Category: Today’ News Headlines

YouTube Executives Ignored Warnings, Letting Toxic Videos Run Rampant

Proposals to change recommendations and curb conspiracies were sacrificed for engagement, staff say.

A year ago, Susan Wojcicki was on stage to defend YouTube. Her company, hammered for months for fueling falsehoods online, was reeling from another flare-up involving a conspiracy theory video about the Parkland, Florida high school shooting that suggested the victims were “crisis actors.”

Wojcicki, YouTube’s chief executive officer, is a reluctant public ambassador, but she was in Austin at the South by Southwest conference to unveil a solution that she hoped would help quell conspiracy theories: a tiny text box from websites like Wikipedia that would sit below videos that questioned well-established facts like the moon landing and link viewers to the truth. 

Wojcicki’s media behemoth, bent on overtaking television, is estimated to rake in sales of more than $16 billion a year. But on that day, Wojcicki compared her video site to a different kind of institution. “We’re really more like a library,” she said, staking out a familiar position as a defender of free speech. “There have always been controversies, if you look back at libraries.”

Since Wojcicki took the stage, prominent conspiracy theories on the platform—including one on child vaccinations; another tying Hillary Clinton to a Satanic cult—have drawn the ire of lawmakers eager to regulate technology companies. And YouTube is, a year later, even more associated with the darker parts of the web.  

The conundrum isn’t just that videos questioning the moon landing or the efficacy of vaccines are on YouTube. The massive “library,” generated by users with little editorial oversight, is bound to have untrue nonsense. Instead, YouTube’s problem is that it allows the nonsense to flourish. And, in some cases, through its powerful artificial intelligence system, it even provides the fuel that lets it spread.

Wojcicki and her deputies know this. In recent years, scores of people insideYouTube and Google, its owner, raised concerns about the mass of false, incendiary and toxic content that the world’s largest video site surfaced and spread. One employee wanted to flag troubling videos, which fell just short of the hate speech rules, and stop recommending them to viewers. Another wanted to track these videos in a spreadsheet to chart their popularity. A third, fretful of the spread of “alt-right” video bloggers, created an internal vertical that showed just how popular they were. Each time they got the same basic response: Don’t rock the boat.

The company spent years chasing one business goal above others: “Engagement,” a measure of the views, time spent and interactions with online videos. Conversations with over twenty people who work at, or recently left, YouTube reveal a corporate leadership unable or unwilling to act on these internal alarms for fear of throttling engagement. 

Wojcicki would “never put her fingers on the scale,” said one person who worked for her. “Her view was, ‘My job is to run the company, not deal with this.’” This person, like others who spoke to Bloomberg News, asked not to be identified because of a worry of retaliation.

YouTube turned down Bloomberg News’ requests to speak to Wojcicki, other executives, management at Google and the board of Alphabet Inc., its parent company. Last week, Neal Mohan, its chief product officer, told The New York Times that the company has “made great strides” in addressing its issues with recommendation and radical content. 

A YouTube spokeswoman contested the notion that Wojcicki is inattentive to these issues and that the company prioritizes engagement above all else. Instead, the spokeswoman said the company has spent the last two years focused squarely on finding solutions for its content problems. Since 2017, YouTube has recommended clips based on a metric called “responsibility,” which includes input from satisfaction surveys it shows after videos. YouTube declined to describe it more fully, but said it receives “millions” of survey responses each week.

“Our primary focus has been tackling some of the platform’s toughest content challenges,” a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “We’ve taken a number of significant steps, including updating our recommendations system to prevent the spread of harmful misinformation, improving the news experience on YouTube, bringing the number of people focused on content issues across Google to 10,000, investing in machine learning to be able to more quickly find and remove violative content, and reviewing and updating our policies — we made more than 30 policy updates in 2018 alone. And this is not the end: responsibility remains our number one priority.”

In response to criticism about prioritizing growth over safety, Facebook Inc. has proposed a dramatic shift in its core product. YouTube still has struggled to explain any new corporate vision to the public and investors – and sometimes, to its own staff. Five senior personnel who left YouTube and Google in the last two years privately cited the platform’s inability to tame extreme, disturbing videos as the reason for their departure. Within Google, YouTube’s inability to fix its problems has remained a major gripe. Google shares slipped in late morning trading in New York on Tuesday, leaving them up 15 percent so far this year. Facebook stock has jumped more than 30 percent in 2019, after getting hammered last year. 

YouTube’s inertia was illuminated again after a deadly measles outbreak drew public attention to vaccinations conspiracies on social media several weeks ago. New data from Moonshot CVE, a London-based firm that studies extremism, found that fewer than twenty YouTube channels that have spread these lies reached over 170 million viewers, many who where then recommended other videos laden with conspiracy theories.

The company’s lackluster response to explicit videos aimed at kids has drawn criticism from the tech industry itself. Patrick Copeland, a former Google director who left in 2016, recently posted a damning indictment of his old company on LinkedIn. While watching YouTube, Copeland’s daughter was recommended a clip that featured both a Snow White character drawn with exaggerated sexual features and a horse engaged in a sexual act. “Most companies would fire someone for watching this video at work,” he wrote. “Unbelievable!!” Copeland, who spent a decade at Google, decided to block the YouTube.com domain. READ MORE:https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-04-02/youtube-executives-ignored-warnings-letting-toxic-videos-run-rampant

Lyft’s I.P.O. Was a Huge Success, Just Not for Investors Who Bought on Friday

Lyft’s stock market debut has set up its founders, employees, early backers and even those who scored shares in the initial public offering Thursday night for quite a windfall.

But not everyone who invested in the company is reaping the spoils.

Shares of the ride-hailing company rose nearly 9 percent on Friday. At over $26 billion, Lyft’s market value is almost double what private investors valued it at less than a year ago.

But Lyft’s first-day gain is measured off the I.P.O. price (which was set on Thursday, when shares were divided up mostly among large funds). Ordinary investors who wanted in had to wait to buy the stock until it was available on public markets on Friday, and at a much higher price than the big funds paid.

And those who bought as soon as trading began are already sitting on losses of a little more than 11 percent.

It serves as an important reminder that amid all the hoopla around trading debuts, small investors wind up taking a lot of the risk. Most of the gains on the first day of trading for a stock are realized with the first trade.

Over the past decade, companies listing shares on American stock exchanges have increased 14 percent from their I.P.O. price, according to Dealogic. But nearly all of the rise has come at the opening trade.

That dynamic has played out in many of the prominent I.P.O.s in recent years. Facebook shares opened 10 percent higher on their first day of trading and then proceeded to give back almost all those gains to finish essentially unchanged for the day.

Etsy was an extreme example of this. Its stock soared 94 percent on its first day of trading, but investors who bought at the open actually lost 3 percent by the close of trading.

And it’s not just tech companies. Levi Strauss recently made its return to the public markets, selling shares to investors at $17 a piece on March 20. The stock opened the next day at $22.22, a 31 percent jump. For the rest of trading that day, though, it climbed less than 1 percent.

Of course, if Lyft keeps growing as fast as Wall Street hopes it will, or works out how to turn a profit, then even the latecomers could wind up with respectable returns. Facebook shares are up more than 300 percent since their first day of trading, and after Etsy struggled for its first three years as a public company, its shares have more than doubled since they started trading.

Still, not being able to buy at the I.P.O. price also greatly affects returns over the next year. Investors who bought shares at the offering price have averaged a 22 percent increase over the past decade. Returns for those that bought at the open? Sixty percent less.

It Is Unspeakable’: How Maduro Used Cuban Doctors to Coerce Venezuela Voters

Yansnier Arias knew it was wrong. It violated the Constitution, not to mention the oath he took as a doctor in Cuba.

He had been sent to Venezuela by the Cuban government, one of thousands of doctors deployed to shore up ties between the two allies and alleviate Venezuela’s collapsing medical system.

But with President Nicolás Maduro’s re-election on the line, not everyone was allowed to be treated, Dr. Arias said.

A 65-year-old patient with heart failure entered his clinic — and urgently needed oxygen, he said. The tanks sat in another room at the ready, he recalled.

But he said his Cuban and Venezuelan superiors told him to use the oxygen as a political weapon instead: Not for medical emergencies that day, but to be doled out closer to the election, part of a national strategy to compel patients to vote for the government.

May 20, 2018, was nearing, he said, and the message was clear: Mr. Maduro needed to win, at any cost.

“There was oxygen, but they didn’t let me use it,” said Dr. Arias, who defected from the Cuban government’s medical program late last year and now lives in Chile. “We had to leave it for the election.”

To maintain their hold over Venezuela, Mr. Maduro and his supporters have often used the nation’s economic collapse to their advantage, dangling food before hungry voters, promising extra subsidies if he won, and demanding that people present identification cards tied to government rations when they came to the polls.

But participants in the schemes say Mr. Maduro and his supporters have deployed another tool as well: Cuba’s international medical corps.

n interviews, 16 members of Cuba’s medical missions to Venezuela — a signature element of relations between the two countries — described a system of deliberate political manipulation in which their services were wielded to secure votes for the governing Socialist Party, often through coercion.

Many tactics were used, they said, from simple reminders to vote for the government to denying treatment for opposition supporters with life-threatening ailments.

The Cuban doctors said they were ordered to go door-to-door in impoverished neighborhoods, offering medicine and warning residents that they would be cut off from medical services if they did not vote for Mr. Maduro or his candidates.

Many said their superiors directed them to issue the same threats during closed-door consultations with patients seeking treatment for chronic diseases.

One former Cuban supervisor said that she and other foreign medical workers were given counterfeit identification cards to vote in an election. Another doctor said she and others were told to give precise voting instructions to elderly patients, whose infirmities made them particularly easy to manipulate.

“These are the kinds of things you should never do in your life,” said the doctor. Like several others, she spoke on the condition of anonymity because she and her relatives could face retaliation by the Cuban or Venezuelan authorities.

SF Muni Ignores Harassment Allegations and open Pandora’s box

By Bobby Mardis

A brief conversation with Muni Transit Car Cleaner Lead Person, Valerie Taybron, led to spewing an emotional colloquy on why she has been unable to retire from SFMTA.  She stated that she and others are victims of the mismanagement of their retirement funds, and of years of service.  When digging deeper into what was seemingly an obvious error in paperwork, or maybe a simple accounting mistake has opened up Pandora’s box of gross internal mismanagement on surprising levels.  Sexual harassment allegations and retaliation has hit transportation giant, San Francisco MUNI.  Court documents show that Key management officials at Muni have been under investigation for not only blatant harassment, but also the mismanagement that has plagued SFMTA that has led to endless litigation.

Richmond Resident Valerie Taybron is preparing her case with authorities to address not only the sexual harassment allegations, but also retaliation and racial discrimination actions.  Most recently Muni Chief, John Haley stepped down from Sexual Harassment charges towards his assistant, Sabrina Suzuki, who filed a suit, which led to his early retirement. In an SF Examiner article released on October 31, 2018, the problem runs deep with approximately 60 women giving written testimony to the SFMTA on October 22 addressing sexual harassment allegations. In 2016 Sherri Anderson, a SFMTA employee was another victim of sexual harassment and retaliation by management that recently settled her case based on court documents. (Case #: CGC-16-555748)

Although Ms. Taybron has her own separate complaints against Muni, it is well documented that her case is not an isolated incident.  She has reported her allegations to Ed Reiskin, General Manager Public Transportation, John Haley Deputy Director, Donald Ellison, Deputy Director of HR, and Hector Cardenas Local of 1021 with no resolution, or an attempted investigation. Employees suggest that not only are a good number of sexual harassment issues ignored by management, but also accusers have been continually retaliated against for their complaints. 

In the case of Joycelyn Lampkin, a Muni car cleaner, who alleged sexual harassment by her supervisor, Darryl Person, she filed an official grievance with the HR EEO supervisor Maria Valdez with no resolve.  After Mrs. Lampkin took some time off, she returned to work and inquired about the results of the investigation and Mrs. Valdez responded to the alleged incident by stating, and I quote, “You will rot in hell before I will do anything,” per Mrs. Lampkin.  Much like in the recent February 12th Examiner article that spotlighted change, women who formed SFMTA change see the first change in the stepping down of Mr. Donald Ellison.

In a complaint written on October 17, to Mr. Ed Reiskin by Ms. Taybron, she alleged that her complaints were intentionally ignored because she was an African-American Female who had previously won a judgment for similar complaints in the past. Lee Summerlot, the Acting Deputy Director at the time, supplied Taybron with surveillance footage of the theft of her personal property along with tracking for her case.   (Continued)…

Ms. Valerie Taybron, Muni Car Cleaner Lead Person, alleges that not only has the harassment continued, but it has also taken on the form of retaliation. “MUNI management, John Catanach, Acting Deputy Director, and Berry Gehret, supervisor, have allowed me to be violated by being sexually harassed, exposed to continued death threats on the job, the stealing of my personal belongings, denied opportunity on promotions, and maliciously stealing from my 40 years of service so that I cannot retire.” stated Ms. Taybron.  Mr. Taybron also alleged that after she took a fall on the job and that Mr. Gehret refused to call an ambulance for assistance. This continued effort to retaliate against her compounds the mismanagement and harassment abuse.

Ms. Taybron has mentioned that she has gone to the retirement board and Michael Guess, Asst. Manager of Retirement for 11 years to date in hopes of retiring with her full benefits. She was repeatedly denied because of suspiciously missing files that substantiate her retirement.  On October 28, she submitted a request for documents to Kate McClure, Senior benefits analyst, which Taybron stated should have only taken three days based on advisement from her union. She has yet to receive the documents.

The HR department is currently under investigation among other issues, for pressuring the closure of pending cases without investigations. As of 11-28-18 Ms. Taybron has yet to receive proper paperwork for her retirement and her complete years of service.  Per Ms. Taybron, Management called her on 11/8/18 to set up a meeting involving a separate issue, however Ms. Taybron would not agree to meet in person without her representatives.  Hector Cardenas, the Union Senior Operations Manager surprisingly informed Ms. Taybron that he did not get involved with retirement issues. Mr. Cardenas also represents the Parking Controllers within the same union who most recently came out in their harassment allegations and blasted him for not supporting them on allegations of sexual harassment with no response.

Muni Execs have their hands full as a result of mismanagement. They are currently also in a racial discrimination case with a Muni employee, Mr. Sampson Asrot who was denied a promotion as a Mechanic supervisor who he contends was purposely overlooked.  This court case is still pending with a continuance in January of 2019.  Per court documents, it appears that a number of issues surfaced in this case within the discovery process have caught the attention of Government officials.  They are currently investigating other serious issues as they have their eyes set on further sanctions. (Case #: CGC16-552737)

Muni is not alone. Sexual harassment is currently going strong in San Francisco, which is even affecting the tech giant, Google. They most recently ousted close to 50 people in the last two years for sexual harassment in the workplace. None of those fired individuals received exit packages.  Muni’s systemic management problems are running deeper than their ongoing discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment issues.  In a September 2018 Examiner article, even Sarita Britt, the former highest-ranking SFMTA female official stated, “They don’t do thorough investigations.”

Muni is just another SF City and County Department that is suffering from sexual harassment and discrimination issues.  After numerous attempts to contact Muni management, Ed Reiskin and Mr. Canatch as well as Mr. Paul Rose in the media division for a statement, they have not responded, or commented to date.

Accusers say that its time SFMTA management to step up and resolve their internal management issues so the company can run more efficiently. Ms. Taybron apparently has to stand in line and wait her day in court. “My lawyer is currently preparing my complaint,” she stated.  Mayor London Breed has gotten involved because these cases and judgments are undoubtedly costing the city significant resources that trickle down to a single bus fare of MUNI customers citywide.

NYPD Commander Allegedly Told Officers to Shoot 50 Cent ‘on Sight’ at Sporting Event

An NYPD commander at a Brooklyn precinct is currently being investigated after allegedly telling his group of officers to “shoot” 50 Cent “on sight” at a boxing match in the city last spring. Per People, deputy inspector Emmanuel Gonzalez made the alleged remarks to his staff at a roll call before the NYPD-sanctioned sporting event took place, which he tried to pass off as a joke in the moment. However, the rapper became aware of Gonzalez’s comments on Sunday morning after The New York Daily News broke the story, and is considering legal action against the commander as a result. “Mr. Jackson takes this threat very seriously and is consulting with his legal counsel regarding his options going forward,” his spokesman said in a statement. “He is concerned that he was not previously advised of this threat by the NYPD and even more concerned that Gonzalez continues to carry a badge and a gun.”

“This is how I wake up this morning,” 50 Cent added on Twitter. “This guy Emanuel Gonzales is a dirty cop abusing his power. The sad part is this man still has a badge and a gun. I take this threat very seriously and I’m consulting with my legal counsel regarding my options moving forward.” People notes that the duo previously crossed paths within the law. Gonzalez filed an aggravated harassment complaint against 50 Cent last spring, which stemmed from the rapper reportedly making threats against Gonzalez on social media after the commander shut down a popular Brooklyn strip club.

Trump Pledged to End H.I.V. But His Policies Veer the Other Way.

WASHINGTON — In his State of the Union address, President Trump announced a bold plan to end the scourge of H.I.V. by 2030, a promise that seemed to fly in the face of two years of policies and proposals that go in the opposite direction and could undermine progress against the virus that causes AIDS.

In November, the Trump administration proposed a rule change that would make it more difficult for Medicare beneficiaries to get the medicines that treat H.I.V. infection and prevent the virus from spreading.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly urged Congress to repeal the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, even though Medicaid is the largest source of coverage for people with H.I.V. And he has promoted the sale of short-term health plans that skirt the Affordable Care Act, even though such plans usually exclude people with H.I.V.

To end the spread of the virus, federal health officials say they must reduce the stigma attached to gay men and transgender people who are at high risk so they will seek testing and treatment. But for two years the administration has tried to roll back legal protections for people in those groups.

Those opposing moves by the administration have AIDS activists baffled.

“The president’s announcement comes as a surprise, albeit a welcome surprise,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, the law and policy director at Lambda Legal, a gay rights group. “It represents an about-face on H.I.V. policy.”

The administration describes the plan to end the spread of H.I.V. as one of the most important public health initiatives in history. But the record shows a rather large gap between the administration’s words and deeds.

Since Medicare’s outpatient drug benefit began in 2006, the government has required prescription drug plans to cover “all or substantially all drugs” in six therapeutic classes, including antiretroviral medicines to treat H.I.V.

In November, the Trump administration proposed a new policy to cut costs for Medicare by reducing the number of drugs that must be made available to people with H.I.V.

The proposal would allow certain exceptions to the requirement for Medicare drug plans to cover all drugs in the six “protected classes.”

Insurers could require Medicare beneficiaries to get advance approval, or “prior authorization,” for H.I.V. drugs and could require them to try less expensive medications before using more costly ones, a practice known as step therapy.

People with H.I.V. and doctors have condemned the proposals.

Bruce Packett, the executive director of the American Academy of H.I.V. Medicine, representing doctors who care for H.I.V. patients, said the administration’s proposals “could be catastrophic” for Medicare patients with the virus, as well as for the president’s campaign to end the epidemic.

“At least 25 percent of all people living with H.I.V. who are in care in the United States rely on Medicare as their insurer,” Mr. Packett said.

Those patients are 65 or older or have disabilities and often have other chronic diseases or conditions, so doctors need access to the “full arsenal” of medicines to treat H.I.V., Mr. Packett said.

Many of the Medicare patients with H.I.V. are taking medicines for their other conditions, so doctors have to worry about drug interactions, Mr. Packett said. In addition, he said, some have drug-resistant strains of H.I.V., and different patients often respond to the same drug in different ways.

“It’s important that providers have access to all the available options” among drugs to treat H.I.V., he said.

Requirements for prior authorization and similar restrictions can delay the start of treatment. Studies show that a rapid start to therapy, within a week or even a day of diagnosis, produces better results for patients and reduces the likelihood that they will infect others while waiting for treatment.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/12/us/politics/trump-hiv-plan.html


Crystal Meth Is North Korea’s Trendiest Lunar New Year’s Gift

HONG KONG — Like many across East Asia, North Koreans have been exchanging presents this month to celebrate the Lunar New Year. But rather than tea, sweets or clothing, some in this impoverished, isolated country are giving the gift of crystal meth.

The gifting and use of methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant that has been blamed in health and addiction crises around the world, is said to be a well-established custom in North Korea. Users are said to inject or snort the drug as casually as they might smoke a cigarette, with little awareness of its addictive qualities or destructive effects.

“Meth, until recently, has been largely seen inside North Korea as a kind of very powerful energy drug — something like Red Bull, amplified,” said Andrei Lankov, an expert on the North at Kookmin University in Seoul, South Korea, who directs the news site NK News. That misconception, he said, highlighted a “significant underestimation” within the country of the general risks of drug abuse.

Methamphetamine was introduced to the Korean Peninsula during the Japanese colonial period, in the early 20th century, and defectors have reported that the North Korean military provided methamphetamine to its soldiers in the years after World War II. Since the 1970s, many North Korean diplomats have been arrested abroad for drug smuggling.

In the 1990s, the North’s cash-poor government began manufacturing meth for export, about two decades after it began sponsoring local opium cultivation and the production of opiates, according to a 2014 study by Sheena Chestnut Greitens, a University of Missouri political scientist. Finished meth was typically sent across the northern border into China, or handed off at sea to criminal organizations like Chinese triads or the Japanese yakuza.

But around the mid-2000s, meth production that was “clearly sponsored and controlled” by the government began to decline, the study said. That left a surplus of people with the skills to manufacture meth, many of whom created small-scale meth labs and began selling to the local market.

Amid a chronic lack of health care supplies and medical treatments in North Korea, many people take opiates and amphetamine-type stimulants as perceived medicinal alternatives, Ms. Greitens, the political scientist, said in an email. “Methamphetamine is highly addictive, so it’s easy for casual users to develop more dependence and addiction over relatively short amounts of time,” she said.

The drug’s popularity in North Korea as a Lunar New Year gift was first reported last week by Radio Free Asia, a United States government-funded news outlet. Radio Free Asia quoted several anonymous sources as saying that the custom was especially popular among the country’s young people.

The Radio Free Asia report could not be independently verified, and the North Korean government has long denied that its citizens use or produce methamphetamine. “The illegal use, trafficking and production of drugs which reduce human being into mental cripples do not exist in the D.P.R.K.,” the North’s state-run news agency said in 2013, referring to the initials of the country’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/12/world/asia/north-korea-crystal-meth-methamphetamine-drugs-.html