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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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Short-Sellers Lost $1.9 Billion From Second GameStop Squeeze

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  • Short-sellers betting against GameStop’s success lost $664 million Wednesday, followed by $1.19 billion on Thursday.
  • The losses come as share prices for the video game retailer surged for the second time this year. 
  • Short-sellers have lost $10.75 billion in GameStop stock year-to-date. 

Short-Sellers Lose $1.9 Billion

Short-sellers have lost $1.85 billion in GameStop stock following the second buying surge of the video game retailer. 

The outcome is similar to what happened in January when investors caused short-sellers to lose billions by driving up GameStop’s share price. At the time, it even resulted in one short-selling hedge fund receiving a nearly $3 billion bailout.

The reason why short-sellers keep losing money when GameStop’s share price soars is that the entire process of short-selling requires them to bet against a company’s success. 

That can be done for any number of reasons, but usually, people short-sell a stock because they believe a company will fail or that its share price will go down. If either of those two outcomes occurs, the short-seller makes money; however, if the share price goes up, the seller is left with a climbing bill that, in theory, has no limit. 

In the later hours of trading on Wednesday, GameStop’s stock began to surge for the second time this year (thanks in part to the image of a McDonald’s ice cream cone). In fact, it jumped from around $50 a share to $90 a share in just 90 minutes.

That same day, short-sellers posted $664 million in losses, according to the analytics firm S3 Partners. By Thursday, S3 said they posted another $1.19 billion in losses. 

Friday afternoon marked the first time since Thursday that share prices for GameStop have fallen below $100.

Short-sellers have lost $10.75 billion in GameStop stock year-to-date. 

Can Investors Save GameStop?

It’s no secret that GameStop has been failing for years. 

GameStop, along with other former brick-and-mortar giants, has faltered to the behemoth that has become online shopping. While other companies have been able to adapt, that’s proved more challenging for GameStop, in part because gamers can now buy titles directly from their consoles.

That said, some see GameStop’s recent situation in the stock market as a golden opportunity for the company to rebrand itself. Many investors poured money into GameStop to inflict substantial wounds on hedge fund short-sellers and others simply shelled out cash in the hopes of getting rich quickly, but many also found themselves contributing to GameStop out of love for the company. 

Investors on the subReddit WallStreetBets, which has largely been credited with driving GameStop’s volatility this year, affectionately refer to investor and newly-minted GameStop board member Ryan Cohen as “Papa Cohen.” In fact, many on the message board believe he has the vision to save the retailer.

Notable short-seller Citron Research even suggested Thursday that GameStop should buy online the gambling firm Esports Entertainment Group.

In a tweet, Citron Research said such a move “is obvious and easy to justify stock price.”

See what others are saying: (Insider) (RT) (Reuters)

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GameStop Shares Surge Again After Investor Posts Image of McDonald’s Ice Cream Cone

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  • GameStop share prices surged from around $50 midday Wednesday to $170 Thursday morning in pre-market trading, marking the company’s second massive share spike in 2020.
  • Some attributed the recent spike to an image of a McDonald’s ice cream cone tweeted by GameStop investor and board member Ryan Cohen.
  • Many have interpreted the image as a cryptic call to action since it seems connected to the “meme stocks” frenzy that first drove GameStop’s stock rise last month.
  • While it’s unclear how much of an effect this image actually had on investors, other factors have also been attributed to the rise, including the alleged forced resignation of GameStop’s Chief Financial Officer.

GameStock’s Second Wave

Game Stop is seeing yet another major surge in its stock prices this year. During the last few hours of trading Wednesday evening, share prices for the video game retailer jumped from under $50 to above $90. 

That price soared as high as $170 in pre-market trading Thursday morning. 

Stocks like AMC and Koss have also seen notable spikes over the past 24 hours, though both have been much smaller in scale.

The Ice Cream Cone

Details about what exactly is driving this latest stock price increase are unclear, though different speculations are already circulating.

Outlets like CNBC have partially attributed the spike to the reported forced resignation of GameStop’s Chief Financial Officer, Jim Bell. 

Others have attributed the surge to a photo of a McDonald’s ice cream cone, of all things. While such an explanation may seem out-of-left-field, it’s heavily connected to the “meme stocks” frenzy that first drove GameStop’s meteoric rise last month. 

In January, GameStop share prices soared to unprecedented highs as a group of Redditors on the message board WallStreetBets encouraged each other to stuff their money into the stock. 

Though GameStop as a business has been failing for years, that was precisely why those Redditors were so keen on the stock. Many wanted to support the company simply because they like it and have a nostalgic attachment to it. Others also wanted to make certain Wall Street hedge funds pay for betting on GameStop’s failure. 

Notably, the ice cream photo was shared by Ryan Cohen, a GameStop investor who — as of the start of this year — also sits on the company’s board of directors. 

A number of people on WallStreetBets refer to him as “Papa Cohen,” and many hold the belief that he has the vision to transform GameStop into a profitable online business. As a result, many have interpreted this tweet as a cryptic call-to-action.

As a reporter for The Verge noted, a number of factors are likely playing a role here, including Bell’s ousting, Cohen’s ice cream tweet, and a Congressional testimony last week from Reddit user Roaring Kitty.

Kitty, whose real name is Keith Gill, is an investor who’s largely been credited with helping to drive the meme-stock frenzy. In fact, this past Friday, Gill also bought an additional 50,000 shares of GameStop.

Criticism Against Free-To-Trade Apps

On Wednesday, American investor Charlie Munger blamed free-to-trade apps like Robinhood for the current meme stock frenzy, calling it “a culture which encourages as much gambling in stocks by people who have the mindset of racetrack bettors… It’s a dirty way of making money.”

In a statement made on Thursday, a Robinhood spokesperson refuted Munger’s characterization, saying, “To suggest that new investors have a ‘mindset of racetrack bettors’ is disappointing and elitist.”

See what others are saying: (Kotaku) (The Verge) (CNBC)

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Facebook Blocks News in Australia Over Proposed Media Compensation Law

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  • Australian leaders condemned Facebook on Thursday after it blocked all Australians from sharing domestic and international news on the platform and prevented all global users from sharing news by Australian publishers.
  • Facebook also wiped the pages of state health departments and emergency services that provide resources amid the pandemic and the ongoing fire season, though it later restored those systems.
  • The move comes as Australia prepares to pass a law that would require large tech companies to pay media organizations for content that appears on their platforms.
  • Facebook and Google have long fought against the legislation, but Google shifted its stance Thursday, saying it entered a three-year agreement to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for its content.

Facebook Escalates Battle With Australia

Facebook took the unprecedented step Thursday of blocking news access on the platform in Australia – a drastic escalation of a battle over a proposed regulatory law in the country.

Under the legislation, which is expected to pass in the next week, tech giants would be required to negotiate compensation with news organizations for the content that appears on their platforms.

Those who support the law argue that traditional media organizations have been steadily declining while big companies like Facebook and Google, which have become major distributors of news, continue to make billions of dollars from digital advertising. As a result, proponents believe that these companies have a responsibility to help support news organizations whose content they profit off of by driving traffic to the sites.

Facebook and Google, however, have fought hard against the law. They have said it is unworkable for a number of reasons and claimed it would incentivize the news organizations to jack up prices during negotiations.

Now that is all but certain Australia will approve the law soon, Facebook has reinforced its opposition efforts. Not only does Facebook’s current ban block Australians from sharing both domestic and international news sources on the platform, but it also prevents all Australian publishers from being seen on Facebook everywhere else in the world.

The ban also goes beyond the news. According to reports, pages for state health departments were also wiped clean just three days before the launch of a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program. Emergency services were also taken out, including the Bureau of Meteorology, which has been providing essential weather data in the middle of fire season.

Pages for nonprofits and charities were also taken away, meanwhile, groups dedicated to spreading conspiracy theories about vaccines, 5G, Bill Gates, and the end of the world remained up.

Facebook, for its part, blamed the disappearances on the proposed legislation.

“As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted,” a spokesperson told reporters, though the company eventually agreed to revive the public service pages.

Facebook Slammed By Politicians

Facebook’s decision to ban all news in Australia — especially the blocking of essential service accounts — sparked outrage from leaders in the country.

Many politicians condemned Facebook for preventing access to health information in a pandemic and censoring news.

“The fact that there are organizations like state health departments, fire and emergency services… who have had their Facebook pages blocked, that’s a public safety issue,” Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told the Associated Press.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also took aim at Facebook in a post on the platform. 

“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” he said. “These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them.”

Morrison went on to say that the government would not back down and urged Facebook to work constructively with them like Google, which has taken the opposite approach.

Google Strikes Deal With Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Shortly before Facebook imposed its block, Google announced that it had made a three-year agreement to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for its content in Australia as well as the U.S. and the U.K.

The search engine — which just a weeks ago threatened to make its products unavailable in Australia over the proposed law— has since changed its mind and instead struck several multimillion-dollar deals with other Australian publishers.

While many praised Google for its approach, some media watchdog groups are worried that these deals will only further the ability of large tech companies make news organizations beholden to them.

Others have also expressed concern over Google’s deal with Murdoch, who has been lobbying the Australian government to push tech companies to pay news organizations for years, and who The New York Times described as “quite cozy with Australia’s conservative government.” 

At the same time, other industry leaders have said this will be a net good for journalism and likely a model for other countries, including Microsoft, whose president wrote a blog post last week arguing that the U.S. should enact similar legislation.

See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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