Facebook takes us back to 1996

In today’s newsletter: Why the tech company wants to update internet regulations so badly, Justin Bieber’s dreadlocks and a kitchen poster that’s both practical and chic.

In March of 2019, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote an opinion essay in The Washington Post calling for new rules for the internet. “I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators,” he argued. “By updating the rules for the internet, we can preserve what’s best about it — the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things — while also protecting society from broader harms.” In the two years since, Zuckerberg’s essay has evolved into a full-fledged PR campaign with endearing ads that position Facebook as a compassionate defender of the open internet.

The latest spot, “Born in ’96,” was released today and features three people who were born in 1996 — the year the Telecommunications Act passed. They share their experiences growing up on the internet and how it’s evolved even though regulations haven’t during the same time period. According to AdWeek’s David Cohen, the ad will run on broadcast TV in Washington, D.C. plus cable TV and online video in additional markets. Facebook also developed creative assets for the campaign that compares 1996 to current technology.

If you’re curious why Facebook wants to update internet regulations so badly, the answer is simple: They’re asking for things they’re already doing. The company wants the government to require public reporting on policy enforcement actions, reduce the visibility of content that violates standards and restrict attempts to regulate speech based on the content of that speech. Absent from Facebook’s proposals are any policy updates that would materially affect their ad-based, data-driven business model. And lawmakers are taking notice too. “[Zuckerberg] keeps saying he wants reform, but he’s so vague,” New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone, who also chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said last month. “It almost seems like he wants to give the impression that he wants reform, but when you get to specifics, it's not at all clear.”

What a difference 89 people make

The US Census Bureau released the first results from its decennial survey of America’s population yesterday. Texas will gain two congressional seats, while Florida, Montana, Colorado, North Carolina and Oregon each gain one seat. California, still the most populous state, is set to lose a congressional seat for the first time in the state's 170-year history. Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Michigan also lost a House seat, with New York losing its 27th district by just 89 residents, according to the Census Bureau. An estimated $1.5 trillion in federal funds will be distributed for schools, roads and other government services based on census data.

Also worth noting: The US population grew by 7.4 percent over the past decade, the smallest increase since the Great Depression. The slowdown can be attributed to two factors: A declining birth rate and a decline in legal immigration. Today, the average adult of child-rearing age has 17 percent fewer children than in 1990 and about 50 percent fewer than in 1960. And Donald T**** made limiting entry to our country a central component of his so-called “America First” agenda.

Legislators and redistricting commissions will use this first wave of data to begin planning their new maps before the 2022 midterm elections. The Bureau will release block-by-block population counts by the end of September. The shift in political power from Democratic hotbeds to Republican-friendly districts is likely to benefit conservatives since the GOP will control redistricting in states like Texas, Florida and North Carolina. Democrats will have control in Oregon, but independent commissions redraw the maps in California, Virginia and Colorado.

Basecamp misreads the room

Yesterday Jason Fried, CEO of the project management software Basecamp, published a post announcing a series of changes at the company. All of them were eyebrow-raising, especially the first: “No more societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account.” Basecamp CTO David Heinemeier Hansson said this includes everything from sharing political stories on its internal messenger tool, using message threads to explain political beliefs to others that go beyond the topic directly or performing political advocacy in general. 

The company, hypocritically enough, will “continue to engage in politics that directly relate to our business or products” on topics like antitrust, privacy and employee surveillance. But people who are personally affected by police or gun violence, white supremacy, student loan debt, immigration or any of the other consequential policy issues of the moment are expected to have these conversations elsewhere.

Anna Kramer at Protocol reported at least five key figures inside the company have publicly spoken out against the new policy since yesterday, with many more expressing their anger and frustration anonymously to the publication. And tech leaders and workers criticized the company on Twitter, with many calling out Fried and Heinemeier Hansson for ignoring the role their white male privilege plays in their belief that their politics are the only ones that count. 


In The Know

— Culture

Food website Epicurious announced beef will no longer appear in its recipes, articles or newsletters or on its homepage or Instagram feed. It said the editorial decision, which it frames as “pro-planet” rather than “anti-beef,” is about sustainability and “not giving airtime to one of the world's worst climate offenders.”

The SNL cast feels the same we do about Elon Musk. In case you missed it: Last Saturday, NBC announced the Tesla and SpaceX CEO will host the May 8 episode alongside musical guest Miley Cyrus.

A construction website released a new report that found the zip codes with the highest average home price for every US state and the District of Columbia. The pandemic shifted home-buying preferences to locations outside major urban areas, which drove up the prices in those zip codes. 

— Coronavirus

According to a top epidemiologist, our current vaccination levels aren’t enough to keep infections from surging. Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRP) at the University of Minnesota, is concerned the new outbreaks, largely fueled by a UK variant that seems to affect children at a higher rate than other strains do, can delay our path to herd immunity.

— Politics

President Joe Biden signed an executive order today to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour for federal contractors, providing a pay bump to hundreds of thousands of workers. “This executive order will promote economy and efficiency in federal contracting, providing value for taxpayers by enhancing worker productivity and generating higher-quality work by boosting workers’ health, morale, and effort,” the White House said in a statement.

Vice President Kamala Harris is leading a new White House task force to look into ways to boost union organizing. The task force will recommend how the government can help workers organize and join unions, but will be unable to create new policies or pass laws.

President Biden is expected to propose an extra $80 billion over the next 10 years so the Internal Revenue Service can crack down on tax evasion by high-earners and large corporations. The additional revenue will offset the spending included in the president’s infrastructure plan.

The Department of Homeland Security announced an internal review to assess how it identifies extremist ideology in the federal government. The review calls for a team of senior officials to determine whether extremist ideology is prevalent in its various agencies, including the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Secret Service and the Coast Guard.

In its annual survey, the Anti-Defamation League reported more than 2,000 antisemitic incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism across 47 states and Washington, DC. The audit found 196 incidents of antisimitic “Zoombombing” — the intentional disruption of live video conferences — and a 40-percent increase of reported incidents at Jewish institutions, including synagogues and Jewish community centers.

The White House issued a diplomatic cable clarifying the reversal of the Trump administration’s ban on Pride banners at U.S. embassies. The Pride flag and “other symbols connoting support for LGBTQ rights” are now allowed to fly on the same pole as the American flag “for the duration of the 2021 Pride season,” which includes the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT) celebrated on May 17.

Republican Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a former Ohio State football player, reintroduced a bipartisan bill that would give college athletes the right to earn money through endorsements and sponsorship deals. The Student Athlete Level Playing Field Act is similar to a bill Gonzalez co-sponsored with Missouri Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver last September.

— Business

Lyft sold its autonomous vehicle unit to Toyota for $550 million. The transportation company joined Uber in pivoting from plans to make its own self-driving car.

DoorDash announced three new pricing plans for the restaurants who use the app for pickups and deliveries. DoorDash Basic collects a 15 percent commission and passes a higher portion of the delivery cost to the customer; DoorDash Plus offers increased visibility in the DoorDash app and access for the company’s subscription program for 25 percent; DoorDash Premier charges 30 percent in exchange for the lowest customer fees, largest delivery area and a growth guarantee.

Corporate America's focus on credentials over skills is limiting the economic mobility of millions of skilled workers without degrees and leaving firms with smaller pools of talent. Around 75 percent of the new jobs that were added to the US economy between 2008 and 2017 required college degrees or higher, but nearly two-thirds of the labor force is composed of workers without college degrees — who have the skills to earn more, they're often stuck in lower-wage jobs because of these requirements.

— Tech

YouTube launched a series of COVID-19 vaccine public service announcements in the US today and roll out internationally in the coming weeks, coinciding with local vaccine availability. The company calls it the “first chapter” of a partnership with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s Vaccine Confidence Project that focuses on the vaccines’ potential to restore “a more normal way of life.”

Apple will ban and reject apps on the App Store that attempt to offer users monetary incentives to enable tracking through App Tracking Transparency (ATT). ATT is a new framework on iOS and iPadOS devices that requires apps to ask for users’ permission before tracking them across others apps and websites.

Apple updated its short-form video app Clips to enable augmented-reality lasers, confetti, and more. These room-filling effects can interact with walls and floors and be added with devices from 2020 or later, including the iPhone 12 Pros and iPad Pros.


Read All About It

Shama Nasinde at Teen Vogue on Justin Bieber’s hair:

Justin revisiting the style after being called out makes it all the more disappointing, especially considering that in 2020 he acknowledged how he has personally and professionally profited from Black culture. “I have benefitted off of Black culture. My style, how I sing, dance, perform and my fashion have all been influenced by Black culture,” he wrote on Instagram.

Locs are more than just a hairstyle so wearing them in 2021 is an interesting choice – if we are using euphemisms. Dreadlocks have their roots in Rastafarianism and cultural ties to Black communities. They’re often worn as a protective style and many Black people continue to face discrimination just for wearing them. Last year, a Texan teen was told he couldn’t walk at his high school graduation unless he cut his locs and a 7-year-old girl in Jamaica was banned from attending class unless she cut hers.

Terry Nguyen at Vox on how thrifting became problematic:

The criticism surrounding the so-called gentrification of thrift stores has zeroed in on excessive shoppers: Depop resellers, like Vera, who mark up items found at their local Goodwill to turn a profit; thrift shop YouTubers who frequently buy more than they could reasonably wear; and thrift “flippers’’ who buy oversized garments to transform into smaller, fitted items. The general argument is that resellers and bulk buyers are inadvertently raising the prices of thrifted goods by purchasing items they don’t personally need. As a result, low-income shoppers might be priced out of thrift stores in their area, and plus-sized consumers, who already struggle to find clothing in the firsthand market, could be left with fewer options.

Edward-Isaac Dovere at The Atlantic on parental leave:

Congress has never done much to help Americans who aren’t in the House or Senate take paid leave either. But action is coming, Richie Neal promised me. As the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Massachusetts Democrat is one of the most powerful people on Capitol Hill. When congressional leaders met with Biden in the Oval Office at the beginning of February, Neal told the president that whatever the White House’s plans might be, he would include paid leave in upcoming legislation. “And I’m going to be with you,” Neal said Biden told him. (The president and his aides have publicly remained cagey about his plans.) Last week, Neal held a Zoom hearing on caregiving, enabling women from all over the country to testify, and today he’s releasing a paid-leave proposal he’s hoping Biden will support.

Katie Heaney at The Cut on work spouses:

At once suggestive and prudish — why not “work girlfriend”? Why the rush to institutionalize? — the term “work wife” belongs, spiritually, to the early aughts, alongside low-rise jeans, purity rings, and Sex and the City. What once carried an air of winking rebellion now just sounds retrograde and sad. The Lean In dream is dead, and so too is any illusion that our workplaces are where we’re most glamorous, capable, “in control of [our] life.” For those lucky enough to have kept their jobs throughout the pandemic, for those who have offices they might one day return to, the prevailing spirit seems more likely to be cautious than convivial. Workplace friendships can exist so long as work is where we spend most of our time; flirtation is bound to endure there, too. One hopes, too, that we can stop being such heteronormative squares about it. Rest in peace, work wives and work husbands; long live the work widows and widowers.

Jacob Silverman at The New Republic on Apple, Facebook and the war over privacy:

While it’s easy to give this round to Apple, both companies are dealing in the self-serving language of spin. Neither Facebook nor Apple should be trusted as a benevolent sovereign to guide the direction of the internet or digital communications. What the Apple versus Facebook fight dramatizes is less two competing visions of the internet than which tech titan’s walled garden one might prefer: the gilded environs of Apple—where premium products still pack some surveillance features but are slathered in the company’s hazy rhetoric of consumer empowerment—or that of info-hungry Facebook, Google, and their partners in the personal data trade. Both come at a cost beyond their sticker price, and no matter who wins here, consumers are going to be paying—with their wallets and their data—for a long time to come.

Allison P. Davis at Vulture on Kimye’s wild ride:

But that could work for only so long, and in her 2019 Vogue cover story — this time, she was on her own — Kim spoke of her ambition to become a lawyer while firmly distancing herself from Kanye’s increasingly pro-Trump sentiments. She said of people’s accusations that she should stop him, “I can be sitting there crying, ‘OH MY GOD! TAKE OFF THE RED HAT!’ Because he really is the sweetest person with the biggest heart,” she said. “I used to care so much … It gave me so much anxiety.” The article painted a portrait of a woman who was ready to be taken seriously as a lawyer — Van Jones took great pains to remind readers that Kim was the “daughter of an accomplished attorney” and “the mother of three Black kids.” It can be true that while Kim was leveraging Kanye’s intolerable political pandering into something impactful, her ambitions were amplified by her proximity to the racism Kanye himself experienced and the racism her children might one day experience. But it is a slightly uncomfortable thing to witness: At the same time we’re seeing some of the ways Kanye’s experience of race and racism broke him, we’re watching Kim legitimize her next career.


Michael’s Pick

Kunskapstavlan Kitchen Guide ($50): I'm obsessed with this poster, which includes cooking tips, metric measurements, ideal boiling times for all the veggies I don’t eat but probably should.