"Facebook has been in the news a lot recently over concerns about everything, from privacy to fake news to Russian trolls, but tonight we're actually going to go in a different direction," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight: Facebook's "behavior overseas." More than half of Facebook's revenue and 80 percent of its users now come from outside the U.S.
Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, have aggressively pushed the "utopian" idea that connecting billions of people around the world is an unvarnished good, Oliver noted, but "it's important to remember that when it comes to the internet, a certain number of those people are then going to say 'Jews control sharks who did 9/11!' and you really have to think that through. Unfortunately, thinking things through has never really been Facebook's strong point." In fact, he said, Facebook "has made some hugely consequential mistakes overseas, and that's what tonight's story is about."
Oliver pointed to a few examples but focused mostly on Myanmar, where Facebook is ubiquitous on smartphones — and the company has been very slow in policing its posts for violence-inciting posts against the minority Muslim Rohingya community by military leaders, politicians, and especially a Buddhist monk so hateful he's been called the "Burmese bin Laden." One teacher in Myanmar compared Facebook to a toilet, but Oliver said that's unfair, because "there is a purity and integrity to toilets that Facebook seriously lacks."
Until Facebook fixes this, he said, "it is painfully obvious everyone should be treating everything on their site with extreme skepticism and see Facebook for what it actually is: a fetid swamp of mistruths and outright lies interspersed with the occasional reminder of a dead pet. That's it." While his audience gasped, Oliver played his own version of a Facebook commercial. There is NSFW language throughout, plus mildly disturbing verbal imagery about Care Bears and sex. Watch below. Peter Weber
John Oliver urges Florida voters to restore felons' voting rights, appealing to the state's dumb-news infamy
America is starting the final sprint to the 2018 midterm elections, but "six million people are unable to vote because at some point in their life, they committed a felony," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "If any of you are thinking at this point, 'Well, who gives a s--t if convicted felons can't vote?' you frankly wouldn't be alone." But despite what you might think, and what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says, the vast majority of felons were convicted of nonviolent offenses like property or drug crimes, Oliver said, "and for those who haver served their sentence but are still unable to vote, this situation is understandably frustrating."
"In most states, people with felony convictions automatically regain their voting rights at some point, but there are a few where they do not," Oliver said, "and the worst state of all concerning this — and, arguably, everything else — is Florida." More than 1.5 million Floridians, including more than 20 percent of black residents, can't vote due to past convictions, Oliver said, and Gov. Rick Scott (R) has enacted an "insane," openly arbitrary process for restoring voting rights.
For example, one member of Scott's rights-restoration panel repeatedly asks felons the same very odd question, Oliver noted. "Do you go to church? Now, if the answer to that question is important, that is f---ed up, and if it's not, why are you constantly asking it? Either you're factoring religious habit into evaluation of whether someone should be able to vote, or you're making a list of people's houses that would be easy to rob on a Sunday morning." Floridians can approve a constitutional amendment in November that automatically restores voting rights to most nonviolent felons, Oliver said, and he made a direct appeal to Florida voters that doubled down on Florida's history of making headlines for all the wrong reasons. The video is often NSFW. Watch below. Peter Weber
Trump's cluelessness on trade is really hurting America, John Oliver says. Oliver's tutorial probably won't fix that.
"Trade is a subject on which our current president considers himself particularly expert," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. The problem is, President Trump "seems genuinely confused" by the basics of trade economics, including tariffs and trade deficits, he said, succinctly explaining both concepts for the edification of viewers and in case a certain president of the United States was hate-watching.
To be fair, trade is "one of the most complicated issues there is, technically, politically, and emotionally," Oliver said, but Trump gets almost everything backwards. "The overwhelming consensus among economists is that trade between countries, generally speaking, can create jobs, lower costs, and be a net benefit to both nations," he said. "Essentially, think of trade like sex: If you're doing it right, it can be good for both partners — though the odds of that happening plummet as soon as Donald Trump gets involved." For example, Trump's tariffs may create 26,280 steel and aluminum jobs, according to one estimate, and eliminate 432,747 U.S. jobs elsewhere.
Unfortunately, Trump is listening to the one economist who agrees with him, Peter Navarro, Oliver said. "We're engaged in an escalating trade war that almost no legitimate economist supports, led by a man who honestly doesn't seem to fully understand the mechanics of what he's doing, getting advice from the human equivalent of an all-caps email from your uncle. And the crazy thing is, the effect of all this is the exact opposite of what Trump says he wants. Because if you want to create jobs, you don't do that by cutting off American companies' markets and suppliers, and if you want to curb the abuses of countries like China, you don't do that by pissing off the leaders of every other nation on Earth." He made a short, over-the-top, Navarro-style film to explain trade to Trump, who probably won't see it. You, however, can watch and learn below. Peter Weber
John Oliver explains how to spot 'astroturfing,' admits it isn't easy, warns that cynicism is 'toxic'
On Sunday's Last Week Tonight, John Oliver tackled the phenomenon of "astroturfing," and he kicked it off with a pretty vulgar joke. Then he got down to business: "Astroturfing is the practice of corporations or political groups disguising themselves as spontaneous, authentic popular movements. It's basically fake grassroots — that's why they call it 'astroturfing.'" Some of these campaigns are pretty obvious, he said, playing one example, but "with dark money surging in the wake of decisions like Citizens United, astroturfing techniques are becoming more sophisticated, effective, and dangerous, and they are not going away."
Oliver proposed exploring those techniques "to better spot them in the future," and he started with the nomenclature, specifically the gallingly deceitful names some groups adopt. He used the work of one notorious adman, Richard Berman, as an example. Astroturfing front groups also sometimes hire "expert" witnesses. And in "one of the most infuriating tools of astroturfing," he said, some groups pay protesters to demonstrate on their behalf — and there are companies like Crowds on Demand that offer those services.
Conspiracy theorists now claim Crowds on Demand provides actors in all sorts of real situations, like the Las Vegas shooting, which is "hugely dangerous," Oliver said. "The consequences of this cannot be that everyone assumes that anyone who doesn't agree with them is astroturf. While skepticism is healthy, cynicism — real cynicism — is toxic." And until "we find out a way to force astroturf groups to be more transparent and accountable," our common sense is our best tool, he said. He ended with an anti-astroturfing ad — pay attention to who purportedly sponsored it. (The video is frequently NSFW.) Peter Weber
On Sunday's Last Week Tonight, John Oliver shone a little light on an important person in your community who, if you are lucky, you don't think about very often, if ever. "Whenever we talk about criminal justice reform, we tend to just talk about policing, public defenders, judges, and prisons, and skip over a crucial element there: prosecutors, the attorneys who work for the federal, state, and local government and bring cases to trial," he said. "Prosecutors decide whether you get charged and what you get charged with, and therefore heavily influence what kind of sentence you could face."
People tend to overlook the power prosecutors have, so "let's start with a truly incredible fact here: The vast majority of the time, your fate is not decided by a judge or a jury of your peers, because nearly 95 percent of the cases prosecutors decide to bring end up with the defendant pleading guilty," Oliver said. Judges are mostly resigned to this system, "because at least plea bargains keep the system moving," he explained, and prosecutors have a lot of tools to get innocent people to plead guilty.
For the 5 percent who opt for a trial, prosecutors control the case files, sometimes "ambush" the defense with exculpatory evidence right before the trial, or they never hand it over — and when they are caught withholding evidence, Oliver found only one district attorney ever held to account, barely. He gave some egregious examples of misconduct and suggested some legislative fixes, but argued the easiest way to hold prosecutors accountable is to elect reform-minded district attorneys. Which requires a little bit of research. "Most people know as much about their local D.A. as they know about their local Cheesecake Factory manager," he said: "Chances are, you don't know who they are, and if you do, it's probably because something truly terrible has happened." There is NSFW language. Watch below. Peter Weber
John Oliver finds some accidental genius in Trump's recorded chats with Michael Cohen, incriminating tweets
John Oliver began Sunday's Last Week Tonight with the latest installment of his look at President Trump's "Stupid Watergate" mess — a scandal "with the potential gravity of Watergate, if the entire White House was on bath salts and Nixon was a raccoon with his head stuck in a jar of peanut butter." And it's not just that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was somehow on the same recent flight as Donald Trump Jr., he said. "There was a series of potentially damaging revelations this week, courtesy of the president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen."
"Historically, 'there are tapes' hasn't worked out well for presidents," Oliver said. "It's one of those phrases that is universally foreboding, like 'the virus is airborne' or 'Ronan Farrow is working on an article about you.'" The tape where Trump discusses burying his alleged affair with a Playboy model "could be a problem for multiple reasons," he said, but Cohen's "second bombshell" about Trump knowing beforehand of the meeting his son and campaign chiefs had with Kremlin-linked officials offering election collusion "is potentially huge," if not all that surprising. "Breaking news: The president actually knew about meeting that involved his son, his son-in-law, and his campaign manager discussing dirt about his greatest enemy that took place where he lived and worked in a building which has his f---ing name on it!"
The last development is Mueller reportedly weighing whether Trump's tweets constitute obstruction of justice, a situation Oliver agreed might highlight Trump's accidental genius: "Just think about it — it's innately hard to believe something is a crime when it's done loudly and blatantly right in front of you."
Oliver also had a NSFW message for Facebook, in response to the social network giant's public-image-burnishing promise to return to its friend-sharing roots. And he elaborated his point with his own version of Facebook's ad, which is also NSFW. You can watch it below. Peter Weber
John Oliver is skeptical that #MeToo has vanquished sexual harassment at work, gets advice from Anita Hill
John Oliver dedicated most of Sunday's Last Week Tonight to the topic of workplace sexual harassment, and he began with a self-deprecating wink: "Who better to talk about it than me, a man? 'When will the male perspective on harassment be heard?' the public has been crying out. Well, wait no longer, tonight is the night." Sexual harassment at work has been a problem for decades, the most recent reminder being the new allegation against CBS boss Les Moonves, "and whenever the subject of workplace harassment comes up, you can bet on one thing: men getting very nervous." His examples came mostly from Fox News personalities."
It seems today "like we're on the verge of national reckoning about sexual harassment," Oliver said, but are we really? He compared the recent #MeToo and Times Up headlines to eerily similar ones from the early 1990s, prompted by Anita Hill's treatment from Senate Republicans. The 1990s effort to eradicate workplace harassment clearly "did not work," he said, "so tonight, since we seem to be going in circles on this issue, let's try and at least talk about it — if only because no one wants to see 'ending workplace harassment' as the unofficial theme of the 2048 Oscars."
Oliver explained the legal definition of workplace harassment, then paraphrased it: "It's not a single sh---y joke or a botched compliment, it's going out of your way to make someone else's workday a psychosexual nightmare." And he explained why any type of sexual harassment is problematic. "Time was supposed to be up in 1981, and 1991, and now time is supposed to be up again," Oliver said. "Will this go-around be any different? I honestly don't know." So he interviewed Anita Hill to get some perspective, and you can watch that interesting conversation below. (Note: The entire video is peppered with NSFW language.) Peter Weber
Last week, President Trump, "the abusive father America will be talking about in therapy for the next 40 years," signed an executive order to end his heavily criticized family-separation border policy, John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. This, after weeks of saying he couldn't do anything, his hands were tied. "Yes, Trump claimed he couldn't do a thing, and then he did it — which is a little strange because he usually claims he can do things and then doesn't do them, like draining the swamp or locking up Hillary or attending Tiffany's Sweet 16," Oliver said.
"Unfortunately, that executive order has some significant hitches," like the glaring holes in his administration's plan to reunite more than 2,000 children it separated with their parents, Oliver pointed out. "'How long it will take' and 'how it will get done' are the whole plan. That's like a recipe for cake that just says 'You're going to have some cake.'" He was even less impressed with the lengths to which Trump supporters went to excuse or deflect from putting children in cages, especially Stuart Varney on Fox & Friends.
Oliver went on to gawk at the almost unbelievable ad campaign 7-Eleven ran in Norway, as well as other ads for "sexual health" in the Scandinavian nation. It gets kind of gross, quite funny, and a little NSFW. Watch below. Peter Weber