Mar 13, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Ah, still in your pajamas I see. That's OK. There's no dress code for reading Login, but you might want to put on some clothes before the team Zoom meeting. You should have time; today's Login is 1,376 words, a 5-minute read.

📺 This week on "Axios on HBO": Rep. James Clyburn, the Democratic "kingmaker" largely credited for Biden's surge, says he thinks President Trump is a racist and warns the U.S. "could very well go the way of Germany in the 1930s" (clip); DNC chair Tom Perez talks diversity, coronavirus and the future of the Democratic party; plus much more. Tune in Sunday 6 pm ET/PT on all HBO platforms.

1 big thing: New threat — unintentional coronavirus misinformation

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Tech platforms have gotten smarter about handling deliberate disinformation from bad actors. But the coronavirus' spread presents a different kind of misinformation threat: False information spread by people who are well-intentioned, but fearful and naive.

Why it matters: Bad coronavirus information spreading across Facebook, Twitter and other platforms could lose lives.

The threat was vividly illustrated Thursday when actress and activist Alyssa Milano tweeted out an image (later deleted) listing incorrect recommendations for how to avoid contracting the virus.

  • Milano is clearly not a bot, posts lots of information and opinions, has 3 million followers and presumably meant well. (She didn't respond to a request for comment.)
  • There are policies that would have allowed the tweet to be taken down had it not been deleted. However, when an account has so many followers, plenty of them will still see the information before it is deleted (either by Twitter or the user).

The big picture: In the coming days, the problem may get worse as the disease — and rumors — spread. Crises usually require the public to figure things out in real time, University of Washington researcher Kate Starbird told Axios.

"Unfortunately, though, people don't always get everything right — and even the 'best' information changes over time. One byproduct of this 'natural' collective sensemaking is misinformation, unintentionally spread."
— Kate Starbird

The major platforms all say they are prepared and are already taking action. However, many of their statements point to actions and policies devised to combat deliberately-spread disinformation.

Twitter isn’t seeing large-scale coordinated efforts to game the platform to boost bad COVID-19 information, the company’s global trust and safety vice president Del Harvey said in a statement to Axios.

"As is standard, we will remove any pockets of smaller coordinated attempts to distort or inorganically influence the conversation. Additionally, we’re continuing to review and require the removal of Tweets that do not follow the Twitter Rules — half of which we catch before they’re ever reported to us."
— Del Harvey

Facebook generally leaves the work of finding misinformation (as opposed to deliberately posted disinformation) to third-party fact-checkers. However, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook Live event on Thursday that the company is taking a "pretty hard line" on coronavirus misinformation such as fake cures.

"In the American tradition around free expression, you can say a wide variety of things, but you can't yell, 'fire' in a crowded theater, because it puts people in imminent danger. ... A lot of health misinformation fits into the category of potentially putting people into imminent danger."
— Mark Zuckerberg

YouTube initially turned off the ability to monetize content related to the virus, but has turned it back on for news organizations and creators who follow its guidelines in hopes of promoting the spread of authoritative content.

  • The Google-owned video site says it will remove content that promotes dangerous remedies or cures as well as videos that discourage someone from seeking medical treatment.

Meanwhile: There's also been a spike in deliberate cyberattacks, phishing and spam messages that use the virus as a pretext or that impersonate an official source like the CDC, the World Health Organization or institutions like Johns Hopkins.

Our thought bubble: In a crisis like this one, remembering media-literacy best practices may not be at the front of our minds. But right now it's even more essential to check the source of your information, make sure it's up to date, and examine the credentials of whoever is offering advice.

  • It's even more important to do so if you are considering re-sharing posted information yourself.

Yes, but: Starbird points out that social media can also be a force for good, allowing people to ask for and get help, locate scarce resources and find community in a moment of fear.

2. Scoop: Manufacturers' unease grows with outbreak

Nearly 40% of electronics manufacturers feel worse about the impact of COVID-19 on their business than they were a month ago, according to an updated survey being released later today by from electronics industry trade group IPC.

Why it matters: Although the coronavirus outlook in China is improving, elsewhere the situation has deteriorated. Plus, most companies are now dealing with problems on both the demand and supply sides of their businesses.

Among the other findings:

  • More than two-thirds of respondents said they have been told by suppliers to expect some shipment delays, and some of the delays are growing. While on average, companies are being told to expect three-week delays, 15% said they are being quoted delays of six weeks or longer, which no companies reported in last month's survey.
  • Similar to the past survey, electronics manufacturers actually expect the delays to average five weeks, which is significantly longer than the quotes they are receiving.
  • As for when things get back to normal, the majority of manufacturers and suppliers expect that to occur by July, with three-quarters expecting a normal situation by October. However, a quarter of respondents said it was too soon to say.

What they're saying: IPC chief economist Shawn DuBravac told Axios that although delays remain, the information has been largely clear and consistent, allowing companies to take orders.

  • "All indications suggest China's manufacturing capacity, and related transportation networks, are quickly coming back online and the early delays there are working through global supply chains now," DuBravac said, adding that ongoing "spot shortages" are being worked out.
  • "While companies aren't cutting back in significant ways right now, they do indicate a consensus that sales are likely to be lower this year as a result of the impact of coronavirus," he said.
3. Airbnb is getting it from multiple directions

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals

Thursday was a rough day for Airbnb. It started with a lawsuit from IBM, continued with financials leaking that show the company's losses were growing even before COVID-19, and ended with a new study showing that the short-term rental market is cratering.

Why it matters: Airbnb is under pressure to go public this year, in part because it said it would, and also because some employee stock grants will expire.

Driving the news:

  • IBM is suing Airbnb for patent infringement, saying six years of negotiating failed to deliver a deal.
  • Analytics provider AirDNA says that there's been a downward trend in weekly Airbnb revenue since roughly mid-February across various major cities globally. So far, for the beginning of May, most destinations are averaging about half of the bookings made back in February.
  • Bloomberg, meanwhile, reported that Airbnb saw its fourth-quarter losses nearly double, to $276.4 million excluding interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, while revenue grew only 32% year-over-year, to $1.1 billion. That was before the virus hit.

Go deeper: Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva has more on those last two points here.

4. ISPs brace for coronavirus stress test

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Broadband providers are making service changes as policymakers pressure them to prepare for a glut of traffic from Americans working and studying from home in response to coronavirus, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

The big picture: The nation's internet service providers say they haven't seen big usage spikes yet, but the coming weeks and months could pose an unprecedented test of their networks' ability to withstand a massive and sustained surge in bandwidth needs.

Driving the news: Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai spoke with broadband companies and trade associations Thursday about ensuring Americans can remain connected to the internet as coronavirus spreads, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

  • Separately, Rep. Jerry McNerney led 11 other House Energy and Commerce Democrats on a letter Thursday asking providers including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and T-Mobile to detail steps they’re taking to ensure students, low-income people and others can access the internet during the crisis.
  • And Mark Warner led other members of the Senate Democratic Caucus in asking major ISPs to suspend data caps during the crisis and do more to help students get broadband at home.

Where it stands: Both AT&T and Comcast on Thursday announced changes to their services in response to coronavirus.

  • AT&T said it is waiving home internet data overage fees for customers who don't already have unlimited home internet access.
  • Comcast is increasing the speeds in its program for low-income subscribers, Internet Essentials, to 25/3 Mbps (up from 15/2 Mbps). The company is also offering the program for free for new customers for 60 days.

What's next: Broadband companies say they are monitoring network usage, but their capacity has not been taxed by coronavirus-prompted home use.

Go deeper: Margaret has more here.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Schools around the country are starting to close or switch to online learning.

Trading Places

  • Snap is appointing City National Bank CEO Kelly Coffey to its board of directors.


6. After you Login

Check out this artist whose canvas is fabric and whose paintbrush is a clothes iron.

Ina Fried