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Facebook’s Politics Aren’t Aging Well – The Wall Street Journal

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Facebook’s results have historically functioned as a powerful antidote to seemingly any and all bad press, but the company’s resilience has limits.



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josh edelson/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

They say it is best not to talk politics among friends. But in trying to avoid the conversation,

Facebook


FB 1.67%

has stepped right into the thick of it. Now, some of its most valuable relationships are at risk.

Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, Facebook has been no stranger to controversies ranging from election misinformation, security breaches, violent content and more. Widespread user movements have encouraged those fed up with the platform to sign off permanently.

Most haven’t, though, as evidenced by the fact that Facebook has continued to grow. The platform added more than 400 million monthly users—more than the entire population of the U.S.—between March 2018, when the Cambridge Analytica news broke, and March of this year. Meanwhile, advertising revenue grew an average of 32% annually over the last two calendar years. Facebook’s results have historically functioned as a powerful antidote to seemingly any and all bad press. Despite swings along the way, Facebook’s stock has rebounded roughly 75% off three-year lows hit in late 2018.

But Facebook’s resilience has limits. Ahead of the 2020 election, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has held firm in his belief that it isn’t the job of his platform to fact check political ads or exclude anything but the most outright harmful points of view from the social conversation. With the nation growing more divided by the minute over issues of health, race, class and gender, this political inactivism has sparked widespread controversy, even driving some employees to resign.

Now advertisers are joining the fray, hitting Facebook where it really hurts. News of major companies including

Unilever

and

Coca-Cola

pausing ad spending on the platform on Friday got everyone’s attention. In response, Mr. Zuckerberg published a blog post pledging his platform would start prohibiting a wider range of hateful content in ads and would label newsworthy content that violated its policies, seemingly capitulating somewhat to mounting protest.

AB Bernstein analyst Mark Shmulik said in a note on Friday that he expects advertiser participation in the boycott to continue to climb on both Facebook and Instagram. While previously it was hard to know which individual users were really deleting their accounts, major advertisers such as Coca-Cola are highly visible. Mr. Shmulik says the public nature of today’s debate will create peer pressure for brands. As of Monday morning, a list compiled by MKM Partners includes 184 companies that have joined the movement.

Particularly bad for Facebook, the boycott could be prolonged in the absence of more major policy change. Facebook said in a statement regarding the boycott that it finds nearly 90% of hate speech on its platform, but it knows it has more work to do. A website for the “stop hate for profit” movement lists 10 suggested policy changes, including that Facebook refund advertisers whose ads ran alongside what was later removed as a violation of Facebook’s terms. The company says it will work with civil-rights groups and experts to continue to fight against hate.

UBS analyst Eric Sheridan says the brands involved in the boycott so far don’t make up a significant percentage of Facebook’s revenue, even jointly. He estimates the vast majority of Facebook’s roughly 8 million advertisers are small and medium-size businesses.

Still, the near-term threat is real. Competitors including

Twitter

and Snapchat have tried to take a more active role in policing problematic content, and could grow their appeal to advertisers at Facebook’s expense. Peer pressure among advertisers remains a threat as well. At 16 years old, Facebook’s “cool” factor has long worn off. Until now though, the company hasn’t faced a scenario in which being on Facebook earns you a negative stigma.

While it is likely Facebook will always retain a sizable network of loyal followers, meaningful return on its investment requires mass popularity that expands, rather than contracts.

Related Video

Facebook and Twitter have taken different stances on moderating President Trump on their platforms. It’s the latest controversy in an ongoing debate about the responsibility tech companies have in policing speech online. Photo illustration: Carter McCall/WSJ

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A Biden win could shake up Bay State politics – Boston Herald

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Look for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren to join the Joe Biden administration should the former vice president beat President Trump in November.

That means that Republican Gov. Charlie Baker would appoint someone — perhaps himself — to fill out the remainder of Democrat Warren’s Senate term, which runs to 2024.

While Warren may still be in the running as a potential vice-presidential running mate — since Biden has promised to select a woman — it appears that Biden is leaning more toward choosing a woman of color.

Also, Warren does not appear to do much for a Biden ticket. While she appeals to progressives and left-wing, capitalist-hating activists, she failed to win a single Democratic presidential primary, including her home state of Massachusetts.

While Warren may be out of the running for vice president, there is a strong possibility that she could be appointed to a Biden cabinet, possibly as secretary of the Treasury, should Biden be elected.

If Wall Street thinks that it caught a break when Warren folded as a presidential candidate, they had better think again.

But Biden will first have to meet Trump in debates and beat him, if he ever decides to come out of his basement and hit the campaign trail. But, at the rate the polls are trending in his favor, he may decide to stay down there and remain a stealth candidate.

As it is, the Biden-loving establishment media, giddy over the polling, hate Trump so much that they dream of carrying a stumbling, fumbling Biden into the White House on their shoulders should he — and they — defeat Trump.

But remember, these are the same polls and pollsters who had Hillary Clinton soundly beating Trump in 2016.

At any rate, news last week that Biden might consider appointing Warren to the Treasury had Wall Street abuzz. Warren, who not only took credit for starting the Occupy Wall Street movement several years ago, now wants to break up the big banks.

“We believe Warren would be an especially powerful Treasury secretary with Biden likely delegating to her primary responsibility for financial and economic policy,” said Jaret Seiber, policy analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group, in a message to financial clients.

“If it is Elizabeth Warren at Treasury, the tone will be quite harsh for banks,” another top financial analyst said.

Warren is not only in favor breaking up the big banks, she would also restore a myriad of banking and business regulations that have been negated by the Trump administration.

She also would limit the compensation paid to Wall Street executives, stop banks from paying dividends, and halt debt-collecting entities from filing lawsuits and wage garnishment practices during the pandemic.

While it appears far-fetched that this could happen, it is no more far-fetched than Trump defeating Clinton in 2016.

If a Warren Senate vacancy occurs, Baker has the authority to appoint a successor until a special election is held within 145 to 160 days of the vacancy.

If he were interested in the job, Baker could step down as governor and have Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito become acting governor and appoint him as the interim senator. Being a homebody, that appears unlikely. However, if he wanted to name a fellow Republican, he could appoint Polito.

Baker would have to move fast. In the past the Democratic-controlled Legislature has blocked a Republican governor from making such an appointment by going straight to a special election.

The Legislature did this in 2004 when Republican Mitt Romney was governor and it appeared that Democrat Sen. John Kerry’s seat might become vacant should he be elected president. He wasn’t.

The Democrats later restored the appointing power to the governor when Democrat Deval Patrick was governor, paving the way for him to appoint Paul Kirk, a former Sen. Ted Kennedy aide, to complete Kennedy’s term following his death in 2009, and to name Mo Cowan, a former chief of staff, to complete John Kerry’s term when Kerry became secretary of state in 2013.

It all could happen again. But don’t hold your breath.

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Facebook Said to Consider Banning Political Ads – The New York Times

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SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook is considering banning political advertising across its network before the November general election, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions, after facing intense pressure for allowing hate speech and misinformation to flourish across its site.

The decision has not been finalized, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential, and the company could continue with its current political advertising policy. Discussions on potentially banning political ads have simmered since late last year, they said, as insiders weighed the idea while reaching out to political groups and candidates for feedback.

But the issue has come to the forefront in recent weeks, with the November election looming and as Facebook grapples with intensifying scrutiny over content posted to its platform. The core of the debate is whether banning political ads would help or harm “giving users a voice,” said the people with knowledge of the discussions. Stopping ads could stifle speech for some groups, they said, though allowing political ads to run could also allow more misinformation that could disenfranchise voters.

A Facebook spokesman declined to comment. Bloomberg News earlier reported the potential change in policy.

If a ban on political ads were to happen, it would be a reversal for Facebook and its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg. The social network has long allowed politicians and political parties to run ads across its network virtually unchecked, even if those ads contained falsehoods or other misinformation.

Mr. Zuckerberg has repeatedly said he would not police politicians’ ads and stated that the company was not an arbiter of truth because he believes in free speech. He has also said that removing political ads from the network could harm smaller, down-ballot candidates who are less well-funded than nationally prominent politicians. Political advertising makes up a negligible amount of Facebook’s revenue, he has said, so any decision would not be based on financial considerations.

But that hands-off approach has led to an intense backlash against the social network. Lawmakers, civil rights groups and Facebook’s own employees have assailed it for letting hate speech and misinformation fester on its site. Last month, the Biden presidential campaign said it would begin urging its supporters to demand that Facebook strengthen its rules against misinformation. More recently, advertisers such as Unilever and Coca-Cola have paused their advertising on the platform in protest.

That was punctuated this week by the release of a two-year audit of Facebook’s policies. The audit, conducted by civil rights experts and lawyers who were handpicked by the company, concluded that Facebook had not done enough to protect people on the platform from discriminatory posts and ads. In particular, they said, Facebook had been too willing to let politicians run amok on the site.

“Elevating free expression is a good thing, but it should apply to everyone,” they wrote. “When it means that powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules that everyone else does, a hierarchy of speech is created that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices.”

Mr. Zuckerberg has stuck to his free speech position even as other social media companies have taken more action against hate speech and inaccurate posts by politicians and their supporters. Twitter recently started labeling some of President Trump’s tweets as untruthful or glorifying violence, while Snap has said it would stop promoting Mr. Trump’s account on Snapchat because his speech could lead to violence. Twitch, the video game streaming site, suspended Mr. Trump’s account entirely, and the internet forum Reddit banned a community of Mr. Trump’s supporters for harassment.

Last year, Twitter said it would ban all political ads because the viral spread of misinformation presented challenges to civic discourse.

Vanita Gupta, chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said it was positive that Facebook was thinking through its options but that “what they need to have in place is a system that actually catches real-time voter misinformation.” She added, “Voter suppression is happening every day, and their inaction is going to have profound ramifications on the election.”

On Friday, some of the top Democratic outside groups that are major spenders on Facebook said they had not discussed with the company any potential banning of political ads closer to the election. A spokesman for the D.N.C. referred questions to a tweet from Nellwyn Thomas, the D.N.C.’s chief technology officer, who wrote on Friday: “We said it seven months ago to @Google and we will say it again to @Facebook: a blunt ads ban is not a real solution to disinformation on your platform.”

Democratic officials have argued that blanket bans or restrictions on political ads are not a sufficient way to root out disinformation, particularly as that kind of content can spread in closed Facebook groups. Banning ads also restricts important digital tools that campaigns have come to rely on for activities such as acquiring new donors and raising money to getting out the vote, they said.

Some Democrats added that the Trump campaign has a significant structural advantage on Facebook, having built up a community of more than 28.3 million followers. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has only around 2.1 million followers on the social network. Removing the ability to pay for ads would give Mr. Trump a far greater reach online than Mr. Biden, they said.

A spokesman for the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Facebook is by far the preferred and most popular platform for campaigns. The Trump campaign has spent more than $55 million on Facebook since 2018, and the Biden campaign has spent more than $25 million.

Mike Isaac reported from San Francisco, and Nick Corasaniti from New York.

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Coronavirus: Why politics means success or failure in South America – BBC News

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South America is the new epicentre of the global coronavirus pandemic, but the region’s leaders have responded to the crisis very differently.

A great deal has been said about poverty in this part of the world, like the favelas in Brazil where social distancing is hard to achieve and where basic sanitation is not always a given.

There is also the fact that there are so many millions of unregistered workers who rely on earning money every day to put food on the table for their families.

The impossible choice that many people have told me they face is to risk starving or risk getting Covid-19.

There are, undoubtedly, massive challenges in this, one of the most unequal parts of the world. But, say many experts, politics is just as important as poverty.

“I always defended – as many of us in public health did – the importance of having strong, structured health systems,” says Deisy Ventura, professor of Global Health Ethics at the University of Sao Paulo.

“But if there’s one thing I have learned from the pandemic it’s the importance of politics – for good and bad.”

Unity in Argentina

Professor Ventura singles out Argentina. Leading a country already deep in economic crisis, President Alberto Fernandez, who has been in power for less than a year, locked down swiftly when the virus hit.

The country has registered just over 90,000 cases and 1,720 people have died.

“It’s an extremely divided country, it’s been through a very intense political crisis but those adversaries were able to sit around the table and come to an agreement over the necessities of quarantine measures,” says Professor Ventura.

Confirmed cases around the world

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Source: Johns Hopkins University, national public health agencies

Figures last updated

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“They have press conferences with various politicians from different political stripes and they announce things together – so the population understand what needs to be done.”

Uruguay and Paraguay have also been singled out as examples. They have fewer than 100 deaths between them, even though they both share borders with badly hit Brazil.

But they are the exceptions.

‘Pandemonium’ in Brazil?

“Unfortunately in some Latin American countries – Brazil especially – the issue of measures has become partisan and that is absurd,” says Professor Ventura.

Its President, Jair Bolsonaro, is a man who has made light of the virus from the very start.

He’s called it the sniffles and seldom paid tribute to the nearly 70,000 people who have died. He has disagreed with his own health ministry over the importance of social distancing, he has argued with state governors who introduced quarantine measures and he has pushed to re-open the economy at the earliest opportunity.

Now he has the virus himself, he’s taking the opportunity to promote the unproven anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a valid treatment.

This confused political messaging doesn’t help.

“Brazil is the only country dealing with a pandemonium and a pandemic at the same time,” says Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroscientist who is helping north-eastern states tackle Covid-19.

“Nowhere that you can look in the world you can see a political upheaval at the same time you are trying to fight the coronavirus. The response of the federal government has been the worst you could imagine.”

Communication is key during an emergency, says Professor Ventura.

“People learn very quickly when they are exposed to a risk. They need to understand the risk, communication needs to be efficient and they need to trust authorities.”

But that lack of trust is echoed across the region.

A ‘missed opportunity’ for Chile?

Mati Libuy Rios is a doctor in Maipu, one of the worst-hit parts of Chile’s capital Santiago. A relatively rich country in South America, Chile has seen a sharp rise in cases and deaths in recent weeks. More than 300,000 registered infections and nearly 7,000 confirmed deaths.

Mati has been working flat out in recent months – on one recent shift, he had to tell 10 families that their loved ones were dying.

“It’s really hard – I am 30 years old, this will probably be the most challenging experience of my life as a physician. Nobody prepares you for this situation.”

There is tension in Chile over lockdown – and the pandemic hit just months after widespread protests last year over social and economic inequalities.

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Mati thinks the government failed to step up to the task of dealing with the pandemic early on.

“We have massive health inequalities, people need to work to get food every day, it’s as simple as that,” he says.

“The government needed to give people all the material conditions to stay at home and at the same time increase testing, isolate contagious people and track all the possible contacts. It’s the simplest way to control it and they missed the opportunity.”

But nothing compares to the numbers in Brazil – a country where many feel the pandemic is nothing but political.

“Every country that took this lightly – that initially made a joke about it – paid a huge price,” says Miguel Nicolelis.

“When politicians challenge biology, biology wins by a huge margin. Sorry and sad to say as a Brazilian but it’s the reality. We didn’t prepare, take it seriously and we now see exponential curves exploding. You cannot even describe this.”

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