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Talk Politics? Some Brokers Are Only Too Happy to Do So – The New York Times

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Some real estate agents seem eager to post their political views on social media. But, especially in the last year, some of those messages veered toward hate speech, leading the industry to sharpen its ethics rules.

During election season, Nancy Kowalik, a real estate broker, proudly plants signs for local and national Republican candidates in her front yard and outside her real estate office in Mullica Hill, N.J. Step into that Main Street office and you’re likely to get an earful of Ms. Kowalik’s anti-vaccine and anti-mask views.

A scroll through her social media provides an even clearer picture of where she stands: posts bashing Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and Anthony Fauci, are interspersed with property listings, photos of happy home buyers, and a picture of her target shooting with guns she bought last summer.

Ms. Kowalik, 57, said she’s not worried about losing business by being upfront about her politics, an attitude shared by others, like the Texas broker whose widely publicized postings of her storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 put a spotlight on the real estate industry.

“I’ve had so many people ask me ‘Why do you do this? You may be cutting off half your clientele.’ Some don’t agree with me, but others say they love that I put it out there. In my opinion, it hasn’t hurt,” said Ms. Kowalik, noting that her agency’s 2020 business was up by 40 percent over 2019.

The maxim that one should never discuss religion, money or politics at the dinner table or in business seems outdated now, at least with politics, as people are more eager than ever to express their opinions. In the close working relationship between many real estate agents and their clients, exchanging personal views is inevitable. And with the increased use of social media to promote one’s brand, the more personal the messaging, the better.

But mixing politics and real estate can be explosive, and oversharing, especially on social media, has become problematic. The Texas agent and two other real estate agents were arrested in the aftermath of the Capitol attacks, and the National Association of Realtors has rewritten its code of ethics, clamping down on their members’ personal and professional communication in response to a flurry of partisan, sometimes racist, messaging following George Floyd’s death last summer.

The rules may vary from brokerage to brokerage.

In Manhattan, Scott Stewart, an agent with the Corcoran Group, is more circumspect in sharing his political views with clients, which include some of New York City’s wealthiest patrons whose politics run the gamut.

“I’ve been confronted with buyers and sellers on both sides of the aisle,” said Mr. Stewart, 54, a top seller with Corcoran. “I’m an open listener. I hear their point of view, and nod, but don’t generally share. Getting into a negative political conversation has no place in this business.”

That said, Mr. Stewart has encouraged more than 1,000 of his clients to subscribe to the humorous and decidedly liberal newsletter, Dinner Party Talk, created by his husband, Bruce Littlefield. The weekly newsletter calls Donald Trump the “Orange Man” and refers to Republicans as the GOPQ Party, drawing a link to QAnon.

“It speaks to my own views and values,” Mr. Stewart said about the newsletter. “It’s a great way for me to interact with my clients, but I’m very selective about it.”

New agents at Windermere Real Estate, the west coast’s largest regional real estate company, get a social media playbook with tips and advice on how to stay connected with clients using social media, but no clear directives on political discourse. While the Seattle-based company may have once advised their 6,500 agents to steer clear of politics, “things are different now,” according to Shelley Rossi, vice president of communications for Windermere.

“Some of our agents are very political, and posting about politics is an extension of their brand,” Ms. Rossi said. “If it works for them, it’s not really our place to tell them not to do it.”

Department of Justice

“We’re going to go in here. Life or death, it doesn’t matter,” said Jennifer Ryan, a broker from Frisco, Texas, speaking into her phone camera on Jan. 6, adding “y’all know who to hire for your Realtor” just before breaching the Capitol Building. Part of a now deleted 21-minute live Facebook video, these comments, along with a photo on a Twitter post of Ms. Ryan standing next to a broken window at the Capitol, are documented in the Justice Department’s record of her arrest.

Two other Texas real estate agents who flew with Ms. Ryan on a private plane to Washington were also among the more than 400 people who have been charged so far in the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol, an event Ms. Ryan described on Twitter that day as “one of the best days of my life.”

Ms. Ryan was arrested in mid-January and charged with disorderly conduct and knowingly entering a restricted building. In early February, Jason Hyland, who arranged the flight from Texas, and Katherine Schwab, were both arrested on the same charges. A day after the Capitol attack, Ms. Schwab’s former employer, Century 21 Mike Bowman in Dallas, posted on Facebook that she was no longer with the agency, noting that “such conduct does not comport with the policies and values of our company.”

Charlie Oppler, the president of the National Association of Realtors, issued a statement on Jan. 6., condemning the assault on the Capitol, but no formal actions have been taken against brokers involved in the siege. Responding to a query about the trade association’s position, Wesley Shaw, a spokesman for the association, wrote that the organization was closely following the legal proceedings connected to the breach and was “committed to taking any action that is deemed appropriate and in the best interest of our association,” but deferred membership qualification decisions to the group’s local associations.

With 1.4 million members, the association is the country’s largest trade organization, representing about half of all licensed real estate agents in the United States. Far from avoiding politics, the organization’s Realtor Political Action Committee is the largest PAC operated on behalf of a trade association in the United States, Mr. Shaw said, giving close to $4 million annually to political candidates on both sides of the aisle who support real estate interests. The association encourages members to get involved in their communities, and to speak out on issues related to housing and property rights. But some may have become too outspoken.

In a year of political and social unrest, the association has been grappling with a wave of social media discourse that became so inflammatory it drove the association to update its code of ethics last November, banning all discriminatory behavior by its members.

After George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police last May and the protests that followed, Realtor associations around the country were flooded with complaints about agents posting racist and sexist messages on their social media sites.

Calling out this activity last June, Jennifer Pino, then president of the Atlanta Realtors Association, wrote to the national association: “We cannot continue to allow the Realtor brand to be damaged by these hateful few. This must be stopped.”

“Realtors were being outwardly discriminatory on social media while supposedly adhering to Fair Housing rules,” said Ms. Pino, 49, managing broker at Sotheby’s International Realty’s Buckhead office. “If you were holding an open house, and you had expressed genuine hate for a protected class on social media, how could you possibly treat those people fairly?”

Over the next several months, the association held numerous internal meetings and online forums seeking input to amend the code. In October, Matt Difanis, an Illinois broker who was then chairman of the organization’s professional standards committee, released a video on YouTube where he shared examples from what he called “the mountain of hate speech” posted by agents. The sampling included messages like “I think Black people bring out the worst in us,” and “homosexuals and lesbians are murderers, according to the scripture.”

“The activity of 2020 brought out a lot of reports of bad behavior we hadn’t been privy to before,” said Katie Johnson, the association’s general counsel.

At its November meeting, the board of directors approved the amended code of ethics, banning all discriminatory communication or conduct related to race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status and national origin. Under the former code, brokers were only prohibited from discriminating during real estate transactions, in accordance with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, but the code did not address how they behaved outside of their business dealings.

“Realtors are now prohibited from making statements, harassment and slurs against any of the protected classes,” said Ms. Johnson, adding that “you can’t act in that way even in activities unrelated to real estate.”

The new standards apply to members’ business and personal interactions and online activity, which some view as impinging on their rights of free speech, but which the association deemed necessary.

“The prevailing thought was that if your personal self is acting hateful or discriminatory, it is highly unlikely that you won’t act discriminatorily in your real estate business as well,” she said.

Violators can be fined up $15,000 and are subject to removal, as determined by their local Realtor association, according to Ms. Johnson. Being banished from the association could limit agents’ job opportunities, and block their access to multiple listing service properties. Mr. Difanis and others are now conducting monthly training sessions to let members know what is or isn’t allowed under the new rules.

Last summer, Ms. Kowalik, a member of the association, said she “went out and got firearms” for self-protection “when things started to get crazy.” On her personal but publicly viewable Facebook site, she posted photos of herself and her son and daughter practicing at a local shooting range. Eager to share her viewpoint on both her personal and business social media sites, Ms. Kowalik said she thought the group’s new ethical standards might be “crossing some lines and there’s going to be backlash.”

“Now we’re not allowed to quote something out of the Bible,” said Ms. Kowalik, repeating a misinterpretation of the new standards she read online.

Mentioning the Bible is not prohibited, nor is bashing politicians, since politicians aren’t a protected class, Ms. Johnson said.

Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

With his humorous pokes at politicians from both parties, Michael Rasch, an agent in South Florida, is not too worried his Twitter and Instagram posts will incite the wrath of the organization, but he recognizes that sharing his libertarian political views can have an impact on his business.

“I blend my real estate and my personal life together, and sometimes I suffer the consequences,” said Mr. Rasch, of Hallandale Beach. “If you really think my politics will affect our business relationships, then you’re not the client for me.”

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Source:- BNN

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