Inauguration festivities — like so many events over the past 10 months — are going virtual.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee for Joe Biden faces the lofty challenge of re-creating the excitement and hope of a new presidency — without the bustling throngs of supporters, crowded ballrooms and first couple's iconic dance.
The pandemic and recent violence at the U.S. Capitol have rendered many of the typical celebrations too dangerous. President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris are still expected to take their oaths of office from the Capitol's West Front, but before a much smaller audience because of public health and security concerns. Later in the day, they're planning to host a virtual inauguration parade, which is expected to be similar stylistically to the virtual Democratic national convention. And a prime-time special hosted by Tom Hanks will replace the many balls where a new president and his supporters revel in victory before getting to work.
The Inauguration celebrations are expected to lean on the best of social media during the pandemic.
The Biden team is turning to viral social media sensations to bring some much-needed levity and influencer vibes to today's event. In addition to celebrities such as Bruce Springsteen and Justin Timberlake, the inaugural events will feature many regular Americans who racked up views online for their good deeds … or just living their lives in a difficult year.
— Nathan Apodaca: The feel-good skateboarder, also known as DoggFace, went viral on TikTok after millions tuned in to watch a video of him longboarding to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” while sipping on a bottle of cranberry juice.
— Mackenzie Adams: The Washington state teacher racked up millions of views on a TikTok video of the expressions she makes to try to keep her kindergarten students engaged in remote learning.
— Morgan Marsh-McGlone: The 8-year-old raised more than $50,000 through a virtual lemonade stand to feed needy families because their kids could no longer get meals at school during the pandemic.
— Anthony Gaskin: More than 100 people recently gathered along the UPS driver's delivery route to thank him for his years of service and upbeat attitude during the pandemic.
— Jason Campbell: Known as the “TikTok Doc,” the Portland-based resident uses social media to entertain with his dance moves.
— Cathy Cluck: The Texas-based AP U.S. History teacher went on a 15-day road trip to virtually teach history from the places where it happened.
The selection of guests indicates how Biden is expected to today strike a resilient and unifying tone — which will strongly contrast from the message of “American carnage” that President Trump laid out four years ago.
This Inauguration will be produced for consumption online.
Over the past several months, production teams have explored new ways to reimagine events ranging from political conventions to concerts in virtual formats. The Biden team tapped Stephanie Cutter and Ricky Kirshner, who spearheaded the convention plans, to serve as executive producers today.
Hugh Evans, the co-founder and chief executive of Global Citizen who organized one of the first major virtual events last year, “Together at Home,” told me that they should be preparing for people to watch asynchronously and in short formats.
“Consumption of content has changed entirely,” he said. “Everything is bite-sized chunks, and digital first strategy is everything.”
In addition to the traditional TV broadcasts, the Inauguration events will be streamed on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch. They'll also be available on Amazon Prime Video and Microsoft Bing. You can even tune in via Alexa devices by simply saying, “Alexa, play the presidential Inauguration.”
Tech companies are also preparing fun ways to bring the action to users. Snap is launching augmented reality lenses to make people feel like they're celebrating at the Capitol. They'll also be able to watch a greeting from Biden, and swipe up to view a live stream of the Inauguration.
Historians say this isn't the first time that Inauguration will have a limited in-person audience.
The event has been moved inside multiple times due to severe weather, said Jim Bendat, an Inauguration historian and author of “Democracy's Big Day: The Inauguration of Our President, 1789 - 2013.” But he anticipates even though the in-person viewers will be limited, there could be more people watching than ever before as many Americans are working and going to school online because of the pandemic.
“I think more people are going to watch it on television or on their computers than previously, it's going to get a big audience no doubt about it,” he said.
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Trump pardoned former Google engineer and serial entrepreneur Anthony Levandowski.
Levandowski was pardoned from an 18-month prison sentence on one count of stealing trade secrets, TechCrunch's Kirsten Korosec reports. He was among the 143 people who were granted clemency by the outgoing president in the final hours of his term.
The White House said Levandowski's pardon was supported by prominent technology investors and founders, including Founders Fund's co-founder Peter Thiel and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, who were two of Trump's most prominent supporters in the tech industry. Other people connected to Thiel organizations including Trae Stephens, partner at Founders Fund, and Blake Masters, who is chief operating officer at Thiel Capital, also supported the pardon.
“Mr. Levandowski has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good,” the White House said in a statement.
Levandowski is one of the most divisive engineers in the autonomolus vehicle sector. He pled guilty to trade secret theft after a years-long courtroom battle last year, following allegations that he took proprietary documents from Google when he left the tech giant to become head of Uber's self-driving car effort.
“My family and I are grateful for the opportunity to move forward, and thankful to the President and others who supported and advocated on my behalf,” Levandowski told TechCrunch.
Trump also pardoned former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon, rapper Lil Wayne and nonviolent drug offenders. He did not pardon himself, his family or former government contractor Edward Snowden.
Trump and his supporters will continue to find places to speak freely online – but it may be in more extreme and obscure corners of the Internet.
Trump might be exiled from Twitter and other major social media companies, but there will always be social media alternatives available to him, my colleagues Craig Timberg and Drew Harwell report. Parler is scrambling to come back online after major Internet companies cut ties with it, and there's an ever increasing list of other websites that are taking a hands-off approach to content moderation.
However these websites will not offer the outgoing president as much reach or as broad audiences as mainstream services. Trump is permanently suspended from Twitter, and YouTube announced yesterday he would be suspended for at least seven more days. Facebook has banned the president indefinitely and has said it has no plans to lift the suspension.
“I’m hearing some conversations that seem to suggest that de-platforming is a cure-all for radicalization, and that is not at all what the evidence suggests,” Amarnath Amarasingam, an extremism researcher at Queen’s University in Ontario, told my colleagues. “What de-platforming does is disrupt networks, makes it harder for individuals to find each other again, shatters the trust that existed between them [and] takes the megaphone away.”
The most extreme voices – QAnon enthusiasts, Proud Boys, “Bogaloo bois,” white supremacists, anti-Semites – have found ways to continue talking online after they were kicked off Facebook, Twitter and others. But it's much more difficult for them to talk to everyone else – and attract new followers.
Three of the biggest pro-Trump sites on the Internet — Parler, Gab and TheDonald.win — have seen a combined average of about 3 million website visits a day in the United States since the violence at the Capitol, according to analytics firm SimilarWeb. That’s about 5 percent of Twitter’s daily U.S. traffic over the same time frame, at 57 million visits a day, and 2 percent of Facebook’s, at more than 140 million.
Facebook pushed users to join partisan groups ahead of the attack on the Capitol.
Facebook continued to recommend that users join political groups — even after telling Congress that it had stopped — ahead of the Jan. 6 violence in Washington, The Markup reports. The outlet found that 12 of the top 100 groups recommended to users in its sample were political, with some group recommendations made after Facebook renewed that promise on Jan. 11.
Posts in those groups included a call for Georgia Republicans to be hanged in response to their refusal to overturn the presidential election. One group administrator posted an event called called “#StormTheCapitol,” which told the 58,000-member group to show up in Washington on Jan. 6.
“We have a clear policy against recommending civic or political groups on our platforms,” Facebook spokesperson Kevin McAlister wrote in response, “and are investigating why these were recommended in the first place.”
Facebook groups promoting false election claims and violence have slipped through the cracks in recent weeks. Democratic lawmakers have signaled that they’re preparing to act with the Biden administration to regulate the company, our colleagues report.
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