Russian operatives sacrifice followers to stay under cover on Facebook

Russian operatives sacrifice followers to stay under cover on Facebook
By Jack Stubbs

LONDON (Reuters) – Efforts by Russian influence campaigns to stay undetected on social media ahead of next year’s U.S. elections are undermining their ability to gain followers and spread divisive political messages, a senior Facebook <FB.O> executive told Reuters.

Social media users need to stand out from the crowd to gain traction online, but that type of behavior also helps Facebook and other platforms identify suspicious activity to then analyze for signs of foreign involvement, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cyber security policy.

“If you are very, very loud, if you go viral very, very fast that’s exactly the sort of thing that our automated systems will detect and flag,” he said. “So when actors have really diligent, deliberate and effective operational security it weakens their ability to build an audience.”`

Facebook on Monday suspended a network of Instagram accounts it said targeted U.S. users ahead of next year’s presidential poll and were linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), an organization Washington says Moscow used to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election.

The latest Russian campaign posted on both sides of sensitive topics such as the environment and sexual equality but struggled to attract followers due to the operators’ attempts to stop the accounts being caught and disabled, said Gleicher.

Those efforts included sharing memes and screenshots of other users’ social media posts instead of producing original content in English, likely to avoid making language errors typical of non-native speakers, according to a report https://graphika.com/uploads/Graphika%20Report%20-%20CopyPasta.pdf by social media analytics firm Graphika.

This technique “gave each asset less of a discernible personality and therefore may have reduced the (campaign’s) ability to build audiences,” Graphika said.

The IRA-linked network of 50 Instagram accounts had around 246,000 followers, about 60 percent of which were in the United States, Facebook said, without providing a breakdown for each account.

That compares with charges by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller that the IRA has previously run social media accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers each. Facebook says up to 126 million Americans may have seen Russian-linked posts aimed at the 2016 election.

Russian catering tycoon Evgeny Prigozhin, accused by U.S. prosecutors of orchestrating the IRA’s activities through Concord Management and Consulting LLC, did not respond to questions sent by Reuters.

Attorneys for Concord Management and Consulting LLC did not respond to a request for comment but have previously denied any wrongdoing.

PAYING IN ROUBLES

Facebook, Twitter <TWTR.N> and Google <GOOGL.O> have vowed to step up the fight against political manipulation of their platforms after facing fierce criticism for failing to counter alleged Russian interference in 2016.

Despite the increased scrutiny, U.S. officials have repeatedly warned of the threat posed by Russia and other countries such as Iran, who they say may still attempt to sway the result of next year’s vote.

Addressing U.S. lawmakers this week, FBI Deputy Assistant Director Nikki Floris said the bureau’s foreign influence task force was briefing candidates and running a series of public information videos to help safeguard the election.

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Moscow and Tehran have repeatedly denied allegations of election interference. The Kremlin and Russia’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Russian efforts to avoid detection by the platforms’ security teams have been increasing since the IRA’s alleged efforts in 2016 were first exposed, said Ben Nimmo, who has helped Facebook analyze influence operations and currently runs investigations at Graphika.

A campaign exposed by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab in June, which attempted to seed false narratives online such as a bogus plot to assassinate British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, created a new account for almost every single post.

This made it harder to track connections between the accounts, Nimmo said, but also meant the posts only reached a small number of people.

Announcing the takedown of a network in July last year, which it said showed “some connections” to previously-identified IRA accounts, Facebook noted that “bad actors have been more careful to cover their tracks.”

The company said operators were using virtual private networks and internet phone services to obscure an account user’s location, and paying for advertising via third parties.

In contrast, previous campaigns linked to the IRA used Russian phone numbers and IP addresses to register their accounts, as well as paying for Facebook adverts in Russian roubles, raising suspicions about Russian involvement.

“The original IRA activity threw operational security to the wind,” Nimmo said.

(Additional reporting by Christopher Bing and Raphael Satter in Washington; Editing by Carmel Crimmins)

Martin Luther King’s daughter tells Facebook disinformation helped kill civil rights leader

Martin Luther King’s daughter tells Facebook disinformation helped kill civil rights leader
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Disinformation campaigns helped lead to the assassination of Martin Luther King, the daughter of the U.S. civil rights champion said on Thursday after the head of Facebook said social media should not factcheck political advertisements.

The comments come as Facebook Inc  is under fire for its approach to political advertisements and speech, which Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg defended on Thursday in a major speech that twice referenced King, known by his initials MLK.

King’s daughter, Bernice, tweeted that she had heard the speech. “I’d like to help Facebook better understand the challenges #MLK faced from disinformation campaigns launched by politicians. These campaigns created an atmosphere for his assassination,” she wrote from the handle @BerniceKing.

King died of an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

Zuckerberg argued that his company should give voice to minority views and said that court protection for free speech stemmed in part from a case involving a partially inaccurate advertisement by King supporters. The U.S. Supreme Court protected the supporters from a lawsuit.

“People should decide what is credible, not tech companies,” Zuckerberg said.

“We very much appreciate Ms. King’s offer to meet with us. Her perspective is invaluable and one we deeply respect. We look forward to continuing this important dialogue with her in Menlo Park next week,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

(Reporting by Peter Henderson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Facebook’s Zuckerberg hits pause on China, defends political ads policy

Facebook’s Zuckerberg hits pause on China, defends political ads policy
By David Shepardson and Katie Paul

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Facebook Inc <FB.O> Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday defended the social media company’s political advertising policies and said it was unable to overcome China’s strict censorship, attempting to position his company as a defender of free speech.

“I wanted our services in China because I believe in connecting the whole world, and I thought maybe we could help creating a more open society,” Zuckerberg said, addressing students at Georgetown University.

“I worked hard on this for a long time, but we could never come to agreement on what it would take for us to operate there,” he said. “They never let us in.”

He did not address what conditions or assurances he would need to enter the Chinese market.

Facebook tried for years to break into China, one of the last great obstacles to Zuckerberg’s vision of connecting the world’s entire population on the company’s apps.

Zuckerberg met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing and welcomed the country’s top internet regulator to Facebook’s campus. He also learned Mandarin and posted a photo of himself running through Tiananmen Square, which drew a sharp reaction from critics of the country’s restrictive policies.

The company briefly won a license to open an “innovation hub” in Hangzhou last year, but it was later revoked.

Zuckerberg effectively closed that door in March, when he announced his plan to pivot Facebook toward more private forms of communication and pledged not to build data centers in countries “that have a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression.”

He repeated his concern about data centers on Thursday, this time specifically naming China.

Zuckerberg also defended the company’s political advertising policies on similar grounds, saying Facebook had at one time considered banning all political ads but decided against it, erring on the side of greater expression.

Facebook has been under fire over its advertising policies, particularly from U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The company exempts politicians’ ads from fact-checking standards applied to other content on the social network. Zuckerberg said political advertising does not contribute much to the company’s revenues, but that he believed it would be inappropriate for a tech company to censor public figures.

Reuters reported in October 2018, citing sources, that Facebook executives briefly debated banning all political ads, which produce less than 5% of the company’s revenue.

The company rejected that because product managers were loath to leave advertising dollars on the table and policy staffers argued that blocking political ads would favor incumbents and wealthy campaigners who can better afford television and print ads, the sources said.

Facebook has been under scrutiny in recent years for its lax approach to fake news reports and disinformation campaigns, which many believe affected the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, won by Donald Trump.

Trump has disputed claims that Russia has attempted to interfere in U.S. elections. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied it.

Warren’s Democratic presidential campaign recently challenged Facebook’s policy that exempts politicians’ ads from fact-checking, running ads on the social media platform containing the false claim that Zuckerberg endorsed Trump’s re-election bid.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Writing by Katie Paul; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. social media firms say they are removing violent content faster

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Major U.S. social media firms told a Senate panel Wednesday they are doing more to prevent to remove violent or extremist content from online platforms in the wake of several high-profile incidents, focusing on using more technological tools to act faster.

Critics say too many violent videos or posts that back extremist groups supporting terrorism are not immediately removed from social media websites.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said social media firms need to do more to prevent violent content.

Facebook’s head of global policy management, Monika Bickert, told the Senate Commerce Committee its software detection systems have “reduced the average time it takes for our AI to find a violation on Facebook Live to 12 seconds, a 90% reduction in our average detection time from a few months ago.”

In May, Facebook Inc said it would temporarily block users who break its rules from broadcasting live video. That followed an international outcry after a gunman killed 51 people in New Zealand and streamed the attack live on his page.

Bickert said Facebook asked law enforcement agencies to help it access “videos that could be helpful training tools” to improve its machine learning to detect violent videos.

Earlier this month, the owner of 8chan, an online message board linked to several recent mass shootings, gave a deposition on Capitol Hill after police in Texas said they were “reasonably confident” the man who shot and killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

Facebook banned links to violent content that appeared on 8chan.

Twitter Inc public policy director Nick Pickles said the website suspended more than 1.5 million accounts for terrorism promotion violations between August 2015 and the end of 2018 with “more than 90% of these accounts are suspended through our proactive measures.”

Twitter was asked by Senator Rick Scott why the site allows Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to have an account given what he said were a series of brazen human rights violations. “If we remove that person’s account it will not change facts on the ground,” Pickles said, who added that Maduro’s account has not broken Twitter’s rules.

Alphabet Inc unit Google’s global director of information policy, Derek Slater, said the answer is “a combination of technology and people. Technology can get better and better at identifying patterns. People can help deal with the right nuances.”

Of 9 million videos removed in a three-month period this year by YouTube, 87% were flagged by artificial intelligence.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

U.S. social media firms to testify on violent, extremist online content

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google, Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc will testify next week before a U.S. Senate panel on efforts by social media firms to remove violent content from online platforms, the panel said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Sept. 18 hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee follows growing concern in Congress about the use of social media by people committing mass shootings and other violent acts. Last week, the owner of 8chan, an online message board linked to several recent mass shootings, gave a deposition on Capitol Hill.

The hearing “will examine the proliferation of extremism online and explore the effectiveness of industry efforts to remove violent content from online platforms. Witnesses will discuss how technology companies are working with law enforcement when violent or threatening content is identified and the processes for removal of such content,” the committee said.

Facebook’s head of global policy management Monika Bickert, Twitter public policy director Nick Pickles and Google’s global director of information policy Derek Slater are due to testify.

Facebook and Google both confirmed they will participate but declined to comment further. Twitter did not immediately comment.

In May, Facebook said it would temporarily block users who break its rules from broadcasting live video. That followed an international outcry after a gunman killed 51 people in New Zealand and streamed the attack live on his page.

Facebook said it was introducing a “one-strike” policy for use of Facebook Live, a service which lets users broadcast live video. Those who broke the company’s most serious rules anywhere on its site would have their access to make live broadcasts temporarily restricted.

Facebook has come under intense scrutiny in recent years over hate speech, privacy lapses and its dominant market position in social media. The company is trying to address those concerns while averting more strenuous action from regulators.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Tom Brown)

Facebook tightens rules for U.S. political advertisers ahead of 2020 election

FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook Like symbol is displayed in front of a U.S. flag in this illustration taken, March 18, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

By Elizabeth Culliford

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc is tightening its political ad rules in the United States, it said on Wednesday, requiring new disclosures for its site and photo-sharing platform Instagram ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November 2020.

The social media giant is introducing a “confirmed organization” label for U.S. political advertisers who show government-issued credentials to demonstrate their legitimacy.

All advertisers running ads on politics or social issues will also have to post their contact information, even if they are not seeking the official label.

Advertisers must comply by mid-October or risk having their ads cut off.

Under scrutiny from regulators since Russia used social media platforms to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook has been rolling out ad transparency tools country by country since last year.

Since May 2018, Facebook has required political advertisers in the United States to put a “paid for by” disclaimer on their ads. But the company said some had used misleading disclaimers or tried to register as organizations that did not exist.

“In 2018 we did see evidence of misuse in these disclaimers and so this is our effort to strengthen the process,” said Sarah Schiff, product manager at Facebook.

Last year, Vice News journalists managed to place ads on behalf of figures and groups including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and “Islamic State.” Just last week, Facebook banned conservative news outlet the Epoch Times from advertising on the platform after it used different pages to push ads in support of President Donald Trump.

Paid Facebook ads have become a major tool for political campaigns and other organizations to target voters.

The re-election campaign for Trump, a Republican, has spent about $9.6 million this year on ads on the site, making him the top spender among 2020 candidates, according to Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic firm that tracks digital ad spending.

After the announcement, the Trump campaign told Reuters it thought there was a “glaring omission” in Facebook’s political ads policy because news media were not held to the same standards as campaigns for buying ads.

Facebook does not apply its ad authorization policies to certain news sources that it determines to have a good track record for avoiding misinformation, have a minimum number of visitors and have ads with the primary purpose of reporting on news and current events.

Last year, Facebook began requiring political advertisers to submit a U.S. mailing address and identity document. Under the new rules, they will also have to supply a phone number, business email and website.

To get a “confirmed organization” label, advertisers must submit a Federal Election Commission ID number, tax-registered organization ID number, or government website domain matching an official email.

Facebook has continuously revamped its policies around political advertising, which differ by country.

In 2018, it launched an online library of political ads, although the database has been criticized by researchers for being poorly maintained and failing to provide useful ad targeting information.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in San Francisco; Additional reporting from Ginger Gibson in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Matthew Lewis)

Twitter, Facebook accuse China of using fake accounts to undermine Hong Kong protests

FILE PHOTO: A 3-D printed Facebook logo is seen in front of displayed binary code in this illustration picture, June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

By Katie Paul and Elizabeth Culliford

(Reuters) – Twitter Inc and Facebook Inc said on Monday they had dismantled a state-backed information operation originating in mainland China that sought to undermine protests in Hong Kong.

Twitter said it suspended 936 accounts and the operations appeared to be a coordinated state-backed effort originating in China. It said these accounts were just the most active portions of this campaign and that a “larger, spammy network” of approximately 200,000 accounts had been proactively suspended before they were substantially active.

Facebook said it had removed accounts and pages from a small network after a tip from Twitter. It said that its investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government.

Social media companies are under pressure to stem illicit political influence campaigns online ahead of the U.S. election in November 2020. A 22-month U.S. investigation concluded Russia interfered in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” in the 2016 U.S. election to help Donald Trump win the presidency.

The Chinese embassy in Washington and the U.S. State Department were not immediately available to comment.

The Hong Kong protests, which have presented one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012, began in June as opposition to a now-suspended bill that would allow suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts. They have since swelled into wider calls for democracy.

Twitter in a blog post said the accounts undermined the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement in Hong Kong.

Examples of posts provided by Twitter included a tweet from a user with photos of protesters storming Hong Kong’s Legislative Council building, which asked: “Are these people who smashed the Legco crazy or taking benefits from the bad guys? It’s a complete violent behavior, we don’t want you radical people in Hong Kong. Just get out of here!”

In examples provided by Facebook, one post called the protesters “Hong Kong cockroaches” and claimed that they “refused to show their faces.”

In a separate statement, Twitter said it was updating its advertising policy and would not accept advertising from state-controlled news media entities going forward.

Alphabet Inc’s YouTube video service told Reuters in June that state-owned media companies maintained the same privileges as any other user, including the ability to run ads in accordance with its rules. YouTube did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday on whether it had detected inauthentic content related to protests in Hong Kong.

(Reporting by Katie Paul in Aspen, Colorado, and Elizabeth Culliford in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Sayanti Chakraborty in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Hong Kong protesters offer apologies, China doubles down after airport clash

Police fire tear gas at anti-extradition bill protesters during clashes in Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong, China, August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Marius Zaharia and Joyce Zhou

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China said on Wednesday Hong Kong’s protest movement had reached “near terrorism”, as more street clashes followed ugly scenes a day earlier at the airport where demonstrators set upon two men they suspected of being government sympathizers.

By nightfall, police and protesters were again clashing on the streets, with riot officers shooting tear gas almost immediately as their response to demonstrators toughens.

Flights resumed at Hong Kong airport, which is one of the world’s busiest, after two days of disruptions. Thousands of protesters have occupied the airport for days, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of departures on Monday and Tuesday.

Ten weeks of increasingly violent confrontation between police and protesters have plunged the city into its worst crisis since it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing called the behavior at the airport no different to terrorism and said it must be severely punished.

“We’re deeply sorry about what happened yesterday,” read a banner held up by a group of a few dozen demonstrators in the airport arrivals hall in the morning.

“We were desperate and we made imperfect decisions. Please accept our apologies,” the banner said.

In chaotic scenes that would once have been unthinkable for Hong Kong, a peaceful sit-in at the airport turned violent late on Tuesday as protesters confronted and held a man they believed was an undercover Chinese agent.

Busloads of riot police arrived in response, clashing with furious demonstrators before withdrawing once the man was removed, and leaving the terminal briefly in control of activists who then detained a Chinese reporter for a short time.

It was not clear whether the scenes of violence might have eroded the broad support the movement has so far attracted in Hong Kong, a major financial hub. The protests have also hit the city’s faltering economy.

“We promise to reflect and to improve,” protesters said in one message distributed on social media app Telegram.

“Sorry, we were too reckless … we are only afraid of losing your support to the whole movement due to our mistake, and that you give up on fighting.”

They also showed little sign of relenting in their protests, which began in opposition to a now-suspended bill that would have allowed the extradition of suspects for trial in mainland China but have swelled into wider calls for democracy.

Hundreds attended a demonstration in the residential area of Sham Shui Po, where police arrived and quickly used tear gas after protesters pointed lasers at the police station.

‘SWORD OF THE LAW’

China used its strongest language yet after Tuesday’s incidents, when the protesters seized a reporter from China’s Global Times newspaper, a nationalistic tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, and harassed the man they believed to be a mainland agent.

In addition to Beijing’s condemnation, the People’s Daily called for “using the sword of the law” to restore order, and mainland social media users lauded the detained reporter as a hero.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said during a visit to Toronto on Wednesday that all sides involved must ensure the situation does not escalate.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump described the volatile situation as “tricky”, and said China’s government had moved troops near the border with Hong Kong.

“I think it will work out and I hope it works out, for liberty. I hope it works out for everybody, including China,” he told reporters during a visit to Morristown, New Jersey.

Chinese police have assembled in the neighboring city of Shenzhen for what appeared to be exercises, the Global Times reported this week.

China also denied a request for two U.S. Navy warships to visit Hong Kong in the coming weeks, U.S. officials said, as a prominent U.S. senator, Ben Cardin, warned the territory could lose its special trade status if Beijing intervenes.

Under the “one country-two systems” arrangement, Hong Kong was guaranteed a high degree of autonomy and human rights after its handover to China.

AIRPORT REOPENED

Blood, debris and signs of the scuffle were scrubbed away during the night, and cleaners and protesters themselves removed anti-government posters from the walls of the airport, which was designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster.

Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific Airways said a total of 272 departures and arrivals had been canceled because of the disturbances, affecting more than 55,000 passengers.

China’s aviation regulator demanded last week that Cathay suspend personnel supporting protests in Hong Kong from staffing flights entering its airspace. On Wednesday, the carrier said it had fired two pilots.

Forward Keys, a flight data firm, said the crisis had driven a 4.7 percent fall in long-haul bookings to Hong Kong between June 16 and Aug. 9 compared with the same period last year.

“I think the local events clearly are having a profound impact, probably in ways that we haven’t necessarily clearly articulated yet,” Charles Li, chief executive of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange told reporters on Wednesday.

“This is not helpful,” he said “In a financial center, trust and confidence are important. In this regard we clearly need to sort this out, we need to work this out.”

Protesters vowed to press on.

“All the people here are very scared,” Ann, a 21-year-old teacher, told Reuters at the airport as she carefully took down anti-government posters, folding them for re-use.

“But we are more scared that we do not have our freedoms anymore, and so that is why we continue our protests,” she said.

“We feel that our ideas are bulletproof.”

(Reporting by Felix Tam, Tom Westbrook, Donny Kwok, Clare Jim, Twinnie Siu, Noah Sin, Brenda Goh, Tom Peter, Joyce Zhou, Tyrone Siu and Lukas Job in HONG KONG, Andrew Galbraith in SHANGHAI and Michelle Martin in BERLIN; Writing by Farah Master and Tom Westbrook; Editing by Tony Munroe, Darren Schuettler and Frances Kerry)

Stopping America’s next hate-crime killers on social media is no easy task

By Sarah N. Lynch and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON/LONDON (Reuters) – The pattern is clear: Hate-filled manifestos posted on websites populated by white supremacists, followed by gun attacks against blacks, Jews, Muslims, or Latin American immigrants.

In some cases, the killers use their internet posts to praise previous attacks by other white nationalists. And after new assaults, the manifestos get passed around, feeding the cycle of propaganda and violence.

Following the racially-motivated attack that killed 22 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, President Donald Trump said he wants police to do more to stop extremists who are active online before they can turn to murder.

But identifying and stopping the extremists who plan to launch an attack is much easier said than done.

Law enforcement experts say that the constitutional right of free speech means police cannot arrest someone simply on the basis of extremist rants online, unless they make a specific threat.

“You couldn’t just open a case on the words,” said Dave Gomez, a retired FBI agent who has worked on cases of both international and domestic terrorism.

“Posting something like that on the internet doesn’t harm anybody,” he said, adding that police can only successfully investigate a white supremacist when you can “connect his words to an overt act.”

The White House will discuss violent extremism online with representatives from a number of internet and technology companies on Friday, according to a White House spokesman.

Social media companies are reluctant to spy on or censor their users, though increasingly they are responding to demands that they take down obvious incitements to violence. And civil rights groups warn that tighter monitoring can lead to unconstitutional abuses of power

Another former FBI agent, who asked not to be identified, said closer monitoring of extremists’ websites would anyway be unlikely to prevent new mass shootings.

“There is not enough manpower. There is not enough technology to properly monitor the internet,” he said. “This is the number one thing we always say in law enforcement: ‘You can’t stop crazy. You can’t even predict crazy.’”

Trump said after the mass shootings last weekend in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, that he would ask the Justice Department to work with local, state and federal agencies as well as social media companies “to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike.”

Even before those attacks, The FBI in early July requested bids for a contractor to help it detect national security threats by trawling through social media sites.

“The use of social media platforms by terrorist groups, domestic threats, foreign intelligence services, and criminal organizations to further their illegal activity creates a demonstrated need for tools to properly identify the activity and react appropriately,” the FBI said in its request.

PRESSURE

Top law enforcement and domestic security officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand met with leading social media and internet companies in London last week, and pushed them to help authorities track suspicious users.

The government officials noted in an agenda paper for the meeting that some companies “deliberately design their systems in a way that precludes any form of access to content, even in cases of the most serious crimes.”

“Tech companies should include mechanisms in the design of their encrypted products and services whereby governments, acting with appropriate legal authority, can obtain access to data in a readable and usable format,” the agenda paper said.

A final statement from the meeting said little about encryption, however, and neither company nor government officials talked about what was discussed.

Facebook and Microsoft confirmed they attended but Google, which was invited, did not respond to a request for comment. Other attendees included Roblox, Snap and Twitter, the statement said.

FBI agents say that broad surveillance powers enacted by Congress in the wake of the Sept., 11, 2001 attacks helped them track international terrorist groups and stop people with links to foreign groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State before they could carry out crimes.

But they key law criminalizing “material support” for terrorism does not apply to investigations or prosecutions of domestic terrorists, such as violent white supremacists, that commit hate crimes.

This week, the FBI Agents Association called on Congress to make domestic terrorism a federal crime in order to give agents more tools.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which promotes internet civil liberties, said the sheer amount of users posting aggressive content online makes it almost impossible to identify and track the people who pose an actual threat.

“Even though it seems like there is another mass shooting every week, if you are looking at the number of mass shooters versus the total population, it’s still a tiny, tiny number which means this is still a very rare event,” said Jeremy Gillula, the group’s tech products director. “It’s like trying to predict where lightning is going to strike.”

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Let’s take the fake out of our news!

The Fake News Highway - Image by John Iglar

By Kami Klein

There was a time when the news wasn’t so confusing.  Before the internet, most families had their morning newspaper delivered conveniently to their door. In order to keep your business or be competitive, newspapers battled over the facts and dug deeper to reach the truth per investigative journalism.  The stories would be presented without opinions but based on legitimate proof. Of course, just as internet news does today, a powerful headline didn’t hurt.  

Once the workday was winding down, the evening news of the day was given through well-respected television journalists such as Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw, who presented the unbiased facts, trusting in the abilities of their listeners to ponder and come to their own conclusions.  The news itself was taken quite seriously. The worst thing to happen to a reporter was to be proven or accused of dishonorable reporting. To be respected in the journalism field was the goal and not how many facebook followers or tweet responses happened in a day or whether they have stayed true to their personal beliefs. Becoming a journalist was a calling… not the way to fame.

Suddenly we have the internet highway where everyone can have an opinion, Competition requires all journalism to be the fastest news source which yields little time for investigation or vetting and by presenting a portion of the facts which in many cases is served to the public with a generous amount of opinion gravy poured on top. Conservative or Liberal, it is rare to find an unbiased news source. Add to this confusing issue the hot topic of “Fake News” and it is a wonder any of us really knows what is going on. 

Every day, in social media across the world, fake news is often more prevalent in our feed than those stories that are actually the truth or at least close to it.  These (articles) are spread by the misconception that if it is on the internet, it must be true, or because the story sits right in line with the personal beliefs of the reader, it must be correct.  The share button gets a hit, and the lie continues on its journey. Where we used to be able to hold the reporter or journalist accountable for their information, the responsibility is now ours. In an age where anyone can post a news story, how do we take the fake out of our news? 

There are several kinds of fake news on the internet.  The following information comes from a story written by MastersinCommunication.org.. Called “The Truth about Fake News”. It is important for us to be able to identify and beware of the following:    

 

  • Propaganda – News stories designed to disparage a candidate, promote a political cause, and mislead voters
  • Sloppy Journalism – Stories containing inaccurate information produced by writers and editors who have not properly vetted a story. Retractions do little to fix the problem, even if there is one since the story has spread and the damage done.
  • Sensationalized Headlines – Often a story may be accurate but comes with a misleading or outrageous headline. Readers may not read past it, but take everything they need to know from this skewed title.
  • Clickbait – These stories are deliberately created to create traffic on a website. Advertising dollars are at stake, and gullible readers fall for it by the millions.
  • Satire – Parody websites like The Onion and The Daily Mash produce satirical stories that are believed by uninformed readers. The stories are written as satire and not meant to be taken literally, but unless you check their website, not everyone will know. 
  • Average Joe Reporting – Sometimes a person will post an eyewitness report that goes viral, but it may or may not be true. The classic example of this was a tweet by Eric Tucker in Austin, Texas in 2015. Posting a picture of a row of charter busses, Tucker surmised and tweeted that Trump protesters were being bussed in to rally against the President-elect. The tweet was picked up by multiple media outlets, and Mr. Trump himself, going viral in a matter of hours. The only problem is, it wasn’t true.

 The 2020 elections are upon us and fake news will be used as a weapon.  False news can destroy lives and ultimately do great harm to our country. 

How do we beat these fakes and stop them?  Here are some tools available to anyone who does not want to be duped by those that are attempting to manipulate for power, creating greater discourse or for money. If we can all take responsibility for what we share, we are one step closer to legitimate news.   

HERE ARE QUICK TIPS FOR CHECKING LEGITIMACY OF A NEWS STORY

 

  1.  Pay attention to the domain and URL – many times these sites will make something very close to a trusted news source.  Sites with such endings like .com.co should make you raise your eyebrows and tip you off that you need to dig around more to see if they can be trusted. This is true even when the site looks professional and has semi-recognizable logos. For example, abcnews.com is a legitimate news source, but abcnews.com.co is not, despite its similar appearance.
  2. Read the “About Us” section- Most sites will have a lot of information about the news outlet, the company that runs it, members of leadership, and the mission and ethics statement behind an organization. The language used here is straightforward. If it’s melodramatic and seems overblown, you should be skeptical.  This is where satire sites will let you know that what you are reading is only meant for entertainment. The laugh is then on us when we take what they say as the truth. they are counting on you NOT to check. 
  3. HEADLINES CAN BE MISLEADING!! -Headlines are meant to get the reader’s attention, but they’re also supposed to accurately reflect what the story is about. In fake stories, headlines often will be written in an exaggerated language with the intention of being misleading.  These will then be attached to stories that give half-truth or the story proves that the headline would never or has not actually happened.  
  4. Fact-Checking can be your friend –  Not only is fact-checking smart, looking to see if your particular news story leans to conservative or liberal points of view is just as important. Mediabiasfactcheck.com is one of my go-to places.  They also provide a great list of fact-checking sites that are highly recommended. You will also find a wonderful list of news web sites that have been deemed as non-biased. 

  While Facebook and Twitter are being held accountable for much of what is on our social media today, they will only succeed with our help. Together, we can take the fake out of the news and make responsible choices for our future!