November 24, 2020

Facebook reportedly tweaked its algorithm after the election in a way that resulted in a "calmer" news feed — and some employees are pushing for this to become the new normal.

After seeing election misinformation going viral following Election Day, Facebook instituted an "emergency" algorithm change that involved having authoritative news appear more prominently in users' feeds, The New York Times reports. The algorithm was reportedly adjusted to give greater weight to "news ecosystem quality" scores, which Facebook uses to rank publishers based on journalism quality. As a result, the Times reports, mainstream publications like CNN, The New York Times, and NPR received a "spike in visibility," while partisan pages like Breitbart and Occupy Democrats were less visible.

"It was a vision of what a calmer, less divisive Facebook might look like," the Times writes. "Some employees argued the change should become permanent, even if it was unclear how that might affect the amount of time people spent on Facebook. In an employee meeting the week after the election, workers asked whether the 'nicer news feed' could stay."

Facebook executives, however, have said that that its election changes were "always meant to be temporary."

The Times' report also includes details about some other changes Facebook reportedly considered, one of which would retroactively inform more users that they shared misinformation, something that's now done specifically with COVID-19 misinformation. But according to the Times, this was rejected over concerns it would "disproportionately" affect right-wing sites. Another change that would involve demoting content seen as being "bad for the world" reportedly was shown to lead to a decrease in sessions, so Facebook approved a different change leaving "more objectionable posts" in news feed while not decreasing sessions.

A Facebook executive denied that those were the reasons for the features being rejected, telling the Times, "No News Feed product change is ever solely made because of its impact on time spent." Brendan Morrow

10:44 a.m.

President-elect Joe Biden is revamping outgoing President Trump's coronavirus approach before he even takes office.

On Wednesday morning, Biden asked Surgeon General Jerome Adams, whom Trump nominated for a four-year term back in 2017, to step down from his post. Biden has already announced his intention to nominate former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to the post, but will install an acting surgeon general in the meantime, The Washington Post reports.

The nation's top doctor is appointed for four-year terms; Adams took office in Sept. 2017, allowing him to stay on through this September. But amid the Trump administration's bungling of the COVID-19 crisis, it seems Biden wants a fresh start. He'll even bypass Deputy Surgeon General Erica Schwartz, a career civil servant, in naming an acting top doctor to take Adams' spot, the Post reports.

Adams acknowledged his forced resignation in a statement, which focused more on smoking cessation and other health crises rather than COVID-19. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:03 a.m.

Ivermectin, a cheap and "generic" antiparasitic drug "used all over the world," may significantly reduce the risk of death in patients suffering from moderate to severe cases of COVID-19, researchers have found.

The University of Liverpool's Andrew Hill and others carried out a meta-analytical breakdown of 18 studies that showed the drug — which is off-patent and commonly used to treat lice and scabies, as well as some more serious parasites — appears to reduce inflammation and eliminate the coronavirus swiftly, the Financial Times reports. In six of those trials, the mortality risk was cut by 75 percent in patients with more serious COVID-19 infections. The research team has also theorized the drug could also make it harder for infected people to transmit the virus.

Hill said he's encouraged by the findings, but further studies are needed, especially since several of those in the analysis were not peer-reviewed. FT also notes that meta-analyses, which look at many studies at once, can be prone to errors. Read more at the Financial Times. Tim O'Donnell

10:00 a.m.

Melania Trump was reportedly "emotionally checked out" long before boarding Air Force One to leave D.C. on Wednesday, going as far as to outsource writing her "thank you" notes to the White House residence staff, The New York Times and CNN report.

Traditionally, the first family of the United States will write short cards to their household staff, thanking them for taking care of them over the past four to eight years. The cards tend to be intimate and "much of the correspondence includes personal anecdotes and the letters become 'cherished keepsakes' for the residence staff," such as the butlers, cooks, and housekeepers, who do not tend to turn-over between administrations, CNN writes.

Melania Trump, however, reportedly did not personally write the cards for the approximately 80 staff members charged with caring for her, her husband, and her teenage son, Barron, while they lived in the White House. Instead, she is said to have instructed a "lower-level East Wing staffer" to write the type-written notes "in her voice," and then signed her name.

"I think she was a reluctant first lady and she did it for her husband," society publicist R. Couri Hay, who knows Trump from New York, told The New York Times. He added that after she departs Washington, "I think that you will find that she will be even less visible, and less available." Jeva Lange

9:41 a.m.

President Trump never really acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden's victory — or even mentioned his name after the election. But the president did leave a note for his successor before his Wednesday morning departure, outgoing White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere told NPR.

Trump left the White House for the final time Wednesday morning, to the tune of some very fitting songs. Outgoing presidents and their staffs typically leave notes on their desks for their successors to aid in the transition and wish them well. But given Trump's history of not exactly following norms or accepting election results, it's a surprise that he followed that tradition.

It's unclear just what was in the note Trump left for Biden. In his farewell address, he did wish the next administration "great luck and great success," without mentioning their names. Outgoing Vice President Mike Pence, who reportedly did eventually offer his congratulations in a call to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, also left behind a note for her. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:39 a.m.

President Trump offered his final goodbye before leaving office, vowing that "we will be back in some form" before concluding his term with the "YMCA" and wishing everyone a "good life."

Trump spoke at a farewell ceremony at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Wednesday before leaving for Florida instead of sticking around to attend President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. He described serving as president as "my greatest honor and privilege," thanking supporters while offering one assessment both supporters and critics will likely agree with: "We were not a regular administration."

As in previously released farewell remarks, Trump never mentioned Biden's name during his address, though he wished "the new administration great luck and great success." He also promised he will be "watching" and listening."

"Goodbye," Trump said. "We love you. We will be back in some form."

He concluded the very last speech of his presidency with, "Have a good life. We will see you soon." From there, the 45th president exited the stage a final time to a staple of his rallies: the "YMCA." Minutes later, Air Force One departed as Frank Sinatra's "My Way" played Trump off. Brendan Morrow

9:38 a.m.

And he's off — to the crooning of Frank Sinatra and the escaped laughter of CNN anchors.

President Trump departed with his family from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Wednesday, four years to the day after he took his oath of office. He got out of Dodge a few hours before President-elect Joe Biden's swearing-in ceremony and is headed to Florida to begin his post-White House life.

As Trump's plane took off, Frank Sinatra's "My Way" blared, which was certainly on the nose. The whole scene amused CNN's coverage crew, who couldn't hold back a few chuckles. It's been a long four years, after all. Tim O'Donnell

9:31 a.m.

The COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is 95 percent effective at protecting against infection, large human trials found, but there is no conclusive evidence yet that the vaccines prevent transmission of the new coronavirus. "Early findings from Oxford/AstraZeneca revealed its vaccine could have some effect on transmitting the virus, while similar results have also been reported by Pfizer/BioNTech," Reuters reports. But "scientists do not yet know whether COVID-19 vaccinations will reduce transmission because this was not tested in the trials."

A new study from Israel's Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer suggested that the Pfizer vaccine does, in fact, reduce transmission. The small study of 102 medical workers found that after the second dose of the vaccine, 100 of the subjects had significantly higher levels of antibodies than even people who recovered from severe COVID-19 infections, The Jerusalem Post reports.

"The results of the survey are in line with Pfizer's experiment and even better than expected," said Prof. Gili Regev-Yochay, director of Sheba's Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit. "I expect that the survey results of the other employees participating will be similar. There is certainly reason for optimism." It isn't clear how long immunity will last, and the results are preliminary, but Regev-Yochay said it appears to her that fully vaccinate people won't shed the virus, meaning they won't pass it on to others.

"People who have received both doses of the vaccine have levels of antibodies ranging from six to 59," Regev-Yochay said. "These are high values, and it's encouraging and reasonable to assume that these people will not be carriers or contagious, although that is still not a direct conclusion." Israel is the first country to have vaccinated nearly a quarter of its population, making it a valuable resource for vaccine developers and public health experts. Peter Weber

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