After multiple delays and false starts, Apple now has a solid start date for its hybrid work arrangement. According to Bloomberg and The Verge, the tech giant will start requiring employees who work in its Santa Clara Valley offices to report to office three times a week starting in the week of September 5th. They're expected to come in every Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the third day set by their individual teams. In a letter sent to staff members, Apple's SVP of software engineering Craig Federighi encouraged employees to share their input about that third team-specific day with their managers to help them decide.
Apple has been planning to enforce a hybrid arrangement wherein employees are required to work from its offices since June 2021. At the time, though, it wanted personnel to come in every Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The company, which puts great value in what Tim Cook calls the "irreplaceable benefits of in-person collaboration," has made several attempts to enforce a hybrid work week arrangement since then but has had to keep pushing its plans back due to rising COVID-19 cases and other factors.
Earlier this year, it again attempted to start enforcing its hybrid work policy in the week stating on May 23rd. However, employees had criticized the policy for being "driven by fear" — "[f]ear of the future of work, fear of worker autonomy, fear of losing control," they said in an open letter. Apple even reportedly lost Ian Goodfellow, its director of machine learning and most cited expert in the field, over the policy. In the end, the company backtracked and softened its stance, launching a pilot that required some employees to report to its offices two days a week instead.
Now, it looks like there's no stopping Apple from requiring employees to report to its offices. "September 5th marks the true start of our hybrid work pilot in the Santa Clary Valley," Federighi wrote in his memo. As he mentioned, though, it is still a pilot, and the company expects to learn from its implementation in the coming months as it prepares for employees' return to office in other locations.
In the first days of social media, to build a personal brand online you mostly just needed a basic working knowledge of html. In 2022, however, the influencer marketing industry's reach is estimated at around $16.4 billion. With so much money to be made, it's little wonder that an entire support ecosystem has sprung up to help get the next generation of PewDiePies camera-ready. In the excerpt below from her new book examining the culture and business of online influencing, Break the Internet, Olivia Yallop enrolls in a summer gaming influencer camp for teens.
Beginning the course bright and early on a Monday morning in August stirs memories from classrooms past, as the students — myself, plus a small group of animated pre-teen boys hailing from across the UK — go around and make our introductions: an interesting fact about ourselves, our favourite foods, two truths and a lie. A pandemic-proofed schedule means we are learning remotely, in my case prostrated on my parents’ sofa. Once logged on, we meet our course coach Nathan, an upbeat, relentlessly patient Scottish instructor with a homegrown YouTube channel of his own, on which he reviews electronic synthesisers and (he reveals privately to me) vlogs whisky-tasting.
Twenty minutes into our induction, I realise I am already out of my depth: I have accidentally landed in a class of aspiring YouTube gamers. Within the influencer landscape, gaming is a microcosm complete with its own language and lore, each new game franchise spawning an expansive universe of characters, weaponry, codes, and customs. Whilst the students are happily chatting multiplayer platform compatibility, I am stealthily googling acronyms.
Far from the bedroom-dwelling pastime of the shy and socially reclusive, as it has been previously painted, gaming is a sprawling community activity on social media platforms. Over 200 million YouTube users watch gaming videos on a daily basis; 50 billion hours were viewed in 2018 alone, and two of the five largest channels on YouTube belong to gamers. And that’s just YouTube — the largest dedicated gamer streaming platform is Twitch, a 3.8m-strong community, which has an average of 83,700 synchronous streams — with 1.44 million viewers — taking place at any time.
Just a fraction of these numbers are users actually playing games themselves. Gaming content usually consists of viewing other people play: pre-recorded commentary following skilful players as they navigate their way through various levels or livestreamed screenshares to which viewers can tune in to watch their heroes play in real time. According to Google’s own data, 48 per cent of YouTube gaming viewers say they spend more time watching gaming videos on YouTube than actually playing games themselves.
If, like me, you find yourself wondering why, you’re probably in the wrong demographic. My classmate Rahil, a die-hard fan of Destiny 2, broke it down: ‘What makes these content creators so good is that they are very confident in what they do in gaming, but they are also funny, they are entertaining to watch. That’s why they have so many followers.’
Watching other people play video games is a way to level up your skills, engage with the community’s most hyped gaming rivalries, and feel connected to something beyond your console. Being a successful gaming influencer is also a way to get filthy rich. Video game voyeurism is a lucrative market, making internet celebrities of its most popular players, a string of incomprehensible handles that read to me like an inebriated keyboard smash but invoke wild-eyed delight in the eyes of my classmates: Markiplier, elrubiusOMG, JuegaGerman, A4, TheWillyrex, EeOneGuy, KwebbelKop, Fernanfloo, AM3NIC.
PewDiePie — aka 30-year-old Felix Kjellberg, the only gamer noobs like me have ever heard of — has 106m followers and is estimated to earn around $8 million per month, including more than $6.8 million from selling merchandise and more than $1.1 million in advertising. Blue-haired streamer Ninja, aka Detroit-born 29-year- old Tyler Blevins, is the most-followed gamer on Twitch, and signed a $30 million contract with Microsoft to game exclusively on their now- defunct streaming service Mixer. UK YouTube gaming collective The Sidemen upload weekly vlogs to their shared channel in which they compete on FIFA, mess around, prank each other, order £1,000 takeaways, and play something called ‘IRL Tinder’, living out the fever dream of a million teenage boys across the internet. For many tweens, getting paid to play as a YouTube gamer is a hallowed goal, and each of my classmates is keen to make Minecraft a full-time occupation. I decide to keep quiet about my abortive attempt at a beauty tutorial.
Class kicks off with an inspirational slideshow titled ‘INFLUENCERS: FROM 0 TO MILLIONS’. My laptop screen displays a Wall of Fame of top YouTubers smiling smugly to camera: OG American vlogger Casey Neistat, Canadian comedian Lilly Singh, PewDiePie, beauty guru Michelle Phan, and actor, activist, and author Tyler Oakley, each underlined by a subscriber count that outnumbers the population of most European countries. ‘Everyone started off where you are today,’ says Nathan enthusiastically. ‘A laptop and a smartphone — that’s all they had. Everybody here started with zero subscribers.’ The class is rapt. I try to imagine my own face smiling onscreen between professional prankster Roman Atwood (15.3m subscribers) and viral violin performer Lindsey Stirling (12.5m subscribers). Somehow, I can’t.
Nathan hits play on early comedy vlogger nigahiga’s first ever upload — a 2007 viral video sketch entitled ‘How to Be Ninja’ that now has 54,295,178 views — and then a later video from 2017, ‘Life of a YouTuber’. ‘Look at that — 21.5M subscribers!’ Nathan taps on the follower count under the video. ‘It didn’t happen overnight. It took a year, 12 months of putting up content with 50 views. Don’t get disheartened. Take every sub, every view as a...’ he mimes celebrating like the winner of a round of Fortnite.
Thanks to its nostalgic pixelation and condensed frame ratio, watching ‘How to Be Ninja’ creates the impression that we’re sitting in a history class studying archival footage from a distant past: Late Noughties Net Culture (2007, colourised). In a poorly lit, grainy home video that feels like a prelapsarian time capsule, two teenage boys act out a hammy sketch in which they transform into martial arts experts, including off-tempo miming, questionable jump cuts, and a tantalising glimpse of old-school YouTube — running on Internet Explorer — that flies over the heads of my Gen Z classmates. The sketch feels like two friends messing around with a camera at the weekend; it’s almost as if they don’t know they’re being watched.
In the second video an older and now more-polished Higa — complete with designer purple highlights in his hair — breezily addresses his multi-million-strong fanbase in a nine-minute HD monologue that’s punctuated by kooky 3D animation and links to his supporting social media channels. ‘I am in one of the final stages of my YouTube career,’ he says, ‘and my YouTube life, so …’ The camera cuts to reveal his extensive video set-up, professional lights, and a team of three clutching scripts, clipboards, cameras, and a boom mic behind the scenes, all celebrating exuberantly: ‘That means we can get out of here right?’ asks one. ‘Yeah, it’s really cramped back here…’ says another, ‘I have to poop so bad.’
‘What’s the difference between these two videos?’ Nathan prompts us. ‘What changed?’ The answers roll in quickly, students reeling off a list of ameliorations with ease: better lighting, better equipment, a better thumbnail, slicker editing, a more professional approach, background music, higher audio quality, and a naturalistic presentation style that at least appears to be ad-libbed.
‘What makes a good video more generally?’ asks Nathan. ‘What are the key elements?’ When he eventually pulls up the next slide, it turns out Nathan wants us to discuss passion, fun, originality, and creativity: but the class has other ideas. ‘I heard YouTube doesn’t like videos lower than ten minutes,’ offered Alex. ‘There’s many things that they don’t like,’ Lucas corrects him. ‘The algorithm is very complicated, and it’s always changing. They used to support “let’s plays” [a popular gaming stream format] back in 2018, and then they changed it, and a lot of Minecraft channels died.’ Rahil pipes up: ‘They find as many ways as possible to scrutinise your video … if you do many small things wrong, you get less money, even though YouTube is paid the same money by the advertisers. So you should never swear in your videos.’ ‘No, demonetisation is different,’ corrects Fred.
There is something fascinating and incongruous about watching pre-teens reel off the details of various influencer revenue models with the enthusiasm of a seasoned social media professional. The fluency with which they exchange terms I’m more accustomed to encountering on conference calls and in marketing decks is a startling reminder of the generational gulf between us: though they may be students, they’re not exactly beginners on the internet.
As the conversation quickly descends into technocratic one- upmanship, Nathan attempts to steer our analysis back to entry level. ‘Once you reach 1,000 subscribers,’ he enthusiastically explains to the class, ‘that means you can monetise your channel and have ads on it.’ A heated debate about the intricacies of YouTube monetisation ensues. Nathan is corrected by one of his students, before another pipes up to undercut them both, and suddenly everyone’s talking all at once: ‘Most YouTubers make money from sponsorships, not advertising revenue, anyway,’ offers one student. There is a pause. ‘And merch,’ he adds, ‘the MrBeast hoodies are really cool.’
‘Okay then,’ says Nathan brightly, shifting the slide forward to reveal a list of attributes for creating successful content that begins, ‘Attitude, Energy, Passion, Smile’, ‘what about some of these…’
Looking at my notes, I realise Nathan’s original question, ‘What makes a good video?’, has become something else entirely: what does YouTube consider to be a good video, and thus reward accordingly? It’s a small elision, admittedly, but significant; good is whatever YouTube thinks is good, and interpretations outside this algorithmic value system aren’t entertained. His prompt about creative possibilities has been heard as a question about optimising the potential of a commodity (the influencer) in an online marketplace. ‘It’s all about value,’ he continues, unwittingly echoing my thoughts, ‘what value does your video bring to the YouTube community? How are you going to stand out from all the other people doing it?’
This cuts to the heart of criticism against influencer training courses like this one, and others which have sprung up in LA, Singapore, and Paris in recent years: that it’s ethically inappropriate to coach young people to commodify themselves, that it’s encouraging children to spend more time online, that it’s corrupting childhoods. Influencers and industry professionals rolled their eyes or responded with a mixture of horror and intrigue when I’d mentioned the Fire Tech programme in passing. ‘That’s disgusting,’ said one agent, ‘way too young.’ (Privately, I thought this was an inconsistent position, given she represented a mumfluencer with a family of four.) ‘I respect it,’ said a Brighton-based beauty guru, ‘but I would never personally make that choice for my kids.’ ‘Crazy times we live in,’ offered a NYC-based fashion influencer, before admitting, ‘for real, though, I kind of wish I had had that when I was younger.’
That big-name guest might not have appeared on your favorite podcast out of the kindness of their heart. Bloomberg has learned that podcast guests are routinely paying big money to appear on popular podcasts. Guestio, a marketplace for these deals, has seen huge transactions in the past six months. Four podcasters made $20,000 from charging for appearances, while one made $50,000. The most profitable show, Entrepreneurs on Fire, regularly charges $3,500 for guest spots and has sometimes taken a cut of product sales.
It's not clear how widespread this activity is. However, Bloomberg interviews suggest pay-to-appear systems are popular for business, cryptocurrency and wellness podcasts. Hosts like Entrepreneurs on Fire's John Lee Dumas see appearance fees as filters. Guests will be well-prepared if they're making an "investment" in airtime, the creator said.
However, there are ethical and legal concerns surrounding the practice. This could be considered a modern take on payola, or the pay-for-play schemes used to boost songs on the radio — is a guest appearing because they're relevant, or just because they're willing to pay? And while disclosures are mandatory for those radio plays, the situation isn't so clear with podcasts. While many shows on Guestio have disclosures, not all of them properly reveal when an interview subject is paying to show up.
That could pose a problem in the future. A Federal Trade Commission spokesperson said that there's deception whenever consumers are mislead about the nature of advertising and promotional messages, regardless of the media format. The regulator didn't say if it would crack down on podcasters who improperly disclose paying guests, but the message could serve as a warning to show hosts.
On Wednesday, former Amazon employee Tori Davis and 25 other workers filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging the company forced them to work in a dangerous environment, reports the Chicago Tribune. Davis raised concerns about Amazon's handling of a racist death threat, and claims the retailer fired her after she threatened legal action if it did not address the incident.
In May, workers at the company’s MDW2 warehouse in Joliet, Illinois — a city 35 miles outside of Chicago — found two racist messages using the N-word scribbled on the wall of one of the facility’s bathrooms, according to the complaint filed with the EEOC. Davis, who is Black, left work without pay after her co-workers discovered the graffiti. After police investigated the incident, Amazon allegedly sent a text message to staff stating law enforcement “did not identify threats to the site’s safety."
According to the complaint, Amazon also allowed white employees at MDW2 to wear clothing that displayed the Confederate flag. One individual allegedly had a shirt where workers could see the flag “prominently” on both the garment’s back and sleeves.
“Amazon works hard to protect our employees from any form of discrimination and to provide an environment where employees feel safe,” an Amazon spokesperson told Engadget. “Hate or racism have no place in our society and are certainly not tolerated by Amazon.”
At a press conference, Davis said she would like to see Amazon implement additional safety policies at MDW2 and improve Black worker representation at the facility. She is also appealing her termination. Amazon has faced allegations of allowing racism in the workplace before. Last year, a manager with the company’s AWS division said she was from a supervisor who used racial tropes. The company also has a history of terminating employees who have sought to improve conditions at its workplaces.
Some TikTok employees have already lost their jobs, while others are told to prepare for a meeting with the HR department as part of the video platform's global restructuring efforts, Wired reports. According to the publication, European employees were warned that their jobs were at risk and to expect an HR meeting in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, employees in the UK were told to expect colleagues across departments to lose their jobs. In the US, some personnel were told that they were being let go shortly after they came in for work on Monday morning.
One of those US employees was David Ortiz, who was among the first executives TikTok parent company ByteDance hired outside of China. In a LinkedIn post, Ortiz said that his "role is being eliminated in a much larger re-organization effort." A TikTok spokesperson did not deny that layoffs were taking place when Wired asked. However, they also didn't confirm that the company is going through a global restructuring and didn't provide the publication with a detailed statement on why TikTok is cutting jobs.
A staffer who talked to the publication said the company is only cutting employees and teams that managers believe haven't been contributing enough. They claimed that only 100 employees are being laid off, which is but a small percentage of around 10,000 employees across the US and Europe. That said, TikTok is merely one of the companies in the big tech, gaming, AV/EV and social media sphere that's downsizing its workforce.
Some of the companies in the industry that had to let people go due to the economic downturn include Netflix, Unity and Twitter. Tesla reportedly laid off 200 Autopilot employees and closed an office in California. Bloomberg said Rivian plans to lay off 5 percent of its workforce. Finally, Meta told employees to identify low performers, The Information said, and move them to exit the company if they're unable to get back on track.
Bobby Kotick will get to keep his seat on Activision Blizzard's board of directors despite catching flak over the alleged role he played in creating the company's toxic workplace culture. At the video game developers' annual meeting of stockholders, investors voted on several proposals, as well as who gets to be on the company's board of directors over the next year. A total of 533,703,580 shareholders have voted to keep Kotick on the board, while on 62,597,199 have voted against it. As GameInformer notes, that means he gets to keep his seat until the next meeting in 2023.
Activision Blizzard employees walked out of their jobs last year and called for Kotick's resignation after The Wall Street Journal reported that the CEO knew about the worst instances of abuse in the company and even protected the employees accused of harassment. If you'll recall, California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the publisher in July 2021 for allegedly fostering a "frat boy" culture. The California agency investigated the company over the course of two years and found that women working for Activision Blizzard were paid less than their male counterparts and were subjected to constant sexual harassment.
More recently, the New York City Employees' Retirement System sued Kotick, calling him unfit to negotiate the company's pending sale to Microsoft due to his "personal responsibility and liability for Activision's broken workplace." NYC's retirement system represents the city's police, teachers and firefighters and owns Activision Blizzard stock. The company named a new chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer in April to help the company have a more inclusive workplace. In response, a group of employees aiming to protect workers from discrimination formed a committee to outline a list of demands for Kotick and the new chief diversity officer.
While majority of the shareholders have chosen to keep Kotick on the board, they also approved a plan to release an annual public report detailing how Activision handles any sexual harassment and gender discrimination dispute. The report must also detail how the company is preventing these incidents from happening and what it's doing to reduce the length of time it takes to resolve them.
Elon Musk's disdain for remote work doesn't fully extend to Twitter. As The New York Times and The Verge note, Musk told Twitter staff in an inaugural all-hands meeting that employees at the social network who produce "excellent" work at home should be permitted to keep their positions. While the aspiring new owner stressed that he would much rather have people working in the office, he thought it "wouldn't make sense" to fire someone who was a net positive for the company. He added he would verify with managers that those remote employees were making useful contributions.
Musk gave Tesla and SpaceX employees an ultimatum in late May, warning that they had to work at least 40 hours a week their main offices unless they had "particularly exceptional" reasons to stay remote. The executive felt it was particularly important for more senior-level members who needed an in-person "presence." This stands in sharp contrast to Twitter's existing stance allowing many employees to stay remote indefinitely, not to mention policies at Apple, Google and other tech heavyweights that allow staff to spend some or all of their workday at home.
The statements also come as Musk is facing a mounting backlash from his rank-and-file. The Verge says it has seen an open letter from SpaceX workers criticizing their CEO, accusing Musk of becoming a "frequent source of distraction and embarrassment" through his public actions. They also said the spaceflight firm wasn't living up to either its "No Asshole" mantra or a zero-tolerance policy on sexual misconduct. The letter writers wanted SpaceX to condemn Musk's behavior, hold all leaders accountable for their actions, and clarify its policies while enforcing them more consistently.
There was no mention of the exact issues that prompted the letter. Musk has drawn increasing criticism, however. A SpaceX flight attendant reportedly accused Musk of sexual misconduct, prompting a $250,000 settlement. That's on top of ongoing claims Musk's companies allow horrible behavior, including lawsuits from multiple women alleging Tesla fostered sexual harassment in the office. Musk has further been accused of posting transphobia on Twitter (such as blasting the pregnant man emoji) and supporting trucker protests in Canada that were laced with harassment and racist incidents. The entrepreneur isn't on great terms with many people at the moment, and his dislike of remote work underscores this.
Coinbase is still struggling with a worsening cryptocurrency market. The exchange has announced that it's laying off 18 percent of its workforce, or about 1,100 jobs, to help weather difficult economic conditions. There's a "crypto winter," according to company chief Brian Armstrong, and the move is purportedly necessary to keep costs down during this dark period.
Armstrong also saw this as a response to excessive optimism about crypto's future. Coinbase felt it had to grow rapidly in 2021 to compete across numerous sectors and take advantage of crypto's value surge, but it's now apparent the company "over-hired" while the market was strong. The exchange started 2021 with 1,250 employees, and will still have roughly 5,000 people employed by the end of the current quarter.
The layoffs have been abrupt. Coinbase cut affected employees' system access at the same time as the announcement to prevent "rash decision[s]" by outgoing staff. The firm is promising at least 14 weeks of severance pay, four months of US health insurance and help finding new work, but the decision comes after multiple attempts to avoid cutting jobs. Coinbase first paused hiring, and later rescinded accepted job offers as economic conditions soured.
Coinbase isn't alone in dealing with the effects of crypto's collapse. Binance is facing a lawsuit over the failed TerraUSD stablecoin, while major lender Celsius has frozen withdrawals to help stabilize assets and honor obligations. The plunge in Bitcoin prices following Celsius' move led Binance to halt its own withdrawals for several hours. Crypto is very fragile at the moment, and it doesn't take much for the technology's largest supporters to suffer.
Bioware's quality assurance testers working on Dragon Age: Dreadwolf have voted to form the first unionized workplace for the video game industry in Canada. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 applied to become the certified bargaining agent for Keywords Studios, the contracting company through which the testers are employed, back in April. Now, Kotaku says the election has resulted in a 16-0 vote in favor of unionization. Before working on the fourth major game in the Dragon Age franchise, they also supported the development of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition and Legacy of the Sith, an expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic.
The testers, who work out of BioWare's Edmonton office, started organizing after Keywords Studios announced that they'll be required to return to office, whereas direct BioWare employees were give more options. Keywords took back its return-to-office order, but the testers told Kotaku that they're working to prevent it from being reinstated and to get the company to increase their pay. At the moment, their base pay is around US$13 an hour, roughly equivalent to the area's minimum wage. They argued that the amount they're being paid isn't commensurate with the skills needed for the job and that BioWare employees doing the same work are being paid a lot more.
The union that's now representing the workers are expected to bargain with the studio's bosses sometime this week. In an email the QA testers sent out, they wrote: "We are excited to move into bargaining with the employer and start towards a more equitable working situation."
In the US, QA workers at Activision Blizzard studio Raven Software voted to unionize last month. That came after they went on strike following layoffs that affected 12 testers and after the studio split the remaining workers among various departments, perhaps in an effort to make unionization efforts hard to organize. Xbox head Phil Spencer announced that Microsoft will recognize the union after the tech giant's acquisition of Activision Blizzard is complete.
Apple will make a number of changes to scheduling rules for its retail employees that the company believes will result in more flexible working hours, Bloomberg. The move arrives as Apple retail stores in Maryland and New York City are slated to hold in the coming weeks. The changes will include changes to limits on the number of late shifts worked, consecutive days worked and the minimum amount of time that must pass before an employee is eligible to work a new shift.
According to staff who spoke to Bloomberg, Apple will make some of the following changes over the next several weeks. Others will not arrive until later in the year. Shifts must be scheduled at least 12 hours apart (up from 10 hours.) Choosing a weekend day to not be scheduled, and a maximum of five consecutive scheduled days in a row also appear to be among the concessions. And unless they opt to pick up late shifts, retail workers won't work more than three shifts per work that run past 8pm.
Apple retail workers over the years have spoken out about the demanding work schedule and low wages. The company benefits for all full-time retail employees earlier this year, increasing the number of paid sick days and offering paid parental leave. It also set a new floor of $22 per hour for its retail employees . Still, Fruit Stand Workers United — the group in the midst of organizing Apple’s Grand Central Store — is for a $30 minimum wage, tuition reimbursement and more options for retirement plans.