Facebook, Instagram Posts Flagged as False for Rejecting Biden’s Recession Wordplay

Meta’s third-party fact-checkers have flagged as “false information” posts on Instagram and Facebook accusing the Biden administration of changing the definition of a recession in order to deny that the U.S. economy has entered one. This is yet another reminder that the project of purportedly independent fact-checking on social media is a highly partisan one, in which legitimately debatable opinions are passed off as objective truth.

Last week, the White House published an online article disputing the standard definition of an economic recession: i.e., two consecutive fiscal quarters in which GDP growth was negative.

“Both official determinations of recessions and economists’ assessment of economic activity are based on a holistic look at the data—including the labor market, consumer and business spending, industrial production, and incomes,” wrote the White House. “Based on these data, it is unlikely that the decline in GDP in the first quarter of this year—even if followed by another GDP decline in the second quarter—indicates a recession.”

This post has been widely shared—and in some cases, mocked—on social media. Graham Allen, an Instagram personality, posted a video reacting to the post in which he asked Siri to define the term recession. Siri’s definition: two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth.

But Allen’s video is currently obscured on Instagram; users can still watch it, but they first have to click past a disclaimer that it contains “false information reviewed by independent fact-checkers.” A similar label has appeared on some Facebook posts that also take issue with the Biden administration’s wordplay.

The fact-checker is Politifact, a fact-checking website run by the Poynter Institute. Politifact is an official third-party fact-checking apparatus for Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram. This means that PolitiFact is not like any ordinary website that offers a critique of a political narrative: PolitiFact’s critiques are enforced by social media platforms.

In this instance, PolitiFact has rated as false the claim that “the White House is now trying to protect Joe Biden by changing the definition of the word recession.” PolitiFact acknowledges that the Biden administration’s efforts to spin current economic conditions as something other than a recession are political in nature. Nevertheless, the fact-checkers conclude that since the White House is citing the National Bureau of Economic Research’s official definition, the administration is on solid footing.

Phil Magness, director of research and education at the American Institute for Economic Research, thinks PolitiFact is playing games.

“In this case, PolitiFact’s ‘ruling’ is compounded by the fact that they have previously invoked the very same definition of a recession—2 consecutive quarters of GDP decline— in previous rulings to either provide cover to exaggerated Democratic claims about an impending recession or tear down Republican claims to the same effect,” he tells Reason.

In a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Magness explained that the NBER is not the “official arbiter of recessions”; on the contrary, the federal government has often used the general definition preferred by most lay people, as well as Siri:

Mr. Biden’s economic advisers are certainly free to make the case for a revised determination. The NBER takes a more holistic approach, in part because some recessionary events are shorter than two quarters or manifest in nonconsecutive quarters. But this rationale works against the White House’s current argument, which seeks to delay acknowledging a recession even if a two-quarter decline is observed this year. The NBER committee has previously acknowledged recessions that fell short of a strict and sustained two-quarter contraction. This last happened during the 2000 dot-com bust, which played out in nonconsecutive quarterly drops.

While recognizing its limitations, the traditional definition of a recession provides a functional rule of thumb to interpret events as they unfold. The NBER determination is a rigorous and reputable historical indicator for dating the beginning and end of business-cycle troughs, but it isn’t suitable for real-time policy determinations.

This is hardly the first time that the social media fact-checking industry has failed to add clarity to a contentious issue. Last year, PolitiFact rated as false the claim that COVID-19 is 99 percent survivable for most age groups.

“Experts say a person cannot determine their own chances at surviving COVID-19 by looking at national statistics, because the data doesn’t take into account the person’s own risks and COVID-19 deaths are believed to be undercounted,” wrote PolitiFact.

Regardless of what “experts say,” it is certainly the case that individual persons can estimate their likelihood of surviving COVD-19 based on national statistics. The disease’s age discrimination is extreme: The overwhelming majority of young, healthy people are not at significant risk, especially when compared with elderly Americans. This was a curious fact-check, and it was hardly the first.

Science Feedback, another of Meta’s fact-checking partners, wrongly labeled as false one of my own articles about the efficacy of mask mandates in schools. Not only was the fact-check incorrect, but it also introduced a new error: The fact-checker suggested that my article had erroneously claimed masks don’t work to stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools. In actuality, my article had only asserted that there wasn’t much compelling evidence that mask mandates had made a difference. (A year later, this distinction is moot, since even COVID-cautious public health officials now admit the cloth masks required in most schools do practically nothing to thwart the variants.) After I pointed out the mistake to Facebook, Science Feedback removed the “false information” label.

Click here to read the full article at Reason.com

Biden Approval Rating in State Gets Slight Boost

Roughly 6 in 10 California voters give President Biden poor marks on his handling of inflation, according to a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, even as his overall job approval marginally improved in the last two months.

The survey, which was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, found that voters in the state had mixed reviews of the president, with displeasure over his economic performance cutting against a more positive assessment of his record on the international stage. Still, with 50% of respondents signaling approval, Biden notched higher ratings than his vice president, Kamala Harris, or the two congressional leaders from California, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy.

The poll captures an electorate deeply pessimistic about the future. Two-thirds of registered voters surveyed say the country is on the wrong track, while just 26% think it is heading in the right direction. Republicans are nearly unanimously bleak, with 92% having a negative outlook on the nation’s trajectory. A substantial majority — 65% — of voters not affiliated with a political party agree, as do 51% of Democrats.

“They’re not at all pleased,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Berkeley IGS poll, of Biden’s Democratic base. “Even though their ratings of Biden are positive, they don’t see the country moving in a positive direction. That’s kind of ominous.”

Despite the starkly negative assessment on the nation’s course, California voters are more evenly divided on their views of Biden. His 50% approval and 46% disapproval rating is slightly better than the 47%- 48% marks he received in February, when the last IGS poll was conducted.

Nevertheless, enthusiasm for Biden in the state is sharply down from this time last year, when more than 6 in 10 voters gave him positive reviews. While Biden has lost ground with voters across the board, his steepest declines are among the state’s younger voters, ages 18-39, as well as Asian Americans and Latinos, two key Democratic constituencies increasingly courted by the GOP.

“During his honeymoon period and … during the election itself, he really was able to capture the support of the ethnic populations in California. It’s one of the reasons he won so big” in the state, DiCamillo said. “Now he’s falling back to Earth.”

One bright spot for Biden is his handling the war between Ukraine and Russia, in which he finds himself on relatively solid ground with voters. Fifty-six percent of California voters approve of Biden’s management of relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a key partner for the United States in responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while 33% disapprove. His handling of American relations with Russia is also positive, albeit more narrowly, with 49% approving and 44% disapproving. Overall, a slim majority — 51% — approve of how Biden has dealt with the war in Ukraine, while 43% give him negative marks.

The positive reviews for his work abroad, however, are offset by California voters’ displeasure on economic matters back home.

The president is underwater, with 50% disapproval and 45% approval, when it comes to his overall stewardship of the economy. The ratings are even worse — 59% disapproval and 34% approval — when it comes to rising prices, which are increasing at the fastest rate in decades.

“Inflation is on voters’ minds,” DiCamillo said. “They’re seeing it every day.”

The consumer price index, released by the Labor Department on Tuesday, showed inflation rose 8.5% over the last year — the highest year-over-year jump since 1981. The biggest drivers of the surge were the skyrocketing costs of energy and food, which have been exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Views on inflation, as with most issues, vary drastically by party; just 5% of Republicans give Biden favorable marks, compared with 54% of Democrats and 27% of voters with no party preference.

But partisanship does not appear to be the sole factor driving some voters’ views. The state’s youngest voters, who generally tend to be more liberal, give Biden the lowest marks on inflation, while older Californians are more positive. Just 21% of voters ages 18-29 approve of Biden’s handling of the matter, compared with 49% approval from voters ages 65 and older.

Regionally, voters in California’s major urban areas, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, hold rosier views than those in more rural parts of the state, where assessments are more negative than positive. Notably, Biden’s popularity is evenly divided in Orange County, home to several battleground congressional districts that will have fiercely competitive races in the upcoming midterm elections.

Still, DiCamillo noted, Biden’s standing in Orange County, where his approval rating is 47% compared with 48% disapproval, is much stronger than in regions outside California with pivotal House races. Nationally, Biden’s popularity hovers around 42%, according to the website FiveThirtyEight’s average of polls.

“He’s probably not as serious a drag as he is in other parts of the country,” DiCamillo said.

Though Biden has seen minor improvements to his standing among California voters, Vice President Harris has not seen a similar uptick. Respondents continue to see her more negatively than positively, with 35% of voters approving her performance and 45% disapproving. Two months ago, her rating was 38% approval to 46% disapproval. The number of voters with no opinion of her performance has increased to 21% in April from 15% in February.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

Kamala Harris Tweet Mistakenly Suggests Ukraine Is Part Of NATO

A now-deleted tweet from Vice President Kamala Harris stated Tuesday that the US was supporting Ukraine against invading Russian forces “in defense of the NATO alliance” — wrongly indicating that Ukraine was a member of the 30-nation bloc.

“When I was in Poland, I met with U.S. and Polish service members, thanking them for standing with our NATO allies for freedom, peace, and security,” read the tweet from @KamalaHarris, which was preserved in a screenshot taken by the WayBack Machine internet archive. “The United States stands firmly with the Ukrainian people in defense of the NATO alliance.”

The tweet was originally posted around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday evening. A second, nearly identical tweet was posted almost an hour later around 9:20 pm.

“When I was in Poland, I met with U.S. and Polish service members, thanking them for standing with our NATO allies for freedom, peace, and security,” the new tweet read. “The United States stands firmly with the Ukrainian people and in defense of the NATO alliance.”

The only difference between the two posts is the added word “and” in the second sentence, clarifying that the US supports Ukraine and the NATO alliance. 

The language of both posts was taken from remarks the vice president made over the weekend during the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting. 

Click here to read the full article at the NY Post

Kamala Harris: Candidate of Big Tech

In the free-form, roller derby race for the Democratic presidential nomination, few candidates are better positioned than California’s Senator Kamala Harris. She is a fresh and attractive mid-fifties face, compared with septuagenarian frontrunners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, or the aging progressive Elizabeth Warren. Part Asian-Indian, part Afro-Caribbean, and female, Harris seems the frontrunner in the intersectionality sweepstakes that currently largely defines Democratic politics. Yet the national obsession with ethnicity and novelty obscures the more important reality: Harris is also the favored candidate of the tech and media oligarchy now almost uniformly aligned with the Democratic Party. She has been a hit in all the important places—the HamptonsHollywood, and Silicon Valley—that financed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Unlike Warren and Sanders, or Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, Harris has not called for curbs on, let alone for breaking up, the tech giants. As California’s attorney general, she did little to prevent the agglomeration of economic power that has increasingly turned California into a semi-feudal state dominated by a handful of large tech firms. These corporate behemoths now occupy 20 percent of Silicon Valley’s office space, and they have undermined the start-up culturethat once drove the area’s growth.

When I started covering Silicon Valley in the mid-1970s, most top executives—such as David Packard—tended to be middle-of-the-road Republicans, supportive of some government role in the economy, including providing for physical infrastructure, but strongly committed to the idea of competition-driven innovation. This pattern changed dramatically as the Valley began to move away from manufacturing products—often by shifting production to less-expensive states and then, ultimately, to Asia—toward a focus largely on media, advertising, and Internet search. These new companies, unlike, say, chip manufacturers, were less concerned with electricity prices, road conditions, or environmental regulations. Many of these “second wave” firms are essentially involved in “information peddling,” which requires a workforce divided between elite managers and a large, impermanent base of coders, many living only for a brief time in the Bay Area. Such firms, which don’t require as many longtime employees as traditional companies, have largely emerged from San Francisco, arguably the most progressive city in the United States.

The massive inequality that characterizes the region would seem to undercut the progressive narrative that sees California, and particularly the Bay Area, as a harbinger of a more enlightened future. Increasingly under fire from both left and right for abusing its power, Silicon Valley could find  Kamala Harris a convenient way to counter criticism while maintaining a tolerant, “woke” facade.

The shift in tech firms’ focus has fit perfectly with the trajectory of Harris’s career. As district attorney of San Francisco, Harris had the opportunity to cultivate the tech aristocracy. Her intermittently “tough on crime” positions would not offend corporate executives who find themselves in a city that even the New York Times has labelled “dystopia by the bay”—rife with petty crime, homelessness, and sometimes violent mentally-ill people.

Elected state attorney general in 2010, Harris got decidedly mixed results, with some notable abuses of office and a demonstrated disinterest in individual rightsand privacy protections—a record that alienated some on the left. On economics, she talked tough on energy companies and homebuilders, but when it came to privacy legislation, she supported policies favored by her tech backers.

By the time Harris ran for the Senate, she could count on massive support from Bay Area law firms, real-estate developers, and Hollywood. More important, she appealed, early on, to tech mavens such as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Sean Parker, Marc Benioff of Salesforce, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, venture capitalist John Doerr, Steve Jobs’s widow Laurene Powell, and various executives at tech firms such as Airbnb, Google, and Nest, who have collectively poured money into her campaigns. Their investment was not ill-considered. Harris seems a sure bet for the tech leaders. Her husband, attorney Doug Emhoff, was a managing partner with Venable Partners, whose clients include Microsoft, Apple, Verizon, and trade associations opposing strict Internet regulations.

This year, Harris keynoted the Joint Venture Silicon Valley conference, and she is once again reaping large donations from tech and media giants. As the most significant California candidate in the race, she has a big advantage in harvesting the lion’s share of these riches: California donors collectively contributed over $500 million to the 2016 campaign. The largest benefactors so far to Harris’s 2020 campaign include employees at Alphabet (the parent of Google)—including its former chairman, Eric Schmidt—Cisco, and Apple, as well as many prominent media and entertainment interests. For these companies, with few non-Asian minorities or women in senior positions, and some executives implicated in #MeToo infractions, Harris offers a low-impact way to connect to contemporary progressive concerns.

Today’s Democratic Party is increasingly defined by the progressive Left, with competing factions focused on basic economic issues, on the one hand, and identity politics (greens, gays, feminists, racial identity, and legalizing undocumented migrants) on the other. Another vital faction is made up of employees of public-employee unions, which dominate the party in California. Harris has already maneuvered to appeal to this powerful sector, proposing legislation that would send  billions of dollars from Washington to pay teachers’ salaries. The more economically focused progressives like Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Warren, and Ohio’s Tim Ryan seek primarily to address income inequality. They see the tech giants, in control of much information media, as a danger both to the economy and to democracy. Whatever one thinks of their approach, the economic populists at least reflect a tradition that seeks to make capitalism more beneficial for working people. They don’t excuse the tech firms for their offshoring practices, lack of unionization, and stifling of competition.

Harris’s appeal to Silicon Valley is that she can appeal to restive progressive tech employees, who bristle against working for the Pentagon or ICE, while also connecting with the left-leaning (often tech-financed) nonprofits that sometimes hector the wealthy to engage in virtue-signaling. To appeal to middle-class voters, Harris favors a massive redistribution of income, through the tax system, a measure supported by many of her wealthy allies.

Harris’ alliance with the tech giants provides her with a potentially bottomless cash hoard, as well as the cooperation of skilled Obama-era operatives, many doing well in their new roles as top executives of tech firms. This cohort includes Chris Lehane, the Obama strategist who now heads global policy and public affairs at Airbnb, as well as other officials who have landed gigs at Uber, Netflix, and Amazon. Once politically disengaged, firms like Apple and Google enjoyed extensive access to the Obama administration—some 250 people moving back and forth from the company to the government—and they could expect similar treatment under a President Harris. Her proposals to underwrite massive spending on new government technology certainly please these backers.

Perhaps even more important, Harris is almost certain to be treated well by the mainstream media, so much of which is now owned directly by tech leaders or their heirs. (The Atlantic, owned by Laurene Powell, has already published a warm profile of Harris.) Those who threaten tech wealth, as Bernie Sanders did in 2016, will likely find themselves less positively regarded. More important still, firms like Facebook and Google, which control a growing percentage of the flow of news, will probably favor Harris over her more genuinely populist Democratic opponents—and certainly over President Trump.

Yet Harris’s liaison with the Valley could backfire, whether in the Democratic primaries or in the general election, if she gets that far. Warren and Sanders can cast her, with some justification, as too friendly to the tech giants, and Trump will have a field day linking her to San Francisco, a city with more drug addictsthan high school students, and which has so much feces on the street that one website has created a “poop map.” More than half of the Bay Area’s lower-income communities, notes a recent UC Berkeley study, are in danger of mass displacement because of rising costs. Nevertheless, Harris is a formidable opportunist and a focused campaigner. And her willingness to stretch the truth, for example, during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation battle, might also prove useful in today’s partisan climate.

Given the media’s obsession with style, race, and gender, we would do well to understand what agenda lurks behind Harris’s atmospherics. The reality: if she wins, the tech oligarchy—titans of today’s Gilded Age—will have achieved commanding influence, not just in the information business and the media, but in the White House as well.

Joel Kotkin is the presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His latest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.