Facebook, Google and Twitter C.E.O.s to Face Lawmakers Again: Live Updates

Here’s what you need to know:

Jack Dorsey, left, the chief executive of Twitter; Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google; and Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 25.
Credit…Lm Otero Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

The chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter will face skeptical lawmakers again next month when a congressional committee questions them about the ways disinformation spreads across their platforms.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee said Thursday that it would hold a hearing on March 25 with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter.

The committee has been examining the future of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 law that shields the platforms from lawsuits over much of the content posted by their users. The attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, which included participants with ties to QAnon and other conspiracy theories that have spread widely online, has renewed concerns that the law allows the platforms to take a hands-off approach to extremist content.

“For far too long, Big Tech has failed to acknowledge the role they’ve played in fomenting and elevating blatantly false information to its online audiences,” a group of the committee’s top Democrats said in a statement. “Industry self-regulation has failed.”

Andy Stone, a spokesman for Facebook, said the company “believes it’s time to update the rules of the internet, and this hearing should be another important step in the process.”

The House Judiciary Committee announced its own set of hearings on the tech industry on Thursday. It said it would hold multiple hearings on how to update antitrust laws to address the power of the tech giants. The committee questioned chief executives before concluding a lengthy investigation into the companies last year.

The Judiciary Committee’s first hearing will take place on Wednesday.

An all-electric Renault Zoe. Renault’s chief executive, Luca de Meo, last month presented a plan to return the automaker to profitability.
Credit…Samuel Zeller for The New York Times

Renault, the French carmaker, reported a loss of 8 billion euros, or $9.7 billion, in 2020 as the pandemic gutted sales, but the company said that was profitable in the later part of the year.

Most of the annual loss stemmed from Renault’s stake in its troubled partner, Nissan. Losses at the Japanese carmaker drained €5 billion from the bottom line, Renault said. In addition, Renault car sales plunged 20 percent for the year, to just short of three million vehicles.

“After a first half impacted by Covid-19, the group has significantly turned around its performance in the second half,” Luca de Meo, Renault’s chief executive, said in a statement, without giving a figure. He said that 2021 was “set to be difficult given the unknowns regarding the health crisis as well as electronic components supply shortages.”

In 2021, shortages of semiconductors, a problem for almost all carmakers, could cut production by as much as 100,000 vehicles, Renault said.

Mr. de Meo, who became Renault’s chief executive in July, last month announced a plan to return to profitability that includes cuts in production capacity, sales of fewer models and increased parts sharing among vehicles to simplify manufacturing.

A tractor trailer is stuck in the ice and snow in Killeen, Texas. The winter storms that wreaked havoc across the South and Midwest have affected futures for oil and natural gas prices.
Credit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Oil futures are trending downward after jumping earlier in the week, while natural gas gyrated through the day. Both were affected by the fierce winter storms that caused millions of people to go without power across Texas this week.

  • West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark crude, was down 2 percent on Friday, to about $59.35 a barrel. It had jumped 6 percent between Friday and Wednesday, as oil production was hindered by the weather.

  • Natural gas futures, which rose as a result of the storms, have moved up and down in recent days. On Friday they initially fell 3 percent before rebounding and eventually gaining nearly 1 percent from Thursday’s close. They still remain elevated from last week.

  • Word that the Biden administration was offering to restart talks to restore an accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program was seen as weighing on oil prices. Lifting sanctions against Iran could allow it sell more oil on the global market. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was down 1.2 percent on Friday, to just over $63 a barrel.

  • Wall Street futures were pointing to an upbeat start of trading. European markets were broadly higher, with the Stoxx Europe 600 up 0.5 percent and FTSE 100 in Britain gaining 0.2 percent. Asian markets closed mixed, with the Nikkei in Japan down 0.7 percent while the Shanghai composite in China rose 0.6 percent.

  • Purchasing managers index data for February, from Markit, showed a range of trends across Europe. The France composite output index hit a three-month low, reflecting the restrictions on business activity imposed by the latest lockdown. The Germany composite index rose, helped by an export-led manufacturing upturn.

  • In Britain, retail sales fell 8.2 percent in January compared with the preceding month, government data said, a downturn that was sharpened by a lockdown that started in the new year. But the decline was less than expected, and also not as bad as the 22 percent drop seen in April, when Britain went into an earlier lockdown. The Office of National Statistics said some of the improvement probably came from businesses learning to adapt to lockdowns, with more online and click-and-collect sales.

Manessa Grady and her sons Zechariah, 8, left, and Noah, 9, were among the millions of Texas residents who lost power this week.
Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

In California, wildfires and heat waves in recent years forced utilities to shut off power to millions of homes and businesses. Now, Texas is learning that deadly winter storms and intense cold can do the same.

Bill Magness, the president and chief executive of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, said on Thursday that Texas was “seconds and minutes” from a catastrophic blackout this week as rotating outages were used to control the flow of electricity.

The country’s two largest states have taken very different approaches to managing their energy needs — Texas deregulated aggressively, letting the free market flourish, while California embraced environmental regulations. Yet the two states are confronting the same ominous reality: They may be woefully unprepared for the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters caused by climate change.

Blackouts in Texas and California have revealed that power plants can be strained and knocked offline by the kind of extreme cold and hot weather that climate scientists have said will become more common as greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere.

The problems in Texas and California highlight the challenge the Biden administration will face in modernizing the electricity system to run entirely on wind turbines, solar panels, batteries and other zero-emission technologies by 2035 — a goal that President Biden set during the 2020 campaign.

The federal government and energy businesses may have to spend trillions of dollars to harden electricity grids against the threat posed by climate change and to move away from the fossil fuels responsible for the warming of the planet in the first place. These are not new ideas. Scholars have long warned that American electricity grids, which are run regionally, will come under increasing strain and needed major upgrades.

“We really need to change our paradigm, particularly utilities, because they are becoming much more vulnerable to disaster,” Najmedin Meshkati, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California, said about blackouts in Texas and California. “They need to always think about literally the worst-case scenario because the worst-case scenario is going to happen.”




Congressman Calls Robinhood’s Help Line and Gets Voicemail

After telling the House Financial Services Committee about the suicide of Robinhood user Alex Kearns, who died believing he had lost $730,000 on the brokerage app, Representative Sean Casten called its help line.

June 2020, Alex Kearns, who was 20 years old at the time, from Naperville, Illinois, killed himself, largely thanks to a bug in the Robinhood system. The bug was that he turned on the app, it said he owed $730,000 that he did not have, because of options positions that he thought canceled out but didn’t appear to. He called the help line. The help line, of course, was not manned, as we’ve discussed. He sent several panicked emails — three, to be precise — did not receive a response. Ultimately there was a response from the emails saying that, in fact, his positions were covered. But by that point, it was too late, because he had taken his own life. The — this is a gentleman who is 20 years old. Under Illinois law, he was not allowed to buy a beer, but he was allowed to take on $730,000 in positions and exposure that he did not have the liquidity to cover. Your mission, Mr. Tenev, is to democratize finance. But the history of financial regulation is to protect people like Alex Kearns from the system. As the old joke goes, if you’re playing poker and you can’t figure out who the fish is at the table, you should leave the table because you’re probably the fish. And there is an innate tension in your business model between democratizing finance, which is a noble calling, and being a conduit to feed fish to sharks. So I’m nervous. I think I got an exposure. And I call your help line now. Let’s call and let’s listen in the time we have remaining to what I’m going to hear on the other end of the phone. Voicemail: “Thank you for calling Robinhood. Please visit us at robinhood.com or on our app for support. If you have an urgent trading need, please make sure to include details of it when reaching out. Thanks have a great day.”

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After telling the House Financial Services Committee about the suicide of Robinhood user Alex Kearns, who died believing he had lost $730,000 on the brokerage app, Representative Sean Casten called its help line.CreditCredit…via C-Span

The chief executives of Robinhood, Reddit, Citadel and Melvin Capital Management were among the witnesses at a hearing on the GameStop trading frenzy held by the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday.

  • Vlad Tenev, the chief executive of Robinhood, was the target for both Democrats and Republicans, fielding more than half of the lawmakers’ questions. “I love your company because it does, when correctly managed, provide investment opportunities for individuals who are currently frozen out of the markets for one reason or another,” said Representative Anthony Gonzalez, Republican of Ohio. He added: “At the same time, though, I believe a vulnerability was clearly exposed in your business model.”

  • Representative Sean Casten, an Illinois Democrat, capped his sharp questioning of Mr. Tenev, in which he relayed the story of a 20-year-old college student who killed himself last summer believing that he’d lost more than $700,000, by dialing the Robinhood help line and letting everyone listen in as a short message was played and the call was terminated. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, said Robinhood’s decisions had “harmed customers,” and accused it of passing on hidden costs to its customers.

  • Keith Gill — known on YouTube as Roaring Kitty — testified that his interest in the company was based on his belief that the market was underestimating the brick-and-mortar retailer’s value. His testimony included winking references — such as dangling what appeared to be his oft-worn red headband off a picture of a kitten visible over his shoulder and the statement “I am not a cat” — to internet meme culture.

  • Several harsh questions were directed at Kenneth C. Griffin, the chief of Citadel. Members of Congress asked skeptical questions about Citadel’s practice of paying to trade against customers at online brokers like Robinhood. Mr. Griffin tried to explain the intricacies of the business but was often cut off. “Our folks are tired of bailing you all out when you screw up and gamble with the retirement fund. And that’s exactly what happens every single moment,” Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, said to him.

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