‘I have no intention to be rewarded’: Grab driver says after giving free ride to passenger whose father died, Singapore News – AsiaOne

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Most Grab drivers take us to our destinations. Some go the extra mile.

One Grab driver is being praised for making a difficult day just a little better for one rider when he waived the fare and even gave her an ang bao after learning that her father had just died.

Nasran Zainal’s good deeds first came to light when the passenger, who remains unnamed, took to Facebook to share their encounter on Feb 28.

She had booked a ride on Feb 26 heading to Singapore General Hospital to visit her father, who had died earlier that day.

“I booked a Grab ride from home to SGH and got a driver who was travelling along PIE (Pan Island Expressway) and three minutes away. I was with my aged mum,” she wrote.

“After a while, I checked the app and suddenly saw that he was along ECP (East Coast Parkway) and the waiting time turned to 11 mins.”

Feeling confused, she messaged Nasran to clarify and explained their reason for heading to the hospital.

Nasran, 34, sent his condolences and explained that he had to make a detour as he had been at an exit along the expressway when he received the booking, but assured them that he would pick them up nonetheless.

At this point, she was “already very appreciative” of Nasran, she said.

But there were more surprises to come.

When they reached the hospital, Nasran handed them an ang bao, saying it was a “small token”.

“I rejected it and said ‘don’t need’ as I felt really paiseh (embarrassed) of him doing that [sic]. After some haggling, I accepted the small token as he was really insistent.”

The second surprise came the next day when she received a refund of the $11 fare.

After enquiring with Grab’s customer service personnel, she found out that the driver had requested the refund as a “goodwill token”.

Addressing Nasran, the passenger wrote: “You are really a shiny gem who went the extra mile. Anyone who knows Mr Zainal, please pass the message to him. Thank you.”

The post quickly attracted over 6,400 shares and some 800 comments singing Nasran’s praises.

One commenter wrote: “We salute you Mr Zainal. You are a very kind and compassionate man. May God bless you and your family.”

Another said: “A great man with a wonderful heart. May you be blessed with good health and happiness. Drive safely and thank you for your kindness.”

Speaking to AsiaOne on Mar 2, Nasran explained:

“Upon hearing that her dad passed away, I really felt sad for the family. In my heart, I said I should do something for the family.

“I have always believed we should do something for the community and help anyone whenever they need, regardless of race or religion.”

In response to his good deed going viral, Nasran was modest and self-effacing, saying that there were others who had “done much more” than him.

“Honestly I really didn’t expect this to be viral as I have no intention to be rewarded for what I have done. I feel blessed and thankful to all the people who have been sharing this news and sending good wishes for myself and my family on social media.”

AsiaOne has reached out to Grab for comment.

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Simi showers encomium on Adekunle Gold as they celebrate wedding anniversary

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Simi has taken to Instagram to shower encomium on Adekunle Gold, as the celebrity couple are celebrating their wedding anniversary.

Earlier today, Adekunle Gold took to social media to celebrate his wife, and she has also done the same to share a lengthy post on her Instagram page to celebrate their special day.

See what she wrote below;

Pretty baby. The very thing that you mean to me, I doubt you’ll ever fully understand. I don’t like to share our best moments, because they belong to us – so people might never even know the level of your special. It’s a really high level that is higher than other levels. No one is more in sync with me than you.

I love how you’re mindful of me. Nothing’s perfect. Not even with your Ikotun background 🤦🏾‍♀️ – but I love how you deliberately want to be better. You will see something inside film and ask me at 2am how you can be a better man for me. Lol. So cute a man.

Before we said I do, 95% of the advice I got was “Endure”. I was stumped cos I’ve never been able to relate. Endure? Forever and ever? Like till the end of your days? Lol. Quite rubbish. Thank you for never ever being someone I’ve ever had to endure.

Don’t like it much when people “couplegoals” us – cos as far as I’m concerned, we, i.e me and you, are on a personal journey. Our ups our downs (Olorun o ni je ka rogun down), our growth, our learning and unlearning, our Love (aww) is our story. Everyone’s standard should be their best self. Thank you for being someone that makes me want to be my best self.

Moruf, thank you for Year One. They said it’s normally hard. Again, I can’t relate because I loved it. I love you. I pray year two is even better by God’s infinite mercy and grace and love. I thank God for standing with us and giving us sense. And I thank you for being a man that makes loving you worth it.

My beautiful dreamboat. My fellow feminist boyfriend. My husband. Ife mi. Onitemi. The love of my life. I will continue to eat your work in the eye of carton. 🥂 to all the forevers we will spend together.

PS: Year two is one or two sentences. I have what I’m doing❤️.
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PPS: Everyone, please whatever chance you get today, say a prayer for us. I love those 💙

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Simi’s Pens Sweet Words To Adekunle Gold On Ther First Wedding Anniversary

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Simi and Adekunle Gold
Simi and Adekunle Gold

Nigerian singer Simi has gotten many in their feelings with her wedding anniversary message to her husband, Adekunle Gold.

The ‘Joromi crooner took to her Instagram page to share a beautiful photo from their wedding and penned a beautiful lengthy piece for her man which reads thus;l

Read also: ‘It’s 2020, I Still Don’t Like Stupid People’: Simi

”Pretty baby. The very thing that you mean to me, I doubt you’ll ever fully understand. I don’t like to share our best moments, because they belong to us – so people might never even know the level of your special. It’s a really high level that is higher than other levels. No one is more in sync with me than you.

“I love how you’re mindful of me. Nothing’s perfect. Not even with your Ikotun background 🤦🏾‍♀️ – but I love how you deliberately want to be better. You will see something inside film and ask me at 2am how you can be a better man for me. Lol. So cute a man.

“Before we said I do, 95% of the advice I got was “Endure”. I was stumped cos I’ve never been able to relate. Endure? Forever and ever? Like till the end of your days? Lol. Quite rubbish. Thank you for never ever being someone I’ve ever had to endure.

“Don’t like it much when people “couplegoals” us – cos as far as I’m concerned, we, i.e me and you, are on a personal journey. Our ups our downs (Olorun o ni je ka rogun down), our growth, our learning and unlearning, our Love (aww) is our story. Everyone’s standard should be their best self. Thank you for being someone that makes me want to be my best self.

“Moruf, thank you for Year One. They said it’s normally hard. Again, I can’t relate because I loved it. I love you. I pray year two is even better by God’s infinite mercy and grace and love. I thank God for standing with us and giving us sense. And I thank you for being a man that makes loving you worth it.”

“My beautiful dreamboat. My fellow feminist boyfriend. My husband. Ife mi. Onitemi. The love of my life. I will continue to eat your work in the eye of carton. 🥂 to all the forevers we will spend together.”

PS: Year two is one or two sentences. I have what I’m doing❤.
.
PPS: Everyone, please whatever chance you get today, say a prayer for us. I love those 💙

The post Simi’s Pens Sweet Words To Adekunle Gold On Ther First Wedding Anniversary appeared first on Information Nigeria.

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Death, Diarrhea and Late Night Sackings: The Inside Story of an Unfolding Staff Nightmare at UBA and Dangote

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Last November, thousands of Lagosians including hundreds of UBA Bank employees attended what was billed as the ‘party of the year’ at the Lekki Special Events Centre on Admiralty Way.

The UBA RedTV Rave had everyone from Wizkid to Olamide to Jidenna to Burna Boy thrilling the festive crowd as UBA chairman Tony Elumelu and CEO Kennedy Uzoka mingled with the artists and guests.

On the surface, this was the best of times, as a bank that was clearly in rude health celebrated a successful year with thousands of employees, friends and family. The bank had also recently concluded a recruitment exercise that would add nearly 4,000 new employees to its staff strength, so the year ahead looked to be a promising one for most employees present. 

Unknown to them, while senior executives danced with Wizkid in the VIP area, one of the most brutal staff layoffs in Nigerian banking history was just around the corner. They partied well into the night and then showed up for work the following week as usual. A week went by. Two weeks. Four weeks. Then right at the start of the new year – a shocker.

Closed at 5.30PM, Terminated at 10.30PM

Ifunanya (name has been changed) was asked to wait behind at work on Friday January 3. As a 12-year UBA veteran including a long stint in her role as a Branch Operations Manager at a branch in Ojodu, Lagos, this was not an unusual request to receive. She was even used to working weekends so that the ATMs could remain functional and she could troubleshoot other onsite customer-facing issues. This time however, was different. 

Along with other staff members at the branch, she was asked to wait for a board meeting. By 10.30PM, the assembled staff were informed that their services were no longer required. They were then told verbally to write out their resignation letters on the spot and leave voluntarily or be forced out. At this point, her security pass was taken, and along with the other affected staff, her profile was unceremoniously deactivated from the bank’s internal system. She was reminded to drop her work ID on the way out, and thus ended a 12-year association with the bank.

When a relative of hers reached out to tell the story, he was keen to make the point that she was not an agency employee, but a full UBA employee on a monthly salary of N153,000. He could not understand why the bank would treat her that way. I heard similar stories from two other sources who insisted that they were coerced into resigning after being told that their services were no longer required right at the start of the new year.

Shocking and callous as these stories may have sounded, one of the first things you are taught in any professional journalism program is to always balance the story. So I sought an alternate account of what transpired, with the goal of putting the picture together to tell a complete story. There were conflicting accounts of the events of January 3 flying around, with some accounts describing a recruitment and promotion exercise without mentioning any firings, while others reported a purported “restructuring” at UBA, which is a well-known euphemism for “mass sack.”

I managed to establish contact with a current senior employee at UBA who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorised to speak about such matters. This was his account of what happened at UBA bank at the start of this year:

“Usually when anyone joins UBA with a Bachelor’s degree, they are put on a GT1 level (N80,000). After one year, they are promoted to GT2 (N100,000), then after another year ET1 (N140,000) which is where a lot of people get stuck on. If you are lucky, you get to ET2 (N165,000). So what UBA did was to meld those 4 levels into one (ET) so any one who was on GT1 and GT2 gets automatically promoted to ET2. Those that were on ET1 and ET2 got promoted to SET (Senior Executive Trainee). 

So it was a promotion of sorts, but honestly it was long overdue because compared to other banks, N80,000 for entry level staff is quite low. About the layoffs: I only know 4 people personally who got affected. The people affected were on manager grades and worked at the head office, they all reportedly got 6 months arrears.”

According to this source, he was not personally aware of the fate of any branch staff or what he termed ‘OND staff.’ He did however say that in his opinion, the bank handled the situation poorly and that Nigeria does need stronger labour laws to protect young graduates fresh out of school from exploitation for cheap labor at the hands of corporates like UBA. He also mentioned that he knows current UBA staff have not had a salary increase in ten years – a remarkable situation for workers in a country whose currency has declined 195 percent over the same period.

As it later emerged, more than 2,000 staff were affected by the shocking late-night cull at UBA. It also became increasingly clear that the firings had nothing to do with a harsh operating environment or decreased profitability. The bank which had brought together Nigeria’s most expensive music stars to perform at its end of year shindig was anything but struggling – it actually hired more people than if fired. What the sackings did though, was clear out a number of people in roles that the bank considered obsolete, particularly within branch operations.

It can definitely be argued that such restructuring is inevitable in the face of rapidly changing technology, which is hardly a terrible thing. What is also true however, is that the bank that paid huge sums of money to bring Burna Boy and Jidenna to an annual vanity event that adds nothing to its bottom line could also afford to retrain its redundant staff to fit into new roles –  instead of just sacking them and instantly bringing in thousands of readymade replacements.

Yet again, the actions of a Nigerian corporate made the point that Nigerian labour law, in addition to be being poorly enforced is also woefully inadequate and unfit for purpose. If after 12 years of useful service to a bank, Ifunanya could be dumped out onto the street without even a few hours of notice – and no regulatory action was forthcoming – then clearly, Nigerian employees working for Nigerian companies have a problem on their hands.

As much as the UBA situation made that point, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to unearth about another Nigerian corporate behemoth.

Diarrhea in India, Death in Ibeju-Lekki: The Unbelievable Story of Dangote Refinery

While senior executives at UBA House were going over the finer points of their plan to log 2,000 employees out of their work systems and force them to resign on the spot, a different level of labour exploitation was entering its fourth year about 73KM east of the Marina. There, at the site of the Dangote Refinery at the Free Trade Zone in Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos, the refinery was taking delivery of the world’s largest crude oil refining tower.

While this was predictably being celebrated across local and foreign media as the start of a glorious new chapter in Nigeria’s industrial history, I was speaking to a whistleblower with close and detailed knowledge of the project. What he had to say about the refinery project, the Indian project managers, the company’s internal culture and its much-publicised trainee program left me absolutely floored. Naturally I reached out to Dangote Group for a comment, but at press time I have received no response or acknowledgment.

My source, whom I shall call “Mukhtar” worked in and around the refinery project between 2016 and 2018, and what I found most distressing amidst everything he said was the revelation that deaths due to onsite accidents are not just known to happen at the refinery site, but are effectively covered up by Dangote. This he said, is because the people who die are mostly site labourers who are hired through staffing agencies instead of directly. When they die, it becomes the staffing company’s problem and the Dangote brand distances itself from it – even though the site owner is legally responsible for all safety-related incidents onsite.

Something else that struck me was that he implied that – contrary to all its public posturing – the company actually has no intention of using Nigerian engineers to run the refinery anytime soon. The trainee program that sent dozens of Engineering graduates for a one-year training program in India? “Strictly PR,” he said.

Accidents
The first batch of Dangote Refinery trainees head off to India in March 2016

For full effect, I have decided to reproduce the full and unredacted transcript of our conversation instead of using quotes and reported speech. Here is the conversation below:

ME: When we started this conversation, you mentioned that Dangote Refinery is exempt from Nigerian labour laws. What were you referencing?

Mukhtar: Because the refinery is in the FTZ, it is not subject to certain laws like local content laws. As such, even mundane jobs are given to non-Nigerian companies. Even the refinery’s fence wall was handled by a Chinese company. This didn’t stop long stretches of the fence from collapsing sometime in 2017. The FTZ affects Labour laws too. The company is not really under any obligation to employ Nigerians. They do so mostly for PR. All key decision makers are Indians (say 98%).

ME: There have been several horror stories about Indian-run businesses in Nigeria. Was this one of them?

Mukhtar: Yes, the Indians are quite racist. Some even demand to be referred to as “master”. To be fair, when this is reported, the HR unit makes a show of cautioning them. But I dont think anyone has ever been dismissed for it or seriously punished. Most of workers who meet their death on site are labourers. So their names might be known to many staff. I’ll see what I can get. It happens. It’s kept under wraps but it happens.

ME: Now you mentioned onsite deaths earlier. I want to know all about this. Why haven’t we heard anything about this?

Mukhtar: The refinery site is not really the best place to work. Mortality rate on site is quite high. People falling from heights or getting crushed by heavy vehicles/machines is quite common. These numbers are not reported because most staff are contract staff (or outsourced) so the company gets to wash its hands off such cases. But safety on site is the ultimate responsibility of the owner of the project. The construction site has a board that is supposed to display the safety statistics but it is never displays the truth. According to that board, there has never been a fatality on site. But in reality, I think 2018 had about 5 fatalities between January and March. If I were to guess, I’d say there have been over 25 fatalities since construction started in 2016/17.

ME: Now you said earlier that the trainee program was a washout and a disappointment. Fill me in on that.

Mukhtar: I was one of the first batch of engineers sent to India for training in 2016. In my opinion, the whole scheme was either poorly thought out or the company was somehow compelled to do it, and did so for PR. Our salaries were being paid into our accounts in Nigeria, so we were using our debit cards to access our Nigerian accounts for expenses over there) Around July 2016 when the naira went from around 160 per dollar to nearly double that number, our spending power was effectively halved.

ME: I also remember that there was a forex shortage crisis in 2016 and Nigerian bank cards stopped working outside the country.

Mukhtar: So when the banks eventually stopped all cards from functioning abroad, we were stranded. The company resorted to selling us dollars or rupees at the black market rate.They deducted the money from our salaries. We had accommodation (two adults per room) and feeding (Indian food which many of us did not like). Some of had to buy intercontinental dishes regularly, because Indian food is really not nice if you’re not into many smelly spices. It was crazy. Meanwhile we were told categorically that we would have Nigerian food and Nigerian cooks. It was a blatant lie by the Indian HR director.

Also, no arrangement was made for our medical care. Those who fell ill had to treat themselves from their pockets. During the currency crisis, those who fell ill had to rely on the rest of us to put together our spare change to pay for their treatment. The company promised to refund medical expenses, but this shouldn’t have been the situation in the first place.

ME: Tell me about the training program. What was the course content and the experience like? Was it what you were expecting?

Mukhtar: The training itself was a mess too. We were supposed to be trained to operate the refinery (at the time, it was said that it will be completed by mid 2017), but we were sent to a design company. These (designing a refinery and operating it) are two very, very different things. The trainers did not want us there in the first place. It was not a part of their initial contract with Dangote. Plus, they didn’t know what to teach us because designers are not operators. They were confused, several times, they asked us what we wanted to learn. But we could not know what we wanted to learn cos we knew nothing about the entire business. In the end, they reluctantly settled for teaching us design (skills we were/are unlikely to use cos the refinery was already 90% designed). 

ME: If you say that the refinery was “already 90% designed,” and you were learning design in India, that sounds like your presence was superfluous. Was the company really serious about sending you to learn skills to run a refinery?

Mukhtar: Indians will run the refinery. It will take many many many years before that refinery will be populated by just Nigerians. It was strictly PR. Anyways, the training with that design company was suddenly terminated on December 31st. Apparently, Dangote had not paid them a dime for all the months were were being taught design. They didn’t want to send us back to Nigeria so they moved us to the Dangote office in India. The office housed the Indian engineers (around 150 – 200 in number) who were supervising the design work being done by the design company. Now, it is interesting that these guys were working and earning as expatriates within their own country.

But realising that the “training” was a blunder, the company sent back some engineers to train in an actual refinery. So what was supposed to be a 1 year training became 2 years.

ME: Since returning to Nigeria, is there anything else you have noticed about the project that worries or disturbs you?

Mukhtar: Yes. So we have only the refinery at the FTZ, but the company gets to import things meant for other branches of the company duty-free. As a matter of fact, with the Dangote jetty in place and a customs office right there, the company no longer needs to clear stuff at Apapa. Dangote empire effectively has its own customs and port, because we cannot assume that the custom officers stationed at Dangote’s jetty/FTZ are extremely meticulous in checking what comes in and goes out. Personally, I find this disturbing. No non-military entity should be able to import stuff that easily into any country. This is bigger than just skipping custom duty payment.

–Ends–

Between bank staff being fired at 10.30PM and refinery site labourers being killed by workplace accidents without accountability, the sheer grimness of the picture facing Nigerian workers comes into stark relief. It is afterall, an employer’s market, with several thousand qualified people jostling for every job opening, which creates the possibility and incentive to treat staff like battery animals.

Whether the Labour Ministry is willing or able to do anything about such blatant labour exploitation is anybody’s guess. Nigeria’s government is increasingly weak and unable to impose its will on the country even territorially. In the event that the government did take interest, there is a valid fear that it would go to the other extreme and adopt a lazy anti-business Hugo Chavez approach, as it so often does. The real solution if there is to be one, must come from Nigerian labour having a stronger bargaining position through an improved economy. Anything else as it stands, is little more than a sticking plaster.

As Mukhtar mentioned, even inside the ridiculous situation of being financially stranded in a foreign country at the behest of an irresponsible and insincere Nigerian corporate, the vast majority of the group chose to suffer in silence. They did so because spending a year abroad learning useless information, suffering deprivation and experiencing diarrhea after being forced to eat unfamiliar food was still preferable to whatever alternative was at home.

Ultimately, that is the biggest problem facing Nigerian labour. 

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KCC offers free manufacturing training for Battle Creek residents

person refrigerator chair

KCC program offers free manufacturing training available for Battle Creek residents


Elena Durnbaugh


Battle Creek Enquirer
Published 6:00 AM EST Dec 6, 2019

Kellogg Community College wants to help Battle Creek residents launch a career in skilled trades by offering a free manufacturing training program for those who meet income requirements. 

The Kellogg Advanced Manufacturing Assembly training program focuses on providing students the technical skills required to get a job in manufacturing and the professional skills needed to succeed.

“We have companies that are coming up and are like, ‘Hey, we need people,'” Workforce Solutions Career Coach Cherise Buchanan said. “They want people who are going to be committed and are going to stay there, and I think having these students come through our program and saying, ‘Hey, I can make it through this six-week program, and I can be there on time, and I can be there every day.’ You’re going to have a better opportunity.” 

Students at Kellogg Community Regional Manufacturing Technology Center campus experience what it’s like to work on a factory floor.
Elena Durnbaugh

The program will start in January at KCC’s Regional Manufacturing Technology Center campus. Courses cover foundational skills in technical training in manufacturing, Occupational Safety and Health Administration industry training, writing and computer classes and basic math for manufacturing.

Students also get experience working on a production line. 

“It’s changing the whole concept of what it means to go to college.” Kellogg Community College Chief Communications Officer Eric Greene said. “So many people… think going to college means I’ve got to be there for two to four years or longer. There’s going to be homework. It’s going to be all lecture based. But this is college. These are college credits they’re earning toward an actual degree, but it doesn’t feel like a traditional college experience.” 

‘What do you need to be successful?’

Students will earn 8.74 college credits, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration 10-Hour General Industry Certification and the WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate. 

Throughout their training, students learn industry standards for efficiency, quality control and safety so that, upon completion of the program, they’re ready for work in an entry-level position. 

“They’re actually learning these and putting them into practice,” Program Manager Lisa Larson said. “They’re debriefing at the end of each session. They’re doing several different production runs and then they’re talking about what defect they found and how they can do better.” 

As part of Kellogg Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing Assembly Program, student learn what it’s like to work on an assembly line by building an industrial strength cart from these parts
Elena Durnbaugh

The program also teaches students the soft skills needed to get a job.

Through a partnership with Michigan Works and Goodwill Industries, students in the manufacturing program receive resume building and mock interview training, as well as financial literacy instruction. They also get assistance with job placement.

Students also receive support services to help them overcome other barriers such as transportation or having enough to eat.

“Anything our students need, we all kind of work together to make sure they get what they need,” Buchanan said. “I like to say, ‘Look at the total person…What do you need to be successful?'” 

DENSO, Trillium among employers

Companies including DENSO Manufacturing, Trillium Manufacturing and Advanced Special Tools Incorporated have hired people from the program, and more companies are taking interest.

“Sometimes when we go on company tours, we have past KAMA students from four or five years ago giving the tours,” Larson said. 

In some cases, Larson said, students who go through the manufacturing program will return to Kellogg Community College for more specialized training.

Greene said the program typically has high placement rates and job advancement rates.

“They come through our program, and they get a job, and then a short time after that, they get a raise or a promotion,” he said. 

Even if students can’t find a job right a way, they can enroll in a paid work experience in manufacturing through Goodwill.

“Everybody can leave doing something if they chose,” Buchanan said. 

The program is part of Kellogg Community College’s Innovative Accelerated Credentialed Training, known as iACT. The programs, which include manufacturing and nurse assistant training, are designed to quickly prepare people with workforce skills. 

“There’s just a lot of progress toward our local workforce becoming more reliable, more vital, just to the overall production that goes on in this community,” Greene said.

Paid for by W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Both iACT programs are made possible through three-year a $2.8 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Next year will be the final year of the grant. 

Larson said Workforce Solutions would like to expand the program.

“We’re hoping to just keep continuing this because it is a very popular program. The employers recognize it. They value it, and we want to keep it going,” she said. 

To be eligible for the program, those interested must be 18 years of age and a Battle Creek resident. They must also meet income eligibility guidelines determined by household size. For example, an individual must make less than $24,280 to apply.

Twenty slots are available in each session, and the deadline to apply for the January advanced manufacturing training program is Dec.16. Classes begin January 27. 

Contact Elena Durnbaugh at (269) 243-5938 or edurnbaugh@battlecreekenquirer.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ElenaDurnbaugh. 

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19 of the Best Tech Companies to Work in the U.S. in 2020

19 of the Best Tech Companies to Work in the U.S. in 2020

If you’re looking for a job in the technology sector, you might want to look at these companies.

By 
Trevor English

Glassdoor, one of the world’s top employment rating websites, recently released its annual list of top places to work for 2020. For those of you who don’t know, Glassdoor is a site where you can go and rate your employer, see what other people are getting for financial benefits, and basically learn as much as you’d like to about a company’s culture without actually working there.

All of this data is user-submitted, and it gives the site access to a high degree of employee sentiment for companies across the U.S. and the world. Their list of the best places to work for 2020 is based on user-submitted reviews in the previous year. It takes into account compensation data, culture data, and virtually anything a user provides to create a holistic ranking structure.

While the list includes companies from any industry in the U.S., if you weed out companies only in the tech space, you’re left with the best technology companies to work for in the U.S. Let’s take a look and see just who those companies are. 

19. Yardi Systems

Top Company Ranking: 53

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.3

Industry: Computer Hardware & Software

What employees say: “This company truly cares about its employees, everything from great benefits and perks to encouraging a wonderful work/life/fun balance.”

18. CDW

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.3

Industry: IT Services

What employees say: “Working with CDW has provided many opportunities to expand my knowledge and skillset while working with phenomenal co-workers.”

17. SAP

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.3

Industry: Computer Hardware & Software

What employees say: “Incredibly well organized, great communication, good pay, and very professional colleagues.”

16. AppFolio

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.4

Industry: Computer Hardware & Software

What employees say: “Great work-life balance, friendly management, fantastic training, dog-friendly, fun culture.”

15. Adobe

Top Company Ranking: 39

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.4

Industry: Computer Hardware & Software

What employees say: “The workplace is nice – the gym is top-notch, the cafeteria is great, and other amenities which make it an enjoyable work environment.”

14. VMWare – Part of Dell Technologies

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.4

Industry: Computer Hardware & Software

What employees say: “Work/Life balance is good, and people are smart and supportive.”

13. Kronos Incorporated

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.4

Industry: Computer Hardware & Software

What employees say: “Amazing organization and overall management structure with great benefits and an incredible work-life balance.”

12. Salesforce

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.4

Industry: Computer Hardware & Software 

What employees say: “The people are great, the culture is amazing, and the workspaces have everything you could ever need!” 

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.4

Industry: Internet

What employees say: “Employees are truly empowered, respected, and supported. Lots of opportunities to learn from smart, engaged people.”

10. Compass

Top Company Ranking: 32

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.4

Industry: Enterprise Software & Network Solutions

What employees say: “You are encouraged to participate and share your opinions and experience to help continue to make Compass the pinnacle of the industry.”

9. Facebook

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.4

What employees say: “No day is ever alike, and I get to tackle challenging problems surrounded by the best and brightest minds.”

8. Microsoft

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.4

Industry: Computer Hardware & Software 

What employees say: “I love the culture and the people here. We are always learning and have a can-do attitude.”

7. Nvidia

Top Company Ranking: 20

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.4

Industry: Computer Hardware & Software

What employees say: “Amazing culture, great work-life balance, and a strong drive to succeed in every area makes NVIDIA one of the best places I’ve ever worked.”

6. MathWorks

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.5

Industry: Computer Hardware & Software

What employees say: “They care about training and ensure that everyone is treated well with amazing little benefits from fruits in the morning to free Wednesday breakfast.”

5. LinkedIn

Top Company Ranking: 12

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.5

Industry: Subsidiary or Business Segment

What employees say: “Super invested in employee development, great work/life balance, great benefits for working mothers and maternity/paternity leave.”

4. Google

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.5

Industry: Internet

What employees say: “Work/life balance, benefits, compensation, autonomy, and the quality of your co-workers are unmatched.”

3. Ultimate Software

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.5

Industry: Enterprise Software & Network Solutions

What employees say: “The unlimited PTO, amazing benefits, and feeling like part of a big family are my favorite parts about Ultimate.” 

2. DocuSign

Top Company Ranking: 3

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.6

Industry: Computer Hardware & Software

What employees say: “They treat their employees fairly, are dedicated to the success of their employees, have great work-life balance, and very responsive management.”

1. HubSpot

Rating (stars out of 5): 4.6

Industry: Computer Hardware & Software

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Meet the Nigerian developer that runs free online digital skills training on Facebook and Slack

person

Martha (not real name) had no choice but to stay with her sick mum in hospital, but this didn’t mean much until it was clear her stay would run into a year. For Martha, it meant placing her life on hold as she wouldn’t have time to do anything else.

However, this changed when she came across Tech Skills Hack (TSH), an open Facebook group where people get free training on diverse digital skills ranging from graphic design to data analysis to content creation.

Martha joined the group, attended training religiously, and soon discovered she could become a certified digital skills expert running her personal creative agency.

Iniobong Udoh, the brain behind TSH, would be overwhelmed by a sense of fulfillment hearing this testimonial because it is clearly fulfilling the startup’s mission.

“Tech Skills Hack is a platform dedicated to equipping Nigerians with the in-demand and futuristic digital skills to curb unemployment and help businesses scale free of charge,” she says.

Demystifying digital literacy

There is a belief that people in the tech space are a bunch of code-writing geeks. However, Udoh thinks it’s only a myth.

“The tech ecosystem is a large community that includes all digital skills, ranging from graphic design, data analysis, content creation, that has nothing to do with writing code.”

Her mission was clear; to bridge the gap that exists between employers of labour and applicants without basic skills. And she does this by compiling curated digital skills resources and sharing on the various training platforms used.

To her, “Digital skills literacy means possessing skills you need to live, learn, and work in a society where communication and access to information is [sic] increasing through digital technologies like the online platforms, social media, and mobile devices.”

If anything, Udoh’s experience as a Google Certified Android developer and a certified UX expert came in handy as she brought the startup to life in February 2019 — a year after she got the idea but was held back by funds to either rent a hub or acquire equipment for physical training.

“I had to use the available platform and it was Facebook for me. Aside from programming, we train undergraduates on basic or foundational skills like Excel, PowerPoint, Canva, Google Sheets, and social media usage.”

TSH’s offering is twofold: solving the challenge of affordable training and acquiring the basic equipment to practise – a laptop. The aim is to assist young people to acquire relevant digital skill sets via their smartphones at no fee at all. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an encouraging first outing for her.

“I felt bad when we sent out the ad inviting people to learn and the response wasn’t impressive as thought [sic], but 50 people responding to our ad was fair.”

To build trust, Udoh made the platform open for interested individuals to join instead of adding people randomly. With time, the platform would have a good number of open-minded, willing, consistent, and determined members.

Apart from Udoh who is the founder, TSH’s team includes Nzaki Ekere who doubles as the CTO and in-house developer who takes web development classes and Anthony Eyo as the digital marketer. Extra help for on-site training also comes from volunteers, some of who have gone through training on the platform.

A social enterprise

“Tech Skills Hack is a non-profit venture. We’ve been running this for 9 months and it’s been self-funded. It is not too capital intensive because I use a free platform (Facebook) and get free volunteers. I get to search top-notch courses from organisations like Google, Udemy, and Coursera for free, so we don’t pay for these courses, except with our time, because I need to go through every course before sharing them on our platform,” Udoh explains.

With no change of business model in view, Udoh affirms that TSH will retain its non-profit social enterprise status for the next two years, but it will need as much help as it can get.

“Our aim is to equip every Nigerian with a digital skill at no cost or low cost, and we would appreciate support from people to achieve that.”

In over 9 months of operation, the startup boasts of more than 1000 users on both Facebook and Slack. It has also assisted 30 budding Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs) to design logos and business cards for free. Lately, it conducted two free offline trainings in two Nigeria cities, Lagos and Uyo, in partnership with a Ghanaian tech hub, iSpace; and Directorate of Microfinance and Enterprise Development, Akwa Ibom State, respectively.

At a point when incorporating offline training is needed because online classes do not fully capture the startup addressable market, the founder admits that TSH is greatly in need of funds.

“We would appreciate financial and hub support. We need founders to allow us to use their hubs and gadgets for our trainings. We’ll also love free publicity so that more people can hear about what we are doing and get to join.”

Undeterred by challenges

Apart from funding, Udoh names trust issues as another challenge some people have because the belief is that with free trainings, the quality of content is usually bad.

She said they may not be able to change this perception, but the reviews, testimonials, and feedback received from students, who have gone ahead to get their certifications and even begin their own creative agencies, are enough motivation for the TSH team.

“I’ve lost count of the reviews and tags we get once a student learns a skill. Not only the testimonials but students using the skills they’ve learnt to better their lives and also pass down this knowledge to others is also what we use to measure our success and this we’ve been able to achieve in a short span of our existence.”

With another physical training program in the offing, the team is presently working on integrating an eLearning site with better and friendly learning features to further expand coverage.

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Collapses: The Venice Biennale and the End of History | Art Practical

Collapses: The Venice Biennale and the End of History

The 2019 Venice Biennale feels like the end of everything: the end of art tourism, the end of vacations, the end of the beach and the climate of pleasure. With bad news about the climate crisis worsening every day, the nationalistic turn of governments from the U.S. to Britain to Italy to India and Brazil, it’s unclear whether the liberal ideology that produces world-scale cultural events like the Biennale can hold much longer, or whether the economic or ecological structures of global tourism can continue to support it. The liberal democratic order of free markets and free will is undermined around the globe by violent nationalism and economic protectionism. The Biennale exhibition, May You Live in Interesting Times, offers little but a hollow scream in opposition. The whole thing feels a bit like buyer’s remorse, a magnum opus from a lapsed believer in Francis Fukuyama’s promise that we’d reached the End of History.1

Arthur Jafa

Joint Italy-EU military vessel with helicopter, Piraeus Port, Greece, August 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

Both the main exhibitions and the various national pavilions feature more women and artists of color this year than any previous. Diversity is manifest with respect to types of work, interests, materials, biographies, and ages of the artists on view. Curator Ralph Rugoff states that “[the artists’] work grows out of a practice of entertaining multiple perspectives: of holding in mind seemingly contradictory notions, and juggling diverse ways of making sense of the world.”2 Diversity and multiplicity appear here to be set up as counternarratives to universalism, the ideology that has historically governed the international contemporary art discourse. But is this in fact the case? Fukuyama says, “The spectacular abundance of advanced liberal economies and the infinitely diverse consumer culture made possible by them seem to both foster and preserve liberalism in the political sphere.” If, as Fukuyama suggests, there are  “fundamental ‘contradictions’ of human life that cannot be resolved in the context of modern liberalism, that would be resolvable by an alternative political-economic structure,”3 diversity is not one of those contradictions. Rather, pluralism reinforces the “common ideological heritage of mankind,”4 while fascism’s resurgence around the globe and the popular embrace of nationalist identity are more of a contradiction in light of the realities of international markets. This is the turn of events that market utopians like Fukuyama failed to anticipate.

Rugoff never comes off as a utopian, given his pervasive air of weary detachment. Rather, the exhibition transmits how it feels to watch the ascent of Donald Trump and the unfolding catastrophe of Brexit from the “all-knowing,” cool remove of the contemporary art insider—omniscient, yet impotent, and unable to divest from toxic habits. George Condo, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Christian Marclay, and Arthur Jafa channel an anxiety bordering on panic. Construction, shipping, air travel, commerce, monuments, the body, gender—all once fixed as concepts in the Western imagination, with clearly associated positive values, are now invoked by artists such as Yin Xiuzhen, Nicole Eisenman, Slavs and Tatars, and Martine Gutierrez as hazardous, unstable, and volatile. Nowhere is this instability more evident than in the work of Mari Katayama, a Japanese artist whose self-portraiture tableaus tease the boundary between agency and objectification. These artists, more than the comparably straightforward representation advanced by artists like Zanele Muholi, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, or Gauri Gill, capture the zeitgeist of not just the show but the present time. Our historical moment is monumentally catastrophic, and the usual serious response to extremism doesn’t seem to be working. Instead, the images range from abject to absurd.

astronaut

Indios antropófagos: A Butterfly Garden in the (Urban) Jungle. Peru Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

Especially relevant are the artists who toy with the fetishization of Indigenous bodies and cultures for Western consumption. Within the main exhibition curated by Rugoff, Gutierrez situates her U.S.-born Latinx, trans body within a series of photographic landscapes, Body in Thrall, that challenge touristic notions of indigeneity, cultural authenticity, and romanticized poverty around non-white people. She occupies diverse personas, from a film noir femme fatale to the terrifying Aztec deity Tlazolteotl, “Eater of Filth,” always negotiating the high fashion aesthetics of desire with a subversive decolonial aggression. Similar themes and tactics appear in Indios antropófagos in the Peruvian Pavilion, curated by Gustavo Buntinx, in which historical artifacts from the Spanish colonial era and large mosaic tile works by Christian Bendayán depicting frolicking Indigenous youth come together in a scathing critique of cultural tourism. In the French Pavilion, curated by Martha Kirszenbaum, artist Laure Prouvost references the oceans and the sea life projected to die out by 2048, only 29 years into the future, with a number of glass animals seemingly cast into the sea floor, strewn across a landscape of refuse and discarded technologies.

Back in the real world, there’s no way to excise or sequester the beautiful parts into a future that can outlast the very real catastrophes happening now. The overwhelmingly urgent need for a complete lifestyle change played in my head over the week following my visit to the Biennale, as I recuperated from a difficult personal and professional year on a seven-day Greek Islands cruise with my young children, partner, and parents. Looking over the waters where thousands of migrants have drowned, from the top deck of a massive, yet outdated, luxury vessel, I considered how the looming climate crisis creates a condition of simultaneous enjoyment of the modern world that is all around us, and a mourning for its obvious and inevitable loss. Is this the end of curating? The traditional role of the curator as guardian of the world’s collected treasures seems as irrelevant as the contemporary job of mounting resource-heavy exhibitions for an international crowd of jet-setters. Conceptualism has begun to rot from the head, as when Rugoff controversially chose to include Christoph Büchel’s installation of a salvaged boat that, in 2015, sank in the Mediterranean with more than 800 people aboard. I reflected on this watery tomb, recommissioned as a tourist attraction, while looking out across Piraeus port. In the distance, a military troop (jointly operated by Italy and the European Union) performed exercises atop a warship in a city where anti-immigrant attacks are on the rise. In the seventeenth century, the Venetians gained and lost control of Athens in a rivalry with the Ottomans. Today, it seems the EU’s primary objective in the Mediterranean is to sever thousands of years of interconnection between these three regions. Two years ago, the regenerative promise of art as a universal cultural good was undermined when documenta 14 recreated the financial dynamics of German austerity policies in Athens, Greece afresh. Debts went unpaid, workers uncompensated, all in the name of “fiscal responsibility” that nearly shuttered the sixty-year-old event for good. What better outcome ought we to expect this year from an art event born out of universal nationalism?

Christine Wertheim

Halil Altindere, Space Refugee, 2016. May You Live in Interesting Times, Venice Biennale 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

An explicitly utopian impulse is fugitive in May You Live in Interesting Times, but it manifests in the intersection of art, science, and technology. Margaret and Christine Wertheim’s Crochet Coral Reef raises awareness about preservation of the oceans through a crowdsourcing practice that combines mathematical learning with environmentalism and craft. Tavares Strachan’s meditation on African American astronaut Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr., locates metaphysical discourse about the afterlife within a scientific conversation about space travel—where elsewhere Halil Altindere complicates this view with the tale of Syrian cosmonaut Muhammed Ahmed Faris and his persecution by the state. Ryoji Ikeda bathes us in cleansing white light and describes a massive, thunderous universe of data that takes breathtaking shape before our eyes. Hito Steyerl’s This is the Future is a post-internet pastorale in which computer vision is applied to the Venetian landscape to depict a state of perpetual, dreamlike futurity in which the present persistently refuses to resolve into view. The protagonist of Steyerl’s installation seeks out a garden that she had previously hidden in the future in order to protect it from the ravages of the present.

The song of the Lithuanian Pavilion Sun & Sea (Marina) still rings in my ears:

“When my body dies, I will remain,
In an empty planet without birds, animals and corals.
Yet with the press of a single button,
I will remake this world again”

The finale of Sun & Sea (Marina) details the 3D printing of facsimiles of species in widespread collapse, taking comfort in their simulated resurrection as one would in the cold rays of a dying sun.

Greek Islands

Sun & Sea (Marina), Lithuanian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

The gentle tenor of the apocalyptic visions in Sun & Sea (Marina) perfectly encapsulates the feeling of living at the outside edge of the story of the human species on planet Earth, with the knowledge that history as we know it may well be about to end because our species is one of millions undergoing collapse. The emptiness of our endeavors is invoked by Shilpa Gupta, whose wildly swinging metal gate hammers an effigy of national borders into a gallery wall. Otobong Nkanga’s drawings in acrylic on crayon reference the mechanical, industrialized nature of exploitation in the 21st century. Unlike the bees, whose society is organized around abundance, we humans have engineered systems to maximize our suffering. If humankind can truly lay claim to a common ideological heritage, as Fukuyama once argued, we have only ourselves to blame for our impending end.

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How I Came to Own the Largest Virtual Assistant Agency on the African Continent

The year was 2008. I had started my own business due to a request from an ex-client at a previous full-time position.

Now what was I to do? I had already accepted and started a full-time post at another corporate and didn’t want to miss that opportunity.

And there, an entrepreneur was born. Back then I had not heard of the term “Virtual Assistant” and yet, that was apparently what I was offering my clients. To me I was offering marketing support on an ad hoc basis and loving the idea of running a side hustle whilst working.

It took quite a bit of juggling, yet with the help of an assistant I was able to do this quite successfully. And then that business folded. The emotional attachment I had to that brand was natural for a first time business owner.

It took me quite a few years to get beyond what I perceived was an absolute failure. Little did I realise then, but know now, was that failure should be embraced and seen as an opportunity to learn and to grow.

Out of what was left of that business I did learn a few business lessons. One of the things I learned was that although outsourcing was at its infancy stage, especially in South Africa, there was still a demand for it. Virtual assistance was only surfacing in our market, even though our international counterparts had been making use of this service for 2 decades by that stage.

Fortunately I forged ahead. For some reason I just had this feeling that I needed to make this work. Now to really understand the full picture, I had no idea of really running a business, the importance of having proper contracts in place, a decent invoicing system, a marketing plan or any of those essentials required to run a successful business.

I was of course up for the challenge! Building my business was my learning ground.

I was thrown into the deep end when it came to sales and discovered a natural love for this environment. Having always worked in a sales and marketing arena on the admin side certainly did open doors for me in terms of growing my business.

Then I discovered that having the ability to market oneself was a huge blessing. As it turns out, one of the key skills lacking in this industry is the ability to craft a winning marketing plan to gain new clients. I’m very grateful for those Virtual Assistants-turned Coaches and Trainers who were willing to share their expertise with the rest of us. Being able to learn from them helped pave the way to a successful agency.

…and the interest to join my team.

I started realising the value I could bring by helping other entrepreneurs and business owners with managing their day and time. At the end of the day I truly want to see everyone around me succeed, whether it be colleagues or clients.

How much the landscape has changed since 2008, when apps like Slack and Dropbox were unknown. And now we can hardly run our businesses without it.

We went from running an ad on an online directory, to creating a full-blown marketing campaign using platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. These platforms have brought the four corners of the world closer together, allowing us to engage and improve the lives of those around us, no matter where we find ourselves.

Now we can revel in the delight of working remotely. You could very easily go for a cup of joe and sit at the coffee shop for a couple of hours getting your work done and your client would be none the wiser, as the quality of work still remains high.

I’m so grateful that I was placed on this path in 2008, with an innocent request from a client to handle his account. If it weren’t for him, who knows where I would find myself today.

Learn more about Karen and her business here!

Karen Wessels is a business woman and co-founder of VA Connect, the largest Virtual Assistant Agency on the African continent.

Karen comes from a sales, marketing and admin focused background, so she really gets how to build a business successfully from the ground up.

Karen hosts regular sales strategy workshops to assist other entrepreneurs with building and growing their businesses. Her passion for people and helping them succeed is the essence of VA Connect. As a working mom she understands the need for an extra pair of hands and has built this agency around that vision.

VA Connect’s exclusively South African VA’s are in high demand and they service an international client base. For more details on how VA Connect can add time to your day and get you working ON your business instead of IN your business, then visit their website.

Latest posts by Karen Wessels (see all)

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Why the fight against disinformation, sham accounts and trolls won’t be any easier in 2020

2020 Election

The big tech companies have announced aggressive steps to keep trolls, bots and online fakery from marring another presidential election — from Facebook’s removal of billions of fake accounts to Twitter’s spurning of all political ads.

But it’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole that’s only getting harder as we barrel toward the 2020 election. Disinformation peddlers are deploying new, more subversive techniques and American operatives have adopted some of the deceptive tactics Russians tapped in 2016. Now, tech companies face thorny and sometimes subjective choices about how to combat them — at times drawing flak from both Democrats and Republicans as a result.

This is our roundup of some of the evolving challenges Silicon Valley faces as it tries to counter online lies and bad actors heading into the 2020 election cycle:

1) American trolls may be a greater threat than Russians

Russia-backed trolls notoriously flooded social media with disinformation around the presidential election in 2016, in what Robert Mueller’s investigators described as a multimillion-dollar plot involving years of planning, hundreds of people and a wave of fake accounts posting news and ads on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube.

This time around — as experts have warned — a growing share of the threat is likely to originate in America.

“It’s likely that there will be a high volume of misinformation and disinformation pegged to the 2020 election, with the majority of it being generated right here in the United States, as opposed to coming from overseas,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Barrett, the author of a recent report on 2020 disinformation, noted that lies and misleading claims about 2020 candidates originating in the U.S. have already spread across social media. Those include manufactured sex scandals involving South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and a smear campaign calling Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) “not an American black” because of her multiracial heritage. (The latter claim got a boost on Twitter from Donald Trump Jr.)

Before last year’s midterm elections, Americans similarly amplified fake messages such as a “#nomenmidterms” hashtag that urged liberal men to stay home from the polls to make “a Woman’s Vote Worth more.” Twitter suspended at least one person — actor James Woods — for retweeting that message.

“A lot of the disinformation that we can identify tends to be domestic,” said Nahema Marchal, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Project. “Just regular private citizens leveraging the Russian playbook, if you will, to create … a divisive narrative, or just mixing factual reality with made-up facts.”

Tech companies say they’ve broadened their fight against disinformation as a result. Facebook, for instance, announced in October that it had expanded its policies against “coordinated inauthentic behavior” to reflect a rise in disinformation campaigns run by non-state actors, domestic groups and companies. But people tracking the spread of fakery say it remains a problem, especially inside closed groups like those popular on Facebook.

2) And policing domestic content is tricky

U.S. law forbids foreigners from taking part in American political campaigns — a fact that made it easy for members of Congress to criticize Facebook for accepting rubles as payment for political ads in 2016.

But Americans are allowed, even encouraged, to partake in their own democracy — which makes things a lot more complicated when they use social media tools to try to skew the electoral process. For one thing, the companies face a technical challenge: Domestic meddling doesn’t leave obvious markers such as ads written in broken English and traced back to Russian internet addresses.

More fundamentally, there’s often no clear line between bad-faith meddling and dirty politics. It’s not illegal to run a mud-slinging campaign or engage in unscrupulous electioneering. And the tech companies are wary of being seen as infringing on American’s right to engage in political speech — all the more so as conservatives such as President Donald Trump accuse them of silencing their voices.

Plus, the line between foreign and domestic can be blurry. Even in 2016, the Kremlin-backed troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency relied on Americans to boost their disinformation. Now, claims with hazy origins are being picked up without need for a coordinated 2016-style foreign campaign. Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic strategist who has spent recent years focused on online disinformation, points to Trump’s promotion of the theory that Ukraine significantly meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, a charge that some experts trace back to Russian security forces.

“It’s hard to know if something is foreign or domestic,” said Rosenberg, once it “gets swept up in this vast ‘Wizard of Oz’-like noise machine.”

3) Bad actors are learning

Experts agree on one thing: The election interference tactics that social media platforms encounter in 2020 will look different from those they’ve trying to fend off since 2016.

“What we’re going to see is the continued evolution and development of new approaches, new experimentation trying to see what will work and what won’t,” said Lee Foster, who leads the information operations intelligence analysis team at the cybersecurity firm FireEye.

Foster said the “underlying motivations” of undermining democratic institutions and casting doubt on election results will remain constant, but the trolls have already evolved their tactics.

For instance, they’ve gotten better at obscuring their online activity to avoid automatic detection, even as social media platforms ramp up their use of artificial intelligence software to dismantle bot networks and eradicate inauthentic accounts.

“One of the challenges for the platforms is that, on the one hand, the public understandably demands more transparency from them about how they take down or identify state-sponsored attacks or how they take down these big networks of authentic accounts, but at the same time they can’t reveal too much at the risk of playing into bad actors’ hands,” said Oxford’s Marchal.

Researchers have already observed extensive efforts to distribute disinformation through user-generated posts — known as “organic” content — rather than the ads or paid messages that were prominent in the 2016 disinformation campaigns.

Foster, for example, cited trolls impersonating journalists or other more reliable figures to give disinformation greater legitimacy. And Marchal noted a rise in the use of memes and doctored videos, whose origins can be difficult to track down. Jesse Littlewood, vice president at advocacy group Common Cause, said social media posts aimed at voter suppression frequently appear no different from ordinary people sharing election updates in good faith — messages such as “you can text your vote” or “the election’s a different day” that can be “quite harmful.”

Tech companies insist they are learning, too. Since the 2016 election, Google, Facebook and Twitter have devoted security experts and engineers to tackling disinformation in national elections across the globe, including the 2018 midterms in the United States. The companies say they have gotten better at detecting and removing fake accounts, particularly those engaged in coordinated campaigns.

But other tactics may have escaped detection so far. NYU’s Barrett noted that disinformation-for-hire operations sometimes employed by corporations may be ripe for use in U.S. politics, if they’re not already.

He pointed to a recent experiment conducted by the cyber threat intelligence firm Recorded Future, which said it paid two shadowy Russian “threat actors” a total of just $6,050 to generate media campaigns promoting and trashing a fictitious company. Barrett said the project was intended “to lure out of the shadows firms that are willing to do this kind of work,” and demonstrated how easy it is to generate and sow disinformation.

Real-life examples include a hyper-partisan skewed news operation started by a former Fox News executive and Facebook’s accusations that an Israeli social media company profited from creating hundreds of fake accounts. That “shows that there are firms out there that are willing and eager to engage in this kind of underhanded activity,” Barrett said.

4) Not all lies are created equal

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are largely united in trying to take down certain kinds of false information, such as targeted attempts to drive down voter turnout. But their enforcement has been more varied when it comes to material that is arguably misleading.

In some cases, the companies label the material factually dubious or use their algorithms to limit its spread. But in the lead-up to 2020, the companies’ rules are being tested by political candidates and government leaders who sometimes play fast and loose with the truth.

“A lot of the mainstream campaigns and politicians themselves tend to rely on a mix of fact and fiction,” Marchal said. “It’s often a lot of … things that contain a kernel of truth but have been distorted.”

One example is the flap over a Trump campaign ad — which appeared on Facebook, YouTube and some television networks — suggesting that former Vice President Joe Biden had pressured Ukraine into firing a prosecutor to squelch an investigation into an energy company whose board included Biden’s son Hunter. In fact, the Obama administration and multiple U.S. allies had pushed for removing the prosecutor for slow-walking corruption investigations. The ad “relies on speculation and unsupported accusations to mislead viewers,” the nonpartisan site FactCheck.org concluded.

The debate has put tech companies at the center of a tug of war in Washington. Republicans have argued for more permissive rules to safeguard constitutionally protected political speech, while Democrats have called for greater limits on politicians’ lies.

Democrats have especially lambasted Facebook for refusing to fact-check political ads, and have criticized Twitter for letting politicians lie in their tweets and Google for limiting candidates’ ability to finely tune the reach of their advertising — all examples, the Democrats say, of Silicon Valley ducking the fight against deception.

Jesse Blumenthal, who leads the tech policy arm of the Koch-backed Stand Together coalition, said expecting Silicon Valley to play truth cop places an undue burden on tech companies to litigate messy disputes over what’s factual.

“Most of the time the calls are going to be subjective, so what they end up doing is putting the platforms at the center of this rather than politicians being at the center of this,” he said.

Further complicating matters, social media sites have generally granted politicians considerably more leeway to spread lies and half-truths through their individual accounts and in certain instances through political ads. “We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an October speech at Georgetown University in which he defended his company’s policy.

But Democrats say tech companies shouldn’t profit off false political messaging.

“I am supportive of these social media companies taking a much harder line on what content they allow in terms of political ads and calling out lies that are in political ads, recognizing that that’s not always the easiest thing to draw those distinctions,” Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state told POLITICO.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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