Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Facebook Morale Takes a Tumble Along With Stock Price

November 14, 2018

Employee surveys show weaker optimism about future, confidence in platform’s mission

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Facebook Inc.’s FB +1.20% difficult year is taking a toll on employee morale, with several key measures of internal sentiment taking a sharp turn for the worse over the past year, according to people familiar with the matter and messages reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Amid a plunge in the stock price, ongoing leadership turmoil and critical media coverage, just over half of employees said they were optimistic about Facebook’s future, down 32 percentage points from the year earlier, according to the survey, which was taken by nearly 29,000 employees. Fifty-three percent said Facebook was making the world better, down 19 percentage points from a year ago.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg directly addressed the survey results at a question-and-answer session in early November, some of the people said, saying he and other senior officials were taking steps to address the underlying issues.

The darkening mood within the social-media giant is notable in part because its workforce has been resilient through other difficult patches in the past. That includes the period after the 2016 presidential election, when many critics were blaming Facebook for allowing fabricated news articles to pervade the platform.

But many people inside Facebook say this period feels different, in part because of the unusual turbulence at the top of the company, which has struggled to respond to its various internal and external controversies. The declining stock price has also hurt morale among employees for whom stock options are a large part of their compensation, current and former employees say.

Facebook’s current data crisis involving Cambridge Analytica has angered users and prompted government investigations. To understand what’s happening now, you have to look back at Facebook’s old policies from 2007 to 2014. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains. Illustration: Laura Kammerman

“It has been a difficult period, but every day we see people pulling together to learn the lessons of the past year and build a stronger company,” a Facebook spokeswoman said. “Everyone at Facebook has a stake in our future and we are heads down shipping great products and protecting the people who use them.”

The biannual “pulse” survey asks employees to assess how strongly they believe in Facebook’s overall mission and whether they believe the company has a positive effect on the world, people familiar with the surveys say. It also asks them to measure their satisfaction with their individual managers and work-life balance.

These types of polls are increasingly common as companies try to gauge employee sentiment and identify any problems before they fester.

There are some 30 questions on the Facebook survey, which is conducted in April and October every year.

Employees on average said they intended to stay another 3.9 years at Facebook, down from 4.3 years a year earlier. About 12% said they planned to stay less than a year. Former employees said these figures typically rose.

In survey responses, some employees indicated they were worried about Facebook’s sharpened focus on growth and frustrated over a “lack of innovation” within the company. Employees also questioned the company’s higher emphasis on the main Facebook platform over Instagram, WhatsApp and other growing services that Facebook owns.

In July, Facebook startled investors with dour growth projections that sent its stock price tumbling. Shares haven’t recovered and remain down more than 35% in the past four months, putting the company on track to have its first annual share-price decline since going public in 2012.

Facebook is one of the few major tech companies whose stocks have dropped significantly in the past year, while rivals like Twitter Inc. have jumped and Google parent Alphabet Inc. has remained mostly flat.

Morale has also been hit by a near-constant barrage of criticism from outsiders about its lax data-privacy practices, growth-oriented culture and role in fanning violence in volatile countries such as Myanmar, current and former employees say.

Leadership turmoil is another factor. For most of its nearly 15-year history, Facebook’s leadership was remarkably stable, but nearly a dozen high-profile or senior executives have announced their departures this year, including Facebook’s top lawyer and longtime policy chief as well as co-founders of Instagram and WhatsApp.

Facebook’s employee base was 33,606 at the end of September 2018, up 45% from the year before. Many of the new employees work in the areas of safety and security and currently are sitting on stock options that are worth less now than a year ago.

Broader employee sentiment about the company has been slowly declining for nearly two years, according to surveys. The overall favorability score, or how Facebook measures broader sentiment toward the company, stood at 70% in October, down from 73% a year ago, the survey shows. It was 74% in early 2017.

Seventy percent of employees said they were proud to work at Facebook, down from 87% a year earlier, the survey shows.

In some areas, Facebook employees’ sentiment held steady. About 81% of employees said it was important to fulfill Facebook’s mission to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”—roughly flat compared with a year ago.

Some current and former employees say sentiment has started to turn around after the midterm elections last week, during which the company appeared to have avoided major catastrophes. Mr. Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg addressed employees two days after the midterms to reflect on the lessons of 2018, a person familiar with the matter said.

Some employees indicated that they were cautiously optimistic that the company was heading in the right direction after more than two bruising years.

That turnaround is not yet reflected in the survey data. A year ago, 84% of Facebook employees said they were optimistic about the company’s future. At the time, Facebook had just disclosed that Russian-backed actors had purchased ads and spread disinformation on Facebook using fake identities.

That fell to about 67% in April, shortly after the company disclosed that an academic broke Facebook’s rules and shared user records with the political analytics firm Cambridge Analytica.

It now stands at 52%.

Write to Deepa Seetharaman at


China’s Race to Dominate AI

November 12, 2018

In an interview, Kai-Fu Lee also discusses why he thinks U.S. tech giants will never succeed in expanding in China

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Sinovation Ventures CEO Kai-Fu Lee


By  Yun-Hee Kim
The Wall Street Journal


The U.S. may be winning the race in artificial intelligence for now. But it won’t last for long.

So predicts Kai-Fu Lee, chairman and chief executive of Sinovation Ventures, a Beijing-based venture-capital firm. He believes the U.S.’s current technological edge over China could disappear within five years, thanks to government support, a growing force of entrepreneurs and their speed of execution.

Mr. Lee, who previously was the head of Google Inc. in China, recently spoke with The Wall Street Journal about the AI race, entrepreneurship in China, and prospects for leading U.S. tech companies in the world’s most populous country. Edited excerpts follow.

China vs. U.S.

WSJ: How do Chinese and U.S. strategies to develop AI differ?

MR. LEE: China’s techno-utilitarian policy encourages technology to be launched first, observed, and allowed to proceed without obstruction if things go smoothly. If there are issues, it could quickly come up with regulations. An example is mobile payments. In the U.S., this might raise all kinds of lobby, security, hacking concerns from the credit-card companies and banks. But in China, Tencent TCEHY -3.33% and Alibaba BABA -3.09% were permitted to try to run payment systems as software companies, and they did a great job. Mobile payment took over in China.

In China, a highway is being built with sensors to improve autonomous driving, new cities are being developed with autonomous vehicles; some with two layers of roads—one layer for pedestrians, pets, bicycles, and another layer for cars. All of these will help with testing for autonomous-vehicle systems to be launched sooner. With AI applications, you need a lot of data to do testing. China has a lot of data, so its approach allows it to move faster.

WSJ: What do you think the U.S. needs to improve on and where does China need to invest further when it comes to AI?

MR. LEE: It’s going to be about who has more data, faster entrepreneurs, lots of AI engineers and government support. China will continue to catch up against the U.S. in terms of building products and monetizing. What could work in the U.S.’s favor is if someone disrupts the whole thing with a brand new fundamental technological change.

WSJ: Which country is ahead?

MR. LEE: In internet AI, which is algorithms making profitable recommendations for people based on their Web browsing history, China and the U.S. are about equal. China will probably get ahead because it has more user data. In business AI, where companies mine their customer data to come up with new product ideas and improve service, or use it to monitor systems to make them more efficient or lucrative, the U.S. is ahead, and will probably stay ahead because its enterprise data is properly archived and more usable for AI. In perception AI, or things like facial recognition and other biometric interfaces, China is ahead because it is building more sensors cheaply and for broader uses, and it will probably get further ahead.

In autonomous vehicles, it’s incredibly hard to tell because it depends on policy. The question is, is the road ahead to making autonomous vehicles ubiquitous mostly about technology breakthroughs? Then the U.S. is ahead. If it’s a matter of rapidly testing and evolving without policy, lobbying and unions holding it back, it would be China in the lead.

Work and the workplace

WSJ: What jobs will disappear because of AI?

MR. LEE: Customer service, but not every kind. Customer service with very high-end human touch will stay. Telemarketing and telesales will disappear. Dish washing, fruit picking, assembly-line inspection will all disappear. Paralegals and accountants—but not 100%. Some lawyers who do form filling, those would be replaced.

Creativity-oriented jobs are safe. Working in a construction environment is safe. Cleaning is hard to do for a robot and every house is different, so that’s safe.

WSJ: China is known for its intense startup work culture. It’s often referred to as 996—work 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. Is this a critical factor to the success of Chinese startups? Can this work culture foster true innovation?

MR. LEE: The most important things are focus, tenacity, operational excellence, speed of execution and hard work. They all come together. If you are just hard working but working dumb, that’s not good. Then you get burned out. I’m personally concerned about my entrepreneurs but I don’t have much hope of changing them. This culture cannot be changed in the next two to three decades as China still emerges from its current state.

WSJ: Do you think Chinese tech companies will be more successful because entrepreneurs there do the grunt work?

MR. LEE: The Chinese companies are not nearly as breakthrough-innovative as the many Silicon Valley greats. Whether it’s Elon Musk or Steve Jobs. The whole Chinese education system doesn’t really easily train these types of brilliant thinkers. But on the other hand, I think if Silicon Valley or the U.S. continues to view China as copycats, then it will miss many opportunities. The stereotype of looking at Chinese companies as lower-quality copycats will cause American entrepreneurs to have blinders on and miss stuff they should learn.

Chinese innovation

WSJ: Is there real innovation coming out of China now?

MR. LEE: Absolutely. WeChat [a payment and messaging platform from Tencent] is an example. If you look at ByteDance [the company that operates the news-aggregation app Toutiao], while traditional media may not like the content that’s being put through, it’s a very innovative way for displaying content. Think about minivideos—Vine [a video app that was owned by Twitter] never worked out, but Chinese companies are doing great with minivideos. Bike-sharing apps like Mobike, these are innovative, creative business solutions that add value, but they weren’t created the Silicon Valley way.

WSJ: Trade tensions between China and the U.S. are making it more difficult for foreign companies in China and Chinese companies looking to expand in the U.S. What are the prospects for U.S. tech companies in China?

MR. LEE: It’s almost irrelevant. The U.S. and China are almost parallel universes. American companies will not succeed in China, with or without significant regulation. Same for Chinese companies in the U.S. We’re almost at a point, at least in consumer internet and AI companies, where U.S. companies don’t fit the ecosystem. Let’s say ByteDance wants to come to the U. S.—how are they going to get people to trust this brand? How will it answer questions about the newsfeed?

WSJ: So you don’t think the Chinese government is making it more difficult for foreign companies to operate there? Or is it more an issue that U.S. companies built products that don’t work for consumers in China?

MR. LEE: I actually think Google and Facebook FB -2.27% will get some element of their products in China. But I don’t think they will be successful, just because of the parallel-universe reason. Clearly, they are talking [about expanding into China] and Waymo [the autonomous-driving unit of Alphabet Inc. GOOGL -2.48% ] got approval in Shanghai. Where American companies are likely to have a chance would be to work in a simple, nontangled part of this parallel universe such as doing something brand new.

Ms. Kim is a technology editor for The Wall Street Journal in New York. She can be reached at

Facebook Portal Non-Review: Why I Didn’t Put Facebook’s Camera in My Home

November 8, 2018

Facebook’s new video-calling device works great… if you can bring yourself to use it

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I’ve had one of Facebook ’s FB -2.92% new video-calling gadgets, the Portal+, in my home for the last week. And by “in my home,” I mean, in the basement, in a closet, in a box, in a bag that’s in another bag that’s covered with old coats.

I just couldn’t bring myself to set up Facebook’s camera-embedded screen in the privacy of my family’s home. Can you blame me when you look at the last 16 months?

The personal data of millions of users was accessed for political purposes without consent. Whoops. False news articles were deliberately spread across our feeds to hoax us. Whoops again. Hackers gained access to nearly 50 million accounts, the largest-ever security breach at the social network. Giant whoopsies.

Ironically, Facebook thinks its first branded hardware products might help with its current challenges. Equipped with wide-angle follow-you-around cameras, microphones and screens, the $200 Portal and $350 Portal+ are all about saying good night to Pop-Pop and Grammy at bedtime, or calling Uncle George for the secret pasta-sauce recipe when you’re cooking in the kitchen. Facebook’s Portals can call other Portals, or anyone with the Facebook Messenger app.

The Facebook Portal and Portal+ come with camera covers for those times when you want to be extra sure no one is watching.
The Facebook Portal and Portal+ come with camera covers for those times when you want to be extra sure no one is watching. PHOTO: DAVID POTVIN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“People continue to use Facebook because they want to stay close to friends and family,” Facebook’s vice president of consumer hardware, Andrew Bosworth, told me. “This device is entirely focused on those deep and meaningful connections that, going back 10 years, were the core of Facebook.”

Except it is so not 10 years ago. Just over half of Facebook users age 18 or older say they have adjusted their privacy settings in the past 12 months, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Plus, people in the U.S. are spending less time on Facebook, according to Pivotal Research Group’s analysis of Nielsen data.

“We have to earn that trust back,” Mr. Bosworth says. “This device is up to the challenge and could be a part of that shift.” The problem? No matter how good this gadget is—and it is good—trust has to be earned. All of Facebook’s promises now need to be more carefully evaluated. Here’s my trust evaluation of the Portal.

Facebook’s Promise: Portal feels like being together in the same room.

My Assessment: True. The Portal+, with its 15.6-inch giant rotatable screen, is one of the most immersive video-chatting experiences I’ve ever had. (I never did set it up in my home, but I tested it at work.)

The devices provide a really great experience, especially when a couple of people are together on it. With a 12-megapixel camera, wide-angle lens and person-detection software, the system recognizes where different people are. (If you both have Portals, you can tap faces on the screen to zoom in.) The camera also pans and zooms, virtually, following the people as they move in the room. It sounds creepy, but it really did make me, in New York City, feel like I was in the room with Mr. Bosworth and Rafa Camargo, Portal team vice president, who were at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

In addition to video calling, the Portal supports music-streaming services and selected news and entertainment apps.
In addition to video calling, the Portal supports music-streaming services and selected news and entertainment apps. PHOTO: DAVID POTVIN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Facebook has loaded the device up with fun features, too. The face masks are entertaining—at least for a few moments. The interactive children’s books are neat—if I were willing to put my son’s face in front of this thing. And Spotify’s group listening allows you to fire up your favorite song—so everyone can do the macarena. There’s even Alexa—yes, that Alexa—ready to tell you the weather and turn off the lights.

Facebook’s Promise: Facebook doesn’t listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls.

My Assessment: True. But don’t fool yourself if you think Facebook isn’t collecting some data about you from this device.

A button on the top of the device physically disables the microphone and camera.
A button on the top of the device physically disables the microphone and camera. PHOTO: DAVID POTVIN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

When I asked about the popular Facebook mic conspiracy, Mr. Bosworth assured me that “it is not true, it will continue to not be true.” On the Portals, specifically, he made a number of privacy and security assurances:

  • You can disable the camera and microphone by pressing the button on top of the device. This physically disconnects them so even if the Portal were hacked, they wouldn’t be accessible.
  • As an added measure, you can block the camera lens with an included plastic camera cover.
  • All the smart-camera technology—the person detection, etc.—happens locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition to identify people on the call.
  • Like all Messenger calls and messages, all communications are encrypted.
  • Like Amazon Echo or Google Home, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, “Hey Portal.” You can delete Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log.

However, because this is using Facebook Messenger, the data that is typically collected from a call is still collected. That includes your call history, how long you spent talking to certain contacts, etc. Also, the sheer use of the device indicates to Facebook you’re interested in video calling, so you may be targeted for that. Speaking of ads, Facebook said there are no ads on the Portal’s screen, and the company doesn’t have plans to show ads there.

The $200 Portal, the smaller of the two devices, has a 10.1-inch display.
The $200 Portal, the smaller of the two devices, has a 10.1-inch display. PHOTO: DAVID POTVIN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Facebook’s Promise: The Portal was designed so you’re always in control of your privacy and security.

My Assessment: It’s hard to believe we really have any control of our Facebook data and privacy given the last year. I might be a little more comfortable if Facebook could just roll out the privacy controls it already promised us, but that’s not the only thing keeping me away from the social network.

Even Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg believes the company is at least a year away from fighting abuse and misinformation “at the level we want.” Plus, there have just been too many instances of inattention and sloppiness. Remember in June when a bug changed default privacy settings for 14 million users? Whoops again. With Apple , Amazon and even Google, things feel different.

Despite Mr. Bosworth’s earnest assurances, I still couldn’t bring myself to set up the Portal in my kitchen and call my mother-in-law with my son in my lap. Luckily for all of us, Facebook didn’t invent video calling.

Write to Joanna Stern at

Facebook must act to stop spreading hate ahead of 2020 Mynamar poll: report

November 6, 2018

Myanmar’s 2020 elections may be fertile ground for “incitement to violence” and Facebook should prepare now, an assessment of the tech giant’s presence in the country warned Tuesday, as it detailed how the platform had been used to spread hate.

Facebook has for years come under fire from rights groups for its slow response to abusive posts, with the country’s Rohingya Muslims bearing the brunt of the invective.

Language portraying the Rohingya in sub-human terms or as terrorists on the network helped drum up support for a military crackdown that forced more than 720,000 of the stateless minority to flee the country last year.

© AFP | Facebook has for years come under fire from rights groups for its slow response to abusive posts, with the country’s Rohingya Muslims bearing the brunt of the invective

Facebook has blacklisted several hardline Buddhist monks, and after a UN probe called for the army chief and other top military brass to be prosecuted for genocide, the platform blocked them too.

It also commissioned an assessment on its performance by California-based consultants Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), which carried out interviews between May and September 2018.

While BSR agreed that the platform had been used by those “seeking to incite violence and cause offline harm”, it also said Facebook’s link to rights violations “should not be overestimated” and that the state bore ultimate responsibility.

But it also warned that Facebook’s problems in Myanmar are far from over.

The upcoming election in 2020 is “likely to be a flashpoint for hate speech, harassment, misinformation, incitement to violence, and other actions designed to undermine the political process”, it said.

Facebook should be prepared for “multiple eventualities” now, it said, without going into detail.

Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi won the 2015 vote, ending decades of military rule. But her administration — which is in an uneasy power-sharing agreement with the military — has floundered in handling the Rohingya crisis.

The assessment additionally warned that authorities and nationalists in the country have become more sophisticated in targeting civil society groups and activists on the platform.

It said Myanmar risks turning back into a “surveillance state” with a large number of insecure accounts due to the use of out-of-date Facebook apps.

Facebook said it is working on rooting out abuse ahead of the elections — but admitted it had failed to do enough to prevent the incitement of violence.

“The report concludes that, prior to this year, we weren’t doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence,” said Alex Warofka, product policy manager.

“We agree that we can and should do more.”

Most people in Myanmar came online in the last few years as smartphone usage soared after the country opened up to the outside world, with Facebook serving as a one-stop shop for news, entertainment and communication.

Rights groups have long criticised the platform for taking too long to delete malicious posts that then go viral.

The tech giant said Tuesday it is improving and is identifying more than four times the number of hate speech posts than it was at the end of last year.

Moreover it promised that the number of Myanmar-language reviewers would increase to 100 by the end of 2018.

But sceptics question whether they will be able to monitor the country’s 20 million accounts and myriad languages.



UK must tighten regulation of Facebook, says data watchdog

November 6, 2018

“Facebook needs to change, significantly change, their business model and their practices to maintain trust.”

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Information commissioner tells MPs that company needs to ‘significantly change’

By Aliya Ram

The UK must tighten its regulation of Facebook, the head of the country’s data watchdog said on Tuesday, after an investigation into how the company leaked personal data to the consultancy Cambridge Analytica. .

“Facebook needs to change, significantly change, their business model and their practices to maintain trust,” said Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, to MPs at a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday. .

“We have seen some evidence on the voluntary side of Facebook being more transparent, things like the provenance of political ads, but I think they need to do more and I think they should be subject to stricter regulation and oversight,” she added.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) last month confirmed a £500,000 fine for Facebook, the maximum possible amount under the previous regulations, for “serious breaches” of data protection law. It added on Tuesday that it would refer “outstanding issues” about the tools that Facebook uses to monitor browsing and the way it targets users to the Irish data protection authority. Facebook had previously used Dublin as its global tax and revenue base.

Ms Denham also said Facebook had not followed its own rules in obtaining signed confirmation from the “heads of organisations” using Facebook user data that the information was subsequently deleted.

“We’ve found some problems with the signing of those authorisations — some of them weren’t signed at all,” she said.

The ICO found that Cambridge Analytica still held some of the data “as recently as spring 2018” despite claiming it had previously been deleted.

“The follow-up was less than robust and that’s one of the reasons we fined Facebook £500,000,” she said.

Ms Denham told the parliamentary inquiry into disinformation and fake news: “The major concern that I have in this investigation is the very disturbing disregard that many of these organisations across the entire ecosystem have for the personal privacy of UK citizens and voters.”

The leak of data from 87m Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica caused significant concern about election integrity around the world, because the company worked for political campaigns including that of US president Donald Trump. In the UK a linked company, AggregateIQ, worked for the pro-Brexit Vote Leave campaign group.

The ICO investigation, which analysed 700 terabytes of data, the equivalent of 52.2bn pages, said on Tuesday that the relationship between Canada-based AggregateIQ and Cambridge Analytica was permeable “above and beyond what would normally be expected to be seen”.

But the ICO concluded that there was no evidence that either AggregateIQ or SCL Elections, a parent company of Cambridge Analytica, had undertaken analytics work during the Brexit campaign.

Facebook has previously said AggregateIQ spent $2m on Brexit-related ads on the network. A Europe-wide survey released on Tuesday showed more than two-thirds of Europeans are concerned that personal data on the internet could be used to craft political messages. “In our online world, the risk of interference and manipulation has never been so high,” Vera Jourova, the EU justice commissioner, said at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon on Tuesday.

“The Cambridge Analytica case has been a wake-up call that sent shockwaves through our democratic systems.” She added: “It is time to address non-transparent political advertising and the misuse of people’s personal data.”


Trump to reporters after “racist” anti-immigration ad pulled — “A lot of things are offensive. Your questions are offensive a lot of the time.”

November 6, 2018

President Trump on Monday defended an anti-immigrant ad that critics called racist after several television networks said they would not run it, calling it “effective” and telling reporters their questions were “offensive.”

“They certainly are effective,” Trump told reporters as he was about to board Air Force One en route to another MAGA rally.

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One, Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to a series of campaign rallies. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One, Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to a series of campaign rallies. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Asked about charges that the ad — which several networks have either refused to air or decided to stop running — was offensive, the president went on the offensive himself.

“A lot of things are offensive. Your questions are offensive a lot of the time,” he said.

Fox News, Fox Business and NBC said earlier Monday they would stop airing the ad, which was widely condemned as racist after NBC ran it during an NFL “Sunday Night Football” game.

“Upon further review, Fox News pulled the ad yesterday and it will not appear on either Fox News Channel or Fox Business Network,” said ad sales president Marianne Gambelli in a statement to reporters issued shortly after NBC made a similar announcement.

“After further review we recognize the insensitive nature of the ad and have decided to cease airing it across our properties as soon as possible,” an NBC spokesperson said in a statement to CNN, which has declined to run the ad at all.

“Sunday Night Football” — already a ratings hit — likely drew a bigger than usual audience because the game featured the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots and their star quarterbacks, Aaron Rogers and Tom Brady.

CNN had earlier declined to run the ad, deeming it racist.

The ad was part of Team Trump’s campaign to demonize immigrants as the pivotal midterms approach to fire up the president’s nativist, “America First” base.

The ad paints a doomsday scenario in which an “invasion” of a few thousand Central America asylum seekers — many of them women and children traveling in a series of caravans — supposedly posed a dire threat to American democracy.

The ad also featured Luis Bracamontes, an illegal immigrant convicted of murdering two sheriff’s deputies in 2014, falsely claiming that Democrats “let him into our country.”

In fact, he was deported and last sneaked in when George W. Bush was president, and he was detained but released by former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a Trump favorite who later won a presidential pardon.

After it aired, people flocked to Twitter to condemn the network for taking money to air the ad.

“So @nbc and @Comcast aired that racist Trump caravan commercial during the football game. Who made that decision? How did they decide it was ok? I am disgusted that you would air that after @cnn refused to air it because it is explicitly racist. Shame on you. @NBCNews,” wrote filmmaker and comic Judd Apatow in a typical post.

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President Trump speaks at rally in Cleveland, Ohio on Nov. 5

On Election Day, don’t forget: It’s a republic, if we can keep it

November 6, 2018

In perhaps one of the most poignant interactions surrounding the ratification of the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin left Independence Hall and was accosted by a citizen of Philadelphia who posed the question, “What have we got, Mr. Franklin? A republic or a monarchy?” Most have heard Franklin’s notorious, almost pessimistic reply, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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Every other November, and sometimes more often, we vote. We send representatives to our townships, counties, state legislatures, and Washington, D.C., to represent our interests and ensure the future security of the republican form of government. Some elections receive more pomp and circumstance than others, but each is fundamentally necessary for the preservation of our way of governance.

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Yet, when a citizenry has so long been favored with the privilege of self-government, it often becomes callous to the blessings such a system bestows.

By Tim Murcek

Washington Examiner

Congressional approval in recent years often never rises above 25 percent, and even in years past, rarely reaches 35 percent. Presidential approval hovers in the 40-50 percent range, with the occasional spike in either direction during nation-shaking events. Inarguably, government has grown more intrusive than it was ever intended to be.

Inefficient, out-of-control spending creates a looming financial crisis, judicial activism runs rampant, as the nation’s courts create law rather than interpret it, trade barriers drive up production costs and hurt both producer and consumer, unwise foreign alliances and tedious appeasement policy attempt to band-aid wounds that need comprehensive surgery, border crises reveal that U.S. immigration policy is essentially nonexistent, and reform is desperately needed.

Winston Churchill famously said, “The best argument against democratic government is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Some of the voting bloc recognizes that there is much work to do, but this is overshadowed by low voter turnout and apathy.

In presidential elections, voter turnout is about 60 percent, while midterm elections turn out roughly 40 percent of eligible voters and local elections turn out embarrassingly low numbers. People are angry at government, yet many would rather take to Twitter or Facebook to express their frustration than apply themselves to careful study of the issues and express their concerns at the polls. Alexander Hamilton’s firm declaration at the New York Ratifying Convention in 1788, “Here, Sir, the people govern: Here they act by their immediate representatives,” does not resound so pointedly when half of the voting population does not participate in the process by which our government must subsist.

In addition to simple voter apathy, there is rampant lack of interest in the electoral process. A Pew study in 2017 found that an estimated 22 percent of citizens do not even register to vote, showing nothing but simple negligence and utter carelessness for the system that grants them the ability to have a say in how they are governed.

This lack of self-education and government has, without question, been one of the greatest contributing factors to the rigid political division which poisons the country today. While the 2016 elections and President Trump are often the subjects of intense blame and guilt for the toxicity of the modern political climate, these underlying issues statistically existed long before 2016 and Trump’s political career. The difference was that the 2016 elections explicitly and unabashedly brought those concealed prejudices and frustrations to the surface rather than let them fester for even longer than they already had. It was revealed that every issue could cause sheer outrage and pit the various factions against each other with a single word.

Both sides of the aisle were guilty. Both sides contributed to the petty squabbles and lack of productive conversation. Election Day came and went, and Republicans took control of both elected branches of government, eager to implement a conservative agenda. This very thing had happened before. Power and influence have transitioned from party to party throughout the history of this country, but this time it was different.

The lack of civility did not subside after Election Day 2016, as it generally had in years past. It lingered. It lingered to the point of physical violence and harassment toward White House cabinet members and senior congressional officials. It lingered to the point of public calls for more intimidation from notable public figures. It lingered to the point of character assassinations with no legal or ethical backing against Supreme Court nominees.

Rarely, if ever, in the history of this republic have tensions been so high, and in large part because the Democratic side of the aisle refuses to come to the negotiating table, simply because of who the president is. This scorched-Earth strategy does not contribute to our national dialogue and does nothing but a disservice to the public. Perhaps it’s why so many don’t see the need to vote. If this is what we’re offered, why bother?

In an op-ed entitled ” Republicans Reach for the Moon“on Monday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy articulated the nuances which face us on Election Day, drawing the comparison of the early 1960s and the optimism and unity that gripped our nation in the Space Age. In the conclusion of the piece, he says:

“More than any single agenda item, we Republicans want to galvanize the nation so that we can reach new horizons and unsettled frontiers. That is the Republican vision for America’s future, but it is a choice. Which vision we choose in the coming days will determine whether our nation rises closer to greatness or fails to launch.”

Of course, I say this as a Republican. But if Democrats win on Election Day, I know the sun will still rise on Wednesday, and it seems that the other side of the aisle is less and less likely to acknowledge that fact. However, regardless of political persuasion, when midterms come to a close, a shift must occur. We must start engaging with the political process again, talking with each other again, and disagreeing passionately but with civility.

Franklin wasn’t shy to acknowledge the frailty of this republic, and its survival is reliant on how well we apply his colleague Hamilton’s words, “Here, sir, the people govern.”

Tim Murcek is a student at Liberty University’s Helms School of Government and president of the school’s class of 2020.

Opinion: US midterms — a battle over principle, not facts — (Feelings seem to matter more)

November 6, 2018

The US midterms have taken on a new dimension because Donald Trump has made them all about himself. While the vote is still wide open, the president has indelibly changed the country, says DW editor-in-chief Ines Pohl.

USA Trump Yellowstone International Airport (Reuters/C. Barria)

There are some bets you don’t really want to win.

After I had spent a year travelling around the US as a reporter, my prediction ahead of the country’s 2016 presidential election deviated widely from prevailing opinion. It was clear to me that Donald Trump had a very good chance of moving into the White House. He did, and I won a bottle of bourbon.

Friend and foe

Two years later, the US faces elections again. This time, it’s not about the president, but the members of both houses of the US Congress. But in Donald Trump’s America, everything on the political stage is also about him. Accordingly, he got heavily involved in the election campaign, working even harder over the past weeks on his agenda of splitting the world into friend and foe — for instance by deploying more troops on the Mexican border than are stationed in Iraq.

Read moreWhy the US midterm elections matter for America and the world

This president actually makes things easy for his opponents. His heavy-handed, aggressive manner, the exaggerations and lies are reliably provocative, and the people he targets rarely leave an attack unanswered. That in turn keeps him in business and it prevents the Democrats from focusing on themselves and revamping both personnel and program. Their obsession with Trump’s tweets means they’re neglecting to rally around a candidate who might in two years’ time, with the right policies, be able to prevent another four years of Trump.

Polarizing political system

This is particularly dangerous in a two-party system that polarizes in the first place because it does not have to rely on coalitions that would need a certain degree of compromise. Basically, it is detrimental to democracies when camps are so split that people don’t even listen to the other side any more let alone admitting at times that their political opponents may have a point.

No debate about the better argument

Trump’s most enduring legacy for his country is likely to be how he has destroyed the capability to dispute arguments rather than tenets — not least through his Twitter obsession. People want to believe him. They want to believe that he is making America great again. And they want to believe that a strong leader will keep the challenges of this complex, globalized world at bay and solve its problems.

Read moreRepublican ‘mini-Trumps’ echo US president to woo midterm voters

Faith is not knowledge. Facts, and the clear distinction between lies and the truth, have become secondary. That is the bitter truth after Trump’s year-long election campaign and two years’ as president. There is barely a ripple when his own echo chambers on Facebook or Fox News blatantly get it wrong and even the biggest fan realizes that Trump has simply lied. Because facts no longer count. That is America’s real problem.

When the truth and facts are ignored, when lies are dismissed as trivial offences, democracy and the freedom to form opinions go out of the window. In the end, that means no less than undermining the basis of our understanding of democracy and the state, and that autocrats not only take over power — they can hang on to it too.

Facebook blocks 30 accounts ahead of US midterm elections

November 6, 2018

Facebook said on Monday it had blocked some 30 accounts on its platform and 85 accounts on photo-sharing social network Instagram over concerns they may be linked to foreign entities and aimed at interfering in United States (US) midterm elections.

The announcement came shortly after US law enforcement and intelligence agencies said they had no indication of efforts to disrupt election infrastructure but that Americans should be wary of Russian attempts to spread fake news.

In this file photo, employees work in Facebook's "War Room," during a media demonstration, in Menlo Park, California. — AFP
In this file photo, employees work in Facebook’s “War Room,” during a media demonstration, in Menlo Park, California. — AFP

A study published last week found that misinformation on social media was spreading at a greater rate than during the run-up to the 2016 presidential vote, which Russia is accused of manipulating through a vast propaganda campaign in favour of Donald Trump, the eventual winner.

“On Sunday evening, US law enforcement contacted us about online activity that they recently discovered and which they believe may be linked to foreign entities,” Facebook said in a blog post.

“Our very early-stage investigation has so far identified around 30 Facebook accounts and 85 Instagram accounts that may be engaged in coordinated inauthentic behaviour.

“We immediately blocked these accounts and are now investigating them in more detail.”

It added all the Facebook pages associated with the accounts appeared to be in French or Russian languages.

The Instagram accounts were mostly in English, with some “focused on celebrities, others political debate”.

“Typically, we would be further along with our analysis before announcing anything publicly. But given that we are only one day away from important elections in the US, we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today,” Facebook added.

Despite an aggressive crackdown by social media firms, so-called “junk news” is spreading at a greater rate than in 2016 on social media ahead of the US midterm elections, Oxford Internet Institute researchers said in a study published on Thursday.

Twitter said on Saturday it deleted a “series of accounts” that attempted to share disinformation without giving a number.


US networks pull ‘racist’ Trump ad on eve of midterms

November 6, 2018
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© Aaron P Bernstein / Getty Images / AFP | US President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally for Republican Senate candidate Mike Braun on November 5, 2018 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

NBC, Fox News and Facebook pulled an ad by President Donald Trump’s campaign that critics had labeled racist as a bitter election fight for control of the U.S. Congress headed on Monday for an unpredictable finish.

Tuesday’s elections, widely seen as a referendum on Trump, have been portrayed by both Republicans and Democrats as critical for the direction of the country.

At stake is control of both chambers of Congress, and with it the ability to block or promote Trump’s agenda, as well as 36 governor’s offices.

A surge in early voting, fueled by a focus on Trump’s pugilistic, norms-breaking presidency by supporters of both parties, could signal the highest turnout in 50 years for a midterm U.S. election, when the White House is not on the line.

The 30-second ad, which was sponsored by Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign and which debuted online last week, featured courtroom video of an illegal immigrant from Mexico convicted in the 2014 killings of two police officers, juxtaposed with scenes of migrants headed through Mexico.

Critics, including members of Trump’s own party, had condemned the spot as racially divisive.

CNN had refused to run the ad, saying it was “racist.” NBC, owned by Comcast Corp, said on Monday it was no longer running the ad, which it called “insensitive.”

Fox News Channel, which Trump has repeatedly named his favorite broadcaster, also said it would no longer run the spot. Fox News, a unit of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc, said it had made the decision after a review but did not elaborate.

Facebook Inc said it would no longer allow paid promotions of the ad, although it would allow users to share the ad on their own pages.

Trump batted away reporters’ questions about the networks’ decision to drop the ad.

“You’re telling me something I don’t know about. We have a lot of ads, and they certainly are effective based on the numbers we’re seeing,” Trump said as he departed Joint Base Andrews in Maryland for a rally in Cleveland.

Asked about concerns that the ad was offensive, he replied: “A lot of things are offensive. Your questions are offensive.”

After Ohio, Trump headed to campaign against vulnerable Democratic U.S. senators in Indiana and Missouri at the end of a six-day pre-election sweep that has featured heated rhetoric about immigration and repeated warnings about a caravan of Central American migrants moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border.


“The contrast in this election could not be more clear,” Trump told supporters in Indiana at a rally for Republican Mike Braun, who is facing incumbent Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly in a tight race. “If you want more caravans, vote for Democrats tomorrow.”

Opinion polls and election forecasters favor Democrats to pick up the minimum of 23 seats they need on Tuesday to capture a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, which would enable them to stymie Trump’s legislative agenda and investigate his administration.

Republicans are favored to retain their slight majority in the U.S. Senate, currently at two seats, which would let them retain the power to approve U.S. Supreme Court and other judicial nominations on straight party-line votes.

Still competitive

But 64 of the 435 House races remain competitive, according to a Reuters analysis of the three main nonpartisan U.S. forecasters, and control of the Senate is likely to come down to a half dozen close contests in Arizona, Nevada, Missouri, North Dakota, Indiana and Florida.

Democrats also are threatening to recapture governor’s offices in several battleground states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, a potential help for the party in those states in the 2020 presidential race.

Trump, who frequently warns of voter fraud and has asserted without evidence that millions of fraudulent votes were cast in 2016, said on Twitter on Monday that law enforcement should be on the lookout for “illegal voting.”

Democratic former President Barack Obama delivered doughnuts to campaign volunteers in a House district in suburban Virginia, where Democrat Jennifer Wexton, a state senator, is challenging Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock in a fiercely contested race.

Obama said the country’s character and its commitment to decency and equality were on the ballot on Tuesday.

“All across the country, what I’m seeing is a great awakening,” he said. “People woke up and said: ‘Oh, we can’t take this for granted. We’ve got to fight for this.'”

About 40 million early votes – including absentee, vote-by-mail and in-person ballots – will likely be cast by Election Day, according to Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who tracks the figures.

In the last such congressional elections in 2014, there were 27.5 million early votes.

McDonald estimated that 45 percent of registered voters would cast ballots, which would be the highest for a midterm election in 50 years.

“The atypical thing that we’re seeing is high early vote activity in states without competitive elections or no statewide elections,” McDonald said in a phone interview. “There’s only one explanation for that: Donald Trump. He’s fundamentally changed how people are following politics.”