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Instagram, Facebook Remove Posts Offering Abortion Pills

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By Associated Press | Updated: 28 June 2022

Facebook and Instagram have begun promptly removing posts that offer abortion pills to women who may not be able to access them following a Supreme Court decision that stripped away constitutional protections for the procedure.

Such social media posts ostensibly aimed to help women living in states where preexisting laws banning abortion suddenly snapped into effect on Friday. That’s when the high court overruled Roe v. Wade, its 1973 decision that declared access to abortion a constitutional right.

Memes and status updates explaining how women could legally obtain abortion pills in the mail exploded across social platforms. Some even offered to mail the prescriptions to women living in states that now ban the procedure.

Almost immediately, Facebook and Instagram began removing some of these posts, just as millions across the US were searching for clarity around abortion access. General mentions of abortion pills, as well as posts mentioning specific versions such as mifepristone and misoprostol, suddenly spiked Friday morning across Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and TV broadcasts, according to an analysis by the media intelligence firm Zignal Labs.

By Sunday, Zignal had counted more than 250,000 such mentions.

The AP obtained a screenshot on Friday of one Instagram post from a woman who offered to purchase or forward abortion pills through the mail, minutes after the court ruled to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion.

“DM me if you want to order abortion pills, but want them sent to my address instead of yours,” the post on Instagram read.

Instagram took it down within moments. Vice Media first reported on Monday that Meta, the parent of both Facebook and Instagram, was taking down posts about abortion pills.

On Monday, an AP reporter tested how the company would respond to a similar post on Facebook, writing: “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills.”

The post was removed within one minute.

The Facebook account was immediately put on a “warning” status for the post, which Facebook said violated its standards on “guns, animals and other regulated goods.”

Yet, when the AP reporter made the same exact post but swapped out the words “abortion pills” for “a gun,” the post remained untouched. A post with the same exact offer to mail “weed” was also left up and not considered a violation.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law and it is illegal to send it through the mail.

Abortion pills, however, can legally be obtained through the mail after an online consultation from prescribers who have undergone certification and training.

In an email, a Meta spokesperson pointed to company policies that prohibit the sale of certain items, including guns, alcohol, drugs and pharmaceuticals. The company did not explain the apparent discrepancies in its enforcement of that policy.

Meta spokesperson Andy Stone confirmed in a tweet Monday that the company will not allow individuals to gift or sell pharmaceuticals on its platform, but will allow content that shares information on how to access pills. Stone acknowledged some problems with enforcing that policy across its platforms, which include Facebook and Instagram.

“We’ve discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these,” Stone said in the tweet.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said Friday that states should not ban mifepristone, the medication used to induce an abortion.

“States may not ban mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy,” Garland said in a Friday statement.

But some Republicans have already tried to stop their residents from obtaining abortion pills through the mail, with some states like West Virginia and Tennessee prohibiting providers from prescribing the medication through telemedicine consultation.

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Hedge Fund Elliott Sold Twitter Stock Before Elon Musk’s Takeover Negotiations

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By Reuters | Updated: 16 August 2022

Elliott Management, the hedge fund that pushed for big changes at Twitter two years ago, exited the stock during the second quarter, soon after Elon Musk announced plans to buy the social media company, a regulatory filing shows.

The filing on Monday, showed that Elliott no longer owned any common stock in Twitter on June 30. It had owned 10 million shares at the end of the first quarter.

Twitter’s shares, which closed at $44.50 (roughly Rs. 3,500) on Monday had climbed as high as $51.70 (roughly Rs. 4,100) in April, when Musk was offering to spend $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,49,240 crore) to acquire the company. Shares dropped when he tried to pull out of the deal in early July.

Elliott invested in Twitter in early 2020 and called for the ouster of Jack Dorsey, one of the company’s co-founders and its CEO at the time.

The company and the hedge fund soon reached an agreement in which the hedge fund got a seat on Twitter’s board and Dorsey was replaced in late 2021. Elliott exited the board last year.

Some other prominent investors also cut their Twitter holdings.

Hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Company owned 932,716 shares at the end of the second quarter, after having selling 3.7 million shares.

Balyasny Asset Management sold 1.3 million shares to own 172,821 shares while SRS Investment Management sold 7 million shares to own 125,226 shares on June 30.

The so-called 13-F filings are closely watched for investment trends, even though the data is released with a delay and can be dated.

Some firms established new positions, with filings showing that Pentwater Capital and Segantii Capital Management made new bets to own 18 million and 7.3 million shares respectively. Citadel Advisors LLC added 3.3 million shares, and now owns 4 million shares.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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US Gunman Posted ‘Call to Arms’ on Truth Social After FBI Searched Donald Trump’s Home: Reports

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 13 August 2022

An armed man who fled after attempting to breach an FBI office in Ohio appears to have posted a “call to arms” on Donald Trump’s Truth Social platform after federal agents searched the ex-president’s home, US media reported Friday.

An account bearing the name of 42-year-old suspect Ricky Shiffer, identified by Ohio authorities on Friday, featured multiple posts of violent anger including his failed plan to attack the FBI, according to screen shots of the profile, multiple US outlets reported.

“This is your call to arms,” an account bearing Shiffer’s name posted on Truth Social.

“I am proposing war,” the account posted, urging “patriots” to kill federal agents the day after Trump’s Florida residence was searched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation — a move that sparked outrage in right-wing circles.

Shortly before it was removed from the social media platform, the same account appeared on Thursday to confess to attempting to storm FBI offices in the midwestern state of Ohio.

The FBI said Thursday that a person armed with a weapon had tried to breach the entry to the bureau’s office in the city of Cincinnati.

According to local media, the man fired a nail gun and brandished an AR-15-style rifle before fleeing by car.

“Well, I thought I had a way through bullet proof glass, and I didn’t. If you don’t hear from me, it is true I tried attacking the FBI, and it’ll mean either I was taken off the internet, the FBI got me, or they sent the regular cops while,” read a post, which appears to end mid-sentence and was shared Thursday morning, according to reports.

The incident drew nationwide attention as it occurred only a few days after the FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion, although there was no immediate confirmation the events were linked.

The suspect in Ohio was killed in a standoff with police after a vehicle pursuit and exchange of gunfire, authorities said.

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Facebook Parent Meta Raises $10 Billion in Its First-Ever Bond Offering

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By Reuters | Updated: 10 August 2022

Facebook-parent Meta Platforms Inc said on Tuesday it had raised $10 billion (roughly Rs. 79,530 crore) in its first-ever bond offering, as it looks to fund share buybacks and investments to revamp its business.

The offering would help Meta, the only one among big technology companies without debt on its books, to build a more traditional balance sheet and fund some expensive initiatives, such as its metaverse virtual reality.

Other tech giants such as Apple Inc and Intel Corp also issued bonds recently, raising $5.5 billion (roughly Rs. 43,740 crore) and $6 billion (roughly Rs. 47,720 crore), respectively.

In late July, Meta posted a gloomy forecast and recorded its first-ever quarterly drop in revenue, with recession fears and competitive pressures weighing on its digital ads sales.

The company announced its first-ever bond offering last Thursday. The announcement came at a time when the social media company is making massive investments to fund its virtual reality projects. Back then, Meta did not disclose the size of the offering but said it would use the proceeds for capital expenditures, share repurchases, acquisitions or investments.

The company received an ‘A1’ rating from Moody’s and an ‘AA- rating’ and a ‘stable’ outlook from S&P. Meta is selling four tranches of bonds with maturities ranging from five years to 40 years.

It might also be a rare opportunity to do so relatively cheaply in the current market environment. Corporate bonds have rebounded in the past month after a rout earlier this year, as investors hoped the US Federal Reserve’s fight against inflation through rapid rate increases was starting to have some impact.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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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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