Newley's Notes

NN232: Extreme Zoomies

Sent as an email newsletter Tuesday, September 1. Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

👋 Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

Ginger napping

🐕 Photo of the week, above: Wednesday was National Dog Day. How can I not share this image of Ginger? As I noted on Instagram: Friday vibes.

🗞 Meanwhile: more on Facebook in India.

My latest, out Sunday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz: Facebook Executive Supported India’s Modi, Disparaged Opposition in Internal Messages. It begins:

A Facebook Inc. executive at the center of a political storm in India made internal postings over several years detailing her support for the now ruling Hindu nationalist party and disparaging its main rival, behavior some staff saw as conflicting with the company’s pledge to remain neutral in elections around the world.

In one of the messages, Ankhi Das, head of public policy in the country, posted the day before Narendra Modi swept to victory in India’s 2014 national elections: “We lit a fire to his social media campaign and the rest is of course history.”

The story has, like our previous piece (if you missed it: Facebook’s Hate-Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics), has been picked up by many media outlets and shared widely online.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🦠 1) How Trump Sowed Covid Supply Chaos. ‘Try Getting It Yourselves.’ [WSJ]

🐖 2) Elon Musk’s Neuralink is neuroscience theater [MIT Technology Review]

📕 3) What Brings Elena Ferrante’s Worlds to Life? [New Yorker]

🔍 4) The Case of the Top Secret iPod [TidBITS]

🇨🇳 5) China makes its mark on the world of tattoos [Economist]

🌊 6) Jacques Cousteau’s Grandson Wants to Build the International Space Station of the Sea [Smithsonian]

🥮 7) Talented Italian Pastry Chef Incorporates Playful Dioramic Scenes Into His Beautiful Desserts [Laughing Squid]

🎸 8) 50 Reasons We Still Love Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited [Consequence of Sound] Thanks to my Dad for sharing this; I have had this album on repeat for about a month. I just can’t get enough of it. Timeless music for extraordinary times.

🐭 9) My new favorite YouTube channel: The Rat Review. In which someone…gives a pet named Theo snacks to “review.” Wheat Thins! Raspberries! Honey Nut Cheerios! Doritos Locos tacos!

👏 10) Dog-related video of the week: Professional zoomies [Reddit].


📕 What I’m Reading

I have momentarily set aside Evan Osnos’s excellent “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China” for something a bit more escapist. I often read several books at once, so have turned to Stephen King’s “The Stand” – yes, it’s about survivors of a pandemic – and a fun yarn I picked up during a beach getaway in July: “Skinny Dip,” by the great Carl Hiassen. Loving both.

💡 Quote of the week:

“You are not a failure until you start blaming others for your mistakes.” – John Wooden


👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,


Newley's Notes

NN231: Dustin’s self-administered belly rubs

Sent as an email newsletter Wednesday, August 19. Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

👋 Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

📰 Photo of the week: I had a page one story out Friday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz. It’s about Facebook and hate speech in India.

The headline: Facebook’s Hate-Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics. And the dek: “Company executive in vital market opposed move to ban controversial politician; some employees allege favoritism to ruling party.”

I shared some details in this Twitter thread.

The story was mentioned by the likes of the BBC, AP, Bloomberg, Reuters, and many news organizations in India.

🆕 And as we reported yesterday, lawmakers in India now want to question Facebook following our piece:

Opposition members of Parliament are acting following an article Friday in The Wall Street Journal that detailed what current and former Facebook employees said was a pattern of favoritism toward the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu hard-liners.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🦠 1) Covid–19-related longread of the week: “A Deadly Coronavirus Was Inevitable. Why Was No One Ready?” This is a deeply reported story by my colleagues Betsy McKay and Phred Dvorak that provides the backstory on the pandemic.

👉 2) Another revealing deep dive: “The Three Abductions of N.: How Corporate Kidnapping Works,” by David Yaffe-Bellany in the New York Times.

🇮🇳 3) On Kamala Harris and the Indian-American community: “When Democrats next week formally nominate the daughter of an Indian immigrant to be vice president, it’ll be perhaps the biggest leap yet in the Indian American community’s rapid ascent into a powerful political force,” Fadel Allassan writes at Axios.

📖 Related book, which I wrote about in this post and recommend highly: “The Other One Percent: Indians in America.”

📱 4) Bring on the TikTok ban, says author and Columbia University law professor Tim Wu. “China keeps a closed and censorial internet economy at home while its products enjoy full access to open markets abroad. The asymmetry is unfair and ought no longer be tolerated. ”

💵 5) And speaking of TikTok: “Oracle is a new entrant in the negotiations for TikTok, whose owner ByteDance Ltd. is facing a fall deadline from the Trump administration to divest itself of its U.S. operations,” my WSJ colleagues report.

🎧 6) “The Addictive Joy of Watching Someone Listen to Phil Collins.” “For almost a year, Tim and Fred Williams, twenty-one-year-old twins from Gary, Indiana, have made videos of themselves listening to famous songs, and then uploading the videos to their YouTube channel.”

👗 7) Interactive of the week, from the New York Times: “Sweatpants Forever: Even before the pandemic, the whole fashion industry had started to unravel. What happens now that no one has a reason to dress up?

📼 8) “You can now rent the world’s last Blockbuster for a ’90s-themed slumber party.” Seriously. It’s in Bend, Oregon, and listed on Airbnb here.

🍁 9) Looks like an interesting documentary: “A Vermont Farmer.” Doug Densmore, a “third-generation maple syrup farmer to work the same sugarbush as his grandfather, runs what in Vermont is called a ‘bucket operation.’ Maple syrup is his only cash crop…” [Via Benedict Evans’s newsletter.]

🐕 10) Dog-related video of the week: “This Dog Scoots And ‘Sploots’ Every Morning.”


📕 What I’m Reading

Still transfixed by Evan Osnos’s “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China.”

💡 Quote of the week:

“The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherf——- sh– out of it.” – Cheryl Strayed


👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,


Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Facebook, Twitter, Google Face Free-Speech Test in Hong Kong

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleague Eva Xiao, out Friday. It begins:

U.S. technology titans face a looming test of their free-speech credentials in Hong Kong as China’s new national-security law for the city demands local authorities take measures to supervise and regulate its uncensored internet.

Facebook Inc. and its Instagram service, Twitter Inc. and YouTube, a unit of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, operate freely in the city even as they have been shut out or opted out of the mainland’s tightly controlled internet, which uses the “Great Firewall” to censor information.

In Hong Kong many citizens have grown accustomed to freely using their accounts to speak out on political matters, voice support for antigovernment protests, and register their anger at China’s increasing sway over the city.

Now the U.S. tech companies face a high-wire act, analysts say, if authorities here ask them to delete user accounts or their content. Refusal could invite Beijing’s scrutiny and potentially put them at risk of legal action under the new national-security law. Complying would alienate longtime users in the city, some of whom continue to speak out on their platforms, and leave the companies open to criticism from politicians in the U.S. or U.K.

Click through to read the rest.

India Journalism

Inside Facebook and Private Equity’s $8.8 Billion Bet on India’s Richest Man

Facebook Jio

That’s the headline on my newest story, out yesterday. It begins:

Facebook Inc. and a trio of U.S. private-equity firms have in the past month poured billions of dollars into an upstart mobile operator controlled by India’s richest man.

The stakes, which add up to $8.8 billion, amount to a bet that Jio Platforms Ltd. and Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and largest shareholder of its parent company, Reliance Industries Ltd., are the players best positioned to bring legions of Indian consumers fully online and into e-commerce.

Facebook’s April announcement that it would invest $5.7 billion for a stake in Mumbai-based Jio was quickly followed by $750 million from Silver Lake and $1.5 billion from Vista Equity Partners. On Sunday, Jio said it was raising $870 million from another private-equity powerhouse, General Atlantic.

I also discussed the piece on an episode of our Tech News Briefing podcast. Click here to listen, or search for the show wherever you listen to podcasts.

India Journalism Tech

Facebook Takes $5.7 Billion Stake in India’s Jio Platforms

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out Wednesday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz. It begins:

Facebook Inc. said it would pay $5.7 billion for just under 10% of Indian telecom operator Jio Platforms Ltd., a massive expansion of the social media giant’s commitment to a promising market where it has faced difficulties.

The deal, unveiled late Tuesday, is Facebook’s largest overseas investment and gives it the opportunity to bring its WhatsApp messaging service—which has more than 400 million users in India—into closer partnership with the mobile operator that upended India’s telecommunications industry with cut-rate data plans.

Jio Platforms Ltd. and its subsidiary, mobile operator Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., are part of Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. Jio Infocomm provides services to about 388 million customers.

The deal shows how Facebook, like other tech giants, is pushing ahead and taking advantage of its relative strength during a pandemic that is causing most other industries to retreat.

In a subsequent story, I looked a little closer at the who gets what out of the deal. The lede:

Facebook Inc.’s $5.7 billion tie-up with an Indian mobile leader could create a new kind of animal in the world’s biggest untapped digital market: a social media behemoth wedded to a mobile infrastructure titan—both coveting e-commerce.

Now the two companies are expected to square off against some formidable online shopping rivals: Inc. and Walmart Inc., which have each invested billions in the South Asian market.

Newley's Notes

Newley’s Notes 175: Sri Lanka Bombings

2019 05 05srilanka

Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes.

Apologies for my absence these past two weeks.

On Easter Sunday, when NN was last due to go out, news emerged about the horrific bombings at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people. I was soon on a plane from New Delhi to Colombo.

I spent a good chunk of time in the capital and in the coastal city of Batticaloa. It was a heartbreaking story, but I’m proud of the work my WSJ colleagues and I did to document the events and get at the truth of what happened.

This week’s NN, then, will not be the typically wide ranging compendium of disparate links, but will focus mainly on the stories I wrote from Sri Lanka, along with a couple of other items you may have missed.

Here goes, in chronological order:

1) With my colleague Jon Emont: Sri Lanka Blocks Social Media Amid Bomb Attacks [WSJ]

“As Sri Lankan authorities scrambled amid a wave of deadly bombings across the country on Easter morning, among their first responses was to block social media, including Facebook and the popular messaging service WhatsApp.”

The block has since been lifted, but reflected, as we wrote, the “growing concerns in many parts of the world about the spread of false information and hate speech on social media and the use of online platforms to incite or exacerbate tensions.”

👂➡ Note: I later discussed the story with Kim Gittleson on The WSJ’s What’s News podcast.

2) With my colleague Eric Bellman: ‘Everyone Has Lost Someone’—Sri Lankan Church Bombing’s Wrenching Toll [WSJ]

“A parishioner was leading a prayer of thanksgiving to wrap up Easter Sunday services when a tall, slim young man ran into St. Sebastian’s Church from a side door.

Eric and I focused on one of the hardest hit churches, speaking with victims’ families and others from the community to tell the story of what happened that day.

3) Another piece with my colleague Eric Bellman: Sri Lankans Adapt to Social-Media Shutdown as Government Holds the Line [WSJ]

“While some citizens said they welcomed the restrictions, others said they had found workarounds.”

4) A story with my colleagues Ben Otto and Niharkia Mandhana: Islamist Preacher Died in Sri Lanka Attack [WSJ]

“Authorities confirmed that a radical preacher who inspired a series of Easter bombings died during the attack, but security forces pursued Islamist militants into Friday evening, engaging in fierce firefights in the area from which he hailed.”

5) Sri Lankan Islamist Called for Violence on Facebook Before Easter Attacks [WSJ]

“Facebook declined to comment on when, or how many, of Hashim’s Facebook postings it has removed nor did the company say when it initiated the 24-hour monitoring in local languages. Facebook deleted the videos still visible Tuesday after the Journal inquired about them.

Meanwhile, an item unrelated to Sri Lanka:

6) In NN 174 I shared the story I wrote about anti-vaccine misinformation on WhatsApp in India. Not long after it ran I joined CBS News’s Anne-Marie Green and Vladimir Duthiers to talk about the situation. The video clip is online here.

Thanks, as ever, for reading. Normal programming will resume next week.

Was this message forwarded to you? Sign up here.

👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,

(Image via Sri Lanka Wikipedia page.)

India Journalism

India Wants Facebook to Curb Fake News Ahead of Elections

2019 03 08facebook india fake news

That’s the headline of my most recent story, which I wrote with my colleague Rajesh Roy. It begins:

NEW DELHI—India is pushing Facebook Inc. to do more to combat fake news ahead of coming national elections, underscoring global scrutiny on the social-media titan.

A closed Indian parliamentary panel on Wednesday asked Joel Kaplan, the company’s global policy chief, to ensure the social network, its WhatsApp messaging service and its photo-sharing app Instagram wouldn’t be abused as the world’s biggest democracy goes to the polls. India’s election commission is expected to announce soon that the elections will begin in March or April.

“We discussed the challenges faced with these platforms, especially with regard to data security and citizens’ privacy,” Anurag Thakur, a parliamentarian from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party who heads the panel on information technology, told The Wall Street Journal.

Click through to read the rest.

India Journalism Tech

Amazon, Facebook and Walmart Need to Watch Their Backs in India

2019 02 01 india gate

That’s the headline on a story I wrote Tuesday with my colleague Rajesh Roy. It begins:

Hoping to match China’s success at protecting and promoting homegrown tech titans, India has plans to continue tightening restrictions on Inc., Walmart Inc., Facebook Inc. and other foreign firms that have come to dominate the country’s budding internet economy.

As hundreds of millions of people get online for the first time, and with national elections due in the coming months, Indian policy makers are upping the pressure on American rivals and changing policies to favor domestic players.

The secretary of India’s Telecommunications Department, Aruna Sundararajan, last week told a gathering of Indian startups in a closed-door meeting in the tech hub of Bangalore that the government will introduce a “national champion” policy “very soon” to encourage the rise of Indian companies, according to a person familiar with the matter. She said Indian policy makers had noted the success of China’s internet giants, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. , the person said. She didn’t immediately respond to a request for more details on the program or its timing.

Asked about the comments, she said in a WhatsApp message that the idea is to promote Indian companies “to become global champions."

Click through to read the rest.

Journalism Tech

Facebook’s WhatsApp Limits Users’ Ability to Forward Messages

2019 01 22whatsapp

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out yesterday, with my colleague James Hookway. It begins:

Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging service is limiting users’ ability to forward content, seeking to curtail ways the popular platform allows the spread of misinformation and sometimes has led to violence.

The move, which follows months of criticism over the company’s response to such incidents, is one of the bigger changes Facebook has made to one of its core services in response to political pressure.

The company said Monday that WhatsApp’s more than one billion global users can now only forward material to five individual users or groups at once, down from 20.

India Journalism Tech

Exclusive By Me Yesterday: Facebook Messenger Hires Anand Chandrasekaran

The story begins:

NEW DELHI— Facebook Inc. is hiring a high-profile technology executive with expertise in Silicon Valley and India to help develop strategies for its Messenger app, an increasingly important platform for the social-media company.

Anand Chandrasekaran, a former senior executive at Yahoo Inc., will assume a global leadership role working on strategies and partnerships for Facebook’s billion-user-strong texting service, said people familiar with the situation.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Mr. Chandrasekaran would be based in the U.S. or India.

An announcement could be made as soon as Tuesday, one of the people said.

A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed the hire, but didn’t add anything further.

After working at Yahoo, Mr. Chandrasekaran served as chief product officer at Bharti Airtel Ltd., India’s largest cellular company, where he launched Airtel’s mobile application and a popular music-streaming app.

Last year, he joined New Delhi-based Snapdeal, one of India’s major e-commerce startups, as chief product officer. He departed the company in recent months.

With global users increasingly flocking to messaging platforms such as Facebook’s own WhatsApp and Chinese internet company Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat, the Menlo Park, Calif., company is eager to transform Messenger into a hub for activities such as e-commerce.

In April, Facebook emphasized its focus on the app at its annual F8 conference in San Francisco, showing developers how to create so-called chatbots for the service. These automated services can interact with consumers in real time to answer questions about the prices of goods, for example.