," it began. "It's not enough to demand change. We must recognize that racism lives in our culture and only we can change that."
WGA West President David Goodman said: "As demonstrations continue today across America, our union stands with those who peacefully protest the racist, extrajudicial murders of George Floyd and other Black people...National outrage about bigotry, discrimination, and injustice is the only way we will ever see real change."
ViacomCBS announced on Monday that several of its networks, including Nickelodeon, BET and CBS Sports Network, would go dark for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in tribute to George Floyd and "other victims of racial violence."
— Sam Blake
L.A.'s gaming companies express support for BLMlive.staticflickr.com
Several Los Angeles gaming companies have weighed in to express solidarity and sympathy with social activists.
Culver City-based Jam City, a mobile game developer founded in 2010, took to social media to stand with Black Lives Matter. Santa Monica's Activision Blizzard and West LA's Riot Games also posted on social media, as has startup Esports One.
Gaming and lifestyle company FaZe Clan, based in Hollywood, published an "honest message" to its fans:
FaZe Clan is donating all profits from a retail campaign to a Memorial Fund created in George Floyd's name.
— Sam Blake
Snap and Twitter reportedly used by ill-intentioned protesters to organize theft; Snap CEO talks reparations and heartbreak
Photo by Tami Abdollah
Twitter has long been the social media platform of choice for people protesting an abuse of power -- during the Arab Spring uprisings it proved crucially useful as a way to get around and deal with internet blackouts.
So too has it been used this past week, by groups organizing mostly peaceful efforts to express their anger at George Floyd's death. But as Twitter has upped its efforts to counter violence on its platform, notably by placing a warning label on a tweet by President Trump for glorifying violence, those with less peaceful intentions have also taken their messages to Snapchat to urge their contacts and the broader public to engage in violence, theft and property damage.
A Snap spokesperson said the company's Community Guidelines "prohibit content that incites or glorifies violence, hate speech and discrimination of any kind. We have in-app reporting tools that Snapchatters can use to quickly report any content that may be in violation of our guidelines to our Trust and Safety team, who then reviews the reports and takes appropriate action."
On Sunday evening, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel sent a letter to staff in which he said "we simply cannot promote accounts in America that are linked to people who incite racial violence, whether they do so on or off our platform.
"Our Discover content platform is a curated platform, where we decide what we promote. We have spoken time and again about working hard to make a positive impact, and we will walk the talk with the content we promote on Snapchat. We may continue to allow divisive people to maintain an account on Snapchat, as long as the content that is published on Snapchat is consistent with our community guidelines, but we will not promote that account or content in any way."
The self-described camera company is currently protected from financial liability for such messages by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that that has been broadly interpreted by the courts over the years as shielding internet sites and apps from being financially liable for what user tweets, posts or generally publishes on their platforms.
Last week, Trump signed an executive order that may change all of that by enabling federal regulators to punish social media companies for how they moderate content on their sites. Lawmakers and internet freedom advocates called the action illegal and improper under the First Amendment.
Such a change could have far-reaching impacts on Santa Monica-based Snap and smaller companies with an online presence that lack the budgets to moderate every single message or post on their apps.
Spiegel said he is "heartbroken and enraged by the treatment of black people and people of color in America." He called for the establishment of a diverse, nonpartisan "Commission on Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations" to investigate the criminal justice system and take action on reconciliation and reparations.
— Tami Abdollah
Airmap's Santa Monica headquarters destroyed by looters
Airmap's headquarters on Santa Monica boulevard near the Third Street Promenade was destroyed by looters Sunday night, according to co-founder Greg McNeal, who recounted the damage in a series of Twitter posts. The company, founded in 2015, is the world's leading airspace services platform for unmanned aircraft.
AirMap co-founder and chairman Ben Marcus added this on Twitter: "Last night, the AirMap office in Santa Monica was consumed by fire. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. What hurts is the unending racism & injustice in America. We all must work harder to make our union more perfect. We're all brothers and sisters. Let's treat each other with love, respect, & dignity, and create opportunity for all who choose to make a positive impact."
— Ben Bergman
Santa Monica, Beverly Hills announce 1 pm curfews for business districts
Santa Monica and Beverly Hills announced 1 p.m. curfews for their business districts on Monday, as shop owners and residents began sweeping the glass off the street and assessing the damage after a night of peaceful protests turned into fires, looting and vandalism over the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. Citywide curfews will go into effect at 4 p.m. The chaos went to the heart of Silicon Beach, home to tech companies like Snap Inc and venture capitalists like Upfront Ventures, whose office overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
Long Beach issued a similar curfew.
"Sunday was one of the most distressing days in Santa Monica history," said Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown in a statement. "We know better than to let the looters obscure the message of the protesters, who have indeed been heard."
Downtown L.A., Beverly Hills, Fairfax District and the Grove shopping center all got hit by looters over the weekend as police cars were set ablaze and the national guard was called in. News outlets reported that some chanted "eat the rich" as they marched along Rodeo Drive, one of the most expensive slices of commercial real estate in the region.
Floyd's death caused anguish in communities that have seen a number of black men die or be hurt by police officers who often suffer few consequences. Meanwhile, blacks and Latinos have higher arrest and incarceration rates. The deep disparity extends beyond the criminal justice system to education, housing and other areas.
And the frustration over it played out during the protests. Unlike the 1992 civil unrest after the release of Los Angeles police officers who beat Rodney King, demonstrations hit some of the wealthiest parts of the city. In 1992, looting and fires devastated South Central, further impoverishing an already economically disadvantaged area.
"Pretty wild to see the epicentre of this chaos at my office," Laurent Grill, an investor at Santa Monica based Luma Launch wrote on Twitter Sunday. "Quite a divide... on one side we had massive peaceful protests and 3 blocks away, people are looting & burning stores in my community. Makes me extremely sad."
— Rachel Uranga
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Santa Monica-based drone operations company AirMap is among eight companies selected to help the Federal Aviation Administration establish technical requirements for Remote ID, a protocol that drones will be required to follow for broadcasting identification and location data while in flight.
The other companies include Airbus, Amazon, T-Mobile, Intel, OneSky, Skyward and Alphabet's drone subsidiary, Wing.
"The FAA will be able to advance the safe integration of drones into our nation's airspace from these technology companies' knowledge and expertise on remote identification," Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said today in a news release.
Today's announcement comes months after the FAA put out a set of draft regulations and a request for information relating to Remote ID.
Remote ID would require drone manufacturers to make their products capable of sending out ID codes and location data during operation in national airspace. The rules would apply to all drones heavier than 8.8 ounces, and manufacturers would have to comply two years after the regulations take effect. Drone operators would have three years to phase out non-complying devices.
Drones without the Remote ID system could be flown only within special FAA-designated zones — usually the same sorts of places where hobbyists fly model airplanes.
Remote ID system proposed for drones in U.S. airspace www.youtube.com
The eight companies named today will advise the FAA on the technical standards and radio frequencies that would support the Remote ID system. Those specifications will be announced when the FAA publishes its final rule on Remote ID. Then the FAA would begin accepting applications for entities to become Remote ID suppliers.
Assuming the process develops as the FAA envisions, Remote ID would become a fact of life for drone operation — and for enforcement of the rules governing drone operation. Nearly 1.5 million drones and 160,000 remote pilots are now registered with the FAA, and analysts say Remote ID could turn into a market generating $1.5 billion a year by 2029.
Seattle-based Amazon and Wing are already well-known for their work on drones designed for package delivery. Airbus has its own delivery-drone program known as Skyways. Intel, meanwhile, has been building drones optimized for remote monitoring. Several FAA-approved pilot projects are testing Intel's drones as well as Intel's Bluetooth-enabled identification system, known as Open Drone ID.
T-Mobile has been providing the connectivity for at least three pilot projects involving drones, and is looking to expand its involvement in the drone industry with the rise of 5G networks.
Not everyone is happy with the FAA's proposed plan for Remote ID: DJI, one of the world's largest drone manufacturers, sounded off about its objections in a January blog posting.
"DJI wants governments to require Remote ID for drones, but the FAA has proposed a complex, expensive and intrusive system that would make it harder to use drones in America, and that jeopardizes the success of the Remote ID initiative," said Brendan Schulman, DJI's vice president of policy and legal affairs. "Instead, we support a simpler, easier, and free version of Remote ID that doesn't need a cellular connection or a service subscription."
Will the FAA's new technology partners come up with a different plan, or stick with the system as proposed? Stay tuned.
As a veteran of the Marine Corps who served as an infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan in the years after 9/11, Dan Burton saw drone technology, quite literally, take off.
Drones went from needing 55 people to fly, to as few as three pilots, to just one. Meanwhile, soldiers on the ground were thrilled to have a decentralized way to get dedicated eyes from above on missions.
Burton would ultimately translate that military experience into a business venture, fathering DroneBase Inc. in 2014 to provide professional drone services for hire. The Santa Monica-based company said it provides customers hassle-free aerial video, photos, mapping and data — and pairs drone-licensed pilots up with jobs around the world. DroneBase has raised more than $17 million, with VC backing from Union Square Ventures, Upfront Ventures, DJI Hearst Ventures and Pritzker Group, among others.
Today, the company is the largest provider of commercial drone services in the world, Burton said, "with the largest network of pilots in the world and the most kind of geographic reach."
When it comes to the coronavirus, well, "the drone is not coughing on anyone," and so the drone and its operator are therefore less impacted, unlike a typical worker in the U.S., Burton said. Pilots are often working by themselves in more isolated situations or areas.
As a result, March was DroneBase's best month of all time, with 30% in business growth from February to March. April is already on pace to beat the record by a similar amount.
"I wish it was under different circumstances," Burton said. "But we feel we're in a position to keep America running, to help with mission critical inspections of critical infrastructure" while workforces are locked down.
DroneBase is one of a handful of Southern California companies that have flourished amid a sort of second aviation-related boom, perhaps in part due to its roots here and the major presence of aviation and government-adjacent companies, from Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to the Mojave Air & Space Port and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
"Southern California in many ways ushered in the first aviation revolution, drone tech was born here and built here by the military (contractor) companies by and large, now (the industry's) getting built again in companies in Southern California, and maybe SF, too," Burton said.
Drone-related companies have sprouted across the region. Santa Monica-based software company AirMap started in 2015 and has built digital infrastructure to provide air traffic control for unmanned aircrafts. It has raised more than $60 million from venture capital and strategic investors and has more than 300,000 users.
FLIR Systems Inc., which is based in Arlington, Virginia, develops, manufactures and sells thermal imaging, doing much of its innovation out of its tech hub in Santa Barbara. The company is also a DroneBase investor.
Meanwhile, Auterion Government Solutions, which is also based in Southern California, is working on creating software capabilities, including small unmanned aerial systems compatible for U.S. Defense Department drones.
For DroneBase, which today has its software talk with AirMap's and uses FLIR sensors, some early jobs include helping construction sites quickly measure their inventory, or a quarry safely get video of an explosion. Burton found that companies didn't want to buy their own drones and hire their own in-house pilot. They could outsource the job instead.
The 50-person company has 65,000 pilots on its platform — or more than half of the 120,000 pilots in the U.S. who have their "107" or drone pilot license — and registers over 100,000 flights annually. The company also provides footage for news media like The Associated Press and Reuters ("We're their first phone call when they need stuff from the air," Burton said), and its pictures have been on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. DroneBase also works with content providers like Getty Images and Shutterstock to provide footage for customers.
DroneBase has a close relationship with DJI — the largest manufacturer of consumer drones worldwide — flying twice a year to its headquarters in Shenzhen, China. DJI has also attracted considerable concern from U.S. government officials and lawmakers over its data security and potential cyber vulnerabilities because of its Chinese supply chain.
In 2015, DJI and Palo Alto, Calif.-based Accel teamed up to create SkyFund, which invests in "the next generation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)." SkyFund became the first strategic investor in DroneBase, Burton said.
A nearly empty Santa Monica, Calif. pier as seen from above during COVID-19 stay-home orders, taken by a DroneBase drone.
Courtesy of DroneBase
DroneBase pilots, who use their own drones, have flown in all 50 states and 70 different countries, Burton said, enabling its pilots to talk to each other through their software and creating sort of de facto standards for unmanned commercial drone flight.
The company has also done jobs like assessing office buildings, evaluating rooftop water damage that's below the surface using thermal imaging, or assessing the health of solar panels or wind turbines, which can be very dangerous to inspect up close and in person.
After Hurricane Harvey hit in Texas and Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, DroneBase got to work helping out with insurance company evaluations, helping speed up claims by weeks in areas difficult and dangerous to inspect in person. Their pilots flew drones from 5 feet to 100 feet off the roof, providing imagery that's far better than satellites, Burton said.
"This was very much a military technology that was subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer that's now becoming a commercial industry, not unlike fast-food," Burton said.
Do you have a story that needs to be told? My DMs are open on Twitter @latams. You can also email me at tami(at)dot.la, or ask for my Signal.