Cyber Saturday—The War on InfoWars

Good evening, Cyber Saturday readers.

A number of tech companies excised the rantings and ravings of Alex Jones, a pundit known for promulgating deranged conspiracy theories, from their digital repositories this past week.

On his website, InfoWars, Jones has been known to push baseless, detestable claims; for example, that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax and the September 11th attacks were orchestrated by the government. Fed up with Jones’ antics, Apple, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube—with the notable exception of Twitter—corked his megaphone.

Add this confrontation to the longstanding tug-of-war between free speech and censorship on the web. One of my favorite contributions to this dialogue was supplied last year by Matthew Prince, CEO and cofounder of Cloudflare, a startup offering services that improve website performance and security. By policy, Prince’s firm chooses to protect all comers, whether that’s the webpage of an ecommerce startup or a black market site. Cloudflare has long maintained that policing the Internet is a job for, well, the police—not for itself.

Until Prince broke his own rule. As the CEO described it in a blog post, one day he felt a customer crossed the line. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi sympathizing site, said that Prince’s company was a secret supporter of its ideology. That went too far—and to prove the point, Prince gave the site the boot.

“Now, having made that decision, let me explain why it’s so dangerous,” Prince wrote. “Without a clear framework as a guide for content regulation, a small number of companies will largely determine what can and cannot be online.”

Subverting his own decision, Prince continued: “Law enforcement, legislators, and courts have the political legitimacy and predictability to make decisions on what content should be restricted. Companies should not.”

I don’t have an easy answer for these predicaments. But as I considered Facebook’s move, the words of the company’s parting security chief, Alex Stamos, rang in my ears. “We need to be willing to pick sides when there are clear moral or humanitarian issues,” he said in March, part of a letter addressed to Facebook that leaked publicly. “And we need to be open, honest and transparent about our challenges and what we are doing to fix them.”

Amen to that. What do you make of this debate, dear reader? I would like to hear from you. What is the right course of action for these companies? Is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in the right for keeping Jones afloat, or not?

Do write. I welcome your thoughts.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Hackett


[email protected]

Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

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How to See Your Company through the Eyes of the Employees

Have you ever seen the reality show Undercover Boss? I highly recommend it.

On the show, the CEO of a company, disguised in casual clothes and with a made-up back story, spends time working incognito alongside his or her front-line employees. There are the predictable inter-employee spats, miniature crises, and times when the CEO just doesn’t ‘get’ how to do some simple task.

It’s all in good fun. The dramatic buildup is to the big reveal at the end where the CEO takes off the disguise, rewards the freshly discovered unsung heroes of the business with money and promotions, shares and fixes lessons learned about the company.

What I recommend about Undercover Boss is not just that you watch it for fun, but that you copy it in your own life. I believe that the leader of an organization should find a way to see his or her business through the eyes of the employees, just as on the show.

I mean, consider: Do you really know what your front-line employees face on the job every day? It’s unlikely; even if you are present in the office, do you really think they behave the same when the boss is standing there?

So try it. Come in to the office in jeans one day, don’t introduce yourself, and try using the mail room. Contact your HR as a “new employee” and ask questions about health insurance and educational or learning opportunities. If you are in retail business, go to a store anonymously or call one with a question. How are people treating each other? The customer? Is the environment bustling and productive or lethargic and unhappy?

Of course you don’t always have to do the James Bond thing and show up in a disguise. Try the classic manage-by-walking-around strategy and make it a regular part of your schedule to go talk to people. Ask about what procedures (or lack thereof) get in the way of productivity. You’ll have to build trust, of course, that talking frankly and even complaining will not be penalized. That’s why you have to do it more than occasionally.

If you are the leader, chances are you don’t really know what it takes to get something done. You haven’t walked down all the pathways that are required to get an idea from Point A to Point B. You probably just say some variation of “Make it so,” and then you’re on to the next thing.

Meanwhile, your employees might be forced into a convoluted process that is not of their choosing. Sometimes they might even have to drop an initiative altogether, or hollow it out until it’s meaningless, simply because of an inefficient structure that gets in  the way.

How much more effective could you be if you really understood where lack of procedure and murky channels of communication are bogging things down? After all, you’re the person who has the clout to change all that–so you need to know.

What ends up falling by the wayside because no one is paying attention to the pathways? That’s why you need to get out your best hourly-worker costume and go find out. It might not make you a TV star, but it will definitely make you a Boss and Leader. (But if you want to see the real Undercover Boss show just for fun, check out the one when my colleague Bryon Stephens, CEO of my Extreme Leadership Institute, was the star of an episode.)

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This Company Forces Its Employees to Unplug and It Can't Stop Growing

Culture is often overlooked when starting a business. You have to find customers, deal with growth, and tackle logistics, so culture isn’t always at the top of the list. In fact, most company cultures form unintentionally out of personality and habits because, even though you know it’s important, culture isn’t paying to keep the lights on when you’re just starting out.

Companies that last are the ones that build strong cultures from day one. Culture plays a key role in growth and agility in a constantly evolving marketplace. It can unify employees around a common goal, help you stay on course during tough times, and allow you to pivot quickly in new directions when needed — plus, it’s crucial to employee retention.

Build Off Existing Cultures That Work

As you might guess, building something that’s this essential to your company’s future isn’t exactly easy, and it definitely doesn’t happen overnight. One way to start is by understanding who you are as a company and what you value; then find examples of other companies that share your values, so you can get a feel for policies and attitudes that might work for you, too.

A good example of culture driving success is Bandwidth, a communications platform as a service company. Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, it went public late last year and has since seen its stock steadily rise over 60 percent.

Like any company, Bandwidth is built around its founder, David Morken, who bootstrapped it over the first 10 years to a company of more 350 employees and a valuation over $630 million.

Every culture reflects its founder in some way. Morken values being active and unplugging for specific periods of time. The latter is somewhat rare, especially for a tech CEO, but his “vacation embargo” policy is one of the most progressive culture ideas in the country.

Align Your Culture With Your Values

Vacation time is mandatory at Bandwidth. You have to take it. The idea is simple: Bandwidth wants to keep its employees fresh and enable them to tackle challenges with new perspectives. That’s hard to do when you’re being pulled in a hundred different directions by notifications that always seem to demand your attention right this second.

One of the greatest challenges for organizations right now is focus. It’s great you can now work from home or your favorite cafe or anywhere else, but that connectedness doesn’t come without a price: We are constantly connected.

That’s not a bad thing inherently, but it can be if you’re expected to respond to an urgent email on a Saturday morning during your kid’s soccer game or while you’re on vacation. This constant, always-on state of connectivity leads to burnout. Consequently, it makes employees less motivated, less productive, and less excited to evangelize their own company.

No one wants to live like that. Morken, a father of six, said he values family time, so when he’s on vacation, he can’t be reached. Instead, he delegates responsibility and trusts his team. And every team member is afforded this same courtesy.

That’s incredibly uncommon, especially for company founders, but the policy is strictly enforced because everyone in the company values it and would want the same in return. It’s indicative of a culture of respect and trust, and it builds a bond throughout the organization.

Something to Remember …

Unless you play an active role in building a culture that reinforces your values, then you’re going to end up falling backward into reactive habits and processes that are going to be really hard to change down the road.

Your company is a reflection of you, so make sure your culture affords your employees the same things you’d want. The fastest way to lose trust and lower morale among your team members is to say one thing and then do another. Avoid that fallout by creating a culture that aligns with your values. The less you have to worry about fixing a broken culture, poor retention, and negative overall morale, the more you can concentrate on growing and thriving as a business now and in the future.

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