WEST CHESTER, Pa. — Disinformation has long been a feature of American politics. Mudslinging, smear campaigns, dirty tricks. Yet wading through the muck ahead of this year’s midterm elections in one fiercely contested state, Pennsylvania, shows just how thoroughly it now warps the American democratic process.
In July, a tweet made the rounds spreading a falsehood about voting. “BREAKING: Pennsylvania will not be accepting mail-in ballots,” declared someone using an account called the Donald J. Trump Tracker.
In September, mysterious letters began arriving in mailboxes in Chester County, on the old Main Line west of Philadelphia, falsely telling people that their votes might not have been counted in the last election.
No, the Democratic candidate for United States Senate, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, does not have tattoos of the Crips, the notorious street gang from Los Angeles, as Newt Gingrich said on Fox.
contentious primaries, Pennsylvanians have experienced a deluge of false or misleading posts, photographs and videos on social media, as well as increasingly partisan, bitter and at times unhinged claims on television, radio and live streams to a degree that no one recalled seeing before.
“I’m not saying the politics was ever, you know, perfect,” Michael Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia from 2008 to 2016, said in an interview, lamenting the seemingly bottomless depth of the problem.
“I think what’s changed is you go back 100 years and you’d have had to put a whole lot more effort into spreading lies,” he said. “Now, you can just push a button.”
A lot of attention has focused on a stroke that Mr. Fetterman suffered in May, just as he clinched the Democratic nomination. The stroke left him with an auditory processing disorder, a condition that affects the brain’s ability to filter and interpret sounds, which Republicans have said makes him unfit for office. His speech has also become more halting, and he stumbles over his words, as he did multiple times in the debate last week against his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz, the television personality known as Dr. Oz.
Opponents used his verbal gaffes in misleading ways. A video montage by a Republican campaign operative, Greg Price, exaggerated the effects of the stroke, while a Twitter account impersonating BuzzFeed falsely claimed that Mr. Fetterman had apologized for urinating on a campaign staffer. Mr. Price did not respond to requests for comment.
Other false claims have, again, questioned the machines that count votes, while a recent flurry of posts on Telegram, the app created in Russia, have incorrectly accused the state’s top election official of not complying with legal rulings about mail-in ballots. ActiveFence, a cybersecurity company, said that these claims have spread across platforms, garnering tens of thousands of impressions.
Jill Greene, the state representative for Common Cause, the national good-government organization, said that the many unfounded and untruthful claims posed a challenge for voters.
pledged to remove or marginalize false posts ahead of the midterms.
A doctored post on Facebook, to cite one of scores of examples, showed Mr. Oz kneeling to kiss the star of Donald J. Trump along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (In the original, he was kissing his own star.)
being repeatedly told that the American election process is deeply corrupted.
In fact, Mr. Mastriano’s candidacy has from its inception been propelled by his role in disputing the 2020 presidential election lost by Mr. Trump.
county by county, but election experts say they do not reflect factors as benign as changes in addresses.
“They’re in search of solutions to a problem that doesn’t exist,” Kyle Miller, a Navy veteran and state representative for Protect Democracy, a national advocacy organization, said in an interview in Harrisburg. “They are basing this on faulty data and internet rumors.”
Some Republican lawmakers have leaned on false claims to call for changes to rules about mail-in ballots and other measures intended to make it easier for people to vote. Several counties have already reversed some of the decisions, including the number and location of drop boxes for ballots.
Mr. Miller, among others, warned that the flurry of false claims about balloting could be a trial run for challenging the results of the presidential election in 2024, in which Pennsylvania could again be a crucial swing state.
In Chester County, a largely white region that borders Delaware and Maryland that is roughly split between Republicans and Democrats, the effort to sow confusion came the old-fashioned way: in the mail.
Letters dated Sept. 12 began arriving in mailboxes across the county, warning people that their votes in the 2020 presidential election might not have counted. “Because you have a track record of consistently voting, we find it unusual that your record indicates that you did not vote,” the letter, which was unsigned, said.
The sender called itself “Data Insights,” based in the county seat of West Chester, though no known record of such a company exists, according to county officials. The letters did include copies of the recipients’ voting records. The letters urged recipients to write to the county commissioners or attend the commission’s meetings in the county seat of West Chester, in September and October. Dozens of recipients did.
The county administrator, Robert J. Kagel, tried to assure them that their votes were actually counted. He urged anyone concerned to contact the county’s voter services department.
Even so, at county meetings in September and October, speaker after speaker lined up to question the letter and the ballot process generally — and to air an array of grievances and conspiracy theories.
They included the discredited claims of the film “2000 Mules” that operatives have been stuffing boxes for mail-in ballots. One attendee warned that votes were being tabulated by the Communist Party of China or the World Economic Forum.
“I don’t know where my vote is,” another resident, Barbara Ellis of Berwyn, told the commissioners in October. “I don’t know if it was manipulated in the machines, in another country.”
As of Oct. 20, 59 people in Chester County had contacted officials with concerns raised in the letter, but in each case, it was determined that the voters’ ballots had been cast and counted, said Rebecca Brain, a county spokesman.
Who exactly sent the letters remains a mystery, which only fuels more conspiracy theories.
“It seems very official,” Charlotte Valyo, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party in the county, said of the letter. She described it as part of “an ongoing, constant campaign to undermine the confidence in our voting system.” The county’s Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment.
Disinformation may not be the only cause of the deepening partisan chasm in the state — or the nation — but it has undoubtedly worsened it. The danger, Ms. Valyo warned, was discouraging voting by sowing distrust in the ability of election officials to tally the votes.
“People might think, ‘Why bother, if they’re that messed up?’”
Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer attends a discussion at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland May 25, 2022. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
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Sept 24 (Reuters) – Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said on Saturday he had tested positive for COVID-19.
“I’m feeling well and symptom free,” Bourla said in a statement.
Bourla, 60, back in August had contacted COVID and had started a course of the company’s oral COVID-19 antiviral treatment, Paxlovid. read more
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Paxlovid is an antiviral medication that is used to treat high-risk people, such as older patients.
Bourla has received four doses of the COVID vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech (22UAy.DE).
The chief executive said he has not yet taken the new bivalent booster.
Developed by Moderna and the team of Pfizer and BioNTech, the new so-called bivalent shots aim to tackle the BA.5 and BA.4 Omicron subvariants, which make up 84.8% and 1.8%, respectively, of all circulating variants in the United States, based on latest data.
“I’ve not had the new bivalent booster yet, as I was following CDC guidelines to wait three months since my previous COVID case which was back in mid-August,” Bourla added.
In August, the FDA authorized Pfizer and Moderna’s updated booster shots that target the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants.
A federal health agency said this week that over 25 million doses of the so-called bivalent shots had been sent out. That consisted of mostly the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, as production of the Moderna vaccine ramps up. read more
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Reporting by Mrinmay Dey in Bengaluru; Editing by Daniel Wallis
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
TikTok recently tried to tamp down concerns from U.S. lawmakers that it poses a national security threat because it is owned by the Chinese internet company ByteDance. The viral video app insisted it had an arm’s-length relationship with ByteDance and that its own executive was in charge.
“TikTok is led by its own global C.E.O., Shou Zi Chew, a Singaporean based in Singapore,” TikTok wrote in a June letter to U.S. lawmakers.
But in fact, Mr. Chew’s decision-making power over TikTok is limited, according to 12 former TikTok and ByteDance employees and executives.
Zhang Yiming, ByteDance’s founder, as well as by a top ByteDance strategy executive and the head of TikTok’s research and development team, said the people, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals. TikTok’s growth and strategy, which are led by ByteDance teams, report not to Mr. Chew but to ByteDance’s office in Beijing, they said.
increasingly questioned TikTok’s data practices, reigniting a debate over how the United States should treat business relationships with foreign companies.
On Wednesday, TikTok’s chief operating officer testified in Congress and downplayed the app’s China connections. On Thursday, President Biden signed an executive order to sharpen the federal government’s powers to block Chinese investment in tech in the United States and to limit its access to private data on citizens.
a March interview with the billionaire investor David Rubenstein, whose firm, the Carlyle Group, has a stake in the Chinese giant. Mr. Chew added that he had become familiar with TikTok as a “creator” and amassed “185,000 followers.” (He appeared to be referring to a corporate account that posted videos of him while he was an executive at Xiaomi, one of China’s largest phone manufacturers.)
Jinri Toutiao. The two built a rapport, and an investment vehicle associated with Mr. Milner led a $10 million financing in Mr. Zhang’s company that same year, three people with knowledge of the deal said.
The news aggregator eventually became ByteDance — now valued at around $360 billion, according to PitchBook — and owns TikTok; its Chinese sister app, Douyin; and various education and enterprise software ventures.
By 2015, Mr. Chew had joined Xiaomi as chief financial officer. He spearheaded the device maker’s 2018 initial public offering, led its international efforts and became an English-speaking face for the brand.
“Shou grew up with both American and Chinese language and culture surrounding him,” said Hugo Barra, a former Google executive who worked with Mr. Chew at Xiaomi. “He is objectively better positioned than anyone I’ve ever met in the China business world to be this incredible dual-edged executive in a Chinese company that wants to become a global powerhouse.”
In March 2021, Mr. Chew announced that he was joining ByteDance as chief financial officer, fueling speculation that the company would go public. (It remains privately held.)
appointed Mr. Chew as chief executive, with Mr. Zhang praising his “deep knowledge of the company and industry.” Late last year, Mr. Chew stepped down from his ByteDance role to focus on TikTok.
Kevin Mayer, a former Disney executive, left after the Trump administration’s effort to sunder the app from its Chinese parent. China was also cracking down on its domestic internet giants, with Mr. Zhang resigning from his official roles at ByteDance last year. Mr. Zhang remains involved in decision making, people with knowledge of ByteDance said.
Mr. Chew moved to establish himself as TikTok’s new head during visits to the app’s Los Angeles office in mid-2021. At a dinner with TikTok executives, he sought to build camaraderie by keeping a Culver City, Calif., restaurant open past closing time, three people with knowledge of the event said. He asked attendees if he should buy the establishment to keep it open longer, they said.
a TikTok NFT project involving the musical artists Lil Nas X and Bella Poarch. He reprimanded TikTok’s global head of marketing on a video call with Beijing-based leaders for ByteDance after some celebrities dropped out of the project, four people familiar with the meeting said. It showed that Mr. Chew answered to higher powers, they said.
Mr. Chew also ended a half-developed TikTok store off Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, three people familiar with the initiative said. TikTok briefly explored obtaining the naming rights of the Los Angeles stadium formerly known as the Staples Center, they said.
He has also overseen layoffs of American managers, two people familiar with the decisions said, while building up teams related to trust and safety. In its U.S. marketing, the app has shifted its emphasis from a brand that starts trends and conversations toward its utility as a place where people can go to learn.
In May, Mr. Chew flew to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, speaking with European regulators and ministers from Saudi Arabia to discuss digital strategy.
June letter to U.S. lawmakers, he noted that ByteDance employees in China could gain access to the data of Americans when “subject to a series of robust cybersecurity controls.” But he said TikTok was in the process of separating and securing its U.S. user data under an initiative known as Project Texas, which has the app working with the American software giant Oracle.
“We know we’re among the most scrutinized platforms,” Mr. Chew wrote.
July 26 (Reuters) – Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN.S) is expected to announce Ulrich Koerner as its new chief executive, the latest management churn at the Swiss bank as it struggles to recover from a series of scandals, two sources familiar with the situation said on Tuesday.
Pressure had been mounting on current CEO Thomas Gottstein for months over major scandals and losses racked up during his two-year tenure that have hammered shares and angered investors. In recent months some investors had called for replacing Gottstein, but the bank resisted.
Another senior executive, Christian Meissner, head of the lender’s investment bank, is also planning to leave the group, the Financial Times reported.
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One of the sources said the bank was expected to announce the change in CEO on Wednesday along with its quarterly results.
Credit Suisse declined to comment. Meissner did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters.
When Gottstein took the helm in 2020, he promised a “clean slate” for the bank, which was recovering from an internal spying scandal that cost his predecessor Tidjane Thiam his job.
Since Thiam left in February 2020, the stock is down nearly 60% and troubles at the bank have only escalated. In 2021, the bank disclosed a $5.5 billion loss from the unraveling of U.S. investment firm Archegos and the collapse of $10 billion worth of supply chain finance funds. The events prompted management ousters, investigations, and a capital increase – followed by further losses and fresh legal cases. read more
Credit Suisse brought in Koerner in April 2021 to lead its newly separated asset management division following the collapse of the $10 billion worth of supply chain finance funds linked to insolvent financier Greensill Capital.
Koerner returned to Credit Suisse from arch-rival UBS, where he most recently served as adviser to the CEO from 2019 to 2020. He ran UBS Asset Management from 2014 to 2019. Koerner was previously a senior executive at Credit Suisse Financial Services and ran the Swiss business. read more
Koerner, who used to work for McKinsey, is considered a restructuring expert in Switzerland.
Nevertheless, the appointment would follow other major European banks where diversity at the top has been lacking. The 25 biggest banks by assets have seen 22 changes in chief executive and chair over the past two years according to a Reuters review of senior industry roles. Twenty-one of those 22 jobs went to men. read more
This spring, Credit Suisse’s chairman Axel Lehmann reiterated his support for Gottstein after Artisan Partners, the bank’s ninth-largest shareholder, had publicly called for Gottstein to be replaced. read more
“I fully back him because he is good,” Lehmann said in a CNBC interview at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos. He dismissed as “rumors and speculations” talk that Gottstein could be on his way out.
The WSJ earlier reported that Gottstein may soon be replaced, days after Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung reported the bank is considering further cost cuts. read more
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Reporting by Oliver Hirt in Zurich, Shivam Patel in Bengaluru and Elisa Martinuzzi in London; Additional writing by Megan Davies; Editing by Devika Syamnath and Richard Pullin
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DAVOS, Switzerland — Fears of a global food crisis are swelling as Russian attacks on Ukraine’s ability to produce and export grain have choked off one of the world’s breadbaskets, fueling charges that President Vladimir V. Putin is using food as a powerful new weapon in his three-month-old war.
World leaders called on Tuesday for international action to deliver 20 million tons of grain now trapped in Ukraine, predicting that the alternative could be hunger in some countries and political unrest in others, in what could be the gravest global repercussion yet of Russia’s assault on its neighbor. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where worries about the war’s consequences have eclipsed almost every other issue, speakers reached for apocalyptic language to describe the threat.
“It’s a perfect storm within a perfect storm,” said David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. Calling the situation “absolutely critical,” he warned, “We will have famines around the world.”
The world’s food distribution network was already strained by pandemic-related disruptions, and exports from Ukraine, ordinarily among the world’s biggest suppliers, have plummeted because of the war. Russia has seized some the country’s Black Sea ports and blockaded the rest, trapping cargo vessels laden with corn, wheat, sunflower seeds, barley and oats.
Russian forces have taken control of some of Ukraine’s most productive farmland, destroyed Ukrainian infrastructure that is vital to raising and shipping grain, and littered farm fields with explosives. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union’s executive branch, told the political and business leaders gathered in Davos that Russia — an even bigger exporter — had confiscated Ukrainian grain stocks and agricultural machinery.
“On top of this,” she said, “Russia is now hoarding its own food exports as a form of blackmail, holding back supplies to increase global prices, or trading wheat in exchange for political support.”
The fighting in Ukraine is increasingly concentrated in a small pocket of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Russia’s battered forces are making slow, bloody progress as they try to encircle the strategically important city of Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost Ukrainian stronghold.
Within the city, once an industrial hub, the devastation from Russian artillery is evident on every street in the form of shattered buildings, burned-out vehicles and cratered pavement. Russian pincers approaching the city from the north and south are separated by just 16 miles, but face “strong Ukrainian resistance,” the British Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.
Three months into the war, the United States and its allies have shown remarkable solidarity so far in supporting Ukraine with weapons and other aid, and in punishing Russia with economic sanctions, but the limits of that unity are being tested. Finland and Sweden have signaled that they want to abandon their long-held neutrality to join NATO, but that plan is being held up by one member country, Turkey. At the same time, Hungary is blocking an E.U. plan to embargo imports of Russian oil.
Within both blocs, officials have offered assurances, without specifics, that the roadblocks will soon be overcome. Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, said Tuesday that he was confident Sweden and Finland would join the alliance, though “I cannot tell you exactly how and when.” Diplomats from the two Nordic countries traveled to Turkey for talks on the issue.
The European Union, heavily dependent on Russian fuels, has already agreed to a phased embargo on natural gas from Russia, and the head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, warned that Europe could face gas rationing next winter.
“I’m advising several European governments to prepare a contingency plan,” Mr. Birol said at Davos. He added that “Europe is paying for its over-dependence on Russian energy.”
Ukraine has applied to join the European Union, and on Tuesday its government rejected a French proposal for something short of full membership. Russia has vehemently opposed any expansion of NATO and E.U. membership for Ukraine, but its aggression has backfired, making those associations more attractive to its neighbors.
Increasingly isolated, the Kremlin has looked to Beijing for support, and Russia held joint military maneuvers on Tuesday with China, their first since the war in Ukraine began. The show of force included bomber flights over the Sea of Japan, while President Biden was not far away, in Tokyo, for meetings with world leaders.
But the food crisis took center stage at Davos, where President Andrzej Duda of Poland warned that famine in Africa and elsewhere would prompt a flood of migration to Europe, where searing memories are fresh of the 2015-2016 migration wave that strained E.U. unity and empowered xenophobic nationalist movements.
Ukraine and Russia ordinarily account for about one-quarter of the grain traded internationally; in recent years, Ukraine had exported an average of about 3.5 million tons of per month. In March, only 300,000 tons were shipped out, though exports rebounded somewhat to more than a million tons in April and could reach 1.5 million tons in May, said Roman Slaston, the chief of Ukraine’s agricultural industry group.
Ukraine’s agriculture ministry says that the Black Sea blockade has prevented 14 million tons of corn, 7 million tons of wheat and 3 million tons of sunflower seeds from reaching world markets. Ukrainian officials have accused Moscow of stealing Ukraine’s produce and then selling it abroad as Russian.
Western officials are circulating proposals for getting grain out of Ukraine, such as having multiple countries send warships to escort cargo ships from Ukrainian ports and run the blockade, but that runs the danger of a shooting confrontation with Russian vessels. Sending ships from NATO countries is considered particularly risky — like the rejected idea of having NATO members enforce a no-fly zone to keep Russian warplanes away from Ukraine — so much of the talk has been about countries outside the alliance taking part.
But Mr. Stoltenberg, the NATO chief, warned that breaking the Black Sea blockade would be very hard.
“Is it possible to get it out on ships? That is a difficult task. It’s not an easy way forward,” he said.
Ukraine has continued to ship grain overland through Europe, and work is underway to expand such routes, Ms. von der Leyen and Mr. Slaston said — but doing so on a scale great enough to replace seagoing shipment would be very difficult. The railways in Eastern Europe use different gauges, which means switching equipment when going long distances, and many of Ukraine’s railroads, highways and bridges have been damaged by Russian attacks.
One farmer said he lost 50 rail cars full of grain when his cargo got stranded between Russian airstrikes in front of and behind the train.
But the problem is not limited to shipping — farming, itself, has been greatly diminished by the war. In some places, fighting has simply made the work too dangerous. In others, Russian strikes on fuel depots have left farmers unable to power their tractors.
Farmers accuse Russian forces of regularly targeting their grain silos and seizing their grain stores, particularly in the south.
And perhaps most frightening are the countless mines left by retreating Russian forces, especially in the north. The Ukrainian Deminers Association, a group that locates and removes explosives, says nearly 45 percent of the fields it has inspected in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions were mined.
Gordie Siebring, a farmer based near the Belarusian border, said Ukrainian military authorities warned him he could not sow the fields closest to the frontier because of the mine threat, meaning he has been unable to plant 8 to 10 percent of his field. Neighboring farmers have it much worse, he said, because Russian mines have made over two-thirds of their fields too dangerous to use.
“If they are as close as 10 to 15 kilometers away, they can launch mines with artillery,” he said. “These mines have small parachutes and land in the fields and have sensors that cause detonation later. Those are really causing havoc.”
Another threat to global supplies, experts say, is that countries will hoard their own food stocks. Robert Habeck, the vice chancellor and minister of economic affairs of Germany, said countries should curb their use of grain to make biofuel and to feed livestock.
“Markets have to stay open,” Mr. Habeck said in an interview. “The worst thing that can happen now is that every country cares for its own supply, saves all the wheat, saves all the food, and does not give it to the market, because then we have no chance of securing the food supply.”
Before the war, droughts in North America and the Horn of Africa, poor harvests in China and France, and the pandemic were already squeezing food supplies, leaving the world uncommonly vulnerable. By December, global wheat prices had risen about 80 percent in a little over a year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Even before Russian tanks rolled across Ukraine’s border, experts were warning of “a massive surge in food insecurity and the threat of famine,” said Adam Tooze, director of the European Institute at Columbia University.
The war, he said, is “impacting an incredibly fragile food system.”
At the same time, the spike in oil and gas prices caused by the war has triggered an even sharper increase in the cost of fertilizers made in part from those fuels.
Ms. von der Leyen said E.U. countries were increasing their own grain production and working with the World Food Program to ship available stocks to vulnerable countries at affordable prices.
“Global cooperation is the antidote to Russia’s blackmail,” she said.
Mark Landler, Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Patricia Cohen reported from Davos, Switzerland, and Erika Solomon from Lviv, Ukraine. Reporting was contributed by Carlotta Gall from Sievierodonetsk, Ukraine; Edward Wong from Washington; Matthew Mpoke Bigg from Krakow, Poland; and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.
For the second year in a row, the World Economic Forum scrapped its annual meeting in the Alpine resort town of Davos, Switzerland, because of the pandemic.
The gathering is an essential stop on the annual circuit for the global elite, a weeklong schmoozefest where billionaires and autocrats mingle over canapés while activists protest in the frigid mountain air. Companies make climate pledges. Economists discuss inequality. Everyone walks on the same slippery, slushy roads.
the patrician founder of the World Economic Forum, said in a statement on Thursday.
So far, however, there is little sign that the pandemic is beginning to wane. And for a second year in a row, with Davos the event on hold, the town of Davos, Switzerland, is stuck in limbo.
a study by University of St. Gallen that was commissioned by the forum. The bulk of that, roughly $70 million, was spent in Davos, which has a year-round population of about 11,000 people. That number essentially doubles when the forum comes to town.
Hotels, and in particular the Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvédère, will feel the pain particularly acutely. During the annual meeting, the Belvédère has its own center of gravity, erecting temporary structures to accommodate additional meeting rooms, allowing television networks to set up on its roof and hosting a constant string of receptions in its various bars.
Normally, it is all but impossible to get a room there during the third week of January, with rooms ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, if they are available. Now, during what is usually its busiest time of the year, rooms at the Belvédère are available for less than $300 a night on Expedia.com.
“Davos Man” has come to describe individuals so wealthy and powerful that they play by their own set of rules, and write the rules for the rest of us. The annual meeting has come to define the place more than the mountains, the ski slopes or the mulled wine served in chalet taverns. Even onetime critics of the World Economic Forum have come around and now embrace its singular place in Davos.
“In my early days, I was demonstrating during the W.E.F. for better action against climate change and social justice,” Philipp Wilhelm, the mayor of Davos, told the Guardian after last year’s event was canceled. “Now, I am trying to get the W.E.F. back to Davos.”
He frequently tells the story of his supposed inspiration for founding Salesforce. Despite success at Oracle, where he worked early in his career, Mr. Benioff was plagued by existential doubt, prompting him to take a sabbatical to southern India. There, he visited a woman known as “the hugging saint,” who urged him to share his prosperity.
From the incorporation of Salesforce in 1999, Mr. Benioff pledged that he would devote 1 percent of its equity and product to philanthropic undertakings, while encouraging employees to dedicate 1 percent of their working time to voluntary efforts. Salesforce employees regularly volunteer at schools, food banks and hospitals.
“There are very few examples of companies doing this at scale,” Mr. Benioff told me in an interview. He noted that people were always talking to him about another business known for its focus on doing good, Ben & Jerry’s. He said this with a chuckle, clearly amused that his company — now worth more than $200 billion — could be compared to the aging Vermont hippies who had brought the world Cherry Garcia ice cream.
Mr. Benioff is by many indications a true believer, not just idly parroting Davos Man talking points. In 2015, when Indiana proceeded with legislation that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gay, lesbian and transgender employees, he threatened to yank investment, forcing a change in the law. He shamed Facebook and Google for abusing the public trust and called for regulations on search and social media giants. Early in the pandemic, Salesforce embraced remote work to protect employees.
“I’m trying to influence others to do the right thing,” he told me. “I feel that responsibility.”
I found myself won over by his boyish enthusiasm, and his willingness to talk at length absent public relations minders — a rarity for Silicon Valley.
His philanthropic efforts have been directed at easing homelessness in San Francisco, while expanding health care for children. He and Salesforce collectively contributed $7 million toward a successful 2018 campaign for a local ballot measure that levied fresh taxes on San Francisco companies to finance expanded programs. The new taxes were likely to cost Salesforce $10 million a year.
That sounded like a lot of money, ostensible evidence of a socially conscious C.E.O. sacrificing the bottom line in the interest of catering to societal needs. But it was less than a trifle alongside the money that Salesforce withheld from the government through legal tax subterfuge.