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Zuckerberg calls for Section 230 reforms as lawmakers vow crackdown

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called for reforms to one of the US’ most important internet laws Thursday as lawmakers pledged to tighten their regulatory grip on social media companies.

During his third congressional hearing in six months, Zuckerberg made the case for updating Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act while defending his firm from criticism that it has failed to snuff out misinformation.

“We believe that connectivity and togetherness are more powerful ideals than division and discord and that technology can be part of the solution to the challenges our society is facing,” he told the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “And we are ready to work with you to move beyond hearings and get started on real reform.”

Zuckerberg’s virtual testimony alongside Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai came amid moves by congressional Democrats to ramp up scrutiny on Silicon Valley in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, for which they say social media firms bear some responsibility.

Both sides of the aisle have called for changes to Section 230, a 1996 law that protects online platforms from legal liability for content their users post.

Zuckerberg said large platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube should only receive that protection if they have systems in place to remove “clearly illegal” content, such as posts involving sex trafficking or terrorism — though he argued they shouldn’t be held liable if a piece of such content slips through the cracks.

He also said big players should have to put out reports on the prevalence of harmful content on their platforms, something Facebook does each quarter. Dorsey and Pichai said they were open to some of Zuckerberg’s proposed changes.

“For smaller platforms, I think we need to be careful about any changes that we make that remove their immunity because that could hurt competition,” said Zuckerberg, whose company is facing twin antitrust lawsuits from the Federal Trade Commission and 46 states.

Despite Zuckerberg’s openness to change, lawmakers needled the tech executives over their struggles to tackle misinformation while vowing to impose tougher laws.

When Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pennsylvania) asked the three CEOs whether their platforms bore responsibility for the deadly Capitol insurrection, only Dorsey said yes, though he added that the “broader ecosystem” had to be considered.

Republicans, meanwhile, raised concerns about Big Tech being biased against conservatives and social media fueling youth suicides.

“Self-regulation has come to the end of its road,” said Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-Illinois). “The regulation that we seek should not attempt to limit constitutionally protected freedom of speech, but it must hold platforms accountable when they are used to incite violence and hatred.”

With Post wires

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Tesla more than doubles Q1 sales, delivers 185,000 vehicles

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Tesla says it delivered nearly 185,000 electric vehicles in the first quarter despite a shortage of computer chips that has hit the global auto industry.

The number was more than double the deliveries for the same period last year. And it beat Wall Street estimates of 168,000 for January through March. The company says in a statement that the Model Y small SUV in China has been well received.

Tesla lists no production figures for its older models, the S sedan and X SUV, during the quarter, but it delivered just over 2,000 of them. It says new equipment has been installed at the Fremont, California, factory and production of new versions is in the early stages.

The strong sales are a sign that demand for the company’s relatively expensive vehicles remains strong despite the pandemic. Analysts polled by data provider FactSet estimate that the average selling price of a Tesla is $49,100.

Shares of Tesla are down more than 9 percent so far this year as some of the shine wore off electric vehicle and tech stocks, which had experienced a big runup last year. The stock closed Thursday down just under 1 percent at $661.75. Markets are closed for the Good Friday holiday.

Tesla Model 3s (seen here) and its Model Y accounted for nearly all of Tesla's first-quarter sales.
Tesla Model 3s (seen here) and its Model Y accounted for nearly all of Tesla’s first-quarter sales.
Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

Tesla sold just under 500,000 vehicles last year, barely missing a target set by CEO Elon Musk. The company hasn’t given much guidance for this year’s sales figures.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives called the first-quarter numbers a “jaw dropper,” and a huge home run in the eyes of bullish investors. “We believe China and Europe were particularly robust this quarter as the trajectory now puts Musk & Co. to exceed 850k for the year which is well ahead of whisper expectations,” he wrote Friday.

The Model 3 small car and the Model Y accounted for nearly all of the Palo Alto, California, company’s first-quarter sales. Tesla said it sold 182,780 of both models combined.

Ives wrote that analysts expected more than 12,000 sales of Models S and X, with the miss driven by the chip shortage.

The strong sales came even though the company shut down much of its Fremont production for several weeks in late February and early March. It did not say why, but it’s likely that the company ran short of computer chips.

President Joe Biden’s announcement this week of $174 billion in spending on electric vehicle incentives and charging stations, and rising global demand for electric vehicles should shift sentiment toward Tesla stock, Ives wrote.

“It’s been a brutal sell-off for Tesla and EVs, but we believe that will now be in the rearview mirror,” he wrote.

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55 firms paid no federal income tax last year, report finds

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Dozens of America’s biggest companies paid no federal income taxes last year thanks to a range of tax breaks — including some brand-new ones, a new report says.

The 55 corporations avoided a total of $8.5 billion in taxes on more than $40 billion in pre-tax profits in their most recent fiscal year, according to the Friday report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

In fact, 52 of those firms — including household names such as Nike, FedEx and Dish Network — ended up pocketing federal tax rebates worth a collective $3.5 billion, the left-leaning think tank’s analysis found.

And 26 of them haven’t paid a penny in federal income tax in the three years since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reform bill was signed into law in 2017, the report says. That group includes shipping giant FedEx and power company Duke Energy, which reported nearly $15 billion in pre-tax income for those three years, according to the findings.

Nike sneakers
Nike is among dozens of major corporations reported to be paying little to no federal income taxes.
Getty Images

“Duke Energy fully complies with federal and state tax laws as part of our efforts to make investments that will benefit our customers and communities,” company spokesperson Catherine Butler said, adding that Duke paid more than $2 billion in annual state and local taxes in 2020.

Major companies have used loopholes in federal tax law to help their bottom line for decades, the think tank’s researchers note. But they got a fresh boon from the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill that aimed to help businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Big firms were able to take advantage of a provision in the bill to use losses they racked up in 2018 or 2019 to offset profits from previous years, which slashed some of their 2020 tax bills to less than zero, according to the report. That measure accounted for at least $500 million of the 55 giants’ tax breaks, the report says.

FedEx stood by the CARES Act tax breaks, saying the law helped it and other companies “navigate a rapidly changing economy and marketplace while continuing to invest in capital, hire team members, and fund employee pension plans.”

FedEx truck
FedEx is said to be among major firms pocketing federal tax rebates while avoiding federal income taxes.
Alamy Stock Photo

But many companies also used more established methods for giving themselves tax discounts.

Those include write-offs for paying executives in stock, which were used by more than a dozen companies, while at least half a dozen took federal research and experimentation credits, the report says.

The list included some companies hit hard by the pandemic, including crafts retailer Michaels, as well as companies that thrived despite the lockdowns, like Salesforce.com, the cloud computing company that announced record 2020 earnings in February.

Salesforce logo
Salesforce is reported to be among thriving firms able to take advantage of numerous write-offs.
Getty Images

By reining in tax breaks like those, “or by re-introducing some form of a ‘minimum tax’ requiring profitable companies to pay at least some tax in any profitable year, Congress and President Biden could take a major step toward a fairer and more sustainable tax system,” authors Matthew Gardner and Steve Wamhoff wrote in the report.

Salesforce, Michaels, Nike and Dish Network did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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China admonishes H&M over ‘problematic’ map on website

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Swedish retailer H&M continues to clash with Beijing, this time over how it has portrayed the region geographically.

Chinese officials admonished H&M Friday over a “problematic” map on the company’s website in the latest sign of escalating tensions after the Swedish retailer criticized China’s controversial cotton-picking region.

Shanghai government regulators summoned H&M managers to a meeting after internet users complained about the map, officials said on social media.

Chinese officials did not provide any detail about the alleged offense, which they said H&M managers quickly corrected.

But H&M got in trouble with China in 2018 for listing Taiwan as a country on the Taiwanese version of its website. China claims the democratic island country is part of its territory.

H&M was told to “bolster its awareness of the national territory, and really ensure the standardized use of the Chinese map,” the Cyberspace Administration of China’s Shanghai arm said in a post on the WeChat social network, according to The Wall Street Journal.

H&M did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

The map flap is just the latest headache H&M has faced in China, the fast-fashion retailer’s top clothing supplier and its fourth-largest market by sales.

The company was hit with boycott threats last week and had its products pulled from Chinese e-commerce platforms over a statement it made last year saying it does not source cotton from the Xinjiang region, where Beijing has been accused of forced labor practices against Uyghur Muslims.

H&M tried to tamp down the backlash Wednesday with a new statement saying it’s “dedicated to regaining the trust and confidence” of its customers, colleagues and business partners in China, where its store locations were reportedly scrubbed from digital maps last week.

The company said it wants to be “a responsible buyer, in China and elsewhere,” but did not mention Xinjiang specifically.

With Post wires

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