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Facebook weighs banning political ads before the 2020 election

Facebook weighs banning political ads before the 2020 election
[Source Photos: Wikicommons and Unsplash]

Political ads on Facebook have long proven a lightning rod for controversy. They’re all too easy to pack with misinformation, while removing misleading ads is its own separate ordeal. Experts such as professor and digital rights advocate David Carroll have long suggested banning microtargeted political ads from Facebook, following the Cambridge Analytica fiasco from the 2016 election.

Now, it appears the social media monolith may be temporarily doing away with political ads altogether.

As Bloomberg reports, Facebook Inc. is weighing the option of banning political ads from the site in the lead-up to November’s presidential election. If it does, it won’t be a big financial hit: Zuckerberg has said that political ads represent just 0.5% of the company’s revenue, though it could sour the corporate relationship with the Trump administration, which has focused on Facebook ads as a key part of its 2020 re-election strategy.

News of this possibility follows weeks of the ongoing Stop Hate for Profit campaign, during which hundreds of advertisers including major corporations like Levi Strauss, Pfizer and The North Face have begun to boycott Facebook over its laissez-faire approach to divisive content. Although the boycott is meant as a rebuke to a wide variety of hateful content that crops up on the social media site, it began as a response to Facebook’s refusal to implement measures similar to Twitter’s new “manipulated media” warning on Trump’s tweets, or its hiding of presidential messages glorifying violence.

While the ban is only being discussed at this point, as Bloomberg points out, some within Facebook are concerned that an ad blackout may harm voter registration and motivation campaigns, or limit candidates’ non-ad messaging. However, pre-election blackouts on Facebook are not without precedent: they’re a fixture in other countries, including the U.K.

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Second stimulus checks? Direct payments should be automatic and ongoing, say 156 top economists

Second stimulus checks? Direct payments should be automatic and ongoing, say 156 top economists
[Photo: Stephen Walker/Unsplash; Celyn Kang/Unsplash]

People who specialize in money are weighing in on the next stimulus package, and they’re urging Congress to get more money into your pocket: One hundred fifty-six top economists, most from dozens of top-tier U.S. universities and think tanks, sent an open letter to Congress asking for:

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  • ongoing stimulus checks
  • extended additional unemployment payments
  • state and local government aid
  • enhanced SNAP benefits
  • childcare funding

The letter—not to be confused with last month’s letter from 150 economists including Ben Bernanke, with similar requests—arrives one week after the Republican-led Senate left for its July recess without drafting a new stimulus bill. The economists call for automatic and ongoing stimulus checks, tied to economic indicators, until the economy improves.

“Direct cash payments are an essential tool that will boost economic security, drive consumer spending, hasten the recovery, and promote certainty at all levels of government and the economy—for as long as necessary,” the economists wrote.

The letter is a master class in subtly explaining basic economic concepts (in just one page!), to a Congress that is composed of roughly 99% noneconomists.

They gently refute a common refrain among Republicans in Congress: that Americans returning to work will repair the economy. The economists write that “consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the GDP so reviving the economy will require sustained efforts to strengthen it. Even after businesses start to reopen and jobs begin to come back, there will be significant economic fallout, and demand will continue to lag if people don’t have money to spend.”

Translation: Our economy is dependent not on jobs, but on the constant circulation of cash.

The letter also delicately reframes cash assistance not as a handout, but as “an important element of economic aid,” while indicating policy details: That the payments should go to low- and middle-income houses payments, who studies have shown tend to spend stimulus payments immediately. The economists also slide in policy parameters, such as that the payments should continue until there is “reliable evidence of an economic recovery—such as low and declining unemployment.”

The letter was released through the Economic Security Project, a left-leaning initiative to improve the lives of low- and middle-income Americans founded by Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, and the Justice Collaborative. Some of the economists on the list have previously been associated with conservative-leaning organizations.

Congress returns to session on July 20.

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Amazon tells employees to take TikTok off their phones: report (Then says it didn’t mean to tell them that)

Amazon tells employees to take TikTok off their phones: report (Then says it didn’t mean to tell them that)
[Photo: Kon Karampelas/Unsplash]
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Amazon no longer lets its workers have TikTok on their cellphones or any other devices used to access their Amazon email, the New York Times reports.

The online shopping giant has security concerns about the social-networking app. The deadline to delete it is today.

Amazon staffers are still allowed to access TikTok from their laptop browsers, according to an internal email the Times saw.

Reached for comment, a TikTok spokesperson said Amazon’s reason for the move was unclear.

User security is of the utmost importance to TikTok—we are fully committed to respecting the privacy of our users,” TikTok told Fast Company in an email. “While Amazon did not communicate to us before sending their email and we still do not understand their concerns, we welcome a dialogue so we can address any issues they may have and enable their team to continue participating in our community. We’re proud that tens of millions of Americans turn to TikTok for entertainment, inspiration, and connection, including many of the Amazon employees and contractors who have been on the frontlines of this pandemic.”

Amazon could not be reached immediately for comment about the ban.

In the early days of TikTok, Amazon Prime Video was an advertiser, The Information pointed out.

TikTok, wildly popular with young users, is owned by China-based ByteDance and has faced increasing attention from security-conscious governments in recent months. India has banned the app and the Trump administration—worried about the potential threat to national security—has said it’s considering doing so in the United States.

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7 things to know about the IRS tax deadline on Wednesday

7 things to know about the IRS tax deadline on Wednesday
[Photo: Ocean Ng/Unsplash; NeONBRAND/Unsplash]

Procrastinators, we know what you’ll be doing this weekend: Your taxes.

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The deadline for filing and paying your federal income taxes in the U.S. was pushed from the traditional April 15 to July 15, aka this coming Wednesday. Throngs of Americans will have their W-2s, 1099s, expenses and charity receipts, bank documents, etc. strewn all over their kitchen tables, as they rush to make the cutoff. In honor of the big day, here are seven things you need to know about this year’s unusual Tax Day.

Why did this happen?

The U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service announced back in mid-March that the deadline was extended, because of the COVID-19 outbreak. People who live and work outside the U.S. usually have to meet a June 15 deadline, but that’s also delayed until July 15.

Can I get another extension?

Yes. You need to file a Form 4868 or if you’re a business, a Form 7004. That’ll get you until October 15. In a normal year, filing an extension by April 15 scores you an extra six months to file—but not pay—your taxes.

What happens if I miss the July 15 deadline?

Penalties and interest start to accrue the next day.

What about my state taxes?

All states with personal income taxes extended their April 15 due dates, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. What the new date is differs by state.

Should I file a paper or an electronic return?

If you’re due a refund and want your money quicker, opt for the latter. The IRS says if you do that and choose direct deposit as the way you want to receive your refund, it likely will be in your hands in fewer than 21 days versus six weeks or more for a paper return.

Is it just me or is it harder to get in touch with the IRS to ask a question?

You’re not imagining it. The pandemic has hobbled the IRS in a number of ways. Among the issues were the that it couldn’t have people man the phone lines, there was no face-to-face customer service, about 10 million pieces of mail were backlogged, and the source of pre-printed forms (the National Distribution Center) was shuttered, according to a June report by the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent organization within the IRS.

Why is April 15 Tax Day anyway?

It wasn’t always. Back in 1913, Congress made March 1 the big day. Five years later, it was moved to March 15. In 1955, April 15 became the Tax Day we know and love.

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Tropical Storm Fay: 4 ways to track its path as Hurricane Center warns NYC area to be prepared

Tropical Storm Fay: 4 ways to track its path as Hurricane Center warns NYC area to be prepared
[Photo: Esri; NASA/Unsplash]

There’ll be no rest for weary New Yorkers this weekend.

Tropical Storm Fay, the sixth—yes, sixth—named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season is bearing down on the Northeast and expected to bring messy weather from Maryland up into southern New England, the National Hurricane Center said this morning. New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey are all under tropical storm warnings. The storm is expected to cause heavy rainfall and high winds in New York City on Friday.

This year’s hurricane season got off to a historically early start, with Fay being the earliest sixth named storm ever, according to meteorologist Philip Klotzbach. The previous record was set by Franklin in 2005, which formed on July 22 that year.

If you’re looking for ways to track Tropical Storm Fay as it makes its way up the coast, I’ve rounded up a few resources below, including real-time maps and infographics:

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The power of positive thinking has been debunked. Try reality thinking instead

The power of positive thinking has been debunked. Try reality thinking instead
[Photo: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash]

If you imagine yourself wealthy, you will become wealthy.

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Except not.

Skeptics from the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Bath followed people’s finances and expectations for 18 years and found that overly optimistic thinkers end up not rich, but sadder and poorer. Perhaps optimism is not a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Who fares best? Realistic thinkers, who make decisions based on accurate assessments—aka reality. “Being realistic about your future and making sound decisions based on evidence can bring a sense of well-being, without having to immerse yourself in relentless positivity,” noted the study’s coauthor Chris Dawson, an associate professor of business economics at the University of Bath School of Management.

The study tracked 1,600 individuals in the British Household Panel Survey for nearly two decades.

Both unrealistic optimists and unrealistic pessimists faired poorly due to making decisions based on biased expectations. Both tactics also result in emotional turmoil: Overly optimistic thinkers can experience destructive levels of disappointment when expectations do not pan out, while overly pessimistic thinkers can experience the ongoing dread of seeing and expecting problems.

To help illustrate how optimistic, realistic, and pessimistic thinkers function, coauthor David de Meza, a professor of management at the London School of Economics, describes how each behave during a pandemic. “Optimists will see themselves as less susceptible to the risk of Covid-19 than others and are therefore less likely to take appropriate precautionary measures,” he writes. “Pessimists, on the other hand, may be tempted to never leave their houses or send their children to school again. Realists take measured risks based on our scientific understanding of the disease.”

Realistic thinkers, of course, are a minority: The researchers say that roughly 80% of the population are unrealistic optimists, who tend to overestimate the likelihood that good things will happen and underestimate the possibility of bad things. The title of Karen Cerulo’s excellent book on the topic describes the downside of this all-American outlook: Never Saw It Coming

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Ban TikTok in the U.S.? 44% of Republicans would be fine with that

Ban TikTok in the U.S.? 44% of Republicans would be fine with that
[Photo: Kon Karampelas/Unsplash; OpenClipart-Vectors/Pixabay]

July has been a rocky month so far for TikTok, the social media app that’s taken the world by storm in the last few years. The reason things have been so bad for TikTok lately is that the U.S. appears to be seriously considering a ban on the app. Such a ban is threatening to come just weeks after India’s government banned the app in that country.

The reasons given for TikTok’s ban in India and its potential ban in the U.S. by the countries’ governments come down to them viewing the app as a security threat. This is due to the fact that TikTok is owned by Chinese-based ByteDance. The U.S. and Indian government fear TikTok either has or could funnel information about its citizens to the Chinese Communist Party. Of course, the geopolitics of late also come into play here.

But just how would Americans respond if the U.S. government said they could no longer access TikTok? Thanks to a Morning Consult survey, we now have some idea:

  • Twenty-nine percent of U.S. adults said TikTok should be banned, while 33% said it shouldn’t. Thirty-eight percent did not know whether it should be banned or not. This means that almost a third of America is still undecided about a TikTok ban, which means the majority could still go either way.
  • However, when broken down by political affiliation, those numbers change radically.
  • Forty-four percent of Republicans surveyed said TikTok should be banned. However, just 19% of Democrats and 26% of Independents said the same.
  • When broken down by age, those in favor of a TikTok ban skew toward the older end of the spectrum.
  • Thirty-four percent of baby boomers said TikTok should be banned, with 32% of Gen-Xers saying the same. However, just 21% of millennials and 20% of Gen Z say the app should be banned.
  • And speaking of Gen Z, the survey found that 25% of Gen Z-ers said they are more inclined to use the app after learning the U.S. government is considering a ban.

As of the time of this writing, TikTok is the third most-downloaded free app in Apple’s App Store and the fourth most-downloaded free app in the Google Play store. It currently has over 2 billion downloads to date.

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Shopping for plant-based meat? Check the meat department

Shopping for plant-based meat? Check the meat department
[Photo: courtesy of Beyond Meat]

Where’s the plant-based beef?

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In the grocery store’s animal-meat department—if you want to increase sales, that is.

A new study released by the supermarket chain Kroger and the Plant Based Foods Association finds that sales for such products jump 23% when they are sold near real meat.

The data is a result of a 12-week test done with refrigerated plant-based meat in 60 Kroger stores in Colorado, Illinois, and Indiana between December 2019 and this past February.

“This research proves that it is important for retailers to place plant-based meat where shoppers expect to find it: in the meat department,” Julie Emmett, PBFA’s senior director of retail partnerships, said in a written statement.

Plant-based milks, such as oat milk, soy milk, and almond milk, have long been sold in the dairy departments of most supermarkets in the U.S.

During the Kroger experiment, sales jumped 32% in the Midwest, where flexitarianism is growing. In the Denver area, where Kroger operates stores under the King Soopers banner, plant-based diets are more common and sales grew 13% over the control stores.

Plant-based meat sales in the United States totaled $939 million in 2019, up from $682 million in 2017, according to the Good Food Institute, a not-for-profit that works in the industry.

This kind of faux meat isn’t just in your fridge at home. Fast-food chains have embraced the trend from the Impossible Whopper at Burger King to the Dunkin’ Beyond Sausage Sandwich to the vegan spicy chorizo at Blaze Pizza.

“This test provides one more proof point that plant-based meats have moved from niche to mainstream,” Sean Brislin, merchandising director at Kroger, said.

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Widespread TikTok glitches mess with people’s likes and reality

Widespread TikTok glitches mess with people’s likes and reality
[Image: TikTok]

Fears of a world without TikTok spread like wildfire today on every social media site that isn’t TikTok after the popular video app experienced widespread glitches and server issues.

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The website Down Detector showed issues across the United States and in parts of Europe, with many users saying their like counts had dropped to zero. Some of the app’s Discover features were also unavailable as of Thursday afternoon.

TikTok is aware of the issues and said it was “working quickly” to fix them. Reached for comment, a TikTok spokesperson referred Fast Company to the following tweet:

The glitches took place just days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is “looking at” banning TikTok, whose China-based parent company, ByteDance, is the focus of increasing scrutiny from government regulators and privacy advocates.

TikTok, along with dozens of other China-based apps, was banned in India recently over what officials said were national security concerns. The action was taken shortly after a fatal clash along the disputed India-China border.

TikTok has enjoyed breakneck growth during the coronavirus pandemic and is among the most downloaded apps.

Update, Thursday:

A TikTok spokesperson released the following statement:

“Earlier today, some of our users experienced app issues around notifications, the display of likes and view counts, and trouble loading videos on some pages of the app. The issues appear to have been caused by higher traffic than normal on our servers in Virginia, causing temporary service disruptions. We’ve resolved the problem and are investigating the cause, and will share updates as they become available.”

[Screenshot: Down Detector]
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$600 unemployment benefit: Will it be extended? Here’s the latest as Congress drags its feet

$600 unemployment benefit: Will it be extended? Here’s the latest as Congress drags its feet
[Photo: Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash]

Don’t count on the Republican-led Senate extending the $600 federal unemployment benefit when lawmakers return from their vacation on July 20. Here’s the latest news on the coronavirus relief benefit that runs out this month:

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What’s happening with a new stimulus package?

Nothing. Congress departed for its July vacation without signaling when and how aid may arrive for the roughly 30 million people whose $600 benefit ends in two weeks, a week earlier than thought. The Democrat-led House passed the HEROES Act in May, which extended the $600 benefit through January 2021. It has been sitting in the Republican-led Senate since.

Are some against extending the $600 benefit?

Yes. Yesterday 38 Republican members of Congress—37 of them male—sent a letter to President Trump, urging him “to firmly oppose any extension of the $600 supplemental unemployment insurance.” They point to a Congressional Budget Office report that found that 5 out of 6 recipients earn more with the benefit than they do when working, and that “government benefits should not pay Americans more than if they went to work . . . the most effective path to economic recovery is to allow businesses to safely reopen their doors and rehire employees.”

The letter echoes a chorus of Republican senators who are equating the $600 benefit with disincentivizing work.

Does the $600 benefit really disincentivize work?

Only if safe jobs are readily available to the 25 million people who will be looking for work in the fall—and if unemployed workers are actually able to take those jobs. For example, New York City schools announced this week that children will be in school 1 to 3 days per week, making full-time work unfeasible for many parents, particularly those with multiple children attending school on different days.

Ending the benefit may also force workers to take or resume doing jobs in unsafe conditions during the pandemic.

Is the $600 benefit really damaging to the economy’s recovery?

It’s complicated. According to the same Congressional Budget Office report, extending the benefit will boost spending on goods, housing, and services, but will also reduce the labor supply as some choose not to work. In short, it’s complex and really depends on whether or not businesses are hiring. But is the right question being asked? The House Ways and Means Committee asked whether stopping the benefit would be harmful to unemployed workers, and found the answer to be a resounding yes.

Does the surge in COVID-19 cases matter?

Definitely. The 3.1 million reported coronavirus cases (which the CDC says are likely one-tenth of actual cases) are upending plans to reopen, which will put many Republican senators under pressure to pass some form of aid for the unemployed. Six weeks ago, that pressure wasn’t there.

What other proposals are on the table?

The Worker Relief and Security Act, proposed by Democratic Representative Don Beyer of Virginia, has some bipartisan support for providing a $200-$450/week benefit, with the amount dependent on each state’s unemployment rate. It is popular because the amount of aid would inherently rise or fall along with state unemployment rates.

Are any other changes happening with unemployment benefits?

Yep. Some states are instating requirements that recipients demonstrate that they are searching for work.

How much will people receive in unemployment once the $600 benefit ends?

Generally, 30-50% of their potential wages, through state unemployment benefits.

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5 questions about Trump’s finances that could be answered by seeing his records

5 questions about Trump’s finances that could be answered by seeing his records
[Photo: Andrea Hanks/The White House/Flickr]

In a pair of decisions released Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state prosecutors in New York can demand access to President Trump’s financial records but sent the question of whether House committees can do so back to lower courts for further consideration.

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Questions about the president’s finances and the finances of the numerous businesses his family is involved with have followed him at least since he entered the 2016 election. Here are some of them:

What is the president’s income and net worth?

Trump was the first major-party presidential candidate in decades not to release his tax returns to the public. He’s often referred to as a billionaire, and Forbes recently estimated his net worth at $2.1 billion, but his exact net worth and annual income remain a mystery.

Who has Trump done business with?

The Center for Responsive Politics reported an analysis of the sprawling network of Trump businesses and investments around the globe shows “a litany of apparent efforts by foreign business leaders and governments to gain influence with the leader of the free world.” And Trump has faced lawsuits and allegations that he’s violating the emoluments clause, a formerly esoteric section of the Constitution that bans receiving gifts from foreign leaders. But the exact extent of his business partnerships and affiliations remains locked up in corporate financial documents.

What has he actually given to charity?

Trump agreed to give $2 million to outside charities under a settlement with New York State regarding allegations that he used his Donald J. Trump Foundation to settle other debts and for political purposes. He also agreed to unwind the foundation. But the extent of his total charitable donations has been in question since his first presidential run, with some reports suggesting the president was not a major charitable donor, particularly given his wealth.

How much does he pay in taxes?

Reports have suggested that one of the reasons Trump has been reluctant to release his tax returns is that he may not pay much in income tax. That’s not necessarily evidence of wrongdoing, if he and his accountants use clever but legal techniques to minimize his tax bill, but it may not sit well with his populist image.

Has Trump committed financial crimes?

The Manhattan state prosecutor sought Trump financial records under an investigation into “business transactions involving multiple individuals whose conduct may have violated state law,” according to Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision. The New York Times reported that the investigation involves payments allegedly made to women who claimed they had affairs with Trump and whether those payments violated campaign finance laws.

A 2018 investigative piece in the Times also alleged Trump used “suspect tax schemes as he reaped riches from his father,” as the paper’s headline put it. And a story last year in Mother Jones suggested that a large debt Trump owes to a company he owns could have suspect tax purposes. The financial documents for Trump and his companies could reveal whether Trump used clever but legal techniques to minimize his taxes or whether he crossed over lines into criminal activity.

Why we may not learn the truth

Because Trump’s documents are, at present, sought by New York prosecutors for a grand jury investigation, and grand jury records are typically secret, it’s quite possible that none of the records will become public before the November election. That may change if the records lead to any criminal or civil cases being filed by New York authorities.

It also still remains possible that House investigators will, at some point, get access to Trump’s records. The court, in a 7-2 decision, didn’t outright deny the request but rather sent the matter back to a lower court. The court is to consider more aspects of how the request plays with constitutional separation of powers between the legislature and executive. The Supreme Court, which is often reluctant to get involved in political disputes, also pointedly made clear that such matters are often resolved by negotiations between Congress and the president, not by judicial rulings.

“Other considerations may be pertinent as well,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in sending the case back to the lower court. “One case every two centuries does not afford enough experience for an exhaustive list.”

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Now you can play Tetris in live tournaments and win money: Here’s how

Now you can play Tetris in live tournaments and win money: Here’s how
[Image: Gwen_30/Pixabay]

Get ready for a new time suck.

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Tetris is turning into a live game show.

The iconic video game, which long ago migrated to mobile, is letting fans compete for more than $1 million in cash prizes annually, N3twork announced today.

Tetris Primetime, part of the Tetris mobile app’s overhaul, will be played at 7:30 p.m. local time seven days a week. At launch, it will be available in the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The game show will be based out of Auckland, Berlin, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, New York City, and Perth.

It’s free to enter. You can find the app on Apple’s app store for iOS or Google Play for Android.

The host of the HQ Trivia-esque game is New Zealand actor Millen Baird, who according to IMDb was in Housebound, Auckland Daze, and Terry Teo.

Tetris was created by Russian software engineer Alexey Pajitnov in 1984.

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Name pronunciation matters! LinkedIn’s new audio feature helps you get it right the first time

Name pronunciation matters! LinkedIn’s new audio feature helps you get it right the first time
[Photo: artisteer/iStock]

Her name is Troi.

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Yes, you’re tempted to transpose the two middle letters, making it Tori.

Or to say, “troo-ee.”

Or to assume it’s the same as the French word for three, “twa.”

But it is pronounced as if it ended in a Y and rhymes with “joy.”

Troi Barnes has heard it all, but soon, people will know how to say her name before they even meet her.

This week, LinkedIn launches a new audio feature that lets you record the precise pronunciation of your name. Then, anyone looking at your profile can listen to it.

“Ever seen someone’s name in writing and find yourself not totally sure how to pronounce it correctly? Correct pronunciation is not just a common courtesy—it’s an important part of making a good first impression and creating an inclusive workplace,” the company said in a blog post, explaining the addition of the pronouncer.

Right now, you can only add it on mobile, though anyone can play the audio back on any platform, LinkedIn said. The optional feature, noted by a speaker icon beside your name, will be made available worldwide in the next month.

“If you don’t try to pronounce my name, it’s a feeling of less respect,” Barnes says. “I give people the benefit of the doubt. They were looking too fast . . . Sometimes, I think it’s laziness: ‘If I can’t pronounce their name, I’ll give them a name that makes me feel comfortable without asking them how to pronounce it.’ Most of the time, it’s out of ignorance.”

Everyone from workplace fans of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People to broadcast journalists who have pronouncers embedded in their scripts knows how important it is to get names right. Failing to do so is viewed as sloppy at best and as a microaggression at worst.

“Very often when I meet people with quote-unquote unusual names, they’re people of color and indigenous people, and the people pronouncing them who tend to mess it up or don’t ask for clarification of my name are white people,” said Barnes, who’s a junior account executive at Skai Blue Media, a Philadelphia public relations firm named for the founder’s daughter—and pronounced “sky.”

Necessary tools for a more diverse workforce

As the American workforce grows more diverse and inclusive, the challenges will grow. Whether atypical spellings, differently accented familiar names, or ones from other languages and cultures, it’s a matter of being mindful. Remember that Key & Peele substitute-teacher sketch?

Here, at Fast Company, for example, there’s Maja, who pronounces the J like a Y; Samir with a strong “meer” to bring up the back; and someone who’s proven himself not to be an heir to the Zara apparel fortune by pronouncing his last name mellifluously “ZAR-ah.”

New York-based career consultant Maggie Mistal’s last name rhymes with “pistol. She’ll get “miss-TALL” or an injected R to make it “mistral,” which is a real word (it refers to a strong, cold wind in southern France), but not her name. From a professional development and job advancement perspective, she applauded the new LinkedIn feature.

“It bridges the gap. If you have a hard-to-pronounce name or a different spelling to your name, it makes it easier for people to connect to you,” Mistal says. “People love to hear the sound of their own name. It’s the most beautiful music on earth, but it has to be the right pronunciation of that name.”

She advises people to alert others to mispronunciations—even if the offender is the CEO and the venue is a large room full of people.

“Who you are is what you’re called. People’s names have stories behind them, meaning to them, Mistal says. “[Correcting] communicates to people you have a presence, an identity you care about.”

The shift is already underway. In middle of the 20th century, Hollywood changed its stars’ names without a second thought, but today’s celebrities revel in their unique monikers. Think Uzo Aduba, Saoirse Ronan, Djimon Hounsou, Ming-Na Wen, Zach Galifianakis, and Quvenzhané Wallis.

People butcher Neelima Nair’s name all the time—NEE-lih-mah NYE-er, not Nah-LEE-mah NAIR or any combination thereof— and she doesn’t always correct the offender.

“It depends on the situation,” explains Nair, an organic chemistry lecturer at the University of New England. “Oftentimes I don’t bother, because people struggle to pronounce it the right way. I don’t want to disrupt the conversation, especially if it’s not someone I’m dealing with for an extended period of time.”

Her experience has made her sensitive to others.

“If it’s a name I’m not familiar with and I suspect I might be pronouncing it incorrectly, I’ll definitely ask,” she says.

LinkedIn’s name feature can’t physically follow you into the office, so here are some tips to ensure coworkers get your name right:

  • Clearly communicate the right pronunciation from day one.
  • Be prepared to have to repeat yourself. Some colleagues might take more time to catch on.
  • Gently correct people if they say your name wrong.
  • Offer a tip to remember the right pronunciation, like break down the syllables or suggest a rhyming word.
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Jack Dorsey is donating $3 million to kick off a universal basic income program

Jack Dorsey is donating $3 million to kick off a universal basic income program
[Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey is throwing his weight behind universal basic income.

The Silicon Valley entrepreneur is committing $3 million to Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a new collective of 14 mayors advocating for direct, recurring cash payments to citizens at the local, state, and federal level. The payments seek to reduce economic insecurity and close the wealth and income gap across the United States in the wake of the global pandemic, starting in cities such as Los Angeles; Tacoma, Washington; Atlanta; and Pittsburgh.

Dorsey’s contribution will be made through his Start Small initiative, a $1 billion fund for coronavirus relief efforts unveiled in April. Along with pledging to give away what was at the time one-third of his total assets, Dorsey also promised to disclose each gift on a real-time, public Google Doc. His contributions thus far include $10 million to provide laptops and internet access for 25,000 public school students in Oakland, California, $10 million to set up free COVID-19 testing sites in vulnerable and underserved communities, and $20 million to deploy digital tools for COVID-19 contact tracing.

Dorsey also donated $5 million to Humanity Forward, former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s nonprofit focused on establishing a universal basic income.

Yang was the first to champion a universal basic income of $1,000 per month during his 2020 campaign run, a concept that seemed radical at the time, but has since been elevated as the coronavirus crisis rocked the economy. In May, Senators Kamala Harris of California, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Ed Markey of Massachusetts introduced the Monthly Economic Crisis Support Act, which would provide $2,000 per month to every individual with an income below $120,000 for the duration of the pandemic, although the proposal has a slim chance of passing Congress.

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126,000 women could lose access to birth control after Supreme Court ruling

126,000 women could lose access to birth control after Supreme Court ruling
[Photo: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition/Unsplash]

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Wednesday that many employers can opt out of providing birth control coverage, otherwise required by regulations issued under the Affordable Care Act, based on religious or moral objections.

The court upheld a Trump administration rule allowing for such exemptions, and government estimates cited in the decision indicate that roughly 70,000 to 126,000 women could lose access to insurance-paid contraception. Under Barack Obama, regulations had exempted houses of worship but not other religious-affiliated organizations, The New York Times reports.

The Trump administration had taken the position that “the contraceptive-coverage requirement imposes a substantial burden on certain objecting employers” when it expanded which organizations can be exempt. But on Wednesday, reproductive rights groups slammed the rule and the court decision for putting another burden on individuals.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Trump administration to put control over people’s birth control in the hands of the whims of their bosses and employers is deplorable,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue in a statement. “This decision just further exposes that ultimately, the Radical Right is really about controlling women and our lives with no eye towards equality or public health and well being.”

The ruling was one of two Supreme Court decisions issued Wednesday involving religion and workers’ rights. In another 7-2 split, the court ruled that federal work discrimination laws don’t apply to teachers in religious schools if they provide religious instruction as part of their duties.

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Why is there a national coin shortage? Your currency questions answered

Why is there a national coin shortage? Your currency questions answered
[Photo: Chris Briggs/Unsplash]

COVID-19 has felled another victim: coins. There is a severe coin shortage in the United States. Why, you ask? Read on.

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What’s happening? The Federal Reserve, which oversees the national coin inventory and its distribution to banks, is low on coins, and began “strategically allocating” its supply three weeks ago. This, in turn, means that the Reserve is giving fewer coins to the banks near you.

Does this affect me? Yep. When your local shop orders, say, $500 in coins from the bank, the bank may only be able to provide $200 in coins. This means that you can no longer get change, and many local stores are requiring exact change or credit cards.

But I don’t understand. Even if businesses are closed or people are shopping online, why would there be less money? Excellent inquiry! Our currency system is based on circulation—the money must constantly move. “The flow of coin through the economy has gotten all . . . it’s kind of stopped,” Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, told the House Financial Services Committee last month. “The places where you go to give your coins and get credit, cash—those have not been working. Stores have been closed. So the whole system of flow has kind of come to a stop.” Coin deposits at banks are down 50% since the start of the pandemic, and customers are avoiding places like transit hubs and laundromats, which typically receive influxes of coins.

So are people hoarding money? Kinda. The amount of currency in circulation is up by 7% since February, so people are likely holding more cash than usual, but the bigger problem is the damaged circulation.

Can’t they just make more coins? The U.S. Mint’s production of coins is decreased due to employee coronavirus safety efforts. Also, making more coins doesn’t necessarily solve the problem: $47.8 billion in coins are already circulating in the U.S., which is $142 in coins for every person in the U.S., including children.

Is anyone doing anything to fix this? The U.S. Coin Task Force was established a couple weeks ago, which is expected to release recommendations at the end of the month.

Can I help? Yep. Pay with coins, or deposit your coin jar at a bank.

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How and when to see the rare NEOWISE comet this month

How and when to see the rare NEOWISE comet this month
[Photo: Flickr user Hypatia Alexandria]

A new comet is making its way across the sky this July, and if you’re in the right place at the right time, you might just catch a glimpse.

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The comet is known to NASA researchers as Comet C/2020 F3, but it was fondly dubbed NEOWISE after it was discovered by the NEOWISE satellite in March. At that time NEOWISE, which is essentially a giant iceberg shedding a tail of gas, dust, and ice, was hurtling toward the sun, and now, after surviving its loop around the sun, it’s heading back toward Earth on its way to the outer solar system.

And after brushing the sun, NEOWISE has brightened to a level equivalent to the stars in the Big Dipper, making it one of the few comets of the 21st century that is visible to the unaided eye, and also one of the rare few with a long, visible tail. Photographs of NEOWISE have already been snapped in countries spanning the globe, from Switzerland and France to Israel and Lebanon.

How and when to see it

  • Right now: Currently, the comet can be seen at dawn in the northeastern sky, appearing very low on the horizon, only one or two degrees above the horizon line.
  • On July 11, the comet will reach its highest point on the horizon, about 10 degrees above the horizon line, at dawn.
  • After July 11, the comet can be seen at dusk in the northwestern sky, initially appearing low on the horizon, but climbing higher in the sky as the month continues.
  • On July 22, the comet will reach its closest approach to Earth, which is expected to be prime time for viewing.
  • On July 25, the comet will reach an altitude of 30 degrees above the horizon line at dusk.

The comet is expected to be visible through the end of the month. However, as is the nature of giant icebergs shooting through space, NEOWISE could break apart or burn away at any time, so get out there early for a sure spotting!

Here’s what to look forward to:

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Cleveland Cavs owner’s Quicken Loans/Rocket Mortgage files for IPO

Cleveland Cavs owner’s Quicken Loans/Rocket Mortgage files for IPO
[Photo: Maximillian Conacher/Unsplash]

The group of mortgage-related businesses owned by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, including Quicken Loans and Rocket Mortgage, has filed for an initial public offering.

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The new entity will be called Rocket Companies.

Rocket Mortgage, the flagship business, is the largest retail mortgage originator, according to paperwork filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday. It’s provided $1 trillion-plus in home loans since launching, with its market share jumping from 1.3% in 2009 to 9.2% in the first quarter of 2020.

Rocket Companies wants to list on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol RKT.

Gilbert, who founded the business in 1985, will retain control of Rocket Companies with 79% of the combined voting power of the common stock.

For the first quarter of this year, ending March 31, it had income of $97.7 million and revenue of $1.8 billion versus a $299 million loss and revenue of $727 million in the first quarter of 2019, the Form S-1 says.

It explains that the company is “obsessed with helping our clients achieve the American dream of home ownership, and financial freedom. We are committed to providing an industry-leading client experience powered by our award-winning culture, and innovative technologies. We believe our widely recognized ‘Rocket’ brand is synonymous with providing simple, fast, and trusted digital solutions for complex personal transactions.”

Other business that are part of the Detroit-based constellation include Amrock, Rocket Homes, Rocket Loans, Rock Connections, Rocket Auto, and Core Digital Media.

Rocket Companies employs about 20,000 people.

Gilbert bought the Cleveland NBA team for $375 million in 2005. What had been called Quicken Loans Arena, nicknamed The Q, was renamed Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in April 2019.

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Columbia University researchers know why you chose that playlist, and it’s not about the music

Columbia University researchers know why you chose that playlist, and it’s not about the music
[Photo: rawpixel; Elionas/Pixabay]

And you thought you liked your favorite musicians for their music. How naive!

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A new study out of Columbia Business School and Bar-Ilan University in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that you prefer the music of artists with personalities similar to your own. In other words, you like yourself.

Researchers studied the public personas of the most famous 50 musicians in the Western world, including Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Whitney Houston, The Rolling Stones, Beyoncé, Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, Maroon 5, Taylor Swift, and Ozzy Osbourne. In two studies of over 80,000 participants, they found that the personalities of the musicians correlate with those of their fans. A third study of 4,995 participants showed that fans’ personalities predict their musical preferences as much as other strong predictors like gender, age, and features of the music.

Thus, your feverish devotion—or lack thereof—to Bjork or Beyoncé or Ani or Ozzy or Kanye.

The researchers did not set out to better understand groupies. Rather, music is known to shape cultural interactions between individuals and groups, as well as influence listeners’ thoughts and feelings, so understanding the mechanisms of these interactions is paramount. The findings can also help people find a sense of connectedness and understanding—which can bolster mental health. And of course there’s money to be made.

“The findings can pave the way for new approaches for record companies or music management to target and build audiences,” noted coauthor Sandra Matz, an associate professor of business at Columbia Business School.

Most importantly, you can finally comprehend the large fanbases of musicians you find utterly repulsive: Their fans are like them, not you.

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Why is TikTok getting banned? Here’s the latest update as the U.S. mulls app shutdown

Why is TikTok getting banned? Here’s the latest update as the U.S. mulls app shutdown
[Photo: Kon Karampelas/Unsplash]

It hasn’t been a good few weeks for TikTok, the Chinese-owned app that has been the world’s hottest social media platform for the past few years. It currently has over two billion users. Despite its mass appeal, the app is coming under increasing scrutiny from powerful governments–which could spell disaster for TikTok’s future.

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First, last week, India banned TikTok, along with 58 other Chinese apps. That ban was a hammer blow to TikTok in particular as India is its largest market, according to the BBC. Then on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is also “looking at” banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps as well. A day later, President Trump confirmed as much, saying:

It’s something we’re looking at, yes. It’s a big business. Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful.

So why has one of the biggest countries in the world banned TikTok, and why is the U.S. considering following suit? This is where geopolitics comes into play. Officially, India said it banned the app because of security concerns. Specifically, it said the app was a “threat to [India’s] sovereignty and integrity.” Mike Pompeo also alluded to security concerns being the impetus for banning TikTok. When asked if he would recommend downloading the app, Pompeo said, “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Are those security concerns valid? No one knows for sure. But it’s possible the U.S. and Indian governments could have hard evidence to that effect–yet none has been made public. A TikTok spokesperson, on the other hand, has gone on the record saying, “TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the U.S. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”

So why does geopolitics come into play? It’s because India and the United States have incentives to stick it to China any way they can right now–including Chinese-owned businesses. A few weeks ago, before India banned TikTok, a major skirmish broke out on India’s northern frontier. The BBC says the skirmish was “gruesome, hand-to-hand combat” that left 20 Indian soldiers dead. That obviously did not sit well with India.

The United States, particularly the Trump administration, has also had a long-running beef with China around a number of issues, mainly regarding trade. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic broke, U.S. and Chinese relations have soured, with Trump often pinning the blame on China for the outbreak.

Matter of fact, China is increasingly a scapegoat for the beleaguered Trump, who is dealing with plummeting poll numbers as American cases of the virus continue to soar. And, as every political scientist will tell you, when a beleaguered incumbent is running for reelection, it helps to have a visible external enemy that incumbent is demonstrating they’re standing up to. The fact that TikTok users scuppered Trump’s big rally plans in Tulsa a few weeks ago surely isn’t helping the company avoid Trump’s wrath either.

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