Dozens at Facebook Unite to Challenge Its ‘Intolerant’ Liberal Culture – The New York Times

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Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, told Congress this year that he wanted the company to “be a platform for all ideas.”CreditCreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — The post went up quietly on Facebook’s internal message board last week. Titled “We Have a Problem With Political Diversity,” it quickly took off inside the social network.

“We are a political monoculture that’s intolerant of different views,” Brian Amerige, a senior Facebook engineer, wrote in the post, which was obtained by The New York Times. “We claim to welcome all perspectives, but are quick to attack — often in mobs — anyone who presents a view that appears to be in opposition to left-leaning ideology.”

Since the post went up, more than 100 Facebook employees have joined Mr. Amerige to form an online group called FB’ers for Political Diversity, according to two people who viewed the group’s page and who were not authorized to speak publicly. The aim of the initiative, according to Mr. Amerige’s memo, is to create a space for ideological diversity within the company.

The new group has upset other Facebook employees, who said its online posts were offensive to minorities. One engineer, who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation, said several people had lodged complaints with their managers about FB’ers for Political Diversity and were told that it had not broken any company rules.

Another employee said the group appeared to be constructive and inclusive of different political viewpoints. Mr. Amerige did not respond to requests for comment.

The activity is a rare sign of organized dissent within Facebook over the company’s largely liberal workplace culture. While the new group is just a sliver of Facebook’s work force of more than 25,000, the company’s workers have in the past appeared less inclined than their peers at other tech companies to challenge leadership, and most have been loyalists to its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg.

But over the past two years, Facebook has undergone a series of crises, including the spread of misinformation by Russians on its platform and the mishandling of users’ data. Facebook has also been accused of stifling conservative speech by President Trump and Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, among others. This month, the social network barred the far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a move that critics seized on as further evidence that the company harbors an anti-conservative bias.

Within Facebook, several employees said, people have argued over the decisions to ban certain accounts while allowing others. At staff meetings, they said, some workers have repeatedly asked for more guidance on what content the company disallows, and why. Others have said Facebook, out of fear of being seen as biased, has let too many right-wing groups flourish on the site.

The dispute over employees’ political ideology arose a week before Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, is scheduled to testify at a Senate hearing about social media manipulation in elections. A team helping Ms. Sandberg get ready for the hearing next Wednesday has warned her that some Republican lawmakers may raise questions about Facebook and biases, according to two people involved in the preparations.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump again brought up the issue of bias by tech companies with tweets attacking Google. In remarks later in the day, he widened his focus to include Twitter and Facebook.

Those companies “better be careful because you can’t do that to people,” Mr. Trump said. “I think that Google, and Twitter and Facebook, they are really treading on very, very troubled territory and they have to be careful. It is not fair to large portions of the population.”


 

Facebook has long been viewed as a predominantly liberal company. Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg have donated to Democratic politicians, for example, and have supported issues such as immigration reform.

The social network has sometimes struggled to integrate conservatives into its leadership. Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, the maker of virtual reality goggles that Facebook acquired, was pressured to leave the company last year, months after news spread that he had secretly donated to an organization dedicated to spreading anti-Hillary Clinton internet memes. And Peter Thiel, an outspoken supporter of Mr. Trump, has faced calls for his resignation from Facebook’s board.

Mr. Zuckerberg publicly defended Mr. Thiel last year, saying that he valued Mr. Thiel and that it was important to maintain diversity on the board. In an appearance before Congress this year, Mr. Zuckerberg responded to a question about anticonservative bias by saying he wanted Facebook to “be a platform for all ideas.”

In May, Facebook announced that former Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, would lead an inquiry into allegations of anticonservative bias on the social network. New employees also go through training that describes how to have respectful conversations about politics and diversity.

Other Silicon Valley companies, including Google, have also experienced a wave of employee activism over diversity. If tech companies are willing to adjust their workplaces to make underrepresented groups more welcome, some employees argue, they should extend the same regard to those who do not fit the liberal-leaning Silicon Valley mold.

Mr. Amerige, who started working at Facebook in 2012, said on his personal website that he followed philosophical principles laid out by the philosopher and writer Ayn Rand. He posted the 527-word memo about political diversity at Facebook on Aug. 20.

On issues like diversity and immigration, he wrote, “you can either keep quiet or sacrifice your reputation and career.”

Mr. Amerige proposed that Facebook employees debate their political ideas in the new group — one of tens of thousands of internal groups that cover a range of topics — adding that this debate would better equip the company to host a variety of viewpoints on its platform.

“We are entrusted by a great part of the world to be impartial and transparent carriers of people’s stories, ideas and commentary,” Mr. Amerige wrote. “Congress doesn’t think we can do this. The president doesn’t think we can do this. And like them or not, we deserve that criticism.”

Follow Kate Conger and Sheera Frenkel on Twitter: @kateconger and @sheeraf.

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A version of this article appears in print on , on Page B 1 of the New York edition with the headline: At Facebook, Workers Cite Intolerance By Liberals. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

 

 

Source: Dozens at Facebook Unite to Challenge Its ‘Intolerant’ Liberal Culture – The New York Times

The National Park Service Won’t Be Silenced – Scientific American Blog Network

Trump is in power, and one of his first acts has been to gag government agencies. After the National Park Service bruised his ego by retweeting a New York Times tweet showing Trump’s inauguration numbers to be lower than President Obama’s 2009 crowd, they were ordered to stop all tweets, including scheduled ones.

He then muzzled the EPA, not only prohibiting it from using social media, but also ordering it to remove a critical page on climate change from its website and put a freeze on awarding grants and contracts critical to our nation’s environmental health. (In case you’re in any doubt as to what a Trump presidency means for climate change and the environment, just consider that one of his first official acts after being sworn in was to announce he’d be eliminating The Climate Action Plan – legislation critical to combating anthropogenic global warming.)

The USDA went silent for several days, and an email ordering them to cease “news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content” until further notice. As of this writing, they have not tweeted since January 18th. The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service account has only tweeted once.

Other agencies have gone silent or become considerably quieter.  It’s eerily quiet on formerly chatty government social media accounts.

But the NPS refuses to be silenced. While their main official Twitter account has fallen into line, tweeting an apology for their inauguration retweets and sticking to innocuous fluff since, the Badlands National Park official account defiantly started tweeting about climate change:

 

On Tuesday, the Twitter account for South Dakota’s Badlands National Park—a subsidiary of the National Park Service—began tweeting out climate change facts, in apparent defiance of the gag order. Someone working for the national park’s social media team went rogue and started posting climate change facts from the National Wildlife Federation’s Web site in 140-character bursts. (Trump, who can generously be described as a climate change skeptic, has previously called called climate change a “hoax” engineered by the Chinese.)

 

The National Park’s tweets were retweeted thousands of times before they were suddenly deleted later Tuesday afternoon.

 

You can see screenshots of the rogue tweets at the above link.

Not long after Badlands was brought into line, anonymous employees of the NPS went rogue. They created the AltUSNatlParkService account and, after retweeting a particularly provocative image from the Badlands account along with some climate change data, announced their intent in no uncertain terms:

Screenshot of @AltNatParkSer tweets. From the bottom (earliest) to the top tweet, they are as follows: Tweet 1: "'The pre-industrial concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm). As of December 2016, 404.93 ppm.'" Tweet 2: "Mr Trump, you may have taken us down officially. But with scientific evidence & the Internet our message will get out. Tweet 3: "Respect goes out to our brothers and sisters at the @BadlandsNPS. When they silence you, we will speak for you."
Screenshot of AltUSNatParkService tweets. Credit: Dana Hunter

These federal employees speaking out now understand that science is not subordinate to politics, that truth is essential, and transparency vital to a functioning democracy. They are risking their careers to ensure the public is kept informed. They’re exercising their free speech rights to ensure we know the truth.

I have never been prouder of our National Park Service than I am now.

Please follow them on Twitter. Retweet their climate change data. Support their efforts. Get the word out. And support your National Parks by donating and volunteering. Tell your elected officials to support the NPS. Take a moment to thank NPS employees during your visits. They have never needed us more than now.

We will not be silenced.

We will protect our public lands.

And we will still be here long after Trump and his disastrous administration are a bad memory.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

 

The National Park Service Won’t Be Silenced – Scientific American Blog Network.

Apple Removes New York Times Apps From Its Store in China – The New York Times

Apple, complying with what it said was a request from Chinese authorities, removed news apps created by The New York Times from its app store in China late last month.

The move limits access to one of the few remaining channels for readers in mainland China to read The Times without resorting to special software. The government began blocking The Times’s websites in 2012, after a series of articles on the wealth amassed by the family of Wen Jiabao, who was then prime minister, but it had struggled in recent months to prevent readers from using the Chinese-language app.

Apple removed both the English-language and Chinese-language apps from the app store in China on Dec. 23. Apps from other international publications, including The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, were still available in the app store.

“We have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations,” Fred Sainz, an Apple spokesman, said of the Times apps. “As a result, the app must be taken down off the China App Store. When this situation changes, the App Store will once again offer the New York Times app for download in China.”


Mr. Sainz declined to comment on what local regulations the Times apps were said to have violated, who had contacted Apple and when, and whether a court order or other legal document had been presented.

China’s main internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, did not respond to faxed questions.

The Times bureau in Beijing said it had not been contacted by the Chinese government about the matter. A Times spokeswoman in New York, Eileen Murphy, said the company had asked Apple to reconsider its decision.

“The request by the Chinese authorities to remove our apps is part of their wider attempt to prevent readers in China from accessing independent news coverage by The New York Times of that country, coverage which is no different from the journalism we do about every other country in the world,” Ms. Murphy said in a statement.

The request appears to have been made under regulations released in June 2016 called Provisions on the Administration of Mobile Internet Application Information Services.

The regulations say apps cannot “engage in activities prohibited by laws and regulations such as endangering national security, disrupting social order and violating the legitimate rights and interests of others.” The cyberspace administration says on its website that apps also cannot publish “prohibited” information.

The ruling Communist Party tightly controls media inside China and employs one of the world’s most sophisticated systems of internet censorship. Chinese law prohibits the publication of “harmful information” online, and officials often take action without legal procedures or court orders against material they deem objectionable.

Apple has previously removed other, less prominent media apps from its China store. It is unclear how the company evaluates requests from Beijing to take down apps and whether it ever resists them.

Apple’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, has said that the company complies with all local laws. While in early 2016 Apple resisted a court request in the United States for it to help federal officials unlock an iPhone for a criminal investigation, Mr. Cook said he would obey whatever order the court ultimately handed down. In the end, the government was able to unlock the device without Apple’s help and the case was dropped.

Farzana Aslam, associate director of the Center for Comparative and Public Law at the University of Hong Kong, noted that in matters involving customer privacy, Apple requires governments to submit subpoenas, search warrants or other legal documents.

“Maybe in the end they have to do it, but I think there’s something to be said about standing up for what you believe in and purporting to put principle before profit in a country like China, to show that actually there is this tension there,” Ms. Aslam said. “It’s not as simple as, ‘Because we operate in your jurisdiction, we’ll do anything you ask of us.’”

She added that it was “very worrying” that Apple had not disclosed what laws the authorities said were violated, making it difficult for The Times and other publishers to file an appeal or challenge the government’s requests.

In the weeks leading up to the withdrawal of the Times apps, The Times was working on various articles related to the Chinese government. One of them, posted online on Dec. 29, revealed the billions of dollars in hidden perks and subsidies that the Chinese government provides to the world’s biggest iPhone factory. China is also one of Apple’s largest iPhone markets, though sales in that region have slowed.

On Dec. 23, David Barboza, a Times reporter, spoke with members of Apple’s media team about the article. Mr. Barboza had previously been in touch with the iPhone factory owner, Foxconn. He had also contacted the Chinese government as part of his reporting.

Later that day, a separate team from Apple informed The Times that the apps would be removed, Ms. Murphy said.

In another article, published on Dec. 22 as a post on its Sinosphere blog, The Times described an anti-Western internet video that had been widely promoted by Chinese public security offices.

The Times news apps remain available in Apple’s app stores for other countries, as well as the Hong Kong and Taiwan stores, but people must have a credit card with a billing address outside mainland China to download them. The Times crossword puzzle and virtual reality apps remain available throughout China.

When the Chinese government began blocking the Times websites in 2012, it also prevented users with Times apps from downloading new content.

But readers in China can still gain access to The Times using software that circumvents the government’s firewall. And in July 2015, The Times released a new version of its Chinese-language app that adopted a different method for retrieving articles, one that the government appeared unable to stop.

Apple’s decision to remove the app from its China store should not affect those who have already installed it. But users in China will not be able to download new releases unless they use another region’s app store.

The Times discovered after being blocked in 2012 that hackers with possible ties to the Chinese military had targeted the newspaper’s computer systems and that the attacks coincided with the reporting for that Times investigation.

Foreign tech companies face increasing pressure from government authorities in China. In April, Apple’s iBooks Store and iTunes Movies were shut down in the country, just six months after they were introduced there.

Mark Natkin, the Beijing-based managing director of Marbridge Consulting, who advises American technology firms in China, said he did not think any such company entering the Chinese market could “ever fully comprehend how challenging it’s going to be.”

Mr. Natkin said that Apple has a certain amount of leverage against the Chinese government in terms of the total amount of jobs created but that “the technology gap has started to close.”

Correction: January 4, 2017 An earlier version of this article, and its headline, referred incorrectly to the Apple store in China from which the Times apps were removed. It is the App Store, not the iTunes Store.


 

Apple Removes New York Times Apps From Its Store in China – The New York Times.

Source: Apple Removes New York Times Apps From Its Store in China – The New York Times

Kid Needs Permission Slip to Read ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ His Dad’s Response Is Brilliant | The Daily Dot

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s cautionary tale about book censorship, was written as a response to the paranoid political climate of the McCarthy era, but its message apparently still hasn’t sunk in. It’s 2016, and some kids still aren’t allowed to read the book without a permission slip from their parents.

Daily Show head writer Daniel Radosh just had to sign a note so his son could read it for a school book club. As Radosh’s son Milo explained in the note, Fahrenheit 451 has been challenged over the years by parents who object to the book’s mild swears (“hell” and “damn”) and its depiction of Bible-burning.

But those objections miss the point of the novel—they could only be more ironic if parents were calling for copies of Bradbury’s book to be destroyed. And Radosh is practically an irony-spotter by profession, so this wasn’t lost on him. He signed the slip and attached his own note, praising Milo’s teacher for immersing the kids so thoroughly in the world of Fahrenheit 451.

Here’s what he wrote:

I love this letter! What a wonderful way to introduce students to the theme of Fahrenheit 451 that books are so dangerous that the institutions of society — schools and parents — might be willing to team up against children to prevent them from reading one. It’s easy enough to read the book and say, ‘This is crazy. It could never really happen,’ but pretending to present students at the start with what seems like a totally reasonable ‘first step’ is a really immersive way to teach them how insidious censorship can be I’m sure that when the book club is over and the students realize the true intent of this letter they’ll be shocked at how many of them accepted it as an actual permission slip. In addition, Milo’s concern that allowing me to add this note will make him stand out as a troublemaker really brings home why most of the characters find it easier to accept the world they live in rather than challenge it. I assured him that his teacher would have his back.

Looks like this assignment’s going to be a learning experience for everyone involved.

Kid Needs Permission Slip to Read ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ His Dad’s Response Is Brilliant | The Daily Dot.

Source: Kid Needs Permission Slip to Read ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ His Dad’s Response Is Brilliant | The Daily Dot