Thursday News: Culture of fear

ELON POLL FINDS 60% OF NC RESPONDENTS MAY NOT TAKE COVID VACCINE: That number is “low and disappointing,” UNC Charlotte public health sciences Professor Melinda Forthofer told the Observer. “Our best bet for managing this pandemic is to have a much higher percentage of people receiving the vaccine when they can,” she said. Some people surveyed by the Elon poll said they wouldn’t get the vaccine because they worry they could contract COVID-19, or that they believe the vaccine development happened too quickly. But Wessner said it’s impossible to contract COVID-19 from the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. 30% of people surveyed identified themselves as Republican, 35% identified as Democrat and 35% identified as neither.

INSURANCE COMPANIES WANT TO RAISE HOMEOWNER'S RATES 25% IN NC: Insurance companies have asked state regulators to boost homeowners insurance rates 25 percent across most of North Carolina. That figure will likely come down – and perhaps significantly – as the state Department of Insurance negotiates the final rate, which is a routine exercise. The department plans a public forum on the request Thursday. The North Carolina Rate Bureau, an industry group representing companies that write policies in North Carolina, made the request. It adds up to a 25 percent increase in nearly every territory in the state, which the exceptions of coastal parts of Beaufort, Camden, Chowan, Craven, Jones, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrell and Washington counties. The request in those areas is for 15 percent. Both percentage figures are averages, and whatever average increase is approved, some homeowners will face larger increases and some lower.

NC LEGISLATURE HAS $4+BILLION IT COULD USE FOR PANDEMIC RELIEF: According to the State Controller, the new fiscal year began July 1 with $1.47 billion in the bank. Between then and Oct. 31, the state has taken in an additional $2.91 billion that hasn’t been appropriated. That amount is in addition to the $1.1 billion in the state’s “rainy day” fund. With Congress still unable to agree on a new coronavirus relief package, Sen. Wiley Nickel, D-Wake, said lawmakers should use some of the excess state revenue to address the effects of the pandemic. “Legislative Republicans have no plan to offer meaningful assistance to those who are suffering and continue to prioritize more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy instead of throwing small businesses and jobless workers a lifeline,” he said. A spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger also said no short-term budget actions are currently in the works, but the surplus will mean that lawmakers can avoid cuts to education that North Carolina saw during the last recession in 2009 and 2010. (Using some of that money for stimulus would help us avoid a recession)

UNLIKE NC, THESE STATES ARE TRYING TO HELP THEIR PEOPLE: The Colorado legislature held a special session last week to pass an economic aid package. Ohio is offering a new round of grants to restaurants, bars and other businesses affected by the pandemic. And in California, a new fund will use state money to backstop what could ultimately be hundreds of millions of dollars in private loans. Other states, led by both Republicans and Democrats, have announced or are considering similar measures. But there is a limit to what states can do. The pandemic has ravaged budgets, driving up costs and eroding tax revenues. And unlike the federal government, most states cannot run budget deficits. “We have done what we can do to pump money into small businesses so that people can continue to work,” said Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican. “From the jobs point of view and the economy point of view and the workers’ point of view and small businesses, we’ve got to get that help from the federal government. That’s the only place we can get it.” Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado, a Democrat, recalled the legislature for a special session late last month to pass several relief measures, including a $57 million grant program for small businesses. In an interview, he cited Colorado’s slow recovery from the last recession a decade ago, when the failure to contain the foreclosure crisis left lasting scars on the state’s economy. Without further assistance — including federal aid — he fears a wave of business failures that would set off an equally damaging chain reaction, he said. “If we don’t help them get through this, will it ever come back?” Mr. Polis asked. “Sure, but it means years of boarded-up stores and restaurants on Main Streets across America if Democrats and Republicans can’t come together now to act.”

STATE AGS (INCLUDING JOSH STEIN) AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SUE FACEBOOK OVER MONOPOLY: The twin lawsuits filed in federal district court allege that Facebook under its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, behaved for years as an unlawful monopoly — one that had repeatedly weaponized its vast stores of data, seemingly limitless wealth and savvy corporate muscle to fend off threats and maintain its stature as one of the most widely used social networking services in the world. The state and federal complaints chiefly challenge Facebook’s acquisition of two companies: Instagram, a photo-sharing tool, and WhatsApp, a messaging service. Investigators said the purchases ultimately helped Facebook remove potentially potent rivals from the digital marketplace, allowing the tech giant to enrich itself on advertising dollars at the cost of users, who as a result have fewer social networking options at their disposal. The lawsuits together represent the most significant political and legal threats to Facebook in its more than 16-year history, setting up a high-profile clash between U.S. regulators and one of Silicon Valley’s most profitable firms that could take years to resolve. Antitrust regulators explicitly asked a court to consider forcing Facebook to sell off Instagram and WhatsApp to remedy their competition concerns. Such a punishment would unwind Zuckerberg’s digital empire and severely constrain Facebook’s ambitions. The lawsuits drew swift rebukes from Facebook, which pledged to “vigorously defend” its business practices in a sign of the bruising legal war still to come.



The Facebook Anti-Trust lawsuits

While the Facebook anti-trust action is encouraging, supported by almost every US Attorney General, there are still some major issues with social media that impact individuals that Congress will have to tackle.

One of these areas is what personal information on users is collected by social media outlets and how it can be used. Facebook, by the very nature of the platform, collects very specific data for marketers and, as we saw in 2016 with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, can be misused for nefarious and illegal purposes. (Facebook still hasn't faced scrutiny or penalties about what happened with Cambridge Analytica.). We've also seen advertisers illegally using data on race in Facebook in areas like housing or employee recruitment.

The other area that Congress needs to regulate is transparency in political advertising. While Facebook and Google made some half-hearted attempts at this in 2020, they still have a long way to do. Frankly, they need to be as regulated as US broadcasters in this are, in my opinion.

Yeah, Zuck's eyes are everywhere...

Just last night I Googled something, and two minutes later when I opened Facebook, there were already ads for it on my timeline. It's gone way too far.

It's not just the advertising

This kind of "follow through" marketing is something common on the web and most people just kind of shrug and accept it as something they can ignore. It's just more ads that we see everyday.

The real issue here that most people don't recognize is how this data can be used in illegal or nefarious ways. The Cambridge Analytica data was used to spread targeted disinformation by campaigns and foreign powers during and after the election (and, again, NC Republicans gave this methodology a trial run in our 2018 mid-terms, don't forget that).

We know that some right-wing law enforcement here in NC has been monitoring Facebook accounts of BLM protestors and looking at their associates to intimidate and stifle free speech. Do we know these police departments haven't requested and perhaps obtained more extensive information on BLM protestors from Facebook? We have no way of knowing with the laws as they are currently written and no guarantee that social media data can't be misused in this way by public officials.