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Twitter, Facebook Freeze Donald Trump Accounts as Tech Giants Respond to US Capitol Violence

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By Reuters | Updated: 7 January 2021

Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday temporarily locked the accounts of US President Donald Trump, as tech giants scrambled to crack down on his baseless claims about the US presidential elections amid riots in the capital.

Twitter hid and required the removal of three of Trump’s tweets “as a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, DC,” after pro-Trump protesters stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to force Congress to block the appointment of President-elect Joe Biden.

One woman was shot and killed inside the Capitol building in the chaos.

Facebook later tweeted it would block Trump’s page from posting for 24 hours due to two policy violations.

Twitter locked Trump’s account for 12 hours and said that if the tweets are not removed, the account would remain locked, meaning the president would be unable to tweet from @realDonaldTrump.

Facebook and YouTube, owned by Alphabet’s Google, also removed a video in which Trump continued to allege the presidential election was fraudulent even as he urged protesters to go home.

The video was removed from Instagram and the president’s account there would also be locked for 24 hours, Adam Mosseri, chief of Facebook-owned Instagram, said in a tweet.

YouTube did not take any further immediate action against his account.

Tech companies have been under pressure to police misinformation on their platforms around the US election, including through calls by users on Wednesday for major platforms to suspend Trump’s accounts.

The president and his allies have continuously spread unsubstantiated claims of election fraud that have proliferated online. Trump on Wednesday blamed Vice President Mike Pence for lacking “courage” to pursue those claims in a tweet that Twitter later took down.

A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Risk of violence

Facebook’s vice president of integrity Guy Rosen tweeted the social media company believed the president’s video “contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence,” saying the action was part of “appropriate emergency measures.”

YouTube said Trump’s video violated its policy against content that alleges “widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 US Election.”

Both Facebook and Twitter had originally added labels and measures to slow the video’s spread.

Dozens of Facebook staffers called for executives to clarify how they were handling Trump’s posts, with some calling for his account to be taken down for inciting the violence at the Capitol, according to internal posts seen by Reuters.

“Can we get some courage and actual action from leadership in response to this behaviour? Your silence is disappointing at the least and criminal at worst,” one employee wrote.

Internal communications managers quickly closed comments on the threads, saying in identical posts that updates would be provided but “the priority right now is actively dealing with the ongoing situation.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the internal posts.

Former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos tweeted: “Twitter and Facebook have to cut him off.”

Civil rights groups including The Anti-Defamation League and Color of Change called for social media companies to suspend Trump’s accounts permanently.

According to researchers and public postings, violent rhetoric and advice on weaponry ramped up significantly in the past three weeks on many social media platforms as multiple groups planned rallies for Wednesday, including Trump supporters, white nationalists and enthusiasts of the wide-ranging conspiracy theory QAnon.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Facebook’s Oversight Board Says Company Not ‘Fully Forthcoming’ on How It Deals With High-Profile Users

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 October 2021

Facebook’s independent oversight board demanded more transparency from the social media giant on Thursday, saying the company was not “fully forthcoming” on how it deals with certain high-profile user accounts.

The comments follow a Wall Street Journal report last month that said millions of Facebook accounts belonging to celebrities, politicians, and other high-profile users were exempted from some internal checks.

The board said that Facebook has not been transparent with the company’s ‘cross-check’ system, an internal program the social media network says is used to double-check enforcement actions against certain users.

“Facebook needs to commit to greater transparency and to treat users fairly,” the board said in a tweet.

In relation to its May decision to uphold the indefinite suspension of former US President Donald Trump’s account after the January 6 riot, the board said when Facebook referred the case, it did not mention the cross-check system until it was asked.

“Given that the referral included a specific policy question about account-level enforcement for political leaders, many of whom the Board believes were covered by cross-check, this omission is not acceptable,” it said.

Facebook, in the form of a policy advisory opinion, has asked the board to review its cross-check system and make recommendations on how it can be changed.

A company spokesperson said the board’s work had been “impactful,” which is why it asked for input into the cross-check system.

Facebook created the board mainly to address criticism over how it handles problematic content and is responsible for independent verdicts on a number of thorny decisions related content moderation.

Going forward, the board will publish quarterly and annual transparency reports to provide assessment on whether its recommendations were implemented.

In its first quarterly report, the board said over half a million Facebook and Instagram users submitted appeals between October 2020 and the end of June 2021, of which more than a third were related to content concerning Facebook’s rules on hate speech.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook’s Name-Change Will Not Deter Lawmaker or Regulatory Scrutiny: Experts

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By Reuters | Updated: 21 October 2021

Renaming Facebook is unlikely to enable the tech giant to distance itself from regulatory and public scrutiny around the potential harms caused by its social media apps, marketing and branding experts told Reuters. Tech publication The Verge reported on Tuesday that the California-based firm is planning to change its corporate branding to reflect that as well as owning the social media platform that made it a global household name, it also now includes other thriving businesses like Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus.

The company declined to comment regarding the report on the possible rebranding. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

Facebook is battling intense scrutiny after a whistleblower leaked thousands of internal documents that showed it 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 popular social media app Instagram harmed the mental health of teenage girls.

The US Senate held a hearing earlier this month into the effect of Instagram on young users.

“Legislators and politicians are sufficiently smart to not be fooled by a rebranding,” said James Cordwell, an internet analyst at Atlantic Equities.

Renaming can be an effective strategy to allow subsidiary brands to maintain their own reputations, said Marisa Mulvihill, head of brand and activation at Prophet, a branding and marketing consultancy. But the media and regulators “are not going to stop investigating or creating reforms just because you rebranded,” she added.

The new parent company name could reflect Facebook’s focus on building the ‘metaverse,’ The Verge reported, referring to a proposed digital world where people can use different devices to move and communicate in a virtual environment.

It could also prevent a possible negative perception around the Facebook name from affecting WhatsApp, the messaging app used by nearly 2 billion people globally, and Oculus, its virtual reality brand, experts said.

According to Prophet’s annual ranking, Facebook’s brand relevance to US consumers has dropped “precipitously” over the past several years, Mulvihill said.

“What you don’t want is for that to proliferate and have a negative halo effect on other parts of your business,” said Deborah Stafford-Watson, head of strategy at brand consultancy firm Elmwood.

Other major companies have taken similar steps. Google reorganised under a holding company called Alphabet in 2015, as the company best known for internet searches increasingly pursued ambitions like autonomous driving technology.

In 2003, cigarette seller Philip Morris rebranded itself as Altria, at a time when the company owned Kraft Foods. It later spun off the food division.

While the move to rebrand as Altria didn’t remove the negative connotations of tobacco from the cigarette brands itself, it did help to limit the effects on Kraft, Mulvihill said.

Facebook will continue to confront the same pressures even after a rebrand, the experts said.

“I don’t think it’s going to help Facebook mitigate regulators’ scrutiny or the general public’s skepticism, if not distrust,” said Natasha Jen, a partner at Pentagram, a design studio that does advertising and communication work. “Trust is something you need to earn.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook Announces 10,000 EU Jobs to Build ‘Metaverse’

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 18 October 2021

Facebook on Monday announced plans to hire 10,000 people in the European Union to build the metaverse, a virtual reality version of the Internet that the tech giant sees as the future.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been a leading voice in Silicon Valley hype around the idea of the metaverse, which would blur the lines between the physical world and the digital one.

The technology might, for example, allow someone to don virtual reality glasses that make it feel as if they’re face-to-face with a friend – when in fact they are thousands of miles apart and connected via the Internet.

“The metaverse has the potential to help unlock access to new creative, social, and economic opportunities. And Europeans will be shaping it right from the start,” Facebook said in a blog post.

“Today, we are announcing a plan to create 10,000 new high skilled jobs within the European Union (EU) over the next five years.”

The European hires will include “highly specialised engineers”, but the company otherwise gave few details of its plans for the new metaverse team.

“The EU has a number of advantages that make it a great place for tech companies to invest – a large consumer market, first class universities and, crucially, top quality talent,” the blog post said.

Distraction from bad news?
The announcement comes as Facebook grapples with the fallout of a damaging scandal, major outages of its services, and rising calls for regulation to curb its vast influence.

The company has faced a storm of criticism over the past month after former employee Frances Haugen leaked internal studies showing Facebook knew its sites could be harmful to young people’s mental health.

The Washington Post last month suggested that Facebook’s interest in the metaverse is “part of a broader push to rehabilitate the company’s reputation with policymakers and reposition Facebook to shape the regulation of next-wave Internet technologies”.

But Zuckerberg also appears to be a genuine evangelist for the advent of the metaverse era, predicting in July that Facebook will transition from “primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company” over the next five years.

Facebook bought Oculus, a company that makes virtual reality headsets, for $2 billion (roughly Rs. 15,050 crores) in 2014 and has since been developing Horizon, a digital world where people can interact using VR technology.

In August, it unveiled Horizon Workrooms, a feature where co-workers wearing VR headsets can hold meetings in a virtual room where they all appear as cartoonish 3D versions of themselves.

Blurring the lines

Metaverse enthusiasts point out that the Internet is already starting to blur the lines between virtual experiences and “real” ones.

Stars such as pop diva Ariana Grande and the rapper Travis Scott have performed for huge audiences, watching at home, via the hit video game Fortnite.

In Decentraland, another online platform widely seen as a forerunner to the metaverse, you can already get a job as a croupier in its virtual casino.

“No one company will own and operate the metaverse. Like the Internet, its key feature will be its openness and interoperability,” Facebook said in its blog post.

It is not the only company pouring millions into developing the technology that could turn a fully-fledged version of the metaverse into reality.

Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, announced earlier this year that it had raised $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,520 crores) in new funding, with some of that money set to support its vision of the metaverse.

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Twitter to Sell Mobile Advertisement Unit MoPub for $1 Billion

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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

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Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen Testifies Before US Congress: Top Quotes From the Hearing

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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

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Facebook ‘Operating in the Shadows,’ Says Whistleblower as US Lawmakers Demand Probes

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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.”

Shares up

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

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