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Google and NBC Face Backlash Over Censorship Story

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  • NBC reported Tuesday morning that two conservative outlets were being banned from participating in Google Ads.
  • Google later backtracked and said that wasn’t accurate, and that one was given a warning.
  • Both face criticisms over censorship claims, as well as claims this was a targeted attack on conservative outlets by NBC.

Conflicting Stories from Google and NBC

Google found itself in the middle of a censorship controversy after it banned ZeroHedge and The Federalist— two notable conservative publications— from participating in its Google Ads program. NBC, which first reported on the story, has also found itself facing criticisms over using information to silence another outlet.

On Monday night, NBC reached out to Google regarding some research done by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a British nonprofit that combats online hate and misinformation.

That research claimed ZeroHedge and The Federalist were running articles about Black Lives Matter that were racist, included false narratives, and called for advertisers to stop funding the sites. Google replied to NBC and allegedly said they’ve already banned ZeroHedge and The Federalist from the Google Ads program, explaining that:

“We have strict publisher policies that govern the content ads can run on and explicitly prohibit derogatory content that promotes hatred, intolerance, violence or discrimination based on race from monetizing. When a page or site violates our policies, we take action. In this case, we’ve removed both sites’ ability to monetize with Google.”

On Tuesday morning, NBC published their article and ran Google’s statement; ZeroHedge had already been banned by Google and The Federalist was also demonetized for promoting hatred, intolerance, violence, or other discrimanation after learning about research from the CCDH. 

What was the infringing content? Well, if the decision was based on CCDH’s report, “The Federalist has:​ Claimed CNN/New York Times reports were “lying” about white supremacist violence,” and “used ‘black crime; as a tag for its articles.”

While “ZeroHedge has: Claimed that Black Lives Matter is ‘practically a revolutionary operative of the CIA via Soros,’” and “Suggested Black Lives Matter is a George Soros ‘Astroturf’ campaign for “leftists and their agenda to reshape the fabric of American society.”

This isn’t the first time either publication has come into trouble with a tech company. In March, The Federalist published an article where they told people to voluntarily get infected with COVID-19 to help with herd immunity. Twitter responded by temporarily locking the site’s account until a tweet promoting the article was deleted. Zero Hedge was recently unbanned by Twitter after being suspended in January for promoting a conspiracy theory about a Chinese scientist. Twitter eventually decided the decision was “an error.”

Following news that Google banned the two conservative outlets, other outlets began reaching out to Google for a statement and received information that conflicted with NBC’s article. When responding to The Verge, Google said that The Federalist wasn’t demonetized; only warned that they were going to be demonetized. Google later clarified their stance on Twitter, writing:

“The Federalist was never demonetized. We worked with them to address issues on their site related to the comments section.”

They also linked to a 2017 statement that instructs publications to police comments sections to be advertiser friendly, and continued on Twitter:

“Our policies do not allow ads to run against dangerous or derogatory content, which includes comments on sites, and we offer guidance and best practices to publishers on how to comply. As the comment section has now been removed, we consider this matter resolved and no action will be taken.”

Fallout

Following this, NBC found themselves embroiled in controversy. Currently their article reads:

“Google’s ban comes after the company was notified of research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a British nonprofit that combats online hate and misinformation.”

But that’s not what they originally wrote. In their original article, NBC stated that they brought CCHD’s research to Google’s attention, writing:

“Google blocked The Federalist from its advertising platform after the NBC News Verification Unit brought the project to its attention.”

That action and phrasing led to major backlash for the publication. Sean Davos, the co-founder of The Federalist, told Tucker Carlson:

“It looks like NBC… had partnered with a foreign left-wing group in Europe to go after us and to use Google to go after us… This is a pretty powerful example of the unholy union of corrupt media and monopolistic tech oligarchs.”

Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro also went after NBC for seemingly putting the CCDH’s report in front of Google and implying they demanded action.

The writer of the story, Adele-Momoko Fraser, has since gone on to clarify NBC’s connection with the CCDH’s research. Not only did the article imply that they found the research, but her original tweet about it looked like NBC was involved with the research, and later added:

“To clarify this earlier tweet, we obtained this research exclusively from @SSFakeNews but we did not collaborate on the research itself.”

Beyond that, plenty of people gave their opinion about the situation as a whole. Before Google issued its clarification, right-wing pundit Stephen Miller tweeted out, “the fact Google and NBC News are now defunding websites over commentary is going to have disastrous side effects and backlash.”

Following everything that happened on June 16th,  Senator Ted Cruz released a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and demanded answers for why The Federalist was being reprimanded for its comment section.

“The recent actions of Google to “demonetize” a conservative media publisher, The Federalist, raise serious concerns that Google is abusing its monopoly power in an effort to censor political speech with which it disagrees.”

“…Google appears to have backtracked, saying that the decision to “demonetize” The Federalist is not due to the article itself, but instead due to offensive comments that allegedly violated Google advertising policies.”

“Numerous “progressive” media outlets allow comments, including, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, Wonkette, Slate, Jezebel, The Root, salon, The Intercept, The Young Turks, and many others… any objective review would no doubt demonstrate at least as many profane, racist, or indefensible user comments on these other sites that would equally violate Google’s alleged standards.”

“But one need not look that far. On any given day there are thousand of profane, racist, and indefensible comments posted on YouTube, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Google.” 

Cruz then drew a parallel between how Google is defended by Section 230 from the speech posted by their users while not extending those same protections to companies using Google Ads. Cruz ended by requesting that Google turn over communications between it, The Federalist, and The Center for Countering Digital hate within seven days.

Cruz also asked the company if they’ve examined the comments of progressive platforms and if they’ve applied the same standard The Federalist was reviewed under to them. He also asked if Google applied the same standard to YouTube comments, or if the company gave preferential treatment to its subsidiary.

Google has yet to respond to Cruz’s request.

See What Others Are Saying: (The Verge) (NBC) (Tech Crunch)

Business

6 Dr. Seuss Books Won’t Be Published Anymore Because of Racist Imagery

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  • Six Dr. Seuss books will no longer be published because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced Tuesday.
  • The late author’s company said the decision was made last year after months of feedback from audiences, teachers, and other specialists in the academic field. 
  • However, many school districts and groups have moved away from Dr. Seuss for years because of racist stereotypes and insensitive imagery in some of his work.

Production of Six Offensive Books To End

Six Dr. Seuss books will stop being published because of racist and insensitive imagery, the business that preserves and protects the author’s legacy said Tuesday.

The list of books blocked from production are:

  • “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”
  • “If I Ran the Zoo”
  • “McElligot’s Pool”
  • “On Beyond Zebra!”
  • “Scrambled Eggs Super!”
  • “The Cat’s Quizzer”

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises wrote in its announcement letter. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”

Examples of Offending Content

A 2019 study published in the journal “Research on Diversity in Youth Literature,” looked at 50 books by Dr. Seuss and found 43 out of the 45 characters of color have “characteristics aligning with the definition of Orientalism,” or the stereotypical, offensive portrayal of Asia. It added that the two “African” characters both have anti-Black characteristics.

The study even pointed to specific examples. “In (“The Cat’s Quizzer”), the Japanese character is referred to as ‘a Japanese,’ has a bright yellow face, and is standing on what appears to be Mt. Fuji,” the authors wrote.

It also pointed to “If I Ran the Zoo” as an example of Orientalism and White supremacy.

“The three (and only three) Asian characters who are not wearing conical hats are carrying a White male on their heads in ‘If I Ran the Zoo.’ The White male is not only on top of, and being carried by, these Asian characters, but he is also holding a gun, illustrating dominance,” the study authors wrote. “The text beneath the Asian characters describes them as ‘helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant’ from ‘countries no one can spell.'”

The study also argues that since the majority of human characters in Dr. Seuss’ books are White, his works center Whiteness and thus perpetuate White supremacy.

Academic Groups Move Away From Seuss

The company told the Associated Press that the decision was made last year after months of feedback from audiences, teachers, and other specialists in the academic field.

Still, it’s worth noting that it also comes a week after a school district in Virginia made headlines for allegedly banning books written by Dr. Seuss, whose real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel.

The district eventually clarified that it was not banning his books. Instead, it said it was discouraging the connection between Dr. Seuss and “Read Across America Day,” which falls on the author’s birthday: March 2.

The decision to move away from Dr. Seuss books is not actually an uncommon move. School districts across the country have been doing the same.

The National Education Association, which founded “Read Across America Day” and deliberately aligned it with Dr. Seuss’ birthday, is included in that shift.

According to AP News, it’s been deemphasizing Seuss for years now and encouraging a more diverse reading list for kids.

While many have applauded Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ decision, others noted that it will continue to publish more popular books that have received criticism, including “The Cat in the Hat.”

For now, the company said it’s “committed to listening and learning and will continue to review our entire portfolio.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Deadline) (AP News)

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Nike Exec Resigns After Bloomberg Reveals Her Connection To Son’s Sneaker Resale Business

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  • Nike Executive Ann Hebert has voluntarily resigned from the company after it was revealed that her son used her credit card to purchase more than $100,000 worth of new shoes for his shoe-resell business.
  • The connection was first noticed by Bloomberg reporter Joshua Hunt, who was working on a profile of Hebert’s son, Joe. 
  • According to a Nike spokesperson, Hebert disclosed the relevant information about her son’s business to the company and hadn’t violated company policy. 
  • Still, Hunt’s report led to swift condemnation for Hebert, with many believing she had used her position to help her son scalp shoes. 

Nike Exec Resigns 

Nike Executive Ann Hebert voluntarily resigned Monday after Bloomberg exposed her connection to her son’s sneaker flipping business last week.

The report, published on Feb. 25, follows 19-year-old Joe Hebert and details how he spent more than $100,000 buying new shoes to resell at his business, West Coast Streetwear. In the article, reporter Joshua Hunt noted that types of shoes Joe bought would sell out in hours and that for people like him, “The sneaker market… is a lot like playing the [stock] market.”

“In the hours after siphoning up stock from retailers, they essentially sell short-term futures based on street sentiment,” Hunt said. 

While scalping is a controversial enough practice on its own, near the end of the article, Hunt notes an unusual connection.

“At one point in late June… [Joe] phoned me, and the number was identified as belonging to Ann Hebert,” Hunt said. “I looked the name up and discovered there was an Ann Hebert who’d worked at Nike for 25 years and had recently been made its vice president and general manager for North America.”

Notably, the April 2020 press release announcing Ann’s new position stated she would be “instrumental in accelerating our consumer direct offense in North America.” That initiative redirected sales from retailers directly to consumers, and as a result, it helped to fuel the resale market. 

“[Joe] Hebert later sent me a statement for an American Express corporate card for [West Coast Streetwear]… and it was in Ann’s name,” Hunt said in his article.

Hunt said he later asked Joe about the connection and while Joe admitted that Ann was his mother, he said she was too high up at Nike to be involved in what he does and that he’d never received inside information, such as discount codes, from her. He then insisted that she not be mentioned in the article and cut off contact.

From there, Hunt reached out to Ann and Nike directly. While Ann didn’t respond, a spokesperson told Hunt that Ann hadn’t violated company policy and that she had disclosed the relevant information about her son’s business to Nike. 

Online Reaction

Ann’s resignation comes amid outrage online, but the reaction to her resignation itself has been mixed. 

There’s been no shortage of criticism against Ann following the announcement of her step down, and she’s even become the butt of a number of jokes. Still, others have defended her. 

“The worst part is that Ann Hebert worked her way up the ladder in a male-dominated industry for 25 years only to be knocked down by her clout-chasing son,” TV host Tamara Dhia tweeted.

Others have said that with everything publicly known so far, they still feel like Ann was in the wrong.

See what others are saying: (Complex) (CNBC) (New York Post)

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Doctors Urge People Not Skip Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 Vaccine for Moderna or Pfizer’s

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  • The FDA and CDC approved Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine over the weekend, allowing the company to begin shipping doses Monday for use later this week.
  • Unlike Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines, Johnson & Johnson’s can be stored at higher temperatures for longer and only requires a single shot. 
  • Still, experts are worried people may try to skip the vaccine for either Pfizer or Moderna’s version since they have higher efficacy rates.
  • Because of this, health officials have stressed that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is still highly effective and necessary to keep the U.S. from seeing another rise in daily case rates.

CDC Recommends Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday for Americans 18 and older. With that, the first doses of the vaccine began shipping out Monday, and vaccinations are expected to begin sometime this week.

The CDC’s recommendation came one day after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the vaccine for emergency use.

Johnson & Johnson is expected to ship 3.9 million doses this week. By the end of March, it hopes to have shipped a total of 20 million doses.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is also notable for two reasons. First, it doesn’t need to be kept frozen like the Pfizer vaccine and can be kept in a fridge for much longer than the Moderna vaccine. Second, it only needs to be administered once — not twice. 

The approval and recommendation of this vaccine come at a potentially pivotal juncture. Since mid-January, the rate of new COVID-19 infections has been steadily falling; however, for the last week, daily infection rates have begun to plateau.

While it’s undoubtedly good news that the U.S. isn’t once again seeing a rise in cases, as CDC Director Rochelle Walensky explained, this is “a very concerning shift in the trajectory.” 

That’s because it very likely could result in a rise in cases. 

For example, experts worry that the public, as well as state and local officials, may be starting to let their guards down after hearing the news of falling infection rates. Still, those experts have reminded people that Monday marks one year since the announcement of the first coronavirus death in the U.S.

Since then, the U.S. alone has logged more than half a million deaths from this virus.

Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Efficacy 

The addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has the capacity to help keep infection rates from climbing once more, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some challenges. 

In fact, a major concern now seems to be around the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Notably, in late-stage trials, it was 85% effective against severe cases of COVID-19, with no deaths or hospitalizations being reported in the month after participants received the vaccine. It was also found to be around 72% effective at preventing moderate infections. 

Still, that’s less than the 94% and 95% efficacy rates for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, respectively. 

Because of that discrepancy, some health officials have begun to worry that people will try to skip the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in favor of the other two. 

As a result, experts are assuring the public that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is still highly effective. They’ve also noted that the studies for the three different vaccines happened at different stages of the pandemic and in different environments. 

“They were compared under different circumstances,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID, said. “All three of them are really quite good, and people should take the one that’s most available to them… people need to get vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.”

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

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