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AMC Reverses Course After Saying It Won’t Require Masks to Avoid “Political Controversy”

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  • AMC, Regal, and Cinemark theater groups said this week that they won’t require customers to wear masks when they reopen.
  • While each was criticized for the policy, AMC sparked the most outrage on Thursday when its CEO said the chain will not require guests to wear masks in order to avoid “political controversy.”
  • AMC then said Friday that it was listening to its customers’ concerns and announced that it would be reversing course, requiring customers to wear masks at all soon-to-reopen locations.
  • AMC is expected to reopen 450 locations on July 15 and hundreds of more in the following weeks. Neither Regal nor Cinemark have announced any changes to their current mask policies.

AMC Won’t Require Masks

With most movie theaters in the United States set to reopen by the end of next month, several theater chains announced this week that they won’t require moviegoers to wear masks. 

That includes AMC, Regal, and Cinemark—the three largest theater chains in the U.S. While each of those announcements individually received backlash, it was AMC that has been embroiled in the most controversy.

Because of that, AMC quickly reversed course on Friday and said that it will now require all guests to wear masks. 

The controversy began Thursday when Variety published an interview with AMC Entertainment Chief Executive Adam Aron. In it, Aron explained the reasoning behind the policy, saying, “We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy.” 

“We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary,” he added. “We think that the vast majority of AMC guests will be wearing masks. When I go to an AMC feature, I will certainly be wearing a mask and leading by example.”

The “political controversy” Aron cites likely refers to the belief that mask requirements infringe upon citizens’ personal freedoms. In May, a woman refused to wear a mask into a Gelson’s in Orange County, California, claiming it was her right to not wear one. Her interaction with employees then went viral

President Donald Trump has also suggested that wearing masks is a political statement, saying that some people may be wearing masks not to protect themselves from COVID-19 but as a way to “signal disapproval of him.”

Still, many others—including numerous public health officials—have stressed that wearing a facial covering helps protect others from spreading COVID-19 if they may not yet know they have it. Because of that, they argue that masks help add a level of safety for elderly individuals, as well as for those who have naturally weakened immune systems.

In the interview, Aron said AMC would still sell masks for $1 to guests who forgot to bring theirs and wanted one. He also said all employees will be required to wear masks. 

Though the chain will now require a mask for everyone in each of its locations, it is still not expected to perform temperature checks on customers. Some businesses have adopted that measure as a way to screen for COVID-19.

Like many other businesses, AMC will reopen with reduced capacity seating in order to help people socially distance and will implement several new cleaning procedures. In its first stage, AMC will only allow 30% capacity for every showtime. As it moves forward, it will then increase capacity to 40%. 

AMC said that it hopes to be able to fill its theaters to half capacity by Labor Day. By Thanksgiving, it hopes to be able to once again fully fill its theaters. 

Additionally, AMC plans to clean auditoriums between each showtime, with extra time being allotted between screenings to allow for disinfection. The chain will also provide hand sanitizing stations throughout each of its locations and will encourage contact-less and cash-free forms of payment.

“We didn’t rush to reopen,” Aron told Variety. “There were some jurisdictions in some states, such as Georgia and Texas, that allowed people to reopen theaters in mid-May. We opted to remain closed, so we could give the country time to get a better handle on coronavirus. We wanted to use this time to figure out how best to open and how to do so safely.”

Other municipalities have been much slower to open. Some still require masks to be worn at all times when in public. Even without AMC’s updated mask rules, moviegoers in those areas would have still been required to wear masks.

AMC is expected to reopen about 450 of its locations on July 15. On July 24, the chain plans to reopen 150 additional theaters to coincide with Disney’s release of “Mulan.” This live-action remake of the classic 90’s film will be the first big-budget film release since the coronavirus shutdown. It was originally scheduled to release in March. 

The following week, Christopher Nolan’s spy film “Tenet” is expected to begin running in theaters.

AMC’s Original Mask Policy Blasted on Social Media

Though Aron had wished to keep AMC theaters from becoming embattled within a political controversy, his statement seemed to encite just that. Following his comments, #BoycottAMC trended on Twitter Thursday evening, with that hashtag still trending the next day. 

Many were quick to criticize AMC’s plan to not require facial coverings as reckless, saying that even though many local and state governments are easing lockdown measures, the coronavirus still remains a serious health concern.

“Dear @AMCTheatres,” one Twitter user said. “I am a person with 10+ pre-existing conditions. I’m also a huge movie lover. I hope you know that it’s nothing political when I say that I will #BoycottAMC. It’s a matter of life or death for me & you’ve lost a customer for life.”

Others, though still criticizing AMC’s optional mask policy, reminded users that both Cinemark and Regal plan to enact the same policy upon opening. Neither of those chains, however, made comments about facial coverings being political in nature. 

AMC Says It Will Now Require Masks

In a lengthy statement released on Friday, AMC attempted to assuage outraged customers by reversing course on Aron’s original comments. 

“At AMC, we have been consulting with top scientists and health experts to create a broad, sweeping, far-reaching health and safety effort to make AMC Theatres safe for our guests and associates when our theatres reopen in July,” the chain said before comparing its original policy to those of its major competitors like Regal and Cinemark.

“This announcement prompted an intense and immediate outcry from our customers, and it is clear from this response that we did not go far enough on the usage of masks,” it added.

“At AMC Theatres, we think it is absolutely crucial that we listen to our guests. Accordingly, and with the full support of our scientific advisors, we are reversing course and are changing our guest mask policy. As we reopen theatres, we now will require that all AMC guests nationwide wear masks as they enter and enjoy movies at our theatres. The speed with which AMC moved to revise our mask policies is a reflection of our commitment to the safety and health of our guests.”

“We will constantly monitor the scientific community’s latest thinking as to the efficacy of mask usage. We also will be looking at the varying health conditions in specific localities around our theatres all across the country. This will help us to determine what our mask policy will be as we go forward, as well as to make any other needed changes to this policy.”

“Those who are unwilling to wear a mask will not be admitted or allowed to stay.”

Regal and Cinemark have yet to announce any potential changes to their mask policies. 

See what others are saying: (The Hollywood Reporter) (The New York Times) (CNBC)

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Tesla Suspends Bitcoin Purchases Over Environmental Impact, Causing Coin’s Value To Crash 20%

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  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday that his electric vehicle company would be ceasing all Bitcoin sales effective immediately, even though it just started using the cryptocurrency in March.
  • The announcement prompted a massive sell-off of Bitcoin, which plunged almost 20% on Wednesday.
  • In his statement, Musk said, “We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel.”
  • Many have since accused Musk of manipulating the crypto market since Bitcoin’s environmental impact has long been one of its most controversial facets. 

Tesla Suspends Bitcoin Purchases

Volatility is essentially a prerequisite for Bitcoin, but Wednesday proved to be an especially bad day for the cryptocurrency after Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that the electric vehicle company would no longer be accepting the coin as a form of payment.

At the beginning of the day, Bitcoin was trading for around $57,000. Following Musk’s announcement, it had fallen to a 24-hour low of just over $46,000 — amounting to a nearly 20% drop in value. 

“We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel,” Musk said via Twitter. “Cryptocurrency is a good idea on many levels and we believe it has a promising future, but this cannot come at great cost to the environment.”

This policy update comes after only months after Tesla disclosed in February that it had bought $1.5 billion in Bitcoin. It also comes after the company began accepting Bitcoin as payment for vehicles in March. 

Still, with this sudden about-face, Musk said, “Tesla will not be selling any Bitcoin and we intend to use it for transactions as soon as mining transitions to more sustainable energy. We are also looking at other cryptocurrencies that use <1% of Bitcoin’s energy/transaction.”

Bitcoin’s Environmental Impact

Musk tweeted a graph Thursday morning from Cambridge’s Centre for Alternative Finance that shows Bitcoin’s increasing energy use since 2016.

In March, researchers with the Centre reported that Bitcoin’s energy consumption has jumped 80% since the beginning of 2020. 

Bitcoin’s impact on the environment has long been a subject of debate since mining it takes excessive amounts of electrical energy, but that problem has only gotten worse with the coin’s continued growth. 

On Monday, Ars Technica reported that a defunct coal power plant in upstate New York has been restarted to mine Bitcoin. In January, Iranian officials partly blamed Bitcoin for mass blackouts in the country. Researchers have even found that Bitcoin mining uses more energy than places like Argentina, a country with 45 million people.

Is Musk Manipulating the Market?

The overall reaction to Musk’s announcement was less than favorable, with many accusing the billionaire of manipulating the crypto market. 

“[This is] the same guy who’s been pulling the levers on crypto and has everyone following his every move,” Dave Portnoy, the controversial owner of Barstool Sports, said. “He’s sending Dogecoin up. He’s sending Bitcoin down. This is bullshit.

“Elon, you have responsibility when one second you say to buy something and the next second you don’t,” Portnoy added. “That’s playing with people’s futures, their fortunes.” 

Others made similar statements accusing Musk of essentially controlling Bitcoin prices, with MMA fighter Keith Berry saying, “Elon is a smart cookie, do you really think he didn’t know about energy usages on #Bitcoin after he bought 1.5B in BTC in December 2020” 

Still, some argued that recent disappointment in Musk is good for Bitcoin in the long term.

“This is great for #Bitcoin,” one person tweeted. “It should never depend on the thoughts and opinions of a single entity. The Elon Musk effect is being priced out and that’s positive for the cryptocurrency industry in the long run.” 

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (CNBC) (The New York Times)

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U.S. Gas Prices Hit $3 Per Gallon, a 7-year High, as Buyers Panicked During the Colonial Pipeline Shutdown

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  • The national average gas price has climbed above $3 for the first time in seven years.
  • The increase comes as the country’s largest fuel pipeline remains largely shuttered for the sixth day in a row following a ransomware attack, leading to panic buying and massive gas shortages in some cities. 
  • Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the company behind the pipeline should be able to make a decision on a full restart of the system by the end of Wednesday.
  • Still, she cautioned that it will take several days for fuel supplies to go back to normal. 

Update: Colonial Pipeline restarted operations at 5 p.m. EST Wednesday. “Following this restart it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal,” Colonial said in a statement. “Some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions during the start-up period.”

Panic Buying Drives Fuel Shortages

The national average gas price reached $3.008 Wednesday, its highest value in seven years. 

The jump is largely being driven by two factors. The first is that the country’s largest fuel pipeline was forced to shut down last Friday following a ransomware attack by the criminal gang Darkside. That pipeline, owned by the Colonial Pipeline Company, stretches from Texas to New York and supplies 45% of the East Coast’s fuel.

The second is that panic buying related to the shutdown and fears of fuel scarcity have exacerbated the problem. In fact, Tuesday evening, over 1,000 gas stations in the Southeast ran dry. 

By Wednesday, the situation was even worse. Nearly a quarter of all stations in North Carolina were out of gas, and in urban areas like Charlotte, 71% of stations were empty.  Meanwhile, around 15% percent of stations in both Georgia and Virginia were out of gas, and in the Atlanta metro area, 60% of stations had been depleted. 

Photos and video from affected states show hours-long lines. Some people have reported waiting more than five hours to get to the pump. Others have shared images of “out of fuel” signs. Stretching pumps even thinner are reports that many drivers are simply trying to top off mostly-full tanks or gas cans. 

In one tense situation captured at a gas station near Raleigh, North Carolina, a woman can be seen spitting on a man and hitting a car after she reportedly tried to cut the line. The man fires back a spit of his own, leading to a fight between the two.

When Will the Pipeline Be Back?

On Monday, some (but not most) of the pipeline was brought back manually. Colonial Pipeline officials have also said they hope to restart most operations by the end of the week.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm also told reporters Tuesday that Colonial should be in a position to make a decision on a full restart by the end of Wednesday; however, it’s likely going to take several days for fuel supplies to return to normal even after operations recover.

“Much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline,” Granholm said. 

Many analysts have echoed that warning, telling people to fuel up only if they need to and asking them to try to conserve as much gas as possible until the pipeline becomes largely operational again. 

The governors of Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia have all declared states of emergency to try to stave off shortages and keep gas prices down. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (USA Today) (MarketWatch)

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GLAAD Report Finds All Top Social Media Platforms “Effectively Unsafe” for LGBTQ+ Users

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  • The LGBTQ+ media monitoring organization GLAAD said in a Sunday report that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok are all “effectively unsafe for LGBTQ users.” 
  • Of the 64% of respondents who told GLAAD they’ve faced anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech or harassment online, 75% said at least some came from Facebook, which performed the most poorly of all five platforms.
  • The report highlights more than just hate speech, as GLAAD notes that “inadequate content moderation, polarizing algorithms, and discriminatory AI” also negatively affect LGBTQ+ users.
  • “This is about less watchdogging, more partnering with these platforms to get it right,” GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said while calling the report a starting point for how platforms can change.

Anti-LGBTQ+ Hate Speech Rampant on Social Media Sites

The LGBTQ+ media monitoring organization GLAAD has published a report that classifies every top social media platform as “effectively unsafe for LGBTQ users.” 

That includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.

“Of special concern, the prevalence and intensity of hate speech and harassment stands out as the most significant problem in urgent need of improvement,” GLAAD said in the report released Sunday.

The organization noted 64% of LGBTQ+ social media users have experienced harassment and hate speech online, which it said is higher than all other identity groups. 

Of the five platforms, Facebook was far and above the worst offender. In fact, GLAAD reported that 75% of the LGBTQ+ respondents who’ve experienced online harassment said at least some of that harassment happened on Facebook.

Meanwhile, 24% percent of respondents said they have faced similar harassment on Twitter and Instagram each. YouTube came in just below those figures at 21%, and TikTok saw the lowest harassment level of the five at 9%.

GLAAD’s president and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis said that while the organization was originally going to give each platform a grade, “What we ended up realizing is that if we started grading, they’d all fail, quite frankly.” 

Content Moderation and AI

It’s not just hate speech. “Inadequate content moderation, polarizing algorithms, and discriminatory AI” were also listed among the specific problems that GLAAD hopes these social media platforms will address. 

The organization even listed several “urgent recommendations,” which read:

  • “Stop allowing algorithms to fuel extremism and hate. Similarly, confront the problem of bias in AI.”
  • “Make it easier for users to report problematic content, be transparent in content moderation, and use more human moderators.”
  • “Employ a dedicated LGBTQ policy lead.”
  • “Respect data privacy, especially where LGBTQ people are vulnerable to serious harms and violence.”

It also called for platforms to more strongly enforce misinformation labels and restrict hashtags/shares of anti-LGBTQ content.

“This is about less watchdogging, more partnering with these platforms to get it right,” Ellis said, summing up the purpose of the report as a “roadmap” for platforms to begin implementing change.

See what others are saying: (Axios) (NPR) (The Hill)

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