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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iPads Are Crucial Health Care Tools in Combating Covid-19

“The hearing impaired find the device extremely helpful and it provides a lot of confidence and comfort,” said Wren Lester, chief experience officer and director of patient relations at Downstate Medical Center. Lester says the hospital hopes to expand the program after the crisis.

Downstate isn’t currently using the technology to provide inpatient virtual care, like Mass General and others. The intensity of NYC’s coronavirus crisis has left staff little time to create such a system. “The numbers have been growing so quickly that we have to change [core aspects of our] process quite regularly just to deal with the surge of patients and manage the crisis,” said chief information officer Michele Scaggiante.

Staff at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco, home to the city’s first dedicated Covid-19 treatment unit, initially turned to tablets and smartphones to help connect patients with their loved ones after local officials banned most hospital visitors on March 14. Since then, the devices have been adopted for other uses throughout the hospital, says Dr. Kathleen Jordan, vice president of the hospital.

“We were dealing recently with an end-of-life situation and had actually quite a beautiful experience with extended family from multiple locations being able to be present in a virtual way,” recalls Jordan. It was the first time the hospital had used such technology with such a large audience and in an end-of-life experience, she says.

Doctors at Saint Francis use the devices to check on patients in the hospital. There are, of course, still many tests and procedures that must be done in person, but for those that can be conducted remotely, many clinicians are finding virtual appointments provide them with the opportunity for greater intimacy with patients, Jordan says.

At most hospitals, Covid-19 patients see few other people, all of them cloaked in masks, goggles, and gloves. “It’s a very frightening experience,” says Schwamm of Mass General. “With the iPad device in place, they get to interact verbally and in a reassuring way with a nurse who they can’t touch, but whose facial expressions they can now see.”

The adoption of inpatient telemedicine has also helped with staffing, by allowing more providers to participate in care, says Jordan, at Saint Francis. Immunocompromised and other at-risk providers who had been kept away from patients to protect themselves can now weigh in remotely. Doctors who feel healthy but are quarantined because of Covid-19 exposures are also now able to contribute, Jordan says, which has helped the hospital avoid dire personnel shortages.

In preparation for the influx of patients, Saint Francis set up a surge area to act as an extension of the hospital’s emergency room. The surge facility isn’t located in the same area as the ER, but ER physicians will be able to lead remote visits and consultations for the surge facility without having to leave their posts.

“People have this idea that remote work is not really for clinicians, and I think this is showing us otherwise,” says Juan Estrada who oversees Virtual Consults Services at Mass General. He’s spent years trying to get the tech into the hands of health care providers, but until recently says he met largely with resistance.

“Change is difficult in medicine. Historically, telehealth has been an exercise in pushing so that people begin to see how technology can make a difference,” says Estrada. “These last three weeks, we are not really pushing. We are being pulled. This huge community of providers is clamoring for these solutions now. It’s amazing.”


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Delivery Apps Offer Restaurants a Lifeline—at a Cost

Miami chef Richard Hales was sitting on his couch two weeks ago, a rare moment of downtime for the owner of four restaurants, when he saw an ad for Uber Eats that jolted—and angered—him.

Using #eatlocal, the promotion offered app users free delivery in the name of supporting local restaurants. Diners have disappeared and many restaurants have closed, at least temporarily, as people stay home to comply with social distancing recommendations amid the coronavirus pandemic. In much of the country, take out and delivery are the only options for restaurants.

Got a coronavirus-related news tip? Send it to us at covidtips@wired.com.

But Hales was upset because Uber Eats takes 25 percent of the check for those delivery orders, eroding his already depleted revenue and thin profit margin. That’s not supporting local restaurants, he says.

The coronavirus has pushed the nation’s restaurants, which generated $800 billion in revenue last year, to the brink in just days. Spending on restaurants fell by more than 50 percent in late March, compared with the same days in 2019, according to Bank of America. By the end of the month, only one of Hales’ restaurants was still operating.

To stave off collapse, restaurants are joining food delivery platforms like GrubHub and Uber Eats in droves. Uber claims a 10-fold increase in new signups as many restaurants shift to take-out only. Hales is one of many owners watching helplessly as their relationship to delivery services invert, from roughly 15 percent of his revenue to the overwhelming majority of his business.

Hales tried and failed to renegotiate his commission with Uber Eats. With deliveries now most of his remaining business, he feels mocked by their ostensibly “supportive” branding. Uber has waived delivery fees to consumers on most food orders, but a spokesperson confirms there’s no coronavirus-related change to delivery commissions.

“I’m getting their marketing material,” he says. “They’re #eatlocal and #keeprestaurantsopen. Of course, because nobody’s using [Uber] right now. Everybody’s scared to get into it. So restaurants are their lifeblood now and they won’t even come to the table.”

Other restaurateurs voice similar complaints. “My business has shrunk by almost 90 percent,” says David Foulquier, chef and owner of Sushi Noz in New York City and Fooq’s, a downtown Miami restaurant. Sushi Noz closed temporarily soon after New York’s shelter-in-place order, while Fooq’s is now delivery only. With so much of his business reliant on delivery platforms, Foulquier says the fees leave him with little to pay staff and order food. “Of the remaining 10 to 15 percent that I have left, the delivery apps take up about 25 percent of my sales,” he says.

Many restaurant owners have long resented the delivery commissions but viewed them as an increasingly necessary evil because the delivery platforms had become so popular.

“These apps already have so many people hooked,” says chef José Mendin, who has restaurants throughout Florida. When Uber first approached him four or five years ago, he turned them down because of the 25 percent commission. He soon realized he had little choice. “I said no,” Mendin says. “But then I had to get in, because everybody else was doing it. I didn’t want to miss out on those sales.”

In the past month, Mendin estimates his sales dropped about 65 percent. Of the remainder, 25 percent of each sale goes to UberEats.

The economics of the restaurant industry have changed drastically over the course of only a few weeks. The coronavirus relief bill enacted last week is a glimmer of hope for owners, who may qualify for loans covering two and a half months of their payroll. Applications begin Friday, but even if they qualify, many wonder if they can keep their doors open until the money arrives.

“I think if we renegotiate the commission fees and they were lower, down to between 10 to 12 percent, we could certainly make a go at it,” says Hales. “We’re just trying to keep the lights on.”

Like many other restaurant owners, Hales is navigating a complicated series of applications for grants, loans, and federal relief, all while trying to maintain as full a staff as he can. With any relief funds still weeks away, he’s had to dip into personal funds.

He’s candid about his situation. On a normal Wednesday night, he would expect roughly $5,000 in revenue. This Wednesday, the total was $665. Of that, $523 came through delivery apps, primarily Uber Eats. Those commissions totaled $131, leaving him just $534 to cover rent, plus the cost of food and staff. His typical daily overhead is about $3,000. With reduced staff, it’s now about $1,200—more than twice as much as his revenue Wednesday. “It’s not sustainable,” he says.

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T-Mobile Swallows Sprint, Leaving 3 US Cellphone Giants

T-Mobile completed its acquisition of Sprint Wednesday, officially reducing the number of major mobile carriers in the US from four to three.

With the deal closed, T-Mobile‘s outspoken CEO John Legere stepped down, as planned, and was replaced by company president Mike Sievert.

To win approval of the deal, T-Mobile promised regulators not to raise prices and to expand rural coverage by building a 5G wireless network covering 97 percent of the US population within three years and 99 percent within six years. T-Mobile now must conduct that project amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Critics of the deal have long argued that it will be hard to hold T-Mobile to its promises. “You need a scorecard to keep track of all the promises T-Mobile has made to state and federal policymakers in order to get approval for its anticompetitive and anti-consumer merger,” says former Federal Communications Commission attorney Gigi Sohn. “Regulators do not have the resources to ensure that these promises are enforced, and when they try, powerful corporations will do everything they can to avoid keeping them.”

The impact of the pandemic on T-Mobile’s efforts depends on how long the crisis lasts in the US, says IDC analyst Rajesh Ghai. “If it’s a short disruption I would think it will only temporarily slow down the rollout,” Ghai says. He notes that telecom and construction workers are generally considered “essential” under local and state lockdown orders, which will minimize delays. A potentially bigger threat, Ghai says, is reduced consumer spending that leaves T-Mobile with less money to invest in its network.

Alex Gellman, CEO of Vertical Bridge, which owns and operates cell phone towers, agrees that the impact will depend on the length of the crisis. But Gellman says proposed federal infrastructure spending, now under consideration in Washington, could help T-Mobile and other carriers build 5G networks.

The deal is the result of years of on-again, off-again negotiations among the nation’s cellular phone companies. Obama administration regulators blocked plans to buy T-Mobile by AT&T in 2011 and Sprint in 2013. T-Mobile and Sprint resumed talks in 2017, correctly guessing the Trump administration would view the tie-up more favorably, but struggled to reach a deal. The two companies walked away from negotiations in November 2017, but worked out an all-stock deal for T-Mobile to acquire Sprint in April 2018; by then, T-Mobile had passed Sprint to become the third-largest carrier in the US.

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The deal garnered surprising bipartisan support. Even Democrats who often sparred with the telco industry over issues like net neutrality, such as Representative Anna Eshoo (D-California), backed the deal, arguing that a larger T-Mobile would be better able to challenge AT&T and Verizon and build a nationwide 5G network.

The Justice Department and FCC blessed the merger last year after the companies agreed to spin off Sprint’s prepaid brand, Boost Mobile, which was later acquired by satellite television provider Dish.

Not everyone was sold on T-Mobile’s promises. Last year, nine states and the District of Columbia filed suit to block the merger, claiming it would cause “irreparable harm to mobile subscribers nationwide.” But US district judge Victor Marrero in February ruled against the states, concluding that the merger “is not reasonably likely to substantially lessen competition” in wireless markets.

It was a puzzling decision to some. Avery Gardiner, a fellow at the internet freedom group Center for Democracy and Technology, told WIRED in February that regulators usually block mergers that lead to high levels of market concentration. But they also consider whether new competitors in a market can offset the impact of consolidation, and the possibility that Dish would become a viable fourth competitor in the US cell market was one factor in Marrero’s decision. For the time being, however, Dish will only resell the new T-Mobile’s service.


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Facebook Could Help Journalism by Making News Easier to Find

Facebook announced on Monday that it was going to spend $100 million to help local news outlets during the coronavirus crisis. “It’s a moment where getting accurate news about the coronavirus is vital for all us,” says Campbell Brown, the former television news anchor and Facebook’s vice president of global news partnerships. This urgent need for news comes as ad revenues for news sites are drying up. “Local journalists are being hit especially hard, even as people turn to them for critical information to keep their friends, families and communities safe,” Campbell wrote in a blog post announcing the grant. As if to put an exclamation point on that notion, also on Monday, the Gannett newspaper chain told employees at 100 newspapers that they would have to take unpaid leave.

Facebook’s gift to local news came after it offered a much smaller $1 million investment two weeks ago. That money was meant to support coronavirus coverage in local publications, but according to Brown, so many requests for that money came in that the company realized that a much bigger sum was needed. Of the $100 million Facebook is now promising to give out, $25 million will be disbursed as cash grants to local publishers in South Carolina, Missouri and Texas and other places to support their coverage of the pandemic, or to keep them afloat during the crisis. By far the bigger part, though, is earmarked for “marketing” to promote the journalism of local publications. When I asked Brown what that meant, she replied that Facebook would devote that much from its marketing budget, including Facebook ads, to help the bottom line of publications. (Last year Facebook announced a $300 million investment, spread over three years, to help local journalism; this effort is unchanged by the new announcement.)

The $100 million is part of Facebook’s general response to the pandemic which includes a Coronavirus (Covid-19) Information Center with content from the World Health Organization; an effort to scrub the News Feed of dangerous misinformation about the virus; and a ban on ads that try to sell bogus cures or gouge people trying to buy medical equipment.

Got a coronavirus-related news tip? Send it to us at covidtips@wired.com.

But missing from the announcement was one thing that Facebook could do immediately to help surface articles about the pandemic: maximize the exposure to the News tab that CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a year ago and that launched last October at a splashy New York City event. Unlike the unmoderated and often untrustworthy mix of articles that people share on the News Feed, Facebook News is curated not by algorithms but actual human editors. They draw from a vetted list of publications—including The Washington Post, Bloomberg, The Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, and, yes, WIRED. In a shift in its policy, Facebook pays publishers for much of this content. A news industry that had been critical of Facebook said the company had finally done something right. Brown says that the curation team has adjusted its coverage to highlight news of the pandemic, creating a discrete collection of Covid-19 stories. (Ironically this work is going on while the head of Facebook’s curation for the News tab, Pulitzer-winning journalist Anne Kornblut, is herself recovering from Covid-19.)

The problem is that Facebook has buried its News tab as if it were Jimmy Hoffa.

If Facebook were to expose all its users to the News tab, it could potentially dispel some of the myths that still persist about coronavirus. And it would give voice to those news outlets that it deemed trustworthy. But despite considerable fanfare in announcing the product, Facebook has been maddeningly deliberate in rolling out the tab. Even today, five months later, not all users can access it.

When I asked Brown about this, she said that the tab was available to the vast majority, but not all, of Facebook’s US user base. When I said I hadn’t seen it, she said that I probably hadn’t tried to access it.

So with the help of a Facebook spokesperson, I began the hunt. Here’s what you have to do to find News on your Facebook mobile app. (Don’t even bother trying to find it on your laptop; it’s not available at all on desktop browsers.) On the lower right hand corner of the screen, press the little menu icon. You will see a screen of options for various tabs ranging from events to dating. But no news tab. To find that one, you hit the “See More” button at the bottom of the screen and scroll through a list of services. When I did this, the 13th option on the list was “News.” I opened it and, there, finally, I saw lead stories about the pandemic from trusted publications.

Read all of our coronavirus coverage here.

Facebook says that the News tab is still being tested and a gradual rollout had always been planned. It had no announcement about moving up the schedule to make sure trustworthy stories get exposed to readers.

Facebook’s latest investment in news comes at a time when its years-long effort to rehabilitate its reputation after the Cambridge Analytica scandal now seems to be getting some traction–not so much from its efforts to improve the service but because a house-bound nation is more dependent on its social graph. Does Brown think that Facebook has turned a corner?

“We’ve been building on great work for the last three to four years,” she says. “I think that we’re serving a need at this moment. And I’m proud to be working for a company that’s doing it well.”

So why not go all the way and free Facebook News?


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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 louise_matsakis@wired.com. 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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The Professors Who Call ‘Bullshit’ on Covid-19 Misinformation

Some conservative figures have rallied around the deleted Medium post, which the author has reposted elsewhere, saying its removal unfairly quashed his freedom to express his opinions. Bergstrom says his debunking of the post and intervention on the Seattle ICU thread have triggered waves of online abuse. He believes his fact-checking attempts have been flagged on trolling forums, such as 4chan. West says preliminary analysis of a database of coronavirus-related tweets that UW has gathered since mid-January suggests right-wing trolls are actively boosting Covid-19 misinformation.

Once information has been amplified online, West says, it can come to be seen as authoritative even by people who should know better. Earlier this month, a friend asked him to help Washington state dentists debating whether to shut their doors to patients. One of the main pieces of evidence shaping the discussion was a Medium post in which a marketing executive without public health expertise warned of the seriousness of the pandemic and offered charts and models he had made predicting its future growth. “These were medical professionals, some of the most at risk-workers, sharing advice from an inexpert source,” West says. The state’s governor shut down non-emergency dental appointments on March 19.

The Covid-19 crisis has also unleashed a plague of beguiling but confusing or even misleading charts and maps. Bergstrom has pushed back on one widely trafficked apples-to-oranges comparison that made the rapidly growing death toll from coronavirus look trifling by placing it next to the larger but steady fatalities from endemic diseases such as malaria.

person lathering hands with soap and water

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Catherine D’Ignazio, an MIT professor and coauthor of the recent book Data Feminism, advises caution when viewing Covid-19 visualizations of any kind, even from authoritative sources like the Centers for Disease Control. The agency offers a map displaying the number of coronavirus cases by state in ranges, using shading. That format, known as a choropleth map, means high-population states like California will appear worse-hit than smaller states even if they have lower rates of infection, D’Ignazio says.

Many charts and maps don’t attempt to convey the huge uncertainties in Covid-19–related data, caused by problems ramping up testing, particularly in the US. One Ohio official recently told WIRED her state’s count of cases was likely wrong by a factor of more than 10,000. “Data visualization carries the aura of certainty—clean lines and geometric shapes and reputable sources of data all convey authority,” D’Ignazio says. “But in situations like this, those conventions are doing us a disservice.” She notes that immigrants, women, and low-income people are more likely to be among those missing cases because they are less likely to be willing or able to seek testing.

Despite the bullshit bonanza, West says he has been pleased to see medical experts fighting incorrect information on social networks and tech companies such as Facebook and Google adding banners and filters to fight or block coronavirus misinformation. That suggests these companies could do more to combat other forms of spurious content, such as around elections, West says. “They’ve proven they can do more,” he says.

Bergstrom says the best way to improve your Covid-19 information diet right now is to—as with the SARS-nCoV-2 virus itself—minimize your exposure. Unlike in a crisis of imminent physical danger, like a natural disaster or war zone, staying updated on a five-minute cadence simply isn’t necessary, he says.

“This is a crisis unfolding in slow motion, in a statistical way where we can only see pieces of it,” he says. “I recommend people pick one maybe two times a day to read what’s going on from reputable sources like The New York Times or STAT or WIRED—and if you must go on Twitter, block the hashtags.”

Now send this article to your friends, log off for a few hours, and wash your hands.


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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.

Wired UK

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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Amazon Warehouses Will Now Accept Essential Supplies Only

In normal times, Amazon will happily deliver almost any item to your doorstep, no matter how frivolous. These are not normal times. Millions of Americans are now largely confined to their homes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and many of them have turned to Amazon for household staples, groceries, and medical supplies in large numbers. To keep up with surging demand for essential goods, Amazon announced Tuesday that it would no longer accept other items at its warehouses until April 5.

The unprecedented action will immediately affect millions of third-party sellers and vendors, who have come to rely on Amazon’s warehouses to get their products into the hands of consumers. Amazon customers can expect greater availability of things like soap and dog food, and potential shipping delays when it comes to less pressing items like clothing and electronics.

“We are seeing increased online shopping, and as a result some products such as household staples and medical supplies are out of stock,” reads an announcement on Amazon’s official forum for sellers. “With this in mind, we are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so that we can more quickly receive, restock, and deliver these products to customers.” Last week, news outlets like Vice reported that Amazon had virtually no supply of goods like toilet paper left on its virtual shelves.

The new policy is only one facet of Amazon’s sweeping response to the coronavirus outbreak. The retail giant announced yesterday that it would also be hiring an additional 100,000 workers in the US to meet rising demand, and would temporarily raise pay for all employees in the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom by at least $2 an hour through the end of April. Over 125,000 people already work in Amazon fulfillment centers in North America. Last week, the company expanded its sick leave policy, and set up a relief fund that aims to provide an initial $25 million to independent delivery drivers and seasonal workers affected by the pandemic.

For now, Amazon is still delivering nonessential products that are already stocked in its warehouses. It just won’t accept replenishments from vendors and sellers for the next three weeks. If you want to purchase, say, a hula hoop, you’ll still get it as long as Amazon has them in stock. Third-party sellers can also continue taking orders, but can no longer rely on Fulfilled by Amazon, the retail giant’s service for storing, packaging, and shipping. Around 94 percent of Amazon merchants use FBA for at least some orders, while 64 percent exclusively rely on the service, according to the analytics firm Jungle Scout, which tracks data for Amazon sellers.

“FBA was created to help sellers not have to deal with logistics,” says James Thomson, a former Amazon employee and partner at Buy Box Experts, a firm that consults with Amazon sellers. Thomson worries many small businesses that rely on FBA may need to shutter as a result of Amazon’s decision. “Most of them have no contingency plan,” he says.

“We understand this is a change for our selling partners and appreciate their understanding as we temporarily prioritize these products for customers,” a spokesperson for Amazon said in a statement.

Amazon already accounts for 39 percent of all online orders in the US, according to the market research firm eMarketer. With many people stuck indoors, it’s now likely shouldering an even greater share of sales than usual. To manage the increase, Amazon may be trying to lessen the number of items available through its Prime subscription service, which guarantees free two-day shipping for hundreds of thousands of products. One way to do that is to limit what goods can come into warehouses and wider logistics network. “What Amazon did today is all about making sure it can deliver on its Prime promise,” Thomson says. Some Prime orders have already been delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to CNBC.

It’s unclear how quickly Amazon shoppers may notice a change, but it could be several weeks. Vendors and merchants likely have at least some items still in stock in Amazon warehouses. How quickly they run through that supply will determine when consumers see increased shipping times or dwindling availability. “Eventually you will notice more and more items not being Prime eligible as April 5 approaches,” says Will Tjernlund, a consultant for Amazon sellers. The hope is that in the meantime, with Amazon’s logistics network freed up, customers can order necessary items like hand sanitizer, diapers, and food, and have them delivered fast.

Third-party sellers, who are often small business owners, may feel the effects of Amazon’s new policy more quickly, especially if they were expecting to send goods to Amazon’s warehouses in the coming days or weeks. Many merchants lack the infrastructure and warehouse space necessary to run their own independent shipping operations, says Chris McCabe, another former Amazon employee who now runs a consultancy for sellers. “Sellers need to plan for the long haul here and develop other channels to sell through,” he says.

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