Twitter unblocks Trump campaign account

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter election campaign account was unblocked on Thursday after the social media campaign temporarily restricted it saying a video from the account about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son violated its rules.

The video posted by the @TeamTrump account referred to a New York Post story from Wednesday that contained alleged details of Hunter Biden’s business dealings with a Ukrainian energy company and said the former vice president had met with an adviser of the company.

The Trump campaign, with 2.2 million followers, said in a new tweet it was “re-posting the video Twitter doesn’t want you to watch.” Twitter did not respond to a request for a comment about why the account had been unblocked.

“Joe Biden is a liar who has been ripping off our country for years,” the video was captioned.

Twitter said earlier the video violated its rules against posting private information, adding the account may need to delete the post in order to continue tweeting.

“It’s going to all end up in a big lawsuit and there are things that can happen that are very severe that I’d rather not see happen, but it’s probably going to have to,” Trump said, when asked about the move by Twitter.

Twitter said on Wednesday the Post story violated its “hacked materials” policy, which bars the distribution of content obtained through hacking that contains private information or trade secrets, or puts people at risk of physical harm.

Facebook Inc and Twitter took proactive steps on Wednesday to restrict dissemination of the Post story in the hours after it was published.

Twitter had placed similar restrictions on the account of White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday, after she shared the Post story.

Other Twitter, users, including a journalist, said their accounts had been suspended because they had posted a link to the New York Post story. The accounts were unblocked after they deleted the offending tweets.

After Twitter imposed the restrictions, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee moved to subpoena Twitter’s Chief Executive Jack Dorsey.

Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham and Republican senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley said the committee will vote on sending the subpoena on Tuesday, Oct. 20 and plans to have Dorsey in front of the committee by Oct. 23.

Dorsey said on Twitter Wednesday “our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable.”

(Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru, Elizabeth Culliford in London, and Nandita Bose and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Lisa Shumaker)

Trump compares COVID-19 to flu in tweet, Twitter raises red flag

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump played down the COVID-19 pandemic again, comparing it to the flu in a tweet on Tuesday, and Twitter Inc responded by putting a warning label on the tweet, saying the post included potentially misleading information.

“Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!” Trump had tweeted.

Earlier in the day, Facebook Inc removed a similar post by Trump, according to CNN.

The tweet comes hours after Trump was discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

On Monday, Trump told Americans “to get out there” and not fear COVID-19 as he returned to the White House after a three-night hospital stay to be treated for the new coronavirus and removed his white surgical mask to pose for pictures.

During the 2019-2020 influenza season, the flu was associated with 22,000 deaths, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr)

Senate panel plans to issue subpoenas to CEOs of Google, Facebook, Twitter

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee chaired by Republican Senator Roger Wicker will issue subpoenas to the chief executives of Twitter Inc., Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc. if they do not agree to testify at a hearing on Oct. 1.

The hearing will discuss a legal immunity known as Section 230 that technology companies have when it comes to liability over content posted by users.

Republican President Donald Trump has made holding tech companies accountable for allegedly stifling conservative voices a theme of his administration. As a result calls for a reform of tech’s prized legal immunity have been intensifying ahead of the elections but has little chance to be approved by Congress this year

The committee will issue subpoenas if the technology companies do not agree to appear in front of the committee by Thursday night, a spokeswoman for Wicker confirmed to Reuters.

On Wednesday, Trump met with nine Republican state attorneys general to discuss the fate of Section 230 after the Justice Department unveiled a legislative proposal aimed at reforming the law.

“In recent years, a small group of powerful technology platforms have tightened their grip over commerce and communications in America,” Trump told reporters after the meeting.

“Every year countless Americans are banned, blacklisted and silenced through arbitrary or malicious enforcement of ever-shifting rules,” he added.

Any substantial changes to reform the law will have to wait until after the elections.

The chief executives of Google and Facebook along with Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. recently testified before the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Justice Department to propose changes to internet platforms immunity: source

By David Shepardson and Ayanti Bera

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department will unveil later on Wednesday a proposal that seeks to limit legal protections for internet platforms on managing content, a person briefed on the matter confirmed.

The proposal, which takes aim at Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google, would need congressional approval and is not likely to see action until next year at the earliest.

President Donald Trump in May signed an executive order that seeks new regulatory oversight of tech firms’ content moderation decisions and backed legislation to scrap or weaken the relevant provision in the 1996 Communications Decency Act, Section 230.

Trump will meet on Wednesday with a group of state attorneys general amid his criticism of social media companies. Twitter has repeatedly placed warning labels on Trump tweets, saying they have included potentially misleading information about mail-in voting.

Trump will meet with state attorneys general from Texas, Arizona, Utah, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Missouri – like Trump, all Republicans – according to a person briefed on the matter.

“Online censorship goes far beyond the issue of free speech, it’s also one of protecting consumers and ensuring they are informed of their rights and resources to fight back under the law,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said on Monday.

Trump directed the Commerce Department to file a petition asking the Federal Communication Commission to limit protections under Section 230 after Twitter warned readers in May to fact-check his posts about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting. The petition is still pending.

A group representing major internet companies including Facebook, Amazon.com Inc and Google urged the FCC to reject the petition, saying it was “misguided, lacks grounding in law, and poses serious public policy concerns.”

The Wall Street Journal reported the planned Justice Department proposal earlier.

Police debunk social media misinformation linking Oregon wildfires to activists

By Elizabeth Culliford

(Reuters) – Several Oregon police departments have aimed to debunk misinformation spreading on social media platforms this week, including Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc, blaming leftist and right-wing groups for wildfires raging in the state.

“Rumors spread just like wildfire and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON,” read a Facebook post from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon on Thursday. “THIS IS NOT TRUE!”

PolitiFact, one of Facebook’s third-party fact-checking partners, wrote on Thursday on its website that dozens of posts blaming Antifa for the wildfires had been flagged by the social media company’s systems, and that collectively the posts had been shared thousands of times.

Antifa, which stands for anti-fascist, is a largely unstructured, far-left movement whose followers broadly aim to confront those they view as authoritarian or racist. U.S. President Donald Trump and some fellow Republicans have in recent months sought to blame the movement for violence at anti-racism protests, but have presented little evidence.

A Wednesday tweet from a self-described representative for conservative youth group Turning Point USA, which has been shared about 2,900 times, said the fires were “allegedly linked to Antifa and the Riots.”

Around half a million people in Oregon evacuated as dozens of extreme, wind-driven wildfires scorched the U.S. West Coast states on Friday, destroying hundreds of homes and killing at least 16 people, state and local authorities said.

Earlier this week, Medford police in Oregon also debunked a false post using the police department’s logo and name suggesting that five members of the Proud Boys had been arrested for arson.

The men-only, far-right Proud Boys group describes itself as a fraternal club of “Western chauvinists.”

“This is a made up graphic and story. We did not arrest this person for arson, nor anyone affiliated with Antifa or ‘Proud Boys’ as we’ve heard throughout the day,” the police department wrote in a Facebook post.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon also posted on Thursday: “We are inundated with questions about things that are FAKE stories. One example is a story circulating that varies about what group is involved as to setting fires and arrests being made.”

Climate scientists say global warming has contributed to greater extremes in wet and dry seasons, causing vegetation to flourish and then dry out in the U.S. West, creating fuel for fires.

Police have opened a criminal arson investigation into at least one Oregon blaze, the Almeda Fire, Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said.

A Facebook spokeswoman said it had attached warning labels and reduced the distribution of posts about fires’ origins that were rated false by its fact-checking partners.

A Twitter spokeswoman said it did not seem that the rumors violated the social media site’s rules, saying in a statement: “As we have said before we will not be able to take enforcement action on every Tweet that contains incomplete or disputed information.”

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in Birmingham, England, additional reporting by Katie Paul in San Francisco; Editing by Tom Brown)

Twitter hack raises concern in Washington

(Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers sought an explanation from Twitter Inc after hackers gained access to the social media company’s internal systems to hijack accounts of several politicians, billionaires, celebrities and companies.

The company’s shares fell nearly 3% in early trade on Thursday after hackers infiltrated the twitter handles of U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden, reality TV star Kim Kardashian, former U.S. President Barack Obama and billionaire Elon Musk, among others, to solicit digital currency.

Twitter said hackers had targeted employees with access to its internal systems and “used this access to take control of many highly-visible (including verified) accounts and Tweet on their behalf.”

In an extraordinary step, it temporarily prevented many verified accounts from publishing messages as it investigated the breach.

The hijacked accounts tweeted out messages telling users to send bitcoin and their money would be doubled. Publicly available blockchain records show that the apparent scammers received more than $100,000 worth of cryptocurrency.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley, a tech critic, sent a letter to Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey, urging him to get in touch with the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to secure the site.

“A successful attack on your system’s servers represents a threat to all of your users’ privacy and data security,” Hawley told Dorsey in the letter, demanding more answers on the impact and scope of the breach.

Frank Pallone, a Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees a sizable portion of U.S. tech policy, said in a tweet the company “needs to explain how all of these prominent accounts were hacked.”

Dorsey said in a tweet on Wednesday that it was a “tough day” for everyone at Twitter and pledged to share “everything we can when we have a more complete understanding of exactly what happened”.

Other high profile accounts that were hacked included rapper Kanye West, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, investor Warren Buffett, Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates, and the corporate accounts for Uber and Apple Inc.

Some analysts said hacks of this nature will not have any material impact on Twitter’s financials, others expect it to spend more on platform security to address such incidents.

The hack “certainly doesn’t help,” Joe Wittine, Edgewater Research analyst, told Reuters in an email. It will pose more of a “reputational risk”, versus “material near-term risk to advertising revenues.”

Echoing a similar sentiment, Bernstein analyst Mark Shmulik said in the long-term, “maybe if a few of the ‘blue check mark’ accounts decide to leave the platform that could have a minor impact on usage.”

(Reporting by Ayanti Bera, Aakash Jagadeesh Babu and Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru and Nandita Bose in Washington DC; Editing by Bernard Orr and Peter Graff)

U.S. tech giants face hard choices under Hong Kong’s new security law

By Brenda Goh and Pei Li

SHANGHAI/HONG KONG (Reuters) – U.S. tech giants face a reckoning over how Hong Kong’s security law will reshape their businesses, with their suspension of processing government requests for user data a stop-gap measure as they weigh options, people close to the industry say.

While Hong Kong is not a significant market for firms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, they have used it as a perch to reach deep-pocketed advertisers in mainland China, where many of their services are blocked. But the companies are now in the cross hairs of a national security law that gives China authority to demand that they turn over user data or censor content seen to violate the law – even when posted from abroad.

“These companies have to totally reassess the liability of having a presence in Hong Kong,” Charles Mok, a legislator who represents the technology industry in Hong Kong, told Reuters.

If they refuse to cooperate with government requests, he said, authorities “could go after them and take them to court and fine them, or imprison their principals in Hong Kong”.

Facebook, Google and Twitter have suspended processing government requests for user data in Hong Kong, they said on Monday, following China’s imposition of the new national security law on the semi-autonomous city.

Facebook, which started operating in Hong Kong in 2010, last year opened a big new office in the city.

It sells more than $5 billion a year worth of ad space to Chinese businesses and government agencies looking to promote messages abroad, Reuters reported in January. That makes China Facebook’s biggest country for revenue after the United States.

The U.S. internet firms are no strangers to governments demands regarding content and user information, and generally say they are bound by local laws.

The companies have often used a technique known as “geo-blocking” to restrict content in a particular country without removing it altogether.

But the sweeping language of Hong Kong’s new law could mean such measures won’t be enough. Authorities will no longer need to get court orders before requesting assistance or information, analysts said.

Requests for data about overseas users would put the companies in an especially tough spot.

“It’s a global law … if they comply with national security law in Hong Kong then there is the problem that they may violate laws in other countries,” said Francis Fong Po-kiu, honorary president of Hong Kong’s Information Technology Federation.

CONTENT QUESTION

While the U.S. social media services are blocked in mainland China, they have operated freely in Hong Kong.

Other U.S. internet platforms are also rich with content that is banned in mainland China and may now be judged illegal in Hong Kong.

U.S. video streaming site Netflix, for example, carries “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower”, a 2017 documentary on activist Joshua Wong whose books were removed from Hong Kong public libraries last week.

“Ten Years”, a 2015 film that has been criticized by Chinese state media for portraying a dystopian future Hong Kong under Chinese Communist Party control, is also available on its platform.

Netflix declined to comment.

Google’s YouTube is a popular platform for critics of Beijing. New York-based fugitive tycoon Guo Wengui has regularly voiced support for Hong Kong protesters in his videos. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

None of these companies has yet said how they will handle requests from Hong Kong to block or remove content, and the risk of being caught in political crossfire looms large.

“The foreign content players have to rethink what they display in Hong Kong,” said Duncan Clark, chairman at consultancy BDA China.

“The downside is very big if they get U.S. senators on their backs for accommodating. Any move they make will be heavily scrutinized.”

(Reporting by Brenda Goh and Pei Li; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing and Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Robert Birsel)

Facebook, Twitter suspend processing of government data requests in Hong Kong

By Katie Paul

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc have suspended processing government requests for user data in Hong Kong, they said on Monday, following China’s establishment of a new national security law for the semi-autonomous city.

Facebook, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, is “pausing” reviews for all of its services “pending further assessment of the National Security Law,” it said in a statement.

Twitter said it had suspended all information requests from Hong Kong authorities immediately after the law went into effect last week, citing “grave concerns” about its implications.

The companies did not specify whether the suspensions would also apply to government requests for removals of user-generated content from its services in Hong Kong.

Social networks often apply localized restrictions to posts that violate local laws but not their own rules for acceptable speech. Facebook restricted 394 such pieces of content in Hong Kong in the second half of 2019, up from eight restrictions in the first half of the year.

Tech companies have long operated freely in Hong Kong, a regional financial hub where internet access has been unaffected by restrictions imposed in mainland China, which blocks Google, Twitter and Facebook.

Last week, China’s parliament passed sweeping new national security legislation for the semi-autonomous city, setting the stage for the most radical changes to the former British colony’s way of life since it returned to Chinese rule 23 years ago.

Some Hong Kong residents said they were reviewing their previous posts on social media related to pro-democracy protests and the security law, and proactively deleting ones they thought would be viewed as sensitive.

The legislation pushed China further along a collision course with the United States, with which it is already in disputes over trade, the South China sea and the coronavirus.

(Reporting by Katie Paul in San Francisco and Akanksha Rana in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri and Richard Chang)

Under Europe’s virus lockdown, social media proves a lifeline

By Luke Baker

LONDON (Reuters) – Hundreds of millions of Europeans are getting to grips with weeks of a massively contracted existence under lockdown.

The goal is clear and very serious — reduce the spread of a deadly virus, keep critical medical resources and hospital beds free for the most vulnerable, save lives.

But behind that sobering objective lies a new challenge for many: hours inside the same four walls, no office chatter, no social contact, kids to entertain (if you have them and they are not in school), the lure of the fridge.

The reality of the new reality is that social media has become a near-essential resource. Whether for news, shared experiences, comic relief or a heated discussion, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have become a lifeline to many.

While in Italy, tenors and the less tuneful have taken to singing songs from their balconies to cheer up neighbors and build solidarity, videos of the performances have entertained millions far beyond Italy on social media.

Chris Martin, lead singer of the band Coldplay, took to Facebook on Monday to put on a live gig for people self-isolating, tagging it #TogetherAtHome. Singer John Legend took up the baton and said he would do the same on Tuesday.

For anyone tracking the ins and outs of the virus, whether infection rates, epidemiological research, or the infection lag between Italy and its neighbors, Twitter is a constant source of information (and, be warned, misinformation).

While European leaders have been holding news conferences or delivering televised addresses, these are at best once a day.

Online, there is a constant stream of news, commentary from experts, graphs analyzing the virus, and videos from people in Italy (which is 10-14 days ahead in terms of the infection spread) recounting what they wished they had known 10 days ago.

As working from home (#WFH on Twitter) becomes the norm, there are tips on how best to do it, where to set up a desk, how to stay focused, and if you don’t have a desk, how an ironing board can double as an excellent, adjustable alternative.

Among the tips for those doing conference calls from home are the obvious — make sure to get out of your pyjamas and brush your hair, even if you don’t necessarily have to be wearing trousers if you’re sitting behind a desk.

On Facebook, home workouts have proved popular, with people posting the best ways of staying fit while confined to a room. One popular video involves a woman doing a routine around a load of toilet rolls, which have been the object of hoarding by consumers worried about the impact of the virus.

As always, pets have proved a hit. Alongside WFH advice, many have been posting pictures of their cats and dogs, some of which look surprised by all the sudden unexpected attention.

For many, the surge in social media use in recent years has been an awful contradiction — rather than making people more friendly, it has tended to cut them off, cause division and fuel anger and resentment, not sociability.

But as Europe adjusts to the reality of self-isolation, there are signs social media can bring out the best in people, not just the boastful or argumentative bits many decry.

On Twitter, alongside advice on working from home or looking after elderly relatives, users are opening their direct messages, allowing anyone to contact them, and inviting those who want to talk or share concerns to get in touch.

(Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

Harvey Weinstein jury selection: bias, big data and ‘likes’

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) – When lawyers in the Harvey Weinstein rape trial question potential jurors on Thursday, they may already know who has used the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter or criticized victims of sexual harassment in a Facebook discussion.

The intersection of big data capabilities and prevalence of social media has transformed the business of jury research in the United States, which once meant gleaning information about potential jurors from car bumper stickers or the appearance of a home.

Now, consultants scour Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other social media platforms for hard-to-find comments or “likes” in discussion groups or even selfies of a juror wearing a potentially biased t-shirt.

“This is a whole new generation of information than we had in the past,” said Jeffrey Frederick, the director of Jury Research Services at the National Legal Research Group Inc.

The techniques seem tailor-made for the Weinstein trial, which has become a focal point for #MeToo, the social media movement that has exposed sexual misconduct by powerful men in business, politics and entertainment.

Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting two women. The once-powerful movie producer faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault.

On Thursday, the legal teams will begin questioning potential jurors, a process known as voir dire. More than 100 people passed an initial screening and the identities of many of those people have been known publicly for days, allowing for extensive background research.

Mark Geragos, a defense lawyer, said it is almost malpractice to ignore jurors’ online activity, particularly in high-profile cases.

When Geragos was representing Scott Peterson, who was later found guilty of the 2002 murder of his pregnant wife Laci, it came to light that a woman told an internet chatroom she had duped both legal teams to get on the California jury.

“You just never know if someone is telling the truth,” said Geragos.

Weinstein’s lawyer, Donna Rotunno, told Reuters recently that her team was considering hiring a firm to investigate jurors’ social media use to weed out bias.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office does not use jury consultants and office spokesman Danny Frost declined to comment if prosecutors were reviewing potential jurors’ social media.

Frederick’s firm, which has not been involved in the Weinstein case, creates huge databases of online activity relevant to a case, drilling down into interactions that do not appear in a user’s social media timeline. His firm combs through Facebook news articles about a particular case or topic, cataloging every comment, reply, share as well as emojis or “likes,” in the hopes some were posted by a potential juror.

“The social media aspect can be enormously helpful in looking at people’s political motives,” said defense attorney Michael Bachner. He said Weinstein’s team will probably want to know about a potential juror’s ties to women’s causes, with “#MeToo being the obvious one.”

Consultants only use public information and focus on those with extremist views, said Roy Futterman of consulting firm DOAR.

“You’re looking for the worst juror,” he said.

Julieanne Himelstein, a former federal prosecutor, said the best vetting tool remains a lawyer’s questioning of a potential juror in the courtroom.

“That trumps all the sophisticated intelligence gathering anyone can do,” said Himelstein.

But trial veterans said that potential jurors are reluctant to admit unpopular viewpoints during voir dire, such as skepticism about workplace sexual harassment.

During questioning in a trial involving a drug company, consultant Christina Marinakis recalled a potential juror who said he did not have negative feelings toward pharmaceutical companies.

“We found he had a blog where he was just going off on capitalism and Corporate America and pharmaceutical companies especially,” said Marinakis, the director of jury research for Litigation Insights. The juror was dismissed.

Marinakis said the blog was written under a username, and only came to light by digging through the juror’s social media for references to pseudonyms.

Lawyers can reject an unlimited number of potential jurors if they show bias. Each side can typically use “peremptory” challenges to eliminate up to three potential jurors they believe will be unsympathetic, without providing a reason.

In a Canadian civil trial, jury consulting firm Vijilent discovered that a potential juror who appeared to be a stay-at-home mom with no history of social activism, in fact had been arrested three times for civil disobedience while promoting the causes of indigenous people.

“Unless you got into her social media, you wouldn’t have known that information,” said Vijilent founder Rosanna Garcia.

(Reporting by Tom Hals; additional reporting by Brendan Pierson and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Rosalba O’Brien)