Facebook boots U.S. accounts spreading questionable political content

Facebook on Thursday said it has removed hundreds of U.S.-based pages and accounts for using some of the same disinformation-spreading tactics that Russians used during the 2016 presidential election.

The social media giant purged 559 pages and 251 accounts found to be breaking its rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior aimed at exploiting Facebook algorithms to boost the reach of content, Facebook officials wrote in a blog post. Much of the content the pages and accounts shared amounted to "clickbait" that used misleading headlines to drive users to ad-filled outside sites, they said.

Among the pages were a number that billed themselves as sources of news, typically with a partisan bent, a Facebook spokesman told POLITICO. They included one called Right Wing News, as well as Reverb Press, a left-leaning page, the spokesman said, adding that political leanings had no bearing on takedown decisions.

"Many were using Continue reading “Facebook boots U.S. accounts spreading questionable political content”

Facebook boots U.S. accounts spreading questionable political content

Facebook on Thursday said it has removed hundreds of U.S.-based pages and accounts for using some of the same disinformation-spreading tactics that Russians used during the 2016 presidential election.

The social media giant purged 559 pages and 251 accounts found to be breaking its rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior aimed at exploiting Facebook algorithms to boost the reach of content, Facebook officials wrote in a blog post. Much of the content the pages and accounts shared amounted to "clickbait" that used misleading headlines to drive users to ad-filled outside sites, they said.

Among the pages were a number that billed themselves as sources of news, typically with a partisan bent, a Facebook spokesman told POLITICO. They included one called Right Wing News, as well as Reverb Press, a left-leaning page, the spokesman said, adding that political leanings had no bearing on takedown decisions.

"Many were using Continue reading “Facebook boots U.S. accounts spreading questionable political content”

Twitter and Facebook head to Hill to take bipartisan pounding

Two of Silicon Valley’s best-known executives are heading to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to try to contain the growing outrage from both the left and right over how Facebook and Twitter manage their powerful platforms — with little hope of satisfying either side.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg will face the Senate Intelligence Committee in the morning to answer questions on a priority issue for Democrats: preventing a repeat of Russia’s social media manipulation of the 2016 election.

Dorsey then heads across Capitol Hill for an afternoon interrogation by House Republicans over accusations of anti-conservative bias — a complaint lately embraced by President Donald Trump, who has warned tech companies that they "better be careful."

The accusations are untrue, Dorsey told POLITICO in an interview Tuesday.

"We want to make clear we write our policies and our rules and our enforcement guidelines with Continue reading “Twitter and Facebook head to Hill to take bipartisan pounding”

5 takeaways from POLITICO’s interview with Twitter’s CEO

Ahead of a marathon day of back-to-back congressional hearings Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey came to POLITICO’s offices to discuss Republican allegations that his company is biased, his own role in Twitter’s content decisions and the behind-the-scenes wrangling that preceded his appearance on the Hill.

Here are our main takeaways from the conversation.

There’s a line Trump can’t cross — but it’s not clear where it is.

Is there anything that President Donald Trump could tweet that would be so abusive or violent that it would get him booted from Twitter? Dorsey said when it comes to Trump, "I do have notifications turned on for a number of accounts, including his," but deferred on specifics to Twitter’s head of legal and policy Vijaya Gadde, who said the answer is "yes."

While Trump’s tweets get considered under a company policy that weighs whether the behavior is "newsworthy or in the Continue reading “5 takeaways from POLITICO’s interview with Twitter’s CEO”

Twitter says Trump not immune from getting kicked off

Twitter said Tuesday that not even President Donald Trump is immune from being kicked off the platform if his tweets cross a line with abusive behavior.

The social media company’s rules against vitriolic tweets offer leeway for world leaders whose statements are newsworthy, but that "is not a blanket exception for the president or anyone else," Twitter legal and policy chief Vijaya Gadde told POLITICO in an interview alongside CEO Jack Dorsey.

Trump regularly uses Twitter to heap abuse on his perceived enemies and at times raise the specter of violence, such as when he tweeted last year that if North Korean leaders continued with their rhetoric at the time, "they won’t be around much longer!” Critics say the tweets violate Twitter’s terms of service and warrant punitive action.

Dorsey, who’s due to testify before two congressional committees Wednesday about his company’s content practices, said he receives notifications on Continue reading “Twitter says Trump not immune from getting kicked off”

How Trump could hurt Google

President Donald Trump’s Tuesday morning attack on Google for delivering “rigged” search results was met with a swift denial from the company, but Trump’s threat to address the "suppressing" of conservative voices might not be so easily dismissed.

While Trump has few direct ways of going after Google, his administration and allies in Congress could find ways to make life difficult for the company.

Antitrust officials at the Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission, for example, could investigate whether the search giant is abusing its market dominance. Congress could subject the company to unpleasant, high-profile hearings.

Meanwhile, there’s growing talk in some conservative circles, led primarily by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, that Google and other online platforms should be regulated like public utilities, bringing them under government oversight.

Such scenarios are still far from reality. But the president’s Google grievance is another sign that the leading internet companies face Continue reading “How Trump could hurt Google”

Google deletes dozens of YouTube, other accounts linked to Iran

Google deleted 58 Iran-linked accounts from YouTube and other Google sites, the tech company announced Thursday, in the latest sign that foreign agents are continuing to exploit U.S. tech companies in information warfare.

Google said today it identified and deleted 39 YouTube channels, six Blogger accounts and 13 Google+ accounts that were sharing English-language political content in the U.S. while masking ties to Iran’s sole radio and TV broadcaster. That organization, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, is widely viewed as state-run.

The reveal came in a blog post by Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, Kent Walker, who said the company has already briefed U.S. lawmakers and law enforcement on the matter. The news follows similar announcements earlier this week from Facebook and Twitter.

Google also announced that it detected and removed 42 YouTube accounts associated with Russian troll farm Internet Research Agency. Those accounts also Continue reading “Google deletes dozens of YouTube, other accounts linked to Iran”

Source: House panel considers subpoena for Twitter CEO

Staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee raised the possibility of a subpoena to get Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to testify before the panel, during a tense meeting with representatives of the company Thursday, according to a Republican source familiar with the discussion.

The source said Twitter is "delaying" and "stonewalling" the committee, which has been negotiating over the past few weeks to try to arrange Dorsey’s testimony about the company’s data and content policies.

House E&C Chairman Greg Walden later tweeted at Dorsey: "I appreciate your willingness to speak publicly on issues facing Twitter and agree complex algorithms must be better communicated to consumers. After many good faith efforts from staff, this is your formal invitation to appear before @HouseCommerce on Sept. 5."

Asked for comment, a Twitter spokesman responded: "We remain in discussions with the Committee and no decisions have been made either way."

Continue reading “Source: House panel considers subpoena for Twitter CEO”

Facebook removes 4 pages owned by InfoWars’ Alex Jones

Facebook has removed four pages belonging to InfoWars’ Alex Jones for "repeatedly posting content over the past several days" that breaks the company’s Community Standards, the tech giant announced Monday.

The main InfoWars and Alex Jones pages, as well as pages for the Alex Jones Channel and InfoWars Nightly News, have been taken offline "for repeated violations of Community Standards and accumulating too many strikes," reads a blog post from Facebook’s newsroom.

The pages had been publishing content "glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies," Facebook said. The company had previously removed several videos from the four pages and suspended Jones from the platform for 30 days.

Facebook has drawn fire in recent weeks for letting Jones stay on the platform, even though he’s a well-known conspiracy theorist who has Continue reading “Facebook removes 4 pages owned by InfoWars’ Alex Jones”

Facebook suspends ‘inauthentic’ propaganda accounts

Facebook shut down more than two dozen "inauthentic" accounts and pages on Tuesday that sought to inflame social and political tensions in the United States, and said their activity was similar to those of Russian accounts during the 2016 election.

The action marked the social media giant’s first significant acknowledgment of an ongoing, coordinated propaganda campaign on its site since it implemented new safeguards after the 2016 vote.

Democrats criticize Facebook for not taking down InfoWars

Democrats on Tuesday pressed Facebook on why it has not suspended far-right website InfoWars, a known purveyor of conspiracy theories, from its service.

Rep. Ted Deutch, whose district includes Parkland, Florida, site of the February school shooting that left 17 dead, noted a video by Alex Jones-led InfoWars portraying survivors of the Parkland shooting as actors.

“How many strikes does a conspiracy theorist who attacks grieving parents and student survivors of mass shootings get?” Deutch asked Facebook policy official Monika Bickert at a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

Bickert said individual InfoWars posts found to have violated Facebook’s terms of service have been taken down.

“If they posted sufficient content that violated our threshold, the page would come down. That threshold varies depending on the severity of different types of violations,” she said.

That response didn’t sit well with Democrats on the panel, who accused Facebook of caving to unfounded Continue reading “Democrats criticize Facebook for not taking down InfoWars”

Professor at center of Facebook scandal denies data helped Trump

The U.K. professor at the center of the Cambridge Analytica scandal today rejected the idea that the Facebook user data he provided to the Trump-linked firm were helpful in targeting voters.

Aleksandr Kogan, in testimony before a Senate Commerce subcommittee, said the notion that the data were weaponized to dupe people into voting in a particular way in the 2016 election "rests on an incorrect premise about the data and its utility." He said many claims about his work are exaggerated or false.

"I believe there is almost no chance this data could have been helpful to a political campaign — and I still have not seen any evidence to indicate that the Trump campaign used this dataset to micro-target voters," Kogan said.

Kogan is a central figure in the ongoing controversy. He collected data on millions of Facebook users via a quiz app and shared that information Continue reading “Professor at center of Facebook scandal denies data helped Trump”

Professor at center of Facebook scandal denies data helped Trump

The U.K. professor at the center of the Cambridge Analytica scandal today rejected the idea that the Facebook user data he provided to the Trump-linked firm were helpful in targeting voters.

Aleksandr Kogan, in testimony before a Senate Commerce subcommittee, said the notion that the data were weaponized to dupe people into voting in a particular way in the 2016 election "rests on an incorrect premise about the data and its utility." He said many claims about his work are exaggerated or false.

"I believe there is almost no chance this data could have been helpful to a political campaign — and I still have not seen any evidence to indicate that the Trump campaign used this dataset to micro-target voters," Kogan said.

Kogan is a central figure in the ongoing controversy. He collected data on millions of Facebook users via a quiz app and shared that information Continue reading “Professor at center of Facebook scandal denies data helped Trump”

White House warns Congress against reversing ZTE deal

The White House warned Wednesday that any congressional effort aimed at reversing President Donald Trump’s decision to ease sanctions on Chinese telecommunications company ZTE should respect “the separation of powers.”

“The massive penalties imposed on ZTE are part of an historic enforcement action taken by the Department of Commerce,” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

The comment comes amid reports that the Trump administration has been quietly pressuring lawmakers to drop bills or amendments that seek to reimpose restrictions on Chinese firms.

One legislative measure is attached to a must-pass defense bill in the Senate, which is expected to come to a vote on Thursday. The administration is also said to be looking at trying to press Congress to get rid of language when the bill is reconciled with a House version that does not include the measure, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Continue reading “White House warns Congress against reversing ZTE deal”

Facebook reveals data-sharing deals with Huawei, other Chinese tech makers

Facebook has data-sharing partnerships with Chinese electronics companies including Huawei, a telecommunications giant that’s been flagged to the U.S. as a national security threat, the social media giant said Tuesday.

“Huawei is the third largest mobile manufacturer globally and its devices are used by people all around the world, including in the United States. Facebook along with many other US tech companies have worked with them and other Chinese manufacturers to integrate their services onto these phones," Francisco Varela, Facebook’s VP of mobile partnerships, said in a statement.

Facebook controlled and approved any use of Facebook data on Huawei devices "from the get go," Varela added, and all user information stayed on the devices rather than being sent to Huawei’s servers.

Varela said Facebook had similar deals in place with China’s Lenovo, OPPO and TCL, which make a range of consumer electronics and telecom devices.

The company has said Continue reading “Facebook reveals data-sharing deals with Huawei, other Chinese tech makers”

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower warns of ‘new Cold War’ online

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie warned senators Wednesday that the data privacy controversy surrounding his former employer, Cambridge Analytica, is the “canary in the coal mine to a new Cold War emerging online,” as he detailed a series of alleged activities by the now-defunct company.

Wylie, a source for news reports indicating that Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained data on tens of millions of Facebook users, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in written testimony that the data firm and its parent, SCL, had the ability to perform “black ops,” including breaking into computer systems to acquire kompromat — the Russian word for "compromising material."

He also said two senior staffers for Cambridge Analytica had connections to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, having served as aides to former Assange lawyer John Jones in London. And he laid out Cambridge Analytica’s alleged links to Russia, saying the company used Russian researchers, shared information with Russian Continue reading “Cambridge Analytica whistleblower warns of ‘new Cold War’ online”

AT&T seeks to explain Cohen deal as Washington scrutiny builds

AT&T on Wednesday scrambled to address revelations about a secret financial relationship between the company and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, as Democratic lawmakers pressed for details on the payments.

AT&T on Wednesday told employees in a message obtained by POLITICO that it hired Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, to provide insight on Trump’s thinking about net neutrality, antitrust enforcement and tax reform.

“Companies often hire consultants for these purposes, especially at the beginning of a new presidential administration, and we have done so in previous administrations, as well,” the message states.

The company explained its contract with Cohen expired in December 2017. The following month, “the media first reported, and AT&T first became aware of, the current controversy surrounding Cohen,” according to the message.

Many companies clamored for information about Trump and his policy positions after his surprise victory in November 2016. As a Washington outsider, he lacked the Continue reading “AT&T seeks to explain Cohen deal as Washington scrutiny builds”

Facebook rolls out issue ad rules in new move to combat Russian meddling

Facebook will require the buyers of ads on issues like race, immigration and guns to verify their identity and location and who is paying for them — the latest effort by the social networking giant to combat Russian methods of election interference.

During the 2016 campaign, the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency published thousands of Facebook ads, many of them not explicitly election-related but still aimed at inflaming divisions in U.S. society and sowing racial discord. Special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional investigators have paid particular attention to such issue-oriented ads as they look into Russian election meddling.

Facebook in October 2017 announced it would require more documentation from advertisers seeking to run federal election ads. The new policy extends that requirement to issue ads, including those related to abortion, crime, the environment, foreign policy, guns, immigration, the military, taxes and terrorism. Other topics may be added to the list Continue reading “Facebook rolls out issue ad rules in new move to combat Russian meddling”

Zuckerberg back in the hot seat

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked off his second day of testimony in Congress on Wednesday by apologizing to House members about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in the same words he had used in the Senate the day before.

"We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake," he said. "It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here."

Zuckerberg stuck to that message during nearly five hours of testimony Tuesday at a marathon Senate hearing, in which he took questions about data privacy, Russian election interference and conservative allegations of Facebook political bias, among other topics.

House Energy & Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) opened the hearing by saying he’s concerned about the company’s business model.

"While Facebook has certainly grown, I worry it has not matured. I think it Continue reading “Zuckerberg back in the hot seat”

Zuckerberg: Facebook contacted by Mueller probe

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed Tuesday that his company has been contacted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Media reports earlier this year disclosed that Mueller’s team had interviewed at least one Facebook employee, and Mueller subsequently secured an indictment of alleged Russian trolls in part based on their activity on the social media network. But Zuckerberg’s testimony in today’s Senate hearing was the first time Facebook has confirmed the information.

Zuckerberg at first said "yes" when Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked if Mueller’s office had served subpoenas on the company. But then the CEO added: "I want to clarify that I actually am not aware of a subpoena. I think there may be, but I know we’re working with them."

Asked if he himself had spoken to Mueller’s team, Zuckerberg said: "I have not."

He went on: "I Continue reading “Zuckerberg: Facebook contacted by Mueller probe”