Social media’s role in the national unrest


June 2, 2020

June 2, 2020
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Sign of the Timelines

For better or worse, social media makes it impossible to look away

The demonstrations over George Floyd’s death that have wracked American cities for the last week echo major protest movements of the past. But thanks to social media, the unrest carries a uniquely 21st-century feel: Information — and misinformation — is moving faster than ever.

It’s the megaphone of a movement

About 7 out of 10 Americans use social media. Without platforms like Facebook and Twitter to amplify the story, Floyd’s arrest may have been reduced to a police report, instead of being captured in video clips that set the country ablaze.

Protesters and the police are using social platforms to monitor one another during tense face-offs, according to The Wall Street Journal. Each night, images of burning buildings and tear-gassed protesters flood our timelines.

But the real-time flow of information can be a double-edged sword. On Sunday, a Twitter account with just 3 followers amplified misinformation about the unrest in Washington, DC, prompting false accounts of a #DCblackout to trend nationwide.

Social CEOs are feeling the heat

Under attack from President Trump, the internet’s social giants are responding in different ways — with Twitter and Facebook on opposite ends of the seesaw.

Last week, Twitter slapped a warning label on a Trump tweet saying that looting leads to shooting. Facebook let the post stand — and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is now at the center of a revolt by his own staff. 

In a post on Sunday night, Zuckerberg said the company was donating $10m to groups focused on racial justice. 

On Monday, Facebook employees staged a virtual walkout to protest their boss’s decision not to take a stronger stand against Trump’s posts. 

Oren Frank, CEO of the online therapy company Talkspace, said his business was ending its partnership with Facebook. “We will not support a platform that incites violence, racism, and lies,” he tweeted.

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TLDR: 10 Quick Takes to Catch You Up

Yesterday, more leaders from the worlds of business, tech, and politics spoke out in response to the protests over George Floyd’s death. We start today’s roundup with a few responses that are worth your time.

1️⃣  Former President Barack Obama wrote on Medium: “The more specific we can make demands for criminal justice and police reform, the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause.”

2️⃣  Robert Smith, the founder of Vista Equity Partners and one of the country’s highest-profile black businessmen, wrote to his staff: “Take the time to reach out to the communities that are grieving most, and let them know that you support them and we are one.” 

3️⃣  Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck, spoke to CNBC: “What the African American community sees in that videotape is that this African American man, who could be me or any other African American man, is being treated as less than human.”

4️⃣  A notable response from a white CEO: Snap’s Evan Spiegel called for the creation of a truth-and-reconciliation commission as well as reparations.

5️⃣  Big news in games you play on your phone to distract yourself from… everything else: Zynga is buying the Turkish developer Peak for $1.8B — its biggest acquisition yet.

6️⃣  The battle over the Internet Archive’s big book-scanning project is heating up: Four of the country’s largest publishers are suing the archive for copyright infringement.

7️⃣  Grindr is dropping filters that let users avoid seeing people of certain ethnicities, in an effort to fight racism on the dating platform.

8️⃣  Libbey, a US glassware maker with 5.5k+ employees worldwide, filed for bankruptcy protection.

9️⃣  TikTok said Monday that it would take action in response to criticism that the platform was suppressing content from black creators.

🔟  Wow: Within 24 hours of sending a tweet asking for donations, the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund raised $1.8m from 50k+ donors.

One Way You Can Help

Here’s something simple you can do to help your community right now: Shop at a black-owned business near you. 

The pandemic has hit black business owners hard. Their numbers have fallen 40+% since February, more than for any other racial group. One reason: Black businesses were less likely to get coronavirus relief loans. 

We have a few suggestions: 

For everything in between, a few apps — like Official Black Wall Street or WeBuyBlack — can steer you toward a shop nearby.

In the coming days, we plan to write profiles of black-owned businesses and how they’re getting by. Fill out our survey to tell us about your black-owned business or one in your community.

Inside Baseball?

The trading trends of 2 key biopharma stocks are raising eyebrows

Investors are desperate for any good news about 2 companies involved in the development of a coronavirus vaccine. Or maybe the performance of the companies’ stocks is a little too good to be true.

Wall Street observers say fortuitously timed trades of 2 biopharma stocks — Moderna and Gilead Sciences — could put the companies under a regulatory microscope.

Call it a coincidence, or something else?

CNN Business laid out the case of Moderna: The company sold 17.6m shares in the hours after releasing promising results from an early vaccine trial. 

But medical experts took some air out of the hype balloon, saying it was too early to draw solid conclusions from the results.

Moderna execs — and the VC firm that is the company’s largest shareholder — sold shares before the stock price came back down to Earth. 

Former SEC officials say the deals could get a closer look from investigators, though the company says the transactions followed its insider-trading policy.

Meanwhile, on Planet Gilead…

Reuters raised similar questions about the timing of options trades. Four large chunks of options were purchased the day before Gilead’s shares jumped nearly 10%. The company told Reuters it hadn’t heard from regulators on the matter and declined further comment.

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Who you gonna call?

Customer service’s big pivot: Let’s just chat

The news has been bleak for, y’know, several eons now — and if you need to talk through it, you can always call Zappos. 

Since April, the online shoe retailer has encouraged its staff to make small talk with customers. Need to vent about Uncut Gems or just hear a stranger laugh? Zappos is ready for you. 

Even before the Bad Times, Zappos encouraged reps to chat with customers — years ago, one call lasted 11 hours.

More recently, one woman who called in to confirm a receipt for hot pink Crocs ended up chatting about her favorite Brazilian restaurant in Las Vegas and her relationship with her mother.

Ready for that hotline bling?

Since the pandemic started, plenty of companies have rethought their approach to customer service.

At the height of lockdown, a Dallas bookstore launched a special hotline: Customers dialed in not just to ask for book recommendations but also to discuss Love Is Blind or their feelings of loneliness with the general manager, Cristina Rodriguez.  

A library in Rochester, Minnesota gets ~60 rings a day from residents, and the librarians have started placing “social connectedness” calls to regular visitors they haven’t heard from in a while — just to check in. 

But good luck outrunning Zappos

The company is the biggest yet to adopt a “call us for anything” model — and, sneakers aside, it has even offered to connect people to needed resources. 

“Need help locating those hard to find items? Looking for a place to host your family reunion?” Zappos asks. “Give us a call.”

At one point, a director at the Mount Sinai hospital system called Zappos in search of pulse oximeters — medical devices that measure blood oxygen levels. 

The oximeters were out of stock everywhere, but Zappos managed to find — and ship — 500 of them. “It was, like, unbelievable from our perspective,” the director told The New York Times.

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Simmering Tensions

The plant-based meat wars are hitting the courts

Bad news for anyone who uses Thesaurus.com to come up with brand names: Citing trademark concerns, a European court just blocked Nestlé from naming its plant-based burger line the “Incredible Burger.”

The problem? According to the court, the Incredible Burger sounds a bit too much like Impossible Foods’ Impossible Burger. 

Fake meat, real drama

Nestlé’s burger — which launched under the company’s meatless Garden Gourmet brand — has hit shelves in 15 European markets, plus Australia. Stateside, Nestlé sells a different product, made from pea protein — it’s called Awesome Burger.

It’s not a coincidence that these copyright concerns are coming up now. Impossible is gearing up for its big launch in Europe, and the company claimed that the new Incredible Burger was an effort to cool off its hot streak.

The plant-based protein market is getting tight. Last year, Impossible’s culinary rival, Beyond Meat, announced plans to open a new manufacturing facility in the Netherlands.

The Incredible Burger might be dead, but Nestlé already has a backup name while it appeals the decision: the Sensational Burger.

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Snippets

🔮 Marble racing is the sporting event of the season.

🎤 Dallas police officers asked residents to report “illegal activity” to its app — instead, stans sent a deluge of K-pop videos. 

🍻 Japanese whisky is blowing up, save for one teeny-tiny problem: Most of it isn’t made in Japan.

✊ Peruse the NYT’s antiracist reading list — and maybe donate to a local cause while you’re at it.

🌈 Happy Pride — if you have the means, this is a good time to give to the Okra Project, which caters to black trans people dealing with food insecurity.

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