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Facebook Employees Protest Political Ads Policy in Letter to Zuckerberg

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  • More than 250 Facebook workers have signed a letter written by fellow employees opposing the company’s decision to let politicians post content that includes false information.
  • The letter represents a significant shift for Facebook, where employees have remained relatively quiet in public about internal problems, even as workers at other tech companies have recently held protests over a number of issues.
  • The letter was praised by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both of whom have been vocal critics of the policy. 
  • Separately, a man in California filed to run for governor just so he could run fake ads.

Facebook Employee Letter

Facebook employees have written a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other top executives in protest of the platform’s new rule that allows politicians to post anything they want, including false information.

According to The New York Times, which obtained a copy of the letter Monday, the message has been posted for two weeks on Facebook Workplace, the company’s internal communication board for employees.

Several sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Times that more than 250 employees have signed the message.

In the letter, the employees say that Facebook is a place of free expression, but they are worried that the policy would undo all the work they have done since the 2016 election to fight misinformation.

“Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing,” the workers wrote. “Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for.”

“We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy.”

The employees go on to say they believe the policy has the potential to “increase distrust in our platform” and that it “communicates that we are OK profiting from deliberate misinformation campaigns by those in or seeking positions of power.”

They continue that the policy could “undo integrity product work” that teams had done to prepare for the 2020 election, adding, “this policy has the potential to continue to cause harm in coming elections around the world.”

Previous coverage on what Facebook is doing to prepare for 2020.

The letter then outlines six proposals for improvement, such as holding all ads to the same standard, restricting political ads from being targeted to custom audiences, observing election silence periods, setting joint ad spending caps for both politicians and Political Action Committees (PACs), and other policies aimed at generally making Facebook’s policies for political ads clearer.

The Facebook employees close the letter saying they want to have an open dialogue and see actual change, and that they “look forward to working towards solutions together.”

A First for Facebook

The letter represents a significant change for Facebook for a number of reasons.

First of all, it shows that even some of the people who work at Facebook are opposed to the company’s political speech policy— and so much so that they are willing to speak out.

That in of itself is big because internal resistance at Facebook is quite uncommon. 

Facebook has not usually been included in the recent wave of internal revolts and protests at other big tech companies, like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, where employees have held mass protests against their companies’ impact on climate change, sexual harassment policies, and contracts with military and law enforcement bodies.

Notably, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced that he would accelerate the company’s climate goals in September. The move came after Amazon workers, who for years had pressured Bezos to do more to address the company’s carbon footprint, planned a 1,700 worker walkout.

But Facebook simply has not engaged in the same kind of initiatives, at least publicly. 

Facebook is well known for having a strong sense of mission and a tight-knit corporate culture among its rank and file employees. As a result, dissatisfaction among employees is rarely put in public view.

As VICE points out, most of the time Facebook employees have engaged in activism, it is “tacked onto activist movements at other companies.”

For example, in May 2018, Facebook workers joined over 1,000 Google employees in staging a sit-in to protest retaliation against employee activism.

Now, many experts are saying that the fact that Facebook employees have written this letter and that others have signed it could signal a big change for Facebook and its culture.

Especially because with sticky situations like this, there is always the fear among employees of their company retaliating against them. 

Politicians Response to Policy

The letter and the risk that employees who support it are taking has not gone unnoticed.

Politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) applauded the Facebook employees’ efforts.

“Courageous workers at Facebook are now standing up to the corporation’s leadership, challenging Zuckerberg’s disturbing policy on allowing paid, targeted disinformation ads in the 2020 election,” she wrote on Twitter.

Several senators also chimed in, including 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

“Facebook’s own employees know just how dangerous their policy allowing politicians to lie in political ads will be for our democracy,” Warren tweeted. “Mark Zuckerberg should listen to them—and I applaud their brave efforts to hold their own company accountable.”

Both Ocasio-Cortez and Warren have been arguably some of the most vocal critics of the new Facebook policy.

A few weeks ago Warren ran a fake ad that said Zuckerberg had endorsed Trump in the 2020 election.

The ad later went on the explain that this is not true, but added, “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.”

Source: The Hill

Similarly, last week, a clip of Ocasio-Cortez questioning Zuckerberg about the policy at a Congressional hearing went viral.

“Could I run ads targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal?” the Congresswoman asked, referring to her sweeping plan to address climate change that has been largely opposed by Republicans.

“Congresswoman, I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head,” Zuckerberg responded. “I think probably?” 

An Unusual Political Move

Days later, a PAC run by Adriel Hampton, a political activist who runs a marketing firm in San Francisco, tested Ocasio-Cortez’s question by running an ad that spliced together audio clips of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) so it sounded like he was saying he supported the Green New Deal.

Facebook later said that it had removed the ad, most likely due to the fact that PACs and independent organizations are not individual politicians, so the policy exempting political figures does not apply to them.

But that did not stop Hampton, who on Monday formally registered as a candidate for governor of California just so he can run false Facebook ads.

“The genesis of this campaign is social media regulation and to ensure there is not an exemption in fact-checking specifically for politicians like Donald Trump who like to lie online,” Hampton told CNN.  

“I think social media is incredibly powerful,” he continued. “I believe that Facebook has the power to shift elections.”

Facebook, for its part, responded to the letter in a statement to the media. 

“Facebook’s culture is built on openness, so we appreciate our employees voicing their thoughts on this important topic,” a Facebook spokesperson said.  “We remain committed to not censoring political speech, and will continue exploring additional steps we can take to bring increased transparency to political ads.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (VICE) (Business Insider

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Student Group Selling NFTs of Trump Tweets Will Donate Sales To “Charities He Hates”

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  • Several students known as Strategic Meme Group are selling over 46,000 tweets from former President Donald Trump as NFTs in a bid to reclaim some of his most controversial messages. 
  • The students said 100% of the sales will go “to charities [Trump] hates,” including organizations that benefit communities the one-term president targeted on Twitter. For example, sales from Trump’s “ChinaVirus” tweets will go to charities such as the Asian Pacific Fund.
  • “As an [Asian and Pacific Islander] person myself, and also our founders Jason Yu and Theodore Horn… Trump’s tweets have had a negative impact on us,” Jackie Ni, Chief Meme Officer of SMG, told Rogue Rocket on Friday. “And so, we were just thinking, ‘Is there a way to get something good out of this? Is there a way that we can potentially benefit the community being harmed?’
  • So far, Ni said the group has raised $9,500 through the sale of 118 tweets.

Trump Tweets for Sale

A group of high school and college students have taken former President Donald Trump’s most controversial tweets and turned them into nonfungible tokens in an attempt raise funds for the groups he targeted online.

“Trump tweets for sale,” their website, drumpfs.io, reads. “100% profits to charities he hates. Environmentally friendly.”

Source: drumpfs.io

In total, 46,964 of the one-term president’s tweets are for sale on the site, including some of his more racially charged messages.

That includes tweets involving multiple uses of the term “ChinaVirus,” which has been condemned by critics as racist and a contributor to the recent uptick in violence against Asian Americans since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. 

But the students behind this project, known as Strategic Meme Group (SMG), are hoping to reclaim those tweets by donating their sales to specific charities, including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Asian Pacific Fund.

“We don’t want people to forget about the things Trump did or the things he said,” Jackie Ni, Chief Meme Officer of SMG, told Rogue Rocket on Friday. “This man is really flawed. This man is actually really hateful. If you look at his past tweets, these are not presidential. These are not human honestly.”

“As an [Asian and Pacific Islander] person myself, and also our founders Jason Yu and Theodore Horn… Trump’s tweets have had a negative impact on us,” Ni added. “And so, we were just thinking, ‘Is there a way to get something good out of this? Is there a way that we can potentially benefit the community being harmed?’”

Source: drumpfs.io

Some of the other tweet-specific charities featured on the site include the Clinton Foundation, Americares, Clean Air Task Force, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Doctors Without Borders, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The site also lists a “general fund,” which Ni said is used for tweets that are harder to categorize. Ni said SMG will ultimately hold a vote to determine which charities those sales go toward once the fund reaches a $10,000 threshold.

How Much is a Drumpf NFT?

On the site, Trump’s tweets are divided into four categories: for sale, infamous, deleted, and flagged. 

The vast majority of his tweets are being sold for 0.0232 Ethereum, which was valued at around $81 as of Friday morning. Notably, 232 is the number of electoral college votes Trump received during the 2020 Presidential Election. 

A smaller subset of Trump’s most infamous tweets, such as covfefe,” are being sold for 4.5 Ethereum, which was just shy of $16,000 as of Friday morning.

Ni said SMG has already raised over $9,500 through the sale of 118 NFTs since launching the website on April 22. Most of the tweets are ones Ni described as ironically “funny,” as the majority of them include Trumps’s infamously-iconic catchphrases “drain the swamp,” “fake news,” etc.

“And it’s not funny that like we’re laughing with Trump,” Ni told Rogue Rocket. “It’s more like we’re laughing at him.”

Ni said he expects sales to cross the $10,000 threshold soon, and from there, the group will begin the process of determining how to best donate to the listed charities since converting from Ethereum to U.S. dollars involves multiple steps.

What is SMG?

SMG is actually the second political venture for these students. 

In 2020, Ni, Horn, and Yu started MemePac, which Ni described as a “youth, Gen Z super PAC” designed to oppose Trump. The group quickly gained significant traction on TikTok with more than 350,000 followers and was even featured in The New York Times

Ni said much of the inspiration behind Drumpfs, which is a nod to a 2016 John Oliver segment where he highlighted that one of Trump’s ancestral names is “Drumpf,” comes from the recent boom of tweets being converted into and sold as NFTs. In an interview with NowThis, Horn credited Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s sale of his first tweet for $2.9 million in March. 

Ni told Rogue Rocket that SMG was able to access the full catalogue of Trump’s tweets since they have all been archived by other organizations. As NFTs are still young, there’s little regulation behind them, meaning that the group isn’t barred for selling tweets they never posted themselves.

Environmentally Friendly”

The advent of NFTs, and more specifically blockchain technology in general, has concerned many environmentalists because of the sheer electrical energy that it requires.

With that concern in mind, Ni said SMG wanted to ensure that it worked to offset carbon emissions generated by its NFTs. 

“As a progressive Gen Z group, how can we advocate for a technology and use something that gives so much carbon emissions?” Ni said.

“What we’re trying to do to offset that is that we’re buying carbon offsets [through GoldStandard.org] double the amount generated,he added.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Now This)

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Washingtonian Staffers Refuse To Publish in Protest of CEO’s Op-Ed About “Risks of Not Returning” To in-Person Work

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  • Washingtonian editorial staffers refused to publish new content Friday in response to an op-ed their CEO Cathy Merrill wrote about employees who wanted to continue doing the majority of their work remotely, which many viewed as a public threat to their jobs.
  • In the op-ed, Merrill suggested that “about 20 percent” of every office employees’ job is to participate in “extras” outside their core responsibilities, including “mentoring more junior people” and “celebrating someone’s birthday.”
  • If employees aren’t around to do so, she suggested managers have a “strong incentive” to change an employee’s work status to “contractor” to avoid paying for healthcare, a 401(k) match, and other benefits.
  • After widespread backlash, Merrill walked back on her comments in an internal memo to staffers.

Op-Ed Triggers Outrage

Editorial staff at Washingtonian, a DC-based magazine, refused to publish new content on Friday in response to an op-ed their CEO wrote that many staffers viewed as a public threat to their jobs. 

Cathy Merrill published her op-ed in The Washington Post Thursday, titled: “As a CEO, I want my employees to understand the risks of not returning to work in the office.”

In it, Merrill expressed excitement about the prospect of returning to work in person but said she was concerned about employees who wanted to continue doing the majority of their work remotely.

She claimed fellow CEOs have told her that older employees are more reluctant to return to the office because they work “from comfortable homes” and are “happy to be relieved of commuting.” Meanwhile, their younger colleagues “have been working from small apartments or their parents’ homes.”

Merrill argued that this was an issue because companies need leaders on site, and she suggested that “about 20 percent” of every office employees’ job is to participate in “extras” outside one’s core responsibilities. This includes in-person activities, such as “mentoring more junior people,” “celebrating someone’s birthday,” and doing other things that “drive office culture.”

If employees aren’t around to do so, she suggested that managers have a “strong incentive” to change an employee’s work status to “contractor.”

“That would also mean not having to pay for health care, a 401(k) match and our share of FICA and Medicare taxes — benefits that in my company’s case add up roughly to an extra 15 percent of compensation,” she continued.

“Not to mention the potential savings of reduced office space and extras such as bonuses and parking fees.”

Merrill also argued that “professional development is hard to do remotely,” and said “being out of that informal loop is likely to make you a less valuable employee.”

She closed her piece by suggesting that those who maintained personal relationships with their bosses would have more job security because “the hardest people to let go are the ones you know.”

Employees Protest

The op-ed was met with swift condemnation from fellow members of the media, as well as readers.

By Friday morning, The Washington Post had changed the op-ed’s headline to: “As a CEO, I worry about the erosion of office culture with more remote work.”

According to HuffPost reporter Dave Jamieson, “Merrill says she did not write the original headline to her op-ed and expressed to WaPo that she felt it was inaccurate.”

The Post’s Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt said in a statement to CNN Business that he asked his staff to change the headline and said “nothing else in the op-ed has been changed.”

The change did little to ease outrage, and on Friday morning, Washingtonian staffers tweeted identical statements announcing their decision not to publish for the day.

“As members of the Washingtonian editorial staff, we want our CEO to understand the risks of not valuing our labor. We are dismayed by Cathy Merrill’s public threat to our livelihoods. We will not be publishing today,” the tweets read.

The staff is not unionized, so the refusal to work is especially notable because it carries extra risks.

CEO Walks Back

The growing outrage prompted Merrill to walk back her remarks in an internal memo to staff Friday, saying “flexible with work schedules and time in the office,” along with health and 401K benefits will not change. She said she is not going to switch full time workers to freelancer status, as she suggested in her op-ed.

“These are critical parts of our culture and also things I deeply, personally believe in,” Merrill said in the memo that reported have since shared online.

“I can and will maintain this strategy because we are a small family-owned company and I can. But I do worry about larger less personal businesses and how that may affect our country. That is precisely why I wrote the piece.”

In an earlier statement, Merrill said, “I have assured. out team that there will be no changes to benefits or employee status. I am sorry if the op-ed made it appear like anything else.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Wrap) (The New York Times

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Unemployment Claims Fall for 4th Straight Week, Finally Dipping Below 500,000

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  • Unemployment claims fell to 498,000 last week, marking the first time claims dipped below half a million since coronavirus pandemic closures began.
  • It’s also the fourth straight week of declining unemployment claims, though the numbers are still well above the roughly 200,000 weekly claims that were being filed prior to lockdowns.
  • Continuing claims increased slightly to just under 3.7 million, but the four-week moving average for those claims is still decreasing. 

Unemployment Claims Hit Another Pandemic Low

The Labor Department announced Thursday that unemployment claims last week fell to 498,000.

Not only does that make this the fourth straight week of declining unemployment claims, but it’s also the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began that weekly claims have fallen below half a million. 

Earlier this week, it was reported that private payrolls climbed by 742,000 last month, marking the fourth-straight monthly climb. Despite that positive news, the official count was somewhat smaller than economists’ projections of 873,000 jobs. 

While those numbers highlight a hopeful trend that the labor market is continuing its journey back to pre-pandemic levels, it’s important to remember that the market still hasn’t reached “normal” yet. Before the pandemic, weekly jobless claims were at around 200,000. 

Continuing Claims 

Continuing unemployment claims were a bit more of a mixed bag over the last week. For example, while those claims rose slightly to just below 3.7 million, there was somewhat of a silver lining since the four-week moving average for those claims is still declining.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is expected to release nonfarm payrolls Friday, and economists predict it will report nearly 995,000 jobs gained last month. If that prediction holds, the unemployment rate would drop from 6% to 5.8%.

Ending Enhanced Unemployment Benefits

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) indicated Tuesday that he is seeking to end his state’s federally enhanced unemployment benefits by the end of June amid a “severe workforce shortage.”

“Nearly every sector in our economy faces a labor shortage,” Gianforte said in a statement. “The vast expansion of federal unemployment benefits is now doing more harm than good.”

In its place, Gianforte wants to offer return-to-work bonuses. 

“Choosing to eliminate these critical benefits will have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable,” U.S. Labor Department spokesperson Michael Trupo said in a statement critical of Gianforte’s decision.

Trupo added that the move will force immunocompromised workers, as well as workers with immunocompromised family members, to “make an impossible choice” between their health and finances.

In a similar announcement to Gianforte, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Wednesday that those out of work in his state will soon have to prove that they’re looking for a job to continue receiving benefits. 

“Normally when you’re getting unemployment, the whole idea is that’s temporary, and you need to be looking for work to be able to get off unemployment,” DeSantis said at a news conference. “It was a disaster, so we suspended those job search requirements. I think it’s pretty clear now, we have an abundance of job openings.”

The waived work-search requirement will expire on May 29. 

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (CNBC) (Yahoo)

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