By Reuters | Updated: 8 January 2021
US President Donald Trump returned to Twitter on Thursday with a video acknowledging that Joe Biden would be the next US president as other social media services including Facebook blocked his accounts over concerns that his messages might spark further violent protests.
Twitter unlocked the president’s @realDonaldTrump Twitter account, which has 88 million followers, after Trump removed three rule-breaking tweets. His first post back on the platform featured a video in which he said he was focused on a peaceful transition of power and which was viewed 1.4 million times within 15 minutes of posting.
Tech companies have been scrambling to crack down on the president’s baseless claims about the November 3 US presidential election after hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol in unrest that resulted in four deaths.
Trump’s accounts remain blocked on Facebook and Instagram for at least two weeks and perhaps indefinitely. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a Thursday post that the risks of allowing him to use the platform were “simply too great.”
Facebook’s move marked the most significant sanction of the president by a major social media company. Live-streaming platform Twitch and photo-sharing service Snap issued similar bans.
“The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden,” Zuckerberg said in his Facebook post.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said in response that the companies had censored the president at a critical time for the country. “Big Tech is out of control,” he said.
Zuckerberg said the block on Trump’s Facebook page, which has 35 million followers, would last at least until Biden takes office on January 20.
At an all-hands meeting on Thursday, Zuckerberg told employees he considered it important political leaders “lead by example and make sure we put the nation first.”
“What we’ve seen is that the president has been doing the opposite of that and instead fanning the flames of those who think they should turn to violence to overturn the election outcome,” he said, according to audio of the remarks heard by Reuters.
Social media companies have been under pressure to police misinformation about the US election on their platforms, including from the president. Trump and his allies for months have amplified baseless claims of election fraud and the president told protesters to go to Capitol Hill, with both Republicans and Democrats saying he was responsible for the resulting violence.
Amazon’s Twitch disabled Trump’s channel due to the “extraordinary circumstances and the president’s incendiary rhetoric,” it said. A spokeswoman said the company would reassess Trump’s account after he leaves office.
E-commerce platform Shopify shut service for stores affiliated with Trump for violations of its “acceptable use” policy, prompting e-commerce sites for both the campaign and the Trump Organization to go offline.
Blocks ‘long overdue’
Facebook’s decision follows bans in recent years of some government officials in India and Myanmar for promoting violence. A Facebook spokesman said the company had never before blocked a current president, prime minister or head of state.
In a video posted to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube on Wednesday, which was later deleted by the platforms after garnering millions of views, Trump repeated election fraud claims as he told protesters to go home.
Civil rights groups including Color of Change have called for social media companies to ban Trump permanently from the platforms, where he has repeatedly violated policies.
The Anti-Defamation League praised Facebook’s move, calling it “an obvious first step,” while the NAACP in a statement said the move was a “long overdue” gesture that “rings hollow.”
Facebook has drawn criticism for exempting politicians’ posts and advertisements from its third-party fact-checking programme and repeatedly said it does not want to be “the arbiter of truth.” The company has in recent months started labeling some of Trump’s statements but faced questions about why it had not acted sooner against violent rhetoric that proliferated in the past few weeks as organisers planned the rally online.
Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement he was “deeply frustrated that it took a group of domestic terrorists storming the Capitol” for Facebook to take action and wondered “if the decision was an opportunistic one, motivated by the news of a Democratically controlled Congress.”
Democratic Senator Mark Warner, incoming chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the social media actions did not go far enough.
“These platforms have served as core organising infrastructure for violent, far right groups and militia movements for several years now, helping them to recruit, organise, coordinate and in many cases (particularly with respect to YouTube) generate profits from their violent, extremist content,” he said in a statement.
YouTube, which is owned by Alphabet’s Google, said Thursday any channel that posts videos with false claims about the election results will be temporarily restricted from uploading or live streaming.
YouTube did not respond to a question about whether it would ban Trump’s account in the same manner as Facebook, while a Twitter spokesman said it was continuing to “evaluate the situation in real time, including examining activity on the ground and statements made off Twitter.” He said Twitter would inform the public if an “escalation” in its approach was necessary.
© Thomson Reuters 2020
Twitter to Sell Mobile Advertisement Unit MoPub for $1 Billion
By Reuters | Updated: 7 October 2021
Twitter said it has agreed to sell mobile advertisement company MoPub to AppLovin for $1.05 billion (roughly Rs. 7,850 crores) in cash, as the microblogging platform looks to focus more on advertisements on its own app and website.
MoPub, which generated about $188 million (roughly Rs. 1,400 crores) in annual revenue for Twitter last year, allows companies to keep track of ad inventory in real time, similar to Google’s DoubleClick.
“The sale of MoPub positions us to concentrate more of our efforts on the massive potential for advertisements on our website and in our apps,” Twitter Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal said.
Twitter said on Wednesday it will focus on its core business by accelerating development of new products and features to achieve its goal of doubling its revenue in 2023 to $7.5 billion (roughly Rs. 56,090 crores).
The MoPub deal comes months after Apple updated its mobile operating system that powers iPhone handsets and iPad devices to make it hard for digital advertisers, including social media platforms and mobile game developers, to track users on Apple mobile devices.
The sale will allow Twitter to invest in “the core products that position it for long-term growth,” Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey said on Wednesday.
The social media company bought MoPub for nearly $350 million (roughly Rs. 2,620 crores) in 2013.
Twitter has made a series of deals for privately held tech firms this year, including podcast app Breaker and email newsletter startup Revue, as it looks to reach its 2023 revenue goal.
The sale to AppLovin was unanimously approved by Twitter’s board.
AppLovin, which recently went public in April, is a mobile gaming company with a portfolio that includes more than 200 free-to-play mobile games, such as Word Connect, Slap Kings, and Bingo Story.
The company’s shares were up 9 percent at $84 (roughly Rs. 6,280) in extended trading, while Twitter rose 2 percent to $62.57 (roughly Rs. 4,680).
© Thomson Reuters 2021
Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen Testifies Before US Congress: Top Quotes From the Hearing
By Reuters | Updated: 6 October 2021
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before the US Congress on Tuesday, telling lawmakers the social media giant knew its apps were harming the mental health of some young users. Here are some comments from the committee hearing:
Frances Haugen, Facebook whistleblower
“I’m here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy.”
“There is no one currently holding Mark (Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief executive) to account. The buck stops with Mark.”
“Yesterday we saw Facebook taken off the internet. I don’t know why it went down, but I know that for more than five hours, Facebook wasn’t used to deepen divides, destabilize democracies and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies.”
“The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they put their astronomical profits before people.”
US Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican from Alaska
“I think we’re going to look back 20 years from now and all of us are going to be like ‘what the hell were we thinking’ when we recognize the damage that it (social media) has done to a generation.”
US Senator Edward Markey, Democrat from Massachusetts
“Your (Facebook’s) time of invading our privacy and preying on children is over. Congress will be taking action.”
Kevin McAlister, Facebook spokesperson, in an email
“The very existence of internal research on tough and complex issues is being recast as an example that Facebook isn’t living up to its responsibilities. The opposite is true: this research is more proof that we invest heavily so our teams can improve our apps and the resources we provide.”
US Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat from Minnesota
“When they allowed 99 percent of violent content to remain unchecked on their platform including the lead-up to the Janurary 6 insurrection, what did they do? Now we know Mark Zuckerberg was going sailing.”
US Senator Roger Wicker, Republican from Mississippi
“Children of America are hooked on their product. There is cynical knowledge on behalf of these Big Tech companies that this is true.”
US Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican from Tennessee
“The research was Facebook’s internal research. So they knew what they were doing, they knew where the violations were and they know they are guilty.”
“Facebook is not interested in making significant changes to improve kids’ safety on their platforms, at least not when that would result in losing eyeballs on posts or decreasing their ad revenues.”
US Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat from Connecticut
“The damage to self-interest and self-worth inflicted by Facebook today will haunt a generation.”
“Big Tech now faces the Big Tobacco jaw-dropping moment of truth.”
“Our children are the ones who are victims. Teens today looking in the mirror feel doubt and insecurity. Mark Zuckerberg ought to be looking at himself in the mirror.”
© Thomson Reuters 2021
Facebook ‘Operating in the Shadows,’ Says Whistleblower as US Lawmakers Demand Probes
By Reuters | Updated: 6 October 2021
US lawmakers pounded Facebook on Tuesday, accusing CEO Mark Zuckerberg of pushing for higher profits while being cavalier about user safety, and they demanded regulators investigate whistleblower accusations that the social media company harms children’s mental health and stokes divisions.
Zuckerberg, hours later in a public Facebook post, defended the company, saying the accusations were at odds with Facebook’s goals.
“The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical,” he wrote. “We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content. And I don’t know any tech company that sets out to build products that make people angry or depressed.”
During a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing, whistleblower Frances Haugen called for transparency about how Facebook entices users to keep scrolling, creating ample opportunity for advertisers to reach them.
“As long as Facebook is operating in the shadows, hiding its research from public scrutiny, it is unaccountable,” said Haugen, a former product manager on Facebook’s civic misinformation team. She left the nearly $1 trillion (roughly Rs. 74,57,360 crores) company with tens of thousands of confidential documents.
“The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed,” Haugen said.
In an era when bipartisanship is rare in Washington, lawmakers from both parties excoriated the company, illustrating the rising anger in Congress with Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp.
Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican, said he was concerned how Facebook and subsidiaries like Instagram affected the mental health of children. “We’re going to look back 20 years from now and all of us are going to be like, ‘What the hell were we thinking?'”
Haugen revealed she was the person who provided documents used in a Wall Street Journal investigation and a Senate hearing on Instagram’s harm to teenage girls. She compared the social media services to addictive substances like tobacco and opioids.
Panel chair Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said Facebook knew that its products were addictive. “Tech now faces that big tobacco jaw-dropping moment of truth,” he said.
He called for Zuckerberg to testify before the committee, and for the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook.
“Our children are the ones who are victims. Teens today looking in the mirror feel doubt and insecurity. Mark Zuckerberg ought to be looking at himself in the mirror,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal said after the hearing that he would want to ask Zuckerberg why he rejected recommendations to make products safer for users.
Zuckerberg, in his post, said Facebook would not stop researching its societal impact. But he wrote that Congress needed to update rules to make clear the legal age for teens to use internet services, how to verify their ages and where to “balance teens’ privacy while giving parents visibility into their activity.”
Facebook’s shares rose 2 percent on Tuesday to close at $332.96 (roughly Rs. 24,840), roughly 13 percent below the record closing high on September 7.
Coming a day after Facebook suffered an hours-long outage, Haugen pointed to the outage in her testimony: “For more than five hours Facebook wasn’t used to deepen divides, destabilize democracies and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies.”
As lawmakers criticized Facebook, the company’s spokespeople fired back on Twitter and in statements, arguing that Haugen did not work directly on some of the topics being raised.
“We don’t agree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about,” Facebook spokeswoman Lena Pietsch said.
Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, accused Facebook of turning a blind eye to children below age 13 on its services. “It is clear that Facebook prioritizes profit over the well-being of children and all users,” she said.
Last week, Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, defended the company in front of Congress and said that it was seeking to release additional internal studies in an effort to be more transparent about its findings.
Senator Maria Cantwell, chair of the Commerce Committee, said she would write Facebook to insist that it not delete documents related to Myanmar’s persecuted Muslim minority Rohingya. An aide said she would ask for broader retention of documents.
A US federal judge last month had ordered Facebook to release records of accounts connected to anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar that the social media company had shut down.
Haugen said she would encourage “oversight and public scrutiny” into Facebook’s content recommendation algorithms and their consequences. She suggested creating a dedicated body within the federal government to oversee social media companies.
Blumenthal said he might want to hold an additional hearing to discuss national security issues related to Facebook.
Haugen said Facebook had also done too little to prevent violence.
Facebook was used by people planning mass killings in Myanmar and the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump who were determined to toss out the 2020 election results.
Senator Edward Markey, speaking to the absent Zuckerberg, said during the hearing: “Your time of invading our privacy and preying on children is over. Congress will be taking action.”
Throughout the hearing lawmakers referred to Zuckerberg as going sailing instead of facing his responsibilities. The CEO this weekend posted a video taken with the company’s new smart glasses of his wife in a boat.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen Will Urge US Senate to Regulate Company
By Reuters | Updated: 5 October 2021
Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen will urge the US Congress on Tuesday to regulate the social media giant, which she plans to liken to tobacco companies that for decades denied that smoking damaged health, according to prepared testimony seen by Reuters.
“When we realised tobacco companies were hiding the harms it caused, the government took action. When we figured out cars were safer with seatbelts, the government took action,” said Haugen’s written testimony to be delivered to a Senate Commerce subcommittee. “I implore you to do the same here.”
Haugen will tell the panel that Facebook executives regularly chose profits over user safety.
“The company’s leadership knows ways to make Facebook and Instagram safer and won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their immense profits before people. Congressional action is needed,” she will say. “As long as Facebook is operating in the dark, it is accountable to no one. And it will continue to make choices that go against the common good.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is on the subcommittee, said that she would ask Haugen about the January 6 attack on the US Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.
“I am also particularly interested in hearing from her about whether she thinks Facebook did enough to warn law enforcement and the public about January 6th and whether Facebook removed election misinformation safeguards because it was costing the company financially,” Klobuchar said in an emailed comment.
The senator also said that she wanted to discuss Facebook’s algorithms, and whether they “promote harmful and divisive content.”
Haugen, who worked as a product manager on Facebook’s civic misinformation team, was the whistleblower who provided documents used in a Wall Street Journal investigation and a Senate hearing on Instagram’s harm to teen girls.
Facebook owns Instagram as well as WhatsApp.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Haugen added that “Facebook’s closed design means it has no oversight — even from its own Oversight Board, which is as blind as the public.”
That makes it impossible for regulators to serve as a check, she added.
“This inability to see into the actual systems of Facebook and confirm that Facebook’s systems work like they say is like the Department of Transportation regulating cars by watching them drive down the highway,” her testimony says. “Imagine if no regulator could ride in a car, pump up its wheels, crash test a car, or even know that seat belts could exist.”
The Journal’s stories, based on Facebook internal presentations and emails, showed the company contributed to increased polarisation online when it made changes to its content algorithm; failed to take steps to reduce vaccine hesitancy; and was aware that Instagram harmed the mental health of teenage girls.
Haugen said Facebook had done too little to prevent its platform from being used by people planning violence.
“The result has been a system that amplifies division, extremism, and polarisation — and undermining societies around the world. In some cases, this dangerous online talk has led to actual violence that harms and even kills people,” she said.
Facebook was used by people planning mass killings in Myanmar and in the January 6 assault by Trump supporters who were determined to toss out the 2020 election results.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
Facebook Again Asks Judge to Dismiss US Lawsuit to Force Sale of Instagram, WhatsApp
By Reuters | Updated: 5 October 2021
Facebook asked a judge on Monday to dismiss the US government’s revised antitrust case that seeks to force the social media giant to sell Instagram and WhatsApp.
Facebook said in a court filing that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had failed to provide a “plausible factual basis for branding Facebook an unlawful monopolist.” The company added it appears the FTC “had no basis for its naked allegation that Facebook has or had a monopoly.”
The social media giant asked that the lawsuit be dismissed with prejudice, which would make it harder for the agency to amend the lawsuit. The FTC declined to comment.
Judge James Boasberg of the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in June that the FTC’s original complaint filed in December failed to provide evidence that Facebook had monopoly power in the social-networking market.
The FTC’s amended complaint, filed in August, added more detail on its accusation the social media company crushed or bought rivals and again asked Boasberg to order the sale of Instagram and WhatsApp.
The FTC argued at length in its revised complaint that Facebook dominates the US personal social networking market with more than 65 percent of monthly active users since 2012.
Facebook filing said the FTC’s complaint was “at odds with the commercial reality of intense competition with surging rivals like TikTok and scores of other attractive options for consumers.”
The FTC voted 3-2 along party lines in August to file the amended lawsuit and denied Facebook’s request that agency chair Lina Khan be recused.
In its motion, Facebook argued that the FTC vote to file the amended complaint was not valid because Khan participated.
It included a long series of statements from Khan, made before she became chair of the FTC, which were critical of the social media giant. In a series of tweets from December 2020, she praises lawsuits brought by the FTC and state attorneys general saying “hopeful that it marks yet another step forward in the growing efforts to rehabilitate antitrust laws.”
Facebook also notes that the FTC is suing to undo mergers that it had approved: Instagram, which it bought in 2012 for $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,450 crores), and WhatsApp, which it bought in 2014 for $19 billion (roughly Rs. 1,41,545 crores).
“The FTC challenges acquisitions that the agency cleared after its own contemporaneous review…,” the motion said. “The case is entirely without legal or factual support. This is as true now as it was before.”
Facebook also included a dissent from FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson, a Republican, who had voted to oppose filing the amended lawsuit because the FTC had raised no objections to the Instagram and WhatsApp deals.
“The FTC’s fictional market ignores the competitive reality: Facebook competes vigorously with TikTok, iMessage, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, YouTube, and countless others to help people share, connect, communicate or simply be entertained,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “The FTC cannot credibly claim Facebook has monopoly power because no such power exists.”
© Thomson Reuters 2021
Facebook Does Not Believe It Is a Primary Cause of Polarisation, Executive Says
101By Reuters | Updated: 4 October 2021
A Facebook executive said in an interview on Sunday with CNN that the company does not believe that its social media service is a primary contributor to the political polarisation that has become widespread in the United States.
The company’s vice president of policy and global affairs, Nick Clegg, spoke ahead of an expected Sunday evening segment on CBS’ “60 Minutes” featuring a whistleblower who alleges the company moved too quickly to lift some election-related restrictions it had put in place around the November 2020 contest.
Clegg acknowledged that the company’s platform can serve as a conduit for hate speech and disinformation.
“The way people exchange information … now takes place online,” he said in the interview. “So of course, we as one of the largest social media platforms have a responsibility to understand where we contribute to negative and extreme content or hate speech or misinformation and so on.”
The whistleblower is expected to testify to a Tuesday Senate hearing about what one of the senators announcing the meeting called the social media company’s toxic effects on young users.
Clegg rejected as “ludicrous” that social media should shoulder the blame for the deadly January 6 assault on the US Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump, fueled by his false claims that his election defeat was the result of widespread fraud.
“The insurrection on that day lies squarely with the people who inflicted the violence and those who encouraged them, including President Trump,” Clegg said. “I think it gives people false confidence to assume that there must be a technological or a technical explanation for the issues of political polarisation in the United States … It’s too easy to say it’s Facebook’s fault.”
US senators last week grilled Facebook about its plans to better protect young users on its apps, drawing on leaked internal research that showed the social media giant was aware of how its Instagram app harmed the mental health of teens.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
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