using the email address of a burrito shop.

In the Paycheck Protection Program, private banks were supposed to help with the screening, since in theory they were dealing with customers they already knew. But that left out many small businesses, and the government allowed online lenders to enter the program. This year, University of Texas researchers found that some of those “fintech” lenders appeared less diligent about catching fraud.

turning fraud into a franchise — helping other people cook up fake businesses in order to get loans from the Economic Injury Disaster program.

Andrea Ayers advised one client to tell the government she ran a baking business from home, although she was not a baker, prosecutors said.

YouTube videos, where scammers offered to help for a cut of the proceeds. Some used the money on necessities, like mortgage bills or car payments. But many seemed to act out of opportunism and greed, splurging on a yacht, a mansion, a $38,000 Rolex or a $57,000 Pokémon trading card.

responsible for selling the card.

music video on YouTube, bragging in detail about how he had gotten rich by submitting false unemployment claims. His song was called “EDD,” after California’s Employment Development Department, which paid the benefits.

first reported by The Washington Post. In the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, a watchdog found that $58 billion had been paid to companies that shared the same addresses, phone numbers, bank accounts or other data as other applicants — a sign of potential fraud.

“It’s clear there’s tens of billions in fraud,” said Michael Horowitz, the chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which includes 21 agency inspectors general working on fraud cases. “Would it surprise me if it exceeded $100 billion? No.”

The effort to catch fraudsters began as soon as the money started flowing, and the first person was charged with benefit fraud in May 2020. But investigators were quickly deluged with tips at a scale they had never dealt with before. The Small Business Administration’s fraud hotline — which had previously received 800 calls a year — got 148,000 in the first year of the pandemic. The Small Business Administration sent its inspector general two million loan applications to check for potential identity theft. At the Labor Department, the inspector general’s office has 39,000 cases of suspected unemployment fraud, a 1,000 percent increase from prepandemic levels.

But prosecutors face a key disadvantage: While fraud takes minutes, investigations take months and prosecutions take even longer.

pleaded guilty to mail fraud last month. His lawyers declined to comment.

first weeks of the pandemic, when the government gave out 5.8 million advance grants worth $19.7 billion in just over 100 days. In that program, fraud was easy to pull off, according to a government watchdog, which cited numerous loans given to businesses that were ineligible for funding.

Mr. Ware said he recently limited his agents to working 10 cases at a time, telling them: “You’re killing yourself. I have to protect you from you.”

told The New York Times in November.

“It’s a honey trap,” he added. “Richard Ayvazyan fell into that trap.” Mr. Ayvazyan was sentenced to 17 years in prison for participating in a ring that sought $20 million in fraudulent loans.

In the case of Mr. Oudomsine, the Pokémon card buyer, his lawyers argued in March that a judge should be lenient in deciding his sentence because the fraud had taken hardly any time at all.

“It is an event without significant planning, of limited duration,” said Brian Jarrard, who was Mr. Oudomsine’s lawyer at the time.

That did not work.

Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. of U.S. District Court sentenced Mr. Oudomsine to three years in prison, more than prosecutors had asked for, to “demonstrate to the world that this is the consequence” of fraud, according to a transcript of the sentencing.

Now, Mr. Oudomsine is appealing, with a new lawyer and a new argument. Deterrence, the new lawyer argues, is moot here because the pandemic-relief programs are over.

“There’s no way to deter someone from doing it, when there’s no way they can do it any longer,” said the lawyer, Devin Rafus.

Biden administration officials say they are trying to prepare for the next disaster, seeking to build a system that would quickly check applications for signs of identity theft.

“Criminal syndicates are going to look for weak links at moments of crisis to attack us,” said Gene Sperling, the White House coordinator for pandemic aid. He said the White House now aims to build a continuing system that would detect identity theft quickly in applications for aid: “The right time to start building a stronger system to prevent identity theft is now, not in the middle of the next serious crisis.”

In the meantime, the arrests go on.

Last week, prosecutors charged a correctional officer at a federal prison in Atlanta with defrauding the Paycheck Protection Program, saying she had received two loans totaling $38,200 in 2020 and 2021. The officer, Harrescia Hopkins, has pleaded not guilty. Her lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

“You can’t have a system where crime pays,” said Mr. Horowitz, of the federal Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. “It undercuts the entire system of justice. It undercuts people’s faith in these programs, in their government. You can’t have that.”

Seamus Hughes contributed reporting.

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Looming Question for Putin Opponents: Can You Change Russia From Jail?

Shortly after Russia shocked the world by attacking Ukraine on Feb. 24, Ilya V. Yashin, a local Moscow councilman and prominent opposition figure, decided it was time to see a dentist.

The Kremlin was in the process of criminalizing criticism of the war, and Mr. Yashin, a very vocal critic, had decided to stay in his home country and continue to oppose President Vladimir V. Putin. Eventually, he reasoned, jail time was highly likely.

“I’m honestly terrified of dentists,” Mr. Yashin said in a recent interview on YouTube, “but I got ahold of myself and did it because I realized that if I ended up in prison, there wouldn’t be any dentists there.”

decided to stay, took the opposite view, saying it was impossible to engage in politics seriously from abroad.

“You cannot be a Russian politician in New York, in Manhattan,” Ms. Albats said in a phone interview from Moscow. “You cannot call yourself a Russian politician and be in London.” Still, she conceded, “The risks are very high and they are getting higher.”

Mr. Yashin acknowledged as much in the YouTube interview posted shortly before his arrest, with the Russian journalist Yuri Dud. “I understand that each day could be my last one as a free man,” he said.

He later wrote on social media that he believed it was his clear refusal to leave, expressed in that interview, that resulted in his arrest.

photograph of women protesting the Vietnam War in 1969, saying that the hypocrisy behind the rationale for the war, expressed in the slogan “bombing for peace,” remained present today.

He was also fined in May for citing a condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan by Andrei Sakharov, the first Russian to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the well-known words of a Soviet bard who raised alarm about the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

After the invasion began in February, he continued to call out Mr. Putin’s government, holding regular livestreams on his YouTube channel criticizing the power of the security services in Russia. He also documented a visit to the penal colony holding the most prominent Russian opposition figure, Aleksei A. Navalny, and made reference to a BBC report about Russian atrocities in Bucha, the basis of his charge for distributing false information.

survived an attempted poisoning, returned to Russia and was immediately arrested It was on Mr. Navalny’s advice that Mr. Yashin went to the dentist.

linked to Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman who has led the Russian region of Chechnya since 2007. Around the time of his murder, Mr. Nemtsov was compiling a report on the involvement of Russian soldiers in the war that had begun in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Mr. Yashin finished and released the report, and became one of the few politicians willing to openly criticize the Chechen leader.

In 2017, Mr. Yashin and fellow opposition candidates won seven out of 10 seats on the local council in the Krasnoselsky district of Moscow.

seven years in a penal colony.

Ms. Kotenochkina said the case against her and Mr. Gorinov had been a “hint” to Mr. Yashin that he should leave the country or face prison.

government label tantamount to enemy of the state.

“Now people see: We are not running anywhere, we stand our ground and share the fate of our country,” he wrote.

“This makes our words worth more and our arguments stronger. But most importantly, it leaves us a chance to regain our homeland. After all, the winner is not the one who is stronger right now, but the one who is ready to go to the end.”

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

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How Mark Zuckerberg Is Leading Meta Into Its Next Phase

SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of the company formerly known as Facebook, called his top lieutenants for the social network to a last-minute meeting in the San Francisco Bay Area this month. On the agenda: a “work-athon” to discuss the road map for improving the main Facebook app, including a revamp that would change how users browse the service.

For weeks beforehand, Mr. Zuckerberg had sent his executives messages about the overhaul, pressing them to increase the velocity and execution of their work, people with knowledge of the matter said. Some executives — who had to read a 122-page slide deck about the changes — were beginning to sweat at the unusual level of intensity, they said.

Facebook’s leaders flew in from around the world for the summit, the people said, and Mr. Zuckerberg and the group pored over each slide. Within days, the team unveiled an update to the Facebook app to better compete with a top rival, TikTok.

trimmed perks, reshuffled his leadership team and made it clear he would cut low-performing employees. Those who are not on board are welcome to leave, he has said. Managers have sent out memos to convey the seriousness of the approach — one, which was shared with The New York Times, had the title “Operating With Increased Intensity.”

the so-called metaverse. Across Silicon Valley, he and other executives who built what many refer to as Web 2.0 — a more social, app-focused version of the internet — are rethinking and upending their original vision after their platforms were plagued by privacy stumbles, toxic content and misinformation.

The moment is reminiscent of other bet-the-company gambles, such as when Netflix killed off its DVD-mailing business last decade to focus on streaming. But Mr. Zuckerberg is making these moves as Meta’s back is against the wall. The company is staring into the barrel of a global recession. Competitors like TikTok, YouTube and Apple are bearing down.

And success is far from guaranteed. In recent months, Meta’s profits have fallen and revenue has slowed as the company has spent lavishly on the metaverse and as the economic slowdown has hurt its advertising business. Its stock has plunged.

“When Mark gets super focused on something, it becomes all hands on deck within the company,” said Katie Harbath, a former Facebook policy director and the founder of Anchor Change, a consulting firm that works on tech and democracy issues. “Teams will quickly drop other work to pivot to the issue at hand, and the pressure is intense to move fast to show progress.”

Andrew Bosworth, who is known as Boz, to chief technology officer, leading hardware efforts for the metaverse. He promoted other loyalists, too, including Javier Olivan, the new chief operating officer; Nick Clegg, who became president of global affairs; and Guy Rosen, who took on a new role of chief information security officer.

In June, Sheryl Sandberg, who was Mr. Zuckerberg’s No. 2 for 14 years, said she would step down this fall. While she spent more than a decade building Facebook’s advertising systems, she was less interested in doing the same for the metaverse, people familiar with her plans have said.

Mr. Zuckerberg has moved thousands of workers into different teams for the metaverse, training their focus on aspirational projects like hardware glasses, wearables and a new operating system for those devices.

“It’s an existential bet on where people over the next decade will connect, express and identify with one another,” said Matthew Ball, a longtime tech executive and the author of a book on the metaverse. “If you have the cash, the engineers, the users and the conviction to take a swing at that, then you should.”

But the efforts are far from cheap. Facebook’s Reality Labs division, which is building augmented and virtual reality products, has dragged down the company’s balance sheet; the hardware unit lost nearly $3 billion in the first quarter alone.

privacy changes from Apple that have hampered its ability to measure the effectiveness of ads on iPhones. TikTok, the Chinese-owned video app, has stolen young audiences from Meta’s core apps like Instagram and Facebook. These challenges are coinciding with a brutal macroeconomic environment, which has pushed Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter to freeze or slow hiring.

a memo last month, Chris Cox, Meta’s chief product officer, said the economic environment called for “leaner, meaner, better executing teams.”

In an employee meeting around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg said he knew that not everyone would be on board for the changes. That was fine, he told employees.

“I think some of you might decide that this place isn’t for you, and that self-selection is OK with me,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here.”

Another memo circulated internally among workers this month was titled “Operating With Increased Intensity.” In the memo, a Meta vice president said managers should begin to “think about every person on their team and the value they are adding.”

“If a direct report is coasting or a low performer, they are not who we need; they are failing this company,” the memo said. “As a manager, you cannot allow someone to be net neutral or negative for Meta.”

investment priorities” for the company in the second half of this year.

other prototypes. Bloomberg reported earlier on the smart watch.

posted an update to his Facebook profile, noting some coming changes in the app. Facebook would start pushing people into a more video-heavy feed with more suggested content, emulating how TikTok operates.

Meta has been investing heavily in video and discovery, aiming to beef up its artificial intelligence and to improve “discovery algorithms” that suggest engaging content to users without them having to work to find it.

In the past, Facebook has tested major product updates with a few English-speaking audiences to see how they perform before rolling them out more widely. But, this time, the 2.93 billion people around the world who use the social networking app will receive the update simultaneously.

It is a sign, some Meta employees said, of just how much Mr. Zuckerberg means business.

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Why Big Tech Is Making a Big Play for Live Sports

LOS ANGELES — More than a decade after Apple disrupted the music industry and Amazon upended retail, the tech heavyweights have set their sights on a new arena ripe for change: live sports.

Emboldened by their deep pockets and eager to boost viewership of their streaming-subscription services, Apple and Amazon have thrust themselves into negotiations for media rights held by the National Football League, Major League Baseball, Formula One racing and college conferences.

They are competing to replace DirecTV for the rights to N.F.L. Sunday Ticket, a package the league wants to sell for more than $2.5 billion annually, about $1 billion more than it currently costs, according to five people familiar with the process. Eager not to miss out, Google has also offered a bid from YouTube for the rights beginning in 2023, two people familiar with the offer said.

reported by the SportsBusiness Journal.

Fans will still be able to access all the games on Sunday, regardless of who wins the rights, but they will probably pay a premium to add the service to their Apple, Amazon, ESPN+ or YouTube service, some of the dozen people said. It is not yet clear if that premium would be more or less than the $294 that DirecTV charges for a year, they added.

Apple and Amazon are trying to position themselves for a future without cable. Since 2015, traditional pay television has lost a quarter of its subscribers — about 25 million homes — as people traded cable packages for apps like Netflix and Hulu, according to MoffettNathanson, an investment firm that tracks the industry.

But the price of live sports rights is only projected to increase. The biggest media companies, including Disney, Comcast, Paramount and Fox, are expected to spend a combined $24.2 billion for rights in 2024, according to data from MoffettNathanson, nearly double what they spent a decade earlier.

The fragmenting of a decades-old distribution model has created an opportunity for Apple and Amazon. The companies want to expand deeper into media by selling subscriptions to Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime. Besides containing their own exclusive shows and sports, those services double as portals selling additional streaming offerings like Starz and HBO Max, which pay Apple and Amazon 15 percent or more of each subscription sold.

Amazon generates more than $3 billion annually from third-party subscription sales, according to estimates by the investment bank BMO Capital Markets. To make the business model work, Apple and Amazon must attract more viewers, and sports are the most powerful draw in media. The companies may be willing to lose money on Sunday Ticket to expose new customers to other parts of their business, the same calculation that DirecTV historically made.

SportsBusiness Journal.

For all their disruptive potential, though, Apple and Amazon have yet to win a marquee rights package in the United States. That is reminiscent of 20 years ago, when sports leagues feared they would lose viewers by shifting games from network television to cable. But the change gradually became standard.

Traditional television companies are trying to stave off Apple and Amazon by starting their own streaming-subscription services. Last year Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, shuttered NBC Sports Network to bolster its USA channel and to encourage people to pay for Peacock, where it exclusively aired some English Premier League soccer games. Similarly, ESPN struck a deal with the National Hockey League to televise some games on its ESPN+ service, and CBS has shown marquee soccer games on Paramount+.

But those services have a fraction of the more than 100 million cable subscribers the media companies once reached. As a result, the bulk of sports programming goes on traditional pay-TV channels where they can guarantee leagues and advertisers larger audiences.

The National Basketball Association will be the first major test of the new competitive landscape. Its agreements with ESPN and Turner run through the 2024-25 season. Most sports and media executives predict that the league will stick with traditional broadcasters for most of its games, while carving out some small portion of rights for a tech company.

“It hedges them for the future and exposes the product to new audiences,” said George Pyne, founder of the sports private equity firm, Bruin Capital, and the former chief operating officer of NASCAR. “They can still have a long-term relationship with network partners but dip their toe in with new media.”

Until then, the best opportunities for Apple and Amazon may be overseas — where Amazon has been active for years — because European soccer leagues resell their rights every two to three years. Amazon recently scooped up rights to Europe’s top tournament, the UEFA Champions League, in Britain, Germany and Italy. It also has rights to France’s Ligue 1, which it offers to Prime Video subscribers for annual fee of about $90, and the English Premier League.

Media companies will be pressured to expand geographically to compete, said Daniel Cohen, who leads global media rights consulting for Octagon, a sports agency. Television broadcasters could also team up to pool their financial firepower, or buy each other outright, to compete with tech giants willing to pay billions for rights like N.F.L. Sunday Ticket.

“It comes down to a Silicon Valley ego thing,” Mr. Cohen said of the high-dollar N.F.L. deal. “I don’t see a road to profitability. I see a road to victory.”

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The Fight Over Truth Also Has a Red State, Blue State Divide

To fight disinformation, California lawmakers are advancing a bill that would force social media companies to divulge their process for removing false, hateful or extremist material from their platforms. Texas lawmakers, by contrast, want to ban the largest of the companies — Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — from removing posts because of political points of view.

In Washington, the state attorney general persuaded a court to fine a nonprofit and its lawyer $28,000 for filing a baseless legal challenge to the 2020 governor’s race. In Alabama, lawmakers want to allow people to seek financial damages from social media platforms that shut down their accounts for having posted false content.

In the absence of significant action on disinformation at the federal level, officials in state after state are taking aim at the sources of disinformation and the platforms that propagate them — only they are doing so from starkly divergent ideological positions. In this deeply polarized era, even the fight for truth breaks along partisan lines.

a nation increasingly divided over a variety of issues — including abortion, guns, the environment — and along geographic lines.

a similar law in Florida that would have fined social media companies as much as $250,000 a day if they blocked political candidates from their platforms, which have become essential tools of modern campaigning. Other states with Republican-controlled legislatures have proposed similar measures, including Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and Alaska.

Alabama’s attorney general, Steve Marshall, has created an online portal through which residents can complain that their access to social media has been restricted: alabamaag.gov/Censored. In a written response to questions, he said that social media platforms stepped up efforts to restrict content during the pandemic and the presidential election of 2020.

“During this period (and continuing to present day), social media platforms abandoned all pretense of promoting free speech — a principle on which they sold themselves to users — and openly and arrogantly proclaimed themselves the Ministry of Truth,” he wrote. “Suddenly, any viewpoint that deviated in the slightest from the prevailing orthodoxy was censored.”

Much of the activity on the state level today has been animated by the fraudulent assertion that Mr. Trump, and not President Biden, won the 2020 presidential election. Although disproved repeatedly, the claim has been cited by Republicans to introduce dozens of bills that would clamp down on absentee or mail-in voting in the states they control.

memoirist and Republican nominee for Senate, railed against social media giants, saying they stifled news about the foreign business dealings of Hunter Biden, the president’s son.

massacre at a supermarket in Buffalo in May.

Connecticut plans to spend nearly $2 million on marketing to share factual information about voting and to create a position for an expert to root out misinformation narratives about voting before they go viral. A similar effort to create a disinformation board at the Department of Homeland Security provoked a political fury before its work was suspended in May pending an internal review.

In California, the State Senate is moving forward with legislation that would require social media companies to disclose their policies regarding hate speech, disinformation, extremism, harassment and foreign political interference. (The legislation would not compel them to restrict content.) Another bill would allow civil lawsuits against large social media platforms like TikTok and Meta’s Facebook and Instagram if their products were proven to have addicted children.

“All of these different challenges that we’re facing have a common thread, and the common thread is the power of social media to amplify really problematic content,” said Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel of California, a Democrat, who sponsored the legislation to require greater transparency from social media platforms. “That has significant consequences both online and in physical spaces.”

It seems unlikely that the flurry of legislative activity will have a significant impact before this fall’s elections; social media companies will have no single response acceptable to both sides when accusations of disinformation inevitably arise.

“Any election cycle brings intense new content challenges for platforms, but the November midterms seem likely to be particularly explosive,” said Matt Perault, a director of the Center on Technology Policy at the University of North Carolina. “With abortion, guns, democratic participation at the forefront of voters’ minds, platforms will face intense challenges in moderating speech. It’s likely that neither side will be satisfied by the decisions platforms make.”

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Egypt’s Iconic Nile Houseboats Face Demolition

CAIRO — Rowing up to the cheerful turquoise houseboat on the Nile, a fisherman saluted the white-haired woman swaying on its deck.

“How are you holding up?” he called to the woman, Ekhlas Helmy, 88, as his wife dragged back the oars. “May God bring down the bully!”

This week may be their last sharing that particular stretch of the Nile, a narrow tract in central Cairo that, since the 1800s, has been lined with wooden houseboats — homes that double as living lore. This month, the government suddenly ordered Ms. Helmy’s houseboat and 31 others demolished, saying they were unsafe and unlicensed.

famous films were set on others. On the riverbank, life was peaceful, airy and private, nothing like the dusty, frenzied metropolis whose imagination the floating homes had captured for so long.

modernize — and monetize — much of Cairo by handing it over to private developers or the military, bulldozing several historic neighborhoods to build new high-rises, roads and bridges.

singers Jalila, Zubayda and Zanuba.

Mounira al-Mahdia, a celebrated 1920s diva. The houseboat of another singer, Badia Masabni, was said to be so popular among Cairo’s elite that a rumor spread at the time that governments were formed aboard.

Back then, there were at least 200 houseboats up and down the Nile. But under President Gamal Abdel Nasser, many of the structures were moved to clear the river for water sports, said Wael Wakil, 58, who was born and raised in the houseboat he still lives on.

That left about 40 boats moored where they sit now, next to Kit Kat, a neighborhood named after a local World War II-era nightclub popular among Allied soldiers.

installed a pair of German spies on one houseboat in the area — with the help, in some tellings, of a belly dancer.

largely open to the public, became crowded with private clubs and cafes.

The authorities have made clear that they want more of those: The houseboat owners say they have been told that they can pay more than $6,500 to temporarily dock elsewhere while they apply for commercial licenses to open cafes or restaurants in their former homes. But that, they argue, is hardly a fair or attractive option.

“They’re destroying the past, they’re destroying the present, and they’re destroying the future, too,” said Neama Mohsen, 50, a theater instructor who has lived on one of the houseboats for three decades. “I see this as a crime, and no one can stop it. They’re taking away our lives as if we’re criminals or terrorists.”

Today, some of the houseboats are owned by politicians and businessmen, others by bohemians, still others by middle-class Egyptians who know no other life.

Mr. Wakil said his family moved to their houseboat in 1961. He remembers growing up fishing off its deck. Whenever he dropped a toy in the Nile, he said, a passing boatman would rescue it.

Now Mr. Wakil, a retired finance manager, has packed up, and is getting ready to move to an apartment his wife owns in the desert.

“But nothing will come close to compensating for this,” he said.

From Ms. Soueif’s favorite place in the house, the dressing room where she gives her grandchildren baths, she can see a mango tree in her riverbank garden that has not fruited for four years. Suddenly, this year, it produced what promises to be a bumper crop.

But this type of mango cannot be picked before mid-July. By then, if nothing changes, she and her houseboat will be gone.

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As Midterms Loom, Mark Zuckerberg Shifts Focus Away From Elections

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, made securing the 2020 U.S. election a top priority. He met regularly with an election team, which included more than 300 people from across his company, to prevent misinformation from spreading on the social network. He asked civil rights leaders for advice on upholding voter rights.

The core election team at Facebook, which was renamed Meta last year, has since been dispersed. Roughly 60 people are now focused primarily on elections, while others split their time on other projects. They meet with another executive, not Mr. Zuckerberg. And the chief executive has not talked recently with civil rights groups, even as some have asked him to pay more attention to the midterm elections in November.

Safeguarding elections is no longer Mr. Zuckerberg’s top concern, said four Meta employees with knowledge of the situation. Instead, he is focused on transforming his company into a provider of the immersive world of the metaverse, which he sees as the next frontier of growth, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

hearings on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have underlined how precarious elections can be. And dozens of political candidates are running this November on the false premise that former President Donald J. Trump was robbed of the 2020 election, with social media platforms continuing to be a key way to reach American voters.

2000 Mules,” a film that falsely claims the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump, was widely shared on Facebook and Instagram, garnering more than 430,000 interactions, according to an analysis by The New York Times. In posts about the film, commenters said they expected election fraud this year and warned against using mail-in voting and electronic voting machines.

$44 billion sale to Elon Musk, three employees with knowledge of the situation said. Mr. Musk has suggested that he wants fewer rules about what can and cannot be posted on the service.

barred Mr. Trump from its platforms after the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has worked over the years to limit political falsehoods on its sites. Tom Reynolds, a Meta spokesman, said the company had “taken a comprehensive approach to how elections play out on our platforms since before the U.S. 2020 elections and through the dozens of global elections since then.”

recently raised doubts about the country’s electoral process. Latvia, Bosnia and Slovenia are also holding elections in October.

“People in the U.S. are almost certainly getting the Rolls-Royce treatment when it comes to any integrity on any platform, especially for U.S. elections,” said Sahar Massachi, the executive director of the think tank Integrity Institute and a former Facebook employee. “And so however bad it is here, think about how much worse it is everywhere else.”

Facebook’s role in potentially distorting elections became evident after 2016, when Russian operatives used the site to spread inflammatory content and divide American voters in the U.S. presidential election. In 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg testified before Congress that election security was his top priority.

banning QAnon conspiracy theory posts and groups in October 2020.

Around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $400 million to local governments to fund poll workers, pay for rental fees for polling places, provide personal protective equipment and cover other administrative costs.

The week before the November 2020 election, Meta also froze all political advertising to limit the spread of falsehoods.

But while there were successes — the company kept foreign election interference off the platform — it struggled with how to handle Mr. Trump, who used his Facebook account to amplify false claims of voter fraud. After the Jan. 6 riot, Facebook barred Mr. Trump from posting. He is eligible for reinstatement in January.

Frances Haugen, a Facebook employee turned whistle-blower, filed complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission accusing the company of removing election safety features too soon after the 2020 election. Facebook made growth and engagement its priorities over security, she said.

fully realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.”

Mr. Zuckerberg no longer meets weekly with those focused on election security, said the four employees, though he receives their reports. Instead, they meet with Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs.

Several civil right groups said they had noticed Meta’s shift in priorities. Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t involved in discussions with them as he once was, nor are other top Meta executives, they said.

“I’m concerned,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who talked with Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Meta’s chief operating officer, ahead of the 2020 election. “It appears to be out of sight, out of mind.” (Ms. Sandberg has announced that she will leave Meta this fall.)

wrote a letter to Mr. Zuckerberg and the chief executives of YouTube, Twitter, Snap and other platforms. They called for them to take down posts about the lie that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election and to slow the spread of election misinformation before the midterms.

Yosef Getachew, a director at the nonprofit public advocacy organization Common Cause, whose group studied 2020 election misinformation on social media, said the companies had not responded.

“The Big Lie is front and center in the midterms with so many candidates using it to pre-emptively declare that the 2022 election will be stolen,” he said, pointing to recent tweets from politicians in Michigan and Arizona who falsely said dead people cast votes for Democrats. “Now is not the time to stop enforcing against the Big Lie.”

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Crypto Firms Quake as Prices Fall

SAN FRANCISCO — No one wanted to miss out on the cryptocurrency mania.

Over the last two years, as the prices of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies surged, crypto start-ups proliferated. Companies that market digital coins to investors flooded the airwaves with TV commercials, newfangled lending operations offered sky-high interest rates on crypto deposits and exchanges like Coinbase that allow investors to trade digital assets went on hiring sprees.

A global industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars rose up practically overnight. Now it is crashing down.

After weeks of plummeting cryptocurrency prices, Coinbase said on Tuesday that it was cutting 18 percent of its employees, after layoffs at other crypto companies like Gemini, BlockFi and Crypto.com. High-profile start-ups like Terraform Labs have imploded, wiping away years of investments. On Sunday, an experimental crypto bank, Celsius, abruptly halted withdrawals.

dropped by about 65 percent since autumn, and analysts predict the sell-off will continue. Stock prices of crypto companies have cratered, retail traders are fleeing and industry executives are predicting a prolonged slump that could put more companies in jeopardy.

stocks crashing, interest rates soaring and inflation high, cryptocurrency prices are also collapsing, showing they have become tied to the overall market. And as people pull back from crypto investments, the outflow is exposing the unstable foundations of many of the industry’s most popular companies.

OpenSea, the largest marketplace for the unique digital images known as nonfungible tokens, reached a staggering $13 billion valuation. And Wall Street banks such as JPMorgan Chase, which previously shunned crypto assets, and Fortune 500 companies like PayPal rolled out crypto offerings.

confidence evaporated in the early 2000s, many of the dot-coms went bust, leaving just the biggest — such as eBay, Amazon and Yahoo — standing.

This time, investors predict there will be more survivors. “You certainly have some overhyped companies that don’t have the fundamentals,” said Mike Jones, an investor at the venture firm Science Inc. “But you also have some really strong companies that are trading way below where they should.”

There have been warning signs that some crypto companies were not sustainable. Skeptics have pointed out that many of the most popular firms offered products underpinned by risky financial engineering.

Terraform Labs, for example, offered TerraUSD, a so-called stablecoin with a fixed value linked to the U.S. dollar. The coin was hyped by its founder, Do Kwon, who raised more than $200 million from major investment firms such as Lightspeed Venture Partners and Galaxy Digital, even as critics warned that the project was unstable.

The coin’s price was algorithmically linked to a sister cryptocurrency, Luna. When the price of Luna plummeted in May, TerraUSD fell in tandem — a “death spiral” that destabilized the broader market and plunged some investors into financial ruin.

drew scrutiny from several state regulators. In the end, a drop in crypto prices appeared to put the company under more pressure than it could withstand.

With the price of Bitcoin tumbling, Celsius announced on Sunday that it was freezing withdrawals “due to extreme market conditions.” The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The market instability has also triggered a crisis at Coinbase, the largest U.S. crypto exchange. Between the end of 2021 and late March, Coinbase lost 2.2 million active customers, or 19 percent of its total, as crypto prices dropped. The company’s net revenue in the first three months of the year shrank 27 percent from a year earlier, to $1.2 billion. Its stock price has plunged 84 percent since it went public last year.

This month, Coinbase said it would rescind job offers and extend a hiring freeze to battle the economic downturn. On Tuesday, it said it would cut about 1,100 workers.

Brian Armstrong, Coinbase’s chief executive, informed employees of the layoffs in a note on Tuesday morning, saying the company “grew too quickly” as crypto products became popular.

“It is now clear to me that we over-hired,” he wrote. A Coinbase spokesman declined to comment.

“It had been growth at all costs over the last several years,” said Ryan Coyne, who covers crypto companies and financial technology at the Mizuho Group. “It’s now turned to profitable growth.”

memo to staff, the Winklevoss twins said the industry had entered a “crypto winter.”

commercial starring the actor Matt Damon, who declared that “fortune favors the brave” as he encouraged investors to put their money in the crypto market. Last week, Crypto.com’s chief executive announced that he was laying off 5 percent of the staff, or 260 people. On Monday, BlockFi, a crypto lending operation, said it was reducing its staff by roughly 20 percent.

Gemini and BlockFi declined to comment. A Crypto.com spokesman said the company remains focused on “investing resources into product and engineering capabilities to develop world-class products.”

Cryptocurrencies have long been volatile and prone to boom-and-bust cycles. In 2013, a Chinese ban on Bitcoin sent its price tumbling. In 2017, a proliferation of companies creating and selling their own tokens led to a run-up in crypto prices, which crashed after regulators cracked down on so-called initial coin offerings.

These bubbles are built into the ecosystem, crypto enthusiasts said. They attract talented people to the industry, who go on to build valuable projects. Many of the most vocal cheerleaders encourage investors to “buy the dip,” or invest more when prices are low.

“We have been in these downward spirals before and recovered,” Mr. Jones, the Science Inc. investor, said. “We all believe in the fundamentals.”

Some of the companies have also remained defiant. During Game 5 of the N.B.A. finals on Monday night, Coinbase aired a commercial that alluded to past boom-and-bust cycles.

“Crypto is dead,” it declared. “Long live crypto.”

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What Happened on Day 105 of the War in Ukraine

Even as Russia hammers eastern Ukraine with heavy artillery, it is cementing its grip on the south, claiming to have restored roads, rails and a critical freshwater canal that could help it claim permanent dominion over the region.

The extension of Russian infrastructure into the occupied south could allow Moscow to fortify a “land bridge” between Russia and Crimea and build on efforts to claim control through the introduction of Russian currency and the appointment of proxy officials.

Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, said on Tuesday that the military, working with Russian Railways, had repaired about 750 miles of track in southeastern Ukraine and set the conditions for traffic to flow from Russia through Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region to occupied territory in Kherson and Crimea.

Mr. Shoigu also said that water was once again flowing to Crimea through the North Crimean Canal — an important source of freshwater that Ukraine cut off in 2014 after the Kremlin annexed the peninsula. Mr. Shoigu claimed that car traffic was now open between “continental” Russia and Crimea.

Mr. Shoigu’s claims of restored roads and rails could not be immediately verified.

Satellite imagery reviewed by The New York Times showed that water was flowing through the parts of the canal in Crimea that were dry until March. Russian engineers blew open a blockage in the canal in late February, days after Russian forces invaded Ukraine. Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment on Wednesday.

The North Crimean Canal, a 250-mile-long engineering marvel built under the Soviet Union, had channeled water from Ukraine’s Dnipro River to the arid Crimean Peninsula until President Vladimir V. Putin seized it in 2014.

Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

After Crimea’s annexation, Ukraine dropped bags of sand and clay into the canal to prevent the Russian occupiers from benefiting from the valuable freshwater.

Instead of flowing to Crimea, the canal was used to irrigate the melon fields and peach orchards in Ukraine’s Kherson region to the north.

Ukrainian officials said that cutting off the water was one of the few levers at their disposal to inflict pain on Russia without using military force.

For the Kremlin, the blockage represented a vexing and expensive infrastructure challenge, with Crimea’s residents suffering chronic water shortages and occasional shut-offs at the tap.

When Mr. Putin massed troops on Ukraine’s border last year, some analysts speculated that the canal was one of the prizes the Kremlin wanted.

Even as Russia sought to entrench its control in the south this week, a clandestine battle has emerged inside the occupied regions, involving Kremlin loyalists, occupying Russian forces, Ukrainian partisans and the Ukrainian military.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian media posted video of what they said was an explosion at a cafe in the occupied city of Kherson that had served as a gathering place for people collaborating with Russian forces. Russian state media described it as an act of “terror.”

It was the latest in a series of attacks targeting Russian supporters and proxies. It came amid reports — most impossible to independently verify — of Ukrainian guerrillas blowing up bridges, targeting rail lines used by Russian forces and killing Russian soldiers on patrol.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, said that there was a focused guerrilla movement operating in the south. “Partisans are fighting very actively,” he said on his YouTube channel.

In the east, where both armies are fighting for control, Ukrainian officials were weighing whether to withdraw their forces in the city of Sievierodonetsk, the last major pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the Luhansk region.

Sievierodonetsk has been blasted by weeks of Russian shelling, and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine referred to the city and its neighbor, Lysychansk, on Monday as “dead cities,” physically destroyed and nearly empty of civilians.

“Fighting is still raging and no one is going to give up the city, even if our military has to step back to stronger positions,” Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian military governor of the Luhansk region, said on Ukrainian television, according to Reuters.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Moscow’s announcement that it was extending its ties to the occupied south seemed certain to be greeted in Ukraine as further evidence of Russia’s determination to break Ukraine apart and pillage its natural resources.

“Russia is trying to build infrastructure for military supply,” said Mykhailo Samus, deputy director for international affairs at the Center for Army Studies, Conversion and Disarmament, a research group in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.

“Maybe they try to steal the agriculture, food products from occupied territories,” he added.

The Russian authorities said that the first train had traveled from the occupied city of Melitopol to Crimea carrying grain — freight that Ukrainian officials say was stolen from Ukrainian farmers forced to hand over their crops for a pittance or nothing at all.

Russia has blockaded Ukraine’s Black Sea ports since the start of the war, trapping more than 20 million tons of grain meant for export and deepening a global food crisis. Dimming the long-term outlook, grain silos in Ukraine are still about half full, the Ukraine Grain Association said on Wednesday, raising the possibility that much of this year’s crop could be left in the fields.

On Wednesday, the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers held talks focused on allowing Ukraine’s grain to reach global markets through the Black Sea.

Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

But the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, minimized the issue, suggesting that a global food catastrophe caused by a Russian blockade was a Western exaggeration.

“The current situation has nothing to do with the food crisis,” Mr. Lavrov said at a news conference in Ankara, the Turkish capital. “The Russian Federation is not creating any obstacles for the passage of ships and vessels.”

He blamed Ukraine, saying that its naval mines and refusal to use humanitarian corridors offered by Russia in Black Sea shipping lanes were stalling exports.

The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, disagreed, saying that there was a global problem, but that it involved both Russian and Ukrainian products.

“The food crisis in the world is a real crisis,” Mr. Cavusoglu said, noting that Russia and Ukraine together supply about one-third of the world’s grain products.

Mr. Cavusoglu said that a mechanism was needed to get not just agricultural products from Ukraine out through the Black Sea, but also Russian fertilizer, which is vital for global agriculture.

He suggested that the answer lay in a United Nations proposal that the international community provide guarantees for the shipments that addressed security concerns on both sides.

Ukraine was not invited to the talks in Ankara, and its government and Russia’s each blame the other for the lack of exports.

The two countries normally supply about 40 percent of wheat needs in Africa, according to the United Nations.

Ukrainian officials are deeply skeptical of a promise by Mr. Putin, which Mr. Lavrov repeated, that if harbors were demined, Russia would not exploit them to dispatch an invasion fleet. Russian warships have also been patrolling Black Sea shipping lanes.

Oleksii Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said on Twitter on Wednesday, “Our position on the supply of grain is clear: security first.” He accused Russia of “artificially creating obstacles to seize the market and blackmail Europe over food shortages.”

The United States has cited satellite imagery of cargo ships to accuse Russia of looting Ukrainian wheat stocks that it exported, mostly to Africa, echoing Ukrainian government allegations that Russia has stolen up to 500,000 tons of wheat, worth $100 million, since it invaded Ukraine in February.

Wheat is not the only Ukrainian resource prompting alarm. As Ukraine braces for what promises to be a difficult winter, Mr. Zelensky said that the country would not sell its gas or coal abroad. “All domestic production will be directed to the internal needs of our citizens,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Valerie Hopkins, Ivan Nechepurenko, Malachy Browne, Neil MacFarquhar, Safak Timur and Anushka Patil.

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What Happened on Day 104 of the War in Ukraine

KRAMATORSK, Ukraine — Just to enter Sievierodonetsk, Ukrainian soldiers run a gantlet of Russian artillery shells zeroed in on the only access route: a bridge littered with the burned husks of cars and trucks that didn’t make it.

And once inside the city in eastern Ukraine, the focus of both armies for the past several weeks, Ukrainian soldiers battle Russians in back-and forth combat for control of deserted, destroyed neighborhoods.

Ukraine’s leaders now face a key strategic decision: whether to withdraw from the midsize city and take up more defensible positions, or to remain and risk being boxed in if the bridge is blown up. It reflects the choices the country has had to make since the Russian invasion began, between giving ground to avert death and destruction in the short term, and holding out against long odds in hopes it will later pay off.

In Sievierodonetsk, that calculation has taken on significance beyond the city’s limited military importance. In remarks to journalists on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky referred to Sievierodonetsk and its neighbor across the river, Lysychansk, as “dead cities” ravaged by Russian attacks and nearly empty of civilians.

And yet he insisted there was a compelling reason to stay and fight: Ukraine’s position throughout the war has been that it intends to hold onto its sovereign territory, and not yield it to Moscow.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Retreating now to better positions on higher ground across the Seversky Donets River, and then fighting to retake the city later, he said, would be harder and carry a higher price in bloodshed than holding on.

“It will be very costly for you to return, in terms of the number of people killed, the number of losses,” Mr. Zelensky said.

“Our heroes are not giving up positions in Sievierodonetsk,” he added. “Fierce urban combat continues in the city.”

It was a rare public rumination by Mr. Zelensky on strategic decision-making in the war, providing a window into the goals of his government and its military. Sievierodonetsk is the last major city in the breakaway region of Luhansk that the Russians have not taken; capturing it would give them near-total control of that enclave.

There are other factors as well. Falling back could be demoralizing to Ukraine’s forces. And some Ukrainian soldiers said it is worth drawing out the phase of urban combat to inflict more casualties on the already depleted Russian forces, and possibly damage their morale.

It was also possible Mr. Zelensky was aiding the military with misdirection by signaling one intention while quietly pursuing an opposite course of action.

The government has not said how many military casualties Ukraine has suffered overall since the Russian leader Vladimir V. Putin ordered the invasion in February. But Mr. Zelensky said last week that in the recent, intense fighting, each day his country was losing 60 to 100 soldiers killed and 500 wounded. Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, said Tuesday that 6,489 Ukrainian service members had been captured.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry this week estimated civilian casualties at 40,000 killed or wounded, though some government officials say the true figures are higher. Ukrainian officials said Tuesday that ruptured sewer and water pipes in the southern city of Mariupol, seized by Russia after a devastating siege, have created a risk of severe disease outbreaks that would raise the civilian toll.

The battle for Sievierodonetsk, part of Luhansk and the broader Donbas region in the east, has raged now for weeks, and some Ukrainian soldiers have questioned why the army has not ordered a tactical retreat.

“They are killing a lot of our guys,” said a soldier who asked to be identified only by his nickname, Kubik, interviewed last week while smoking beside a road in the town of Siversk, a staging area to the west of the fighting. He had recently rotated away from positions near Sievierodonetsk.

“Let them come forward a little bit, let them think they have captured the town, and then we will meet them beautifully” from the more advantageous position, he said.

The city lies on the mostly flat, eastern bank of the Seversky Donets. The western bank, in contrast, rises in a prominent hill that provides commanding views and firing positions.

Earlier in the war, Ukrainian soldiers were surrounded in Mariupol and fought for weeks, eventually retreating to hold just a tiny pocket of ground in a steel factory complex where they sheltered in bunkers, before Mr. Zelensky ordered the holdouts to surrender rather than be killed.

Ukrainian commanders decided to avert a smaller-scale version of that siege earlier this week in Sviatohirsk, a town lying on the low bank of the Seversky Donets.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Trying to trap Ukrainian troops in the town, Russian forces had been firing artillery at their only remaining route across the river, a bridge near an Orthodox monastery that was also frequently hit. On Monday, the Ukrainian army pulled back, blew up the bridge and took up positions on the river’s high bank, Ukrainian officials said.

Sievierodonetsk was once a sleepy, provincial backwater of about 100,000 residents, with streets lined with poplar trees and a skyline dominated by smokestacks of a fertilizer factory.

Now it is a largely abandoned ruin where battle lines sway often, with each side at times claiming to have expelled the other from part of the city. On Tuesday, Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian military governor of the Luhansk region, said Russian forces were again storming positions. “Combat continues,” he said.

Russian artillery fire into the potential fallback position on the high bank, where Lysychansk lies, has also been ferocious. Shelling hit a market, a mining academy and a school, Mr. Haidai said. The strike on the market touched off a fire that burned through the day Monday. Two civilians were wounded.

The Ukrainian government has been emphasizing the tenuousness of its positions in the battle for Donbas, the mining and farming region now mostly controlled by Russian forces.

The pivotal access bridge to Sievierodonetsk is a panorama of destruction, testifying to the difficulty and risk to Ukraine in holding even some portion of the city.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

A video recorded by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporters who entered on a resupply run last week showed the mayhem on the span: crossing it meant weaving between the burned husks of cars and shell craters in the bridge deck.

The debris has piled up over the past two weeks. In an interview in late May, a soldier at a sandbagged checkpoint at the western edge of the bridge cautioned that Russian artillery spotters had the span — clear of debris at the time — under observation and opened fire whenever a car drove over. Two other bridges into the city were destroyed earlier in May.

Mr. Haidai has justified Ukraine’s efforts to hold Sievierodonetsk as partly a matter of symbolic resistance.

“Strategically, the city of Sievierodonetsk is not of great importance,” he said over the weekend. The high opposite riverbank is more significant militarily, he said. “But politically, Sievierodonetsk is a regional center. Its liberation will lift our morale substantially and demoralize the Russians.”

Still, Mr. Zelensky said he was open to reconsidering his decision based on developments. Either command — to hold ground or to retreat — had potential downsides, he said.

“In the first option there is risk, in the second option there is risk,” he said.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Oleksandr Chubko contributed reporting.

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