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Wednesday
Aug082018

Amid backlash, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explains why Alex Jones hasn't been banned

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Twitter said it is standing by its decision not to ban accounts associated with right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, despite "outside pressure" for it to ban his content.

The CEO and co-founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, explained the company’s decision in a series of tweets on Tuesday night, noting that Jones, owner of the InfoWars website, hadn’t violated any of its rules.

“We know that’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules. We’ll enforce if he does,” he said. “If we succumb and simply react to outside pressure, rather than straightforward principles we enforce (and evolve) impartially regardless of political viewpoints, we become a service that’s constructed by our personal views that can swing in any direction. That’s not us.”

Twitter has been under fire from users since Sunday, when Apple said it removed podcasts produced by Jones from its streaming platform, citing “hate speech.” Facebook, YouTube and Spotify followed suit with restrictions of their own this week.

Dorsey said he understood why people were upset with the decision, but he said censorship isn’t the answer. He also encouraged journalists to “refute” false information.

“Accounts like Jones' can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors,” Dorsey said, “so it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.”

Dorsey appeared to take a swipe at the tech platforms that banned Jones and said Twitter refused to take “one-off actions to make us feel good” or make decisions that could ultimately fuel “new conspiracy theories.”

“Truth is we’ve been terrible at explaining our decisions in the past. We’re fixing that,” Dorsey said. “We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories.”

Facebook suspended Jones' account for 30 days on Monday due to repeated violations, includings posts that it said glorified violence and dehumanized others.

“We have taken it down for glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies,” Facebook said.

YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, issued a similar statement, saying Jones’ accounts had violated its “policies against hate speech and harassment,” but Jones claimed his statements are protected by free speech.

"What conservative news outlet will be next? The one platform that they CAN'T ban and will ALWAYS have our live streams is infowars.com/show," Jones, who has more than 850,000 Twitter followers, tweeted Monday.

“#Infowars has been banned on so many platforms, but people are still finding ways to get the truth,” he added in subsequent tweet.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Aug072018

Black Women's Equal Pay Day reminds and the continuing women's pay gap

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The month of August, eight months into the year, is how far into 2018 a typical black woman must work to bring home what a typical white male was paid at the end of 2017, according to the organizers of Black Women's Equal Pay Day.

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, observed Tuesday, comes nearly five months after Equal Pay Day, the day that marks how far into 2018 a woman will have to work to earn what her male colleague earned in 2017.

Black women earn 96 percent as much as their black male counterparts, and earn nearly 83 percent as much as white women in the workforce, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The news for black women is not promising if nothing is done. Black women may not see equal pay until 2124 if current trends continue, the think tank Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) found.

In addition to deserving the right to be paid equally for equal work, eight in 10 black women are the breadwinner of the family, according to the IWPR. Black women represented one in seven women in the civilian labor force in 2015, or about 10.2 million women.

Over the course of a 40-year career, black women's losses total $867,920 because of the pay gap, the National Women's Law Center recently reported. For black women living in eight states in the U.S., the lifetime wage gap would amount to more than $1 million compared to the earnings of white, non-Hispanic men.

Groups like the Equal Pay Today! Campaign, comprised of women's legal advocacy and worker justice organizations, are working to help erase the pay gap for black women by shining a spotlight on the fact that such a gap still exists in 2018.

A survey commissioned by Lean In, the women-focused organization launched by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, found more than one in three Americans are not aware of the pay gap between black women and white men, and half of Americans are not aware of the pay gap between black women and white women.

"This pay gap for black women persists across industries, occupations, and levels of education," Sandberg and Laphonza Butler, a union leader, wrote in an essay for Fortune magazine. "No matter what her job or how educated she is, the average black woman is still earning a great deal less than a white man at the same level."

The actress Jessica Chastain placed Hollywood's spotlight on the pay gap for black women when she spoke out after learning her costar, Octavia Spencer, who is black, was making less than other actresses, even with her Academy Award for "The Help."

"Your silence is your discrimination," Chastain told The Hollywood Reporter in June. "So if you are succeeding in an environment where there is discrimination, you are actively being discriminatory."

She continued, "I knew women of color got paid less than Caucasian actresses. What I didn’t know is someone of Octavia’s level, who had an Oscar and two Oscar nominations, how much less she would be getting paid. When she told me what she was making, that’s what really made me go, 'Hold up, that doesn’t compute in my brain.'"

The disparity in pay for black women sparked a social media storm Tuesday in observance of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. The hashtags #BlackWomensEqualPay and #DemandMore both trended on Twitter.

Celebrities from “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts to tennis legend Billie Jean King and actress Patricia Arquette raised their voices in support of equal pay for black women.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Aug072018

Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully re-launches rocket

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket for a second time early Tuesday morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, according to a statement from the company.

The rocket carried the Merah Putih satellite into orbit, which will provide internet and phone services across Indonesia and Southeast Asia, according to SpaceX.

“The satellite is expected to have a service lifetime of 15 or more years,” SpaceX said.

After separating from the satellite, the Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.

This is the first time SpaceX has successfully reused a Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket, according to Space.com. Its first launch was in May 2018. Shortly after the launch, Musk told Ars Technica, "We are going to be very rigorous in taking this rocket apart and confirming our design assumptions to be confident that it is indeed able to be reused without taking it apart. Ironically, we need to take it apart to confirm it does not need to be taken apart.”

The Falcon 9 rocket is designed to fly 10 times with inspections only at landing and liftoff, and 100 times or more with some refurbishment involved, according to Space.com.

Musk has said that reusing rockets is essential for cutting costs in spaceflight and making space exploration more accessible.

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Tuesday
Aug072018

Survey shows Americans hate online fraud, but call password practices "overkill"

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new survey of 2,000 Americans revealed that while fighting online fraud is critical, 81% of those polled call cutting edge password practices are overkill.

The poll from analytics software firm FICO revealed 78% of those surveyed have trouble keeping track of their passwords, and 7 in 10 are sick of those warped-looking "Captcha" codes that we're forced to enter just to prove we're not robots.

Sixty-four percent of those polled say they hate having to turn their passwords into that tricky to guess -- and remember -- combination of letters and numbers.

The irony isn't lost on computer security experts.

"There’s a real discrepancy here," says TJ Horan, Vice President of fraud solutions at FICO. "Consumers are glad their bank is protecting them, but frustrated that the protection is making it harder for them to open accounts and make purchases."

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Tuesday
Aug072018

Survey says millennials most want to take family trips; "cringe" at romantic getaways

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  A new survey reveals that millennials are the most likely to want to take a trip with their families.

The poll, commissioned by the travel site Ebates, found that 61% of millennials want to travel with their families -- and want to go on romantic vacations the least.

The Ebates Summer Survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults notes that 18.4% of millennials consider romantic trips "cringe worthy," as compared to 10.3% of Gen Xers, and 8.2% of baby boomers.

While romantic trips get the thumbs-down, a majority of millennials say their ideal travel partners would be their BFFs.
 
Other findings of the poll reveal that 82% of all Americans take between 1-3 vacations a year, with more than half getting away during the summer.

Americans are staying home, relatively, this year, with 92% traveling domestically.

Road trips are the preferred vacation mode, says the poll, with 40% saying they're getting away by getting behind the wheel. Plane travel was a close second, at 38%. Cruises ranked a distant third with 7% saying that's how they're traveling, followed by hiking at 6% and trains at 5%.

As for travel inspiration, 51% of Americans ask their friends, and 58% ask family members for destination advice. Twenty-three percent use travel TV shows to find destinations -- the same percentage of those who use sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.

The survey also notes that millennials are much more likely than other Americans to turn to social media to find a place to go.

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Monday
Aug062018

Facebook, tech giants remove content from Alex Jones and Infowars, citing hate speech violations

Brooks Kraft/ Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Facebook on Monday announced that it took down four pages belonging to rightwing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, including his "Infowars" radio show, citing violations of the platform's hate speech and bullying policies.

It is the latest effort by social media giants and the tech industry to try and crack down on speech deemed offensive.

Facebook said in a statement obtained by ABC News on Monday that it also suspended Jones' account for 30 days and that it "unpublished" the pages because they have repeated posted content "glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies."

The media giant said that it removed the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the InfoWars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page due to repeated violations of the company's terms of use.

"We've been banned completely on Facebook, Apple, & Spotify. What conservative news outlet will be next? The one platform that they CAN'T ban and will ALWAYS have our live streams is infowars.com/show," Jones, who remains active on Twitter, tweeted on Monday, slamming what he referred to as "censorship."

ABC News has reached out to Jones but a request for comment were not immediately returned.

Twitter told ABC News on Monday that Jones is currently not in violation of the company’s policies.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said that although he is "no fan" of Jones, "Free speech includes views you disagree with."

"Am no fan of Jones — among other things he has a habit of repeatedly slandering my Dad by falsely and absurdly accusing him of killing JFK — but who the hell made Facebook the arbiter of political speech? Free speech includes views you disagree with," he tweeted Monday.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, issued a strike against Jones in July and removed four of his videos, removed top channels associated with InfoWars on Monday, including The Alex Jones Channel, which has nearly 2.5 million subscribers. Two of the videos contained anti-Muslim speech and another showed a man pushing a child to the ground.

"All users agree to comply with our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines when they sign up to use YouTube," a YouTube spokesperson told ABC News on Monday. "When users violate these policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts."

Jones also targeted the survivors of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that left 17 dead and called activist and shooting survivor David Hogg a "crisis actor" in a video that was later taken down by YouTube. Jones later claimed that Hogg has been given lines by anti-gun advocates.

Apple also removed the majority of Infowars' podcasts from its iTunes and Podcast apps, citing violations of hate speech guidelines.

"Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users," an Apple spokesperson told ABC News. "Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”

And last week Spotify, the music streaming service, said said on Wednesday that it has removed some episodes of "The Alex Jones Show" podcast, which airs on Inforwars, for violating its "hate content policy," following backlash on social media.

“We take reports of hate content seriously and review any podcast episode or song that is flagged by our community," a Spotify spokesperson told ABC News on Monday. "Due to repeated violations of Spotify’s prohibited content policies, The Alex Jones Show has lost access to the Spotify platform.”

"I was born in censorship. I was born being suppressed," he said on his radio show, responding to Spotify's move.

Among other conspiracy theories, Jones has called the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting a hoax.

Six families of victims killed in the shooting, as well as an FBI agent who responded to the scene, filed a defamation lawsuit against Jones in May after he repeatedly called the shooting fake on "Infowars." The lawusit was filed in Travis County, Texas, where Jones' media company is based.

On Wednesday Jones' attorneys argued that the "Infowars" host didn't defame one victim's parents who say they've been tormented by his followers and forced to move seven times. Jones was not present at the hearing.

Jones now admits the shooting occurred but says his claims were free speech. He has sought to have the lawsuit dismissed.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Aug062018

Trump’s legal defense fund hasn’t listed any legal expenses: Tax documents

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A legal defense fund set up to help Trump allies caught up in the ongoing probe of Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election does not appear to have spent any money on legal services, according to tax records shared with ABC News.

A handful of top Trump donors collectively donated nearly $200,000 to the Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust between March and June, but so far, the fund has listed expenditures totaling less than $50,000 to an insurance provider and an accounting service.

The fund, which was set up by President Donald Trump’s lawyers in February to provide financial support for legal expenses incurred by any Trump campaign employee, consultant, fundraiser or volunteer (excluding Trump’s family members) questioned in the ongoing probe of Russian election meddling, is required as a 527 political organization to disclose contributions and expenditures.

Monday’s revelations, however, arrive as a growing number of people from across the political spectrum have been asking what has become of the fund. Multiple sources who have been questioned by investigators told ABC News on the condition of anonymity that their requests for assistance either went completely unanswered or resulted in no financial assistance.

Michael Caputo, a public relations executive and onetime Trump campaign aide, reached out to the fund for help as he was facing mounting legal bills following his May interviews with congressional investigators and special counsel prosecutors, but he told ABC News he received no reply.

And last week, five Senate Democrats sent a letter to the newly-confirmed director of the Office of Government Ethics urging the agency to investigate whether the fund is in compliance with federal law and ethics guidelines, citing the lack of transparency in the fund’s guidelines.

"The Fund lacks transparency: both donors and recipients could potentially be shielded from public disclosure and it is impossible to know which donors supplied money for contributions to which employees, making it impossible to discern whether donations are legal or ethical," the senators wrote.

Former Rep. Nan Hayworth, a Republican from New York, who is listed as the fund’s interim manager, did not respond to multiple calls and emails from ABC News. The White House did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

As of this writing, neither of the reports of contributions and expenditures shared with ABC News are available on the IRS website. In response to questions from ABC News, the IRS declined to comment on the filing status of a specific group.

Four Trump loyalists with a long history of giving to the mogul-turned-politician have made large contributions to the fund.

Proactive Communications, a public relations firm run by Mark Serrano, donated $22,000 to the fund in March. Serrano has been a frequent supporter and defender of Trump on television.

Phil Ruffin, one of Trump’s longtime friends and supporters, donated $50,000 in April. Ruffin worked with Trump on his Las Vegas casino development and flew with him to Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant that has since become an area of interest to investigators.

Continental Resources, an oil and gas company run by Harold Hamm, donated $25,000 in May. Hamm is a billionaire and major Trump donor from Oklahoma whom Trump once considered for U.S. Energy Secretary.

Geoffrey Palmer, a Beverly Hills real estate developer, donated $100,000 in June. In 2016, Palmer was flagged in published reports as the single largest donor to Trump’s various campaign committees and political action committees.

But so far, the only expenditures listed in the pair of disclosure reports are “insurance” from risk management company Petra RMS ($42,297 between March and June) and “professional accounting services” from accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen ($6,509 in May). The companies’ representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

And the Patriot Fund isn’t the only fundraising effort raising ethics questions. There are a number of similar legal defense funds associated with other former members of Trump’s campaign or administration, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, former campaign adviser Roger Stone and former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.

Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist with watchdog group Public Citizen, told ABC that by his count there are more legal defense funds under this administration than under all previous administrations combined, and he called on government ethics officials to lay out rules for how they should function, especially in light of the opportunity for wealthy special interests to attempt to buy favors from government officials.

"There are very few rules governing how these legal defense funds are created and operate," Holman said. "Any official who is facing serious legal charges will undoubtedly be most grateful to any person or company who chips in a large amount of money to pay for his or her legal defense.”

Representatives for Manafort, Gates and Pruitt did not respond to ABC New’ requests for comment. Stone referred questions to his lawyer, who did not immediately respond. Asource familiar with Flynn’s legal defense fund said the fund, which has not released fundraising figures since he pleaded guilty to lying to investigators, has helped Flynn combat skyrocketing legal expenses.

“General Flynn’s legal bills are in the multiple seven figures,” the source told ABC News. “His legal defense fund has helped defray a fraction of the costs.”

Former FEC Chairman Scott Thomas said the system in place lacks regulations and the means to enforce them.

"It's kind of a weak system that we have right now,” Thomas said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Aug062018

Study shows adults in the U.S. spend more than 11 hours a day interacting with media  

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  Study shows adults in the U.S. spend more than 11 hours a day interacting with media  

It's no surprise that people in the United States are massively into mass media, but a new study shows just how much: adults in the U.S. spend more than 11 hours of every day watching, reading, playing games, or otherwise interacting with media.

According to the first-quarter 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report, new platforms and streaming media are making it easier for people to stay glued to the stuff they like to watch.

Overall video use alone took up nearly six hours of an average U.S. adult's day. That's "time spent with a TV set, computer video and using video focused app/web on smartphones and tablets," according to The Nielsen Company.

Adults in this country between the ages of 18-34 spend some 43% of their media time on digital platforms -- with 29% interacting with media either online or via apps. 

And as those early adopters do their thing, their older counterparts start to follow suit, getting more used to streaming services and the like vs. traditional broadcast TV.

What's more, adults now spend, on average, 45 minutes of their day on social media, according to the report.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Aug052018

Purdue removes Papa John's founder's name from building

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for ACM(WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.) -- Purdue University has dropped the name of Papa John’s founder, John Schnatter, from a building at the school and offered to return a multimillion-dollar donation from the embattled pizza chain founder’s charity, according to a statement from the school.

Schnatter resigned as chairman of the board for Papa John’s in July after Forbes reported that he used the N-word during a May conference call. He later said stepping down was a "mistake." He had already been removed as CEO for comments made while discussing the national anthem protests in the NFL last year.

The Purdue building, once called the John H. Schnatter Center for Economic Research, will now revert back to the Purdue University Research Center in Economics. The building was named after Schnatter when his foundation donated $8 million to the school in April, according to a statement from Purdue economics professor John Umbeck.

“The board believes this action is necessary to avoid distraction from the center’s work, counterproductive division on the campus, and any inference of any deviation from the university’s often-stated stance on tolerance and racial relations,” read a statement from Purdue.

According to official reports, Purdue’s board of trustees voted unanimously on Friday to change the building’s name and offer the refund.

The monetary donation was intended to fund economics research, according to Umbeck.

The John H. Schnatter Family Foundation did not immediately return ABC News’ request for comment.

Ball State University, Schnatter’s alma mater, said it will not change the name of a building named after him, according to a statement from Ball State University Board of Trustees Chairman Rick Hall.

“Based on our current understanding of what transpired, John’s response to the current situation and our experience with him, the board will continue our support of the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise,” Hall said. “In our experience with John, he has never expressed racist views."

“He has demonstrated himself to be an individual who is very appreciative of his fortunate situation and cares deeply about creating an environment in which all enterprising individuals have the opportunity to succeed,” he added.

Schnatter also resigned from his position on the University of Louisville’s board of trustees, according to the school. He had served on the board for two years.

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Saturday
Aug042018

Arkema chemical company indicted for plant fire after Hurricane Harvey

iStock/Thinkstock(CROSBY, Texas) -- The owners of the Houston-area chemical plant that suffered explosions and fires due to Hurricane Harvey, releasing potentially noxious fumes into the air, was indicted by a grand jury on Friday.

Arkema North America CEO Richard Rowe and plant manager Leslie Comardelle are named in the indictment, which says the company was not prepared for the flooding which caused the fire at the plant in August 2017.

"Companies don’t make decisions, people do," Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. "Responsibility for pursuing profit over the health of innocent people rests with the leadership of Arkema.

"Indictments against corporations are rare," she added. "Those who poison our environment will be prosecuted when the evidence justifies it."

The Crosby, Texas, plant was flooded during Harvey, which made landfall in southern Texas on Aug. 25, 2017 and slowly moved northeast. Southeast Texas, including Houston, was hammered with multiple feet of rain over a nearly weeklong deluge. The flood sparked multiple fires and explosions, and caused authorities to evacuate about 200 people in the area. Twenty-one people, including rescue personnel, were treated for injuries.

The charges brought in Friday's indictment carry a penalty of up to five years in prison for each person and up to a $1 million fine for Arkema, according to the district attorney.

Arkema called the charges "astonishing" based on the conclusions from a report by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board in late May.

"These criminal charges are astonishing, especially since the U.S. Chemical Safety Board concluded that Arkema behaved responsibly," Arkema spokesperson Janet Smith said in a statement to Houston ABC station KTRK. "At the end of its eight-month investigation, the Chemical Safety Board noted that Hurricane Harvey was the most significant rainfall event in U.S. history, an Act of God that never before has been seen in this country."

The Chemical Safety Board panel found there was a lack of planning for how severe weather events like the unprecedented rain during Hurricane Harvey could affect facilities that store chemicals and that even though Arkema had emergency generators and other backup systems "all of these layers of protection failed due to flooding."

Smith said in a statement to ABC News in May after the release of the CSB report: "Arkema is pleased that after an eight-month-long investigation, the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) report accurately depicts the unforeseeable nature of the situation Arkema faced during Hurricane Harvey."

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