Bernie Sanders Is Out—but He Transformed Campaigning For Good

Bernie Sanders has officially suspended his bid for the Democratic nomination for president. After getting steamrolled in a series of state primaries by former vice president Joe Biden, the Vermont senator and former front-runner accepted the reality that the contest was effectively over. “I cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win,” Sanders said in a livestream to more than 100,000 onlookers.

The digital format of the announcement—Sanders, alone, speaking into the camera, without the throngs of young supporters who might otherwise have attended his farewell speech—was a consequence of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. But it was also appropriate in its own way. Sanders has been making the same policy arguments for a half century, but his presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2020 were among the most technologically innovative in history. He may not have fully delivered the “political revolution” he so often promised, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t revolutionize politics.

“In so many ways, Bernie Sanders’ run in 2016 and, less so, in 2020, cemented the fact that insurgent candidates running a strong, robust challenge to institutionally validated candidates can use the internet as an extremely powerful tool,” says Daniel Kreiss, a professor of political communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (The distinction: By 2020, Sanders was less of an insurgent.) “To translate energy and enthusiasm into very real, very concrete, and very powerful electoral resources.” 

Sanders wasn’t the first insurgent candidate to make creative use of digital technology, of course. Howard Dean used Meetup in 2004. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign tapped into emerging tools to achieve unprecedented email outreach. But those were ages ago, in tech years. As much as any political figure, Sanders showed how politics could work in the age of YouTube, Instagram, and the smartphone.

That prowess starts with social media. Beginning with his run against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, Sanders has relied on a massive Facebook following and targeted Facebook ads to build an enormous email list. Those techniques—which Donald Trump, another former outsider, has also deployed to dramatic effect—allowed Sanders to raise a war chest surpassing his rivals’ while spurning fundraisers and wealthy donors. (In his speech today, Sanders thanked supporters for making 10 million contributions, at an average donation of $18.50.) His 2020 campaign fastidiously livestreamed all of his appearances across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and—in a nod to the candidate’s appeal among younger voters—Twitch, which also hosted his concession speech. A Sanders rally might draw a few thousand people in person but could reach hundreds of thousands online. The campaign told The Washington Post in March that, of 57 million Facebook Live views for Democratic primary candidates over the previous year, the Sanders campaign accounted for 54 million.

“The smartest thing that the Sanders campaign did was to invest in building an owned media infrastructure to reach their own supporters where they thought they would be,” says Kyle Tharp, the vice president of communications at Acronym, a Democratic digital communications organization. “They calculated very early on that the media would not give them a fair shake, and so they built their own.” He adds, “I think the livestreaming of campaign events is going to become a major best practice.” 

But while Sanders’ social media presence has gotten the most attention, his embrace of distributed organizing—using technology to enlist and manage an army of volunteers—might prove even more influential in the long run. “I think those almost-more-boring tools for organizing are the Sanders legacy and have become really important and fundamental to campaigning,” says Jessica Baldwin-Philippi, a Fordham professor who studies the use of digital communication in politics.

A Digital Army

Those innovations started back in 2015, during the first Sanders presidential campaign. They were born, as always, of necessity.

“We had 100,000 people sign up to volunteer on day one,” says Kenneth Pennington, the digital director for the first Sanders campaign. Pennington fought for permission to hire one organizer: Zack Exley, a veteran of progressive politics. It didn’t go smoothly at first. “He asked me, OK, now I need to hire a team of organizers who will help put all these volunteers to work.’” Pennington says. “I said, ‘You don’t understand—I only have a budget for you, and I had to put my ass on the line to get you hired.’ And he quit on day one.’”

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What Amazon Workers Are Facing as Coronavirus Spreads in the US

Jana Jumpp has been working at an Amazon fulfillment center in Jeffersonville, Indiana, for over four years. Until recently, her experience at the company had been great. Amazon helped pay for Jumpp to go to massage therapy school, and even sent her to assist with the opening of a new facility in Texas last year.

Then, a pandemic hit, and everything changed. “Amazon’s reaction to the coronavirus has left me shocked, scared, and disgusted,” Jumpp said on a call with reporters Wednesday. The call was organized by Athena, a coalition of local and national organizations critical of Amazon. Jumpp says the company hasn’t provided enough supplies like hand sanitizer at her facility, and that its current leave policy won’t be enough to prevent people from coming to work sick. “Because of my age, I am more susceptible to the virus,” said Jumpp, who is 58. “I am taking unpaid time off, my only option, because I’m scared to go back.”

The United States now has more confirmed cases of Covid-19 than anywhere else in the world. With millions of Americans across the country ordered to shelter in place, Amazon’s vast delivery network has emerged as a vital service for people stuck inside their homes. To meet soaring demand, the company has prioritized delivering essential goods like medical supplies and food, and announced it will hire an additional 100,000 workers in the US, as well as give $2 an hour raises to existing employees. But workers in multiple states say Amazon is not doing enough to protect their health and that of their families. They say they are scared, that they are not getting information they need. Some, like Jumpp, are forgoing paychecks and staying home; others have left their jobs entirely for fear of being exposed to Covid-19.

Is there something you think we should know? Email the writer at Signal: 347-966-3806. WIRED protects the confidentiality of its sources.

While there have been no reported cases of Covid-19 at the Jeffersonville warehouse where Jumpp works, three workers tested positive for the virus at a returns center in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, just 30 miles away. It was shut down Wednesday for additional cleaning, Bloomberg reported, the first indefinite closure of an Amazon facility in the US since the pandemic began. So far, Amazon workers have tested positive for Covid-19 at at least 10 facilities in the US, according to media reports.

“Since the early days of this situation, we have worked closely with local authorities to proactively respond, ensuring we continue to serve customers while taking care of our associates and teams,” a spokesperson for Amazon said in a statement. “We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC, and adding distance between drivers and customers when making deliveries.”

‘We Heard More From the Local News’

When a case of Covid-19 does emerge, some Amazon employees say they are not being properly notified by the company. Two workers at a warehouse in Michigan, where a case of coronavirus was confirmed earlier this week, told WIRED they found out through the grapevine, not via the company itself. Both workers asked to remain anonymous because they feared retribution from Amazon. They say only associates who worked the same shift as the person who tested positive were informed about it. “We heard more from the local news,” said one of the workers. The other quit after learning through a coworker about the positive case. “I actually resigned because two of my children and myself have asthma and it’s not worth it right now to work there,” they said. “Our health comes first, not packages.” Amazon says it communicated to employees about the confirmed case.

The novel coronavirus is highly contagious, and may live on surfaces for several hours or even days, according to some studies. “People start shedding even before they get symptoms,” says Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco. Many people who have the coronavirus also only exhibit mild symptoms, making it easy to unwittingly pass along.

Amazon warehouses are a particularly fertile ground for transmission, workers say, because they often need to walk long distances to reach bathrooms where they can wash their hands. Breaks are also strictly timed, disincentivizing lingering at the sink or taking a few extra minutes to disinfect work stations. Amazon says it has relaxed performance requirements, and is allowing workers more time to go to the restroom, speak to managers, and communicate with family members and childcare providers using their phones.

Amazon has also taken additional measures to ensure workers are practicing social distancing, including putting tape down on the floor in break rooms to keep people at least six feet apart at all times. Many of these changes were implemented after media reports of workers’ growing concerns. Some workers say those precautions did not come soon enough. “Last week, when everyone was going into quarantine, we were still sitting together in our lunchrooms and on our breaks,” said Stephanie Haynes, an Amazon worker in Illinois who joined the Athena call. Amazon announced Wednesday that an employee at the facility where she works had tested positive for the coronavirus. Local media reported that the center would remain open.

Taking Leave

Throughout the pandemic, public health experts have urged people to stay home if they feel sick, to slow the spread of the disease. At the beginning of March, Amazon announced a new policy for hourly employees to be able to take unlimited unpaid time off through the end of the month; that policy has since been extended through the end of April. If a worker tests positive for Covid-19 or is placed into quarantine, Amazon says they are eligible to receive up to two weeks of paid time off. That money has been difficult to obtain in some cases, according to The Atlantic. Workers worry that with coronavirus testing still extremely limited across the country, colleagues who are sick but haven’t been tested will keep coming in. “All of this goes back to us not having paid sick time for everyone,” Rina Cummings, an Amazon worker in New York City, said on the Athena call.

Read all of our coronavirus coverage here.

It’s not only workers inside Amazon’s warehouses that are vulnerable, but also the drivers tasked with delivering packages and Whole Foods groceries. “Drivers lack safety equipment and direction, with no management on the ground,” said a Whole Foods delivery driver in the New York City area who asked to remain anonymous. On Wednesday night, Amazon sent out an email to drivers, outlining new social distancing rules they must follow. The message, which was obtained by WIRED, said that drivers must now wait in their cars for Whole Foods orders to be ready, and shouldn’t enter the pick-up area unless they can stay six feet away from others. It also advises them to stay home if they’re feeling sick. Amazon says it was not the first communication it sent about the coronavirus.

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Record Jobless Claims Are Overwhelming States’ Aging Tech

Christine Cemelli was at home on March 16 when she got the text. Her husband, a chef at a fine-dining restaurant in New Jersey, had been laid off. Earlier that day, Governor Phil Murphy had signed an executive order restricting the operations of nonessential businesses in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Restaurants could stay open only for takeout and delivery orders, but that didn’t make financial sense for her husband’s restaurant. Cemelli quickly launched into action.

“Literally, as soon as he texted me that he was getting laid off, I jumped on the computer,” Cemelli recalls. She had seen reports of layoffs around the county in response to the pandemic, and knew that with each hour that passed, it could become more difficult for her husband to claim unemployment benefits.

Cemelli began working her way through New Jersey’s online unemployment application system at 1 pm. She got about halfway through the application before an unknown server error kicked her out. None of her work had been saved, so she started again from the beginning.

Ten hours later, at 11 pm, she was still trying desperately to submit a claim. The site was even buggier at that point, Cermelli recounts; she couldn’t make it two pages into the application before it crashed. She woke up early the next morning to try again, but no dice. She encountered the same issues in the afternoon and evening. Cermelli considered trying to apply over the phone, but was dissuaded after family members said they had found that even more difficult. The department was so overwhelmed with jobless claims that it was telling many callers to try again another day.

Read all of our coronavirus coverage here.

It’s a problem countless Americans have struggled with in recent weeks. As the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps across the nation, state and local officials have taken drastic measures to curb the spread of the disease. Nearly one in two Americans are now under orders to shelter in place, forcing the closure of all nonessential businesses and many layoffs. Even businesses that remain open, like the restaurant where Cemelli’s husband Brett works, are cutting staff. Unemployment offices are struggling to keep up.

The US Department of Labor said on Thursday that a seasonally adjusted 3,283,000 people filed for unemployment last week, the highest total since the department started keeping track. Unemployment claims rose more than tenfold from the prior week, and were more than four times higher than the previous record, in 1982. More Americans have lost their jobs in the last week than during the first year of the Great Recession. The employment carnage of other natural disasters, like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, doesn’t even come close.

The coming weeks are likely to be even worse, economists say. The figures released Thursday reflect claims from last week, when states like California, New Jersey, and New York issued shelter in place orders. But other states didn’t follow suit until more recently. Surges in unemployment claims in these states won’t be reflected in the most recent federal figures. And as people who lose paychecks curtail their spending, the economic effects will multiply.

“This is not going to be the only spike we’re going to see,” says Betsey Stevenson, former chief economist of the US Department of Labor under President Barack Obama. “We’ll see another rise again in the next week.”

The number of Americans who’ve recently lost jobs is likely even higher, Stevenson adds, because some people who had trouble filing claims just gave up; state websites are “just having problems managing the traffic.”

For Cemelli, it would take nearly 72 hours of entering and re-entering data before she successfully filed for her husband’s unemployment benefits, around midnight on March 18. She thinks staying up late helped, because there may have been fewer people trying to get through to the site. “I was amazed when I finally got through,” she says.

Annalisa Plumb of Brooklyn, New York, hasn’t worked since March 13. After Mayor Bill DeBlasio ordered the closure of nonessential businesses in New York City, she was laid off from her job as a waitress. She tried to file for unemployment benefits the following morning, but quickly ran into trouble with her state’s website.

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Data Reveals the True Impact of the Coronavirus Outbreak

Something was wrong with Malaysia’s internet. It was March 13, and the more Simon Angus looked at the data, the more he suspected that the country might be in the midst of a coronavirus crisis.

Angus is an academic at Monash University and the cofounder of Kaspr Datahaus, a Melbourne-based company that analyses the quality of global internet connection to glean economic and social insights. The company monitors millions of internet-connected devices to gauge internet speed across the world. For them, a sudden deterioration in a country’s internet speed means that something is putting the network under strain. In recent weeks Kaspr’s theory is that the “something” is linked to the Covid-19 epidemics – as people who are working from home, or quarantining, or staying home as a precaution start using the internet more intensely than usual.

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This story originally appeared on WIRED UK.

“For people who are in lockdown, or in panic mode, or in self-isolation, the internet has become a fundamentally important part of their information source, and of their consumption of entertainment,” Angus says.

To put it bluntly, when millions more turn on Netflix, scroll through TikTok, start a Zoom call, play Fortnite, or simply scroll idly through Twitter, that has repercussions on the quality of the country’s internet. (That is why EU commissioner Thierry Breton asked Netflix to restrict high-definition streaming until the emergency is over.)

Now, Angus’ scanning had detected that Malaysia’s internet had become over five percent slower in the March 12 to 13 timespan—worse even than in locked-down Italy. Officially, though, Malaysia had only 129 confirmed coronavirus cases—a relatively low number, although it had been inching up for a week.

What was happening, though, was that the population was cottoning on to the government’s sloppy handling of the pandemic. In late February, in what would turn out to be a monumental blunder, authorities had allowed a religious mass gathering to go ahead in Kuala Lumpur. Once Covid-19 cases linked to the event started to emerge, the government scrambled to find all the attendees, but got the numbers wrong—first saying that only 5,000 people at the gathering were Malaysia residents, then updating the figure to 10,000 and then 14,500. With the mess laid bare, many Malaysians seemed to have decided to stay at home out of sheer self-preservation.

“A number of people, apparently, were already noticing what was going on and were panicking, and were starting to change their behaviour in response. And this is the signal that we started picking up,” Angus says. “And because Malaysia isn’t known for its fantastic internet, [the network] probably was in a fragile situation already.” Malaysia enforced a lockdown on March 16; according to the World Health Organization, its case count stands at 553 as of March 18, but recent press reports put that figure at 900.

“Our data was suggesting there was something serious going on with the Covid-19 stress on their internet backbone, and now we know that that’s actually true,” Angus says.

As the coronavirus crisis engulfs the planet, some think that using official data to make sense of the situation only helps so much. Governments might be deliberately obfuscating what is going on in the country—as China did in the early stages of the outbreak; figures on cases and deaths might be fuzzy because of poor collection practices or even regional differences in how the data is gathered, as it is likely the case in Italy; more in general, official figures struggle to capture real-time developments as they happen on the ground.

“Who cares about GDP for Q2?,” says Jens Nordvig, CEO of New York-based data analytics company Exante Data, which has been monitoring the Covid-19 outbreak in China using, among other sources, GPS data from Chinese social network Baidu. “What we really care about is stuff like people’s movements, and how social distancing is working. And there’s incredible data available now, if you know how to use it.”

That is why financial institutions, investors, companies, and insurers are turning to companies like Kaspr or Exante, specialised in analysing alternative data sources offering a fair proxy for how countries are grappling with the emergency. That can apply to social trends, like in Malaysia’s case, but more often it is about the economy.

Read all of our coronavirus coverage here.

For instance, Angus says that monitoring China’s internet throughout the pandemic showed how industrial plants in the worst-affected regions—which operate servers and computers—shut down during the outbreak. In the last few weeks, as the emergency abated, things have started crawling back to normalcy, even if we are still far from pre-Covid-19 levels, and the evidence might be polluted by plants being restarted just to hit government-imposed power consumption targets. “China is not normal yet,” Angus says. The country’s internet latency suggests that “recovery is happening in China, but there are still a lot of people who must be facing at-home-life for their activities.”

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