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September 16, 2021
What A Day
This Is Your Brain On Instagram

In This Episode

  • Voters in California appeared to send the message to Governor Gavin Newsom that his coronavirus policies were the right way to go after saving him from a recall. The vote also sends a pretty strong political message to Democrats around the country about the pressures they might face for their own pandemic measures. Additionally, President Biden met with top executives of companies that supported his administration’s vaccination mandate plan.
  • For the past three years, Facebook has been conducting studies into how Instagram affects its millions of young users. According to the Wall Street Journal, those studies say the app is harmful for a sizable chunk of them, especially teen girls.
  • And in headlines: Olympic gymnasts testified before the Senate, the Justice Department filed an emergency motion to stop the enforcement of Texas’s new controversial abortion law, and cultural icon RuPaul now has a shiny little bug named after him.
  • Show Notes: 

    Bloomberg: “U.S. Covid Vaccinations Slide Again Ahead of Biden Mandates” – https://bloom.bg/3EmB8LjWall Street Journal: “The Facebook Files” – https://on.wsj.com/3lvgTm4

 

 

Transcript

 

Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, September 16th. I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson, and this is What A Day, the only podcast guaranteed to get you through your fast for Yom Kippur.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yes, this podcast is basically like food for your brain. So it’s going to make you less hungry.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: That’s not my religious tradition. So I’m just going to have to believe you.

 

Gideon Resnick: It’s been a long time since I’ve been to temple, but I think that’s still the rule.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: On today’s show, we break down the revelations from the Wall Street Journal’s report on Instagram. Plus, the story about Nicki Minaj and vaccines unfortunately keeps on giving.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Do you ever want to hear the term ‘ball-gate’ stick around, I guess. But first, despite the grumbling by some over pandemic safety measures, voters in California Tuesday night appeared to send the message to Governor Gavin Newsom that his policies were the right way to go.

 

[clip of Gov. Gavin Newsom] But ‘no’ was not the only thing that was expressed tonight. I want to focus on what we said yes to as a state. We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Oh, yes, we did. That was Newsom late Tuesday night after easily beating back a recall effort by a margin as wide as the 405 freeway. Gideon, it seems like how he handled the pandemic, where he was one of the most proactive governors early on, and the state’s current trajectory was a major factor in his victory.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, long gone, I guess, is the memory of French Laundry, etc. and so forth. So right, as it stands, over 60% of the state voted against the recall. According to some exit polling and more on-the-ground reporting, the pandemic was the number one issue on voters’ minds. And if that’s accurate, it sends a pretty strong political message for Democrats, even those who are outside of California, in terms of how they can and likely will continue to present their handling of the pandemic, mandates, etc. To drive the point home, in President Biden’s statement about the victory, he said in part, quote, “This vote is a resounding win for the approach that Newsom and I share to beating the pandemic.”

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, we all want to leave our homes for real this time. To that point, Biden was also focused on the issue of vaccine mandates yesterday. What was going on at the federal level?

 

Gideon Resnick: He was. He met with the top executives of Microsoft, Disney, Kaiser Permanente and others. These are all companies that have at least voiced support for the administration’s mandate plan, which as a reminder, requires companies with 100 or more employees to have everybody vaccinated or have employees do weekly testing if they don’t get vaccinated. It’s actually still being formally put together by the Labor Department so that is only a plan for now. And the idea of this Biden meeting with the executives was to demonstrate success in uptake among employees of these companies after the respective announcements were made, and to also encourage other workplaces to pursue the same strategies.

 

[clip of President Biden] The vaccine requirements work and more companies are instituting them. Even at Fox News they require it. And I’m not being facetious when I say that, but it’s interesting that they’ve stepped forward and done that as well.

 

Gideon Resnick: Interesting is right. And this meeting happened after a poll released from Monmouth University found that about 60% of respondents said that they support vaccination requirements for people like teachers, federal employees, health care workers, etc. But there are still some questions about the specifics of the order coming from the executive branch that we are waiting to see in.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Vaccine mandates are coming for even more people other than just private businesses and their employees. What’s new there?

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so on Tuesday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said that new immigrants to the country need to be fully vaccinated as of October 1st. And then Army officials put out a more extensive plan about what they’re doing. On Tuesday, they said that all active duty units have to be vaccinated by December 15th and those who refused to do so without an exemption could actually end up being dismissed.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And even with all the encouragements and requirements, there is still some resistance in various sectors. of course. What’s going on with those folks?

 

Gideon Resnick: OK, so for one, the L.A. Times has been reporting that over 2,600 LAPD employees have indicated that they are going to try to get religious exemptions for new rules requiring vaccinations. And then there are hundreds more doing so for medical reasons. And that in total could be something like a quarter of the workforce.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: I don’t believe it.

 

Gideon Resnick: I mean, it is interesting that it follows a federal lawsuit filed this past weekend by six LAPD employees against the city saying that vaccine and mask mandates violate rights to privacy and due process. These are folks who are quite familiar with violations of due process, so maybe it’s to be believed. And as of Tuesday, something like 54% of LAPD staff have allegedly been at least partially vaccinated, which is quite a bit below the city and state’s overall levels. Then also yesterday ESPN reported that the Players Association of the NBA has not budged from its demand that players not be faced with a vaccine requirement. Something like 85% are said to be vaccinated already, though. Then also in that report was something else that jumped out to me: local requirements in places like San Francisco and New York say that players for franchises that are based there will need to be vaccinated apparently. We are just about a month away from the new season starting so we’ll keep an eye on that.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And where are we with vaccinations countrywide now? I mean, we are speaking on a day where the latest mind-boggling statistic is that one in 500 Americans have died from COVID-19. And according to the CDC, we are still averaging well over 1,200 deaths per day.

 

Gideon Resnick: Mind boggling is right and infuriating, honestly. So CDC data indicates that about 54% of the US population is fully vaccinated at this point. Unfortunately, it does seem that the uptick in vaccinations we saw in August might have been fleeting for now, at least, because those rates appear to have slowed down. That’s according to a Bloomberg article that we can link to. And this is all happening before tomorrow’s meeting by the FDA with an advisory board where officials are expected to vote on whether to approve a booster of the Pfizer shot. More on that and everything else soon. But let’s turn to a series of developing stories about Facebook and Instagram.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Oh, yes, a few days ago, we mentioned a headline about a recent Wall Street Journal report that said the company gave almost six million high-profile users protection from the company’s content moderation rules. Folks like Elizabeth Warren. Candace Owens, Brazilian soccer player Neymar, and obviously Donald and younger Donald. It seems like this plan was well-intentioned at one point, but as my granny always said, the road to false stories about Democrats eating babies and hell is paved with good intentions.

 

Gideon Resnick: She really did always saw that.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: But now we have even more information that basically says, contrary to how Zuckerberg has portrayed things publicly, Facebook knows in quote “acute detail” that its platforms are full of flaws that cause harm, and often lacks the will or ability to address them.

 

Gideon Resnick: That checks out for me. And where and how are we actually getting all these new details?

 

Tre’vell Anderson: So all of the reporting on what I’m saying today comes from The Wall Street Journal. They have an ongoing series of articles and podcast episodes that we can link to in our show notes called “The Facebook Files.” It’s an investigative project in which they reviewed a host of internal Facebook communications, including research reports, online employee discussions and drafts of presentations to senior management and interviewed dozens of current and former employees. It’s not clear how the publication got access to the files, but they say at least some of the documents they reviewed have been turned over to the Securities and Exchange Commission and to Congress by someone seeking federal whistleblower protection. But what I’ve shared is just from Part 1 of the series.

 

Gideon Resnick: OK, so that is quite a tease for everything else. Hit us with the newest revelations.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: So Part 2 focuses on Instagram, which Facebook owns. For the past three years, the company has been conducting studies into how Instagram affects its millions of young users. According to the Journal, those studies say the app is harmful for a sizable chunk of them, especially teen girls. A notable quote from the internal documents that stuck out to me, “we make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.” And here’s a stat from a study of U.S. and U.K. teens conducted by Facebook: more than 40% of Instagram users who reported feeling, quote unquote, “unattractive” said the feeling began on the app. And about a quarter of the teens who reported feeling, quote unquote, “not good enough” said the feeling also started on the app.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, that is a significant amount of stats we have for this all pointing in the wrong direction. Geez, that’s awful.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: The thing to keep in mind, though, and the reason why this is all interesting is because Zuckerberg has publicly downplayed the health effects of social media and especially Facebook and Instagram. But his own internal research says that some of the issues we all know to be true with social media are specific to Instagram. Like an explore page, for example, whose algorithm only shows me absurdly fit half naked men while I’m stuffing my face full of Cold Stone Creamery and jumping to put my jeans on. As a result of all this reporting, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn of the Commerce Committee announced yesterday an investigation into Facebook’s awareness of the harm that Instagram can cause.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, they are trying to break the Guinness Book of World Records for how many investigations they’re facing at once. OK, then there is actually a Part 3 of the journal’s report. What did that piece focus on?

 

Tre’vell Anderson: That Facebook did try at one point to make itself a healthier platform for users, but instead it became an angrier place. Internal company documents show that a major shift in Facebook’s news feed algorithm in 2018 basically backfired. The goal was to boost what they call meaningful social interactions between friends and family but it ended up being a system that rewarded outrage and sensationalism, which publishers and political parties worldwide exploited. Though Facebook employees alerted senior managers to these concerns early on in the process, a change was only made in the spring of 2020 and only specifically regarding civic and health content. When employees made an appeal to Zuckerberg to extend such changes, he said he didn’t want to pursue it if it reduced user engagement because obviously that’s how they keep the lights on over there. Now, I’m sure there will be more revelations as The Wall Street Journal continues its reporting, but that’s the latest for now.

 

Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, WAD squad, and today we’ve got a new segment called “No Context Bad Vibes.”

 

[deep distorted voice] No context? Bad vibes.

 

Gideon Resnick: I knew that’s what it was going to be and it delivered. Take a listen to today’s wild clip:

 

[clip of Health Minister of Trinidad and Tobago] As we stand now, there is absolutely no reported such side-effect or adverse event of this testicular swelling in Trinidad or I dare say, [Dr. Hines?] anywhere else. None that we know of anywhere else in the world.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: He is very serious about what he is telling us. OK, shout out to Nicki Minaj.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yes. OK, so for those who are fortunately uninitiated here, that was, of course, the health minister of Trinidad and Tobago holding a press conference yesterday to dismiss rumors about a set of swollen cousin’s friend’s balls. Yes. Resulting from a COVID vaccine. Those rumors were spread by Nicki Minaj, who continues to defend her position on social media. She has not been vaccinated, and used the anecdote about her cousin’s friend in Trinidad to explain why. Tre’vell, what are your thoughts on this clip?

 

Tre’vell Anderson: All I know is that man is very tired of having to take his time, OK, to dispel this particular rumor. And I want to note, he let us know that there is not one case of testicular swelling in the entire world, not just Trinidad, OK? So he’s doing work for all of us.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I really do want to see the conversations that led to this moment of them saying, like, sorry, you got to bite the bullet on this one and get up there and do a press conference. Just nip this in the bud. Say it once and people will stop asking you questions. He certainly did not sound thrilled to be there. Dear Lord.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: He’s like, I did not go to school for this, OK? This is not what I thought I would be doing with my time.

 

Gideon Resnick: But I still love it nonetheless. That was No Context Bad Vibes.

 

[deep distorted voice] No context? Bad vibes.

 

Gideon Resnick: We’ll be back after some ads.

 

[ad break]

 

Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.

 

[sung] Headlines.

 

Gideon Resnick: Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols testified before the Senate yesterday about the abuse they suffered from former team doctor Larry Nassar and the FBI’s botched investigation into their allegations.

 

[clip of Simone Biles] To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that was Biles’s testimony in which she refers to the FBI’s colossal mishandling of their investigation into the abuse. Nassar is currently serving a life sentence and has been accused of sexually abusing hundreds of women and girls. A recent Justice Department report found that the FBI failed to respond to the allegations with the seriousness or urgency that it deserved, and that they lied about the interviews they had conducted, including one with McKayla Maroney back in 2015, where she was brushed off by an agent after describing the abuse she had faced. The gymnast also criticized the Justice Department for its decision not to prosecute the agents involved.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: In other news about the DOJ doing stuff, the department filed an emergency motion Tuesday night to stop the enforcement of Texas’s new and controversial abortion law. It’s asking a federal court to issue a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction. And this motion came after the Justice Department sued Texas last week. The law bans abortions six weeks after pregnancy, which is before many people realize that they are pregnant. It also deputizes average citizens in Texas to sue doctors, drivers or anyone who may help people get abortions after six weeks. In its argument, the DOJ says that the law has, quote, “gravely and irreparably impaired women’s ability to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion across the state.” The department also provided examples of people traveling hundreds of miles to neighboring states to receive abortions at already overwhelmed clinics.

 

Gideon Resnick: The Maori Party in New Zealand launched a petition to change New Zealand’s official name to Aotearoa. That is the name of the country in the indigenous Maori language. The campaign also calls for the restoration of Maori names for all towns, cities and places across the country over the next five years. In a statement launching the petition, party leaders said, quote, “Aotearoa is a name that will unify our country rather than divide it.” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not yet publicly commented on the latest push. Last year, though, she said that she supported more people using the name, but that an official name change was, quote, “not something we’ve explored.” Unsurprisingly, there is backlash from the country’s right-wing ACT party whose name I personally am pushing to change to ‘ACT Like You Don’t Love Colonizers.’

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And speaking of naming things, cultural icon RuPaul has officially reached the highest tier of celebrity: there’s now a shiny little bug named after him. An Australian soldier fly has been christened ‘opaluma rupaul’ by entomologist Bryan Lessard. He chose the name because of the fly’s bright rainbow colored exoskeleton and said, quote, “I was watching a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race while examining the species and I know it would challenge RuPaul on the runway serving fierce looks.” This isn’t the first time Lessard has mixed the normally separate domains of celeb and insect, he previously dubbed a horsefly with a gold abdomen ‘Scaptia beyonce’ and has named 50 bugs in total, making him something of a low-tier God. Many of the flies Lessard has named came from parts of Australia hit hard by bushfires, and he hopes his attention-grabbing choices will encourage people to support conservation efforts. Remember that every bug’s life is important, even if its purpose is to disgust and annoy us.

 

Gideon Resnick: And the next time you swat it one, it might be named Rihanna so be careful. Those are the headlines. One more thing before we go: this week on Keep It, Ira and Louis recap their thoughts on this year’s VMAs and Met Gala. Then Anthoni Porowski join us to discuss his new book, Anthoni: Let’s Do Dinner, and the future of Netflix’s Queer Eye. New episodes of Keep It drop every Wednesday. You can listen and follow wherever you get your podcasts. That is all today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, limit your exposure to any media that’s related to Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend, and tell your friends to listen.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And if you’re into reading, and not just bug names like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.

 

Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

[together] And we’ll see you at the French Laundry, Gavin!

 

Gideon Resnick: Gavin, you’re buying. I mean, that’s what you promised so . . .

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Of course. He got it. He can do it.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.

 

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