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US Government Asks Tech CEOS to Ensure Online Platforms Not Used to Spur Violence

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The US Department of Homeland Security sent a letter to chief executives of five large tech companies asking them to ensure social media platforms are not used to incite violence in the wake of nationwide protests following George Floyd’s death.

“I am writing to ask you to do your part to put an end to violence and illegal activity spreading across our country by ensuring that your platforms are not used as a tool to organize, facilitate, or incite dangerous or deadly riots, in violation of state and local laws,” Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said in the letter.

Wolf said the department supports First Amendment rights that allow citizens to freely express themselves but cautioned against social media being weaponized to perpetuate criminal activity.

“The misuse of social media platforms to coordinate criminal acts threatens the safety and security of our nation,” Wolf wrote, adding: “the department supports the powerful voice that social media provides to its users.”

He asked Facebook, Twitter, Alphabet’s Google, Snapchat and Apple to help end information sharing on how to break city curfews, which stores or neighborhoods to target for looting or destruction, and for the coordination of attacks against particular people or groups of people.

The June 25 letter, first reported by the Washington Post, comes as the administration of President Donald Trump has begun targeting people for vandalizing monuments and statues during protests against racial inequality.

Twitter said it would respond to the letter. Snapchat, Apple and Facebook did not comment while Google did not immediately respond.

Some firms have taken action after tweets from Trump himself.

Snapchat this month stopped promoting Trump’s account on its Discover page in early June after his statement threatening protesters with “vicious dogs and ominous weapons.”

Twitter this week placed a warning notice on a Trump tweet threatening “serious force” against protesters in the US capital, the second time it used the label.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Facebook Not Doing Enough to Fight Discrimination, Audit Says

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 July 2020

Facebook has not done enough to protect users from discrimination, falsehoods, and incitement to violence, an external civil rights audit found on Wednesday, adding to pressure on the company in the midst of an advertiser boycott.

The audit report, which Facebook commissioned two years ago, pointed to what the authors described as a series of harmful decisions, including a “terrible precedent” not to intervene in posts in recent weeks by President Donald Trump, which could allow the platform to be “weaponised to suppress voting”.

The findings come at a time when some 900 advertisers, including major brands such as Coca-Cola, have joined a boycott promoted by major US civil rights groups including the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP.

“Many in the civil rights community have become disheartened, frustrated and angry after years of engagement where they implored the company to do more to advance equality and fight discrimination, while also safeguarding free expression,” the auditors wrote.

Facebook commissioned the audit in 2018 as part of its response to a range of criticism over issues such as data privacy, voter suppression, incitement of violence, and a lack of transparency in political advertising. The audit was led by Laura Murphy, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative office.

The company did not immediately indicate specific steps it would take in response to the findings, but issued a statement attributed to Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg describing the audit as a “really important process for our company”.

“Facebook stands firmly against hate,” Sandberg said. “What has become increasingly clear is that we have a long way to go.”

The auditors said Facebook had been too willing to exempt politicians from its rules, letting some spread misinformation, harmful and divisive rhetoric, and even calls to violence.

Facebook has taken a hands-off approach to political speech compared to rivals, notably leaving untouched posts by Trump in recent weeks which were flagged by its rival Twitter for falsehoods and incitement of violence.

One Trump tweet, labeled by Twitter as “potentially misleading”, said voting by mail – a common procedure in US elections – would be “substantially fraudulent”.

“Allowing the Trump posts to remain establishes a terrible precedent that may lead other politicians and non-politicians to spread false information about legal voting methods, which would effectively allow the platform to be weaponized to suppress voting,” the auditors said.

Organisers of the advertising boycott met for more than an hour via video conference with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg on Tuesday. After the meeting, activists said they saw “no commitment to action” from the company.


© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Prime Minister Modi Shuts Weibo Account After China App Ban

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Sina Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, said it has deleted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s account at the request of the Indian embassy, as tensions between the two countries continue to simmer over a border skirmish.

Since posting on Sina Weibo the first time in 2015 during a visit to China, PM Modi has been an infrequent user of the Chinese social media platform. He had more than 200,000 followers and 100 posts before the account was shut.

Sina Weibo announced the closure of the account late on Wednesday and the removal comes a few days after India banned dozens of Chinese apps, including Sina Weibo and ByteDance’s TikTok, following the border clash between the two nations.

The Indian embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

PM Modi was among a handful of foreign leaders with a Weibo account. Others include Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, Justin Trudeau of Canada, and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela.

Notably, PM Modi revealed the birth dates of both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang by wishing them “Happy Birthday” on Weibo. The discussion of senior leaders’ private lives is extremely rare in China and the exact birth dates of most of them are not revealed publicly.

In contrast, Chinese leaders are rarely active on social media. Foreign social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Facebook Agrees to Audit Its Hate Speech Controls

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Facebook said on Monday it would submit itself to an audit of how it controls hate speech in a bid to appease a growing advertising boycott of the platform, as it prepared to address a group of advertisers on Tuesday.

The move comes as major advertisers such as Unilever and Starbucks have signed on to the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign started by US civil rights groups, which urges brands to pause their Facebook ads in July to pressure the social media giant to do more to take down hate speech.

Media Rating Council (MRC), a media measurement firm, will conduct the audit to evaluate how it protects advertisers from appearing next to harmful content and the accuracy of Facebook’s reporting in certain areas.

The scope and timing of the audit were still being finalised, Facebook said.

Facebook hosted a call with advertisers on Tuesday, which included Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions, Guy Rosen, vice president of integrity, and Neil Potts, public policy director.

The executives told the group Facebook would include a new data point about the prevalence of hate speech in its Community Standards Enforcement Report, which details how the company takes down content that violates policy, said Barry Lowenthal, chief executive of ad agency The Media Kitchen, who attended the call.

Lowenthal said while he believed Facebook had taken many steps toward tampering down hate speech, the problem has become so large that it may require more drastic measures to fix.

“Maybe they should hit pause on the platform entirely,” Lowenthal said, whose agency works with clients like Vanguard and Loews Hotels. “How much more can society handle?”

Ford Motor Co and Coca-Cola are among companies that said they would pause advertising on all social media platforms for at least 30 days.

Facebook announced last week it would label “newsworthy” content that violates its policies, but the move failed to satisfy organisers of the boycott, who plan to call on more global advertisers to join the campaign.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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