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Facebook Blocks News in Australia Over Proposed Media Compensation Law

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  • 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)

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Friendship Is on the Decline in America Compared to 30 Years Ago

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While the COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for increased isolation Americans have experienced over the past year, other factors for the drop in friendships include political differences, couples marrying later, and parents spending more time with kids.


Americans Have Fewer Friends Today

A new study released by the Survey Center on American Life has essentially found that friends are in short supply in America — or rather, that “despite renewed interest in the topic of friendship in popular culture and the news media, signs suggest that the role of friends in American social life is experiencing a pronounced decline.”

Out of more than 2,019 respondents made up of U.S. adults, only 13% said they had more than 10 close friends. That’s a big drop compared to a 1990 Gallup poll, which reported that a third of U.S. adults said they had more than 10 close friends. 

The poll also found that fewer Americans now say they have a “best” friend: 59% today compared to 75% in 1990.

Friendship Breakers: the Pandemic, Politics, and Work 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has very likely been the most direct cause of isolation over the past year.

As the poll also notes, women ages 18-29 appear to be the most affected demographic, with 43% having lost touch with at least a few friends and 16% indicating that they’re no longer in regular contact with most of their friends.

In addition to the pandemic, former President Donald Trump seems to be driving more broken friendships than perhaps most presidents. In fact, 22% of the respondents who said they ended a friendship cited Trump specifically. 

According to the poll, 20% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans have ended friendships over political disagreements, with 28% of political liberals saying they would end a friendship over political differences as opposed to 10% of conservatives. 

Other factors for Americans’ lost friendships include couples marrying later, parents spending more time with kids, as well as people working longer hours and being more geographically mobile.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. While “best friends” are in shorter supply than in 1990, more than half of U.S. adults still say they have one. Another 46% of Americans have also reported making at least one new friend over the last year.  

See what others are saying: (Insider) (Independent) (Axios)

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NFL Says Teams Could Be Forced To Forfeit Games If Unvaccinated Players Cause COVID-19 Outbreaks

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Neither team will be paid for any forfeited games, and the team that faces the outbreak must also cover all expenses for the opposing team.


NFL Issues Strong Warning to the Unvaccinated

The National Football League announced Thursday that if a game is canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players on a certain team, that team will be forced to forfeit the match. 

Additionally, the league said players on both teams will not be paid for any forfeited games, and the team that causes the game to be canceled will also be forced to cover all expenses for the opposing team. It could also face disciplinary action from the Commissioner’s Office. 

As NFL.com writer Kevin Patra noted, this is “the clearest line the NFL has drawn to date and the most substantial incentive yet for owners, teams and coaches to pressure players to get vaccinated.”

While the league has not mandated that its players and staff get vaccinated, in its Thursday memo, it said that “nearly all clubs have vaccinated 100 percent of their Tier 1 and 2 staffs.” It also noted that 75% of players “are in the process of being vaccinated, and more than half the clubs have vaccination rates greater than 80 percent of their players.”

The NFL added that vaccinated players or staff who test positive and are asymptomatic will be allowed to return to work following two negative tests 24 hours apart. For unvaccinated players and staff who test positive, the NFL is deferring to its 2020 rules: 10-day isolation.

Rescheduling Vs. Canceling

Unvaccinated players — regardless of whether they test positive or not — will also be subject to more stringent protocols, including daily testing, mask-wearing, and travel restrictions.

That said, there is one potential loophole for teams that find themselves subject to outbreaks, though it could still be a longshot. The NFL will allow games to be rescheduled as long as they fit within the timeframe of its regular season.

“We do not anticipate adding a ‘19th week’ to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season,” the NFL made clear in its memo. 

Still, the NFL may not be as flexible as it was during 2020. For example, while it was able to reschedule all of its postponed games during that season, it did so by moving some to Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

What Players Are Saying 

Currently-unvaccinated players were quick to speak out against the memo on Thursday.

“Never thought I would say this, But being put in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the @NFL,” Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said in a now-deleted tweet.

Source: @deandrehopkins

Those advocating for players to get vaccinated have argued that not vaccinating yourself while engaging in a high-contact sport could still result in hurting teammates. In fact, several athletes have reported lingering effects following COVID-19 diagnoses, and some worry that long-term lung issues could cut their careers short. 

Similar to Hopkins, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle DJ Reader tweeted, “Talk about getting your hand forced smh.”

Las Vegas Raiders running back even compared this year’s season to “playing in jail” in a now-deleted tweet, saying, “read the rules-know em like you know your plays.”

Meanwhile, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said he hopes his team is “headed toward 100%” vaccination following the memo. 

See what others are saying: (NFL) (ESPN) (The Hill)

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California Sues Activision Blizzard Over “Frat Boy” Culture and Rampant Sexual Harassment

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The lawsuit details how certain executives at the company assaulted and harassed female employees and how one woman ultimately committed suicide after having a nude photo of herself leaked around the office. 


The Lawsuit’s Disturbing Harassment Details

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has lobbed a massive gender discrimination lawsuit against video game developer Blizzard Entertainment and its parent company Activision Blizzard, accusing the two of creating a culture of “constant sexual harassment.”

The details of the suit, which was launched Wednesday following two years of investigations, are disturbing. In some instances, it describes not just allegations of sexual harassment but also of sexual assault. 

For example, DFEH claims Blizzard’s workplaces are seeped in “frat boy” culture and said female employees have been “subjected to numerous sexual comments and advances, groping and unwanted physical touching, and other forms of harassment.” 

The suit cites specific instances of harassment through the accounts of female employees, including one who said random male employees would approach her at her worksite and comment on her breasts. 

Other female employees working on the World of Warcraft team alleged that male employees and even supervisors would hit on them and make derogatory comments about rape.

In the most tragic outcome cited in the lawsuit, DFEH said one female employee committed suicide on a company trip after having a sexual relationship with a male supervisor who had brought along a butt plug and lubricant. According to the suit, she had also faced harassment at a holiday party when male co-workers began passing around a photo of her vagina. 

DFEH Names Involved Executives

The allegations go straight to the top of Blizzard Entertainment’s chain of command. 

In fact, the suit claims President J. Allen Brack both knew about this behavior and enabled it. 

On top of that, an unnamed former Chief Technology Officer was allegedly seen “groping inebriated female employees at company events.”

The suit also specifically names Alex Afrasiabi, World of Warcraft’s senior creative director, saying he was “permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions.”

“Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite” during company events “was nicknamed the “[Cosby] Suite” after alleged rapist Bill [Cosby],” the suit claims. 

Female Employees Face Retaliation and Gender Discrimination

It’s not just that nothing was being done when female employees reported these instances, according to the DFEH. The agency also said those women faced retaliation, including being deprived of work, unwillingly transferred to other departments, and even being laid off at higher rates than male employees. 

Separately, another employee alleged she was told she couldn’t be promoted as a manager because “she might get pregnant and like being a mom too much,” even though she had already assumed some of the responsibilities of a manager. 

Other employees who had actually gotten pregnant said they were given negative evaluations while on maternity leave.

In 2019, it was reported by multiple outlets that Blizzard was offering third-party fertility and pregnancy tracking services to employees but was also receiving that anonymized data back.

Blizzard Denounces Lawsuit

In response, Blizzard has called California’s lawsuit “irresponsible” and from “unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”

Blizzard has also defended its workplace, saying, “Over the past several years and continuing since the initial investigation started, we’ve made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams.”

Others Speak Up

Since this lawsuit came out, at least five former employees have publicly corroborated several of its details.

That includes one woman who wrote on Twitter, “I left Blizzard after my boss gaslit me so badly my hair started falling out. My profit sharing, which I relied on to make ends meet, was docked due to “underperforming”, and when I went to HR to fight it with proof against his claims, I was told “maybe you are underperforming.”

“The fucked up part? I HATED leaving. Blizzard was my dream job and I loved the work I did there.”

Others, such as gamer Alanah Pearce, have recounted their own experiences working in gaming as a result of the allegations. 

“It’s jarring to me to see so many people on Twitter, who are around the industry, who are like gaming fans who don’t work in the industry, and go ‘Oh my, God, this is horrific.’ When my reaction is, ‘Oh, so it’s normal…” Pearce said in a Twitch stream uploaded to YouTube Thursday.

“Even when I worked in Tech before, the stories that I fucking have — just the shit that they did to me… Iike I was repeatedly grabbed and groped at work functions, and I would complain — like to their faces — I’d be like, ‘Don’t fucking touch me,’ and then, they would be like, ‘Haha, of course. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking,’ and then they would do it again because me reacting negatively to it was what made it funny to them.”

Pearce went on to recount other very disturbing details about her time at that job, saying she eventually decided one day to not go back altogether.

“But if you see this shit, and you see ‘bros being bros’ and being like, ‘Who can fuck this girl first?’ Just please fucking say something. It’s so much harder for women to say something,” she added.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Kotaku) (Bloomberg Law)

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