Today’s Agenda

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Old Yeller.
Photographer: Brooks Kraft/Corbis News

Anti-Social Media

Social media sites have a problem. They want to be open to all, to fulfill their higher-order goals of “connecting the world” or whatever and their lower-order goals of “making money.” But many have gotten so full of Nazis, conspiracy theorists and other horrible people/bots that they have become a big drag for everybody else. That helps explain why Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Snap Inc. reported disappointing user-growth numbers recently, writes Shira Ovide.  All three suffered in the short term as they tried to pretty up the user experience. But the numbers were weakening even before that:

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Notably, Facebook (but not Twitter) joined Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube in banning screamy conspiracy-theorist/grieving-parent-horror show Alex Jones. He is objectively awful. But none of the tech giants that tossed him were willing to spell out exactly why he’s terrible, raising questions about how seriously they will police such people, Bloomberg’s editors write. If they don’t, then user growth might keep slowing down. If they do, then they’ll limit their growth anyway. But that may be a fair price for maturity.

Bonus Reading: More dispatches from the free-speech wars. – Stephen Carter

The Musk of Trouble

The fallout from Elon Musk’s Tuesday tweetstorm about taking Tesla Inc. private has gotten more serious, with the Securities and Exchange Commission asking whether Musk really had “funding secured” as he tweeted. Tesla’s stock fell today, erasing Tuesday’s gains. If Musk wasn’t telling the truth, then he broke the law, points out Matt Levine

Saudi Arabia could be a source of the funding Tesla would need. But that country’s disproportional, Joe-Pescian freakout over Canada’s mild human-rights criticism should unnerve all Saudi business partners – including the half-Canadian Musk, writes Lionel Laurent

Bonus Tesla reading:

Thirsty Thursday in M&A Land

You’ve heard of Merger Monday – when deals get announced after M&A bankers hammer them out on Sundays. Well, today was Thirsty Thursday, where frustrated deal partners fumed about what might have been.

Viacom Inc., the Gallant to CBS Corp.’s Goofus, reported solid quarterly earnings today. But it would still have a better long-term future merging with CBS, writes Tara Lachapelle. Unfortunately, the latter company is still hunkering down around its merger-averse CEO, Les Moonves, who has been accused of sexual misconduct. Tara has questions about this.

Meanwhile, the admittedly ridiculously named Tronc looks like it’s about to get a much bigger takeover bid than one it rejected from Gannett Co. – in what Brooke Sutherland calls a "deeply depressing" reward for “bad corporate governance.” Meanwhile, former Tronc parent Tribune Media Co. has sued its would-be merger partner, Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., accusing it of being so terrible at handling regulators that it managed to sour Trump’s FCC on a deal that would have launched an armada of Trump-friendly local TV stations. But both will be in other deals soon, Brooke writes.

Finally, Rite-Aid Corp. and Albertsons Cos. were licking their wounds after calling off their deal Wednesday night. It’s just as well, Sarah Halzack and Max Nisen write: These two companies were about to be corporate examples of the 12-Step-group warning that “two sickies don’t make a welly.

Surviving in Trump’s Swamp

What is it about President Donald Trump that people in his orbit keep getting themselves, and him, into so much trouble?

Take Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Please. With the departure of former EPA chief Scott Pruitt (condo deal, lotion, tactical pants), Ross is now the biggest Swamp Survivor in the Trump administration, writes Tim O’Brien. Forbes this week reported Ross may be “one of the biggest grifters in American history.” He was already so knee-deep in conflicts of interest, Tim notes, “it’s a wonder that he has managed to outlast Pruitt. Then again, he’s just been following the president’s lead when it comes to ignoring financial conflicts.” Click here to read it all.

Then there’s Rep. Chris Collins, Trump’s first supporter in Congress, now charged with insider trading. Joe Nocera writes the Collins allegations are awfully reminiscent of those that got Martha Stewart sent to jail. Matt Levine believes this calls for a new rule: “if you are already under a federal ethics investigation about your ownership or promotion of a stock, don’t insider trade that stock. … Especially not at a congressional picnic!” 

Meanwhile, you have to ask why  so many Trump people secretly record him, writes Jonathan Bernstein. The latest is former reality star and Trump aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman, who taped conversations with Trump and now has a tell-all book about her time in the White House. It probably won’t be the last.

Let’s Don’t Make a No-Deal Brexit

The British pound should be having a moment. The Bank of England is raising interest rates, and the UK economy is not completely dead yet. But the pound has been, uh, pounded lately:

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Mark Gilbert suggests this reflects growing worries about the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, which would hammer the pound even more severely.

Brexiters argue a no-deal Brexit would be no big deal, merely putting UK trade with Europe under WTO rules, which would be totally fine and non-disruptive. But Therese Raphael explains all the reasons a no-deal Brexit would indeed be a disaster

Chart Attack

No wonder Californians believe in global warming, writes Justin Fox:

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Among streaming-TV devices, little Roku Inc. dominates, writes Tara Lachapelle:

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Quick Hits

Congress should end its ban on college performance data so students can make informed choices. – Bloomberg’s Editors

Hong Kong’s IPO boom is losing steam after delivering a lot of pain to investors. – Nisha Gopalan 

Loss aversion is no fallacy. – Barry Ritholtz

Puerto Rico’s biggest bond-market test is still ahead. – Brian Chappatta

DACA will be the next big immigration fight – and it could be one of Brett Kavanaugh’s first Supreme Court cases. – Noah Feldman

ICYMI

Puerto Rico said the death toll from Hurricane Maria could top 1400. Russia blasted new U.S. sanctions. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy returned from vacation to face furious commuters

Kickers

On Saturday, NASA will launch the fastest spacecraft ever to the Sun. Sadly, it’s too late to hitch a ride.

Geoengineering may not help solve global warming – without killing crops.

Dark energy may be incompatible with string theory.

Driverless car technology could help find unmarked graves.

What would have won a “Most Popular” Oscar in years past?

Watch the trailer for “Free Solo,” about the unbelievable free-solo climb of El Capitan.

Note: Please send Oscars, suggestions and kicker ideas to Mark Gongloff at mgongloff1@bloomberg.net.

***

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    To contact the author of this story:
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    Timothy L. O’Brien at tobrien46@bloomberg.net

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