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Richest
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On the road again
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ARCHBISHOP EVANGELIST BILLIONAIRE & PHILANTHROPIST
Captain Hosa Wells Okunbor
Man Of The People

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Can Trump Legally Shut Down TikTok and Chinese Apps? Experts Weigh In

President Donald Trump is threatening and planning to ban the popular video sharing app TikTok from the US because of the security risk. Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The meteoric rise of TikTok, Gen Z’s favorite short-video app, is nothing short of a miracle. Never in digital history have we seen a consumer product made by a foreign company get so popular with Americans so quickly.[1] But the timing of its rise may also be its downfall, as it comes in the midst of escalating political tensions[2] between the U.S. and China. TikTok’s overnight success has now become the worst nightmare for its Chinese parent company, ByteDance.

Last Friday, Trump said he’s ready to sign an executive order to ban TikTok in the U.S. He later agreed to put the ban on hold after Microsoft expressed interest[3] to acquire TikTok and make it a true American company. But as of Thursday night, Microsoft needs to complete the deal in 45 days and cut the government a “substantial share” of the sale, as Trump ordered[4] earlier this week.

It’s unclear how the government will receive this proposed payment, or under what context. Still, it sounds absurd enough that in free-market America a sitting president—especially one whose administration has been so lenient with corporate taxes and other issues—is allowed to block a consumer product, put a deadline on a corporate merger talk and demand a transaction fee.

While doing all three things at the same time will likely draw legal challenges, the president is allowed to do at least some of them. “The President has the authority to issue an executive order to address whatever the President or his advisors believe to be a national security threat,” explained Chris Garcia, a former deputy director at the Commerce Department from 2017 to 2018 under Trump.

The U.S. President has the authority to compel a corporate sale or order a company to cease operation through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an inter-agency government group based within the Treasury Department.

Citing precedents, Garcia added, “Remember, the administration blocked the sale of Qualcomm to Singapore-based Broadcom[5] in 2018 and blacklisted Huawei[6] and other Chinese tech firms from purchasing U.S. tech components because of national security concerns, as well as human rights concerns.”

On Thursday, Trump spelled out his demands in a pair of executive orders—one targeted at TikTok’s parent ByteDance and the other at WeChat’s owner Tencent—saying the administration will block TikTok and WeChat effective September 20 unless their Chinese parent companies strip ownership of the apps by then.

See Also: With Wars on China, TikTok and Twitter, Trump is Trying to Censor the Internet[7]

The orders cite the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which authorizes the president to regulate international commerce after declaring a national emergency over national security risks. The U.S. is currently under multiple emergency statuses, including one declared in May 2019[8] that prohibits U.S. firms from doing business with any foreign company deemed by the Commerce Department as a national security threat.

But some critics find the administration taking aim at TikTok hard to grapple with.

“I think it’s completely blown out of proportion,” Bill Mundell, the producer of U.S.-China relations-themed documentary, Better Angels, told Observer. “The majority of TikTok users aren’t even voting age. I don’t believe that dissecting the minds of tweens is amongst the highest priorities of the Communist Party of China.”

“We are pursuing the same type of mercantilist behavior that we accuse the Chinese of under the guise of a national security threat,” he added.

Mundell, who used to teach economics at UCLA and has decades of experience doing business with China, said a successful foreign business like TikTok would have actually helped the U.S. solve some of our own problems had the government adopted a less hostile approach. “In this country, we have concerns about the concentration of power among tech companies for all sorts of legitimate reasons,” he said.

“TikTok was a big step in the direction of solving that problem, because it was diluting the monopoly power of our own tech companies.” Mundell said he doesn’t own stakes in any Chinese companies or U.S. businesses backed by Chinese money.

Speaking of the prospect of other Chinese companies doing business in the U.S., neither Mundell or Garcia is optimistic.

“We have the world’s No.1 and No.2 largest economies battling for global superiority. This will not end,” said Garcia. “You’re going to see a lot of retaliation back and forth.”

“Sadly, anti-China sentiment has increasingly become bipartisan,” Mundell says. “I think it’s going to be difficult to back off initiatives that have been started even with a new president.”

Can Trump Legally Shut Down TikTok and Chinese Apps? Experts Weigh In

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New Research Determines That a Skeleton Exhumed in 1833 Is the Painter Raphael

A self-portrait by Raphael at Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome, Italy. Roberto Serra - Iguana Press/Getty Images

The Italian Renaissance master Raphael died centuries ago, but new research from Tor Vergata University in Italy has been able to provide fresh clues about what led to his demise. Scientists at the university were recently able to make a 3-D plaster cast of the skull of a skeleton that was originally exhumed at the Pantheon in 1833; for a long time, it was unclear whether the skeleton definitively belonged to Raphael[1]. However, these researchers have now compared the plaster cast they made to self portraits made by Raphael and portraits of him that were painted by others and concluded that the skeleton is certainly Raphael’s.

“This research provides, for the first time, concrete proof that the skeleton exhumed from the Pantheon in 1833 belonged to Raffaello Sanzio and opens the paths towards possible future molecular studies aimed at validating this identity,” Olga Rickards, a molecular anthropologist at Tor Vergata University, told the Guardian[2]. Coincidentally, this summer has also been a fruitful one when it comes to understanding new things about Raphael’s life: back in July, historians at the University of Milan-Bicocca revealed in a new study that the artist did not die because of syphilis, which was a widely-believed misconception. Instead, the historians reconstructed the circumstances leading up to the artist’s demise and found that Raphael, who was likely suffering from pneumonia, was further weakened and ultimately killed by bloodletting.

SEE ALSO: The Location of Van Gogh’s Last Painting Has Been Found in a Century-Old Postcard[3]

Bloodletting, the ancient practice of letting someone bleed freely as a way of curing illness, was of course completely ineffective and ultimately harmful. “But we are sure that bloodletting contributed to Raphael’s death,” Michele Augusto Riva, who co-authored the study, told the Guardian[4] in July. “Physicians of that period were used to practicing bloodletting for the treatment of different diseases, but it would not generally be used for diseases of the lungs. In the case of Raphael, he did not explain the origin of the disease or his symptoms and so the physician incorrectly used bloodletting.”

Raphael was also only 37 years old when he died, but the paintings he produced in his brief lifetime were brilliant enough to keep scientists fascinated even centuries later.

New Research Determines That a Skeleton Exhumed in 1833 Is the Painter Raphael

References

  1. ^ belonged to Raphael (www.theguardian.com)
  2. ^ told the Guardian (www.theguardian.com)
  3. ^ The Location of Van Gogh’s Last Painting Has Been Found in a Century-Old Postcard (observer.com)
  4. ^ told the Guardian (www.theguardian.com)

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Prince Harry Is Worried About the Current State of Social Media

Prince Harry wrote a new op-ed on the need for social media reform. Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have both spoken out about bullying and online hate speech in the past, and now Prince Harry[1] is calling for major social media reform. In a new op-ed for Fast Company[2], Prince Harry explains how the social media landscape is “unwell” and divisive, and writes about the need for redesigning the digital world. He also expresses his own concerns as a father.

Prince Harry begins by referring to the Facebook boycott campaign, and his and Meghan’s[3] support for the #StopHateForProfit campaign, which works towards changing online policies towards hate speech by withholding ad spending.

SEE ALSO: Meghan Markle Never Planned on Giving Birth at the Lindo Wing Like Kate Middleton Did[4]

Prince Harry has experienced firsthand the dangers of the digital landscape. KOEN VAN WEEL/AFP via Getty Images

Prince Harry also notes that while “many of us love and enjoy social media,” and it’s a “the cost is high. Every time you click they learn more about you…The price we’re all paying is much higher than it appears.”

The Duke of Sussex writes that it’s important to recognize the impact the digital world has “on our collective health, on our democracies, on the ways we think and interact with each other, on how we process and trust information.”

Prince Harry and Meghan have taken serious precautions to protect Archie against the media frenzy[5] that has surrounded the Sussexes, including legal action,[6] and in this op-ed, Prince Harry voices his personal fears as a father, noting that “if we are susceptible to the coercive forces in digital spaces, then we have to ask ourselves—what does this mean for our children? As a father, this is especially concerning to me.”

prince harry meghan markle archie

Prince Harry voiced his concerns as a father. Toby Melville - Pool/Getty Images

Prince Harry stresses the need to remodel social media and the digital world, “in a way defined more by compassion than hate; by truth instead of misinformation; by equity and inclusiveness instead of injustice and fearmongering; by free, rather than weaponized, speech.”

It’s not surprising that Prince Harry and Meghan[7] have chosen to take on online hate speech and bullying, as the Sussexes have experienced it firsthand[8]. Prince Harry has spoken out against the online hatred and bullying[9] that Meghan, in particular, has gone through over the past few years[10]. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will surely continue to focus on social media reform and fighting against hate speech with the launch of their new nonprofit, Archewell,[11] in the future.

Prince Harry Is Worried About the Current State of Social Media

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The Most Extreme 5G Conspiracy Theories and How COVID-19 Blew It All Up

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – JULY 04 : A woman holds a banner during a protest against 5G (the fifth generation technology standard for cellular networks) infrastructure investments at Central Station in Brussels, Belgium on July 04, 2020.  Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

It’s a perfect storm of mass public health crisis, geopolitical rivalry, xenophobia, technology, and timing.

The whispers began as soon as the virus made its way to US shores. Back in March, the singer Keri Hilson gave it a public voice: “People have been trying to warn us about 5G for YEARS. Petitions, organizations, studies…what we’re going thru is the affects [sic] of radiation. 5G launched in CHINA. Nov 1, 2019. People dropped dead.”

Later that day, her management had her delete[1] the tweets, but it was just the beginning of the conspiracy that the launch of 5G caused the spread of COVID-19. After percolating around the internet for months, and building on countless legitimate concerns and anxieties about 5G, this conspiracy went as mainstream as it gets — both the US and UK governments are now working to ban[2] Chinese 5G from their infrastructure.

In a digital ecosystem plagued by the spread of misinformation, the ease with which these theories can circulate is pronounced, and has never before been so effective. Suddenly, amid such confusion and inconsistency with information surrounding the coronavirus, it may not seem so ridiculous that 5G radiation could be weakening our immune systems (harkening back to conspiracies about electromagnetic fields and power lines causing cancer[3] and other illnesses in the 1970s), thereby making us more vulnerable to the virus.

“One thing about the pandemic is the number of contradictions and policy reversals, the general climate of uncertainty,” Dr. Joseph Downing, who co-authored a recent study[4] into the origins and spread of 5G conspiracies, tells Observer. “There’s actually no shortage of reliable public information, but in this polarized context of distrust, it’s going to be difficult.”

From there, it can be a slippery slope to imagining that George Soros or Bill Gates—common targets of QAnon and other conspiracists—played a role in both 5G’s launch and COVID-19’s spread as part of an effort on behalf of Big Pharma, perhaps in order to inoculate citizens with a vaccine that would insert tracking chips into our bodies (as propagated by the viral film Plandemic).

Put another way, it’s easy enough to understand these theories as the latest versions of longstanding tropes within these circles (the far-right, anti-vaxxers, etc.), taking advantage of a global phenomenon and people’s desperation to know more in order to emphasize their pet obsessions (as argued in a May report[5] by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue).

See Also: Why the UK Hung Up on Huawei 5G and What Happens Next[6]

Dr. Wasim Ahmed, who co-authored the same 5G study, said, “Twitter experimented with fact-checks on COVID tweets[7], and they ended up mislabelling so that any tweet [that mentioned COVID] came with the notice, which fed the conspiracy even more.” TikTok took a similar approach, inserting a notice for “information about COVID-19” underneath any video uploaded with a related hashtag (whether or not the video itself referenced the pandemic—users may include the hashtag just to help it get seen).

As Ahmed and Downing argue, we’re faced with a kind of cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives, each more or less agreeing on the basic premise that COVID-19 is man-made or otherwise indicative of something nefarious, but each also approaching it with their own specific conspiratorial spin (they found that YouTube personalities and InfoWars were, rather predictably, some of the main spreaders). They are opportunistic actors when it comes to making their voices heard (anti-vaxxers are perhaps the best example in this case, effortlessly bringing more attention to their cause by raising alarmist questions about the eventual COVID vaccine).

Ahmed, who has studied infectious disease outbreaks like swine flu and ebola through Twitter content, notes that “there weren’t any influential voices countering these narratives, particularly health-based accounts. We think these accounts should be more vigilant about this and take that responsibility to penetrate that network.” At the same time, jokes or tweets making fun of them can backfire: “You’re helping that trend. You should just report it rather than quote-tweet it because you’re defeating the purpose of what you want to do,” Ahmed explained.

There are some scientists that believe 5G poses a legitimate risk, or at least that it deserves further examination.

In 2017, a group of scientists and doctors signed an appeal[8] to the European Union warning of potential serious health effects of 5G and requested a moratorium on 5G’s rollout until the effects of its radiation and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) could be fully investigated. They point, for example, to people already suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity[9] (reminiscent of the vague affliction suffered by Carol White, played by Julianne Moore, in the 1995 film Safe). These scientists and doctors are in the minority, but they add credence to anyone “just asking questions.”

Even Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, owns[10] a sauna with an EMF-shielded tent.

Who is most susceptible to these theories, then? People are understandably concerned about their role under capitalism and the force that an innovation like 5G can have on working-class jobs around the world. Greatly intensified by the pandemic and the precarity it has wrought, with millions losing their jobs in quick succession, these anxieties are not only reasonable but entirely logical.

“There’s an idea that we live in a democratic process,” Downing points out. “But in the rollout of these technological infrastructures, we’re not consulted and that breeds a certain amount of distrust. They feel that something that is unproven is pushed on them.”

While this is true about many things, particularly new technologies, there’s something particularly troubling for some people about an infrastructural change, one that will have a major impact on the modern workforce. Socioeconomic status or education level are not accurate predictors of conspiracy susceptibility. Ahmed suggested one of the only reliable predictors is digital literacy, or having knowledge of communication systems and technology which can help you discern what is and isn’t true. Downing, on the other hand, simply suggested that “there are those that are susceptible, and those that aren’t.”

The obvious question, especially following Twitter’s fudged attempts at labeling, is what platforms can actually do. One approach is the one Twitter took in July to combat QAnon specifically. Twitter deleted thousands of accounts, designated QAnon as “coordinated harmful activity,” and changed their algorithm so that QAnon terms will no longer trend or appear in search results. In effect: deplatformization. Facebook appears to be taking similar steps.

See Also: How QAnon Will Fight Back Against Twitter’s Ban And What Happens Next[11]

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to make a game-changing difference. “It’s the taking-a-sledgehammer-to-an-acorn approach,” Downing said. “Deplatforming accounts just adds on to the sense of distrust, and then no one can track these users. And they just move platforms, they go to Telegram or Signal, which use end-to-end encryption.”

Perhaps something subtler. Rather than addressing the most active culprits, Ahmed suggests, we could target those that are on the edge, because they will be easier to reach. A less-formal technique can also help—Downing previously looked at fake news surrounding the London Grenfell Tower fire[12], and found through a massive data set that it was largely random social media users that helped to stamp down the conspiracies. Ahmed also points to the personal responsibility of regular users, who can “report anything they see that they think is suspicious, so the platforms can more quickly detect misinformation.”

At any rate, we all risk getting stuck within an echo chamber, struggling to utilize our critical faculties to disseminate everything coming at us. In a state of perpetual confusion, anything and everything can become collateral damage. In contrast with the Arab Spring, in which things happened and then people tweeted about it, in this case people have tweeted their anxieties and theories and phone towers were then attacked, just as the Luddites attacked factory machinery during the Industrial Revolution.

As all of this is occurring, inequality is rising, the political climate is severely polarized, and we cannot assume that there is a causal link between putting out information and having it be believed. “You get the rebound effect,” Downing said, “where the harder you try, the more entrenched they become. You need a more general civic response, educate people about conspiracies and fake news, and hope that people are sensible enough that the vast majority will adhere.”

Is it that simple? As Downing himself puts it, “There’s a whole host of concerns about these [tech] giants that control so much of our lives that we have no power to dictate.” After all, it takes only a tiny fringe to change things for everyone, like the bad kid who ruins the birthday party for everyone by dropping the cake—are you sure they didn’t do it on purpose?

At the same time, people know that the dominance of 5G will unquestionably allow unprecedented levels of surveillance, and they are not entirely comfortable with the loss of privacy accelerated by increased automation and centralization facilitated by this new infrastructure.

In some ways, then, this is a bleakly familiar story: people are frustrated by their lack of control, and in their desperation, they look for answers, and that frustration is intensified and weaponized by trolls or other interested parties, resulting in a thick soup of garbage that is practically impossible to find your way through. Grab a spoon.

The Most Extreme 5G Conspiracy Theories and How COVID-19 Blew It All Up

References

  1. ^ delete (metro.co.uk)
  2. ^ UK governments are now working to ban (observer.com)
  3. ^ causing cancer (www.jrseco.com)
  4. ^ recent study (www.jmir.org)
  5. ^ a May report (www.isdglobal.org)
  6. ^ Why the UK Hung Up on Huawei 5G and What Happens Next (observer.com)
  7. ^ experimented with fact-checks on COVID tweets (www.theverge.com)
  8. ^ an appeal (www.jrseco.com)
  9. ^ electromagnetic hypersensitivity (wearetheevidence.org)
  10. ^ owns (mashable.com)
  11. ^ How QAnon Will Fight Back Against Twitter’s Ban And What Happens Next (observer.com)
  12. ^ fake news surrounding the London Grenfell Tower fire (www.theguardian.com)

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AMC CEO Says That Historic Universal Has Been Offered to Other Studios

AMC Universal Deal Disney Lionsgate Warner Bros.

What’s next for the film industry following the historic AMC-Universal deal? Erin Lefevre/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Last week, the film industry took a major step forward (or backward, depending on who you ask) when AMC—the largest exhibitor chain in America—signed a deal with Universal[1] to allow the studio to move theatrical films to premium video on demand after just 17 days in theaters. With the exclusive theatrical window finally busted—after years of contentious negotiations between studios and exhibitors—we expected the rest of Hollywood to follow suit[2] in the near future. As it turns out, AMC has already offered the same deal to other major content providers throughout Tinsel Town.

In AMC Theaters’ quarterly earnings call on Thursday, CEO Adam Aron revealed that the same deal has been offered to the rest of Hollywood’s major studios. While we noted last week that Disney would likely be the last holdout, we expect others such as Lionsgate, Sony and Paramount to climb aboard. The agreement includes at least three weekends (17 days) of theatrical exclusivity for all Universal Pictures and Focus Features theatrical releases, at which time the studio will have the option to make its titles available across premium video on demand (PVOD) platforms, including through AMC Theaters on Demand.

Aron said Thursday that any movies Universal opts to send to PVOD after that 17-day window will still play in theaters. He also explained that the studio cannot announce any PVOD releases until a film has played in theaters for 10 days.

“We cannot just live in the past and fear change,” Aron said, per TheWrap[3]. “One has to stare change in the face and reshape it for one’s own benefit.”

Partially spurring the deal was a new economic reality of movie-going in which “as much as 80% of a film’s theatrical viewing” arrives in its first 17 days of theatrical release, according to Aron. Modern blockbuster filmmaking has placed a greater emphasis on opening weekend numbers which is one reason why Disney has thrived[4] in the current IP-driven climate. As such, this deal represents a potentially mutually beneficial arrangement in terms of revenue. More holistically, studios have dramatically reduced the number of films they make per year over the last 20 years due to changing viewing habits and declining ticket sales. Now, with the ability to move to PVOD so much sooner, we may actually see an uptick in production.

The AMC-Universal deal comes at a time when the exhibitor chain is attempting to stave off bankruptcy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A once in a century event has transformed 2020 into a brutal year, and movie theatre businesses have been hit particularly hard. Even so, as we look ahead, we remain optimistic about AMC’s long term future,” Aron said. “Theatrical exhibition has always been resilient, and we are confident that at AMC we are taking the right steps to emerge from this crisis and to thrive once again as the leader in our industry.”

AMC CEO Says That Historic Universal Has Been Offered to Other Studios

References

  1. ^ signed a deal with Universal (observer.com)
  2. ^ rest of Hollywood to follow suit (observer.com)
  3. ^ TheWrap (www.thewrap.com)
  4. ^ Disney has thrived (observer.com)

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