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Airbnb cancels all bookings for DC during Inauguration week

“Today, in response to various local, state and federal officials asking people not to travel to Washington, D.C., we are announcing that Airbnb will cancel reservations in the Washington, D.C. metro area during the Inauguration week,” the company said in a statement. “Additionally, we will prevent any new reservations in the Washington, D.C. area from being booked during that time by blocking such reservations.”
Guests whose reservations had been canceled are receiving a full refund, and the company said it would reimburse hosts for the money they would have earned from the canceled reservations. The company said …

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Amazon is removing products promoting the QAnon conspiracy

Amazon has begun the process of removing QAnon-related products from its platform.
A spokesperson for the company said that the process may take a few days. Any sellers that attempt to evade the company’s systems and list products will be subject to action, including a blanket selling ban across Amazon stores.
News of the ban was first reported by The New York Times.
The company is shutting down the nation’s newest favorite conspiracy theory by removing products sold by QAnon adherents from its platform after supporters were prominently on display at the riot in the nation’s Capitol …

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Snoop Dogg’s Casa Verde Capital closes on $100 million as the cannabis industry bounces back

Casa Verde Capital, the investment fund co-founded by cannabis connoisseur Snoop Dogg (also known as Calvin Broadus), has closed on $100 million for its second investment fund, according to documents filed with the SEC.
The fund, whose managing director, Karan Wadhera declined to comment for this article, has managed to raise more cash just as the market for cannabis-related products seems poised for another period of expansion.
“What happened to the public perception of the cannabis industry is not too dissimilar to the dotcom bubble of the late ’90s, where there was a lot of hype — a lot of it driven …

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Dear Sophie: How will this election nail-biter affect immigration?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

The last 24 hours have been a nail-biter; I feel powerless and I’m angry that we’ve come to this. I’m worried things won’t improve and I’m confused about where we even stand.

Sometimes I just feel so very, very tired of the struggle. I am just so ready to let go. I want to live in a world where we can create harmony, peace and opportunity for all. Can I still find that in the United States?

— Wanting in Walnut Creek

Dear Wanting,

I hear you.

The good news is that there is great potential, even as the world watches the U.S. presidential election results. If anything, what the last four years have taught me is that two clichés are really true: necessity is the mother of invention, and, where there is a will, there is a way. I can relate to many folks around the world because I know what it’s like to have the world of Silicon Valley feel so close, yet so far away, at a time when I felt powerless to make a difference.

Looking back over the past four years, amazing things have been possible for our clients and my team at Alcorn Immigration Law. I founded the firm out of my kitchen just years ago when my kids were toddlers. I would look out my kitchen window hand-washing tiny baby dishes. I can still remember the feeling of the suds on my fingers as I gazed longingly at the tall building on Castro Street in downtown Mountain View where 500 Startups used to sit on the top floor. YC was just down the street.

I felt so powerless. I desperately wanted to make the world a better place, and reaching the world of Silicon Valley, even though it was just past my backyard, seemed like getting to Mars.

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From those humble beginnings to now, as I founded and bootstrapped Alcorn Immigration Law on my own journey of becoming a single mom, I know what’s possible, even during the last four years of the Trump administration. We’ve had amazing success — claiming thousands of victories in supporting companies, people and families to live and work legally in the United States. If I was able to grow my firm during the last four years, I know that it’s possible for anybody to follow their heart and succeed. It’s our human essence to long to be a creator in this world, and anybody can and deserves to make a difference.

And here is what else I know: immigration law is created by acts of Congress and signed into law by the president. Mere tweets may be intended to try to bend the rules, but they cannot break them. That is what democracy is about.

In democracy, we have agreed to abide by basic laws, such as the inviolable dignity of the human being and that we want to agree on procedures for how we make decisions, like the process of passing a law about immigration. Democracy is not about majority tyranny. Democracy is about the fact that we uphold a few principles and we agreed on a decision-making process. When Trump ignores our basic laws and he ignores our legal processes, democracy is in peril.

But democracy does not need to be disrupted, it only requires small adjustments to thrive. In any group it is possible to make jointly supported decisions, taking the needs and resources of all into consideration. “Although the world is complex and decision making is complex, the components of decision making are simple,” according to Richard Graf, founder of K-i-E. Simple tools like the DecisionMaker can allow a miracle to happen — in an environment of openness and anonymity, we can all safely share our needs and concerns so that proposals can be formed based on collective best practices, knowledge, experience, intelligence and intuition. Even if it’s a complex situation, the way forward can immediately become clear.

And in our democracy, the paths to live and work in the U.S. will always remain viable, even if we need to remove a branch or navigate around a new boulder. Here at Alcorn, despite the furor and fear-mongering present in the world surrounding immigration, we are continually securing real victories for our clients. Not a client yet? Global founders can still create a startup, pitch it to investors and secure pathways to live and work legally in the United States with visas, green cards and citizenship.

So I know this and will repeat: Whatever the election results, there will still be many ways for people to legally navigate the U.S. immigration process and access the opportunity and security of life here. For more insight on these ways, please join my Election Results Webinar next week.

In the meantime, here are my thoughts on how the election results will affect the future of U.S. immigration:

Looking ahead, if Biden takes the victory, he has pledged to undo all Trump-era immigration regulations in the first 100 days and support comprehensive immigration reform. He promised to promote immigrant entrepreneurship, which could finally mean a startup visa! He also wants to speed up naturalization, rescind the Muslim travel bans, pass legislation to expand the number of H-1Bs, increase the amount of employment-based green cards, exempt international STEM PhD graduates from needing to await a priority date, create a new type of green card to promote regional economic development and support immigrant entrepreneur incubators.

Alternatively, we can expect that a Trump administration would continue restricting immigration, leading to litigation and judges deciding the fate of many recent policies. We can foresee a continued COVID freeze on green card interviews at consulates.

Also, DHS recently announced its intent to remove the randomness from the H-1B lottery and prioritize the annual H-1B selection process from highest to lowest wage starting in spring 2021. I’m sure there will be litigation about this; in the meantime, Alcorn Immigration Law continues to recommend that all employers proceed with registering employees and candidates in the lottery as usual. These details will take time to shake out and we don’t want anybody to lose a chance at being selected.

In other updates, immigration is just continuing along and there is actually some great news for folks: The State Department recently released the November Visa Bulletin and it stayed the same from October. (If you think your priority date is current or may be current soon, please contact your attorney as soon as possible to discuss filing your I-485 this month to avoid the possibility of retrogression in December!)

And if you need the freedom to build your startup, but were told that you don’t yet qualify for an O-1A visa, EB-1A or EB-2 NIW green card, you can join me in Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp with promo code DEARSOPHIE to receive 20% off.

We’re optimistic about the future. Life always offers us opportunities to grow through contrast and uncertainty, and we remain passionate about our mission to create greater freedom, empowerment, knowledge and love in the world.

Sophie


Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

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A QAnon supporter is headed to Congress

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s win in a Georgia House race means that QAnon is headed to Capitol Hill.

Greene openly supports the complex, outlandish conspiracy theory, which posits that President Trump is waging a secret war against a shadowy group of elites who engage in child sex trafficking, among other far-fetched claims. The FBI identified QAnon as a potential inspiration for “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” last year.

Greene’s win is a startling moment of legitimacy for the dangerous conspiracy, though it wasn’t unexpected: her Democratic opponent dropped out of the race for personal reasons in September, clearing her path to the House seat.

Greene’s support for the constellation of conspiracy theories isn’t particularly quiet — nor are her other beliefs. Called a “future Republican star” by President Trump, Greene has been vocal in expressing racist and Islamophobic views. Greene has also espoused September 11 “truther” theories and criticized the use of masks, a scientifically-supported measure that reduces transmission of the novel coronavirus.

QAnon, once a belief only at the far-right fringes of the internet, has inspired followers to engage in real-world criminal acts, including fatally shooting a mob boss in Staten Island and blocking the Hoover Dam bridge in an armed standoff.

The conspiracy’s adherents have also hijacked the hashtag #savethechildren, interfering with legitimate child safety efforts and exporting their extreme ideas into mainstream conversation under the guise of helping children. Facebook, which previously banned QAnon, limited the hashtag’s reach last month in light of the phenomenon.

Other QAnon believers are on the ballot in 2020, including in Oregon, where Jo Rae Perkins is projected to lose her race against incumbent Senate Democrat Jeff Merkley. Perkins was very open about her beliefs and in June tweeted a video pledging her allegiance as a “digital soldier” for QAnon along with a popular hashtag associated with the conspiracy movement.

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Section 230 barely rates a mention in Senate’s hasty pre-election flogging of tech CEOs

Today’s Senate hearing on immensely important legal protections for online platforms quickly proved to be little more than an excuse for Senators to accuse the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google of partisan interference with next week’s election. The actual law being considered for revision was mentioned only a handful of times in the nearly four-hour hearing, the balance being taken up by partisan bickering and, ironically, misinformation.

The hearing, assembled and convened with naked haste in order to get ahead of the election, was dominated by Republican bullying and bloviating and Democratic expressions of distaste. Section 230, a law which is under serious and justified consideration for revision, was barely a footnote.

That the hearing, which promised “legislative proposals to modernize the decades-old law,” was thrown together at the last minute was evident from a lack of focus or coordination. When not mispronouncing Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s name, Senators asked redundant questions, presented scant and conflicting evidence of the practices they accused the companies of, and generally used the time to mint sound bites with little substance.

An excellent example of all this was the case, brought up three separate times by Republican senators, of tweets by the Iranian Ayatollah Khameini calling for war and questioning the Holocaust, which were not taken down, while Trump’s tweets regarding COVID-19 had warnings placed on them. Why, they asked again and again, does this not constitute a double standard and a clear example of bias against Trump?

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained what should be a well-known fact by now, especially by legislators who purport to have an interest in this topic: that there is no policy for general misinformation and that world leaders get special consideration anyway, and that the policies that resulted in warnings placed on tweets lately relate specifically to public health and election-related misinformation. This issue has been raised before, you see, and the explanation is quite simple.

The Republican senators avoided Section 230 altogether, using their time to berate Dorsey, Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg:

  • An irritable Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) shouted over the hearing’s guests, calling those three specifically “the greatest threat to free speech in America.”
  • Sen. John Thune (R-SD) accused the companies of not having sufficient “ideological diversity” in their leadership, and others asked the CEOs to report the party affiliations of their employees. (The CEOs said they don’t ask, though Pichai admitted to Thune’s obvious pleasure that the young, highly educated tech sector skews left.)
  • Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said Twitter had “censored Donald Trump 65 times,” and Biden zero times, though as Dorsey pointed out none of Trump’s tweets have in fact been removed.
  • Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) asserted that the companies were committing false advertising in saying they were not politically motivated. He then asked the CEOs to provide “examples of censoring liberals.” They bridled at being asked to tacitly admit what they do is censoring, but with that reservation did provide examples — which Lee dismissed as insufficient.
  • Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WS) accused the platforms of deliberately exerting influence on elections, citing as misinformation and political bias Twitter declining to take down a tweet that was obviously satirical.

Despite repeatedly claiming that the platforms were biased toward the left, the Republican contingent did not produce any examples of material from Democrats that should, in their estimation, have been taken down but was not. This seems an important part of making the argument, or it leaves open the distinct possibility that Republicans simply break the rules more.

Only Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) didn’t get the memo, and proffered constructive, informed questions relating to Section 230. She asked the tech leaders whether they thought the law’s use of the phrase “otherwise objectionable” as a catch-all was too expansive. They replied unanimously (and predictably) that it was not, and that, as Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai put it, the wording “is the only reason we can intervene with certainty” in cases like the dangerous “Tide pod challenge” and other situations that aren’t covered specifically by the law. Sen. Capito, to all appearances, took their answers seriously.

The Democratic senators, for the most part, cannot be said to have addressed Section 230 substantively either, but a few took the opportunity to address the issue ostensibly at hand.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) asked about the failure of Facebook to take down the Kenosha Guard group, which was actively fomenting violence against protestors, despite hundreds of complaints. She managed to extract from Zuckerberg that Facebook had stopped making group recommendations based on political preferences, while it has worked to clean up its private groups, now notorious for conspiracies and violent militias.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) had a timely reminder about what free speech actually is: “Maybe we need to have a history lesson from high school again — yes, free speech means that people can make outrageous statements about their beliefs. What the CEOs are telling us here is what their process is for taking down health care information that’s not true, that is a threat to the public, and information that is a threat to our democracy.”

The others primarily used their time to register their discontent with the obvious election-related motivations of the hearing.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) led the pack by declaring he would not take part. “I’ve never seen a hearing so close to an election on any topic, let alone on something that is so obviously a violation of our obligation under the law and the rules of the Senate to stay out of electioneering,” he said. “We never do this, and there’s a very good reason that we don’t call people before us to yell at them for not doing our bidding during an election. This hearing is a sham. I will be happy to participate in good faith, bipartisan hearings when the election is over.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) derided the “false narrative about anti-conservative bias,” saying “the issue is not that the companies before us today are taking too many posts down, the issue is they are leaving too many dangerous posts up, in fact amplifying harmful content.” Out of context this may seem an endorsement of censorship, but it’s clear that he was referring to things like deliberate disinformation campaigns, conspiracy theories and public health hazards.

Though Republicans had tried to downplay the idea that they were “working the refs” by saying that Facebook et al. shouldn’t be refs in the first place, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) explained that “when we say ‘work the refs,’ the U.S. government is the referee. The FCC, Congress, the presidency, and the Supreme Court are the referees.” He warned of the danger of federal laws aimed at actions, such as restricting the reach of the NY Post’s highly suspect story, that were in his opinion the right thing to do, if difficult to get exactly right the first time.

Sen. Tester (D-MT), clearly out of patience with his colleagues across the aisle, deplored the double standard he believed he saw: “We’ve heard a lot of information out here today where when you hire someone you’re supposed to ask them their political affiliation. If that business is run by a liberal, we’re gonna regulate ’em different than if they’re run by a conservative outfit,” he said.

“That reminds me a lot of the Supreme Court, where you have two sets of rules, one for a Democrat president, one for a Republican. This is baloney, folks.” If he could have dropped the mic, no doubt he would have.

As for the CEOs themselves, they hardly had a chance to get a word in edgewise except in their opening statements. When they did speak it was mainly to acknowledge that they need to work on transparency, but that they were doing their best in unprecedented circumstances with policies that must be reworked on a daily basis.

Reserve your sympathy for these poor captains of industry, however, until those companies answer for their role in producing the problems of mass disinformation in the first place.

This isn’t the last we’ll hear of this issue by a long shot, but with the election looming, unbelievably, in less than a week, the next time a hearing like this is held it will be under altered circumstances.

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Watch Facebook, Google, and Twitter’s CEOs defend the law that created social media to Congress

The CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google will appear before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday in big tech’s latest showdown with Congress.

The Senate hearing will have a narrower, more policy-centric scope than other recent high profile tech hearings, focusing specifically on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That short law might sound obscure, but it’s the key legal shield that protects internet companies from liability for the user-generated content they host, from Facebook posts and tweets to Yelp reviews and comments sections.

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Recent big tech hearings have meandered, seldom forcing the leaders of some of the world’s most powerful companies into revealing much. But the cumulative pressure of federal antitrust action, a high-stakes election less than a week away and a number of legislative proposals that could dismantle the law that made their businesses possible will likely set a different tone — and hopefully offer more substance.

You can follow a livestream of the hearing here (above) starting at 10:00 AM ET on Wednesday, October 28. We’ll be following the testimony and all things Section 230, so check back for our coverage of the day’s key takeaways.

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Facebook and Twitter CEOs to testify before Congress in November on how they handled the election

Shortly after voting to move forward with a pair of subpoenas, the Senate Judiciary Committee has reached an agreement that will see the CEOs of two major social platforms testify voluntarily in November. The hearing will be the second major congressional appearance by tech CEOs arranged this month.

Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg will answer questions at the hearing, set for November 17 — two weeks after election day. The Republican-led committee is chaired by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who set the agenda to include the “platforms’ censorship and suppression of New York Post articles.”

According to a new press release from the committee, lawmakers also plan to use the proceedings as a high-profile port-mortem on how Twitter and Facebook fared on and after election day — an issue that lawmakers on both sides will undoubtedly be happy to dig into.

Republicans are eager to press the tech CEOs on how their respective platforms handled a dubious story from the New York Post purporting to report on hacked materials from presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. They view the incident as evidence of their ongoing claims of anti-conservative political bias in platform policy decisions.

While Republicans on the Senate committee led the decision to pressure Zuckerberg and Dorsey into testifying, the committee’s Democrats, who sat out the vote on the subpoenas, will likely bring to the table their own questions about content moderation, as well.

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Senate subpoenas could force Zuckerberg and Dorsey to testify on New York Post controversy

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of issuing subpoenas for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey Thursday, meaning that there might be two big tech CEO hearings on the horizon.

Republicans in the committee declared their interest in a hearing on “the platforms’ censorship of New York Post articles” after social networks limited the reach of a dubious story purporting to contain hacked materials implicating Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, in impropriety involving a Ukrainian energy firm. Fox News reportedly passed on the story due to doubts about its credibility.

Tech’s decision to take action against the New York Post story was bound to ignite Republicans in Congress, who have long claimed, with scant evidence, that social platforms deliberately censor conservative voices due to political bias. The Senate Judiciary Committee is chaired by Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close Trump ally who is now in a much closer than expected race with Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison.

According to a motion filed by Graham, the hearing would address:

(1) the suppression and/or censorship of two news articles from the New York Post titled “Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad” and “Emails reveal how Hunter Biden tried to cash in big on behalf of family with Chinese firm,” (2) any other content moderation policies, practices, or actions that may interfere with or influence elections for federal office, and (3) any other recent determinations to temporarily reduce distribution of material pending factchecker review and/or block and mark material as potentially unsafe.

Earlier in October, the Senate Commerce Committee successfully leveraged subpoena power to secure Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai for testimony for their own hearing focused on Section 230, the critical law that shields online platforms from liability for user created content.

The hearing isn’t scheduled yet, nor have the companies publicly agreed to attend. But lawmakers have now established a precedent for successfully dragging tech’s reluctant leaders under oath, making it more difficult for some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful men to avoid Congress from here on out.

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