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Instagram Proves When You’ve Lost the Kardashians, You’re Screwed

Instagram Proves When You’ve Lost the Kardashians, You’re Screwed

Hello, friends. My name is Kate Knibbs, and I’m a senior writer at WIRED covering culture and media. I’ll be your substitute Plaintext guide this week, as my colleague Steven Levy has generously lent me his newsletter. “Have fun doing my newsletter, please don’t go off on a tangent about the Kardashian-Jenner Industrial Complex,” he said before heading out, if I remember correctly. My bad!

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The Plain View

Instagram sucks now. What was once a repository for photos of friends and family is now a junkyard stuffed with knockoff TikToks known as “Reels.” Looking at Reels is almost like looking at TikTok, except instead of an algorithm pulling videos to precision-match your interests, Reels are a chaotic hodgepodge of acquaintances selling gut health supplements for multilevel marketing schemes, strangers pushing sponsored content, amateur stand-up performances, advertisements, and—if you’re a parent—grim videos of sick babies. Sometimes there’s an occasional cute-dog clip, but all in all, Reels are an embarrassing attempt to copycat a rival social network that only serves to dilute Instagram’s appeal and alienate its users.

This isn’t an original complaint—in fact, a horde of pissed-off influencers have been stewing about this all week. Reality star Kylie Jenner reposted a viral plea from a photographer named Tati: “MAKE INSTAGRAM INSTAGRAM AGAIN. (stop trying to be tiktok i just want to see cute photos of my friends.) SINCERELY, EVERYONE.” Her older sisters Kim and Kourtney Kardashian reposted the meme shortly thereafter. The Kardashian-Jenners have even more reason to be irked by this change than I do; after all, they use Instagram to sell themselves and their wares, so a shift in its functionality poses a threat to their multimillion dollar business interests in addition to their ability to see cute photos of their friends.

Prior to this kerfuffle, Kylie most recently made news for taking unbelievably wasteful 14-minute private jet rides for fun. I do not endorse her behavior. But when she’s right, she’s right. And, as Verge reporter Ashley Carman pointed out, Kylie has a track record for tanking social platforms with her criticism. In 2018, when she casually noted that she stopped using Snapchat after its redesign, the company lost $1.3 billion in market value. For social networks, if you’ve lost Kylie, you’re in trouble. Should a 24-year-old climate villain have this much influence? No. But she does.

And now Instagram is in crisis mode. Adam Mosseri uploaded a frantic-eyed front-facing vlog the day after Kylie’s post, attempting to convince people that the shift to video is good, actually. Adam, Adam, Adam. Don’t piss on our legs and tell us it’s raining!

Even Twitter Thinks Elon Musk’s Tweets Are Out of Control

Even Twitter Thinks Elon Musk’s Tweets Are Out of Control

Hi, folks. If inflation makes everything more expensive, why are stock prices falling? Asking for a 401(k).

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The Plain View

In all the months since Elon Musk has been maneuvering to control Twitter, not once have his impulses seemed to make any sense. Here is a guy who has concentrated on leveraging big science to solve big problems. He runs two huge and inspirational corporations, Tesla and SpaceX, both with considerable challenges for him to grapple with. He has another company that wants to solve the brain, and yet another to tunnel under big cities. He’s got seven kids … sorry, nine. He’s got to figure out how to get to Mars. Yet something made him obsessed with taking charge of a 16-year old enterprise based on short bursts of self-expression, to the point of venturing billions of his own dollars and endless distraction in order to do so, at least until he changed his mind.

The only explanation seems to lie in Musk’s own use of the platform—18,600 tweets. Twitter can make people crazy. It makes them do and say things they otherwise might not. And few have fallen as hard for it as Elon Musk.

So it’s no accident that in the wake of Musk withdrawing his buyout offer, Twitter’s suit demanding that Musk go through with the deal relies heavily on … his tweets. Right in the filing, the company’s lawyers screenshotted them to build their case, starting with the irreverent puns that Musk made indicating he was about to make a tender offer. (He cited the Elvis tune “Love Me Tender” and invoked F. Scott Fiztgerald’s 1934 novel Tender Is the Night.) The filing uses Musk’s tweets to disabuse his claim that the deal was void because the company had misled him on the volume of bot traffic on the platform. It also included multiple instances where Musk used Twitter to disparage Twitter, the company he ostensibly wanted to buy. Perhaps most damning was Musk’s response to Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal’s thread about the company’s efforts to contain bots: a tweet consisting of a single poop emoji. To quote the brief: “For Musk, it would seem, Twitter, the interests of its shareholders, the transaction Musk agreed to, and the court process to enforce it all constitute an elaborate joke.”

Though I’m not a lawyer, this seems like a clever legal tactic. I know from personal experience with a junior-high-school vice principal that people in authority don’t like it when you think the whole process is a laughing matter. Even the most impartial judge might be disinclined to embrace Musk’s arguments while he’s thumbing his nose at the revered regulations that lend order to our financial system.

Is this behavior Twitter’s fault? I’m sure it’s a pretty common thing for high-powered executives to talk trash in the privacy of their corner offices. But Twitter lures impulsive people to share those private thoughts with the world at large. Musk, whose riches must have made him feel invincible to begin with, has 100 million followers rewarding his online activity with likes, retweets, and supportive comments. Apparently, it was all too easy—and clearly plenty of fun—to add trolling to takeover.

An Apple Store Votes to Unionize for the First Time

An Apple Store Votes to Unionize for the First Time

In a statement sent before the results were announced, Apple spokesperson Josh Lipton wrote, “We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple. We are pleased to offer very strong compensation and benefits for full time and part time employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, annual stock grants and many other benefits.”

Members penned an open letter to CEO Tim Cook announcing their union, called Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, or CORE, and asking him not to wage an anti-union campaign. It went unheeded. The company retained the union avoidance firm Littler Mendelson, the same firm used by Starbucks. A near-daily parade of anti-union rhetoric followed, some at daily meetings, called “downloads,” and some in one-on-one asides. Managers would take individuals out of the store for walk-and-talks, sometimes as frequently as every hour, says DiMaria. In late May, Apple sent a video to all its US stores featuring vice president of retail Deirdre O’Brien. A union, she warned employees, “could limit our ability to make immediate, widespread changes to improve your experience.”

DiMaria says Apple deployed scare tactics to try to mislead workers into believing that if the union won, they might lose their benefits, that the attendance policy would become stricter, and that they wouldn’t be able to meet with their managers without the union. He says they appeared to be tailoring their messaging to individual employees, which a worker in the Atlanta store says happened there too.

Apple did take a different approach from Atlanta in its scheduling of group meetings to discuss the union. Previously they were required, according to Atlanta store workers. In Towson they were billed as voluntary, although they automatically appeared on employees’ schedules, and they had to actively opt out. The change in tactics follows a memo from National Labor Relations Board general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo saying those so-called captive audience meetings were illegal. In light of that guidance, the union representing the Atlanta store filed an unfair labor practice change with the NLRB.

Members of the suspended union effort in Atlanta have been in touch with Apple employees at other stores, including Towson, to advise them on what to expect from Apple and how to fight back. “When a manager says something in a public forum, it’s not enough to say it’s not true,” says Atlanta staffer and organizing committee member Derrick Bowles. Workers need to go the further step of explaining why the statement is illogical as well.

Bowles says managers attempted to paint union organizers in Atlanta as aggressors, frequently throwing around terms like “tension” and “bullying,” which he disputed in meetings. He says other Apple workers running union campaigns need to put these managers on the spot. “Like, ‘You say we might lose benefits. Is that a threat? Is that something you’d be willing to put into writing?’ You have to put leadership on the defensive. If you are on the defensive, you will lose.”

Amazon Labor Union Loses Ground in Staten Island Push

Amazon Labor Union Loses Ground in Staten Island Push

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island have voted against unionizing, marking the first loss for the fledgling, worker-led Amazon Labor Union (ALU). When the tally concluded Monday, workers at the LDJ5 sortation center had voted 618 to 380 against union representation. The defeat marks a major letdown for the ALU, which had been riding high on momentum from its first victory last month. The ALU says it will contest the results and call for a new election. 

As the company cemented its lead in the vote count, the ALU tweeted, “No matter the outcome of the election, workers are uniting for change at LDJ5, JFK8 & around the world. Mega-corporations continue to spend millions in union-busting + fear tactics & we continue to organize for a society not based on exploitation & greed.”

After the ALU’s stunning win at the JFK8 fulfillment center across the street in April, which Amazon is challenging, the company cranked its heavy-handed anti-union campaign into even higher gear, according to workers.

“We’re glad that our team at LDJ5 were able to have their voices heard,” said Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel in an emailed statement. “We look forward to continuing to work directly together as we strive to make every day better for our employees.”

Organizers say all the anti-union consultants from JFK8 walked across the street to LDJ5, where the workforce numbers 1,600, or less than one-fifth that of JFK8. Amazon used common tactics like mandatory anti-union or “captive audience” meetings, one-on-one conversations, social media ads, mailers, signage, texts, and in-app messaging through the company’s internal A to Z app. Alongside these measures, the union says the company prevented workers from hanging a pro-union banner in the break room, which they had permitted at JFK8. 

The company also hired at least one anti-union consultant as Amazon staff, says Seth Goldstein, a lawyer representing the ALU. This allowed them to blend in as they canvassed the floors, says one LDJ5 worker who prefers to use the pseudonym Maria out of fear of retaliation. “It’s kind of like The Art of War by Sun Tzu,” she says. “One of his methods is to infiltrate, pretend like you’re part of the group, and then divide and conquer. They’re doing that.” Labor consultants are required to file paperwork with the Department of Labor outlining their fees, although they are often filed after elections, too late for voters to learn the details of their employers’ arrangements with these firms. Last year, Amazon spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants, according to federal filings.

Amazon gave anti-union consultants free reign of the warehouse during shifts, but cracked down on workers who promoted the union while working. Goldstein says that one worker was written up because supervisors heard her discussing the union during work hours. This relegated campaigning to before and after shifts, lunchtime, and one 15-minute break period. “We’re tired, but we just keep at it. We’re dedicated,” Maria said last week during the election. “We’re basically running on coffee, fumes, and morale right now.”

Washington State Passed a Contentious New Gig Worker Law

Washington State Passed a Contentious New Gig Worker Law

James Childers says he really likes his job driving for Uber and Lyft in Spokane, a city in Washington State. But since he started working for ride-hailing companies in 2017, he’s seen drivers’ shares of each fare slip. Once, three-quarters of each trip went right into his pocket, he says, and now the companies use formulas that can see drivers earn just $9 per hour before sometimes spotty tips, below the state’s minimum wage.

But Childers only became involved with Drivers Union—an advocacy group affiliated with the local Teamsters labor union—after an intransigent passenger’s accusation of racism got him temporarily kicked off the Uber app. (The company relented when he showed the company a dashcam recording of the incident, he says.) “Uber and Lyft do not care,” he says. “They have other drivers waiting in the wings.” The company declined to comment on the specific incident.

Now Childers is hoping that a new state law governing ride-hailing drivers, signed by Washington governor Jay Inslee on Thursday, will give drivers more recourse against the companies, and pay that at least equals what it was five years ago. The bill, which was the result of negotiations between Uber, Lyft, and the local affiliate of the Teamsters, maintains the independent contractor status of drivers in the state—and protects ride-hailing companies’ core business model.

Drivers statewide will receive new rights. They will accrue sick pay and receive minimum pay guarantees based on the time and distance they spend on each trip, though the guarantees will only apply to the time they are carrying or picking up passengers. Drivers generally report they spend 40 to 60 percent of their time without people in their cars. They can also choose to use a new 15 cent passenger fee to fund a drivers’ resource center, which could provide recourse to those who are kicked off the companies’ apps. But drivers will not get the full set of traditional benefits that come with being staff members, including health care. And ride-hailing companies will still not pay into unemployment insurance programs, a factor that frustrated many drivers during the pandemic, when rides suddenly dried up.

In a statement, Ramona Prieto, Uber’s head of policy in the western US, said the bill allowed drivers “to stay independent while gaining historic new benefits and protections.” Lyft’s head of government relations, Jen Hensley, said the law gives drivers the “flexibility, independence, benefits, and protections they want and deserve.”

At the eleventh hour on Thursday, the National Teamsters labor union’s newly appointed president, Sean O’Brien, publicly called for the state’s governor to veto the bill, saying that it would usher in standards that could erode existing workers’ rights in other sectors.

The Teamsters’ local chapter, which helped draft the bill, disagrees. “Uber and Lyft drivers—like all workers—deserve a labor movement that will respect their right to self-determination to set their own priorities, stand in solidarity with them in their struggles, and never give up the fight for fairness and justice,” union secretary-treasurer John Scearcy said in a statement.