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Zuckerberg Doubles Down on Political Ads After Twitter’s Ban

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  • Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced Wednesday that the platform would ban all political ads because it believes “political message reach should be earned, not bought.”
  • The final policy will go into effect on Nov. 22, though it will still allow ads promoting voter registration.
  • A little more than an hour after Dorsey’s announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg doubled down on Facebook’s continued policy to not censor any political ads, even if they may contain false information, despite blowback from politicians and some of his own staff.

Twitter Bans Political Ads

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced Wednesday that the platform will soon abandon the use of all political ads.

In a series of Twitter posts, Dorsey talked about why the platform made this new decision, saying, “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought.”

“While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers,” he said, “that power brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions.”

“Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes,” Dorsey continued. “All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.”

Dorsey also said executives at Twitter debated on only removing candidates’ ads, but scrapped that decision because ads featuring political issues “present a way to circumvent.” He added that he believes there is a basic lack of fairness to such a move.

The new decision is not without its own controversy. Speaking to the Washington Post, Daniel Kreiss—a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—said Twitter ads are “one of the ways that candidates get their message in front of a public whose attention is extremely divided and fragmented.”

He also said that especially true if someone has fewer followers online and is running a grassroots campaign.

In his announcement, however, Dorsey addressed those points, saying that some might see this move as favoring incumbents, but many social movements have reached a “massive scale without any political advertising.”

Dorsey then ended by saying Twitter will publish the final policy by Nov. 15 and it will go into effect on Nov. 22. The only exception to this rule as of now will be ads in support of voter registration.

Twitter’s new policy does not change the fact that it will continue to allow any posts made by any politicians, a decision made in June when the platform said it would allow misleading posts from lawmakers. Notably, however, the platform also said it would demote those posts and tag them as false.

Politicians React

Following Wednesday’s announcement, President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale called the move a partisan attack.

“Twitter just walked away from hundreds of millions of dollars of potential revenue, a very dumb decision from their stockholders,”  Parscale said in a statement posted to Twitter.

“This is yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever known,” he continued.

On the other hand, a spokesperson for former Vice President Joe Biden praised the decision but also somewhat criticized it for banning all political ads. Earlier in October, Biden urged Twitter and other platforms like Facebook to ban misleading political ads.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also jumped into the mix, saying, “This is a good call. Technology – and social media especially – has a powerful responsibility in preserving the integrity of our elections.”

“I believe that if a company cannot or does not wish to run basic fact-checking on paid political advertising, then they should not run paid political ads at all,” she said in a follow-up post. 

Does This Put Pressure on Facebook?

A little more than an hour after Dorsey’s announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg doubled down on Facebook’s continued policy to not censor any political ads, even if they may contain false information.

“Google, YouTube and most internet platforms run these same ads, most cable networks run these same ads, and of course national broadcasters are required by law to run them by FCC regulations,” Zuckerberg said in the post. “I think there are good reasons for this. In a democracy, I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians or the news. And although I’ve considered whether we should not carry these ads in the past, and I’ll continue to do so, on balance so far I’ve thought we should continue.”

Zuckerberg then continued, saying it would also be hard to define where to draw the line. He then pointed to transparency, noting Facebook’s ad library, which archives all political ads and details how much was spent on them.

Zuckerberg also addressed recent concerns that he is trying to appease conservative politicians.

“Frankly, if our goal were trying to make either side happy, then we’re not doing a very good job because I’m pretty sure everyone is frustrated with us,” he said. “Our values on voice and free expression are not partisan. But unfortunately, in our current environment, a lot of people look at every decision through the lens of whether it’s going to help or hurt the candidate they want in winning their next election.”

It is, however, unlikely that Zuckerberg’s post is in direct response to the Twitter policy change as his post was a planned third-quarter earnings report. 

This latest announcement follows Zuckerberg’s appearance before Congress last week, where he also defended the platform’s decision to not ban or label misleading ads and posts from politicians.

Earlier this week, more than 250 Facebook employees signed a message asking Zuckerberg to change that policy.

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

Among other things, they asked Zuckerberg to hold all ads to the same standard and to restrict political ads from being targeted to custom audiences.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Business Insider) (Washington Post)

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U.S. To Join WHO-led Vaccine Distribution Plan as Biden Implements a Flurry of COVID-19 Executive Orders

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  • Dr. Anthony Fauci indicated Thursday that President Joe Biden will join COVAX, a World Health Organization-led COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.
  • Fauci’s announcement comes one day after Biden signed an executive order reversing former President Donald Trump’s plan to remove the United States from the WHO. 
  • Among other orders, Biden plans to implement a mask mandate for airports, planes, trains, and other forms of interstate travel. He has already ordered masks to be worn on all federal property. 
  • Biden is also expected to invoke the Defense Production Act on Thursday, which would speed up the development and distribution of vaccine-related equipment.

U.S. To Join COVAX

Just one day after President Joe Biden signed an order to keep the United States in the World Health Organization, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the country will join its global COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.

That plan, COVAX, is a collaborative effort between 92 countries to ensure that COVID vaccines aren’t only distributed in wealthy countries.

The idea behind the plan is that establishing a global herd immunity will be much more effective at curbing the spread of the virus than just establishing herd immunity in countries that can afford to buy large quantities of the vaccine, especially when international travel picks back up. 

The plan is not without its shortcomings. Earlier this week, the WHO stated that some countries participating in COVAX have been disregarding the plan and buying large quantities of vaccines for themselves.

Nonetheless, in a video conference call Thursday morning with the WHO’s executive board, Fauci — now chief medical advisor to the president — said the Biden administration believes it can inoculate every American while also helping people in other countries.

Biden’s plan to join COVAX is a stark contrast from the Trump administration, which refused to participate in the program. 

Fauci said Biden will issue the directive to join COVAX later Thursday. 

Additionally, Fauci noted that the U.S. once again “intends to fulfill its financial obligations” to the WHO. 

In his attempt to leave the organization, Trump cut off payments from the U.S.; however, his administration never got the chance to fully cut ties with the organization because the U.S. wasn’t scheduled to officially leave until July of this year. 

Biden Signs Mask Mandate, Other Orders To Come

Among other COVID-related executive orders signed Wednesday, Biden implemented a national mask mandate for people on federal property. 

Sometime Thursday, Biden is also expected to sign another order requiring masks to be worn in airports, as well as on airplanes, trains, and other interstate transit systems.

Also on Thursday, Biden is also expected to sign an order that will establish a COVID-19 testing board. Once implemented, the board will be responsible for increasing testing rates, addressing supply shortfalls, and determining the rules and regulations for international travelers coming into the U.S. It will also have the power to distribute resources to minority communities that have been disproportionately affected by the virus.

On top of that, Biden plans to sign an order that will direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse states and Native American tribes for their emergency response efforts. Notably, those reimbursements include costs related to reopening schools.

Finally, Biden is expected to invoke the Defense Production Act on Thursday. Such a move would speed up the production of masks and other equipment needed to help administer vaccines.  

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

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Trump Issues Over 140 Pardons and Commutations Ahead of Biden’s Inauguration

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  • In his last moments in office, now-former President Donald Trump granted clemency to more than 140 people at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning.
  • Among the notable pardons and commutations were rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and Trump megadonor Elliott Broidy.
  • Trump’s final round of clemency did include several nonviolent drug offenders whose requests had been supported by criminal justice reform advocates.
  • Still, many also condemned Trump for overlooking people wronged by the justice system or those who have been rehabilitated. Instead, critics feel he was focused on giving out political favors to his allies.

Trump Grants Clemency

Former President Donald Trump issued more than 140 pardons and commutations at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, just hours ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The move marks Trump’s final major act before the end of his term. Many of the most notable pardons and commutations were given to people whose names had been circulating in reports earlier this week, including rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, as well as former adviser Steve Bannon.

Bannon’s pardon is especially significant because he has not yet stood trial for the charges he faces. The charges against Trump’s former right-hand man center around allegations that he defrauded half a million people who donated to a crowdsourcing campaign to fund the construction of the border wall.

The leaders of the charity, aptly named We Build the Wall, had claimed that the more than $25 million they had solicited in donations would go to their goal, but prosecutors claim that Bannon took $1 million for his own personal expenses.

Bannon’s pardon is also significant because, according to reports, the reason the clemency announcements were late was because Trump could not decide whether or not to pardon him. However, as The Washington Post notes, Trump’s ultimate decision “underscores how Trump has used his presidential power to benefit allies and political backers.”

Trump has recently granted pardons to several of his former top aides, many of whom seem to have a knack for committing crimes for him.

At the end of last year, he pardoned his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his close friend and adviser, Roger Stone. All three had been convicted of crimes during the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In this newest batch of clemency grants, the former president also pardoned Elliott Broidy, a top Trump campaign fundraiser. Broidy pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws and accepting millions of dollars as part of a secret campaign to lobby the administration for Malaysian and Chinese interests.

Trump additionally pardoned a number of politicians who have been indicted for corruption, including three former Republican members of Congress and one former Democratic mayor.

Those Left Out

Trump’s last round of pardons and commutations did include several nonviolent drug offenders whose requests had been supported by criminal justice reformers. One of those individuals was Chris Young, a man who had been sentenced to life for drug conspiracy, and whose commutation Kim Kardashian West had lobbied.

But in general, Trump has largely been condemned by criminal justice advocates for overlooking people wronged by the justice system or those who have rehabilitated. Instead, they feel he was focused on giving out political favors to his allies.

Despite the attention some of his pardons have received, either because they had celebrity power behind them or were controversial, Trump has actually approved fewer clemency requests than most previous presidents who served one term or less. Until this week, he had only granted clemency to 95 people.

Also of note are the controversial pardons that Trump was reportedly considering but ultimately decided against. These included WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and “Tiger King” star Joe Exotic, the latter of whom was so sure he would be pardoned that he had a limo waiting for him outside his prison.

Trump was also reportedly considering preemptively pardoning himself and his children, but he apparently decided against the move. In addition to a self-pardon being questionably unconstitutional, any clemency for the former president and his family would require them to admit they committed crimes they have not yet been charged with.

While Trump decided against becoming the first president to ever pardon himself, the fact that he decided to give clemency to so many of his allies might pose some issues.

President Bill Clinton faced both congressional and criminal investigations for giving out 140 pardons and commutations on his final day in office in 2001, though notably, no wrongdoing was ultimately found. 

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

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GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert Accused of Leading Capitol Tour Before Insurrection

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  • Rep. Steve Cohen told CNN Monday that he and another lawmaker personally saw GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert guiding a “large” group of people around the Capitol days before the insurrection.
  • Numerous representatives have said they saw GOP members leading an unusual amount of tours before the riots. They also said some of the visitors were involved with the rally that preceded the attack.
  • Boebert preemptively denied giving tours to insurrectionists last week before any official accused her by name.
  • She reiterated that denial in a statement responding to Cohen’s accusations and claimed that she had only ever given a tour to members of her family.

Rep. Cohen’s Claims

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tn.) said Monday that he and a fellow Democratic member of Congress personally witnessed Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Co.) leading a “large” group of people around the Capitol complex in the days before the violent attacks on Jan. 6.

While speaking on CNN, Cohen said that he and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) “saw Boebert taking a group of people for a tour sometime after the 3rd and before the 6th.”

“I don’t remember the day we were walking in a tunnel and we saw her and commented who she was and she had a large group with her,” he continued. “Now whether these people were people that were involved in the insurrection or not, I do not know.”

Notably, Cohen said he did not know who was in the group or if they were part of the attack. That fact was also echoed by Yarmuth, who confirmed in a statement that he did see Boebert with a group of people around her but added that he “has no knowledge of who they were or if they were with her.”

Over the last few weeks, dozens of Democrats have been demanding that officials investigate whether or not Republican lawmakers aided in the riots. Last Tuesday, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) told reporters she saw some of her GOP colleagues leading “reconnaissance” tours of the Capitol with people who she later saw during the riots.

The following day, 31 House Democrats signed a letter claiming they and some of their staffers “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting the Capitol on Jan. 5.

“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” they wrote. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.” 

Boebert’s Checkered Record

Until Monday, no lawmakers had named any of the members involved in the alleged tours, but many outlets and political analysts both implicitly and explicitly tied Boebert to the accusations.

In her roughly two-week-long tenure as a member of Congress, the young Republican has received significant heat for her role in the insurrection among other recent, controversial moves. 

Last week, Boebert was temporarily banned from Twitter and faced numerous calls to resign for tweeting out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s location during the insurrection.

She has also been widely criticized for publicly announcing she would bring her gun to the Capitol complex, refusing to have her bag searched after she set off a metal detector, and voting to invalidate millions of votes by objecting to the certification of the electoral college.

In fact, Boebert has faced so much scrutiny that she preemptively denied giving tours to insurrectionists last week, even before anyone directly named her. At the time, she issued a statement saying she has only ever given a tour to her children, husband, mother, aunt, and uncle.

Boebert reiterated those claims in a letter to Cohen Monday, where she called his remarks “categorically false.”

“I have never given a tour of the U.S. Capitol to any outside group,” she wrote. “As I previously stated, I brought my family to the Capitol on January 2nd for a tour and on the 3rd for pictures to commemorate the day I was sworn in as a Member of the U.S. Congress.” 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (CPR News

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