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Fake Twitter Accounts Found Spreading Chinese Propaganda: Report

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By Associated Press | Updated: 26 April 2022

A US-based intelligence company says it uncovered a network of more than 600 inauthentic Twitter accounts that spread a positive narrative of China’s far-western Xinjiang region, as Beijing was being accused of human rights abuses and locking up hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities there.

According to a report released Monday by Nisos, 648 Twitter accounts posted several thousand tweets with hashtags such as #xinjiang, #forcedlabor and #humanrights, with seemingly innocuous content such as traditional dancing and scenic photos, as well as videos with individuals denying that forced labour exists in Xinjiang.

The network and its tweets appear to be intended to promote “a positive narrative regarding Xinjiang and Uyghur treatment within the People’s Republic of China” and actively targeted a foreign audience, the report found.

The report comes as China is being criticized internationally for its treatment of Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group native to the Xinjiang region. In recent years, China held hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in what Beijing calls “vocational education and training centres” but are widely believed by experts and academics to be internment camps.

China has also been accused of using forced labour in programs that transferred Uyghurs out of Xinjiang and assigned them to different factories around the country. Global brands across the world including Nike and H&M expressed concern over the use of forced labour, confirming that they will not use products such as cotton from the region and will strengthen oversight of their supply chains.

While Nisos researchers did not reveal who is behind the network of inauthentic accounts, they said the majority of tweets were posted during business hours in China, between 9am and 7pm Many of the accounts were created after August 2021, using stock images for their profile pictures, and the tweets were often posted within minutes of each other.

The accounts would often quote other accounts within the network to gain visibility on the platform, although at times they would also amplify content from Chinese diplomats, such as Zhang Meifang, the consul general of China in Belfast, as well as Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, Nisos said.

Many of the Twitter accounts mentioned in the Nisos report have since been suspended for violating Twitter rules.

This is not the first time that researchers have uncovered networks of inauthentic accounts posting propaganda to influence perceptions of China.

Last year, researchers at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that more than 2,000 Twitter accounts were pushing narratives by China’s government on what was happening in Xinjiang, many of which expressed anti-Western sentiment or labelled the accusations against China as lies.

China often uses social media as a way to spread its messages, with an investigation last year by AP and the Oxford Internet Institute finding that armies of fake accounts amplify propaganda by Chinese diplomats and state media tens of thousands of times to reach a wider audience while masking the fact that the content is state-sponsored.

Earlier this year, China launched a discreet social media campaign in which it paid a US-based agency to recruit influencers in the US with the aim of promoting the Beijing Winter Olympics on social media platforms Instagram and TikTok.

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Twitter Withholds Filmmaker Leena Manimekalai’s July 2 Kaali Movie Poster Tweet

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By Agencies | Updated: 7 July 2022

Microblogging site Twitter has removed the controversial July 2 tweet of filmmaker Leena Manimekalai.

Manimekalai had released the poster of the film Kaali via a tweet which led to outrage in the country. The poster of her film depicted a woman dressed in a costume portraying the goddess and smoking.

Reacting to Twitter’s action, Leena in a tweet asked whether the social media platform would also withhold posts by “hate mongers”.

“This is hilarous. Will @TwitterIndia withhold the tweets of the 200000 hate mongers?! These lowlife trolls tweeted and spread the very same poster that they find objectionable. Kaali cannot be lynched. Kaali cannot be raped. Kaali cannot be destroyed. She is the goddess of death,” she wrote.

However, it’s not clear when Twitter actually took the tweet down.

The original tweet has been replaced by a message from Twitter.

“This Tweet from @LeenaManimekali has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand,” read the message.

Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra has been booked for allegedly hurting religious sentiments after her comment on Goddess Kali stirred a controversy. An FIR has been registered in Bhopal against Moitra under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for hurting religious sentiments.

Earlier this week, the microblogging service sought to overturn some Indian government orders to take down content on the social media platform, in a legal challenge which alleges abuse of power by officials.

Twitter has been asked by Indian authorities over the past year to act on content including accounts supportive of an independent Sikh state, posts alleged to have spread misinformation about protests by farmers and over tweets critical of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Indian government has previously said that big social media firms, including Twitter, have not complied with removal requests, despite their legal standing.

Late last month, Twitter was warned by India’s IT ministry of criminal proceedings if it did not comply with some orders. Twitter is said to have complied, so as not to lose liability exemptions available as a host of content.

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Facebook Asks US Court for Old FTC Documents in Antitrust Fight Against Company’s Merger

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By Reuters | Updated: 7 July 2022

Facebook has asked a US court for eight documents created by the US Federal Trade Commission as part of their review of the company’s purchases of Instagram and WhatsApp, which the agency allowed to go forward.

Facebook has asked a US court for eight documents created by the US Federal Trade Commission as part of their review of the company’s purchases of Instagram and WhatsApp, which the agency allowed to go forward.

The request was made late on Tuesday and comes in a lawsuit filed by the FTC that has asked the court to order both of those deals undone. Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion (nearly Rs. 8,000 crore) in 2012 and WhatsApp for $19 billion (nearly Rs. 1.5 lakh crore) in 2014.

The FTC sued Meta’s Facebook in 2020, during the Trump administration, alleging that the company acted illegally to maintain its social network monopoly.

Facebook is fighting the lawsuit, and wants the materials as part of that fight.

“Both the Instagram and the WhatsApp documents are almost certain to reveal that the FTC determined that each acquisition was unlikely to lessen competition or harm consumers,” Facebook said in its filing.

The company argued that the FTC had given the documents to the House Judiciary Committee when it probed the tech giants, also including Amazon, Alphabet’s Google and Apple. Current FTC Chair Lina Khan was on the staff of that committee.

“Any claim of privilege was waived when the FTC chose to voluntarily share the documents with House Judiciary Committee members and staff,” Facebook said in its filing.

The FTC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the filing.

Among the documents being requested are the memos that the FTC Bureau of Competition and Bureau of Economics wrote for commissioners about whether the Instagram deal should be allowed to close. Meta is also asking for notes made by Bureau of Competition personnel about the WhatsApp transaction.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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US Senators Ask FTC to Probe TikTok for ‘Repeated Misrepresentations’ Over US Data Access

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By Reuters | Updated: 6 July 2022

The US Senate Intelligence Committee chair and top Republican have called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate social media app TikTok and Chinese parent ByteDance due to “repeated misrepresentations” over its handling of US data.

The request on Tuesday from Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat, and Republican Marco Rubio followed a Buzzfeed report saying the short video app permitted TikTok engineers and executives in China to repeatedly access private data of US users. The senators said such access raised questions over TikTok’s claims to lawmakers and users that the data was protected.

“In light of repeated misrepresentations by TikTok concerning its data security, data processing, and corporate governance practices, we urge you to act promptly on this matter,” the senators wrote FTC Chair Lina Khan.

TikTok said Tuesday that access to data “is subject to a series of robust controls, safeguards like encryption for certain data, and authorisation approval protocols overseen by our US-based leadership/security team.”

The company responded to the senators’ letter by reiterating “TikTok has never shared US user data with the Chinese government, nor would we if asked.”

The FTC confirmed it had received the letter but declined further comment.

Last week, TikTok told US senators it was working on a final agreement with the Biden Administration that would “fully safeguard user data and US national security interests.”

TikTok acknowledged in a letter Thursday that China-based employees “can have access to TikTok US user data subject to a series of robust cybersecurity controls and authorisation approval protocols overseen by our US-based security team.”

TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew told senators it was working with Oracle on “new advanced data security controls that we hope to finalise in the near future.”

The senators’ letter cited a BuzzFeed news story about leaked internal recordings that said China-based employees of ByteDance had at the “very least” access to US data.

TikTok’s letter Thursday said hit had not misled Congress about its data and security controls and practices.

Last month, TikTok said it had completed migrating information on its US users to servers at Oracle but it was still using US and Singapore data centres for backup.

It has been nearly two years since a US national security panel ordered parent company ByteDance to divest TikTok because of fears that US user data could be passed on to China’s communist government.

TikTok is one of the world’s most popular social media apps, with more than 1 billion active users globally, and counts the United States as its largest market.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Russian Lawmakers Approve Harsher Rules for Foreign Tech Firms Without Offices, Personal Data Transfer

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By Reuters | Updated: 6 July 2022

Russian lawmakers on Tuesday approved a bill providing for stricter penalties for foreign internet companies that fail to open an office in Russia, including fines. Moscow has long sought to exert greater control over technology firms, and disputes over content and data have intensified since it sent armed forces into Ukraine on February 24.

Foreign social media giants with more than 500,000 daily users have been obliged since July 1, 2021, to open offices in Russia or risk penalties ranging up to outright bans.

Now, the turnover fines that Russia has imposed on the likes of Alphabet’s Google and Meta Platforms for hosting banned content could be applied to companies that fail to open offices, after the lower house passed the bill in the second of three readings.

Fines could be as high as 10 percent of a company’s turnover in Russia from the previous year, rising to up to 20 percent for repeat violations.

The state communications regulator Roskomnadzor last November listed 13 mostly US companies required to set up on Russian soil by the end of the year.

Only Apple, Spotify, Rakuten Group’s messaging app Viber and the photo-sharing app Likeme have fully complied — though Spotify closed its office in March in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and subsequently suspended its streaming service.

Meta, which Russia found guilty of “extremist activity” in March, is no longer listed, and its Facebook and Instagram platforms are banned, although its messaging app WhatsApp is not.

Four other companies have fulfilled at least one other Roskomnadzor requirement but have not established a Russian legal entity or office. Those were Google, Twitter, ByteDance’s TikTok and Zoom Video Communications, according to the government website.

The chat tool Discord, Amazon’s live streaming unit Twitch, the messaging app Telegram, the bookmarking service Pinterest and Wikipedia owner Wikimedia Foundation have taken no steps to comply, according to the website.

The new bill would also place restrictions on Russians’ personal data being transferred abroad and require entities planning on doing so to notify the communications regulator in advance.

The law, passed in its second reading by the lower house of parliament, or State Duma, is one of several the government has been working on as Russia deals with the fallout from hefty Western sanctions imposed in response to Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.

“Current legislation practically does not regulate the cross-border transfer of personal data, which poses a significant threat in the current foreign policy situation,” read an explanatory note accompanying the bill.

The bill’s authors say more than 2,500 entities registered in Russia handle personal data and transfer them to other countries, including “unfriendly” nations that have imposed sanctions.

Companies wanting to transfer data abroad will have to notify the regulator, Roskomnadzor, for each country a measure that was softened after a raft of internet companies objected, according to the business outlet Forbes.

Roskomnadzor considers countries that are party to Council of Europe data protection regulation as offering adequate safeguards, along with 29 other mostly African and Asian countries, but not the United States.

Among the “unfriendly” countries approved by Roskomnadzor are numerous European members of the NATO defence alliance as well as Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.

The draft still needs to pass a third reading in the Duma and a review by the upper house before President Vladimir Putin can sign it into law.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Twitter India Said to Pursue Judicial Review of Content Takedown Orders, Alleging Abuse of Power

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By Reuters | Updated: 5 July 2022

Twitter is seeking to overturn some Indian government orders to take down content on the social media platform, a source familiar with the matter said, in a legal challenge which alleges abuse of power by officials.

The US company’s attempt to get a judicial review is part of a growing confrontation with New Delhi.

Twitter has been asked by Indian authorities over the past year to act on content including accounts supportive of an independent Sikh state, posts alleged to have spread misinformation about protests by farmers and over tweets critical of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

India’s IT ministry did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a request for comment about Twitter’s legal move.

The Indian government has previously said that big social media firms, including Twitter, have not complied with removal requests, despite their legal standing.

Late last month, Twitter was warned by India’s IT ministry of criminal proceedings if it did not comply with some orders. Twitter complied this week, the source said, so as not to lose liability exemptions available as a host of content.

Twitter argues in its request for a judicial review that some removal orders fell short of the procedural requirements of India’s IT Act, the source said, without specifying which ones Twitter wanted to be reviewed.

The IT Act allows the government to block public access to content in the interest of national security, among other reasons.

Twitter, which market research firms say has nearly 24 million users in India, also argues in its filing that some of the orders failed to give notice to the authors of the content.

It also says that some were related to political content posted by official handles of political parties, the blocking of which amounted to a violation of freedom of speech, the source added.

Tensions with the Indian government flared early last year when Twitter declined to fully comply with an order to take down accounts and posts which New Delhi alleged were spreading misinformation about anti-government protests by farmers.

The company has also been subject to police investigations in India and last year many Indian government ministers moved to the domestically developed platform Koo, accusing Twitter of non-compliance with local laws.

Twitter has also faced a backlash in India for blocking accounts of influential individuals, including politicians, citing violations of its policies.

India, which industry transparency reports show has among the highest government requests for content takedowns, is considering some amendments to its new IT rules, including the introduction of a government-run appeals panel with the power to reverse the content moderation decisions of social media firms.

New Delhi has said such measures were needed because the companies had violated Indians’ constitutional rights.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Twitter Blue Subscribers Can Now Remove the Spaces Button, Customise Navigation Bar

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By ANI | Updated: 4 July 2022

Twitter Blue subscribers can now modify the navigation bar in the app on Android devices. The feature, which was previously exclusive to iOS, allows you to remove the Spaces icon from the centre of your navigation bar (and of course, remove some of the other tabs if you want, too).

According to The Verge, if you’re sick of having to extend your finger over the Spaces tab to access your DMs and alerts, custom navigation lets you display as few as two tabs at a time or maintain all five that are displayed by default.

The Spaces tab was first tested by Twitter on iOS last year and appeared on Android in May, which seems to encourage more irritated users to subscribe to the $2.99/month (roughly Rs. 200) Blue plan introduced last year.

However, Blue can’t shield us from all of the features that are clogging up the app. Last week, Twitter announced that it was adding more information to the banner that displays active Spaces at the top of your timeline, as reported by The Verge.

While there is currently no option to completely disable this banner (neither for free users nor Blue subscribers), it will now display information about the Space’s host, everyone who tweets in the Space, and pertinent Topics.

Last month, Twitter announced that users would be able to use the closed caption toggle on Android and iOS. The option to toggle captions for its video player now shows up — with the text “CC” — in the top-right corner of the video — if it has captions available.

Unrelated to the automated caption system, the closed caption toggle “will only show up on videos with captions already available, and is not related to the automated caption system,” according to the company.

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