Following the Christchurch mosque shootings, the $49 billion NZ Super Fund joined other sovereign funds in a campaign to pressure social media platforms.
"We will be calling on Facebook, Google and Twitter to take more responsibility for what is published on their platforms. They must take action to prevent this sort of material being uploaded and shared on social media. An urgent remedy to this problem is required," the coalition of funds said in March last year.
The Super Fund did follow up, backing resolutions at Facebook's annual meeting that would boost executive accountability, including motions for an independent chairman to be appointed (currently the social network's board is headed by its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg) and a board-level oversight committee for harmful content issues.
The measures were voted down, and the Super Fund's 2020 annual report, released this week, features a"no progress," "no progress," "no progress" update on its attempts to get board-level accountability and strengthened governance at Facebook, Alphabet and Twitter.
The key issue that blocks any major governance change, year after year at Facebook - on a whole raft of issues raised by shareholders - is that Zuckerberg owns a minority of the company but controls 57.7 per cent of voting rights thanks to his large block of "Class B" shares that have 10 votes per share.
A similar setup sees Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin with majority voting power that lets them shoot down every shareholder proposal for its holding company, Alphabet.
There's probably only one thing that would get the attention of Big Tech companies' boards: if the loose collation of sovereign funds threatened to dump shares. So far, that hasn't happened, and doesn't seem anywhere close.
The Super Fund's annual report does note that Facebook, Google and Twitter have put more effort into finding and removing harmful content.
That's correct, but it's also hard to gauge the extent and success of their various efforts - other than to say that it's "in progress". The Christchurch gunman's clip can still be found on social media platforms, and, just last month, a graphic suicide clip, first uploaded to Facebook, was all over various social media services for days.
While Facebook et al have thrown more human resources, and AIs, at the problem of harmful content, policy changes have been few on the ground. For example, Zuckerberg has insisted it would "break" the Facebook experience if live-video streams were disabled. Google-owned YouTube has made one of the only substantive policy changes, barring most mobile users from livestreaming video.
Elsewhere, the Super Fund has reported that its local tech stock holdings are very similar to last year, as of June 30, 2020. The only change is that the under-performing Gentrack has been dropped from its local portfolio, which is worth around $2.1b overall.
The US equity markets - home to some $9.1b in NZ Super Fund investments - continue to loom largest on our sovereign fund's radar.
It has trimmed around the edges, but still has substantial holdings in Facebook, Alphabet and the smaller Twitter. The task remains trying to change the system from within.
A NZ Super Fund spokesperson said approximately two-thirds of its $48b portfolio is invested in a passive index-linked reference portfolio, which gives the fund exposure to the companies mentioned in this story.
This being the technology section, I've concentrated on tech stocks - but they also happen to dominate the NZ Super Fund's top US holdings (our fund's largest non-tech holding is $167m Johnson & Johnson stake, at sixth).
Stake in the outbreak
And if we extend to pharmaceuticals, then it's also notable that the NZ Superfund has an $86.8m stake in Amgen, and a $74.3m stake in Eli Lilly, which are collaborating on an antibody therapy for Covid-19.
It also has a $36.5m stake in Gilead Sciences, maker of the Remdesivir anti-viral drug taken by US President Donald Trump during his secretive coronavirus treatment, and a $59.2m holding in Pfizer, whose Covid-19 vaccination candidate is the subject of a supply agreement with the NZ government, among others.
Just can't get enough
Of less immediately obvious utility, the NZ Super Fund's US portfolio also includes small holdings in Crocs ($275,000), The Cheesecake Factory ($117,000), and synthesizer-maker and 1980s big-hair band favourite Moog ($281,000).