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How Misinformation ‘Superspreaders’ Seed False Election Theories

On the morning of Nov. 5, Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons, asked his Facebook followers to report cases of voter fraud with the hashtag, Stop the Steal. His post was shared over 5,000 times.

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By late afternoon, the conservative media personalities Diamond and Silk had shared the hashtag along with a video claiming voter fraud in Pennsylvania. Their post was shared over 3,800 times.

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That night, the conservative activist Brandon Straka asked people to protest in Michigan under the banner #StoptheSteal. His post was shared more than 3,700 times.

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Over the next week, the phrase “Stop the Steal” was used to promote dozens of rallies that spread false voter fraud claims about the U.S. presidential elections.

New research from Avaaz, a global human rights group, the Elections Integrity Partnership and The New York Times shows how a small group of people — mostly right-wing personalities with outsized influence on social media — helped spread the false voter-fraud narrative that led to those rallies.

That group, like the guests of a large wedding held during the pandemic, were “superspreaders” of misinformation around voter fraud, seeding falsehoods that include the claims that dead people voted, voting machines had technical glitches, and mail-in ballots were not correctly counted.

“Because of how Facebook’s algorithm functions, these superspreaders are capable of priming a discourse,” said Fadi Quran, a director at Avaaz. “There is often this assumption that misinformation or rumors just catch on. These superspreaders show that there is an intentional effort to redefine the public narrative.”

Across Facebook, there were roughly 3.5 million interactions — including likes, comments and shares — on public posts referencing “Stop the Steal” during the week of Nov. 3, according to the research. Of those, the profiles of Eric Trump, Diamond and Silk and Mr. Straka accounted for a disproportionate share — roughly 6 percent, or 200,000, of those interactions.

While the group’s impact was notable, it did not come close to the spread of misinformation promoted by President Trump since then. Of the 20 most-engaged Facebook posts over the last week containing the word “election,” all were from Mr. Trump, according to Crowdtangle, a Facebook-owned analytics tool. All of those claims were found to be false or misleading by independent fact checkers.

The baseless election fraud claims have been used by the president and his supporters to challenge the vote in a number of states. Reports that malfunctioning voting machines, intentionally miscounted mail-in votes and other irregularities affecting the vote were investigated by election officials and journalists who found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

The voter fraud claims have continued to gather steam in recent weeks, thanks in large part to prominent accounts. A look at a four-week period starting in mid-October shows that President Trump and the top 25 superspreaders of voter fraud misinformation accounted for 28.6 percent of the interactions people had with that content, according to an analysis by Avaaz.

“What we see these people doing is kind of like setting a fire down with fuel, it is designed to quickly create a blaze,” Mr. Quran said. “These actors have built enough power they ensure this misinformation reaches millions of Americans.”

In order to find the superspreaders, Avaaz compiled a list of 95,546 Facebook posts that included narratives about voter fraud. Those posts were liked, shared or commented on nearly 60 million times by people on Facebook.

Avaaz found that just 33 of the 95,546 posts were responsible for over 13 million of those interactions. Those 33 posts had created a narrative that would go on to shape what millions of people thought about the legitimacy of the U.S. elections.

A spokesman for Facebook said the company had added labels to posts that misrepresented the election process and was directing people to a voting information center.

“We’re taking every opportunity to connect people to reliable information about the election and how votes are being counted,” said Kevin McAlister, a Facebook spokesman. The company has not commented on why accounts that repeatedly share misinformation, such as Mr. Straka’s and Diamond and Silk’s, have not been penalized. Facebook has previously said that President Trump, along with other elected officials, is granted a special status and is not fact-checked.

Many of the superspreader accounts had millions of interactions on their Facebook posts over the last month, and have enjoyed continued growth. The accounts were active on Twitter as well as Facebook, and increasingly spread the same misinformation on new social media sites like Parler, MeWe and Gab.

Dan Bongino, a right-wing commentator with a following of nearly four million people on Facebook, had over 7.7 million interactions on Facebook the week of Nov. 3. Mark Levin, a right-wing radio host, had nearly four million interactions, and Diamond and Silk had 2.5 million. A review of their pages by The Times shows that a majority of their posts have focused on the recent elections, and voter fraud narratives around them.

None of the superspreaders identified in this article responded to requests for comment.

One of the most prominent false claims promoted by the superspreaders was that Dominion voting software deleted votes for Mr. Trump, or somehow changed vote tallies in several swing states. Election officials have found no evidence that the machines malfunctioned, but posts about the machines have been widely shared by Mr. Trump and his supporters.

Over the last week, just seven posts from the top 25 superspreaders of the Dominion voter fraud claim accounted for 13 percent of the total interactions on Facebook about the claim.

Many of those same accounts were also top superspreaders of the Dominion claim, and other voter fraud theories, on Twitter. The accounts of President Trump, his son Eric, Mr. Straka and Mr. Levin were all among the top 20 accounts that spread misinformation about voter fraud on Twitter, according to Ian Kennedy, a researcher at the University of Washington who works with the Elections Integrity Partnership.

Mr. Trump had by far the largest influence on Twitter. A single tweet by the president accusing Dominion voting systems of deleting 2.7 million votes in his favor was shared over 185,000 times, and liked over 600,000 times.

Like the other false claims about voter fraud, Mr. Trump’s tweet included a label by Twitter that he was sharing information that was not accurate.

Twitter, like Facebook, has said that those labels help prevent false claims from being shared and direct people toward more authoritative sources of information.

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed News reported that Facebook employees questioned whether the labels were effective. Within the company, employees have sought out their own data on how well national newspapers performed during the elections, according to one Facebook employee.

On the #StoptheSteal hashtag, they found that both The New York Times and The Washington Post were among the top 25 pages with interactions on that hashtag — mainly from readers sharing articles and using the hashtag in those posts.

Combined, the two publications had approximately 44,000 interactions on Facebook under that hashtag. By comparison, Mr. Straka, the conservative activist who shared the call to action on voter fraud, got three times that number of interactions sharing material under the same hashtag on his own Facebook account.

Jacob Silver contributed reporting.

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AstraZeneca and Oxford Say Vaccine Is Up to 90 Percent Effective

The drug maker AstraZeneca announced on Monday that an early analysis of its late-stage clinical trials in Britain and Brazil showed that its coronavirus vaccine was 90 percent effective when given in one dosing regimen, but only 62 percent effective in a different regimen — encouraging, if complicated, results for a vaccine expected to be relied upon heavily across the globe to help curb a pandemic that has killed more than 1.3 million people.

On average, the vaccine was 70 percent effective across the two dosing plans. The company said its vaccine could be stored for at least six months in a standard refrigerator, rather than under the intense chill required by other leading coronavirus vaccines, easing the distribution of a vaccine that is also cheaper and easier to produce than some of its competitors.

In the dosing plan that worked better, study participants were given a half-dose of the vaccine and then, a month later, a full dose. The vaccine was less effective when they were given a standard full dose upfront, followed a month later by another full dose. If the apparently more effective regimen is the one ultimately authorized by regulators across the globe, it could allow more people to be vaccinated at a time when vaccines will be in short supply.

The British-Swedish company, which has been developing the vaccine with the University of Oxford, became the third major vaccine developer this month to announce encouraging early results, following Pfizer and Moderna, which both said that their vaccines were about 95 percent effective in late-stage studies.

AstraZeneca’s results could significantly strengthen the global effort to produce enough vaccine to create population immunity: The price of the shot, at $3 to $4, is a fraction of that of some other potential vaccines, and AstraZeneca has pledged to make it available at cost around the world until at least July 2021 and in poorer countries in perpetuity. The vaccine can also be manufactured in mass quantities relatively easily; AstraZeneca said it expected to begin supplying the vaccine by the end of this year, and to make up to 3 billion doses next year.

The scientists said that they had not identified any “serious safety events related to the vaccine,” a reassuring sign. The vaccine had come under global scrutiny after AstraZeneca temporarily paused its trials in September to investigate potential safety issues after a participant in Britain developed a neurological illness.

Shares rose on European markets after the announcement, and Wall Street futures turned upward. But AstraZeneca’s shares slipped 1.5 percent.

Oxford and AstraZeneca said they would submit the data to regulators in Britain, Europe and Brazil and seek emergency authorization to start distributing the vaccine there, and begin discussions about its data with regulators in the United States.

The company said its early analysis was based on 131 coronavirus cases that turned up among participants at least two weeks after they had received their second shot. In the trial in Britain, researchers counted infections by swabbing participants weekly. That detection method was likely to have turned up more infections than the trials run by Moderna and Pfizer, which tested people who developed symptoms and may have failed to find any asymptomatic cases. The different approaches to counting infections could make it harder to compare how well the different vaccines work.

Oxford and AstraZeneca also said that none of the vaccinated people who developed the disease required hospitalization, and that scientists had seen a reduction in asymptomatic infections, suggesting that the vaccine could reduce transmission.

The Oxford scientists said they were still trying to understand why the vaccine was more effective at a smaller first dose. The first dose is supposed to prime the immune system, while the second is supposed to boost its response. While it seemed counterintuitive for a smaller first dose to be more effective, they said that strategy may more closely mimic what happens with a real infection.

The half-dose regimen is not currently being tested as part of AstraZeneca’s late-stage trial in the United States, but the company said it would work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to add it as quickly as possible. It said it would share its data with the F.D.A. this week and begin discussions about whether it would formally submit the findings for review and authorization. British regulators already have been conducting a so-called rolling review of the vaccine.

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Credit…Vincenzo Pinto/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Today marks an important milestone in our fight against the pandemic,” AstraZeneca’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, said. “This vaccine’s efficacy and safety confirm that it will be highly effective against Covid-19 and will have an immediate impact on this public health emergency.”

Prof. Andrew Pollard, the chief investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial, said that “these findings show that we have an effective vaccine that will save many lives.”

Pam Cheng, an executive vice president at AstraZeneca, said on Monday that if the company receives regulatory approval, it plans to have 4 million doses available in Britain by the end of the year. Globally, by the end of the first quarter of 2021, the company said it would have at least 300 million doses of finished vaccine ready to distribute.

Even without delays, however, the vaccine is still a long way from being widely available. Regulators must assess the study data and decide whether to authorize the vaccine. AstraZeneca must ramp up production and work with government officials to roll out doses. And in the first weeks and months after the vaccine is authorized, it is expected to be available only to the highest-priority groups, likely health workers first, followed by other vulnerable groups.

Ms. Cheng said the regimen involving a half-dose would not significantly complicate the supply chain.

The F.D.A. has said that it expects a Covid-19 vaccine to prevent disease or decrease its severity in at least half of people who are vaccinated. That is similar to the effectiveness of seasonal flu vaccines most years. More interim findings from other leading vaccine makers, including Johnson & Johnson, are expected soon.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine is expected to come with relatively simple storage requirements, which would be an asset once it gets rolled out. Moderna’s vaccine can be kept for up to a month at the temperature of an ordinary refrigerator. Pfizer’s can be kept for up to five days in conventional refrigerators, or in special coolers for up to 15 days, but otherwise needs ultracold storage.

“Our goal is to make sure we can have a vaccine that was accessible everywhere,” Professor Pollard said. “I think we’ve managed to do that.”

The data released on Monday came from AstraZeneca’s Phase 2/3 clinical trial in Britain and its Phase 3 clinical trial in Brazil. The participants were randomly assigned to receive either the coronavirus vaccine or a meningitis vaccine as a control, followed by a booster shot about a month later.

As of early November, AstraZeneca had a total of 23,000 participants in mid- to late-stage trials in Britain, Brazil, South Africa and the United States. Results from its study in the United States are not expected to be available until next year. That trial, which aims to enroll 30,000 participants, was slowed by the safety pause that lasted over a month.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine is designed to genetically alter an adenovirus found in chimps so that it harmlessly mimics the coronavirus and provokes an immune response. A vaccine deploying that technology has never won approval. But the approach has been studied before, notably in a small 2018 study of an experimental vaccine against the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS. That virus is related to SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

So when Covid-19 emerged, the team of scientists at Oxford’s Jenner Institute that had been leading the work on similar coronaviruses had a head start. Once the genetic code of SARS-CoV-2 was published in early January, the Oxford team sped to adapt their platform to the new coronavirus and begin animal testing.

They also needed a development and manufacturing partner and found one in April in AstraZeneca. Safety testing in Britain began that same month.

In May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services pledged up to $1.2 billion to help fund AstraZeneca’s development and manufacturing of the vaccine and secure at least 300 million doses if it proved to work. Alex M. Azar II, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, called the deal “a major milestone” in the work of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government’s program to fast-track Covid-19 vaccines.

AstraZeneca has struck deals to supply doses of its vaccine, once authorized, to other wealthy nations, including Britain and other nations in Europe, as well as to lower- and middle- income countries.

AstraZeneca has pledged not to profit from the vaccine during the pandemic, but it has suggested in one of its contracts that it may move to declare the pandemic over by as early as July 2021, The Financial Times reported.

Jenny Gross contributed reporting.

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Ad Council’s Challenge: Persuade Skeptics to Believe in Covid Vaccines

With coronavirus cases on the rise and communities returning to lockdown across the country, a marketing push is underway to persuade skeptical Americans to immunize themselves once vaccines are ready.

The federal government, which has sent mixed messages about a pandemic that has caused more than 250,000 deaths nationwide, is not leading the charge. Instead, the private sector is backing a planned $50 million campaign to persuade people to protect themselves at a time when polls have suggested that more than 40 percent of adult Americans are not confident in a potential vaccine.

The Ad Council, a nonprofit advertising group, led a similar effort in the 1950s, when it urged Americans to get vaccinated against polio. Its Covid-19 vaccination push will be one of the largest public education crusades in history, the group said. On Monday, the Ad Council will announce the new campaign and start testing messaging. It will start rolling out public service announcements across airwaves, publications and social media next year, when vaccines are expected to be approved and made available to the public.

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Credit…Ad Council

The White House has collaborated with the Ad Council on previous public health efforts, but it is not currently involved in this one.

“Frankly, this is the biggest public health crisis we’ve ever faced, and we don’t have time to waste,” said Lisa Sherman, the group’s chief executive. “We’re working in advance, so that once those vaccines are proven to be safe and approved by all the right people, we’re ready to go.”

While the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna have announced promising updates on the vaccines they are developing, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has blamed President Trump for causing anxiety about the safety of potential immunization efforts. Anti-vaccine sentiment has been growing for decades, driven in part by a backlash against pharmaceutical companies.

Fifty-eight percent of American adults said they were willing to take a coronavirus vaccine, according to a Gallup poll conducted between Oct. 19 and Nov. 1. Another poll, conducted last month by Ipsos and the World Economic Forum, found that 85 percent of Chinese adults, 79 percent of British adults and 76 percent of Canadian adults planned to be vaccinated, compared to 64 percent of Americans.

The Ad Council has joined with a coalition of experts known as the Covid Collaborative, which concluded through its own survey that only one-third of Americans plan to get vaccinated.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study during a measles outbreak last year and concluded that “a relatively high number of individuals are at least somewhat misinformed about vaccines,” often expressing mistaken beliefs about the treatments’ association with autism and toxins. The researchers also found a correlation between belief in vaccine misinformation and low trust in medical authorities, as well as exposure to material about vaccines on social media.

Steve Danehy, a Pfizer spokesman, said in an email that “public education around the need for vaccination, as well as the rigorous process by which the vaccines have been developed, is critical.”

Public messaging campaigns can be instrumental in persuading people to act in a health crisis. Travel advisories kept many pregnant tourists and business travelers away from areas struggling to contain the Zika epidemic in 2016, for instance.

The marketing plan for a coronavirus vaccine must persuade people that the treatment is safe and effective, while also providing practical instructions on where people can get vaccinated and how they can schedule appointments, said Dolores Albarracin, a psychology, business and medicine professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“If you do not introduce information about how to achieve vaccination, simply a favorable attitude will not take people to the vaccination site,” she said. “Without an understanding of the psychological and socio-structural processes leading to vaccination, it’s going to be difficult to get the 47 percent of people who don’t intend to vaccinate to do it.”

Research by the Covid Collaborative suggests that fewer than 20 percent of Black Americans believe that a vaccine will be safe or effective. Many respondents stated that they had little faith in the government’s ability to look after their interests or cited distrust stemming from past ethics violations, such as the infamous Tuskegee study, which tracked Black men infected with syphilis but did not treat them.

“In these highly vulnerable communities that are disproportionately affected by Covid, it’s a big, big trust-building exercise from the ground up,” said John Bridgeland, one of the founders and the chief executive of the Covid Collaborative. “They trust their physicians, their pharmacists, and so we have to go very local in having trusted messengers.”

Mr. Bridgeland said that working to defeat the virus was a “historically big moment” that required moving beyond “our political divisions and the difficulties that have undermined trust in our government.”

“Our job as a country is to increase the uptake of the vaccine so Americans are actually engaged in their own recovery,” he said.

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Air Travel Rises Ahead of Thanksgiving, Despite Warnings: Live Updates

Credit…David Santiago/Miami Herald, via Associated Press

More travelers were screened at airport security checkpoints on Sunday than on any day since the pandemic took hold in March, a worrying sign that people flying to visit their families for Thanksgiving could increase the spread of the coronavirus.

A little more than one million people were screened by the Transportation Security Administration on Sunday, according to federal data published on Monday. That number is about half of what it was in 2019, but it represents a big increase from the spring, when less than a half a million people flew on any given day.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, have been strongly discouraging holiday travel for fear that it would increase the number of new infections, which have surged in recent weeks as the weather turns colder and more people spend time indoors.

Airlines have said that flying is safe because of the precautions the industry has put in place, like high-end air filtration. They also point to the relatively few published cases of the coronavirus being spread during a flight. But the science on in-flight safety is far from settled, and travelers would still be at risk of contracting or spreading the virus at airports and once they are at their destination.

The increase in travel during the holidays has been encouraging for airlines. But it won’t be enough to offset the deep losses they have suffered during the pandemic. The nation’s largest airlines have collectively reported tens of billions of dollars in losses so far this year, and analysts expect demand to remain weak for a couple of years or more. The industry is hoping that the incoming Biden administration and Congress will give airlines more aid early next year.

Credit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images

General Motors said on Monday that it would recall 5.9 million cars and light trucks equipped with airbag inflaters that posed a safety risk, giving in to pressure from federal regulators to do so.

The recall affects several popular G.M. models, including the Chevrolet Silverado and Suburban produced from 2007 to 2014 and equipped with inflaters made by the Japanese supplier Takata. Under certain conditions, the inflaters may explode, showering vehicle occupants with metal shards. The devices have been cited as the cause of more than two dozen deaths and set off recalls of tens of millions of cars and trucks globally.

G.M. had earlier pushed back against a recall request, made by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but said Monday that it would comply.

“Although we believe a recall of these vehicles is not warranted based on the factual and scientific record, NHTSA has directed that we replace the airbag inflaters in the vehicles in question,” the company said in a statement.

The safety agency said in a statement that the inflaters in G.M. cars “are at risk of the same type of explosion after long-term exposure to high heat and humidity as other recalled Takata inflaters.”

In regulatory filings, G.M. has said recall of affected vehicles would cost $1.2 billion. The company has 30 days to submit a plan for carrying out the recall.

Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Black Friday has long been the biggest shopping day of the year, with doorbuster deals inspiring some die-hard shoppers to camp out all night in front of big-box stores.

But as coronavirus cases climb across the country and public health officials beg people to avoid crowds, will stores still try to lure customers inside? And if they do, will customers take the bait and show up?

“This year is going to be a Black Friday unlike any other,” said Kelly O’Keefe, managing partner at the Brand Federation, a consulting firm. “We’re not going to have crowds knocking down Walmart’s door this year. There will be fewer people in stores and there will be much better management of those people.”

Here’s what some of the biggest retailers are doing to keep customers safe on Black Friday this year:

Best Buy said it was selling this year’s new gaming consoles online only, to avoid lines outside stores.

The electronics chain said it would limit the number of customers inside stores to comply with social-distancing guidelines as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Best Buy also said it would consider limiting store hours, reducing occupancy and shifting to curbside-only pickup service “on a case-by-case basis to help local communities contain outbreaks.”

All pickup orders will now happen curbside, and pickup will be available before and after in-store hours.

The stores will require customers and employees to wear face coverings and will supply face coverings to customers who do not have one. Best Buy will provide sanitizer wipes near high-touch displays to give the customers the option of wiping down surfaces before engaging with them.

Walmart put on three separate sales in November, both online and in store.

It is offering customers the option to pick up their online Black Friday orders through Walmart’s contactless curbside pickup service.

On Black Friday itself, Walmart stores will open at 5 a.m., and customers will be asked to form a single, straight line to enter the stores. Employees will hand out sanitized shopping carts and will remind customers to wear a mask when entering the store. Walmart will limit the number of customers in the store to 20 percent capacity and will direct customers to shop down the right-hand side of aisles.

Target has spread its sale offerings throughout all of November, offering promotions of different product categories each week.

To minimize lines, Target has added mobile checkout devices to allow store employees to help shoppers check out anywhere in the store. The company also allows guests to check out by themselves using Target’s mobile app.

Additionally, the company has added thousands of items eligible for same-day pickup.

Target says it will monitor the number of shoppers to ensure people have enough space to shop safely and will allow customers to reserve a spot in line outside their local store.

The home improvement retailer has made Black Friday prices available throughout the holiday season, from Nov. 6 through December, both in store and online, in an effort to reduce crowds. Home Depot said it had reduced the number of items displayed in certain areas in stores to create more space for social distancing.

Credit…Pool photo by Siphiwe Sibeko
  • Stocks edged higher on Monday, bolstered by news that a third drugmaker — AstraZeneca — said its coronavirus vaccine was also showing promise in clinical trials, and a government official in the United States described how vaccines might be distributed to Americans as early as next month.

  • The S&P 500 rose more than half a percent in early trading, while key benchmarks in Europe were slightly higher. The Nikkei 225 in Japan fell 0.4 percent, the Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong rose 0.1 percent, and the Shanghai Composite index climbed 1.1 percent.

  • AstraZeneca said that early analysis of some of its late-stage clinical trials showed the vaccine, developed with the University of Oxford, was on average 70 percent effective. The trials used two different dosing regimens, one of which was 90 percent effective in preventing Covid-19 and the other of which was 62 percent effective.

  • Shares in AstraZeneca were 1.7 percent lower. The trial results suggest the vaccine hasn’t matched the effectiveness of those developed by Pfizer and Moderna. But AstraZeneca’s vaccine has advantages of being much cheaper and easier to store and transport.

  • Though there have been positive developments about vaccines, it will be many months before large swathes of the population receive them. In the meantime, virus cases are still rising rapidly and the economic impact is being felt.

  • Advisers to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. are pushing for Democrats in Congress to reach a quick stimulus deal with Senate Republicans amid fear of a double-dip recession. The S&P 500 fell last week as investors considered the Treasury Department’s plan to end emergency lending programs at the end of the year, while other federal assistance programs created under the CARES Act are set to expire at year’s end.

  • Commodities prices rose, with Brent crude up 1.3 percent to $45.66 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate futures, the United States benchmark, rose about 1. percent to nearly $43 a barrel, the highest since late August.

  • Shares in Cineworld, owner of Regal cinemas, jumped as much as 27 percent as the company reassured investors it would have enough cash to reopen, even if that doesn’t happen until May. The company’s chief executive said in a statement that the firm had secured $750 million in extra liquidity, $450 million in the form of a new three-year debt facility.

Credit…Axel Schmidt/Reuters

Adidas tapped JPMorgan Chase to help it weigh a sale of Reebok that could take place as soon as early next year, sources told the DealBook newsletter.

Rumors have been swirling that the company may sell the brand, which has struggled to keep pace with rivals like Nike. The Financial Times has reported that Permira and Triton are among Reebok’s interested suitors. Adidas did not respond to a request for comment. JPMorgan declined to comment.

Reebok could fetch around $1 billion in a deal, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was confidential. Though that valuation is subject to change, it would be a far cry from the roughly $4 billion that Adidas paid for it in 2005. Reebok’s sales were down 7 percent in the most recent quarter, excluding currency effects, compared with a 3 percent drop for Adidas as a whole.

Buyers may be wary of the pitfalls involved in the 2015 sale of Adidas’s Rockport unit. Three years after Adidas sold the shoe brand to Berkshire Partners, it filed for bankruptcy, blaming its former parent for a sale process that “took meaningfully longer and was significantly more expensive than planned.”

Broadly speaking, the athletic apparel industry is doing well. Consumers are embracing both comfort and fitness during the pandemic, bolstering sales at companies like Nike and Lululemon. But Reebok’s quirky brand has had a hard time recapturing its 1980s heyday, even with the muscle of Adidas behind it. And Reebok’s gear is focused largely on indoor sports, like CrossFit, which will take longer to recover in the pandemic.

Credit…Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

In the stock market, dividend payouts had appeared to be among the prime casualties of the recession caused by the pandemic. There were predictions by Goldman Sachs, among others, that dividends would fall by more than 20 percent, cutting payouts to investors by hundreds of millions of dollars.

It hasn’t turned out that way, writes The New York Times’s Jeff Sommer.

Dividends are down, yes, but with little more than a month to go in 2020, the total decline for dividends in the S&P 500 is likely to be less than 1 percent, according to the estimate of Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst for S&P Dow Jones Indices.

A drop of that size would be inconsequential, given the severity of the stock market downturn earlier in the year and the rate that the economy shrank, 31.4 percent, in the second quarter of the year.

“Considering where we were, this hasn’t been a bad year for dividends,” Mr. Silverblatt. “It has been a great year.”

A total of 42 companies in the S&P 500, heavily concentrated among hotels, airlines and retailers, suspended dividend payments from March through July, according to Mr. Silverblatt’s data. But the business outlook for many companies has since turned around, and their dividend actions reflect it:

  • Darden Restaurants, Estée Lauder and Marathon Oil suspended their dividend payments earlier this year, only to reinstate them recently.

  • Microsoft increased its dividend by 9.8 percent in September, which amounts to a boost of $1.5 billion. Apple in April increased its dividend by $875 million.

  • AbbVie, the drug company, raised its dividends by $847 million in October. And Chevron, the oil company, did so by $756 million in January. It has maintained quarterly dividends since then, despite declining oil prices.

As things stand, Mr. Silverblatt says, it’s reasonable to project that corporate America will prosper and that dividend payments will continue to recover, perhaps even hitting a record next year, exceeding their 2019 peak.

Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

While President Trump is still contesting the election results, corporate America — along with much of the rest of the world — is moving on. In recent days, companies including Boeing, CVS Health and McDonald’s have said they recognized President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and believe the election was free and fair.

On Friday and Saturday, the chorus of chief executives calling for an orderly transition continued to grow, David Gelles reported.

“The election is over and we expect a smooth transition,” said Ajay Banga, the chief executive of Mastercard. “That’s the hallmark of American democracy.”

Many companies were already offering to work with the Biden administration on efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic and kick-start the economy.

“The country needs political stability,” said Michael Dell, the chief executive of Dell Technologies. “We are eager to progress forward and work with the new administration and Congress on pandemic response and recovery and other critical priorities including education, infrastructure and the environment.”

Julie Sweet, the chief executive of Accenture, congratulated Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Nov. 8, the day after most major news media organizations called the election. On Friday, Ms. Sweet called for the Trump administration to cooperate with the transition.

“We have work to do as a country — defeating the pandemic, ending the digital divide, rebuilding the economy and so much more,” she said. “A peaceful, lawful transition must be permitted to move forward.”

Among the companies effectively calling on the Trump administration to concede defeat were many major government contractors, including Cisco.

“We had a free and fair election, and it was encouraging to see the record number of Americans who exercised their right to vote,” said Chuck Robbins, the chief executive of Cisco. “Now we must move forward with the transition process so we can take the steps needed to recover from the pandemic.”

Carlos Gutierrez, the former Commerce secretary, who is now the chairman of EmPath, a private company, and was previously the chief executive of Kellogg, said that beyond disrupting the handoff to the Biden administration, Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede was eroding America’s standing in the world.

“The absence of a normal transition, and a president determined to make some kind of a mark in his last 60 days, has created uncertainty and a worldwide sense of confusion,” Mr. Gutierrez said.

Credit…Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Entertainment, via Associated Press

“Wonder Woman 1984” is coming this Christmas Day. If that isn’t enough big news, this big-budget film will be released in theaters and on the streaming service HBO Max.

Thank, or blame, the coronavirus pandemic.

With many theaters shut because of the virus, and those that are open struggling, many studios have either pushed the release dates of major films into next year or created a hybrid model in which operating theaters can show new releases while they are also made available through streaming or on-demand services.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore,” said Jason Kilar, chief executive of WarnerMedia, in a statement invoking the Hollywood classic film “The Wizard of Oz.”

The new normal, at least temporarily but maybe longer, means a very different movie business, Nicole Sperling reports. In April, Universal Pictures had a successful video-on-demand release for “Trolls World Tour.”

AMC, the largest theater operator in the world, objected and announced it would no longer book any Universal films. But by July, the two companies signed a multiyear deal in which Universal movies would play in AMC theaters for a minimum of 17 days before becoming available in homes through premium video-on-demand. That shortened window could mean that studios will spend less on marketing.

Credit…Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

The pandemic has been devastating for the airline industry, but the economic hurt goes far beyond the carriers and their workers. Most major airlines hire hundreds of companies for a variety of tasks, from cooking the in-flight food to staffing check-in desks to delivering lost luggage. These companies and employees have been knocked down as well.

Information about these companies rarely comes to light. But this summer, when Virgin feared it would run out of cash in the fall, it worked out an intricate $1.6 billion private rescue deal. As part of the plan, Eshe Nelson reported for The New York Times, 162 companies around the world to whom Virgin owed about $69 million agreed to get paid 20 percent less, with the balance paid in installments until September 2022.

Many of these companies have been forced by the collapse in air travel to cut staff or close facilities. Among the many affected:

  • Swissport, a company that provides ground handling services for many airlines. “Around 95 percent of our revenue disappeared in two weeks,” said Luzius Wirth, the executive vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The company had to stop spending quickly and furloughed as many staff members as possible, he said.

  • Eagle Couriers, a company in Scotland that returns lost luggage to passengers. Eagle is essentially paid for every bag it handles, and eventually laid off half of its baggage handling team. “There’s no way we are getting back to previous volumes,” said Richard Beaton, the company’s commercial director. “If ever.”

  • Safran Seats GB, a company based in Wales that designs and makes business and first-class seats for Virgin and other carriers. Airlines struggling for cash are putting off plans for new seats, said the chief executive, Victoria Foy. By the end of the year, she expects the company to have about 900 employees, 700 fewer than at the start of 2020.

These companies didn’t attribute their financial problems to Virgin Atlantic but rather the cumulative pain of the dramatic drop in air travel.

For Tracey Moore, a former Swissport employee, it meant giving up a job she had longed for, working at Virgin’s check-in desk at Manchester Airport. After being furloughed for months, and fearing a pay cut or losing her job, she took a buyout. “I don’t think I had a real choice,” she said, adding, “I loved being in the uniform.”

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A Muslim-Hindu Kiss Puts Netflix India in the Crosshairs

NEW DELHI — On television, Lata and Kabir are clandestine lovers thwarted by faith and history. She is Hindu and he a Muslim in India in the early 1950s, in the wake of bloody sectarian clashes that echo through the country to this day. At one point, in a secluded spot with a Hindu temple as the backdrop, the two young college students share a furtive but passionate kiss.

In the real world, that onscreen kiss has embroiled Netflix, the American streaming service, in the increasingly bitter and religiously charged world of Indian politics.

Members of the Hindu nationalist party that controls India’s central government have asked the authorities to investigate Netflix, calling the scene in the television series “A Suitable Boy” offensive to their beliefs. They have also called on Indians to boycott the streaming service.

Netflix is not likely to face serious legal trouble, experts say. But the campaign puts pressure on the streaming service at a time when the government is increasing censorship of what Indians watch online.

The campaign also comes as members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are pressing anti-Muslim initiatives, including one in the state of Madhya Pradesh that would increase penalties against anyone found guilty of using marriage to force someone to change religion. The party has won over a wide swath of Hindu voters with its nationalist pitch, but it has also divided the country and presided over an increase in religious tensions and sometimes violence, particularly against Muslims.

The campaign “could perversely incite Netflix and other content producers to think twice before commissioning work that depicts interfaith relations in a positive light in the future,” said Gilles Verniers, a professor of political science at Ashoka University.

Thomas Cherian, a spokesman for Netflix, said the company had no comment on the police complaint. Netflix, which launched in India only in 2016, has a small but growing audience in the country.

“A Suitable Boy” is based on a 1993 novel by Vikram Seth and revolves around a young Hindu woman struggling with her mother’s edict that she must soon be wed. The six-part series, originally produced by the BBC, takes place in the years after the partition of India, when millions of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs scrambled to get on the correct side of the border after what is now Pakistan was carved out of the country to be a mostly Muslim nation. An untold number of people perished in the resulting violence.

The series was directed by Mira Nair, who was born in India and has had a long career as a filmmaker in India and Hollywood, directing movies including “Monsoon Wedding,” “Mississippi Masala” and “Vanity Fair.”

Narottam Mishra, a member of the B.J.P. and home minister in Madhya Pradesh state, said on Monday that a party youth leader had filed the complaint about “A Suitable Boy” because of scenes that depict the protagonists kissing at a Hindu temple.

“To me there is nothing suitable in that. In our temple, if you are filming a kissing scene, Rama music is on in the background, I do not consider it good,” Mr. Mishra said at a news conference on Monday, referring to Hindu devotional music. “For that there are other places.”

Rakesh Kumar Singh, the police chief in the district where the complaint was filed, said an investigation was underway.

The complaint named Monika Shergill, vice president for content for Netflix India, and Ambika Khurana, the company’s director of public policy in India.

If convicted, Ms. Shergill and Ms. Khurana would face a jail term of up to three years, a fine, or both.

In India, intentionally hurting religious sentiments is a criminal offense, and this isn’t the first time Bollywood actors, comedians or others in the entertainment industry have been charged.

But courts, including India’s Supreme Court, have generally taken a narrow view of the law, saying that content deemed offensive by some isn’t necessarily intentionally malicious, and that invoking the section on religious sentiment too liberally threatens freedom of speech.

In this case, legal experts said it was unlikely that a police investigation would advance very far.

However, the possibility of a chilling effect on Netflix is real, as rhetoric against interreligious romance in India heats up and as the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes greater control over digital content.

Image
Credit…Indranil Mukherjee/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Gaurav Tiwari, the B.J.P. youth leader who filed the complaint, had issued a call to action on Twitter even before that, urging his followers to delete Netflix from their phones. He also accused the video-streaming service of promoting “love jihad,” a term used by Hindu nationalists who accuse minority Muslims of luring Hindu women to marry them and forcing them to convert to Islam to change India’s demographic balance.

The complaint was filed in Madhya Pradesh, the state where lawmakers are planning to consider a bill early next year that would make forced religious conversion by marriage a nonbailable offense subject to a five-year sentence. Mr. Mishra has said the bill is meant to check the rising incidence of forced conversions in the state.

State legislatures in Uttar Pradesh, whose top official is a Hindu monk, and two other B.J.P.-controlled states are likely to take up similar bills. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a Hindu nationalist organization affiliated with the B.J.P., is lobbying state governments across India for laws regulating interfaith marriages.

Conservative norms in India ensure that interreligious unions remain relatively rare, though past Indian governments have encouraged secular views on the matter. India’s Special Marriage Act, passed in 1954, was intended to bolster the secular ideals in the country’s Constitution by overturning a British colonial-era law that required the bride or groom to renounce his or her faith.

Amid the rising tide of Hindu nationalism, interfaith relationships have come under sharp criticism from anti-Muslim forces.

Last month, a unit of India’s Tata conglomerate withdrew a jewelry advertisement featuring a Hindu-Muslim family celebrating a baby shower, following threats to one of its stores and wide criticism on social media.

Beyond issues of religion, Netflix and other streaming services were already getting increased scrutiny from the Indian government.

Earlier this month, the Indian government announced rules to regulate content on video streaming platforms, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney’s Hotstar. The Indian government already plays a similar role in movies and broadcast television, but many users of streaming services enjoy the scant restrictions on programming they watch online.

Free speech advocates worry that Indian viewers could be subjected to the censorship of language, sex, violence and even cigarette smoking they already experience in Bollywood and Hollywood films shown in Indian movie theaters.

Bollywood and show business have sometimes made for easy targets for India’s politicians and activists. But they also can serve as a handy rallying center for whipping up public sentiment. While “A Suitable Boy” isn’t likely to get pulled from India’s smartphones and computer screens, it could remain a political talking point for some time.

The Netflix series “constitutes for these conservative organizations both a threat as well as an opportunity to mobilize their base around a symbolic target, and spread false notions that vilify Muslims at large,” said Mr. Verniers, of Ashoka University.

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

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Watch live as SpaceX tests the limits of Falcon 9 reusability with sixteenth Starlink satellite launch

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SpaceX is set to launch its sixteenth Starlink mission on Monday at 9:34 PM EST (6:34 PM PST). This launch will carry 60 of the company’s broadband internet satellites to low-Earth orbit, where they’ll join the existing constellation and contribute to its growing network of eventually global coverage. The launch is also significant because it will potentially set a new record for Falcon 9 rocket reusability – this marks the seventh flight for the first stage booster flying tonight.

The booster SpaceX is using for this mission previously flew in August, June and January of this year, as well as May 2019, January 2019 and also September 2018. And that’s no the only way that this is SpaceX’s most reusable flights ever – the fairing covering the payload of satellites on top of the rocket includes one half that flew on one mission previously, and another half that supported not one, but two prior missions before being recovered and refurbished.

Of course, it’ll also be furthering SpaceX’s mission with Starlink, which is ultimately to provide fast, low-latency and relatively low-cost broadband internet access to hard-to-reach areas around the world. SpaceX has launched nearly 900 satellites for Starlink to date, and began operating its ‘Better Than Nothing’ early beta in parts of Canada last week, in addition to the areas in the U.S. where it’s offering this early access service.

The launch livestream will begin above at around 15 minutes prior to liftoff, or at around 9:19 PM EST (6:19 PM PST).

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Investors Lockheed Martin Ventures and SpaceFund are coming to TC Sessions: Space 2020

The space industry, once dominated by government-funded programs and a small handful of corporations, has seen a surge in startups in recent years. And with startups aplenty, the venture firms can never be far behind.

Venture capital has played an increasingly important role in rooting out the best and most promising of these startups. The stakes are even higher for the venture arms of corporations. Corporate venture firms are on the constant hunt for the technology that will keep their companies relevant for decades to come.

That’s why we’re excited to announce that Chris Moran, executive director and general manager at Lockheed Martin Ventures, and Meagan Crawford, managing partner at SpaceFund, will join us at our TC Sessions: Space event on December 16 & 17.

Moran leads Lockheed Martin Ventures efforts to invest in small technology businesses that support the company’s larger strategic business objectives. Prior to joining Lockheed Martin, Moran served in a variety of positions at Applied Materials Inc., most recently as the head of the business systems and analytics group.

More from the TC Sessions: Space agenda

Crawford isn’t just managing partner at SpaceFund . She’s an experienced space startup executive and founder. As the host of the Mission Eve podcast, she aims to increase the number of women in the space industry and is frequently featured as a thought leader on the industry’s development and investment potential. Crawford also chairs the board of the non-profit Center for Space Commerce and Finance.

She has more than a decade of experience helping educate entrepreneurs and investors through the NewSpace Business Plan Competition, which she started running in 2009. As a manager, coach and judge for the last decade, she has read over 1,000 space business executive summaries, coached hundreds of selected teams, and helped award cash prizes to dozens of NewSpace startups.

Crawford and Moran are tapped in and ready to share with the TechCrunch audience their insights and forecasts for our collective space future. We’ll dig into what their respective companies are paying attention to, the challenges and opportunities of COVID-19 and if a changing administration will change their investment strategy.

Starting today, we’re offering a BOGO deal. Buy one Late Registration ticket for $175 and get one free. You and a colleague pay just $87.50 each — that’s less than the early bird price. Booyah! We’re here all week folks…and this deal ends on Sunday, November 29, at 11:59 p.m. PST.

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Uber refused permission to dismiss 11 staff at its EMEA HQ

Uber has been refused permission to dismiss 11 people at its EMEA headquarters in Amsterdam by the Dutch Employee Insurance Agency (UWV), the ride hailing company has confirmed.

The affected individuals did not take up an earlier severance offer as part of wider Uber layoffs earlier this year.

Uber announced major global layoffs of around 15% of its workforce in May — which included around 200 staff based in Amsterdam — blaming the cuts on changes to demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Late last week, Dutch newspaper NRC reported that Uber had been refused permission to fire the staff as the UWV had found there were no grounds for dismissal.

Per its report, affected Uber employees had faced pressure to accept Uber’s severance offer — saying they were disconnected from its internal systems the day after being informed of termination via Zoom video call and were then sent daily reminders to accept dismissal with Uber telling them ‘their position was ceasing to exist’.

Dutch law requires employers to obtain approval from the UWV for planned redundancies. But the majority of the affected staff in this instance accepted its severance offer before the agency had made a decision. Local press reports suggest many of those affected were expats — who may have been unaware of their labor rights under Dutch law.

We reached out to Uber with questions — and a company spokesperson sent us this statement:

Earlier this year we made the difficult decision to reduce our global headcount due to the dramatic impact of the pandemic, and the unpredictable nature of any eventual recovery. The headcount reductions in our EMEA Headquarters in Amsterdam are part of those efforts.

Uber also told us it does not agree with the UWV’s decision to refuse permission for it to dismiss the 11 employees who had not accepted severance, adding that it will review the decision before determining how to proceed.

It said the severance packages offered to the ~200 affected employees included at least 2.5 months of salary, health benefits to the end of the year, outplacement/recruitment support and additional support for Uber-sponsored visa holders.

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Relativity Space raises $500 million as its sets sights on the industrialization of Mars

3D-printed rocket startup Relativity Space has closed $500 million in Series D funding (making official the earlier reported raise), the company announced today. This funding was led by Tiger Global Management, and included participation by a host of new investors including Fidelity Management & Research Company, Baillie Gifford, Iconiq Capital, General Catalist and more. This brings the company’s total raised so far to nearly $700 million, as the startup is poised to launch its first ever fully 3D-printed orbital rocket next year.

LA-based Relativity had a big 2020, completing work on a new 120,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Long Beach. Its rocket construction technology, which is grounded in its development and use of the largest metal 3D printers in existence, suffered relatively few setbacks due to COVID-19-related shutdowns and work stoppages since it involves relatively few actual people on the factory floor managing the 3D printing process, which is handled in large part by autonomous robotic systems and software developed by the company.

Relativity also locked in a first official contract from the U.S. government this year, to launch a new experimental cryogenic fluid management system on behalf of client Lockheed Martin, as part of NASA’s suite of Tipping Point contracts to fund the development of new technologies for space exploration. It also put into service its third-generation Stargate 3D metal printers – the largest on Earth, as mentioned.

The company’s ambitions are big, so this new large funding round should provide it with fuel to grow even more aggressively in 2021. It’s got new planned initiatives underway, both terrestrial and space-related, but CEO and founder Tim Ellis specifically referred to Mars and sustainable operations on the red planet as one possible application of Relativity’s tech down the road.

In prior conversations, Ellis has alluded to the potential for Relativity’s printers when applied to other large-scale metal manufacturing – noting that the cost curve as it stands makes most sense for rocketry, but could apply to other industries easily as the technology matures. Whether on Mars or on Earth, large-scale 3D printing definitely has a promising future, and it looks like Relativity is well-positioned to take advantage.

We’ll be talking to Ellis at our forthcoming TC Sessions: Space event, so we’ll ask him more about this round and his company’s aspirations live there, too.

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The EPA says the Ford Mustang Mach-E’s electric range is a lackluster 211-300 miles

The EPA just released its findings on the Mustang Mach-E, and it’s a mixture of good news and bad news. Depending on the model, the EPA says the Mach-E is good for just 211 miles to 300 miles on a charge. On the one hand, the Mach-E matched Ford’s range target, with the EPA agreeing with Ford’s range. On the other hand, the range is well under that found in competing vehicles, which puts the Mach-E on its backfoot as it enters the competitive electric vehicle market. Ford dropped the price of the Mach-E in September.

The Mach-E will come in two powertrain variants: standard-range and extended-range, with both options available in a dual-motor, AWD setup. The extended-range option nets buyers an additional 60-70 miles of range, with this option delivering 270 miles for the AWD version and 300 for the RWD version. The standard range Mach-E comes in at 211 miles for AWD and 230 miles for RWD.

Those figures are nearly identical to what Ford targeted with the Mach-E, signaling the automaker’s improving engineering quality.

With a max range of 400 miles on a two-wheel-drive model, the Mach-E range falls well short of the Tesla Model 3 or Polestar 2, available in 400 mile-range variants for similar prices as the Mustang Mach-E.

The Mustang Mach-E is Ford’s first major electric vehicle. Customers will start taking delivery of pre-orders this December. The vehicle is launching in a space that’s increasingly becoming more competitive. Along with Tesla, the Mustang Mach-E must sell against the fantastic Polestar 2, Audi’s growing line of electric vehicles, and Kia/Hyundai’s affordable electric crossovers. Some have longer range, and others are less expensive than Ford’s first EV.

The Mustang Mach-E is just the start of Ford’s electric offering, and the automaker likely understood the range would fall short of the market leaders. The goal is seemingly to kick off Ford’s EV stable with an exciting, affordable vehicle, and the Mach-E seems to fit that role despite the short range.

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