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Nilay Patel on Facebook’s Reckoning With Reality—And the Metaverse-Size Problems Yet to Come – Vanity Fair

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The early 2010s were a great time to be a tech blog: The digital media industry was still reasonably flush with hope, and Silicon Valley remained something of an exciting curiosity worth geeking out over. This was back when Gizmodo leaked the iPhone 4 prototype (courtesy of a forgetful bar patron in Redwood City); back when the biggest news out of F8 was the launch of something called “the Timeline” (which TechCrunch noted “looks a bit like a really nice Tumblr blog”). So when top Engadget editors quit the AOL-backed (lol) tech site to launch The Verge in 2011, no one could have guessed it was basically going to be the last new tech blog as we knew it.
One decade later, The Verge has not only managed to stay successful and relevant, but the parent company it originally launched under—Vox Media—has matured into a digital media player itself, or at least the only one that’s ever bought a whole entire magazine. Meanwhile, The Verge has stayed the course, cranking out gadget reviews, a Pulitzer-nominated feature, and, of course, the elusive Facebook scoop.
On the eve of The Verge’s 10th anniversary, Vanity Fair spoke with editor in chief Nilay Patel about the way tech coverage (and the public’s expectations for it) has changed in the last decade, especially in regard to a certain social media network in the news recently…
It’s been a week since we first started officially hearing about the Facebook Papers, but there’s still so much coming out. Has there been anything in the papers so far that’s surprised you?
The most surprising thing is that so many of our assumptions are true. We can imagine how these companies operate—the bureaucracy of a hundred-thousand-person company that has deep political interest from players across the spectrum, from multiple countries across the world. What the papers have conclusively demonstrated is that one, most of those assumptions are true.
And two, inside of Facebook, there is an enormous amount of dissent. Facebook has internal corporate values, so it’s strange for all those people who go to Facebook, take the orientation and are told how to behave at work, and then ship something that actively cuts against those values. What the papers have shown us is that they know it. I don’t think there’s a lot of earth-shattering scoops in there, but the overwhelming outcome of the work that’s being done with the papers is to put together a meticulous theory of the case of why Facebook has gone astray.
Looking back at Facebook’s trajectory, does it seem like this was always going to be the inevitable conclusion for the company?
This moment is one that any good monopolist from history would have absolutely managed to head off at the pass. If you look at all of the cell carriers, they are all monopolies or duopolies; there isn’t a lot of competition. But the reason they don’t take the hits is because they are perceived as national champions, right? AT&T and Verizon hold themselves up as winning a race for 5G. They have deeply enmeshed themselves in the government; they lobby all the time. Other telecom firms have figured this out.
Facebook has held itself apart. That distance has always meant that this moment for them is inevitable. They had a lack of understanding of how the other enormous power in this country—the government—might seek to reassert itself, and how that process might get used by whistleblowers or by other people who wish to make change.
I think it’s hitting them like a truck. Now they’re spending a lot of money lobbying and are putting up the ads that say, we welcome regulation.
Let’s zoom out to the bigger picture around tech and media from the past decade. How has coverage evolved from, like, its early, breathless gadget-review days?
I think we’re a little past breathless gadget reviews, but at the same time, we’re still heavily invested in reviews because they offer us a kind of power and control over a story. We can take everything Apple has done with the App Store and antitrust and photo scanning, and then we can look at their phone and say, “This is a nine.” That connection has been an enormous force of our authority. I cannot think of another part of media where the loop gets closed like that, except for sports, right? You can cover teams all day, but at the end of the day, someone’s going to win. At the end of the day in tech, they’re gonna ship a product and it’s good or not.
I think reviews of the products these companies actually make are gaining in importance because you’re surrounded by them and the marketing noise all day. Authoritative review, for us, is going to be critically important. It feeds the journalism. Because when we do the investigative journalism and the big features, we’re not confused about how the products work.
Has the subject-source relationship changed, do you think? Has one side taken more power?
We live in the age of going direct: CEOs starting their own marketing channels, companies doing their own Clubhouse, venture capital firms starting media organizations. And that’s fine. Because, for example, I host a podcast where I interview executives every week, and they keep coming. It’s not like they’re fading away—they want to be on the show.
I think skeptical voices who understand what they’re doing and don’t think they should all be in jail—which is the perspective of a lot of other organizations—it allows me to challenge them. But it also allows them to say, we stood up to scrutiny. Most of these folks are type A, competitive people. They are not avoiding challenges. They just want to be challenged in a way that they perceive as fair.
If you can create a place where you can say, I disagree with you, or I think you’ve made a huge mistake—which is a thing I say on the show all the time—but it’s coming from a place of, like, intellectual understanding, I don’t think that subject-source relationship is changing very much. The basics are still there. We’ve been very fortunate to work with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher for many years. If I’ve learned anything from them, it’s that.
There’s actually a kind of double-sided relationship that any digital outlet—a tech outlet—has with tech companies like Facebook, because you’re not only covering them as a subject. You’re also dependent on them as platforms for readership, right? What’s that been like?
One thing that is true about the Verge newsroom is that, in a decade, we have never put page views in front of our reporters. We barely show them metrics. The reason we decided not to do that early—and this is some deep Verge history—is because when we first started, we had a deal with Yahoo. Every now and again, Yahoo would send us a flood of traffic, and we couldn’t figure out why. So we started making a list of stories that would get Yahoo traffic, and we realized that the algorithm loves stories about fish.
So—true story—on really slow Fridays, the tiny team of Verge people would all Google the words “fish technology,” and we would write stories about fish. And we would collect a flood of Yahoo traffic. We called them “Fish Fridays.” It was very funny; there’s a lot of hilarious stories on The Verge from that early period because of it. But we also learned we should not pay attention to where the traffic is coming from like this. This is a bad outcome.
I think every journalist fundamentally knows this. Data can only tell you about the past. And that’s all that Facebook has ever been—a narrowing. “Today Facebook is interested in cheese, and now a major American newsroom has a cheese vertical,” is a real thing that happened in our society. That’s weird! But I would challenge the entire media industry to think as deeply about its relationship to Google search as it does about the Facebook algorithm. There’s a lot of games being played with the architecture of the news.
What general blind spots do you think still exist for journalists on the tech beat?
We take a lot of things for granted. We assume things will always be the way they were, especially in tech. The Verge is older than Google Photos and Slack and Oculus V.R. We saw the very first Oculus prototype back when it was shown to us in a trailer in Las Vegas! Those things didn’t exist. But these companies are not forever. Their products are not forever. And our relationship to them is not necessarily forever.
Honestly, I’m quite relieved to be reminded of that.
Right? We assume that Slack and Zoom are going to be the way that we work forever. But they’re brand-new companies. The idea that Google and Facebook have a plan is, like, I don’t know! [Laughs]
One of my favorite memories of the past 10 years is the midperiod of Google, when it was so disorganized that we actually told one division of Google that another division was having an event on the same day. They didn’t know. We were the ones who told them. You get close to these huge companies—hundreds of thousands of people doing all kinds of things in all kinds of countries. And you realize they’re not single CEOs, they’re not three executives making decisions.
But I’m not saying that these companies shouldn’t get broken up. I actually think they should—it would be best for everyone, including their own executives. I think they might get a measure of peace. But I think the big blind spot we have is assuming that things are static in tech, when actually the story of the past 10 years is that things that look like institutions were created from nothing.
Do you think we’re living in an inflection point right now? I was reading the goodbye blog post you wrote back in 2011, when you were leaving Engadget. You wrote that you were looking for “the next beginning.” Is right now a kind of “next beginning” for tech overall?
I think it’s the beginning of a reckoning with how being this connected affects us and affects our lives. I don’t know that we have built the social systems or the political hierarchies to deal with it. I think that has huge repercussions, especially in a country with a First Amendment like ours. I’m not sure the government has the tools it might need, and I am extremely unsure the government should have those tools.
So I think this is the beginning of that: How connected should we be, and who should be the gatekeepers of that connection? How do we hold those gatekeepers in line? No one knows the answer. It is the central challenge of our time. The literal reckoning with the shape of society that absolute connection has brought us, is upon us. And it is nowhere close to the end.
Anything we can look forward to in the meantime?
These platforms are very busy just holding themselves together, but there’s all kinds of new ideas that, as we’ve seen, can collect capital very quickly, both cultural and actual capital. I don’t want to sit here and tell you that crypto’s going to change the world. [Laughs] But you just see that there’s more interest in things that are not these handful of wondering companies. There’s excitement and community being pointed at other things, and it all kind of seems silly, but there’s something there that is very vibrant and very real.
It has been a very platform-focused era. It reminds me of whatever that period was when every app was like, it’s Uber for this. Like that was all tech would ever be.
Right, but—Carlos Quintanilla wrote a great tweet about this—Uber was maybe the most important app in the history of the iPhone. It’s the first app that you pushed a button and something happened in the world. The mechanism by which something happened is problematic and exploitative, but before Uber, that idea did not exist at scale. Everything that was happening on the phone was inside your phone.
I think we still haven’t really taken it seriously that when you push buttons on your phone, things happen in the real world. We’ve had an entire presidency that is predicated on that. We have new members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who rose to prominence because they were able to push buttons on their phone better than other people. That connection? People see it now. This is what I mean when I say there’s a reckoning—that things happening on the phone is real life.
One more Facebook question. What’s the deal with the rebrand?
They want it to be about the metaverse, right? They’re really focused on Oculus and A.R. But A.R. is a really hard problem. If you step back to the beginning, you’ve gotta build the display that goes on your face that doesn’t make you look ridiculous. You have to find a way to power it; you have to put a battery on your body somewhere; you’ve gotta find a computer that’s fast enough to look at the world around you and put stuff on top that’s also small enough to run off the battery. Very challenging. But that’s just the tech problem.
Once you build it, who is going to augment reality? Who is in charge of that project? If I’m standing at the United States Capitol and you’re standing there, and we’re both looking at the Capitol, what are we seeing—what is the label on that building? Is it the “home of democracy,” or is it “where Donald Trump got screwed”? We’ll actually live in different realities.
Facebook is trying to pivot away from its Facebook problems, which is a content-moderation-at-scale problem. It might well be unsolvable. Meanwhile, they are still racing toward the hardest content moderation at scale that will ever exist: that you and I will live in different realities because we’re wearing headsets on our faces that present to us different realities in the same moment, in the same physical space.
God, that’s spooky.
I think about it all the time. Can I put a slightly upbeat note on this?
Please.
The flip side of that, if I had a pair of glasses that would just tell me everyone’s name, I would be the most powerful person in the world. I have a horrible memory for names and faces. I know I’ve lost opportunities because I’ve forgotten someone the second time. I would buy that in a heartbeat.
Oh, absolutely. I can’t imagine how useful that would be.
Just tell me people’s names! But to enable that, what do you have to build? A worldwide facial-recognition database. So maybe we should not have that technology.
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Lamina1 Presents Inaugural “Open Metaverse Conference” Connecting the Worlds of Blockchain and the Metaverse for a Next-Gen Internet – Business Wire

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Featuring a keynote from co-founder and futurist Neal Stephenson, the first-of-its-kind event aims to empower creators and coders to build the Open Metaverse together
LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Lamina1, a Layer 1 blockchain optimized for the Open Metaverse, today announced its role as founding sponsor of the Open Metaverse Conference, a first-of-its-kind industry event bringing together the worlds of the Metaverse and Web3 to build a more open and immersive Internet. The two-day conference will take place from February 8-9, 2023 in Los Angeles, California, and will gather experts and builders spanning Metaverse experiences, Web3, and entertainment.

Co-founded by Neal Stephenson, renowned futurist and science fiction author who originally coined the term “Metaverse,” and cryptocurrency pioneer Peter Vessenes, founder of the first VC-backed Bitcoin company, Lamina1 will provide the infrastructure to empower rapid expansion of the Open Metaverse. As the founding sponsor of the Open Metaverse Conference, Lamina1 will provide a forum for critical conversations around identity, privacy and interoperability, while exploring how audience engagement, creative storytelling, and the technicalities of blockchain can work hand-in-hand to make the vision of the Open Metaverse a reality.
The Open Metaverse Conference will feature keynotes from renowned technologists and storytellers who are pioneering visions for the next era of the Internet. Attendees will hear from Lamina1 co-founders Neal Stephenson and Peter Vessenes, as well as Philip Rosedale, founder of virtual world Second Life (Linden Lab) and co-founder of virtual platform High Fidelity, John Gaeta, Oscar-winning VFX pioneer (The Matrix) and CCO of character persona company Inworld AI, Cathy Hackl, Metaverse and Web3 strategist and founder of design consultancy Journey, and other industry crossover leaders to be announced. Keynote sessions will be complemented by diverse speakers and side events spanning games, art, entertainment, and commerce. To connect these key areas of culture with the technology that enables them, the Open Metaverse Conference will also facilitate technological deep dives for attendees from leaders in Web3, immersive computing, and technology standards groups. Presenting partners include the Metaverse Standards Forum, the Open Metaverse Interoperability Group, and the Open Metaverse Alliance for Web3 (OMA3), all organizations fostering interoperability.
“We are at a moment in time when developers, creatives, and producers can finally design the seamless and persistent experiences we’ve dreamed about,” said Jamil Moledina, Vice President of Games Partnerships and Media at Lamina1. “The Open Metaverse Conference will serve as the big tent for everyone who’s thinking about creating never-before-possible experiences that allow creators and consumers to enter unique virtual worlds on a level playing field.”
“OMA3 is pleased to collaborate with Lamina1 and the Open Metaverse Conference in promoting interoperability,” said Robby Yung, CEO of Animoca Brands. “OMA3 looks forward to developing talk tracks to encourage the creation of a more open and immersive internet.”
The conference will encourage interdisciplinary dialogue through debates, pitch sessions, roundtable discussions, and networking opportunities to help drive new ideas and connections.
“We felt a real sense of urgency to facilitate discussion with our colleagues and creators across the spectrum,” said Rebecca Barkin, President of Lamina1. “We know that the Open Metaverse will be built collaboratively and with a set of shared values, and we’re happy to provide this forum to address the needs of the community and to solve big problems together.”
For more information on the Open Metaverse Conference, visit www.openmetaverseconf.com.
About Open Metaverse Conference 
The Open Metaverse Conference (OMC) is an industry-first event presented by Lamina1 focused on bringing together the Metaverse and blockchain technology. The conference gathers key stakeholders spanning developers, creatives, producers, product owners, and executives to ask and address big questions around the development of a truly Open Metaverse that leverages open-source, collaborative principles and blockchain decentralization.
About Lamina1 
Lamina1 is a Layer1 blockchain optimized for the Open Metaverse. The brainchild of legendary futurist Neal Stephenson (who first conceptualized the term “Metaverse” in his 1992 best-selling novel Snow Crash) and Peter Vessenes, a foundational leader in the crypto space from the early days of Bitcoin – Lamina1 is on a mission to deliver the blockchain technology, interoperating tools, and decentralized services that will establish it as the preferred destination for creators building a more immersive Internet. It is the first provably carbon-negative blockchain in the world.
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K.C. Maas
Wachsman
kc.maas@wachsman.com

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Facebook Founder, Zuckerberg Drops Out Of 10 Richest Men After Losing Half Of Fortunes – SaharaReporters.com

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According to Forbes, the Facebook founder has lost more than half his fortune—a staggering $76.8 billion—since September 2021, dropping him from No. 3 on The Forbes 400 list of the U.S.’ wealthiest people to No. 11. Worth $57.7 billion on this year’s list.
 
Meta chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg has lost his spot in the list as one of the 10 richest people in America.
According to Forbes, the Facebook founder has lost more than half his fortune—a staggering $76.8 billion—since September 2021, dropping him from No. 3 on The Forbes 400 list of the U.S.’ wealthiest people to No. 11. Worth $57.7 billion on this year’s list.
Zuck trails Walmart heir Jim Walton, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and other tech moguls such as ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. No one in America has lost as much money over the past year as Zuckerberg.
He has the cratering stock price of Meta (formerly Facebook) to thank for his exit from the top 10. Shares have plunged 57% since last year’s Forbes 400, which used stock prices from September 3, 2021. Tech stocks are generally in a slump with the market downturn, but Meta’s fall outpaces both the Nasdaq (-9.8%) and the S&P 500 (-13.5%), as well as Microsoft’s 14% decline, Google-parent Alphabet‘s 25% drop and Amazon’s 27% dive.
Investors are spooked by a privacy policy update from Apple last year that made it harder for tech companies to track users across apps, impacting Meta’s ad sales. Meta reported its first-ever quarterly revenue decline in July–a 1% drop, to $28.8 billion.
“Facebook makes most of its money from advertising, and now it just doesn’t have that data anymore,” says Mark Zgutowicz, an analyst at research and investment banking firm Benchmark.
“All those data signals went away, which basically means that advertisers are having trouble telling whether a campaign was successful or not.”
Compounding the problem for Meta, TikTok is luring away advertisers, along with lucrative Gen Z and millennial users. In February, Meta announced its first-ever quarterly loss of daily active users. A recent internal report showed that Meta’s TikTok clone, Instagram Reels, is struggling to compete, according to Wall Street Journal report.
Under normal circumstances, a slight dip in revenue might be manageable, but Meta is also investing heavily in virtual reality and the metaverse, which is dragging down operating profit. In 2021, the company’s metaverse division, Meta Reality Labs, lost $10 billion. While the metaverse is all Zuckerberg wants to talk about, investors are less enthusiastic so far. “It’s a long tail investment and, for now, it’s kind of a cash suck,” Zgutowicz says.
Zuckerberg first became a billionaire in 2008, just four years after founding Facebook. At 23, he was the youngest self-made billionaire at the time, debuting at No. 321 on The Forbes 400, worth $1.5 billion. By 2011, Zuckerberg’s net worth had increased nearly 12 fold to $17.5 billion.
This year isn’t the first time Zuckerberg’s net worth has taken a dive. After Facebook’s famously disappointing IPO in 2012, Zuckerberg fell from No. 14 to No. 36 on The Forbes 400. But it didn’t last long. The following year, Zuckerberg bounced back and, up until now, his fortune has continued to climb. Despite the litany of controversies and scandals plaguing the company, Facebook’s ad machine had reliably churned out enough money to impress investors, sending Zuckerberg’s net worth soaring to $134.5 billion last year, his highest net worth ever.
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Disney CEO Bob Chapek plotting a metaverse for Disney+ that will recreate their parks online – Daily Mail

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Disney is plotting a metaverse that would let people experience the most magical place on earth without ever setting foot in the theme park.
CEO Bob Chapek said the media giant’s metaverse would exist on its streaming platform, Disney+, and allow ‘the 90 percent of people that will never ever be able to get to a Disney park,’ to experience it in virtual reality.
‘We call it next-gen storytelling’ Chapek said in an interview with Deadline, noting that he didn’t like use the phrase metaverse ‘because it has a lot of hair on it.’
But regardless of whatever Chapek prefers to call the planned platform, many have responded by calling the move out of touch with Disney’s fanbase, and argued that if the parks stopped hiking prices more people would be able to visit.  
The move comes as Chapek – who took the helm at Disney in 2020 – struggles to make a name for himself in the shadow of his innovative predecessor, Bob Iger, and keep afloat amid controversies ranging from the park’s rising prices, to Disney’s stance on Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill. 
Just last week, Chapek broke a months-long silence on an apology he issued in an attempt to quell Disney staff who were outraged by his failure to speak out against the controversial bill last spring, saying he chose to remain mum on the matter because he didn’t want to get Disney caught in a ‘political subterfuge.’ 
Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the media giant’s metaverse would exist on its streaming platform, Disney+, and allow people to experience park rides in virtual reality
Disney’s metaverse move comes as Chapek – who took the helm at Disney in 2020 – struggles to make a name for himself in the shadow of his innovative predecessor, Bob Iger
Chapek characterized the Disney metaverse as a way to experience the theme parks for the multitudes of people who are unable to actually make the trip in person.
‘We wish every person would have the opportunity to come to our parks, but we realize that’s not a reality for some people,’ he told Deadline, ‘we have before us an opportunity to turn what was a movie-service platform to an experiential platform and give them the ability to ride Haunted Mansion from a virtual standpoint.’
He said metaverse users would have an experience beyond what regular parkgoers have, and be able to step out of the ride-cars to explore sets and interact with characters. 
‘Maybe we’ll give them the opportunity what every single person in the park wants to do, and unfortunately too many of them do it, just to get off the attraction. See how it works, see how those ghost dancers move,’ he said. 

But many responded to the news by saying if Disney would just stop raising its prices, more of those 90 percent of people who cannot visit the parks would be able to.
‘Damn Disney. Just say it direct like that,’ wrote tech critic Juan Carlos Bagnell on Twitter, ‘90% of the HUMAN POPULATION is too poor to visit our parks, but hopefully some are less-poor-enough to own VR goggles and ride our rides in a metaverse clone…’
Commenters on the Deadline interview were equally unimpressed, with one saying ‘The reason 90% of people may not be able to experience the parks is because you keep hiking the cost of GOING to the parks beyond what most people can actually afford, Bob.’
‘Costs are up at the parks. Moral appears to be down. Iger had imagination and could adapt,’ said another.

Disney park prices have skyrocketed since Chapek was fully given charge at Disney in 2022. At California parks, ticket prices jumped 6 percent to $164 for single-park passes, while the price of getting into more than one park over the course of a day rose 9 percent to $319.
At the Florida parks the price to get into the park after 2pm rose to $169, while before 2pm fans were asked to fork over $194. Those prices could also rise based on an increased demand on any day.
‘If you’re the kind of person that budgets or saves for vacations, Disney Parks aren’t for you any longer,’ wrote a fed-up customer on Reddit, ‘That’s a Premium Physical Experience, and there’s plenty of national and international wealthy families to afford going indefinitely.’
And in August, as inflation scorched the US economy, Chapek warned those prices could continue to rise.
‘It’s all up to the consumer,’ he said, according to The New York Post, ‘If consumer demand keeps up, we’ll act accordingly.’
Disney’s metaverse would allow people to experience park rides like the Haunted Mansion without ever setting foot in Disney World
Chapek noted the virtual reality experience could go beyond simply sitting in the car and experiencing the ride the way park-goers do, but would allow people to step off of the tracks and explore the ride sets up close
Chapek has hardly been the happiest CEO on Earth since he took the reins at Disney.
After beginning his tenure in February, 2020, he was thrust immediately into the chaos of navigating Disney through the perils of the pandemic, which saw the media company’s primary revenue streams – theme park revenue and movie theater tickets – vanish like a pair of glass slippers at midnight.
To help steady the ship, Iger – much to Chapek’s ire, reportedly – was kept on in a leadership position through 2021.
But as soon as Chapek was given full control in 2022 his price hikes had customers raising eyebrows about whether he was up to the same scratch as the visionary Iger.
Those doubts were doubled-down on by Disney staff after Chapek decided to remain quiet on Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill, a law which barred schools from discussing sexuality or gender with children between kindergarten and third grade.
Many Disney employees viewed the law as homophobic and an affront to the inclusive values of Disney, and publicly voiced their outrage that Chapek did not speak out against it.
Chapek said the metaverse would also work in conjunction with real-world visits to Disney theme parks
Disney is plotting a metaverse that would let people experience the most magical place on earth without ever setting foot in the theme park
He later apologized to staff, publicly decried the bill, and announced Disney had paused all its political donations within Florida.
Last week, Chapek addressed that apology for the first time since he issued it, saying he had struggled to balance the needs and beliefs of every one of his employees and customers.
‘What we try to do is be everything to everybody,’ Chapek told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview, ‘That tends to be very difficult because we’re The Walt Disney Company.’
‘We certainly don’t want to get caught up in any political subterfuge, but at the same time we also realize that we want to represent a brighter tomorrow for families of all types, regardless of how they define themselves,’ he said.

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