- 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)
Student Group Selling NFTs of Trump Tweets Will Donate Sales To “Charities He Hates”
- Several students known as Strategic Meme Group are selling over 46,000 tweets from former President Donald Trump as NFTs in a bid to reclaim some of his most controversial messages.
- The students said 100% of the sales will go “to charities [Trump] hates,” including organizations that benefit communities the one-term president targeted on Twitter. For example, sales from Trump’s “ChinaVirus” tweets will go to charities such as the Asian Pacific Fund.
- “As an [Asian and Pacific Islander] person myself, and also our founders Jason Yu and Theodore Horn… Trump’s tweets have had a negative impact on us,” Jackie Ni, Chief Meme Officer of SMG, told Rogue Rocket on Friday. “And so, we were just thinking, ‘Is there a way to get something good out of this? Is there a way that we can potentially benefit the community being harmed?’”
- So far, Ni said the group has raised $9,500 through the sale of 118 tweets.
Trump Tweets for Sale
A group of high school and college students have taken former President Donald Trump’s most controversial tweets and turned them into nonfungible tokens in an attempt raise funds for the groups he targeted online.
“Trump tweets for sale,” their website, drumpfs.io, reads. “100% profits to charities he hates. Environmentally friendly.”
In total, 46,964 of the one-term president’s tweets are for sale on the site, including some of his more racially charged messages.
That includes tweets involving multiple uses of the term “ChinaVirus,” which has been condemned by critics as racist and a contributor to the recent uptick in violence against Asian Americans since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the students behind this project, known as Strategic Meme Group (SMG), are hoping to reclaim those tweets by donating their sales to specific charities, including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Asian Pacific Fund.
“We don’t want people to forget about the things Trump did or the things he said,” Jackie Ni, Chief Meme Officer of SMG, told Rogue Rocket on Friday. “This man is really flawed. This man is actually really hateful. If you look at his past tweets, these are not presidential. These are not human honestly.”
“As an [Asian and Pacific Islander] person myself, and also our founders Jason Yu and Theodore Horn… Trump’s tweets have had a negative impact on us,” Ni added. “And so, we were just thinking, ‘Is there a way to get something good out of this? Is there a way that we can potentially benefit the community being harmed?’”
Some of the other tweet-specific charities featured on the site include the Clinton Foundation, Americares, Clean Air Task Force, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Doctors Without Borders, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The site also lists a “general fund,” which Ni said is used for tweets that are harder to categorize. Ni said SMG will ultimately hold a vote to determine which charities those sales go toward once the fund reaches a $10,000 threshold.
How Much is a Drumpf NFT?
On the site, Trump’s tweets are divided into four categories: for sale, infamous, deleted, and flagged.
The vast majority of his tweets are being sold for 0.0232 Ethereum, which was valued at around $81 as of Friday morning. Notably, 232 is the number of electoral college votes Trump received during the 2020 Presidential Election.
A smaller subset of Trump’s most infamous tweets, such as “covfefe,” are being sold for 4.5 Ethereum, which was just shy of $16,000 as of Friday morning.
Ni said SMG has already raised over $9,500 through the sale of 118 NFTs since launching the website on April 22. Most of the tweets are ones Ni described as ironically “funny,” as the majority of them include Trumps’s infamously-iconic catchphrases “drain the swamp,” “fake news,” etc.
“And it’s not funny that like we’re laughing with Trump,” Ni told Rogue Rocket. “It’s more like we’re laughing at him.”
Ni said he expects sales to cross the $10,000 threshold soon, and from there, the group will begin the process of determining how to best donate to the listed charities since converting from Ethereum to U.S. dollars involves multiple steps.
What is SMG?
SMG is actually the second political venture for these students.
In 2020, Ni, Horn, and Yu started MemePac, which Ni described as a “youth, Gen Z super PAC” designed to oppose Trump. The group quickly gained significant traction on TikTok with more than 350,000 followers and was even featured in The New York Times.
Ni said much of the inspiration behind Drumpfs, which is a nod to a 2016 John Oliver segment where he highlighted that one of Trump’s ancestral names is “Drumpf,” comes from the recent boom of tweets being converted into and sold as NFTs. In an interview with NowThis, Horn credited Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s sale of his first tweet for $2.9 million in March.
Ni told Rogue Rocket that SMG was able to access the full catalogue of Trump’s tweets since they have all been archived by other organizations. As NFTs are still young, there’s little regulation behind them, meaning that the group isn’t barred for selling tweets they never posted themselves.
The advent of NFTs, and more specifically blockchain technology in general, has concerned many environmentalists because of the sheer electrical energy that it requires.
With that concern in mind, Ni said SMG wanted to ensure that it worked to offset carbon emissions generated by its NFTs.
“As a progressive Gen Z group, how can we advocate for a technology and use something that gives so much carbon emissions?” Ni said.
“What we’re trying to do to offset that is that we’re buying carbon offsets [through GoldStandard.org] double the amount generated,” he added.
Washingtonian Staffers Refuse To Publish in Protest of CEO’s Op-Ed About “Risks of Not Returning” To in-Person Work
- Washingtonian editorial staffers refused to publish new content Friday in response to an op-ed their CEO Cathy Merrill wrote about employees who wanted to continue doing the majority of their work remotely, which many viewed as a public threat to their jobs.
- In the op-ed, Merrill suggested that “about 20 percent” of every office employees’ job is to participate in “extras” outside their core responsibilities, including “mentoring more junior people” and “celebrating someone’s birthday.”
- If employees aren’t around to do so, she suggested managers have a “strong incentive” to change an employee’s work status to “contractor” to avoid paying for healthcare, a 401(k) match, and other benefits.
- After widespread backlash, Merrill walked back on her comments in an internal memo to staffers.
Op-Ed Triggers Outrage
Editorial staff at Washingtonian, a DC-based magazine, refused to publish new content on Friday in response to an op-ed their CEO wrote that many staffers viewed as a public threat to their jobs.
Cathy Merrill published her op-ed in The Washington Post Thursday, titled: “As a CEO, I want my employees to understand the risks of not returning to work in the office.”
In it, Merrill expressed excitement about the prospect of returning to work in person but said she was concerned about employees who wanted to continue doing the majority of their work remotely.
She claimed fellow CEOs have told her that older employees are more reluctant to return to the office because they work “from comfortable homes” and are “happy to be relieved of commuting.” Meanwhile, their younger colleagues “have been working from small apartments or their parents’ homes.”
Merrill argued that this was an issue because companies need leaders on site, and she suggested that “about 20 percent” of every office employees’ job is to participate in “extras” outside one’s core responsibilities. This includes in-person activities, such as “mentoring more junior people,” “celebrating someone’s birthday,” and doing other things that “drive office culture.”
If employees aren’t around to do so, she suggested that managers have a “strong incentive” to change an employee’s work status to “contractor.”
“That would also mean not having to pay for health care, a 401(k) match and our share of FICA and Medicare taxes — benefits that in my company’s case add up roughly to an extra 15 percent of compensation,” she continued.
“Not to mention the potential savings of reduced office space and extras such as bonuses and parking fees.”
Merrill also argued that “professional development is hard to do remotely,” and said “being out of that informal loop is likely to make you a less valuable employee.”
She closed her piece by suggesting that those who maintained personal relationships with their bosses would have more job security because “the hardest people to let go are the ones you know.”
The op-ed was met with swift condemnation from fellow members of the media, as well as readers.
They say: “I worry about the erosion of office culture”— Markus Di Mastro (@MarkusDiMastro) May 7, 2021
They mean: “I worry about the erosion of my ability to casually exploit, abuse, and manipulate my employees by making them do stuff completely unrelated to their jobs.”
By Friday morning, The Washington Post had changed the op-ed’s headline to: “As a CEO, I worry about the erosion of office culture with more remote work.”
According to HuffPost reporter Dave Jamieson, “Merrill says she did not write the original headline to her op-ed and expressed to WaPo that she felt it was inaccurate.”
The Post’s Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt said in a statement to CNN Business that he asked his staff to change the headline and said “nothing else in the op-ed has been changed.”
The change did little to ease outrage, and on Friday morning, Washingtonian staffers tweeted identical statements announcing their decision not to publish for the day.
“As members of the Washingtonian editorial staff, we want our CEO to understand the risks of not valuing our labor. We are dismayed by Cathy Merrill’s public threat to our livelihoods. We will not be publishing today,” the tweets read.
The staff is not unionized, so the refusal to work is especially notable because it carries extra risks.
CEO Walks Back
The growing outrage prompted Merrill to walk back her remarks in an internal memo to staff Friday, saying “flexible with work schedules and time in the office,” along with health and 401K benefits will not change. She said she is not going to switch full time workers to freelancer status, as she suggested in her op-ed.
“These are critical parts of our culture and also things I deeply, personally believe in,” Merrill said in the memo that reported have since shared online.
“I can and will maintain this strategy because we are a small family-owned company and I can. But I do worry about larger less personal businesses and how that may affect our country. That is precisely why I wrote the piece.”
In an earlier statement, Merrill said, “I have assured. out team that there will be no changes to benefits or employee status. I am sorry if the op-ed made it appear like anything else.”
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Wrap) (The New York Times
Unemployment Claims Fall for 4th Straight Week, Finally Dipping Below 500,000
- Unemployment claims fell to 498,000 last week, marking the first time claims dipped below half a million since coronavirus pandemic closures began.
- It’s also the fourth straight week of declining unemployment claims, though the numbers are still well above the roughly 200,000 weekly claims that were being filed prior to lockdowns.
- Continuing claims increased slightly to just under 3.7 million, but the four-week moving average for those claims is still decreasing.
Unemployment Claims Hit Another Pandemic Low
The Labor Department announced Thursday that unemployment claims last week fell to 498,000.
Not only does that make this the fourth straight week of declining unemployment claims, but it’s also the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began that weekly claims have fallen below half a million.
Earlier this week, it was reported that private payrolls climbed by 742,000 last month, marking the fourth-straight monthly climb. Despite that positive news, the official count was somewhat smaller than economists’ projections of 873,000 jobs.
While those numbers highlight a hopeful trend that the labor market is continuing its journey back to pre-pandemic levels, it’s important to remember that the market still hasn’t reached “normal” yet. Before the pandemic, weekly jobless claims were at around 200,000.
Continuing unemployment claims were a bit more of a mixed bag over the last week. For example, while those claims rose slightly to just below 3.7 million, there was somewhat of a silver lining since the four-week moving average for those claims is still declining.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is expected to release nonfarm payrolls Friday, and economists predict it will report nearly 995,000 jobs gained last month. If that prediction holds, the unemployment rate would drop from 6% to 5.8%.
Ending Enhanced Unemployment Benefits
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) indicated Tuesday that he is seeking to end his state’s federally enhanced unemployment benefits by the end of June amid a “severe workforce shortage.”
“Nearly every sector in our economy faces a labor shortage,” Gianforte said in a statement. “The vast expansion of federal unemployment benefits is now doing more harm than good.”
In its place, Gianforte wants to offer return-to-work bonuses.
“Choosing to eliminate these critical benefits will have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable,” U.S. Labor Department spokesperson Michael Trupo said in a statement critical of Gianforte’s decision.
Trupo added that the move will force immunocompromised workers, as well as workers with immunocompromised family members, to “make an impossible choice” between their health and finances.
In a similar announcement to Gianforte, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Wednesday that those out of work in his state will soon have to prove that they’re looking for a job to continue receiving benefits.
“Normally when you’re getting unemployment, the whole idea is that’s temporary, and you need to be looking for work to be able to get off unemployment,” DeSantis said at a news conference. “It was a disaster, so we suspended those job search requirements. I think it’s pretty clear now, we have an abundance of job openings.”
The waived work-search requirement will expire on May 29.