SAN FRANCISCO, August 20 -- Twitter and Facebook said on Monday (Aug 19) 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 US election in November 2020. A 22-month US investigation concluded Russia interfered in a "sweeping and systematic fashion" in the 2016 US election to help Donald Trump win the presidency. The Chinese embassy in Washington and the US 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. Twitter told Reuters the advertising change was not related to the suspended accounts. In the past week, China’s official Xinhua news agency and state broadcaster China Global Television Network (CGTN) paid to promote videos that portrayed the protests as violent and said Hong Kong citizens wanted the demonstrations to end, according to Twitter’s Ads Transparency Centre. Twitter said it did not have data on how much revenue it generates from state-controlled media advertising. Many countries including the United States do not have clear standards on state media’s purchase of online advertising. Total digital ad spending in Hong Kong will grow 11 per cent to reach US$786.1 million in 2019, according to projections by US digital market data analyst eMarketer.
Alphabet'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. In a tweet on Sunday, China’s influential state-run tabloid, The Global Times, hailed the response of Chinese “netizens” to the protests, saying: “Chinese netizens’ power! Amid escalating protests in Hong Kong, Chinese netizens on Saturday swept Facebook and Instagram to denounce secessionist posts and show support for Hong Kong police.” About 98 per cent of social network users in Hong Kong, or 4.7 million people, will log into Facebook at least once a month in 2019, according to eMarketer projections, while 9.4 per cent of social network users will use Twitter.
LONDON, July 10 -- It’s the F1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone this weekend which means many from London and the south-east will be headed up the M1, M40, A5 or taking a “quick route only we know” over the coming days to take in the spectacle in Northamptonshire.
Doubtless many of them will be followers of current F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton. But, how many of them actually “follow” Hamilton on Twitter? Research carried out by private number plates company Click4reg.co.uk suggests the figure is not as big as it might appear. The research concludes that 34.3% of Hamilton’s followers are, to use a currently popular word – fake! Even allowing for these figures, Hamilton still has the biggest following among F1 drivers who have a personal Twitter account (two – Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel – don’t have one).
The research showed that:
Last November, Instagram cracked down on celebrities and influencers with followers who aren’t genuine. This ‘purge’ reduced significant numbers of fake, inactive, spam, bots, or as often discovered – bought – followers. Why buy followers? Users may do so to appear more influential, to harness more media and therefore commercial attention, among other reasons. But Instagram isn’t the only social platform faced with this issue. Twitter has battled the problem of bots and spam accounts for many years. So, with the British Grand Prix as its cue, Click4reg wanted to discover how many followers of the 20 competing F1 drivers are fake.
Author: Lora Smith
RIYADH, July 4 -- Rap star Nicki Minaj will perform in Saudia Arabia later this month, organisers of the Jeddah Season cultural festival announced, as the ultraconservative kingdom tries to shed decades of restrictions on entertainment.
Saudi organisers said at a press conference Wednesday that Minaj, whose real name is Onika Tanya Maraj, will headline the festival on July 18. Minaj is known for her outlandish performances and flamboyant, hyper-sexualised image. Her music videos often feature figure-hugging, skin-bearing outfits and provocative dancing. Her lyrics are laced with profanities and Minaj's songs mainly address sex, rumoured liaisons with other rappers and female empowerment. Her famously large posterior is regularly referenced, as is a play on words between her surname and a French term for group sex.
The concert, in line with Saudi laws, will be alcohol and drug-free, open to people 16 and older and will take place at the King Abdullah Sports Stadium in the Red Sea city. Saudi Arabia is promising quick electronic visas for international visitors who want to attend. Local media reported the headline act, to be televised on MTV, will also feature British musician Liam Payne and American DJ Steve Aoki.
While the announcements for Payne and Aoki posted on the Jeddah Season Twitter account featured photos of the artists, Minaj's announcement ran with only an animated image of her name. Her image was used at the press conference on Wednesday, however.
All her songs are indecent
The announcement triggered a storm on social media, ranging from joy to criticism and disappointment. One fan posted a video of Minaj performing with the caption: "Am I dreaming or is this really happening?", while several others posted doctored images of the rapper in traditional Saudi dress. In a profanity-filled video posted on Twitter that has been viewed more than 37,000 times, a Saudi woman wearing a loose headscarf accused the Saudi government of hypocrisy for inviting Minaj to perform but requiring women who attend the concert to wear the modest full-length robe known as the abaya. "She's going to go and shake her ass and all her songs are indecent and about sex and shaking ass and then you tell me to wear the abaya," the Saudi woman said. "What the hell?" Minaj is yet to comment on her headline slot. This is not her first performance in the Middle East, having previously performed in the United Arab Emirates in 2013. In 2015, Minaj performed at a Christmas event in Angola despite calls from a human rights group to abandon the concert. The Human Rights Foundation said the money to pay Minaj came from "government corruption and human rights violations".
Author: Linda Lim
ROTTERDAM, March 11 -- Only a fool would cheer the banning of Tommy Robinson by Facebook and Instagram.
It doesn’t matter if you like or loathe him. It doesn’t matter if you think he’s a searing critic of the divisive logic in the politics of diversity or Luton’s very own Oswald Mosley in Jack Wills clobber. The point is that his expulsion from social media confirms that corporate censorship is out of control. It speaks to a new kind of tyranny: the tyranny of unaccountable capitalist oligarchs in Silicon Valley getting to decide who is allowed to speak in the new public square that is the internet.
Robinson, having already been thrown off Twitter and Patreon, was unceremoniously cast out from Facebook and Instagram yesterday. He had one million followers. So we are not talking about some bedroom-bound imbecile who says mad things to 27 fellow losers on Twitter, but about a public figure, someone who commands an audience and enjoys political influence. His crime, in the eyes of Facebook’s and Instagram’s community-standards cops, was to nurture ‘organised hate’ towards Muslims. He used ‘dehumanising language’ and made ‘calls for violence’, the social-media giants decreed. And therefore he had to go.
There are many disturbing things about this latest act of Silicon Valley silencing of an awkward public voice. The first is the apparent involvement of Mohammed Shafiq, CEO of the Ramadhan Foundation. Yesterday Shafiq boasted about having met with Facebook representatives to encourage them to ban Robinson over his ‘brainwashing’ of his followers into feeling ‘racism’ towards Muslims. This is the same Mohammed Shafiq who once attended an event with Hassan Haseeb ur Rehman, a Pakistani cleric who praised the murder in 2011 of the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, by a radical Islamist who despised Taseer for his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and his calls for the Christian ‘blasphemer’, Asia Bibi, to be released from jail. Shafiq also called for the anti-extremist campaigner Maajid Nawaz to be dumped as a parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats after Nawaz committed the speechcrime of tweeting a cartoon of Jesus & Mo. All of which raises a question: why is Facebook reportedly taking advice from someone like that? Does it also meet with campaigning Christians and jot down which critics of Christ they would like to see removed from its website?
The other disturbing thing is the growing power of internet corporations to police public speech. Not content with banning the likes of Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos, and feminists like Meghan Murphy who criticise the politics of transgenderism, and various white nationalists, now the social-media giants are going after right-wing political activists whose views they don’t like. Alongside Robinson it has been reported that some leading UKIP activists have had their Facebook accounts suspended. This has a very strong whiff of political censorship. It is perverse and dispiriting to see ostensible leftists and progressives whoop with delight as corporate tech giants suspend or censor political undesirables. First because since when was the left in favour of the exercise of property rights against people’s rights? In their applauding of Silicon Valley’s censorious rampage these left-wing anti-fascists sound an awful lot like right-wing libertarians. They are effectively saying, ‘Hey, these are private companies, so they can ban whoever they want to’. Suddenly their traditional concern with reining in the unaccountable power of big business goes out the window and they find themselves standing with the bosses against the individual.
For example, a message asking people to "share and watch" a clip could be a spambot. But it could also be a protester -- maybe one like those in Ferguson, Mo. -- asking people to spread awareness about a crime.
"We don't want to gamble on potentially silencing that crucial speech by classifying it as spam and suspending it," she said. "That means we evaluate hundreds of parameters when looking at account behaviors, and even then, we can still get it wrong and have to reevaluate."
(The full talk is 10 minutes long, but lays out the basics of Twitter's philosophy pretty well.)
Even with graphic, disturbing and violent images, Harvey said, there are a lot of gray areas. And, as my Switch colleague Brian Fung pointed out, there is no industry standard. Each company makes its own rules based on how it wants to shape its community. Facebook and Instagram, for example, have rules against nudity in photos. Twitter has no such rules -- a decision that it's made as a company to live by its assertion that, in nearly all cases, the "tweets must flow."
While companies continue to debate what they can and should do at the administrative level to stop certain kinds of images, there are some things that individual users can do to take action on their own accounts. On Facebook, for example, you can block users, apps or pages if you don't want to see the content they publish.
Twitter offers users the option to change their media settings themselves. Here, if users want to see images that could be considered "sensitive" and skip seeing Twitter's warning message, they can opt to do so. Users can also decide to mark their own media as sensitive by default, if they think their pictures could upset others.
When asked why it took the images down, Twitter said it does not share information on specific cases. But it did refer reporters to its policies regarding takedown requests from the family members of deceased users. That indicates that the firm took down the photos and videos of Foley's death not because of a request from the U.S. government--which reached out to social media sites regarding the video on Tuesday--but because the family had asked it to, shortly after the news broke.
The policy, recently changed, outlines the guidelines Twitter follows to remove imagery of deceased individuals at the request of immediate family members -- a policy enacted after some Twitter users bullied the daughter of comedian Robin Williams off the network by sending her altered images supposedly depicting her father's corpse.
How does Twitter scrub its network of the offensive images, which tend to spread online very quickly? The process is actually low-tech. When a request is submitted, Twitter employees on the company's safety and legal teams look at the image that's been flagged, reviewing each one individually, and evaluating the public interest and newsworthiness of each message. That, for example, could explain why some images of Foley's death were taken down immediately, while others bore a warning:
It may seem incomprehensible to many users that in an age of algorithms and high technology, Twitter would remove offensive images by hand rather than by automation. Twitter and other companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Google all have and use an automated technology that lets them identify and flag images based on certain criteria.