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  • 5:54 pm

Now Facebook has to disclose who paid for those political ads you’re seeing

Now Facebook has to disclose who paid for those political ads you’re seeing
[Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images]

If you’ve been hoping for increased transparency on political ads posted to Facebook–especially in the wake of the scandal over Russian propaganda spread on social media during and after the 2016 election–you’ve got it.

Today, the U.S. Federal Election Commission said that such ads on Facebook must include the same kind of disclaimers that are added to political advertising on TV, radio, and in print.

In a letter the FEC sent today to Take Back Action Fund in response to a request for clarification on the issue, the commission wrote that the political organization is required to follow the same guidelines as other forms of political ads.

The decision is important, as it would seem the result will be that future political advertising on Facebook–and, presumably, other social media–lets people know who’s behind it. That’s a change from the lack of required transparency until now. In response to controversies over Russians placing fake election ads on Facebook, the company has said it will insist on disclosure, but this is the first time the government has said such information will be required.DT

  • 3:33 pm

Mother Nature’s revenge: The EPA’s office is reportedly leaking sewage

Mother Nature’s revenge: The EPA’s office is reportedly leaking sewage
[Photo: Loop Images/UIG via Getty Images]

To paraphrase Hamlet: “Something is rotten in the District of Columbia.” More specifically, the EPA.

The metaphor surely writes itself, but the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., is reportedly facing a serious sewage problem, according to E&E News (paywall). It’s so bad, in fact, that black sludge–read: poop–is allegedly leaking out of the state organization’s water fountains.

“There’s sewage covering the floors in the north building of headquarters,” an EPA employee told E&E News. The report continues: “Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, said he was told “a sewer problem at EPA HQ has resulted in poop exploding out of water fountains” outside the policy office.”

Leaking poop isn’t the only thing tarnishing the agency either. Mother Jones reports that the EPA has hired a Republican-affiliated public relations firm that “specializes in digging up opposition research to help Administrator Scott Pruitt’s office track and shape press coverage of the agency.” So while this firm is digging up dirt as a way to circumvent external scrutiny, EPA employees will be literally digging up dirt … and other gross things.CGW

  • 2:59 pm

Facebook got you down? Talk about this post with your friends

Facebook got you down? Talk about this post with your friends
[Photo: Gilles Lambert/Unsplash]

Although Facebook is a money-making powerhouse, 2017 has been rough on Mark Zuckerberg’s company in lots of ways. The fake Russian election ads scandal, for instance, generated countless negative headlines. More recently, a former company exec, Chamath Palihapitiya, made a statement that went viral in all the wrong ways: Facebook and other social media are “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he said.

Today, the company pushed back on that notion by way of a damage control-esque blog post written by director of research David Ginsberg and research scientist Moira Burke. In it, they note that “when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information–reading but not interacting with people–they report feeling worse afterward.”

I don’t think anyone who uses Facebook a lot can quibble with that statement. There is no shortage of people who say that substantial time spent on Facebook simply makes them feel awful. Of course, they don’t stop doing it–but it hurts, emotionally.

Facebook’s theory, which it backs up with quotes and research from a number of sociologists and psychologists, is that what really makes us feel bad about our social media addiction is spending that time alone. That is, passively scrolling through the site and not interacting. But if we spend our time on Facebook talking with others, “especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions,” we’ll feel better, Facebook asserts.

Added Ginsberg and Burke: “This ability to connect with relatives, classmates, and colleagues is what drew many of us to Facebook in the first place, and it’s no surprise that staying in touch with these friends and loved ones brings us joy and strengthens our sense of community.”

It’s hard to read that without some sense of cynicism. For starters, it’s a fairly self-serving conclusion–though the post tries to back it up with research from Cornell and Carnegie Mellon. Is it true? That may be something you have to ask yourself.

Either way, you won’t be able to talk about it in the comments section of the post itself. As BuzzFeed reporter Ryan Mac pointed out, Facebook isn’t surfacing comments on the post. Doesn’t Facebook want us sharing our thoughts about this?DT

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  • 2:43 pm

Trump judicial nominee struggles with basic legal knowledge during hearing

Trump judicial nominee struggles with basic legal knowledge during hearing

Matthew Spencer Petersen, nominated by President Trump to serve as a federal judge, had a hard time with basic legal questions in a Wednesday Senate hearing. Petersen, who is now a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, quickly acknowledged that he’s never tried a case and had only worked on a handful of depositions during his legal career.

But when Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, asked him questions about the rules governing evidence in federal trials, Petersen said he likely hadn’t read them “comprehensively” since law school. He also couldn’t explain a legal precedent governing the use of expert witnesses, a common legal term, or two standards for situations when federal courts defer to state courts.

At a time when knowledge questions are a standard part of job interviews, it’s a little surprising that Petersen didn’t do more prep for a confirmation hearing. If nothing else, rereading the Federal Rules of Evidence, however dry, might be a good idea for other nominees.

SM

  • 2:35 pm

With AIM and CompuServe’s end, today is the day the old-school net died

With AIM and CompuServe’s end, today is the day the old-school net died
[Photo: Flickr user Brendan Dolan-Gavitt]

I knew that both AOL Instant Messenger and CompuServe’s forums—both part of AOL, which is part of Oath, which rolls up into Verizon—were going away. But I missed the fact that the actual day of closure for both venerable institutions is today. Which might be a coincidence, but feels like it makes December 15, 2017, the official termination date for a certaim form of online community, which got its start in the 1980s and has been degrading for years.

In their respective heydays, AIM and CompuServe were thriving community and communications platforms. It’s tempting to make a case that either either one, or both, could have evolved into something like Facebook before there was a Facebook, and that the people responsible for them blew it by not making that happen. Nah—it never works out that way, and it’s unreasonable to think that it ever could.

The AIM brand is now history, unless you count the fact that anyone with an AIM.com email address can still use it. CompuServe survives—just barely—as a weirdly archaic web portal, which is a twin of an equally moribund Netscape portal. But there is an unexpected coda to all this: Some of the people who were still using CompuServe forums still want to talk to each other. They’ve decamped to Forumania and other services, where they’ll keep the CompuServe spirit alive long after CompuServe’s owners lost interest in the once-mighty idea.HM

  • 1:12 pm

People who watch “The Crown” are different than other Netflix users in two ways

People who watch “The Crown” are different than other Netflix users in two ways
[Photo: Robert Viglasky / Netflix]

As cord-cutting goes more mainstream, Netflix has been looking for ways to attract more TV watchers who fall outside its typical demographic. For instance, it successfully tapped into Gen-X nostalgia with the ’80s-obsessed Stranger Things.

Now it looks like it has another success story on its hands with The Crown. Season two of the British historical drama dropped earlier this month, and new data from Nielsen reveals that its audience is significantly older and richer than the typical Netflix watcher.

More than 50% of The Crown’s audience is over 50, Nielsen says, calling it a “dramatically different audience profile versus the other Netflix originals we have reported on.” (A BRG report from last year noted that the vast majority of Netflix users are under 35.) Over its first three days of availability, Nielsen also found that 40% of The Crown’s viewers came from households with incomes of over $100,000, which I guess makes it easier to relate to all that royal bling Claire Foy has to wear.

The stats come from Nielsen’s SVOD Content Ratings, a commercial service it launched in October to provide third-party measurement of streaming content.CZ

  • 11:57 am

Read Michael Bloomberg’s blistering takedown of the GOP tax plan

Read Michael Bloomberg’s blistering takedown of the GOP tax plan
[Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images]

Today, Michael Bloomberg took to, well, Bloomberg to excoriate the Republican tax overhaul bill.

He writes:

The largest economic challenges we face include a skills crisis that our public schools are not addressing, crumbling infrastructure that imperils our global competitiveness, wage stagnation coupled with growing wealth inequality, and rising deficits that will worsen as more baby boomers retire.

The tax bill does nothing to address these challenges. In fact, it makes each of them worse.

The billionaire goes on to describe how the proposed bill makes all these things worse–giving more money to the rich, while hindering the poor and middle class, local infrastructure, and necessary social aid programs. The former New York City mayor and onetime Republican minces no words: “The tax bill is an economically indefensible blunder that will harm our future.” 

The question remains: Will politicians listen, or simply continue furthering this legislative monstrosity? You can read Bloomberg’s full argument here.CGW

  • 8:56 am

Actresses are wearing black to the Golden Globes to protest Hollywood harassment

Actresses are wearing black to the Golden Globes to protest Hollywood harassment
[Photo: Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images]

The Golden Globes just got darker. According to Entertainment Weekly, a lot of A-list actresses will be donning black gowns at the first major award show of the new year, as a gesture of protest against the scourge of sexual harassment in Hollywood that has turned the movie industry upside down in recent months. Meryl Streep, Emma Stone, and Jessica Chastain are expected to be among the women participating, but expect many others to follow suit.JB

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  • 7:46 am

Tesla largely responsible for slide in U.S. home solar sales: report

Tesla largely responsible for slide in U.S. home solar sales: report
[Photo: American Public Power Association/Unsplash]

An analysis of home solar installations by GTM Research has found that the residential solar market is expected to fall 13% this year–its first drops after increasing YOY for years, reports Reuters. So why is Tesla to blame? After the company bought SolarCity last year, Tesla stopped its aggressive marketing tactics, including door-to-door sales, in favor of margin optimizations and selling to customers in stores. As a result, sales of Tesla’s rooftop solar installations fell by 42% over the last year. Since SolarCity/Tesla was the biggest player in the residential solar market, the fall in their sales means the whole industry took a hit–especially because SolarCity’s now-defunct door-to-door sales tactics were a major way many people found out about solar home technology in the first place, as the sales practice also doubled as an awareness campaign into the tech.MG

  • 7:16 am

Google’s AI helped NASA find a planetary system like our own

Google’s AI helped NASA find a planetary system like our own
[Photo: Greg Rakozy/ Unsplash]

Using data obtained from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope combined with Google’s machine learning enabled the discovery of an eighth planet in the Kepler-90 system, a planetary system only 2,545 light-years from Earth with a star much like our own sun, reports ScienceDaily. The eighth planet means Kepler-90 is now tied with our own solar system for having the most planets orbiting a star.

The discovery was made after AI scientists at Google taught a program how to identify the tiny light fluctuations that come from the dimming of a star when a planet passes before them. The Kepler Space Telescope records these fluctuations, but in its trove of data many of them can be missed. Now that Google’s AI can successfully detect the minuscule fluctuations, the combined Google/NASA team will go back over all the data Kepler has recorded so far in search of more planets that may have been missed.MG

  • 6:28 am

Will the Justice Department scrutinize the Disney-Fox deal as much as AT&T-Time Warner?

Will the Justice Department scrutinize the Disney-Fox deal as much as AT&T-Time Warner?
[Photo: Kevin Crosby/Unsplash]

The New York Times has an interesting op-ed suggesting that if the Justice Department is seeking to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger on antitrust grounds than it certainly will try to do the same thing with the Disney-Fox merger–that is, unless White House politics gets in the way. The piece theorizes that the Justice Department’s attempted blockage of the AT&T-Time Warner deals has more to do with Time Warner being the owner of CNN, the cable channel Donald Trumps loves to hate-watch, than any real antitrust concerns.

Both the White House and the Justice Department have denied this. But if politics really doesn’t play a role in current antitrust investigations, then surely the JD will seek to block the Disney-Fox merger as well as the Times argues it presents a potentially greater antitrust concern than the AT&T-Time Warner merger does. Then again, if politics is influencing the JD’s antitrust investigations, the Times says the Disney-Fox merger might be safe as President Trump and Fox owner Rupert Murdoch are self-described “good friends.”MG

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  • 6:03 am

A lot of dead people apparently supported ending net neutrality

A lot of dead people apparently supported ending net neutrality
[Photo: NASA/Unsplash]

People have taken to Twitter to post their findings that their deceased friends and relatives somehow came back to life to leave comments in support of the FCC’s decision to end the open and free internet. Scientists have yet to weigh in on this unbelievable miracle. In related news, the New York Attorney General’s Office says that as many as 2 million identities were stolen–including those of deceased individuals–so comments could be left under their names supporting the repeal of net neutrality. If you want to check to see if your identity–or that of any deceased relatives–was stolen, the New York Attorney General’s Office has a handy tool that allows you to do just that.

MG

  • 5:50 am

Jeff Bezos shows what your Blue Origin ride into space will be like

Jeff Bezos shows what your Blue Origin ride into space will be like
[Photo: courtesy of Blue Origins]

The Amazon CEO posted a video of Blue Origin’s Crew Capsule 2.0 on its first successful test flight. The capsule is similar to the one that paying riders may eventually take into space. It features large windows that are 2.4 feet wide and 3.6 feet tall to give riders an unobstructed view of their surroundings.

Bezos also showed off the first use of his company’s landing pad robot.

MG

Nutter Butter and Chips Ahoy cereals are now a thing

Nutter Butter and Chips Ahoy cereals are now a thing
[Photo: courtesy of Kraft]

Stop what you’re doing, go to your cereal shelf, and dump every single box of granola, muesli, and chia-hemp-barley flakes directly in the trash, because you can’t recycle that stuff and you’re going to need the space. Post just announced that, this holiday season, it’s giving the world the greatest gift of all—Nutter Butter and Chips Ahoy cereals.

[Photo: courtesy of Kraft]
While grownups have the ability—nay, the right—to eat cookies for breakfast every day, those of us who still harbor a smidgen of health consciousness can now eat cookie cereal for breakfast instead. That one word makes all the difference, transforming Nutter Butters and Chips Ahoy from the realm of late-night drunken snack food to extremely mature breakfast option and you’ll never have to eat gluten-free avocado toast again.

Nutter Butter cereal is basically health food anyway, with crunchy, peanut-shaped pieces topped with a creamy coating of real peanut butter, while Chips Ahoy cereal will basically be like pouring a carton of milk over a box of Chips Ahoy cookies, but easier to shove into your mouth.

Cereal lovers can find both cereals online on December 22 and in stores December 26.ML

With a dramatic flair, Shervin Pishevar resigns from Sherpa Capital amid allegations

With a dramatic flair, Shervin Pishevar resigns from Sherpa Capital amid allegations
[Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images]

Shervin Pishevar, the tech investor who has been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment and misconduct, just resigned from Sherpa Capital, the venture capital firm he cofounded and had worked for as managing director. He has denied the allegations, and last month he filed a lawsuit against Definers Public Affairs, a GOP oppo research firm he accused of running a “smear campaign” against him. (The firm denies the claim.) Last week, Pishevar took a leave of absence from Hyperloop One, the transportation company he cofounded and where he served as executive chairman.

In a statement, Pishevar quoted from one of his favorite poems by Rudyard Kipling: “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too;… Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating…”

He also expressed his admiration and affection for Sherpa Capital, including cofounder Scott Stanford, before lashing out at his perceived enemies. “My truculent opponents are out to settle scores that have nothing to do with Sherpa, and I refuse to allow my enemies to drag my Sherpa family into their fight with me,” he wrote. “That is why I have decided on my own accord to end my association with Sherpa Capital, effective immediately. I plan to focus now on the appropriate ongoing legal actions against those who are unjustly orchestrating the smear campaign against me.”

Here is the statement from a spokesperson for Sherpa Capital:

We thank Shervin for his contributions and service in co-founding Sherpa Capital. The Sherpa team remains focused on supporting our founders and portfolio companies, serving the interests of our Limited Partners across all of our funds. We are deeply committed to our culture of integrity, inclusion, and respect and will continue to put these values into action through all of Sherpa Capital’s activities, including the founders and companies we support.

MB

Apple TV and Chromecast suddenly appear on Amazon’s website

Apple TV and Chromecast suddenly appear on Amazon’s website
[Photo: Neil Godwin/Edge Magazine/Getty Images]

Amazon is preparing to sell the Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast again, two years after yanking both streaming devices from its website. Listings for various Apple TV and Chromecast models have appeared on Amazon.com, and an Amazon spokeswoman confirmed to CNet that it’s now “assorting” the products, though the company did not elaborate further.

Amazon stopped selling Apple TV and Chromecast in 2015, saying it only wanted to carry products that play well with its Prime Video service. The company hadn’t released a Prime Video app for either device, so the move seemed like a way for Amazon to gain leverage over Apple and Google.

While Apple and Amazon have since worked out their differences and brought Prime Video to Apple TV, tension between Amazon and Google has been escalating. Last week, Google said it would cut off YouTube access for Amazon’s Fire TV and Echo Show devices, citing its rival’s refusal to sell Google products or support Prime Video on Chromecast. With Chromecast’s imminent arrival on Amazon.com, the two companies could be starting to make amends.JN

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This doll gives new parents the gift of sleep

This doll gives new parents the gift of sleep
[Photo: courtesy of Lulla]

When the Lulla doll hit the market in 2016, it sold out within two weeks of its release, prompting eBay bidding wars that drove up the price of the $69 doll to $665. These bidders were likely exhausted new parents, who would do anything to get a few more hours of shut-eye.

That’s because the Lulla is scientifically proven to help preemies, newborns, babies, and toddlers sleep better. The doll, which took three years of extensive user testing to develop, comes with a built-in noisemaker that provides eight hours of recorded sounds of breathing and heartbeat. This mimics the sounds that a fetus hears inside its mother’s uterus, and will stabilize the baby’s own breathing and heartbeat.

RoRo, the Icelandic company that created the doll, spent a lot of time thinking about the physical characteristics of the doll. Its face is both ethnically ambiguous and gender neutral (it has blue hair!), but it still manages to look cute and attractive to babies. The company also said that, in its user studies, 73% of parents reported that their child slept longer with the doll. The dolls have been particularly helpful to premature babies, and RoRo has donated them to hospitals in Iceland, orphanages in Africa, and needy families in Australia.

After that initial run of products sold out, RoRo has been trying to keep up with demand and has grown 2,400%. The doll has recently come back in stock in time for the holidays, which hopefully means that some new parents will be getting the gift of sleep this Christmas.ES

Cute present alert! A stuffed toy that transforms into a hoodie for toddlers

Cute present alert! A stuffed toy that transforms into a hoodie for toddlers
[Photo: courtesy of Cubcoat]

Does your kid really need a $59 stuffed panda or tiger that miraculously transforms into a hoodie? Technically, no. But I guarantee it’s going to be a hit on Christmas morning. A new startup, Cubcoats, has just released a collection of eight adorable animals—from Kali the Kitty to Pimm the Puppy—that quickly become hoodies with the pull of the zip. (They’re designed to fit children aged 2 to 5.)

It’s a fun trick for kids to watch, but it’s also a clever concept because, if my 2-year-old is in any way reflective of the toddler set, we’re constantly losing outerwear, but we haven’t lost a single stuffed animal yet. Once my child forms an attachment to a teddy bear, she tends to remember it more than some boring old hoodie. These toy/hoodie combos will be particularly useful when traveling, and I could see them as a fixture in the car, so that parents will always have an extra layer on hand.

Cubcoats is trying to create a larger imaginary world around these products. On the brand’s website, parents can download an e-book that introduces kids to each of the characters in the Cubcoat family, since each animal has a unique virtue–the bear’s strength is leadership, while the bunny’s strength is bravery. These toys aren’t cheap, but in the world of kids’ Christmas presents, this one seems more functional and long-lasting than say, this year’s hottest toy, a $15 robotic finger monkey that farts on command.

Friday feels with our favorite friends! ???????? Happy weekend! #cubcoats #cubcoatskids

A post shared by Cubcoats (@cubcoats) on

ES

Most Americans know sexual harassment is a problem but don’t expect bosses to fix it

Most Americans know sexual harassment is a problem but don’t expect bosses to fix it
[Photo: Nastuh Abootalebi/Unsplash]

Despite the outpouring of workplace sexual harassment and assault allegations that continue to dominate headlines, only 49% of Americans  believe male business leaders need to speak out and set better examples, according to a nationally representative survey this month of over 2,000 U.S. working adults by branding agency Berlin Cameron, the Female Quotient, and Harris Poll. Only a narrow majority (52%) say companies need to be the first line of defense against sexual misconduct within their own walls.

That’s despite a large chunk of the American workforce appreciating the scale of the problem: 47% of respondents said they were “not surprised by how many women came out and said they have been sexually assaulted.” While more women have been unsurprised by the volume of the accusations than men (52% vs. 41%), it begs two questions: Why don’t more people believe that companies–and the men who overwhelmingly run them–need to do more? And why do so few (28% of women and 25% of men) think more women leaders will help?

There’s one potential bright spot: Even though many remain unconvinced that employers and leaders have bigger roles to play, more people are optimistic about making headway with future generations. The second most endorsed solution, after more responsive HR departments, was rethinking how gender norms are taught to kids.

RB

HuffPost editor steps down to launch a New York-centric nonprofit news project

HuffPost editor steps down to launch a New York-centric nonprofit news project
[Photo: Patrick Perkins/Unsplash]

Jim Rich, who was most recently the executive editor at HuffPost and before that the editor-in-chief of the New York Daily News, has announced he is stepping down from his post. According to a tweet, he is planning to launch his own “not-for-profit news site that will cover the city and state in the thorough, unflinching, yet fair, and uncompromising manner that remaining publications can’t or won’t.”

Though unnamed in the post, the specter of DNAInfo and Gothamist is intimated throughout his announcement. The two sites provided real, hard-hitting local coverage about New York City–as well as other cities–but were ultimately killed when their billionaire owner was asked to recognize his staff’s union.

Those sites, like others, relied predominately on advertising to stay afloat, which Rich believes is unsustainable. “The for-profit model that once buoyed these news organizations as stalwarts of local journalism is dead, and it’s not coming back,” he writes. Rich goes on, “The only viable way forward is to free local news gathering from the for-profit demands that have suffocated it to within an inch of its life.”

It’s unclear when he plans to launch this new venture or what it will be called. Below is the tweet announcing his departure.

CGW

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