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Taco Bell Is Working to Clarify Its Mask Policy After an Employee Was Fired for Wearing a Black Lives Matter Mask

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  • A Taco Bell employee live-streamed an argument with his boss, who fired him for refusing to take off his Black Lives Matter face mask last Monday, saying he could not bring “politics” into the building under company policy. 
  • Taco Bell told news outlets last week that it was disappointed to hear about the incident and was considering revising uniform requirements to address recent concerns. 
  • However, the company has been silent on social media and after a shorter version of the stream viral, #RIPTaco Bell and #TacoBellIsOverParty began trending on Twitter. 
  • Taco Bell then told media outlets Thursday that it apologized to the former employee and is working to clarify its mask policy so this doesn’t happen again.

The Viral Video

#RIPTacoBell and #TacoBellIsOverParty were trending on Twitter early Thursday after a video went viral of an employee being fired for wearing a Black Lives Matter face mask.

That now-former employee is a man in Ohio by the name of Denzel Skinner, who live-streamed the argument with his manager on Facebook last Monday. Skinner’s live-stream is over 30 minutes long, but a shorter edit that’s just under a minute has been shared across Twitter. 

Skinner also later spoke to local news station WKBN, where he explained the lead up to his stream. He told the station that he wore the mask because the surgical ones provided to employees were inadequate in the hot restaurant. He said the store’s air conditioning system recently broke, making it harder to breathe with the surgical masks, so he switched to his more comfortable Black Lives Matter mask.

But when his manager spotted it and told him to take it off, he refused and walked out. He said he was then told that if he walked out of the restaurant, he would lose his job, and he did. That’s when the now-viral video begins. 

“You just fired me because I got a Black Lives Matter on,” he says as the edited video begins. “You just told me I had to go home because I have a Black…” 

“You told me you weren’t going to take it off,” his boss interjects off camera. 

Skinner continues: “I’m not. I’m not. Because I’m standing up for what’s right. I’m not taking it off.”

Skinner explains that someone named Tammy, presumably another higher-ranking colleague, said employees could wear whatever mask they wanted. 

“No she did not. She said it had to be plain. You can’t bring politics into the building,” the manager responds. 

He replies, “Bro, I’m not bringing politics in, this is what I’m standing for. Like how is this considered politics?” 

“How is it not Denzel?” she replies. He then reaffirms that he will not remove his mask and she says, “Ok, well then there’s nothing I can do for you. I’m just doing my job.”

She later tells him, “You don’t get it.” 

“You don’t either,” he responds. 

When she says that she does, Skinner explains that if she did, then his mask wouldn’t be a problem. “It’s not that it’s a problem with me, Denzel. It’s a company thing.”

She later says, “Would you let somebody wear something that said something about white people on it?”

“Bro, if that’s what they stand for, yes,” he responds. 

The shorter video ends with the woman stating: “I’m not against what you stand for either, but I have to do what the company states.”

In the longer version, Skinner dives off and goes on to talk about his disbelief over what happened, asking people to share the video. 

Skinner Continues to Speak Out 

Skinner talked about the incident a little more on Facebook, saying he had worked for the company for eight years and found the reason for his firing “ridiculous.”

He later shared screenshots of text messages he received about the store’s mask policies, which do not prohibit him from wearing a Black Lives Matter mask. 

According to the first screenshot, masks were not required but if worn, they had to be cleaned daily and cover the mouth and nose area. It also included some instructions for removing the masks, not wearing them under your chin, or touching them throughout the day. 

The second screenshot said masks now had to be worn at all times and worn correctly, but again had no information about certain designs or messages being prohibited. 

It’s also worth noting that Taco Bell’s employee handbook does not appear to make any reference to wearing “political” items.

When speaking to reporters, Skinner has continued to stress that Taco Bell’s policy does not prohibit him from wearing the mask, adding, “If the governor and governments are requiring us to wear masks, we should be able to wear any type of mask that you want.”

“And not only that, I still want everyone to believe that we still need justice for what is happening in this world and people need to be held accountable for whatever mistakes that they make. Black lives are going to always matter. Not just when some people want it to matter. It will always matter.”

Taco Bell Responds 

Taco Bell apparently caught wind of the incident and emailed a statement to some local news outlets last week. 

“We are disappointed to learn what took place in Youngstown. We are working with our franchisee that operates this location to understand what happened,” the company said. 

“We are committed to fighting racial injustice and hosting open forums to give restaurant teams an opportunity to discuss racism in America. Our priority is to be an inclusive brand while keeping team members and customers safe.”

The statement also said that because of supply shortages, employees are allowed to bring their own face coverings, however, it said, “As this is a fluid situation, we’re in the process of considering the need to revise mask and uniform requirements to address recent concerns.”

Still, Skinner said that he would not ask for his job back or return if asked. On Friday, he and about 30 people peacefully marched to the Taco Bell to protest his firing. 

Internet Gets Angry 

Even though all of this unfolded last week, it seems to have really started picking up attention online late last night and early this morning. That’s because people like YouTuber Elijah Daniel have been sharing the short video on Twitter. 

Daniel, as you might know, has been very vocal about protests and efforts that support BLM over the last few weeks. And he helped bring a new wave of attention to the video, along with Denzel’s Facebook posts and screenshots.

Even though Taco Bell made it’s statement to some local media outlets, it’s been silent on social media.

The company’s last post is from June 2 and it links to a letter from Taco Bell CEO Mark King, which condemns racism and says the company is “committed to being part of long term solutions.” But notably, that posts also said the company is muting its channels for the rest of the week to reflect, learn, and listen. It’s been well over a week, however, and all its social media pages remain silent.

It’s been well over a week, however, and all its social media pages remain silent. 

So to that message, Daniel said, “nahhhhhh sorry we sad about it but y’all goin too, i have your name tatted on me, been in commercials and y’all unfollowed me for just asking you about it lmfao. it’s also been 2 weeks since your statement and you haven’t done anything? disappointing. #RIPTacoBell.”

Along with Daniel, a ton of people expressed their disappointment with the fast-food chain, with some calling for a boycott. 

Others said that the fight for black lives isn’t a political issue and were confused by the firing given Taco Bell’s recent pledge to be a part of the solution.

Some have shared similar experiences they’ve faced, with one operating room nurse saying she left her job after she was told she couldn’t wear a mask that said, “My son deserves to live.” 

A lot of people are also comparing this situation to backlash Starbucks faced last week when people learned that its employees were banned from wearing Black Lives Matter attire under its dress code policy. The coffee chain at the time, prohibited employees from wearing attire that advocates for a political, religious, or personal matter. After a flood of outrage, it walked back on that policy and promised to send out BLM t-shirts co-designed by the Starbucks Black Partner Network. 

So with this incident at Taco Bell, people are finding a lot of these big company statements in support of Black Lives Matter hollow. 

Taco Bell’s Latest Statement

After seeing the backlash this morning, Taco Bell issued another statement to more news outlets, essentially hitting the same notes it did before by saying it was disappointed.

“We take this very seriously; we have been working closely with our franchisee that operates this location to address the issue,” it said.

“Our Chief People Officer and Yum!’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer spoke with Denzel last week to apologize and discuss the situation.” 

“Our goal is to ensure our policies are inclusive and keep our team members and customers safe. While our policies at restaurants do not prohibit Team Members from wearing Black Lives Matter masks, we are working to clarify our mask policy so this doesn’t happen again.”

Still, people like Daniel think they should be more vocal. He told Insider that Taco Bell “posted two weeks ago that they were ‘going mute for a week’ to make changes, sort of the opposite of what any brand should be doing, and still have yet to do anything publicly. Whether they’re doing things privately, that’s fine, but this isn’t a time to be private. It’s great that they apologized, but what is being done about his firing? The manager?”

See what others are saying: (WKBN) (Heavy) (Insider

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Apple Will Cut Its App Store Commission Fee in Half for Small App Makers

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  • In January, Apple will launch its Small Business Program, which cuts its 30% App Store commission fee in half for developers with less than $1 million in annual net sales on its platform.
  • The move comes as Apple faces growing scrutiny from lawmakers and businesses slamming it for what they call anti-competitive practices in its App Store.
  • While some view the change as Apple extending an olive branch to developers, larger companies that have criticized its App Store policies, like Spotify and Epic Games, called the program a “‘window dressing” and a calculated move to preserve its monopoly.
  • According to the analytics firm Sensor Tower, the top 1% of app publishers generate 93% of the revenue across the App Store and Google’s Play Store.

Apple’s Small Business Program

Apple said Wednesday that it will cut its App Store commission fee in half for developers with less than $1 million in annual net sales on its platform.

The move is part of its new Small Business Program and will go into effect on Jan. 1.

Since Apple currently takes a 30% commission from the total price of paid apps and in-app purchases, this change cuts the fee down to 15% for small and new developers.

This is a pretty major move coming from Apple, and many are describing it as the company’s attempt at extending an olive branch to developers because lawmakers and businesses around the world are focusing intensely on its App Store business practices. Many have already faulted Apple for anti-competitive and unfair behavior.

Big Companies React

At first glance, it actually does seem a little surprising that Apple would do this. In its annual filing with the SEC last month, Apple said reducing its App Store commission rate could hurt its financial results since it’s a major revenue point for its business.

However, Apple will continue to charge top-grossing apps its 30% fee, so it’s very likely that the financial impact of this change could be minimal.

In fact, several experts note that apps are typically a sort of “winner-takes-most” kind of business. According to a 2019 estimate from the app analytics firm Sensor Tower, the top 1% of app publishers generate 93% of the revenue across the App Store and Google’s Play Store.

The top 1 percent of revenue-earning publishers earned 93 percent of all revenue

The news is definitely good for small businesses, especially those hurting amid the pandemic. It also opens doors for those looking to add more virtual offerings under their businesses. 

Still, the big companies who have been critical of Apple won’t see it as helpful. Epic Games, for instance, which is still in legal battles with Apple, released a statement criticizing the move.

“This would be something to celebrate were it not a calculated move by Apple to divide app creators and preserve their monopoly on stores and payments, again breaking the promise of treating all developers equally,” it said.

“By giving special 15 percent terms to select robber barons like Amazon, and now also to small indies, Apple is hoping to remove enough critics that they can get away with their blockade on competition and 30 percent tax on most in-app purchases. But consumers will still pay inflated prices marked up by the Apple tax.”

Spotify, which has also challenged Apple’s App Store fees before, also commented on the matter.

“Apple’s anti-competitive behavior threatens all developers on iOS, and this latest move further demonstrates that their App Store policies are arbitrary and capricious,” it said.

While we find their fees to be excessive and discriminatory, Apple’s tying of its own payment system to the App Store and the communications restrictions it uses to punish developers who choose not to use it, put apps like Spotify at a significant disadvantage to their own competing service. Ensuring that the market remains competitive is a critical task.”

“We hope that regulators will ignore Apple’s ‘window dressing’ and act with urgency to protect consumer choice, ensure fair competition, and create a level playing field for all,” it concluded.

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

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Conservatives Flock to Parler After Outrage Over Facebook and Twitter Policies

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  • Since the election, millions of people have been joining alternative social media platforms like Parler that have much more lax content regulations than traditional sites.
  • Last week, Parler was the most downloaded app on both Android and Apple devices, and the company’s user base more than doubled from 4.5 million to 10 million.
  • Rumble, a platform that bills itself as an alternative to YouTube, has also seen a massive bump in new users, a fact that the company’s CEO credited in large part to recent traffic from Parler.
  • Numerous big-name conservative influencers have been pushing their followers to join these platforms, arguing that mainstream companies like Twitter and Facebook censor their content.
  • Critics say that the alternative sites are allowing misinformation, conspiracies, and hateful content to flourish, effectively creating a dangerous echo chamber where people only hear what they want.

Parler Sees Huge Boom

Millions of conservative social media users have been flocking to alternative platforms in the weeks following the election amid allegations of censorship on traditional sites like Facebook and Twitter, which have been cracking down on election misinformation.

The most significant example is Parler, a social media company founded in 2018 that markets itself as a “free speech” and unbiased alternative to Twitter and Facebook. Unlike those platforms, Parler leaves most moderation decisions up to individual users.

While it does have guidelines barring criminal activity, terrorism, child pornography, copyright violations, and fraud, the regulation of that content is done by volunteers called “community jurors,” not the platform itself.

The site, which is financially backed by a number of prominent conservative donors, has largely attracted a base of Trump supporters and right-wing users, and in the weeks since the election, the number of users has grown exponentially.

In fact, according to data from Google and other analytics firms, Parler was the most-downloaded app on both Android and Apple devices for the majority of last week, prompting the platform’s user base to more than double from 4.5 million to 10 million in that same time.

Conservative Voices Encourage Migration

Notably, Parler’s chief operating officer and co-founder Jeffrey Wernick claimed that this growth was not to due to “any one person or group, but rather to Parler’s efforts to earn our community’s trust, both by protecting their privacy, and being transparent about the way in which their content is handled on our platform.”

However, at the same time, others pointed to the fact that a number of major conservative influencers have recently encouraged their followers to switch over the platform, including the Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, who lashed out at Twitter after the company flagged an article she posted claiming Democrats were trying to steal the election.

“This is the same group who abused power in 2016,” she tweeted two days after the election. “I will be leaving soon and going to Parler. Please open an account on @parler right away.” 

Conservative radio host Mark Levin also echoed that sentiment, and encouraged his 2.7 million Twitter followers to do the same.

“Hurry and follow me at Parler,” he tweeted. “I may not stay at Facebook or Twitter if they continue censoring me. And one day I’ll have left their platforms. Parler is a wonderful alternative and is growing, and we need you there ASAP. It believes in truly open speech.”

Rumble Sees Uptick in Users

Notably, the mass exodus to Parler has not just helped the platform itself grow, but other similar platforms as well.

For example, the video-sharing site Rumble, which bills itself as an alternative to YouTube, has also seen a major spike in new users, which the company’s Chief Executive Chris Pavlovski directly attributed to traffic from Parler.

“I can confirm for the 1st time ever, Parler is sending Rumble more referral traffic than Facebook/Twitter combined,” he tweeted. “Dependency on them is now a thing of the past Next up, Rumble will dethrone YouTube.”

Pavlovski also told The Washington Post that his company has seen a big uptick in users since Election Day and that he expects the company will end the month with 80 million unique users, which is up from 60 million in October and 40 million this summer.

Rumble has been around since 2013, much longer than Parler, but the fact that its base is expected to double from what it was this summer is still incredibly significant. Part of that big increase is also due to the fact that, like Parler, major conservative influencers have been encouraging their followers to go to Rumble.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Ca.), a major ally of President Donald Trump, has recently been pushing his supporters to use the site. Major creators have also said they will bring their content to the platform, including Charlie Kirk, the founder of conservative youth organization Turning Point USA, as well as conservative commentator and Parler investor Dan Bongino.

Also like Parler, Rumble has very lax moderation rules. While its terms of service prohibit videos that show the assembly of weapons as well as other obscene content like pornography, nudity, or child exploitation, the platform has taken a very hands-off approach when it comes to misinformation and false claims, even regarding the election and the coronavirus.

“We don’t get involved in scientific opinions; we don’t have the expertise to do that and we don’t want to do that,” Pavlovski told The Post.

Criticisms and Concerns

However, to that point, experts who study online misinformation have said that false claims that have been removed off other platforms are popping up on Parler. The same is true for some users that have been banned by other platforms, like far-right talk-show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, as well as the far-right militia group The Proud Boys, among others.

Many experts say the fact that this kind of content is thriving on Parler is cause for alarm.

“What we’ve seen in the past with some of these other fringe or alternative social media sites is, if there’s no rules and if it’s really siloed, then what happens is it gets more and more extreme,” Shannon McGregor, a professor who studies social media at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told NPR.

McGregor also specifically pointed to Gab, another alternative social network that has become well-known for hosting anti-Semitic and white nationalist content.

Even before the recent boom on Parler, critics have argued that the platform was a haven for posts that spread far-right extremism, anti-Semitism, and conspiracy theories. Now, many are worried that the rise of these alternative platforms will just create an echo chamber of people sharing that kind of content without any kind of fact-checking or warning system.

“When people see news they don’t like, they split off to start their own to confirm their bias. this splintering is dangerous — and it’s only beginning,” reporter J.D. Durkin explained on Twitter.

“I think it’s great there are more platforms in the media space than ever before — good people are earning paychecks doing what they love. what’s dangerous are the echo chambers created as a result and the toxicity against anything telling you what you don’t want to hear.”

While that is certainly an alarming possibility, especially when paired with the historical nature of these sites to slip into extremism, the big question that remains is will these platforms ever get big enough to really rival Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube?

While Parler now has 10 million users, that is still a fraction of Twitter’s 187 million daily users and Facebook’s nearly 2 billion. 

Meanwhile, even the leading conservative voices that have encouraged people to switch over to Parler are still using Twitter and Facebook, including Bartiromo and Bongino, and many experts are skeptical that the conservatives with the biggest audiences will actually leave larger social media apps, even though they are telling their audiences too.

“All these people have accounts on Twitter because that’s where journalists are and that’s where the press is,” McGregor explained. “If they actually left Twitter, they would be less newsworthy.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Forbes)

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Spotify to Buy Podcast Hosting Company Megaphone for $235 Million

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  • After purchasing exclusive shows, a podcast player, podcast creation software, and more, Spotify is planning to purchase the podcast hosting company Megaphone for $235 million.
  • This new acquisition will help Spotify put ads in more podcasts by expanding the use of its system that makes real-time decisions about which ads a specific listener should hear based on their data, as well as the goals of the various ad deals Spotify is currently running.
  • A survey Spotify recently sent to users has also sparked speculation that the streaming service is considering launching a separate subscription service for podcasts.

What Spotify’s Megaphone Deal Really Means

Spotify is looking to acquire the podcast hosting company Megaphone for $235 million, another major deal may help solidify its dominance in the podcasting world.

For the last few years, the streaming service has been working aggressively to snag both podcasting networks and popular programs.

It scored huge deals with Joe Rogan, Kim Kardashian, former First Lady Michelle Obama, and bought companies like The Ringer, Gimlet Media, and others.

Now, it’s going even further with this new acquisition that will help it put ads in more podcasts.

Megaphone is a company that offers technology for podcast publishers and advertisers seeking targeted slots on podcasts, and according to The Verge, the multimillion-dollar deal wouldn’t affect Spotify’s own podcasts since it already hosted its shows on Megaphone. 

Instead, it means Megaphone hosted podcasts– from publishers like ESPN, the Wall Street Journal, and others– will have access to Spotify’s proprietary ad insertion technology, called Streaming Ad Insertion.

That system makes real-time decisions about which ads a specific listener should hear based on their data, as well as the goals of the various ad deals Spotify is currently running.

This purchase is major for Spotify because it means the company now owns a fully rounded-out podcasting ecosystem, including a network of exclusive shows, a podcast player, podcast creation software, a hosting company, and its own ad sales team.

Rumors of Potential Spotify Podcast Subscription Service

As such a strong force in the podcasting world, it not too surprising that earlier this week, reports surfaced suggesting Spotify might be considering launching a separate paid subscription service just for podcasts.

Right now, you can listen to podcasts on Spotify for free with ads, or without ads if you’re one of the 150 million people who pay for its music streaming membership. 

Still, it’s worth noting that this change isn’t official. In fact, reports only surfaced after the company sent out a new survey to some users, including Variety’s Andrew Wallenstein.

Competitors Eye Big Podcast Purchases

Spotify isn’t the only company with its eyes on podcasts.

This week, several outlets reported that Apple and Sony are reportedly eyeing a $300-$400 million acquisition of the podcast network Wondery.

There are at least two other companies that have joined them for negotiations. They haven’t been identified and nothing has been finalized, but it has been confirmed that Spotify is not one of the bidders. 

If this deal happens, it would be one of the priciest agreements in the industry.

See what others are saying: (Tubefilter) (The Verge) (Pitchfork)

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