Facebook settles federal lawsuit over allegations it favored foreign workers

From today’s NPR News Online:

Facebook is paying a $4.75 million fine and up to $9.5 million to eligible victims to resolve the Justice Department’s allegations that it discriminated against U.S. workers in favor of foreigners with special visas to fill high-paying jobs.

Facebook also agreed in the settlement announced Tuesday to train its employees in anti-discrimination rules and to conduct more widespread advertising and recruitment for job opportunities in its permanent labor certification program.

The department’s civil rights division said the social network giant “routinely refused” to recruit, consider or hire U.S. workers, a group that includes U.S. citizens and nationals, people granted asylum, refugees and lawful permanent residents, for positions it had reserved for temporary visa holders.

Facebook sponsored the visa holders for “green cards” authorizing them to work permanently. The so-called H-1B visas are a staple of Silicon Valley, widely used by software programmers and other employees of major U.S. technology companies.

Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than U.S. citizens. The tech companies maintain that’s not the case, that they turn to foreign nationals because they have trouble finding qualified programmers and other engineers who are U.S. citizens.

“In principle, Facebook is doing a good thing by applying for green cards for its workers, but it has also learned how to game the system to avoid hiring U.S. tech workers,” said Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “Facebook started lobbying to change the system more to its liking starting back in 2013 when the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate was being negotiated.”

The settlement terms announced Tuesday are the largest civil penalty and back-pay award ever recovered by the civil rights division in the 35-year history of enforcing anti-discrimination rules under the Immigration and Nationality Act, officials said. The back pay would be awarded to people deemed to have been unfairly denied employment.

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Unions at The Ringer and Gimlet Media announce their first contracts

From today’s New York Times:

Unions representing employees at two prominent podcasting companies owned by Spotify, the audiostreaming giant, announced Wednesday that they had ratified their first labor contracts.

The larger of the two unions, with 65 employees, is at The Ringer, a sports and pop culture website with a podcasting network. The second union, at the podcast production company Gimlet Media, has just under 50 employees. The two groups were among the first in the podcasting industry to unionize, and both are represented by the Writers Guild of America, East.

Lowell Peterson, the guild’s executive director, said the contracts showed that the companies’ writers, producers and editors “bring enormous value to the major platforms for whom they create content.”

The contracts establish minimum base pay of $57,000 for union members at The Ringer and $73,000 at Gimlet Media, annual pay increases of at least 2 percent, and a minimum of 11 weeks of severance pay.

The agreements include provisions that limit the use of contractors and allow workers to receive titles that reflect their seniority.

The two companies will create diversity committees that include managers and union members, and will require that at least half the candidates seriously considered for union positions open to outsiders come from underrepresented groups, such as racial minorities or people with disabilities.

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Electoral Vote Count to Resume After Pro-Trump Mob Storms US Capitol

From today’s NBC News Washington:

A mob supporting President Donald Trump forced its way into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, surging past security barriers and delaying the constitutional process to affirm Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.

A woman died after being shot by law enforcement at the Capitol, sources told NBC News, and several officers and others were injured.

Rioters used chemical irritants on police in order to gain access to the Capitol grounds — D.C.’s acting police chief said — broke glass and waved Trump flags. 

Officials declared the U.S. Capitol complex “secure” at nearly 6 p.m. after heavily armed police moved to end a violent, nearly four-hour occupation. An announcement saying “the Capitol is secure” rang out Wednesday evening inside a secure location for officials of the House. Lawmakers applauded.

Members of Congress said they were stunned by the violence. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said she had expected the day to be tense.

“Them actually entering the United States Capitol is not something anyone would have expected to see here in the United States of America. It it is a shameful and sad day for our democracy,” she said.

Rioters will be held responsible for the chaos, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

“The behavior that we are witnessing is shameful, unpatriotic and, above all, it is unlawful,” she said at a news conference. “Anyone who has engaged in these activities, continues to engage in these activities, will be held accountable.”

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U.S. Files Suit Against Facebook, Claiming It Illegally Crushed Competition

From today’s New York Times:

The Federal Trade Commission and more than 40 states accused Facebook on Wednesday of becoming a social media monopoly by buying up its rivals to illegally squash competition, and said the deals that turned the social network into a behemoth should be unwound.

Federal and state regulators, who have been investigating the company for over 18 months, said in separate lawsuits that Facebook’s purchases, especially Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 and WhatsApp for $19 billion two years later, eliminated competition that could have one day challenged the company’s dominance.

Since those deals, Instagram and WhatsApp have skyrocketed in popularity, giving Facebook control over three of the world’s most popular social media and messaging apps. The applications have helped catapult Facebook from a company started in a college dorm room 16 years ago to an internet powerhouse valued at more than $800 billion.

The prosecutors called for Facebook to break off Instagram and WhatsApp and for new restrictions on future deals, in what amounted to some of the most severe penalties regulators can demand.

“For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users,” said Attorney General Letitia James of New York, who led the multistate investigation into the company’s in parallel with the federal agency.

The lawsuits, filed in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, underscore the growing bipartisan and international tsunami against Big Tech. Lawmakers and regulators have zeroed in on the grip that Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple maintain on commerce, electronics, social networking, search and online advertising, remaking the nation’s economy. President Trump has argued repeatedly that the tech giants have too much power and influence, and allies of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. make similar complaints.

The investigations already led to a lawsuit against Google, brought by the Justice Department two months ago, that accuses the search giant of illegally protecting a monopoly. Prosecutors in that case, though, stopped short of demanding that Google break off any parts of its business. At least one more suit against Google, by both Republican and Democratic officials, is expected by the end of the year. In Europe, regulators are proposing tougher laws against the industry and have issued billions of dollars in penalties for the violation of competition laws.

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Fox News cuts away from Kayleigh McEnany news conference after she alleges vote fraud with no evidence

From today’s Washington Post:

Fox News cut away from White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s remarks at a news conference Monday evening because she claimed without evidence that Democrats were inviting fraud and illegal voting.

“There is only one party in America trying to keep observers out of the count room, and that party, my friends, is the Democrat Party,” she said, adding, “You don’t oppose an audit of the vote because you want an accurate count. … You take these positions because you are welcoming fraud and you are welcoming illegal voting.”

From the Fox News studio, anchor Neil Cavuto cut in to end Fox’s broadcast of the video feed from the Republican National Committee headquarters. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he said. “I just think we have to be very clear that she’s charging the other side as welcoming fraud and welcoming illegal voting. Unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this.”

He continued: “I want to make sure that maybe they do have something to back that up, but that’s an explosive charge to make, that the other side is effectively rigging and cheating. If she does bring proof of that, of course we’ll take you back. So far she has started saying right at the outset — welcoming fraud, welcoming illegal voting. Not so fast.”

The decision to cut away was Cavuto’s, not an edict from Fox’s top brass, according to people familiar with the show’s decision.

Fox has occasionally cut away from McEnany briefings in the past but notably did not do so even during the lengthiest of President Trump’s coronavirus task force briefings, when Trump took the lectern and veered away from information about the pandemic and straight into political messaging.

The move Monday came amid heightened attention on Fox News, whose decision desk was the first to call the state of Arizona for former vice president Joe Biden on election night, incurring the wrath of the president. The close relationship the network has long enjoyed with the president has cooled in the weeks since Rupert Murdoch, whose family controls Fox News, started telling associates that he predicted Trump would lose the election.”

McEnany would go on to say at Monday’s news conference that Republican poll watchers were barred from observing the counting, an allegation that Fox News reporter Eric Shawn, who had been reporting from Philadelphia during the counting, refuted on air numerous times last week, including at one point showing a photograph of the view a poll watcher could see. “That’s not true,” Shawn told host Dana Perino on air about such an allegation by Trump. “That’s not true. That’s just not true.”

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Voters need an urgent update on mail-in ballots. The media should help.

From today’s Washington Post:

For weeks, President Trump has lied about mail-in ballots. He has falsely claimed they are prone to widespread fraud despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. He has wrongly claimed they are a “scam,” while suggesting he would use their existence to dispute the presidential election results. And most worryingly, he pointed to mail-in ballots as justification for his refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the November election.

Trump’s critics have been right to seize upon his remarks as further evidence of his dangerously authoritarian impulses. Yet we can’t leave it at that.

In this unprecedented election, reporters, producers and editors need to go back to basics. They need to educate voters on how mail-in voting works, demonstrate why it’s not prone to fraud, as Trump wrongly claims, and explain the precise steps voters need to take to ensure that their votes are counted. In the Trump era, none of that can be taken for granted.

It’s worth noting that mail-in ballots are confusing. My absentee ballot came with eight pages of supplemental documents, including five pages of instructions on how to vote. It shouldn’t be so complicated, but it is. The free press has a duty to help make the process as simple and understandable as possible for the millions of Americans who will cast a ballot from their home this year for the first time.

The media can play a vital role in protecting democracy during this unprecedented pandemic election. Traditional coverage of the electoral horse race isn’t enough. Broadcasters and print journalists urgently need to supplement their reporting with tutorials and background on voting procedures. That could help ensure that hundreds of thousands — maybe even millions — more ballots are counted.

In Pennsylvania, for example, election officials have warned that they will reject any so-called “naked ballots” that do not arrive in a “secrecy envelope” that ensures anonymity for each vote. Some have said that up to 100,000 votes could be tossed out. That is an alarming possibility, particularly given that Pennsylvania is likely to prove pivotal in this year’s election.

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Mark Zuckerberg Wants To Silence Facebook’s Employees

From today’s Vice News:

Mark Zuckerberg loves free speech, just not when it comes to his own employees.

The Facebook CEO has repeatedly cited free speech as the reason he continued to allow President Donald Trump to openly lie and incite violence on his platform. It is the reason he says he won’t delete coronavirus anti-vaxx content even if it threatens the health of users. It’s why right-wing disinformation continues to dominate the newsfeed. 

But when his own employees speak up about these issues and other social causes, like Black Lives Matter, Zuckerberg’s belief in free speech appears to have reached its limit. 

On Thursday, Zuckerberg told staff that from now on discussions about “divisive” topics would no longer be allowed to be posted just anywhere on the company’s own internal version of Facebook, known as Workplace.

From now on, discussions about political and social issues would only be allowed to take place in specific areas of Workplace, so that all employees don’t have to confront such issues at work if they don’t want to, according to numerous media reports. And, these discussions will be strictly monitored and moderated. 

The exact details of how the new rules will work are still being hammered out. But Zuckerberg was keen to downplay the censorious aspect of the new rules, telling staff that Facebook plans to “explore ways to preserve our culture of openness and debate around” its work, a company spokesman told the Wall Street Journal.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the rule changes and why they were being implemented now.

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The Great Google Revolt

From today’s New York Times:

Laurence Berland had just gotten out of the subway in New York, some 3,000 miles from his desk in San Francisco, when he learned that Google had fired him. It was the Monday before Thanksgiving, and the news came to him, bad-breakup-style, via email. “Following a thorough investigation, the company has found that you committed several acts in violation of Google’s policies,” the note said. It did not elaborate on what he had done to violate these policies.

Berland, an engineer who had spent more than a decade at the company, had reason to expect he might be fired. He had been suspended a few weeks earlier after subscribing to the open calendars of several senior Google employees, whom he suspected of meeting with outside consultants to suppress organizing activity at the company. During a subsequent meeting at which he was questioned by Google investigators, he had the feeling that they were pressuring him to say something that could be grounds for termination. Then, the Friday before he was fired, he had spoken at a well-publicized rally of his co-workers outside Google’s San Francisco offices, accusing the company of silencing dissent.

Even so, the timing and manner of his dismissal surprised him. “I thought they’d do it when all the media attention died down,” he said. “When the suspensions and the rally were no longer on people’s minds.” Instead, at a moment when the spotlight was shining brightly, Google had escalated — as if to make a point.

Berland was one of at least four employees Google fired that day. All four were locked in an ongoing conflict with the company, as they and other activists had stepped forward to denounce both its treatment of workers and its relationship with certain customers, like U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Berland’s terminated colleagues were even more shocked by the turn of events than he was. Rebecca Rivers, a software engineer based in Boulder, Colo., was dismissed over the phone after accessing internal documents. Rivers had only recently come out as transgender and was pursuing a medical transition. “I came out at Google expecting to stay at Google through the entire transition,” she said. “It’s terrifying to think about going to a job interview, because I’m so scared of how other companies treat trans employees.”

Sophie Waldman and Paul Duke, the two other Googlers fired that day, had not received so much as a warning, much less a suspension. Though they had been questioned by corporate security two months earlier about whether they had circulated documents referring to Customs and Border Protection contracts, they had been allowed to continue their work without incident. Waldman, a software developer in Cambridge, Mass., said she was given a 15-minute notice before she was summoned to the meeting where she was fired; Duke, an engineer in New York, said an invitation appeared on his calendar precisely one minute beforehand. Security officials escorted him out of the building without letting him return to his desk. “I had to describe to them what my jacket, scarf and bag looked like,” he said.

Read the complete article here.

Facebook Halts Advertising Targeting Cited in Bias Complaints and Lawsuits

From today’s New York Times:

After years of criticism, Facebook announced on Tuesday that it would stop allowing advertisers in key categories to show their messages only to people of a certain race, gender or age group.

The company said that anyone advertising housing, jobs or credit — three areas where federal law prohibits discrimination in ads — would no longer have the option of explicitly aiming ads at people on the basis of those characteristics.

The changes are part of a settlement with groups that have sued Facebook over these practices in recent years, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Fair Housing Alliance and the Communications Workers of America. They also cover advertising on Instagram and Messenger, which Facebook owns.

“We think this settlement is historic and will go a long way toward making sure that these types of discriminatory practices can’t happen,” Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, said in an interview.

The company said it planned to carry out the changes by the end of the year and would pay less than $5 million to settle five lawsuits brought by the groups.

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Trump Undercuts Giuliani’s Comments About Payments to Stormy Daniels

From today’s New York Times:

President Trump undercut his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani on Friday, and said the former New York mayor will eventually get the facts right regarding a payment to a pornographic actress who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump.

“And virtually everything said has been said incorrectly, and it’s been said wrong, or it’s been covered wrong by the press,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Giuliani, who joined Mr. Trump’s legal team last month, “just started a day ago,” Mr. Trump said, speaking to reporters on Friday as he left Washington to attend a National Rifle Association convention in Dallas.

“He is a great guy,” Mr. Trump said. “He’ll get his facts straight.”

It was the first time the president addressed the inconsistent narrativeabout the payment made by his personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to the actress, Stephanie Clifford, who goes by the stage name Stormy Daniels. Mr. Trump did not offer any details on Friday to clarify the confusion, but said, “It’s actually very simple. But there has been a lot of misinformation.”

Mr. Giuliani released a statement Friday trying to clarify the confusion, saying that his “references to timing were not describing my understanding of the president’s knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters.” He also said there had been no campaign violations in the matter.

The comments capped a week of evolving facts surrounding the Oval Office.

The American public learned its president, once described by a doctor as “the healthiest individual ever elected,” actually wrote that description himself, leaving his health ranking among those who held the office before him a mystery. Mr. Trump also hired an attorney he previously had deniedrecruiting. And the president contradicted himself when, this week, he said he paid back Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 given to Ms. Clifford just days before the election. Last month, the president said he did not know anything about the transaction.

Mr. Giuliani kicked off the confusion about the payment with an interviewon Fox News on Wednesday, surprising even some of Mr. Trump’s other attorneys.

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