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Facebook Removes ‘Inauthentic’ Accounts, Pages Spanning Eight Nations

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By Reuters | Updated: 6 November 2020

Facebook on Friday said it has dismantled seven separate networks of fake accounts and pages on its platform that were active in Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Myanmar, Georgia, and Ukraine due to “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”.

The social media platform announced it had taken down the new networks as part of its monthly report into “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, which also noted Facebook had removed nearly 8,000 pages involved in deceptive campaigns around the world in October.

Many of the networks taken down by Facebook were involved in deceptive political influence campaigns using fake accounts, targeting audiences both domestically and abroad.

One network of Facebook accounts and pages was operated from Egypt, Turkey, and Morocco by individuals connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist movement that operates networks of groups across the Middle East. The pages targeted countries across the region and included some terrorism-related content, Facebook said.

Facebook found two “inauthentic” networks in Georgia spreading political content, one of which the platform traced to individuals associated with two political parties.

In Ukraine and Myanmar, the social media giant found that public relations firms were running similar deceptive campaigns on behalf of political parties.

The company has been cracking down on such accounts globally after coming under fire for not developing tools quickly enough to combat extremist content and propaganda operations.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Facebook Hands Decision on Former US President Donald Trump Ban to Its Oversight Board

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 January 2021

Facebook said on Thursday it was referring its decision to indefinitely suspend the accounts of former US President Donald Trump to its independent oversight board.

Trump will remain suspended while the board, a recently created body that can overrule the company’s decisions on content, reviews the decision.

Facebook blocked Trump’s access to his Facebook and Instagram accounts over concerns of further violent unrest following the January 6 storming of the US Capitol by the former president’s supporters.

“I’m very confident of our case,” Facebook’s head of global affairs, Nick Clegg, told Reuters. “I’m very confident that any reasonable person looking at the circumstances in which we took that decision and looking at our existing policies will agree.”

“But of course this is a decision which has had reverberations around the world,” he added. It is the first time the company has blocked a current president, prime minister or head of state.

Facebook did not ask for an expedited review so the board, which said on Thursday it had accepted the case, will have a maximum of 90 days to make a ruling and for Facebook to act on it. An Oversight Board spokesman said it would likely be sooner than that.

The administrators of Trump’s Facebook page will have the option to submit a written statement challenging Facebook’s decision.

Facebook had also asked the board to provide recommendations on when political leaders can or should be blocked. Facebook does not have to act on this recommendation, unlike the board’s case decision which is meant to be binding.

The oversight board, which currently has 20 members, was created by Facebook in response to criticism of its handling of problematic content.

“That’s why we’re here, to not leave these decisions to the leadership of Facebook but actually use the Oversight Board to look at this in a principled way,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a board co-chair and the former Danish prime minister.

The board, which has been criticised for its delayed start and limited remit, has not yet ruled on its first batch of cases.

Facebook said when it suspended Trump that the block would last at least until the end of Trump’s presidential term and perhaps indefinitely. Trump’s term expired on Wednesday when Joe Biden was sworn in as president.

Twitter has suspended Trump permanently.

‘Crystal-clear link’

Trump was not made aware in advance of Facebook’s decision to suspend him indefinitely, Clegg said.

“Whilst it was a controversial decision because he was the president of the United States, it actually wasn’t a particularly complicated one to take,” he said, adding he felt there was a “crystal-clear link” between the words of Trump and the actions of people at the Capitol.

Facebook and other social media companies have come under fire for the proliferation of violent rhetoric and election misinformation on their platforms, including by Trump and his allies. That criticism only increased around the unrest at the Capitol, which was also incited and organised on social platforms.

Asked if Facebook bears partial responsibility for the actions that led the storming of the Capitol, Clegg said: “I accept there will always be people who say we knew this was going to happen. Dare I say it, I think it’s never quite as straightforward as that.”

He said he did not expect other major policy changes as a consequence of recent events.

“I’m … keen not to raise expectations that because of one event we will therefore make very significant course corrections which then have to apply, because we’re a global company with global standards, to the rest of the world as well,” he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook Said to Be Questioned on WhatsApp’s Privacy Terms by Parliamentary Panel

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By Reuters | Updated: 21 January 2021

Facebook executives will field questions from a parliamentary panel on Thursday about the changes to WhatsApp’s privacy, a source said, days after the messaging platform was asked by the country’s technology ministry to withdraw them.

The panel will ask why Facebook needed to change WhatsApp’s privacy policy and how it will impact users, the source said. WhatsApp did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.

The messaging platform earlier this month kicked off a storm when it informed users it was preparing a new privacy policy, under which it could share limited user data, including phone number and location, with Facebook and its group firms.

Demand for rival applications such as Signal and Telegram surged on privacy concerns and WhatsApp last week decided to delay the new policy launch to May from February.

With 400 million users, India is WhatsApp’s biggest market, and the messaging service has big plans for the country’s growing digital payments space, including selling health insurance via partners.

Facebook last year invested $5.7 billion (roughly Rs. 41,600 crores) in the digital unit of Mukesh Ambani-led conglomerate Reliance Industries, with a big part of that aimed at drawing in ten of millions of traditional shop owners to use digital payments via WhatsApp.

Earlier this week, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in an email to WhatsApp boss that the new privacy policy terms take away choice from Indian users.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Twitter to Reset @POTUS Account Today Following Joe Biden’s Inauguration

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By Associated Press | Updated: 20 January 2021

It’s a Twitter user’s worst nightmare: Wake up to find most of your followers gone. But that’s exactly what will happen on Wednesday to the official presidential accounts on Twitter. No, not @realDonaldTrump — he’s already been banned for life. This is the fate awaiting lesser-known accounts such as @POTUS, @WhiteHouse, @FLOTUS and @VP. (POTUS is the official acronym for President of the United States; FLOTUS refers to the First Lady.)

These institutional accounts don’t belong any particular individual — they’re reserved for official government use by those in the current administration. Twitter will transfer them to President-elect Joe Biden once he is officially inaugurated on Wednesday. Minus, that is, most of their followers.

That’s unlike the previous Twitter transition, when then-President Barack Obama’s official accounts were transferred to President Donald Trump with followers intact. This time, these accounts stand to lose tens of millions of followers at Twitter’s dictate. People dropped by these accounts, in addition to those who follow “relevant Biden and Harris accounts” such as @KamalaHarris, will receive notifications that they can follow them.

Biden’s current account — @PresElectBiden — will transform into @POTUS once Biden himself becomes POTUS.

Biden’s team does not appear happy about this. The President-elect’s digital director, Rob Flaherty, tweeted last week that the follower reset is “Absolutely, profoundly insufficient.”

In Twitter’s view, the reset gives users the choice on whether or not to follow the new accounts.

The company says it has not made a decision on whether it will now take this approach during transfers of power. But spokesman Nick Pacilio said it is the policy in other countries.

As for Trump’s @POTUS account? It will be archived as @POTUS45, just as the Obama administration’s account was archived as @POTUS44.

That’s not the case for @realdonaldtrump, though. While it’s been extensively archived by other platforms and researchers, it has vanished from Twitter itself. That alone has raised criticisms from academics and others who believe it should also be part of the public record, easily searchable and accessible to anyone.

Facebook, meanwhile, is sticking to its previous policy of “duplicating” all 11 million followers of the official White House Facebook and Instagram accounts to the new administration. Trump’s POTUS and related accounts, meanwhile, will be archived and Biden will get a new one.

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WhatsApp Asked to Withdraw Changes to Privacy Policy by MeitY

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 19 January 2021

The Indian government has asked WhatsApp to withdraw the recent changes in the privacy policy of the messaging app, saying unilateral changes are not fair and acceptable.

In a strongly worded letter to WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) said India is home to the largest user base of WhatsApp globally and is one the biggest markets for its services.

The proposed changes to the WhatsApp Terms of Service and Privacy Policy “raise grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens,” it wrote.

The ministry asked WhatsApp to withdraw the proposed changes and reconsider its approach to information privacy, freedom of choice and data security.

Stating that Indians should be properly respected, it said, “any unilateral changes to the WhatsApp Terms of Service and Privacy would not be fair and acceptable.”

The MeitY letter comes a day after the Delhi High court said that accepting the new privacy policy of instant messaging app WhatsApp was a “voluntary” thing and one can choose to not join the platform if one did not agree with its terms and conditions.

“Even Google Maps captures all your data and stores it,” the court said.

“It is a private app. Don’t join it. It is a voluntary thing, don’t accept it. Use some other app,” Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva said to the petitioner, a lawyer, who has challenged WhatsApp’s new privacy policy, which was earlier slated to come into effect in February but has now been deferred till May.

The court further said it could not understand what data would be leaked according to the petitioner and since the issue requires consideration, it will be listed on January 25 due to paucity of time on Monday.

The central government also agreed with the court that the issue needs to be analysed.

WhatsApp and Facebook, represented by senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Mukul Rohatgi, told the court that the plea was not maintainable and many of the issues raised in it were without any foundation. They further told the court that private chat messages between family and friends would remain encrypted and cannot be stored by WhatsApp and this position would not change under the new policy.

The change in policy would only affect the business chats on WhatsApp, they said.

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Twitter, Periscope, Pinterest Face Advertising Ban in Turkey

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By Reuters | Updated: 19 January 2021

Turkey’s Information and Communication Technologies Authority has imposed advertising bans on Twitter, Periscope and Pinterest under a new social media law, according to decisions published in the country’s Official Gazette on Tuesday.

The law, which critics say will muzzle dissent, requires social media companies to appoint local representatives in Turkey. On Monday, Facebook joined other companies in saying it would be appointing such a representative.

YouTube, owned by Alphabet’s Google, said a month ago it had decided to appoint a representative.

The decisions in the Official Gazette said the advertising bans went into effect from Tuesday. Twitter, its live-streaming app Periscope, and image sharing app Pinterest were not immediately available to comment.

The law allows authorities to remove content from platforms, rather than blocking access as they did in the past. The move has caused concern as people turn more to online platforms after Ankara tightened its grip on mainstream media.

In previous months Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter had faced fines in Turkey for not complying with the law. Companies that do not follow the law will ultimately have their bandwidth slashed by 90 percent, essentially blocking access.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook to Use AI in Predicting if COVID-19 Patients Need Better Healthcare

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By ANI | Updated: 19 January 2021

American social media giant Facebook is publishing a research conducted by its artificial intelligence (AI) unit in an effort to help healthcare providers predict in advance if a COVID-19 patient may need more intensive care solutions and adjust resources accordingly.

Facebook in a recent detailed blog post said that it had developed two AI models, one based on a single chest X-ray, and another from a series of X-rays that could help forecast if a patient infected by COVID-19 is likely to get worse. A third model predicts the amount of extra oxygen a COVID-19 patient might need.

The research, which can help produce predictions based on chest X-rays, has been done in collaboration with NYU Langone Health’s Predictive Analytics Unit and Department of Radiology.

Facebook’s AI models in general did a better job than a human when it came to forecasting a patient’s need for more intensive care resources up to four days in advance.

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