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TikTok and WeChat downloads banned by U.S. Commerce Department starting Sunday

The move would prohibit downloads of the popular Chinese-owned apps from app stores.

TikTok and WeChat downloads banned by U.S. Commerce Department starting Sunday
[Photo: rawpixel]

The U.S. Department of Commerce said today it will prohibit transactions related to TikTok and WeChat beginning on Sunday.

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The move would ban downloads of the popular Chinese-owned apps from U.S. app stores. It follows an executive order issued by President Trump in August over perceived national security concerns.

“At the President’s direction, we have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has been in talks with Oracle over a deal that the company had hoped would satisfy the administration’s concerns. That arrangement would reportedly see Oracle take a stake in TikTok but would fall short of an outright sale. Trump is expected to announce as early as today whether the plan will be approved. It’s conceivable a satisfactory deal could still be reached before Sunday.

One point of contention, reportedly, is TikTok’s powerful algorithm—the secret sauce behind its video recommendations—which may get tangled up in regulatory red tape.

We reached out to TikTok and WeChat for comment and will update if we hear back.

Should the ban go into effect, it’s unclear if Apple’s App Store or the Google Play Store would comply by removing the apps from their stores or restricting downloads. We reached out to Apple and Google for further comment.

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According to the Commerce Department, the new restrictions also include payment processing and financial transactions on WeChat, which is owned by the Chinese tech conglomerate Tencent.

This story is developing…

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About the author

Christopher Zara is a senior staff news editor for Fast Company and obsessed with media, technology, business, culture, and theater. Before coming to FastCo News, he was a deputy editor at International Business Times, a theater critic for Newsweek, and managing editor of Show Business magazine

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The problem with Republican doomsday predictions for a Biden presidency

Donald Trump and his surrogates are sounding bleak alarms about a potential President Biden. How have predictions in the last few elections panned out?

The problem with Republican doomsday predictions for a Biden presidency
[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore; Faris Mohammed/Unsplash]

Even though the 2016 election sent conventional wisdom hurtling through space like George Clooney’s character in Gravity, a lot of politicos remain invested in the prediction business.

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Noted diaper enthusiast Charlie Kirk, who has called Donald Trump “the bodyguard of Western civilization,” predicts that a Joe Biden presidency would spell grave danger for your children. (Unclear who “you” refers to in this hypothetical.)

Embattled Health and Human Services chief Michael Caputo, meanwhile, has predicted that Biden and his followers will attempt a violent coup if Trump is victorious in November, echoing a prediction that boating Svengali Steve Bannon recently shared on his podcast.

Both of these predictions underline the general theme of the recent Republican National Convention, during which the gun-toting “Karen and Ken” from St. Louis claimed that Democrats “want to abolish the suburbs altogether,” and Mike Pence suggested that “the choice in this election is whether America remains America.”

While a certain amount of alarmism is to be expected—and certainly exists on the other side as well—when deciding which account to take more seriously (or literally, for that matter), it’s instructive to look back at some predictions from the previous three elections.

Although it was pretty clear in 2008 that the tide had turned against George W. Bush and the Gulf War, the prospect of a President Obama was by no means embraced by all. Among the many outlandish predictions his detractors made before the election:

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  • Speaking for much of her party, one-time Republican presidential hopeful Michelle Bachman said that Obama would be responsible for “punishing tax rates, redistribution of wealth, socialized medicine, inputting censorship in the form of the un-Fairness Doctrine and taking away the secret ballot from the worker.”
  • Gun-toting “Jailbait” musician Ted Nugent vowed an Obama victory would ensure that Nugent would either be dead or in jail the following year.
  • Fans of then-Republican candidate John McCain, in this video, claimed that Obama would change both the American flag and the national anthem.
  • Fox News speculated that Obama would forfeit the Gulf War and start a new one, and that race relations would transform “from a thorny issue to an explosive one.”

Needless to say, none of those things happened. (Although Obama famously did pass the Affordable Care Act, the version that made it through was so watered down, the term “socialized medicine” doesn’t quite apply.) Shockingly, the only major prediction about an Obama presidency that proved out was Sarah Palin’s claim that Putin would invade Ukraine. (Even a broken clock, etc., etc.) Not that there’s much correlation between Putin’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine and Obama’s election.

Besides, by the time Palin’s prophecy was fulfilled, there was a whole slew of fresh doomsday predictions from Republicans about what an Obama re-election in 2012 would mean for America. This time around, somehow the predictions were even more unhinged:

  • A Texas judge predicted full-on civil war.
  • Right-wing think tank American Enterprise Institute was sure that “the Defense Department will be gutted, with cuts so deep that America will no longer be a superpower,” and it expected “the Environmental Protection Agency to impose crushing new burdens on U.S. business.” (Heaven forbid!)
  • In an ad called “Welcome to Obamaville,” Rick Santorum warned that freedom of religion would be under attack, and that Iran would obtain and possibly use nuclear weapons.
  • And, of course, Chuck Norris claimed America would face “1,000 years of darkness.”

Meanwhile, in reality, Obama spent the second of his two terms continuing to reach across the aisle and having his hand smacked away. If you consider the legality of gay marriage an assault on religious freedom, then sure, Rick Santorum, religious freedom did come under attack between 2013 and 2017.

But perhaps the scariest prediction about a second Obama term was also the one that proved most demonstrably true. It arrived in the form of a deleted tweet from then-game show host Donald Trump: “We should have a revolution in this country.”

The MAGA takeover of the Republican party certainly has the feel of a revolution. While many of the GOP’s goals remain the same as ever—tax cuts for the wealthy, beefing up military spending at the expense of social services, the fantasia of trickle-down economics—there’s a new, brazen quality to what the party is willing to do or allow in order to get it. But before Trump’s revolution was televised—or, more accurately, tweeted—here are some of the “hysterical” warnings that Democrats and the left were sounding about what might lie ahead:

  • The Guardian predicted “a new age of darkness,” in which “racists and bigots everywhere will feel validated, vindicated, and mobilized,” and in which “his threats to curb the free press, punishing news organizations that have criticized him” and “his hint that he would sack America’s generals and replace them with ones more compliant” might come to pass.
  • As The New York Times reported, “Simon Johnson, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, posited that Mr. Trump’s presidency would ‘likely cause the stock market to crash and plunge the world into recession.'”
  • Although he was vague about specifics at the time, Barack Obama warned that the “republic is at risk” if Trump wins the election. (Obama is no longer vague about those specifics, by the way.)
  • Vietnam POW Colonel Tom Moe refashioned the famous “First they came” speech to warn about Trumpism instead of Nazism: “You might not care if Donald Trump says Muslims must register with their government because you are not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump says he’s going to round up all the Hispanic immigrants, because you are not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump says it is okay to rough up Black protesters, because you are not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump wants to suppress journalists, because you are not one. But think about this: If he keeps going, and he actually becomes president, he might just get around to you, and you better hope there is someone left to help you.”

Although red-state residents have enjoyed favored status from the president at every turn—he recently outright dismissed their Democratic-governed counterparts altogether—Trump’s incompetence and dishonesty during the pandemic have doomed a great many of them.

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Although the predictions above may have been slightly hyperbolic, at least so far, the least correct among them was the MIT economist’s apocalyptic financial scenario.

As annoying as the ‘Hillary warned us’ crowd can be—uh, it didn’t exactly take a political scientist to see that Donald Trump was unfit for office—many of the former Democratic presidential candidate’s specific prophecies have been eerily prescient.

  • “Imagine his advisers afraid to tell him what he doesn’t want to hear, racing against his legendarily short attention span to lay out life-and-death choices too complex to be reduced to a single tweet,” she said close to the 2016 election, foreshadowing Trump’s unwillingness to accept unfavorable news.
  • “A man with a long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far reaches of the internet, should never run our government or command our military,” she said, with seeming insight into the rise of QAnon and the untold other conspiracies Trump has started or fostered.
  • “He’s taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over one of America’s two major political parties,” she said in the same speech, as though she knew that Charlottesville was just around the corner, or that Trump would prove a friend to right-wing extremists.

Considering the track record of our three most recent elections, one would do well to contemplate which of the two parties seems most invested in scaremongering, and which offers legitimate reasons to be scared.

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Why do people share political memes? It’s not always about changing anyone’s point of view

An exclusive new poll finds more than half of Americans have shared a political meme in the last three months. Sometimes people just think they’re funny.

Why do people share political memes? It’s not always about changing anyone’s point of view
[Photo: Ott Maidre/Pexels]

Admit it. You just couldn’t resist forwarding that photo (or three) of Trump’s windblown hair accompanied by a clever catchphrase. Or some version of AOC or Speaker Pelosi looking like they’re coming for you, also accompanied by some sarcastic snipe.

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Regardless of which side of the political divide (chasm?) you currently sit—or which gender you identify with—a new Harris Poll conducted exclusively for Fast Company reveals that 55% of Americans have shared a political meme in the past three months. Broken down by platform, 90% say they’ve shared a political meme on Facebook at some point (the top spot to post among respondents), and 59% posted one on Twitter. Fifty-four percent are sharing more this year than they did last. And over a third share them daily.

This cuts across all strata of the population, including education and socioeconomic level, marital and parental status. The only apparent difference is that white and Hispanic people are slightly more inclined (52% and 45% respectively) to share a meme in comparison to African American (24%) social media users.

Yet while we’re all quite likely to do it, our reasons may surprise you.

Of the over 1,000 U.S. adults surveyed who said they’d shared something in the past three months, the most common reasons were:

  • 46% said they did so just to make sure people knew where they stood.
  • 32% percent of men and 22% of women said they did so in an effort to change people’s minds.
  • Over a third just found them funny.
  • Only 12% forwarded a meme that expressed anger, and 10% pushed one meant to strike fear in the hearts of its recipients. These numbers hold true across all segments of the population.

Why do we keep sharing? Perhaps James Gleick said it best in his Smithsonian Magazine essay back in 2011 when he compared memes to human genes:

“Memes emerge in brains and travel outward, establishing beachheads on paper and celluloid and silicon and anywhere else information can go. They are not to be thought of as elementary particles but as organisms. The number three is not a meme; nor is the color blue, nor any simple thought, any more than a single nucleotide can be a gene. Memes are complex units, distinct and memorable—units with staying power.”

Remember that next time your finger is hovering over the return key and share responsibly.

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About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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You may never buy a glass table again after reading this shattering new study

Of the 3,265 injuries in the study, 15% were severe, and 24 were seen in level 1 trauma centers.

You may never buy a glass table again after reading this shattering new study
[Photo: cottonbro/Pexels]

A menace lurks in homes nationwide: glass tables. A shattering new study in the American Journal of Surgery finds that glass tables threaten bodily well-being nationwide, accounting for over 2.5 million injuries a year.

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The study traced six years of glass table injuries in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which tracks injuries from 100 emergency rooms around the U.S. Of the 3,265 injuries in the study, 15% were severe, and 24 were seen in level 1 trauma centers.

When things go south with glass tables:

  • most injuries affect arms, shoulders, and forehead
  • half of the injuries are lacerations
  • those lacerations can include organ damage, vessel punctures, and death

Glass tables most frequently injure children under age 7 and . . . early-twentysomethings. Yep. And men. Seventy percent of the victims were male.

The incident descriptions are rather alarming: Some people garner traumatic injuries when they fall through glass tables, while others tumble when a table breaks and sustain blunt injuries. Of the trauma center patients, a third suffered injuries to deep organs, and 58% required surgery. Half needed inpatient care.

All this bloodshed is preventable. Building codes currently require that doors use tempered glass, which is stronger and shatters into small, dull chunks. The researchers, a team from Rutgers University, call for regulations requiring tempered glass to be mandatory in tables.

“Consumers of glass tables should not be incurring life-threatening trauma injuries due to neglect of manufacturers in not using tempered glass,” said coauthor Stephanie Bonne, an assistant professor of surgery at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, in a statement.

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How far does wildfire smoke travel? These maps will tell you

Fires in California, Oregon, and Washington continue to burn out of control, with smoke traveling thousands of miles to other states.

How far does wildfire smoke travel? These maps will tell you
[Screenshot: Esri]

As devastating wildfires continue to burn across the western states of California, Oregon, and Washington, hazy skies and smoke are being reported as far away as Toronto and New York.

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These hazy conditions are not mere annoyances. As Luke Montrose, an environmental toxicologist, wrote recently for Fast Company, air pollution from wood smoke is a serious public health concern. Smoke from large wildfires can travel thousands of miles, across states, countries, and even oceans, and the fires currently burning on the West Coast include some of the biggest ever recorded.

To get a sense of how far smoke from the current wildfires is traveling, you can turn to a number of interactive maps and data tools that let you track smoke conditions in real time. I’ve rounded up some useful options below:

  • AirNow: This fire and smoke map is “designed to provide the public with additional information on levels of particle pollution” and includes data from a number of government sources. Find it here.
  • NOAA: This map from the agency’s Office of Satellite and Product Operations includes regularly updated data from satellites. Find it here.
  • Esri’s Active Wildfire Story Map: I highlighted this map in a post last week for tracking fires. It also has an overlay option to track smoke. Just check the “smoke forecast” box. Find it here.
  • NASA: The space agency’s blog post from yesterday includes satellite imagery from before and after the winds shifted eastward. Although the images are not interactive, they underscore how national weather patterns can have a huge impact on air quality. Find it here.
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About the author

Christopher Zara is a senior staff news editor for Fast Company and obsessed with media, technology, business, culture, and theater. Before coming to FastCo News, he was a deputy editor at International Business Times, a theater critic for Newsweek, and managing editor of Show Business magazine

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