October 5, 2021
The Good News
- Iraqi refugees given hand-cranked washing machines (BBC)
- Netflix establishes $5.4 million Chadwick Boseman scholarship at Howard University (CNN)
“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” — Gertrude Stein
You’re Not Going To Like This…
The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files is a recent six-part investigative podcast series providing an unparalleled look inside the social media giant’s business operations. The Journal was provided with a trove of internal documents largely written by a group of researchers inside the company whose job was to study the platform’s failings and try to come up with solutions. What the cache shows is Facebook’s unwillingness or inability to address the harm it knows it is causing. The documents and interviews with current and former employees describe how the company’s rules favor elites, how its algorithms foster discord, and how drug cartels and human traffickers use its services openly.
The anonymous whistleblower who shared volumes of internal research and documents with the Journal also filed complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging Facebook is hiding research about its shortcomings from investors and the public. Her identity was revealed on CBS’s “60 Minutes” Sunday night. She is 37-year-old Frances Haugen, the former project manager recruited by Facebook in 2019 to work on addressing election interference and misinformation prior to the 2020 election. Haugen, a data scientist who previously worked for other tech giants like Google and Pinterest, said what she saw at Facebook was “substantially worse…than anything I’ve seen before.” The company dissolved its civic integrity team shortly after the presidential election and turned off other election protection measures — decisions Haugen suggests allowed the platform to be used to help organize the January 6 Capitol Hill riot. She submitted her resignation, but knew that before she left in May she’d have to get out enough documents so “no one can question that this is real.”
Haugen says the scale of the problem is much worse than the company lets on or the public understands. She alleges that Facebook hides evidence the platform is being used in deleterious ways and that its algorithm turbocharges divisions by feeding hateful and wrong content. But when misinformation is the main weapon in an ongoing war of ideas, Haugen says the company has chosen profit over its moral responsibility to cut down on the toxicity spread on its platform. She says her intent in coming forward is to fix the company, not harm it.
Haugen is scheduled to testify before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday. Last week, the panel heard from Facebook’s global head of safety, who testified about its products’ effects on young people’s mental health. Lawmakers from both parties have accused Facebook of disregarding internal research that concluded its Instagram app made body image issues worse for teens, especially teen girls, and that teens “blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression.” (WSJ, CNN)
Accident Or Art-sassination?
- Swedish artist Lars Vilks, 75, stirred global controversy in 2007 when he published pen and ink drawings depicting the Prophet Mohammad as a roundabout dog. Despite warnings, he explained (naively, perhaps) that the cartoons weren’t intended to provoke Muslims, but to challenge political correctness in the art world.
- For the next 14 years, Vilks lived under constant death threats and was forced to have round-the-clock police protection. A $100,000 bounty was put on his head, and his house was fire-bombed. In 2015 he attended a meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark meant to mark the 25th anniversary of an Iranian fatwa against British writer Salman Rushdie. One person was killed, although Vilks was widely thought to be the intended target.
- On Sunday, Vilks was traveling in a police vehicle when it collided with a truck near the town of Markaryd in southern Sweden. Vilks and two police officers were killed in the crash. A spokesperson said Monday an investigation was underway, but for now “there is nothing that points to anyone else being involved.” (Reddit, NBC News)
- Results from the Pandora Papers investigation, conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), were released Sunday. Over 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries worked over a year structuring, researching, and analyzing almost 12 million leaked confidential records from 14 offshore providers that service wealthy individuals and corporations seeking to incorporate shell companies, trusts, foundations, and other financial entities in low- or no-tax jurisdictions.
- The entities enable owners to conceal their identities from the public and often from regulators. Service providers help the so-called beneficial owners open bank accounts in countries with lax financial regulation, like the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles, Hong Kong, Belize, Panama, and the state of South Dakota. Some documents are tied to financial crimes including money laundering.
- The ICIJ report names more than 330 current and former politicians, public officials, heads of state, and celebrities from over 90 countries and territories who are identified as beneficiaries of secret accounts. The Pandora Papers name twice the number of beneficial owners as identified in the Panama Papers, published in 2016. (ICIJ)
Additional World News
- Fumio Kishida is Japan’s new prime minister (NPR)
- Two Koreas reopen hotlines as North urges South to mend ties (NBC)
- North Korea issues warning to U.N. Security Council (Politico)
- 9 are dead after farmers protest in India escalates (NPR)
- Soldiers are delivering fuel in Britain as ‘challenging’ shortages persist (CNN)
- Ahead of COP26, Vatican calls for action on climate change (NBC)
- Battling Delta, New Zealand Abandons Its Zero-Covid Ambitions (NYT, $)
Trump Aide Changes Her Tune
- Stephanie Grisham, one of former President Donald Trump’s most senior and longest-serving advisers, says she is “terrified” that her former boss may run for office again in 2024. Grisham served as both Trump’s press secretary and First Lady Melania Trump’s Chief of Staff.
- “I don’t think he is fit for the job,” Grisham told “Nightline” co-anchor Juju Chang in a wide-ranging exclusive interview on the eve of the publication of her new book, I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House. “I think that he is erratic. I think that he can be delusional. I think that he is a narcissist and cares about himself first and foremost,” Grisham said.
- She describes a White House in perpetual chaos, where “casual dishonesty” flowed through the air “as if it were in the air conditioning system.” “I think [Trump] would foment more violence,” she said, adding “I think he will line his pockets. I think his family will line their pockets. I believe that he wanted to help the country in the beginning; … he wants to help himself now.” (ABC News)
Toi-letting Her Have It
- Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) left Washington last week while House Democrats and the White House continued working on an agreement to unlock a stalled bipartisan infrastructure bill that Sinema helped negotiate, and the budget reconciliation bill that she opposes. Back in Arizona, Sinema planned to charge up to $5,800 a person for a 45-minute fundraiser with five corporate lobbying PACs fighting President Biden’s budget plan. An invitation to the fundraiser at an undisclosed location was leaked on Twitter.
- The anger and frustration with Sinema’s refusal to fall in line with other Senate Democrats and pass legislation central to Biden’s agenda boiled over on Sunday. Activists followed her into a bathroom at Arizona State University, where she is a lecturer, urging her to pass the reconciliation bill that she’s held locked in negotiations. “We knocked on doors for you,” the person filming told Sinema while she was in the stall. The senator ignored her constituent, washed her hands, and left the bathroom. (Twitter, WaPo)
Additional USA News
- Nurse assistant shot and killed in Philadelphia hospital, allegedly by heavily armed fellow nursing assistant wearing scrubs (NBC)
- Biden says he can’t guarantee debt ceiling lift due to ‘hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful’ GOP opposition (CNN)
- Fauci says it’s “too soon to tell” whether Americans should avoid gathering for Christmas (CBS)
- Jan. 6 panel braces for collision with Trump (Politico)
- Florida school shooting suspect faces trial for jail brawl (ABC)
- Ex-US Rep. Todd Akin, sunk by ‘legitimate rape’ remark, dies (AP)
- Warning shot from Trump to DeSantis? (Politico)
The True Meaning Of Christmas
- Some retailers are so worried about shipping and supply chain slowdowns, they’re rolling out holiday shopping deals nearly two months before the usual start of the season. Amazon began touting “Black Friday-worthy deals” on Monday, announcing “deep discounts across every category” including fashion, home goods, toys, and electronics. New daily deals will be added throughout the next two months, and popular brands like Apple, KitchenAid, and Hasbro will be discounted on “select days” in October and November.
- Amazon is also adding a new tool for U.S.-based Prime members who shop on its app. They can send a gift, without knowing the recipient’s address, just by entering the person’s mobile number or email address. The recipient will be alerted of the purchase, and even given the option of exchanging it for an Amazon gift card without letting the sender know. Last week, Target announced it’s getting a head start on the shopping season earlier than ever. “Deal Days” begins on October 10 and lasts three days; it includes “savings on thousands of items,” that are available in stores and online.
- This year’s shopping season is expected to be stressful for customers. Surging demand, shipping container shortages, and bottlenecks at ports have already triggered a tighter supply of products from cars to shoes. COVID-19 has caused factory closures in Vietnam, forcing brands from PacSun to Nike to warn about the effects on their supply. Then there’s the poor beleaguered U.S. postal service, which has increased prices for the peak holiday season, whether due to more people shopping online, or perhaps Louis DeJoy’s tenure as Postmaster. And beginning November 1, FedEx is adding a fuel surcharge on certain shipments, including those through FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, and FedEx Freight. Happy Holidays! (CNN, Forbes)
- Baby Poop Is Loaded With Microplastics (Wired)
- How the search for the next Steve Jobs is ruining Silicon Valley (CNET)
- After years of futility, NASA turns to private sector for spacesuit help (Ars Technica)
- Jamaica Is a Tech Desert. Gamers Make It Work Anyway (Wired)
- 20 Years After the Anthrax Attacks, We’re Still Unprepared (Wired)
- Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian (NYT, $)
- Russian actor and director will launch with cosmonaut to film first movie made in space (CNN)
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