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Facebook Asks US Court to Dismiss Federal, State Antitrust Suits on Market Dominance

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By Associated Press | Updated: 11 March 2021

Facebook has asked a court to dismiss state and federal antitrust lawsuits that accuse it of abusing its market power in social networking to crush smaller competitors.

The social media giant said Wednesday that the complaints “do not credibly claim” that its conduct harmed either consumers or market competition.

The antitrust suits, filed in December by the Federal Trade Commission and 48 states, are seeking remedies that could include a forced spinoff of the social network’s popular Instagram and WhatsApp services.

“As we said when the FTC and the state attorneys general announced these lawsuits, people around the world use our products not because they have to, but because we make their lives better,” Facebook said in a statement.

The FTC suit asserts that Facebook has engaged in a “systematic strategy” to eliminate its competition, including by purchasing smaller up-and-coming rivals like Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014. New York Attorney General Letitia James, in announcing the states complaint, echoed this sentiment, saying that Facebook “used its monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users.”

The FTC declined to comment.

In an emailed statement, James said Facebook is “wrong on the law and wrong on our complaint.”

We are confident in our case, which is why almost every state in this nation has joined our bipartisan lawsuit to end Facebook’s illegal conduct,” the statement said.

Big Tech companies are facing growing opposition from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on the power they have amassed over the past decade. There’s little likelihood the pressure will ease up. President Joe Biden has said that a breakup of tech giants should be seriously considered.

Lawmakers and consumer advocates have accused Facebook of anticompetitive behaviour, most starkly in buying up aspiring smaller rivals like Instagram and WhatsApp and by copying competitors.

Critics say such tactics squash competition and could limit viable alternatives for consumers looking, for instance, for comparable services that do less tracking for targeted advertising. Businesses, including mom and pop shops, might have to pay more for ads if they have fewer choices to reach consumers online.

The lawsuits could take years to resolve.

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Elon Musk Challenges Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal to Public Debate Over Bot Users, Says Deal Cold Move Ahead

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By Associated Press | Updated: 8 August 2022

Elon Musk said Saturday that his planned $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3.5 lakh crore) takeover of Twitter should move forward if the company can confirm some details about how it measures whether user accounts are ‘spam bots’ or real people.

The billionaire and Tesla CEO has been trying to back out of his April agreement to buy the social media company, leading Twitter to sue him last month to complete the acquisition. Musk countersued, accusing Twitter of misleading his team about the true size of its user base and other problems he said amounted to fraud and breach of contract.

Both sides are headed toward an October trial in a Delaware court.

“If Twitter simply provides their method of sampling 100 accounts and how they’re confirmed to be real, the deal should proceed on original terms,” Musk tweeted early Saturday. “However, if it turns out that their SEC filings are materially false, then it should not.”

Musk, who has more than 100 million Twitter followers, went on to challenge Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal to a “public debate about the Twitter bot percentage.”

The company has repeatedly disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission an estimate that fewer than 5 percent of user accounts are fake or spam, with a disclaimer that it could be higher. Musk waived his right to further due diligence when he signed the April merger agreement.

Twitter has argued in court that Musk is deliberately trying to tank the deal and using the bot question as an excuse because market conditions have deteriorated and the acquisition no longer serves his interests. In a court filing Thursday, it describes his counterclaims as an imagined story “contradicted by the evidence and common sense.”

“Musk invents representations Twitter never made and then tries to wield, selectively, the extensive confidential data Twitter provided him to conjure a breach of those purported representations,” company attorneys wrote.

While Musk has tried to keep the focus on bot disclosures, Twitter’s legal team has been digging for information about a host of tech investors and entrepreneurs connected to Musk in a wide-ranging subpoena that could net some of their private communications with the Tesla CEO.

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Government Issued 105 Blocking Orders to Social Media Firms Under New IT Rules

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 5 August 2022

The government has issued 105 directions to social media platforms under the new IT rules that came into effect in February last year, Parliament was informed on Friday. According to information shared by minister of state for electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar in a written reply to Rajya Sabha, the directions were issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting under the new rules.

The data shared by the minister shows that 94 directions to block content was issued to YouTube between December 2021 and April 2022, five to Twitter, and three each to Facebook and Instagram.

Chandrasekhar said that the government’s policies are aimed at ensuring open, safe and trusted and accountable Internet for its users.

He said that the government has notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Codes) Rules, 2021 (“IT Rules, 2021”) on February 25, 2021 to make intermediaries including social media platforms accountable to their users and enhance user safety online.

“Neither the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 nor the above said rules contravene users’ right to privacy,” Chandrasekhar said.

The Ministry of Electronics and IT (Meity) is also said to conduct compliance audits of social media companies every quarter.

At present, social media platforms are required to disclose their compliance with IT rules 2021 every month where they disclose action taken by them in response to various grievances.

“MeitY has now put in place a mechanism to audit compliance of social media intermediaries under IT rules every quarter. As part of the audit, the ministry will verify if social media companies are reporting about grievances raised to them correctly and if their action taken is in sync with the laid out rules,” the source told PTI.

To tighten the noose on social media platforms, the government has proposed to set up an appellate panel which will have power to overrule decisions taken by social media companies with respect to any grievance. The public consultation process with respect to the proposed rule has been wrapped up by the IT ministry.

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Meta Said to Curtail Election Misinformation Efforts as US Midterm Vote Approaches: Details

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By Associated Press | Updated: 5 August 2022

Facebook owner Meta is quietly curtailing some of the safeguards designed to thwart voting misinformation or foreign interference in US elections as the November midterm vote approaches.

It’s a sharp departure from the social media giant’s multibillion-dollar efforts to enhance the accuracy of posts about US elections and regain trust from lawmakers and the public after their outrage over learning the company had exploited people’s data and allowed falsehoods to overrun its site during the 2016 campaign.

The pivot is raising alarm about Meta’s priorities and about how some might exploit the world’s most popular social media platforms to spread misleading claims, launch fake accounts and rile up partisan extremists.

“They’re not talking about it,” said former Facebook policy director Katie Harbath, now the CEO of the tech and policy firm Anchor Change. “Best case scenario: They’re still doing a lot behind the scenes. Worst case scenario: They pull back, and we don’t know how that’s going to manifest itself for the midterms on the platforms.”

Since last year, Meta has shut down an examination into how falsehoods are amplified in political ads on Facebook by indefinitely banishing the researchers from the site.

CrowdTangle, the online tool that the company offered to hundreds of newsrooms and researchers so they could identify trending posts and misinformation across Facebook or Instagram, is now inoperable on some days.

Public communication about the company’s response to election misinformation has gone decidedly quiet. Between 2018 and 2020, the company released more than 30 statements that laid out specifics about how it would stifle US election misinformation, prevent foreign adversaries from running ads or posts around the vote and subdue divisive hate speech.

Top executives hosted question and answer sessions with reporters about new policies. CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote Facebook posts promising to take down false voting information and authored opinion articles calling for more regulations to tackle foreign interference in US elections via social media.

But this year Meta has only released a one-page document outlining plans for the fall elections, even as potential threats to the vote remain clear. Several Republican candidates are pushing false claims about the US election across social media. In addition, Russia and China continue to wage aggressive social media propaganda campaigns aimed at further political divides among American audiences.

Meta says that elections remain a priority and that policies developed in recent years around election misinformation or foreign interference are now hard-wired into company operations.

“With every election, we incorporate what we’ve learned into new processes and have established channels to share information with the government and our industry partners,” Meta spokesman Tom Reynolds said.

He declined to say how many employees would be on the project to protect US elections full time this year.

During the 2018 election cycle, the company offered tours and photos and produced head counts for its election response war room. But The New York Times reported the number of Meta employees working on this year’s election had been cut from 300 to 60, a figure Meta disputes.

Reynolds said Meta will pull hundreds of employees who work across 40 of the company’s other teams to monitor the upcoming vote alongside the election team, with its unspecified number of workers.

The company is continuing many initiatives it developed to limit election misinformation, such as a fact-checking program started in 2016 that enlists the help of news outlets to investigate the veracity of popular falsehoods spreading on Facebook or Instagram. The Associated Press is part of Meta’s fact-checking program.

This month, Meta also rolled out a new feature for political ads that allows the public to search for details about how advertisers target people based on their interests across Facebook and Instagram.

Yet, Meta has stifled other efforts to identify election misinformation on its sites.

It has stopped making improvements to CrowdTangle, a website it offered to newsrooms around the world that provides insights about trending social media posts. Journalists, fact-checkers and researchers used the website to analyse Facebook content, including tracing popular misinformation and who is responsible for it.

That tool is now “dying,” former CrowdTangle CEO Brandon Silverman, who left Meta last year, told the Senate Judiciary Committee this spring.

Silverman told the AP that CrowdTangle had been working on upgrades that would make it easier to search the text of internet memes, which can often be used to spread half-truths and escape the oversight of fact-checkers, for example.

“There’s no real shortage of ways you can organise this data to make it useful for a lot of different parts of the fact-checking community, newsrooms and broader civil society,” Silverman said.

Not everyone at Meta agreed with that transparent approach, Silverman said. The company has not rolled out any new updates or features to CrowdTangle in more than a year, and it has experienced hourslong outages in recent months.

Meta also shut down efforts to investigate how misinformation travels through political ads.

The company indefinitely revoked access to Facebook for a pair of New York University researchers who they said collected unauthorised data from the platform. The move came hours after NYU professor Laura Edelson said she shared plans with the company to investigate the spread of disinformation on the platform around the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, which is now the subject of a House investigation.

“What we found, when we looked closely, is that their systems were probably dangerous for a lot of their users,” Edelson said.

Privately, former and current Meta employees say exposing those dangers around the American elections have created public and political backlash for the company.

Republicans routinely accuse Facebook of unfairly censoring conservatives, some of whom have been kicked off for breaking the company’s rules. Democrats, meanwhile, regularly complain the tech company hasn’t gone far enough to curb disinformation.

“It’s something that’s so politically fraught, they’re more trying to shy away from it than jump in head first.” said Harbath, the former Facebook policy director. “They just see it as a big old pile of headaches.”

Meanwhile, the possibility of regulation in the US no longer looms over the company, with lawmakers failing to reach any consensus over what oversight the multibillion-dollar company should be subjected to.

Free from that threat, Meta’s leaders have devoted the company’s time, money and resources to a new project in recent months.

Zuckerberg dived into this massive rebranding and reorganisation of Facebook last October, when he changed the company’s name to Meta Platforms. He plans to spend years and billions of dollars evolving his social media platforms into a nascent virtual reality construct called the “metaverse” — sort of like the internet brought to life, rendered in 3D.

His public Facebook page posts now focus on product announcements, hailing artificial intelligence, and photos of him enjoying life. News about election preparedness is announced in company blog posts not written by him.

In one of Zuckerberg’s posts last October, after an ex-Facebook employee leaked internal documents showing how the platform magnifies hate and misinformation, he defended the company. He also reminded his followers that he had pushed Congress to modernise regulations around elections for the digital age.

“I know it’s frustrating to see the good work we do get mischaracterised, especially for those of you who are making important contributions across safety, integrity, research and product,” he wrote on October 5. “But I believe that over the long term if we keep trying to do what’s right and delivering experiences that improve people’s lives, it will be better for our community and our business.”

It was the last time he discussed the Menlo Park, California-based company’s election work in a public Facebook post.

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Google Asked to Block Banned Groups, Organisations From YouTube in Nigeria

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By Reuters | Updated: 5 August 2022

Nigeria asked Google to block the use of YouTube channels and livestreams by banned groups and terrorist organisations in the country, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said on Thursday.

Nigeria has been exploring ways to regulate social media usage in the country, Africa’s most populous. The country is home to millions of Internet users and platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Tiktok are popular.

YouTube “channels and emails containing names of banned groups and their affiliates should not be allowed on Google platforms,” Mohammed said he told Google executives in Abuja, the country’s capital.

Charles Murito, Google’s sub-Saharan African director for government affairs and public policy, in a statement said the company already has measures to address the Nigerian government’s concerns.

Those measures include a system for trained users to flag troublesome content, he added. “We share the same goals and objectives,” Murito said. “We do not want our platform to be used for ill purposes.”

The minister said the government was particularly concerned with online activities by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The government has labeled IPOB, a group campaigning for the secession of a southeastern region of Nigeria, a “terrorist organization.”

The YouTube concerns are part of an effort by the government, the minister said, to protect Nigerian internet users from harmful effects of social media, especially ahead of a presidential election next year.

Nigeria suspended Twitter in June 2021 and blocked access to users after the social media giant removed a post from President Muhammadu Buhari threatening to punish regional secessionists.

The government lifted the Twitter ban six months later.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Twitter Rejects Elon Musk’s Claims That He Was Hoodwinked Into Signing $44 Billion Deal

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By Reuters | Updated: 5 August 2022

Twitter on Thursday dismissed Elon Musk’s claims in a Delaware court filing that he was hoodwinked into signing the deal to buy the social media company, saying that it was “implausible and contrary to fact.”

Musk made the claims in a countersuit filed under seal last Friday, which was made public on Thursday.

“According to Musk, he — the billionaire founder of multiple companies, advised by Wall Street bankers and lawyers — was hoodwinked by Twitter into signing a $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,37,465 crore) merger agreement. That story is as implausible and contrary to fact as it sounds,” the filing released by Twitter on Thursday said.

Twitter’s filing is the latest salvo in what is building up to be an increasingly acrimonious legal showdown between the world’s richest person and the social media giant.

The two sides head to trial on October 17 after Musk sought to abandon his deal to acquire Twitter over what he says is a misrepresentation of fake accounts on the site.

The San Francisco-based company is trying to force Musk to follow through on the deal and accuses him of sabotaging it because it no longer served his interests.

A representative for Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the counterclaims made public Thursday, Musk accuses Twitter of stepping up efforts to conceal the true number of its users, as the market plummeted.

“As a long bull market was coming to a close, and the tide was going out, Twitter knew that providing the Musk Parties the information they were requesting would reveal that Twitter had been swimming naked,” the counterclaims say.

Twitter counters that Musk has not “pleaded a shred of evidence” for these “fact-free” allegations.

Fact-Free allegations

Musk also claims that “Twitter’s misrepresentations run far deeper than simply providing incorrect numbers” about its spam or false accounts.

While “Twitter touts having 238 million ‘monetizable daily active users,’ those users who actually see ads” is roughly 65 million lower, Musk says in the counterclaims.

Twitter maintains that its SEC disclosures about monetizable daily active users were accurate.

Musk, the chief executive of electric car company Tesla, offered to buy Twitter for $54.20 (roughly Rs. 4,180) per share in April, saying he believed in its potential as a global platform for free speech.

But he soured on Twitter as its stock price lagged his takeover bid, and began expressing skepticism that bot and spam accounts represented less than 5 percent of users.

Musk sought to back out on July 8 without paying a $1 billion (roughly Rs. 162 crore) breakup fee, citing Twitter’s failure to provide details on bot and spam accounts. Twitter sued him four days later.

Earlier this week, Twitter issued dozens of subpoenas to banks, investors and law firms that backed Musk’s takeover bid, while Musk issued subpoenas to Twitter’s advisers at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan over their work.

Legal experts have said Twitter’s requests suggested the company wanted to know why Musk turned against it, or whether he reneged on his obligation to obtain sufficient financing.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Elon Musk’s Response to Twitter’s Lawsuit to Be Made Public by Friday

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By Associated Press | Updated: 4 August 2022

Elon Musk’s answer to Twitter’s lawsuit over his attempt to back out of a $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,37,465 crore) deal to buy the social media company will be made public by Friday evening at the latest, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Attorneys for Musk wanted to file a public version of their answer and counterclaims in Delaware court Wednesday. But Twitter attorneys complained that they needed more time to review and potentially redact Musk’s sealed filing, saying it refers “extensively” to internal Twitter information and data given to Musk.

Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick held a quick teleconference Wednesday before agreeing with Twitter, directing that the public filing be docketed by 5pm Friday. It could be filed earlier depending on when Twitter attorneys complete their review.

Twitter attorneys argued that court rules require that five business days lapse before a public version of Musk’s filing is docketed.

“Few cases attract as much public interest as this one, and Twitter is mindful of this court’s commitment to ensuring maximum public access to its proceedings,” Twitter attorney Kevin Shannon wrote. “Twitter has no interest in proposing any more redactions to defendants’ responsive pleading than are necessary.”

Musk attorney Edward Micheletti argued that Twitter’s lawyers were misinterpreting the court rules. Musk attorneys also say there is no confidential information in Musk’s filing that should be withheld from the public.

“Twitter should not be permitted to continue burying the side of the story it does not want publicly disclosed,” Micheletti wrote.

Musk, the world’s richest man, agreed in April to buy Twitter and take it private, offering $54.20 (roughly Rs. 4,200) a share and vowing to loosen the company’s policing of content and to root out fake accounts.

Twitter shares closed Wednesday at $41 (roughly Rs. 3,250), well off a 52-week high of $69.81 (roughly Rs. 4,900).

Musk, indicated in July that he wanted to back away from the deal, prompting Twitter to file a lawsuit to hold him to the “seller-friendly” agreement.

Musk says Twitter has failed to provide him enough information about the number of fake accounts on its service. Twitter argues that Musk, CEO of electric car maker and solar energy company Tesla, is deliberately trying to tank the deal because market conditions have deteriorated and the acquisition no longer serves his interests.

Either Musk or Twitter would be entitled to a $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,963 crore) breakup fee if the other party is found responsible for the agreement failing. Twitter wants more, however, and is seeking a court order of “specific performance” directing Musk to follow through with the deal.

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