Monthly Archives: January 2021

How the Pandemic Stoked a Backlash to Multilevel Marketing

YouTube vigilantes are taking consumer advocacy into their own hands.
By Kaitlyn Tiffany – For decades, multilevel-marketing companies had it easy. Cutco knives, Tupperware containers, and Pampered Chef bread mixes were inoffensive products sold at weeknight wine parties and, later, in themed Facebook groups. For the most part, they were an unremarkable part of women’s lives.

Multilevel marketing—a form of direct selling in which a major chunk of a person’s income comes not from the sales they make themselves but from the sales made by people they recruit into the company—was often regarded as exploitative by consumer advocates, but it rarely encountered a serious threat. During the pandemic, distributors for many MLM companies have used this lack of pushback to their advantage: On Instagram and Facebook, women have tried to persuade their followers to use their stimulus checks to join a company that sells shampoo or weight-loss products. They have used economic collapse as a recruitment tool, offering MLMs as the solution to lost income and increased precarity.

For Heather Rainbow, a 20-year-old chemistry student, these appeals were a wake-up call. In May, she made her first anti-MLM TikTok video, green-screening herself in front of what she claims is the 2018 income-disclosure statement for the hair-care company Monat, which shows that 94 percent of its distributors had an average income of $183 that year. She now considers herself something of a consumer advocate and misinformation combatant, posting about companies such as Cutco, Younique, Arbonne, and Lipsense to her 113,00 followers. “That was my first TikTok to really get views,” she told me. “I had no idea that people on TikTok would be so receptive to the anti-MLM message.” (I reached out to several of the companies named in this article, and most, including Monat, did not respond to my requests for comment. A spokesperson for Arbonne told me in an email that regulators “have recognized the legitimacy of multi-level marketing for decades.”)

The same social networks that multilevel-marketing distributors are called upon to exploit—their friends, their family, their followers, their “mutuals”—are now the social networks through which women are pushing out a completely different message. (Though men participate in multilevel marketing as well, they do so in much smaller numbers.) On Reddit, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok, a huge community has coalesced around the anti-MLM sentiment, bringing together disenchanted former salespeople, curious independent researchers, and thousands of women who are just tired of getting Facebook messages about selling essential oils. more>

Updates from McKinsey

A new consultation paper from McKinsey and the World Economic Forum explores the role that natural climate solutions can play in helping to address climate change and the destruction of nature.
Why investing in nature is key to climate mitigation
By Daniel Aminetzah, Emily Birch, Julien Claes, Joshua Katz, Peter Mannion, Sebastien Marlier, Dickon Pinner, and Antoine Stevens – As the world looks beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, a consensus is emerging: certain measures to curb the growth of greenhouse-gas emissions will be central to global economic recovery. Awareness is also growing around the urgent need to slow the destruction of the natural world, and it is becoming clear that the two environmental crises—a changing climate and nature loss—are inextricably linked and compounding.

Natural climate solutions (NCS)—conservation, restoration, and land-management actions that increase carbon storage and avoid greenhouse-gas emissions—offer a way to address both crises and to increase resilience as the climate changes. In fact, as argued in a new paper produced by McKinsey in partnership with the World Economic Forum, there is no clear path to deliver climate mitigation without investing in nature. Climate action requires both the reduction of emissions and the removal of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. NCS can help with both, starting today.

Private-sector commitment to climate action is gaining momentum, with companies increasingly adopting strategies aimed at reaching net-zero emissions and some pledging to invest in nature through the purchase of NCS-generated carbon credits (or “offsets”) as part of the effort. Based on current net-zero commitments from more than 700 of the world’s largest companies, there have already been commitments of carbon credits of around 0.2 gigatons (Gt) of CO2 by 2030. Some companies are even beginning to make commitments beyond carbon to biodiversity and water, which will be a growing trend over the next decade. As a core component of corporate climate mitigation, NCS are thus becoming mainstream, if not yet commonplace. While undersized overall, NCS now account for around 40 percent of retired carbon credits in voluntary carbon markets, up from only 5 percent in 2010. Leaders are also beginning to invest directly in nature through protecting and restoring large expanses of land and ocean. more>

Updates from Ciena

Rethinking NaaS as a journey to openness and automation
NaaS can feel like an abstract concept, and various misconceptions abound on what it is and what is possible. But as Blue Planet’s Kailem Anderson explains, NaaS has measurable and quantifiable benefits that are achievable today.
By Kailem Anderson – What is Network as a Service (NaaS)? It’s a simple enough question, but there is a lot of confusion in the marketplace about the answer.

Some common misconceptions or myths about NaaS are that it is just a new way for Communications Service Providers (CSPs) to sell virtualized services to enterprises, that its only about operations support system transformation through open and programmable APIs, or that it means the same thing as software-defined networking (SDN).

Perhaps the biggest misconception, however, is that NaaS isn’t real – that it is a futuristic goal. While NaaS is, indeed, a ‘future state’ vision for CSPs, they can and are using it in production environments today.

I like to think of NaaS as an evolutionary journey toward a network, operations and business architecture that is open, agile and automated. Successful completion of this journey will result in digital transformation that allows CSPs to take back control of their networks, save on operational costs, increase innovation, accelerate time to market, and improve customer experience. more>

What Makes Songs Popular? It’s All About ‘You’

Songs stick in our heads for all sorts of reasons, but new research finds that listeners love tunes more when one particular word is included in the lyrics. A new study by Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger and Grant Packard, marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, zeroes in on the humble pronoun “you.” Berger joined Knowledge@Wharton to talk about his paper with Packard, which is titled “Thinking of You: How Second-person Pronouns Shape Cultural Success.” (Listen to the podcast at the top of this page.) The study is part of a larger look at how precise language affects consumer behavior, with implications for marketing, sales and customer service.
Knowledge@Wharton – What question motivated you to do this research?

Jonah Berger: We’ve been doing a lot of work around what’s called natural language processing, extracting behavioral insights from textual data. Everything we do — from this interview we’re recording, conversations we have with friends and family members, reviews we leave online, customer services calls, songs we listen to, articles we read — contains language. There’s a really exciting opportunity now to mine some of this data for behavioral insight to understand why songs or movies succeed, to understand why some customer service calls go better than others, and to use language to be more effective. Essentially, [we want] to extract wisdom from words, so we can all understand behavior better and be more effective.

In this particular case, we were interested in a question that I think many people have wondered about at one point in their lives. Why do some songs become hits? We all know hit songs. We hear them on the radio — we listen to them for years, if not decades, after they come out. Some songs become hits, others fail. Same thing with books, movies, and so on. Why do some of these things win out in the marketplace of ideas, and others fail? I think we’ve all wondered that as consumers, but as a marketing professor, this is something I’ve tried to study and to quantify.

We did a paper a few years ago where we found that atypical songs — songs that are about different things than [usual in] their genre —  are more successful. Take country music, for example. Country music tends to talk a lot about things like girlfriends and cars. But looking at thousands of songs across multiple years, we found that songs about different things in their genres are more successful. more>

No time to spare for the Paris climate promise

Having squandered past opportunities and shirked previous commitments, we now must start making up for lost time.
By Mary Robinson – Covid-19 turned the world upside down in 2020. But it has also shown us that when there is a political consensus for action, human ingenuity and innovation can be deployed at the scale and speed needed to meet global challenges.

With unprecedented speed, we have developed, tested and begun to deploy multiple effective vaccines for Covid-19. Now we must bring the same resolve to bear on fighting the other great existential threat to humanity: climate change. As the United Nations secretary-general, António Guterresput it last month, ‘our future security and prosperity depend on bold climate action’.

And yet, even at the most recent Climate Ambition Summit on December 12th, many leaders’ commitments still fell far short of what is needed to meet this collective challenge. To be sure, the European Union, the United Kingdom and even some of the smaller countries that are most vulnerable to climate change have significantly strengthened their 2030 emissions-reduction targets. But the United States, Japan, China and other major greenhouse-gas emitters still need to follow suit, preferably well ahead of the UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this coming November. Given the crisis we face, there are no more excuses for delay or prevarication. more>

Updates from ITU

How the city of Philadelphia plans to measure its digital divide
By Sarah Wray – The City of Philadelphia has issued a request for proposal (RFP) to rapidly quantify the number of households that are without Internet connectivity or relying on unstable, low-bandwidth options.

The RFP, issued with non-profit the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia, seeks to enable the city to benchmark its progress on closing the digital divide and inform the next phase of policy, program and budget decisions.

Mark Wheeler, Chief Information Officer, City of Philadelphia, told Cities Today: “To address digital equity problems, the City of Philadelphia needs to be able to benchmark its impact with programmes like PHLConnectED.”

“The city seeks feedback from firms or research agencies who have the means to measure Internet use (by type of technology) by Philadelphia households. We are looking for any and all ways to achieve quantifiable measures,” said Wheeler. “Because we are smart city and innovation-oriented, proposals that make sophisticated use of commercial data modelling and artificial intelligence are of particular interest.”

Closing the digital divide has shot to the top of cities’ priority lists amid the pandemic as everything from work to shopping for essentials and even access to critical information and services has shifted online. Access to education has been a particularly urgent concern. more>

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Updates from Ciena

Accelerate mission response with a simpler, Adaptive Network
Jim Westdorp, Ciena Government Chief Technologist, outlines how a holistic, end-to-end networking approach can help agencies meet growing digital and cybersecurity demands.
By Jim Wesdorp – The rapid transition to remote work and constituent demands for improved user experiences are challenging government agencies to digitize services—from tax payments to employee benefits. At the same time, government databases are increasingly becoming major targets for individual and nation-backed attackers. Budgetary constraints and diminishing tech expertise only complicate matters as agencies struggle to balance cost- and performance-optimization alongside cyber resiliency.

So how can government agencies accelerate digital transformation, defend against hackers, and support legacy applications and complex infrastructures?

The answer: a network infrastructure that is simpler to manage. Modern IT and communications can enable automation, improve performance, and help assure cyber resiliency at a time when government agencies are under unprecedented pressure to deliver services quickly and securely.

It takes more than technology, though, to simplify a network. A foundational step in any modernization effort is to conduct an inventory of a network’s physical assets, from routers to servers, and determine both the network elements and attached management software used to construct it. more>

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Why Immigration Drives Innovation

Economic history reveals one unmistakable psychological pattern.
By Joseph Henrich – When President Coolidge signed the Johnson-Reed Act into law in 1924, he drained the well-spring of American ingenuity. The new policy sought to restore the ethnic homogeneity of 1890 America by tightening the 1921 immigration quotas. As a result, immigration from eastern Europe and Italy plummeted, and Asian immigrants were banned. Assessing the law’s impact, the economists Petra Moser and Shmuel San show how this steep and selective cut in immigration stymied U.S. innovation across a swath of scientific fields, including radio waves, radiation and polymers—all fields in which Eastern European immigrants had made contributions prior to 1924. Not only did patenting drop by two-thirds across 36 scientific domains, but U.S-born researchers became less creative as well, experiencing a 62% decline in their own patenting. American scientists lost the insights, ideas and fresh perspectives that inevitably flow in with immigrants.

Before this, from 1850 to 1920, American innovation and economic growth had been fueled by immigration. The 1899 inflow included a large fraction of groups that were later deemed “undesirable”: e.g., 26% Italians, 12% “Hebrews,” and 9% “Poles.” Taking advantage of the randomness provided by expanding railroad networks and changing circumstances in Europe, a trio of economists—Sandra Sequeira, Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian–demonstrate that counties that ended up with more immigrants subsequently innovated more rapidly and earned higher incomes, both in the short-term and today. The telephone, hot blast furnace, screw propeller, flashlight and ironclad ship were all pioneered by immigrants. The analysis also suggests that immigrants made native-born Americans more creative. Nikola Tesla, a Serbian who grew up in the Austrian Empire, provided George Westinghouse, a New Yorker whose parents had migrated from Westphalia, with a key missing component for his system of electrification based on AC current (Tesla also patented 100s of other inventions).

In ending the quotas imposed under the Harding-Coolidge administration, President Johnson remarked in 1964 that “Today, with my signature, this system is abolished…Men of needed skill and talent were denied entrance because they came from southern or eastern Europe or from one of the developing continents…” By the mid-1970s, U.S innovation was again powerfully fueled by immigrants, now coming from places like Mexico, China, India, Philippines and Vietnam. From 1975 to 2010, an additional 10,000 immigrants generated 22% more patents every five years. Again, not only did immigrants innovate, they also stoked the creative energies of the locals. more>

Was it a coup? No, but siege on US Capitol was the election violence of a fragile democracy

By Clayton Besaw and Matthew Frank – Did the United States just have a coup attempt?

Supporters of President Donald Trump, following his encouragement, stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, disrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. Waving Trump banners, hundreds of people broke through barricades and smashed windows to enter the building where Congress convenes. One rioter died and several police officers were hospitalized in the clash. Congress went on lockdown.

While violent and shocking, what happened on Jan. 6 wasn’t a coup.

This Trumpist insurrection was election violence, much like the election violence that plagues many fragile democracies.

The uprising at the Capitol building does not meet all three criteria of a coup.

Trump’s rioting supporters targeted a branch of executive authority – Congress – and they did so illegally, through trespassing and property destruction. Categories #2 and #3, check.

As for category #1, the rioters appeared to be civilians operating of their own volition, not state actors. President Trump did incite his followers to march on the Capitol building less than an hour before the crowd invaded the grounds, insisting the election had been stolen and saying “We will not take it anymore.” This comes after months of spreading unfounded electoral lies and conspiracies that created a perception of government malfeasance in the mind of many Trump supporters.

Whether the president’s motivation in inflaming the anger of his supporters was to assault Congress is not clear, and he tepidly told them to go home as the violence escalated. For now it seems the riot in Washington, D.C., was enacted without the approval, aid or active leadership of government actors like the military, police or sympathetic GOP officials. more>

Updates from ITU

Towards environmental efficiency in the age of AI
ITU – The rapid adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and emerging technologies has sparked the need for a sustainable approach able to safeguard the environment. A recent ITU workshop provided a platform to discuss environmental efficiency in the age of AI, increasing automation, and smart manufacturing.

The workshop discussed emerging technologies’ potential to contribute to climate action as part of global efforts to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It also highlighted practical tools to evaluate environmental aspects of emerging technologies and discussed the role to be played by international standardization in supporting the expansion of this toolkit.

The workshop’s discussions fed into a meeting of the ITU Focus Group on environmental efficiency for AI and emerging technologies (FG-AI4EE). The group is analyzing the relationship between emerging technologies and environmental efficiency to benchmark best practices and provide a basis for new ITU standards. “This focus group is among the first global platforms for the environmental aspects of emerging technologies,” noted Paolo Gemma, Huawei, Co-Chair of the Focus Group.

The Focus Group is open to all interested parties. Sign-up as a participant and join the mailing list on the homepage. For more information, contact tsbfgai4ee@itu.int. more>

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