00:00:00 | 3:02:50



All Things Considered (Weekend)

Jan 22, 2018 BY Richard Gonzales

Trump Slaps Tariffs On Imported Solar Panels And Washing Machines

Solar panels that make up the Public Service Company of New Mexico's new 2-megawatt photovoltaic array in Albuquerque.
Solar panels that make up the Public Service Company of New Mexico's new 2-megawatt photovoltaic array in Albuquerque.

Pledging to defend American businesses and workers, President Trump imposed tariffs on imported solar panel components and large residential washing machines on Monday.

In a statement, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said that, after consulting with the interagency Trade Policy Committee and the bipartisan U.S. International Trade Commission, the president decided that "increased foreign imports of washers and solar cells and modules are a substantial cause of serious injury to domestic manufacturers."

The administration approved tariffs of 20 percent on the first 1.2 million washers and 50 percent of all subsequent imported washers in the following two years.

A 30 percent tariff will be imposed on solar panel components, with the rate declining over four years.

The move against imported solar components splits the solar panel industry with manufacturers favoring the tariffs as a necessary step to save domestic subsidiary companies, while installers oppose them as job-killers.

Two domestic manufacturers, Georgia-based Suniva and Oregon-based Solar-World, who have complained about competing with cheaper panels produced in Asia, stand to benefit from the tariffs. According to Bloomberg, Suniva has a Chinese majority owner and Solar-World is a unit of the German manufacturer SolarWorld AG.

As NPR's Jeff Brady reported:

"SolarWorld laid off much of its workforce and Suniva was forced into bankruptcy, even as U.S. solar panel installations grew dramatically in recent years. That growth was largely attributed to the cheaper panels from overseas.

Solar panel prices have fallen by more than 70 percent since 2010, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. For many homeowners installing solar panels has become more affordable, but now the industry's main trade group worries that if prices go up the installation boom could come to a halt."

The CEO and President of SolarWorld Americas Inc., Juergen Stein, praised the administration's action in a statement:

"SolarWorld Americas appreciates the hard work of President Trump, the U.S. Trade Representative, and this administration in reaching today's decision, and the President's recognition of the importance of solar manufacturing to America's economic and national security. We are still reviewing these remedies, and are hopeful they will be enough to address the import surge and to rebuild solar manufacturing in the United States."

But representatives for the sector of the industry that actually installs solar panels criticized the move, saying that making imported solar components more costly will likely dampen demand for solar panels.

The President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, Abigail Ross Hopper, predicted the tariffs lead to the loss of roughly 23,000 American jobs this year.

"While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand, or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Jan 22, 2018 BY Shankar Vedantam, Tara Boyle, Maggie Penman

Alan Alda Wants Us To Have Better Conversations

Alan Alda
Alan Alda

Fighting miscommunication might seem an ironic choice for an actor whose comedy career was built on all the funny consequences of people misunderstanding each other.

But Alan Alda has made it his mission to help scientists — and the rest of us — communicate better.

It all started when he was hosting the PBS interview program Scientific American Frontiers. He pushed himself, and the scientists he interviewed, to have conversations — to really listen to each other, to connect with each other, and to try to understand one another's perspective.

Alda has had lots of practice with this kind of active listening — it's required for acting, and doing improvisational theater.

"I don't say my next line in a play because it's written in the script and I've memorized it," Alda says. "I say it because you do something — you the other actor — do something or say something that makes me say this next line, and makes me say it in a certain way."

Alda realized that the lessons he knew from improv might help scientists communicate better — and this led him to start the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.

Alda writes about what he's learned from all of these experiences in his new book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating.

This episode of Hidden Brain was taped before a live audience at the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center in Washington, D.C.

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Maggie Penman, Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, and Renee Klahr. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Jan 22, 2018 BY David Folkenflik

New York Daily News Exec Investigated After Harassment Complaint

Updated at 9:15 p.m. ET

A top editor at the New York Daily News has been accused of sexual harassment and is now under investigation by the paper's parent company after inquiries by NPR.

Managing Editor Robert Moore has been accused of creating a sexualized atmosphere, pressuring women for attention and punishing those who objected. Tronc would not say whether he remains on the job or has been suspended or placed on leave.

NPR called Tronc Monday to inquire about the status of a complaint against Moore that was filed in late December. Tronc confirmed its investigation was launched in response to NPR's inquiries. Two sources who have worked under Moore at the Daily News told NPR of the complaint. Three other journalists who have worked for him at the paper said they observed similar misconduct by Moore.

Moore is the second Tronc newspaper executive put under investigation due to NPR's reporting in four days.

Last week, Los Angeles Times publisher Ross Levinsohn went on leave after Tronc started an investigation of him too, following an NPR report that he had been a defendant in two sexual harassment suits in earlier jobs and faced accusations of misconduct toward women. Levinsohn initially stayed on the job but within a day he had taken what was called a voluntary leave of absence.

Tronc acquired the Daily News in September. According to the paper, Moore joined the tabloid as a staff writer in 2004 and became its first African-American managing editor in 2011.

He has run the newsroom since the end of December when former editor-in-chief Arthur Browne left the paper. Jim Kirk, a Tronc news executive, is serving as interim editor-in-chief, starting this week. Kirk held the same position in Los Angeles until Levinsohn appointed L.A. Times editor-in-chief Lewis D'Vorkin last fall.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Jan 22, 2018 BY Emily Previti

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Strikes Down Voting Map

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state's congressional district map today, saying it "clearly, plainly and palpably" violates the state Constitution.

The justices ruled 4-3 just days after hearing oral arguments in the case.

State legislators are being given an opportunity to redraw the map in time for the May 15 primary election, subject to the governor's approval, and file it with the court by Feb. 15.

But the decision also invites "all parties and interveners" to submit their own proposed replacement maps. If lawmakers can't make it happen on time, the justices will choose a new map based on the court record.

The order requires the new map to divide the state's voters into districts that are contiguous and have equal populations, which federal law already requires. But the districts also have to avoid dividing political jurisdictions like counties and municipalities, which isn't a legal mandate but is recognized as "best practice" in redistricting.

Eighteen registered Democrats — one for each of the state's districts — claimed the congressional map violates multiple parts of the Pennsylvania Constitution, including its free expression clause, because it discriminates against them for their political viewpoint.

The case names Republican legislative leaders as defendants because the GOP controlled the General Assembly, and thus redistricting, the last two times maps were drawn.

Drew Crompton, chief counsel for Senate Republicans, says they will seek a stay of the decision and are encouraged by the U.S. Supreme Court's granting one in a similar case out of North Carolina.

Mimi McKenzie represents the plaintiffs and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. The organization initiated the lawsuit before being dropped for lack of standing. In a conference call with reporters, McKenzie referred to the map as "one of the worst gerrymanders in American history."

A separate, federal lawsuit out of Pennsylvania is also before the nation's top court, along with similar matters from Wisconsin and Maryland.

WITF's Katie Meyer and WHYY's Lindsay Lazarski contributed to this report.

Copyright 2018 WITF. To see more, visit WITF.
Jan 22, 2018 BY Patrick Smith

What Happens When Suburban Police Departments Don't Have Enough Money?

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart in Robbins, Ill., on Nov. 19, 2013. Dart says many suburban departments have a hard time just getting officers to patrol the town.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart in Robbins, Ill., on Nov. 19, 2013. Dart says many suburban departments have a hard time just getting officers to patrol the town.

In suburbs just outside the city of Chicago, some police officers are paid fast-food wages; they work part-time patrolling high crime areas, just so they can use their badge to get better paying security jobs.

Many police chiefs say the low-wages and part-time positions are consequences of inadequate funding. That means departments can't pay for ongoing training, can't afford to fire problem officers and don't have the capacity to investigate police shootings.

Experts say it's created a system where there's often no accountability for bad actions, and no real effort to learn from policing mistakes.

Lack of resources leads to lack of accountability

Two years ago, Robert Collins took over as police chief in the Chicago suburb of Dolton — population 22,000.

"When I first came aboard, one of my first things to do was to look at the history of the department," he says. "And I did notice that there were quite a few officer-involved shootings."

Dolton has had nine police shootings since 2005 — tied for the most in suburban Cook County.

"To be honest with you, I don't know how we would explain it to people," Collins says.

One explanation could be who Dolton hires for its police force, and how they're trained and monitored once they join the force. Experts say in many budget-strapped towns such as Dolton, a lack of resources leads to a lack of accountability for bad actions.

There's one officer on the Dolton police force who has killed one man and wounded three others in separate shootings. Before he was hired by Dolton, that officer had already been suspended by one department for a shooting, and fired by another for misconduct.

For most police forces, that background would raise a red flag. But for cash-strapped suburbs like Dolton, it made him affordable.

The Chicago Police Department estimates it costs $140,000 for the first year of hiring a new recruit — that's money many suburbs just don't have — so they'd rather take a fully-trained up officer with some baggage, than pay to put someone through the academy.

Chief Collins says since he's taken over in Dolton, he's raised the department's standards, but he's quick to acknowledge the struggle between budgeting and policing.

"Unfortunately, sometimes there's not a lot of money to hire what you need, you just have to make do with what you have," Collins says.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart spends a lot of his time working with distressed suburban police departments and says, departments having to make do means "you get officers bouncing around the departments, and it's not good, it's not good. I just don't know what the mechanism is to stop that."

Fewer opportunities to learn from mistakes

One town just outside Chicago — the village of Robbins — has almost all part-time police officers. The pay there is $10.50 an hour. That's less than the starting rate at Walmart.

The pay for a Robbins cop was $10 an hour in 2008 when a part-time officer accidentally shot an innocent 13-year-old in the back.

Nothing happened to the officer involved, or to the officer in Dolton who's been involved in five shootings since 2005.

In fact, according to an investigation by WBEZ and the Better Government Association, there are rarely consequences for suburban officers after questionable shootings.

Out of more than a hundred shootings since 2005, no officer has been charged with a crime for any of them. No officers have been disciplined in any way or even ordered for re-training.

Our investigation found only a handful of instances in which a department even did a review.

"The reality is that in a lot of these different towns that you named, they have a hard enough time getting officers to patrol the town, let alone to have a separate part of their office set aside that just analyzes police-involved shootings," Sheriff Dart says.

Peter Moskos spent a couple years as a cop in Baltimore, and now teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He says in suburbs and small departments throughout the country, these issues often get overlooked.

"And so we just don't know because there's no account," he says. "And yeah, if there is shady stuff going on I think it's much more likely to happen in small towns where there's no oversight."

In the Chicago suburbs, that means the departments struggling with high-crime and low-budgets can miss out on opportunities to learn from mistakes and improve training or policies.

It means residents who most need help from police often have to deal with poorly trained officers — some who can stay on patrol despite numerous shootings.

That Dolton officer involved in all those shootings was recently promoted to detective.

Copyright 2018 WBEZ Chicago. To see more, visit WBEZ Chicago.
Jan 22, 2018 BY Susan Davis

Government Shutdown Coming To An End After Senate Agreement

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Jan 22, 2018 BY Vanessa Romo

Death Toll for German Serial Killer Nurse Goes Up, Another 97 Victims Suspected

A German nurse serving a life sentence for murdering two patients is suspected of killing another 97 people by lethal injection.

If convicted, Niels Högel would become Germany's most deadly serial killer ever.

Högel, now 41, was charged with 97 further counts of murder on Monday. His third trial in the northern city of Oldenburg, Germany, is expected to start later this year, according to Reuters.

Police investigator Arne Schmidt told Deutsche Welle the killings are "unique in the history of the German republic."

Högel was sentenced to life in prison in 2015 on two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder. But during his trial, he confessed to killing many others.

He admitted to injecting 90 of his patients with a lethal cocktail of drugs in order to induce heart failure or circulatory collapse so he could try to revive them. Högel believed bringing dying patients back from the brink of death would help him shine as a hero and garner respect from his peers and superiors.

The New York Times reported Högel said he acted "out of boredom" and Reuters added that he described feeling euphoric after bringing someone back to life, although he often failed.

In statements to a psychologist he revealed over 30 killings — on top of the two for which he was convicted. That prompted authorities to launch an investigation and exhume scores of bodies buried between 1999 and 2005 and test them for the killer's drug cocktails.

As NPR's Laurel Wamsley reported in August, Högel's career as a nurse was ghastly throughout:

Also troubling is that Högel's lethal practices went unreported by fellow hospital staff. Though others noticed that the number of deaths in the intensive care unit at Delmenhorst doubled during his time there, nothing was done.

In 2005, a colleague saw Högel injecting a patient with ajmaline, but management didn't do anything about it for two days, during which Högel killed his final patient. Six employees at the hospital at Delmenhorst are now charged with negligent manslaughter for their failure to act. An investigation into neglect at Oldenburg is ongoing.

"The murders could have been prevented," [chief of police Johan] Kühme told the Guardian, noting that Högel was given a clean reference which allowed him to move to the Delmenhorst hospital and continue killing people. "People at the clinic in Oldenburg knew of the abnormalities."

On Monday, Oldenburg prosecutors told Reuters they had charged Högel with 97 additional murders but toxicology tests did not find conclusive proof in three more cases.

Of the newly discovered cases, 62 patients died in the Delmenhorst hospital near the northern city of Bremen and 35 in a clinic in Oldenburg.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Jan 22, 2018

Laurel Wamsley Joins Newsdesk Full-Time

Laurel Wamsley by Eric Lee
Laurel Wamsley by Eric Lee

In a note to newsroom staff, Deputy Managing Editor Gerry Holmes, the NPR Newsdesk and Two-Way teams announced the staffing update.

We're delighted to share some exciting news today.

Laurel Wamsley officially joins the Two-Way team as a full time reporter starting today. Laurel has been doing great work on the Two-Way since early last year. She first joined NPR as an intern at Weekend Edition Saturday in January 2007 and was a temporary producer at Weekend Edition, Weekend All Things Considered, Newscast, Morning Edition and a booker/producer for the NPR's Elections Desk through the 2008 election.

After the election, Laurel moved to Austin and then Chicago, where she freelanced and worked in tech, including the development of a podcast about making cities better. In November 2015, Laurel returned to NPR as a temporary producer on the National Desk, at Morning Edition, Weekend Edition and on the Washington Desk.

In March of last year, she joined the Newsdesk as a temporary reporter for the Two-Way and has written hundreds of news stories. She is a smart writer with a keen eye for a good angle, a dogged reporter and increasingly, contributing more of her stories on the air.

Laurel has become an integral player on this first-rate team of multi-platform reporters on the Two-Way. Please join us in congratulating Laurel.

The Newsdesk/Two-Way Team

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Jan 22, 2018 BY Daniel Estrin

Pence Draws Applause, Some Heckles, For U.S. Embassy Move To Jerusalem

Vice President Pence (left) shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem on Monday. The visit, initially scheduled for December before being postponed, is the final leg of a trip that has included talks in Egypt and Jordan as well as a stop at a U.S. military facility near the Syrian border.
Vice President Pence (left) shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem on Monday. The visit, initially scheduled for December before being postponed, is the final leg of a trip that has included talks in Egypt and Jordan as well as a stop at a U.S. military facility near the Syrian border.

Vice President Pence says the United States will open an embassy in Jerusalem by the end of 2019 — much more quickly than initially promised.

Pence announced the new timetable in a speech before the Knesset, Israel's parliament, drawing a standing ovation from Israeli lawmakers and accelerating one of the Trump administration's most contentious foreign policy decisions to date.

"In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the United States Embassy in Jerusalem — and that United States Embassy will open before the end of next year," Pence said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shot up from his seat, smiling and clapping. He appeared overjoyed, even surprised.

In December, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it will take at least three years to build an embassy in Jerusalem. Senior White House officials have previously said the embassy could not be moved to an existing building in Jerusalem.

When President Trump last month appeared before cameras and announced the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and beginning to prepare for a new embassy in the city, Pence stood behind Trump — in more ways than one.

As a devout Christian and an ardent supporter of Israel, Pence was one of the biggest advocates for the move as the Trump administration debated the decision.

"You are a true friend of Zion!" read large posters hung in Jerusalem for Pence's visit by the Friends of Zion, a U.S. evangelical Christian organization in the city. The group said it had plastered more than 100 such posters throughout the city and on buses.

In Pence's speech Monday, he said the first settlers in America were inspired by the Hebrew Bible.

"My country's very first settlers also saw themselves as pilgrims, sent by Providence, to build a new Promised Land. The songs and stories of the people of Israel were their anthems, and they faithfully taught them to their children, and do to this day," Pence said.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat denounced the speech.

"The messianic discourse of Pence is a gift to extremists and has proven that the U.S. administration is part of the problem rather than the solution," he said.

Israeli Arab lawmakers protested on the parliament floor as Pence took the stand and were ushered out of the hall.

Jerusalem — home to some of the most sacred shrines in Christianity, Islam and Judaism — is perhaps the most emotionally charged aspect of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel claims the whole city as its capital, while Palestinian leaders want to establish a capital in the city's east, where Palestinians live. No country has its embassy in Jerusalem. The U.S. previously backed the current international consensus not to move embassies there because the city's status should be negotiated by Israelis and Palestinians.

The U.S. decision on Jerusalem sparked ongoing Palestinian protests, some of which turned deadly. An overwhelming majority of countries rejected the decision in the United Nations. During his meeting with Pence in Amman, King Abdullah of Jordan denounced the move and called on the U.S. to restore "trust and confidence" in the possibility of achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace — with a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

During his visit in Jerusalem, Pence offered an explanation for the Jerusalem decision: By recognizing the "obvious" fact that Jerusalem is Israel's capital, he said, it creates an opportunity to "move on" to other issues that must be negotiated in peace talks.

But instead of allowing the parties to move on, it has led to a crisis in U.S.-Palestinian relations — the lowest point in the Trump administration's months of shuttle diplomacy and attempts to restart the peace process.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says the U.S. sided with Israel and that he will not participate in peace negotiations led by the United States. Trump tweeted that if the Palestinians were not prepared to negotiate, the U.S. should cut funding for them.

Indeed, the administration subsequently cut $65 million in funds to a U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees but said it was meant to encourage reform in the agency, not as punishment.

In a rambling and fiery speech, Abbas directed a colloquial Arabic phrase at Trump — literally "may your house be destroyed" — that is often used casually but was widely criticized by Israeli leaders and seen as brash rhetoric directed at a foreign leader.

Meeting with European Union foreign envoys in Brussels, Abbas said the Palestinians would participate in peace talks only if they were held with the involvement of other countries, not just the United States. Abbas sees European countries as more favorable than the Trump administration to the Palestinians.

Pence delivered another message in his speech in the Knesset: that the U.S. would support the creation of an independent Palestine next to the state of Israel — if both sides agree to it.

Opposition lawmakers stood and applauded, but not Netanyahu. Many members of his right-wing coalition reject a two-state solution. Since Trump's election, many in the Israeli government have called for annexing parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank where Israeli settlements are located and where Palestinians want to establish a state.

Israel has refrained from such an annexation since capturing the territory 50 years ago, fearing international and American backlash, but many lawmakers believe the time to do it is now — with a sympathetic President Trump in the White House. The Trump administration has been much more tolerant of Israeli West Bank settlements than have previous U.S. administrations, Republican and Democratic alike.

The speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, announced in the parliament — with Pence sitting next to him — that Israel would continue to build homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

After Pence's speech, Edelstein gave the vice president a gift basket of products made in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, including wine from two wineries, a sesame-based fudgelike treat called halvah and the savory condiment tahini. Edelstein's office said it was a taste of products from a settlement industrial zone where "Arabs and Jews work together in harmony and cooperation."

Meanwhile, the Foreign Press Association, representing international journalists covering Israel and the Palestinian territories, protested what it called "clear ethnic profiling" by Israeli security officials of a journalist of Palestinian descent from Finland's state broadcaster covering Pence's visit.

The FPA said the journalist was asked to remove her bra during a search and, when she refused, was denied entry.

"The repugnant practice of strip-searching journalists puts Israel in a category all of its own and is a mark of shame for a country that boasts of its democratic credentials," the FPA said in a statement.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Jan 22, 2018 BY Danny Nett

Gus Kenworthy Will Be The Second Openly Gay Man To Compete For U.S. In Winter Games

Skier Gus Kenworthy speaks during the 100 Days Out 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics Celebration with Team USA in November.
Skier Gus Kenworthy speaks during the 100 Days Out 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics Celebration with Team USA in November.

Having earned a spot Sunday on the U.S. Ski Team, Gus Kenworthy is the second openly gay man who will compete for the United States at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Kenworthy, 26, placed second at the final Olympic qualifier for freeski slopestyle, according to NBC.

Twenty-eight-year-old figure skater Adam Rippon, the first openly gay man to qualify for the Winter Olympics, was selected for the figure skating team on Jan. 7.

Before this year, the U.S. had never sent an openly gay man to compete in the Winter Games. The last time an out male athlete competed on Team USA in the Summer Olympics was 14 years ago in Athens, Greece.

As NPR reported earlier this month:

Another gay athlete, luger John Fennell, was also vying for a spot on Team USA this year, but a sled malfunction slashed his chance at qualifying in December.

Figure skater Johnny Weir faced speculation about his sexuality while competing in 2006 and 2010, but he avoided questions on the matter. In 2011, he publicly confirmed he was gay in his memoir, Welcome to My World.

Kenworthy came out publicly in 2015, a year and a half after he took silver in slopestyle at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

He told Reuters earlier this month that competing as an openly gay athlete had boosted his confidence on the way to Pyeongchang.

"I am more open with everyone in my life, and I think it just translates into me being able to ski a little bit more freely and not have so much to focus on and worry about," Kenworthy said.

Rippon made headlines earlier this month for publicly criticizing the selection of Vice President Pence to lead the U.S. delegation to Pyeongchang, citing Pence's alleged support of gay conversion therapy. (Pence's spokesperson called "this accusation ... totally false.")

Both Rippon and Kenworthy have indicated they would not accept invitations from President Trump to visit the White House with Team USA after the Winter Games.

Over the past two years, Kenworthy has become a vocal advocate of LGBTQ visibility in sports — and is widely known as "the gay skier."

He was recently named a brand ambassador for Head & Shoulders and appears in a new commercial, sporting a Team USA uniform and a rainbow flag.

"The Olympics is a cool opportunity to represent our country, which is amazing," Kenworthy told Reuters. "But I have another community I am competing for, and that is the LGBT community."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Jan 22, 2018 BY Merrit Kennedy

Facebook Says Social Media Can Be Negative For Democracy

Facebook acknowledges some people have used the site in unexpected, possibly damaging ways.
Facebook acknowledges some people have used the site in unexpected, possibly damaging ways.

Facebook is doing some soul-searching.

In a new commentary, the social media giant acknowledges the possibility that social media can have negative ramifications for democracy. This comes after repeated criticism that it didn't do enough to prevent the spread of fake news that had the potential to impact the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

"Facebook was originally designed to connect friends and family – and it has excelled at that," writes Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook's Civic Engagement Product Manager. "But as unprecedented numbers of people channel their political energy through this medium, it's being used in unforeseen ways with social repercussions that were never anticipated."

Chakrabarti adds: "In 2016, we at Facebook were far too slow to recognize how bad actors were abusing our platform. We're working diligently to neutralize these risks now."

This is a marked change in tone from the week of the 2016 election, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it's a "pretty crazy idea" that fake news could have influenced the poll.

"There's a profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason why someone could have voted the way that they did is because they saw some fake news," Zuckerberg said in November 2016, as NPR's Aarti Shahani reported.

Since then Facebook has slowly shifted its view. Zuckerberg "is fast coming to terms with the power of his platform to cause harm," Aarti reported. In September, Zuckerberg wrote: "Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it. This is too important an issue to be dismissive."

Facebook, has been reluctant to wade into the business of sorting fact from fake news, though last year it introduced a system relying on third party fact checkers to flag particularly egregious examples.

The platform also was the target of a concentrated influence campaign from Russian entities. According to Facebook, "Russian actors created 80,000 posts that reached around 126 million people in the US over a two-year period."

Chakrabarti says they are trying to increase transparency about where ads are coming from. Soon, he says, Facebook will "require organizations running election-related ads to confirm their identities so we can show viewers of their ads who exactly paid for them."

Facebook says that a few years ago, it was easier to say that social media was clearly positive for democracy. It cited the Arab Spring – where many protests were organized via Facebook – as an example.

Now it's less clear, says Chakrabarti. "If there's one fundamental truth about social media's impact on democracy it's that it amplifies human intent – both good and bad."

"I wish I could guarantee that the positives are destined to outweigh the negatives, but I can't," he writes. He describes the current discussion about the potential negative implications of social media as a "moral duty."

Facebook has a relationship with many news organizations, and until recently, Facebook paid NPR to produce videos that run on the social media site.

Tech firms including Facebook have faced increasing scrutiny on Capitol Hill. Most recently, executives from Facebook, YouTube and Twitter appeared before a Senate committee last week to discuss the"steps social media platforms are taking to combat the spread of extremist propaganda over the Internet."

Today's discussion on Facebook is part of a series of "Hard Questions" from the social media network. Another recent post questions, "Is spending time on social media bad for us?" It stated that active interactions on social media are good for well-being. However, Facebook said that "when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information – reading but not interacting with people – they report feeling worse afterward."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Jan 22, 2018

Sen. Angus King Reacts To Proposed Short-Term Funding Deal

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Latest From KCRW

View Schedule


View All Events


Player Embed Code