In This Episode
- On the same day Facebook announced the launch of “Horizon Workrooms,” a virtual reality app for remote work meetings, the Federal Trade Commission filed an updated antitrust suit against the company. The FTC argues that Facebook tried to maintain a monopoly in the social media sphere through acquisitions of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, and lessened the ability of contending apps like Vine to compete. Previously, a federal judge said the FTC failed to prove its contention that Facebook holds a monopoly, but with new FTC chair Lina Khan heading the more detailed suit this time around, Facebook may be forced to break up.
- House Democrats introduced HR 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which is expected to be taken up by Congress next week. HR 4 is less sweeping than HR 1, the For the People Act, but contains measures that reinstate oversight powers of the Voting Rights Act, and make it easier for courts and observers to block election law changes. Though HR 4 is more limited, only one Republican in the Senate, Lisa Murkowski, is likely to support it, which means Democrats need nine more Republicans to bypass the filibuster.
- And in headlines: Taliban members go door-to-door to hunt U.S. allies, OnlyFans bans sexually explicit videos, and Sha’carri Richardson returns to the track.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Friday, August 20th. I’m Gideon Resnick.
Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, the podcast that promises to bring a Larry David/Alan Dershowitz level of excitement to your morning routine.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Uh, if we’re not giving you the same energy as multimillionaires who are feuding over politics in a Martha’s Vineyard grocery store, we are not doing our jobs.
Priyanka Aribindi: That’s true. Tag yourself, I am Alan Dershowitz’s second T-shirt, the one that says “It’s the Constitution, stupid.”
Gideon Resnick: I am the speck of dirt that is getting larger on Larry’s glasses.
Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, Taliban fighters are reportedly going door to door to hunt down those who collaborated with the U.S. Plus, running star Sha’Carri hits the track tomorrow.
Gideon Resnick: That’s right. But first, yesterday was a big day for Facebook when it wanted all of the headlines to be about this:
[clip of Gayle King] Mark, come in.
[clip of Mark Zuckerberg] All right. Welcome.
[clip of Gayle King] Oh, my God. You’ve got freckles on your nose.
[clip of Mark Zuckerberg] I have freckles in real life too. So I’m trying to do the best with my avatar.
[clip of Gayle King] Wow. Do you like my glasses? I like it in here.
[clip of Mark Zuckerberg] Your avatar looks great.
[clip of Gayle King] This is my first virtual reality interview. How about you?
[clip of Mark Zuckerberg] It’s mine too. My first virtual reality interview, too.
Priyanka Aribindi: So that was CBS’s Gayle King conducting an interview with Mark Zuckerberg in Facebook’s new “Horizon Workrooms.” They were not in the same room, as you can tell, but they were both wearing big white headsets so they could talk in virtual reality. Horizon Workrooms is a VR app for meetings. It’s basically like if you enjoyed playing Sims, but you thought it would be even more fun if your boss showed up and started giving you stuff to do. But Gideon, this is unveiled the same day that Facebook got some decidedly less good news. Tell us a little bit more about what’s going on.
Gideon Resnick: That is right. So in addition to this, the Federal Trade Commission filed their updated antitrust suit against Facebook yesterday that was approved three to two along party lines.
Priyanka Aribindi: OK, so it’s been a while since we’ve talked about Facebook and antitrust on this show, but there has been a movement to break up big tech here and abroad. Remind us what the big arguments are.
Gideon Resnick: So this one’s pretty straightforward from the FTC. They’re arguing what they have in the past, which is that Facebook has tried, and been successful basically, in maintaining a monopoly in the social media sphere through two major acquisitions. One was of Instagram in 2012 and the other was of WhatsApp in 2014. And therefore they argued those deals should be undone.
Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. OK, that is a big change.
Gideon Resnick: It would be a big, big change. And Holly Vedova, who is the acting director of the FTC, said in a statement accompanying this, quote, “After failing to compete with new innovators, Facebook illegally bought or buried them when their popularity became an existential threat.” Yeah, they are being quite clear here.
Priyanka Aribindi: Red flag.
Gideon Resnick: Exactly. Additionally, the FTC argued that four other apps that Facebook didn’t outright buy, they attempted to lessen their ability to compete. So, for instance, blocking our beloved Vine from accessing Facebook’s API. Effectively, in that case, Facebook decided that they were going to shut down Vine’s access to the Find My Friends function, which regulators have argued was a way to keep Vine from growing
Priyanka Aribindi: RIP Vine.
Gideon Resnick: Indeed.
Priyanka Aribindi: So you mentioned this was a suit. What happened to the first one?
Gideon Resnick: OK, so back in June, there was a federal judge who decided that there just wasn’t enough evidence to prove outright that Facebook’s actions constituted a monopoly. And one of the tough parts of these cases, from a legal standpoint, as I understand it, is that courts examine where are monopoly tactics are taking place, often by looking at how or if prices are rising. That, of course, gets complicated with something like this case where we’re talking about free social networks. Also, Lena Khan, who is the new FTC chair, was new to her role when that first case was all happening. But as of yesterday, the department inevitably decided to resubmit this suit with just more details to back up the claims that the FTC was originally making.
Priyanka Aribindi: OK, so what are we learning from this new suit?
Gideon Resnick: There’s a lot here. So at least a couple of things to highlight so far. First off, the FTC is kind of rebutting one of the primary Facebook arguments that we often hear, right, that the company believes it does, in fact, have some major competition in this space. But the FTC said that Snapchat would be the closest competitor and that it drastically trails Facebook and Instagram in terms of the size of usage. They also said platforms like TikTok, Twitter, YouTube are not exactly alternatives to Facebook because they do different things and they’re more geared towards the public than personal social networks: liking your grandmother’s pictures, finding people who are going to do an insurrection, etc. and so forth. One other point the FTC raises: so they argue if Facebook had more competition, then how on earth could this company still be so widely used and so profitable in the face of an unbelievable amount of criticism and scrutiny over the years?
Priyanka Aribindi: Right.
Gideon Resnick: One more insane thing, and then I promise I’ll move on. Priyanka, have you heard of something called EyeGroove?
Priyanka Aribindi: OK, so I haven’t, but I feel like it’ll probably be crazy. Tell me what’s happening here.
Gideon Resnick: It’s pretty crazy. So it was an app, as I understand it, that basically allowed people to make short music videos with all these filters and effects, etc., so forth. And according to a Wall Street Journal report, years ago Facebook found out that Snapchat was interested in acquiring it and instead they beat them to the punch. But after they did that Facebook shut EyeGroove down. The team that was from there, I think now reportedly works for Facebook.
Priyanka Aribindi: They are ruthless. Like bullies sound like an understatement. That does not sound great. But I’m curious now what happens next?
Gideon Resnick: So ultimately, the FTC’s goal is to break up Facebook into its various parts. Facebook has until early October to respond to all of this, and the expectation is that they are likely going to try to get the case dismissed. But if for some reason that doesn’t happen, we could be in for a long and pretty important legal fight that could impact a lot of other companies. So we’re going to keep our eyes on all of that. Turning to something else coming up, we are expecting a new vote on yet another important bill in D.C. next week. Priyanka, what do we need to know?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, so voting rights are going to be back in the spotlight in Congress. Earlier this week on Tuesday, House Democrats introduced H.R.4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. That is expected to get a vote in the coming days, so we wanted to give you a preview so you know what to expect.
Gideon Resnick: Got it. And earlier this year, we were talking a lot about H.R.1. So how is H.R.4 different from that in structure?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, so H.R.1, the For the People Act, was another voting rights bill that Democrats passed in the House earlier this year, but that one has been stalled in the Senate. That one is also much bigger than H.R.4. It included things like auto-registering people to vote, guaranteeing vote by mail and early voting options, creating bipartisan commissions to lead redistricting, and identifying the people behind dark money groups—all of which are great things but not particularly popular with Republicans. Yeah. On the other hand, H.R.4 is much more specific. This one is all about restoring key parts of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down or weakened by two Supreme Court decisions.
Gideon Resnick: OK, so people probably have some amount of understanding of what happened there, but it’s time to brush up a little bit on that history. Give us the rundown.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, OK. Time for a crash course. So the Voting Rights Act was originally passed in 1965 and was designed to prevent racial discrimination in voting. But there have been two Supreme Court decisions, one in 2013 and one earlier this year that severely weakened the VRA. The first was Shelby County vs. Holder in 2013. And for those of you who aren’t legal scholars or experts in voting rights law, don’t worry, we did your homework for you. The court’s decision affected two sections of the VRA that required any states and jurisdictions that had histories of racial discrimination to get approval from the Department of Justice before they could make any changes to voting procedures. This is what’s known as preclearance. But when the Supreme Court removed this part of the law, it became a lot easier for people in power in these states to change election laws, which, as you can probably guess, did not make it easier for anybody to vote.
Gideon Resnick: Right. And then that wasn’t the end of the story here. There was another Supreme Court case from this year.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So the second decision was from a case called Bernovich versus the DNC. And that decision weakened Section 2, which was the part of the law that prevented states or jurisdictions from implementing voting laws that were discriminatory on the basis of race, skin color or language. Because of that decision, it became a lot harder to challenge discriminatory state voting laws. Without these parts of the Voting Rights Act, it becomes a lot easier for people in power to marginalize people of color, both during the voting process and during redistricting. We’ve talked about this a few times on the show, and you can dive deeper by checking out some of our previous episodes. But the point of H.R.4 is to bring these parts back and to strengthen federal protections against discriminatory voting laws.
Gideon Resnick: And there’s a need actually for a federal law on this right this very moment, if there wasn’t already, because many states are trying to or have passed bills to restrict voting.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So this year alone, nearly 20 Republican-controlled states have passed laws restricting voting rights. So this is something that is really important to do as soon as possible.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s right. So on that front, the question that we always tend to ask ourselves here, does this have any real likelihood of passing in the Senate?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, so that is the question. The House definitely not the issue. They’ve passed H.R.1, they’re expected to pass this one next week. Really smooth sailing over there. But the Senate is a totally different story. Right now, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is the only Republican who is likely to support it and to pass it would need support from nine more Republican senators or, of course, Democrats could eliminate the filibuster.
Gideon Resnick: Of course.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, of course. It wasn’t always like this. Updates to the Voting Rights Act used to pass with very few issues in the Senate, but that is obviously not the case anymore. You’ll be hearing more about H.R.4 next week. But now that you’re all caught up, you can stay tuned for more updates. That is the latest for now.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Friday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we are talking about yoga classes for aging elephants. That’s right. At the Cincinnati Zoo, the hometown zoo and the home to animal celebrities like Fiona the Hippo and Rico the porcupine—a newer entry—zookeepers have started leading their aging elephants in daily stretching exercises. Apparently, they can do a mean downward-facing dog. The average lifespan of an elephant is 60 to 70 years, and the elephants participating are in their 30s and 40s. The zookeepers leading the stretches hope that the daily practice will help the elephants avoid mobility issues as they age. This is so deeply beautiful. I truly cannot stand it. The Cincinnati Zoo is in the process of building an improved elephant enclosure set to open in 2024, with plans featuring a complex habitat of trees, mud wallows, pools, streams and grasses to give the endangered elephants more room to roam and hopefully breed. It’s nice to know they’ll have the loose joints and strong limbs appropriate for this daunting task. So Priyanka, what is your take on the Cincinnati Zoo’s elephant yogis? What other animals do you hope get into the wellness treatment zone?
Priyanka Aribindi: I think this is amazing. I think we should all follow their lead, do a little yoga, stay limber, stay mindful. As for other animals that I want to get wellness treatments, like I want to see little Rico getting like a facial massage. I want to see it all. Gideon, what are you thinking? This is your hometown zoo.
Gideon Resnick: This is my hometown zoo. Makes me feel really conflicted about the concept of zoos, I’ll have to admit.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right.
Gideon Resnick: Because I see and hear all this stuff and I’m taking on a whimsical and emotional journey through the lovely animals doing fun human activities.
Priyanka Aribindi: This sounds like a spa for animals.
Gideon Resnick: It does. It does. And I know that there’s a larger story. All that aside, I have a couple of questions about whether like trunks are going to come into play in terms of some of the, like, yoga moves. I don’t want to say it because they could be listening, but it seems like it could be cheating, if it’s yoga moves compared to what humans are doing. Am I wrong?
Priyanka Aribindi: Well, I’m a certified yoga instructor. I don’t know if you knew that.
Gideon Resnick: No.
Priyanka Aribindi: But I feel like that’s not cheating by my standards.
Gideon Resnick: OK. We’ve cleared that.
Priyanka Aribindi: So as the authority here, I feel like in the clear. [laughs]
Gideon Resnick: I also would love to see them, in addition to facial-type stuff that we got going on, in addition to like seeing limber, to also keep their minds right and conduct some therapy sessions.
Gideon Resnick: Fair. I mean, they’re in their 30s and 40s, it’s time for it. They need to do that, if they haven’t already.
Gideon Resnick: It is. They’ve got to keep that memory sharp and their bodies ready, I guess, for their new habitat. Anyway, we have said far too much about this. Just like that, we’ve checked our temps. Enjoy yoga as only these elephants can teach you, and we’ll be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Priyanka Aribindi: The situation in Afghanistan continues to escalate as the Taliban faces mounting public opposition to its rule. Protests broke out across the country again yesterday, with Taliban fighters violently cracking down and several more protesters were killed. Reports also reveal that Taliban members were going door to door to search for people who they believe had worked with the U.S. and NATO forces. This, if you remember, is exactly what they said they weren’t going to do. Not great. So as more and more people try to flee for the Kabul airport, U.S. forces in other countries, including Spain and Germany, are assisting with mass evacuation flights. This week, the International Monetary Fund also announced that it would block the Taliban’s access to the country’s emergency reserve, making it the latest institution to freeze them out financially.
Priyanka Aribindi: OnlyFans announced that it will ban sexually explicit content from its platform starting in October. If you have never heard about this site before, I have to tell you, sexually explicit content is pretty much what it is primarily known for. Its user-to-creator subscription model allowed sex workers and others to cultivate an audience while getting paid for it, though many creators have also criticized the site for taking a significant portion of their income. Now the company says it has to ban sexually explicit content due to pressures from its banking and payment partners. It’s also having trouble attracting investors, despite creators on the platform generating two billion dollars in sales last year alone. If we learned anything from Tumblr which banned porn on platform three years ago, things are not looking good for the future of OF.
Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely not. So you may remember the story a few weeks back about Lily, the San Francisco Vietnamese restaurant with overpriced fried rice. They took their dish off the menu after it got way too popular with the kind of people who had no problem ordering something that the restaurant called Douchebag Fried Rice. My take was that given the list of lux ingredients like crab meat, Wagyu beef, caviar, black truffle, Jidori egg yolks, they should have been charging way more than $72. And it turns out that the dish’s back, they’ve taken my advice with a few key changes, so now it costs 500 bucks a plate and, they are capping their limit at five a day.
Gideon Resnick: They absolutely took your recommendation. They took it too, far frankly.
Priyanka Aribindi: Just, yeah I agree with you. But the best part: proceeds from their signature d-bag delicacy will now go to the organization S.F. New Deal, a group that gives grants to small businesses in the San Francisco area. Finally channeling the powers of big city bougie-ness for good. Bon appetit.
Gideon Resnick: I never want to hear about this place again. [laughs] I’m putting a moratorium on it. We’ve done too much free PR for them.
Priyanka Aribindi: Too much!
Gideon Resnick: I’m good. If you’re allergic to speed and people looking insanely cool running, maybe go ahead and avoid the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon this weekend, American track star Sha’Carri Richardson will be competing against a 100 meter field that is similar to the group that she would have raced against in the Tokyo Olympics. Richardson was among American favorites like Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky for the Olympic Games until she tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, if you didn’t know. The positive test came shortly after the passing of Richardson’s biological mother. Weed, which critics called a problematic drug, does not enhance performance and many critiques of Richardson’s actions felt largely rooted in racism. The situation sparked an important conversation about the legitimacy of outdated Olympic rules and the prioritization of athletes’ mental health. But this race is her chance to regain the title of the fastest woman in the world, and she deserves it. WAD is rooting for you, Sha’Carri, which scientifically means that you have got it in the bag.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, she has it in the bag. We don’t know who else is running, but she’s our pick.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s it.
Priyanka Aribindi: She’s our girl.
Gideon Resnick: That’s it. That’s all, that’s all that it is. And those are the headlines.
Priyanka Aribindi: All right. Two more things before we go. Fellow Crooked podcast, Love It or Leave It is coming to New York. Jon Lovett will be live at the New York Comedy Festival on November 12th at the Beacon Theater. You can get exclusive presale tickets now with the Code “NYCF”. For more information and the ticket link, head to Crooked.com/events.
Gideon Resnick: I do need more information. I need to find out who this person is. I’m interested.
Priyanka Aribindi: Never heard of him. Never heard of him.
Gideon Resnick: And then with summer coming to an end, we have to say goodbye to our intern, Kelly Sadikun. Today is her last day with the show. And in the few months that she’s been with us, she has been really essential in putting together some of the stories that you hear every day. Plus, we just found this out, she is an amazing illustrator as well.
Priyanka Aribindi: Amazing.
Gideon Resnick: You can check out the drawing that she did—amazing! I don’t know why this was kept from us. You can check out a drawing that she did of the entire team that were going to post to our Insta. Kelly, you will be missed, and good luck this year at USC. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, cheer on Sha’Carri this weekend, and tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just how to become an elephant yoga instructor like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And we’re coming for you, Dershowitz!
Priyanka Aribindi: No, we’re not. I am staying far away.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I’m actually good from a distance. That totally works for me.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s totally fine, being an onlooker.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. I’m letting Larry have this, this fight and he’s representing us.
Priyanka Aribindi: He can do it alone.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, he’s got it. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lance. Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers, and Kelly Sadikun is our intern. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.