- Facebook announced that it would be ramping up its measures to fight foreign interference, increase transparency, and reduce misinformation heading into the 2020 election.
- Some of its plans include giving candidates added protection on their accounts, allowing users to see how much candidates spend on ads, and putting labels on posts that contain misinformation.
- This comes during a controversial time for Facebook, which removed foreign accounts because of inauthentic behavior and attempting to influence the election on the same day it announced its plans.
- The company has also come under fire for deciding to not remove candidate’s posts that contain misinformation, though in a conference call announcing Monday’s changes, Mark Zuckerberg did say there could be exceptions.
Facebook’s New Initiatives
Facebook has announced a list of initiatives it will take to reduce misinformation and address other concerns ahead of the 2020 election.
In a Monday blog post called “Helping to Protect the 2020 US Elections,” the company broke down its plans to “protect the democratic process.”
“The bottom line here is that elections have changed significantly since 2016 and Facebook has changed, too,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a conference call announcing the changes.
The first measure the social media giant is taking aims to fight against foreign interference. The company plans to combat inauthentic behavior and add extra protection for candidate accounts. This will be done via a new tool called Facebook Protect that candidates can sign up for. Along with increasing security on the accounts, it also will monitor for hacking threats.
The next announced plan is to increase transparency on the site. Facebook said it will make pages more transparent and show the confirmed owner of pages, label state-controlled media, and help users understand political ads. Part of this will include allowing users to see how much presidential candidates are spending on Facebook ads, and will even break down where money is being directed geographically.
The last part of their initiative is to reduce the spread of misinformation on the platform. The company plans to invest $2 million in media literacy projects so users can better understand what is on their feed. It is also banning ads that encourage people not to vote.
Fact-checking labels will also be added to posts that contain misinformation. Third-party fact-checkers will verify whether or not the information is false or partially false. Users can then see an explanation as to why the information being presented is inaccurate.
Recent Controversies around Facebook
These announcements come at a time when Facebook’s role in the election has been more scrutinized by the pubic than ever. As far as fact-checking misinformation, the site faced a lot of backlash when it said it would not remove posts from political leaders that broke Facebook policy, including spreading false facts. At the time, Zuckerberg said he did not think it was right for a private company to censor politicians.
Among the critics of this choice was presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who ended up making a fake ad saying that Zuckerberg endorsed President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. She quickly said this was not true then added, “But what Zuckerberg *has* done is given Donald Trump free rein to lie on his platform — and then to pay Facebook gobs of money to push out their lies to American voters.”
On Monday’s conference call, Zuckerberg did note there were instances where exceptions to this policy would have to be made. Among possible instances where this could apply, Zuckerberg listed, “if a politician is calling for violence or inciting violence, if there is a risk of imminent physical harm, and of course voter suppression, which is calling to remove other people’s voice.”
This sweeping plan of initiatives also came on the same day that Facebook said it had uncovered Russian and Iranian operations to influence the 2020 election. In a separate blog post, Facebook announced that it had “removed four separate networks of accounts, Pages and Groups for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram.”
Three of those networks came from Iran, while the other came from Russia. According to a Washington Post report, the Russian account, in particular, boasted support for Trump while laying attacks against candidate Joe Biden.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Verge) (Reuters UK)
CDC Lifts Mask Mandate for Fully Vaccinated People But These States and Stores Still Require Them
- The CDC relaxed mask guidelines Thursday for people fully vaccinated against COVID-19, announcing that they no longer need to wear masks indoors or outdoors in most settings.
- Governors in Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington all responded by issuing varying degrees of relaxed restrictions.
- Washington D.C. and several other states — such as California, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Virginia — have all kept current restrictions in place for now.
- A number of retailers have also said they will still require customers to wear masks regardless of state restrictions, including Walmart, Kroger, Target, Starbucks, Macy’s, and Home Depot.
CDC Lifts Mask Mandate for Fully Vaccinated People
Despite recently relaxed guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, several states and companies are continuing to enforce mask requirements.
“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Thursday while announcing that the agency is no longer recommending that fully vaccinated people need to wear masks indoors or outdoors, in most settings.
The CDC’s recommendation does not apply to crowded indoor settings such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons, and homeless shelters.
A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their final shot.
What States Are Still Requiring Masks?
A handful of states, all led by Democratic governors, quickly responded to the CDC’s announcement by lifting mask mandates. That’s largely unsurprising given that more than half of U.S. states, mostly led by Republican governors, had already done so.
Starting May 19, Connecticut will follow the CDC’s guidance by lifting the indoor mask mandate for those who are fully vaccinated. The state will also lift size limits and social distancing rules for businesses on that day.
In Illinois, the office of Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) has said he will revise the state’s mask mandate so that it is in line with the CDC’s recommendations. Additionally, Pritzker loosened capacity restrictions on businesses Friday, and in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) said fully vaccinated people will not count toward capacity limits starting this weekend.
The governors for Kentucky, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington have all said their states will immediately follow the CDC’s guidance.
Pennsylvania made a similar announcement; however, Philadelphia has chosen to keep its mask requirements in place.
In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz (D) announced that the state would be ending its mask mandate for all starting Friday, but Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D) said the city plans to keep its indoor mask requirements until officials have more time to access local data.
Meanwhile, the governors of Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Virginia, as well as the mayor of Washington D.C., said they will review the updated guidance, but for now, mask mandates will remain in effect for everyone.
California also doesn’t seem to be revising its current end date for outdoor mask mandates: June 15.
Businesses Still Requiring Masks
Many businesses, particularly some of the nation’s top big box chains, will still require customers to wear masks, even if their state does not automatically require people to wear masks indoors.
That includes Walmart, Kroger, Target, Starbucks, Macy’s, and Home Depot.
Meanwhile, Walgreens, CVS, Publix, Gap, and Ulta have all indicated that they are reviewing the guidelines, but so far, none have revised their mask policies.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Business Insider) (USA Today)
Tesla Suspends Bitcoin Purchases Over Environmental Impact, Causing Coin’s Value To Crash 20%
- Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday that his electric vehicle company would be ceasing all Bitcoin sales effective immediately, even though it just started using the cryptocurrency in March.
- The announcement prompted a massive sell-off of Bitcoin, which plunged almost 20% on Wednesday.
- In his statement, Musk said, “We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel.”
- Many have since accused Musk of manipulating the crypto market since Bitcoin’s environmental impact has long been one of its most controversial facets.
Tesla Suspends Bitcoin Purchases
Volatility is essentially a prerequisite for Bitcoin, but Wednesday proved to be an especially bad day for the cryptocurrency after Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that the electric vehicle company would no longer be accepting the coin as a form of payment.
At the beginning of the day, Bitcoin was trading for around $57,000. Following Musk’s announcement, it had fallen to a 24-hour low of just over $46,000 — amounting to a nearly 20% drop in value.
“We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel,” Musk said via Twitter. “Cryptocurrency is a good idea on many levels and we believe it has a promising future, but this cannot come at great cost to the environment.”
This policy update comes after only months after Tesla disclosed in February that it had bought $1.5 billion in Bitcoin. It also comes after the company began accepting Bitcoin as payment for vehicles in March.
Still, with this sudden about-face, Musk said, “Tesla will not be selling any Bitcoin and we intend to use it for transactions as soon as mining transitions to more sustainable energy. We are also looking at other cryptocurrencies that use <1% of Bitcoin’s energy/transaction.”
Bitcoin’s Environmental Impact
Musk tweeted a graph Thursday morning from Cambridge’s Centre for Alternative Finance that shows Bitcoin’s increasing energy use since 2016.
In March, researchers with the Centre reported that Bitcoin’s energy consumption has jumped 80% since the beginning of 2020.
Bitcoin’s impact on the environment has long been a subject of debate since mining it takes excessive amounts of electrical energy, but that problem has only gotten worse with the coin’s continued growth.
On Monday, Ars Technica reported that a defunct coal power plant in upstate New York has been restarted to mine Bitcoin. In January, Iranian officials partly blamed Bitcoin for mass blackouts in the country. Researchers have even found that Bitcoin mining uses more energy than places like Argentina, a country with 45 million people.
Is Musk Manipulating the Market?
The overall reaction to Musk’s announcement was less than favorable, with many accusing the billionaire of manipulating the crypto market.
“[This is] the same guy who’s been pulling the levers on crypto and has everyone following his every move,” Dave Portnoy, the controversial owner of Barstool Sports, said. “He’s sending Dogecoin up. He’s sending Bitcoin down. This is bullshit.
“Elon, you have responsibility when one second you say to buy something and the next second you don’t,” Portnoy added. “That’s playing with people’s futures, their fortunes.”
Others made similar statements accusing Musk of essentially controlling Bitcoin prices, with MMA fighter Keith Berry saying, “Elon is a smart cookie, do you really think he didn’t know about energy usages on #Bitcoin after he bought 1.5B in BTC in December 2020”
Still, some argued that recent disappointment in Musk is good for Bitcoin in the long term.
“This is great for #Bitcoin,” one person tweeted. “It should never depend on the thoughts and opinions of a single entity. The Elon Musk effect is being priced out and that’s positive for the cryptocurrency industry in the long run.”
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (CNBC) (The New York Times)
U.S. Gas Prices Hit $3 Per Gallon, a 7-year High, as Buyers Panicked During the Colonial Pipeline Shutdown
- The national average gas price has climbed above $3 for the first time in seven years.
- The increase comes as the country’s largest fuel pipeline remains largely shuttered for the sixth day in a row following a ransomware attack, leading to panic buying and massive gas shortages in some cities.
- Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the company behind the pipeline should be able to make a decision on a full restart of the system by the end of Wednesday.
- Still, she cautioned that it will take several days for fuel supplies to go back to normal.
Update: Colonial Pipeline restarted operations at 5 p.m. EST Wednesday. “Following this restart it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal,” Colonial said in a statement. “Some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions during the start-up period.”
Panic Buying Drives Fuel Shortages
The national average gas price reached $3.008 Wednesday, its highest value in seven years.
The jump is largely being driven by two factors. The first is that the country’s largest fuel pipeline was forced to shut down last Friday following a ransomware attack by the criminal gang Darkside. That pipeline, owned by the Colonial Pipeline Company, stretches from Texas to New York and supplies 45% of the East Coast’s fuel.
The second is that panic buying related to the shutdown and fears of fuel scarcity have exacerbated the problem. In fact, Tuesday evening, over 1,000 gas stations in the Southeast ran dry.
By Wednesday, the situation was even worse. Nearly a quarter of all stations in North Carolina were out of gas, and in urban areas like Charlotte, 71% of stations were empty. Meanwhile, around 15% percent of stations in both Georgia and Virginia were out of gas, and in the Atlanta metro area, 60% of stations had been depleted.
Photos and video from affected states show hours-long lines. Some people have reported waiting more than five hours to get to the pump. Others have shared images of “out of fuel” signs. Stretching pumps even thinner are reports that many drivers are simply trying to top off mostly-full tanks or gas cans.
In one tense situation captured at a gas station near Raleigh, North Carolina, a woman can be seen spitting on a man and hitting a car after she reportedly tried to cut the line. The man fires back a spit of his own, leading to a fight between the two.
When Will the Pipeline Be Back?
On Monday, some (but not most) of the pipeline was brought back manually. Colonial Pipeline officials have also said they hope to restart most operations by the end of the week.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm also told reporters Tuesday that Colonial should be in a position to make a decision on a full restart by the end of Wednesday; however, it’s likely going to take several days for fuel supplies to return to normal even after operations recover.
“Much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline,” Granholm said.
Many analysts have echoed that warning, telling people to fuel up only if they need to and asking them to try to conserve as much gas as possible until the pipeline becomes largely operational again.
The governors of Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia have all declared states of emergency to try to stave off shortages and keep gas prices down.