Facebook’s Civil Rights Meeting Didn’t Go Well

This just in: Warren Buffett announced that he has donated $2.9 billion worth of Berkshire Hathaway stock to five nonprofit groups, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation and three organizations founded by his children. (Want this delivered to your inbox each day? Sign up here.)

Facebook’s two top executives, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, met virtually with civil rights groups yesterday to address their concerns over how the social network treats hate speech, the source of a growing advertiser boycott at the site. How did it go? Let’s check the headlines:

• “Facebook Fails to Appease Organizers of Ad Boycott” (NYT)

• “Civil-Rights Groups Express Disappointment With Facebook Meeting” (WSJ)

• “Facebook Scorned by Advocacy Groups After Zuckerberg Meeting” (Bloomberg)

In other words, it didn’t go well. “The company’s leaders delivered the same old talking points to try to placate us without meeting our demands,” said Jessica J. González of the advocacy group Free Press, who was on the call. Others on the call included the Anti-Defamation League, the N.A.A.C.P. and Color of Change.

• The groups presented a list of demands, which included Facebook hiring an executive with a civil rights background and submitting to regular independent audits of its practices. Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg agreed on the civil rights position, but attendees said that there was no resolution on most of the other requests.

• “We are making changes — not for financial reasons or advertiser pressure, but because it is the right thing to do,” Ms. Sandberg wrote in a Facebook post ahead of the meeting.

• A reminder: At an internal meeting last month, Mr. Zuckerberg told employees that he expected the advertisers boycotting the platform to return “soon enough.”

Results of a two-year audit of Facebook’s civil rights policies will be published today. The Times received a draft of the 100-page report, conducted by independent civil rights experts and lawyers. “Unfortunately, in our view Facebook’s approach to civil rights remains too reactive and piecemeal,” it says, according to Greg Bensinger of The Times’s editorial board. “Many in the civil rights community have become disheartened, frustrated and angry after years of engagement” with the company, it added.

• In a statement about the audit, Ms. Sandberg called it “the beginning of the journey, not the end.”

Mr. Zuckerberg will testify before Congress on July 27. Though that hearing is focused on antitrust, expect these issues to come up.

President Trump moved to withdraw America from the W.H.O., following through on his threat to pull out of the global health agency. But a top White House coronavirus official, Dr. Deborah Birx, said the U.S. continued to cooperate with international health officials during the pandemic.

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil tested positive for Covid-19, after months of playing down the seriousness of the coronavirus. But he appeared unlikely to reverse Brazil’s lenient approach to the virus, including reopening beaches and bars.

Deutsche Bank was fined $150 million for its Jeffrey Epstein entanglements. The German lender agreed to settle an investigation by the New York State Department of Financial Services into its failure to question millions of dollars in suspicious transactions by the disgraced financier.

Banks could receive up to $24 billion in fees for arranging federal coronavirus aid. The Wall Street Journal reports that JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America together could collect at least $1.5 billion for administering funds from the Paycheck Protection Program. (Big banks have said they would donate their proceeds.)

N.B.A. teams are entering a Florida bubble. By tomorrow night, all 22 teams set to resume the pandemic-shortened season will have arrived at Walt Disney World. They’ll find a battery of safety measures, including daily tests, mandatory mask rules and sensors that beep when people are too close together.

The third quarter is off to a relatively strong start — the S&P 500 has risen in three of four sessions — even after following the blockbuster second quarter. Tech stocks, which have performed well throughout the pandemic, are soaring. These three charts caught our eye, and capture the current moment.

Tesla taunts the shorts

Elon Musk’s feud with short-sellers of Tesla took a strange turn this week, with the electric carmaker selling a branded pair of red satin short shorts on its website — priced at, ahem, $69.420 — which sold out almost immediately. With sales of cars holding up better than expected, Tesla’s share price has tripled so far this year, making it the most valuable auto company in the world (by market cap, anyway).

The Apple of Warren Buffett’s eye

Apple’s shares are up 25 percent so far this year, as it approaches a $2 trillion market cap. One of the biggest beneficiaries of that rise is Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, which first bought shares in the company in 2016. As the Motley Fool points out, Apple stock now accounts for more than 40 percent of the value of Berkshire’s $200 billion-plus portfolio, which has otherwise been dragged down by banks and airlines.

SoftBank hits a 20-year high

The Japanese conglomerate, which lost nearly $18 billion in its most recent financial year because of dud investments by its Vision Fund, has been shedding assets and pledging big stock buybacks. It’s working, at least as far as its share price is concerned: It has more than doubled since mid-March.

The Trump administration’s attitude toward Beijing has had its ups and downs over the years: Up as the U.S. and China reached a phase-one trade deal, down at almost every other time. Right now, relations are particularly sour, given a flurry of recent pronouncements.

• After Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested that the U.S. may ban TikTok and other Chinese-owned social media apps, Reuters reports that the American authorities are reportedly investigating whether TikTok violated a 2019 settlement meant to protect children’s privacy.

• The White House’s national security director, Robert O’Brien, and its chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, told a federal pension fund to avoid Chinese investments. These assets presented “unnecessary economic risk” to the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, they said in a letter.

• The F.B.I. director, Chris Wray, assailed Beijing for espionage and cyberattacks against the U.S. In a speech, he called the tactics an attempt to engineer “one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history.”

“Internet companies can have all the rules and punishments in the world, but they’re toothless if they can’t effectively enforce them,” The Times’s Shira Ovide wrote in a recent edition of the On Tech newsletter. As Facebook struggles to contain an ad boycott — see above for more on that — Shira says that YouTube shows there’s a better way to discourage bad actors online.

It’s all about the business model. Facebook keeps almost all the revenue generated from ads served on its platform, while YouTube splits the proceeds with creators. That gives YouTube leverage that Facebook doesn’t have: hitting habitual offenders in their wallets by turning off ads on their videos. This hasn’t stopped nasty material from appearing on YouTube, but it gives the platform a powerful way to punish it.

  • Updated July 7, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

There’s a trade-off. Facebook could share more revenue with the people and organizations that are big draws on the platform, but Shira notes that this isn’t working out too well financially for YouTube: When its parent, Google, recently revealed the video platform’s revenue for the first time, analysts were surprised by how low it was. Shira tells us:

Even if YouTube weren’t giving away more than half its ad sales, its revenue per user is still well below Facebook, Instagram and even Twitter. Not good!

Maybe Google hasn’t been very aggressive at shoving ads into YouTube. Google executives basically said they know YouTube could be a more effective ad revenue machine, and they have plans for that. Or, maybe YouTube by its nature can’t be as effective at making money as rival platforms. I don’t know. It just seems like YouTube has fallen short of its financial potential for a long time.

The longstanding complaint about Nielsen ratings, long used to measure traditional television viewing, is that they’re useless for scoring shows on Netflix, Disney+ and more that aren’t designed as vehicles for advertising. A start-up says it has a solution, The Times’s Ed Lee reports.

Parrot Analytics says it can track enthusiasm for particular shows, which the company says is a good proxy for how many new subscribers the content could attract. The start-up draws from an array of signals, including Google search terms, Facebook likes, pirated links and Wikipedia traffic.

• That matters because Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and other streaming services don’t make more money when people watch more content — only when they sign up and renew their subscriptions.

By that measure, here are the top five shows over the past month:

1. “Game of Thrones” (HBO, HBO Now, HBO Max), with 91 times more demand than the average show

2. “13 Reasons Why” (Netflix): 71 times

3. “The 100” (The CW, Netflix): 71 times

4. “Stranger Things” (Netflix): 66 times

5. “Rick and Morty” (Adult Swim, HBO Max): 65 times


• The movie theater chain AMC is reportedly near a deal to restructure its debt and avoid filing for bankruptcy protection. (WSJ)

• The insurer Allstate agreed to buy National General, a specialist in auto insurance, for about $4 billion in cash. (Reuters)

Politics and policy

• The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau scrapped limits on payday lenders, overturning a signature Obama-era regulation. (NYT)

• A bevy of lobbying firms, consultancies and other players in Washington’s political industry were among those who benefited from federal small business rescue loans. (NYT)


• Peggy Johnson, Microsoft’s head of business development, is leaving to become C.E.O. of Magic Leap, the embattled augmented-reality start-up. (NYT)

• Is it a bird? A plane? No, it’s a balloon giving Kenya internet service. (NYT)

Best of the rest

• Sweden’s refusal to impose lockdowns was meant to spare the country economic damage during the pandemic. It may not have worked. (NYT)

• Disney is stepping into a political minefield as it prepares to reopen Walt Disney World on Saturday. (NYT)

• “Post Office Delivery Trucks Keep Catching on Fire” (Vice)

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