Facebook, Google, Twitter asked to testify on Russian meddling

In this April 18, 2017, file photo, conference workers speak in front of a demo booth at Facebook's annual F8 developer conference, in San Jose, Calif. (AP)
Updated 28 September 2017

Facebook, Google, Twitter asked to testify on Russian meddling

WASHINGTON: Executives from Facebook , Alphabet Inc’s Google and Twitter have been asked to testify to the US Congress in coming weeks as lawmakers probe Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US election, committee sources said on Wednesday.
A Senate aide said executives from the three firms had been asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee to appear at a public hearing on Nov. 1.
The leaders of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee said the panel would hold an open hearing next month with representatives from unnamed technology companies in an effort to “better understand how Russia used online tools and platforms to sow discord in and influence our election.” Representatives for Facebook and Google confirmed they had received invitations from the Senate committee but did not say whether the companies would attend. Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The House panel did not immediately identify any companies, but a committee source said lawmakers expected to hear from the same three firms the Senate had asked to testify.
The requests are the latest move by congressional investigators to gain information from Internet companies as they probe the extent of Moscow’s alleged efforts to disrupt last year’s US election. Lawmakers in both parties have grown increasingly concerned that social networks may have played a key role in Russia’s influence operation.
Facebook revealed this month that suspected Russian trolls purchased more than $100,000 worth of divisive ads on its platform during the 2016 election cycle, a revelation that has prompted calls from some Democrats for new disclosure rules for online political ads.
On Wednesday, Trump attacked Facebook in a tweet and suggested the world’s largest social network had colluded with other media outlets that opposed him. The president has been skeptical of the conclusions of US intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the election and has denied his campaign colluded with Moscow.
The salvo prompted a lengthy rebuke from Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who said both Trump and liberals were upset about ideas and content on Facebook during the campaign.
“That’s what running a platform for all ideas looks like,” Zuckerberg wrote on his personal Facebook page.
Other Internet firms besides Facebook are also facing rising scrutiny over how Russia may have leveraged their platforms. Twitter is expected to privately brief the Senate panel on Thursday.
Republican Senator James Lankford, who has received classified information about Russia’s interference as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Wednesday that the country’s attempts to sow discord in US domestic affairs had not abated.
Russian Internet trolls over the weekend fueled the debate ignited by Trump over whether NFL players should have the right to kneel during the national anthem, Lankford said.
Also on Wednesday, the Daily Beast, citing unnamed sources, reported that a Facebook group named “United Muslims of America” was a fake account linked to the Russian government and that it was used to push false claims about US politicians, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The group bought Facebook ads to reach targeted audiences, promoting political rallies aimed at Muslims, the website reported.
The Senate and House intelligence committees are two of the main congressional panels probing allegations that Russia sought to interfere in the US election to boost Trump’s chances at winning the White House, and possible collusion between Trump associates and Russia.


Online privacy fears mount as India sets tougher social media controls

Updated 26 February 2021

Online privacy fears mount as India sets tougher social media controls

  • Journalists warn new rules are attempt to regulate online news portals
  • Tech giants are obliged to assist law enforcement in cybercrime, “unlawful” cases

NEW DELHI: Indian journalists and digital rights advocates have warned that new social media rules announced on Thursday will further undercut online privacy and freedom of expression in the country.
The new controls give the government more power to police content shared on social media and digital streaming platforms.
It means that Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other services are more accountable to requests for removal of content and the identification of users who are deemed to have committed illegal acts by authorities.
Under the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, social media platforms have to remove content within 36 hours of receiving a legal order and assist law enforcers in probing cybersecurity-related incidents within 72 hours of receiving a request.
The new rules, which Indian Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad described as a “soft-touch oversight” mechanism, come two weeks after Twitter denied a government order to remove content on the farmer protests in New Delhi from its platform.
“The way these rules have come out, they will have a negative impact on privacy, freedom of speech, on creativity and the freedom of the press in India,” Nikhil Pahwa of India’s top Internet policy website MediaNama told Arab News, adding that the new controls are “the worst series of regulations on the Internet.”
He said: “It is very regressive and to my mind it is not backed by law. The rules need to be challenged in court, and if they are, the Indian government will probably lose.”
Social media giants enjoy a large presence in India, with the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging platform being used by 530 million people, YouTube by 448 million, Facebook by 41 million, Instagram by 21 million and Twitter by 10.7 million, according to Indian government data.
But none of the platforms have given detailed comments on the new regulations.
“The details of rules like these matter and we will carefully study the new rules,” Facebook said in a written response to a request for comment.
“We believe that regulation is beneficial when it safeguards citizens’ fundamental rights and reinforces online freedoms,” Twitter said in a statement.
However, because the new rules have been introduced as changes to the IT Act, which also regulates online media, journalists fear that the changes are an attempt to regulate news portals.
“We do know that the government is rattled by the work the digital media space does. Whether the only intention of these rules is for the government to have an overarching control over us, we will know only in time,” said Dhanya Rajendran, editor of news portal News Minute and chairperson of Digipub Foundation of India, which represents digital media organizations.
“Yes, we do have our suspicions and we are concerned that this could be the government’s motive,” she told Arab News.
Delhi-based journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who writes for News Click, a popular news portal known for independent journalism that had its offices raided by police last week, said the new regulations are “the government’s strategy to not just curb dissenting voices, but also to clamp down or curb their activities.”
He added: “The whole purpose or agenda is to clamp down on digital news media, which has been showing greater resilience and playing the role of adversaries against the government in power.”


India unveils tougher rules for social media such as Facebook, Twitter

Updated 25 February 2021

India unveils tougher rules for social media such as Facebook, Twitter

  • The rules come after Twitter ignored orders to drop content on farmers’ protests
  • A detailed version of the guidelines is to be published later and take effect three months after that

NEW DELHI: India announced new rules on Thursday to regulate big social media firms, such as Facebook and Twitter, the latest effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to tighten control over Big Tech firms.
The rules come after Twitter ignored orders to drop content on farmers’ protests, fueling the government’s zeal, dating from 2018, to clamp down on material it regards as disinformation or unlawful.
The new measures will require big social media companies to set up a grievance redressal mechanism and appoint executives to coordinate with law enforcement, the government said in a news statement.
The government said the guidelines in its code of digital media ethics were needed to hold social media and other companies accountable for misuse and abuse.
Social media firms should be “more responsible and accountable,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, the minister for information technology, told reporters in outlining the rules.
A detailed version of the guidelines is to be published later and take effect three months after that, the government said. It did not specify the date, however.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while Twitter declined to comment.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported the draft of the rules, which give companies a maximum of 36 hours to remove content after they receive a government or legal order.
Prasad also told reporters the rules would oblige the companies to reveal the originator of a message or posting when asked to do so through a legal order.
Tech firms are coming under tighter scrutiny worldwide. Facebook faced a global backlash last week from publishers and politicians after it blocked news feeds in Australia in a dispute with the government over revenue-sharing.
That prompted last-ditch changes by Australia in a law passed on Thursday to ensure Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc. pay media companies for content, a step that nations such as Britain and Canada want to follow.
India’s rules will also require video streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime to classify content into five categories based on users’ age, the government said.


Facebook bans Myanmar military accounts citing the coup

Updated 25 February 2021

Facebook bans Myanmar military accounts citing the coup

  • Pages for government offices now run by the junta remain unaffected

BANGKOK: Facebook said it has banned all remaining accounts linked to the Myanmar military on Thursday, citing the junta’s use of deadly force against anti-coup demonstrators.
The move, which takes effect immediately, applies to the military and entities controlled by the armed forces on both Facebook and Instagram.
It also bans “military-linked commercial entities” from advertising on the platforms.
“Events since the February 1 coup, including deadly violence, have precipitated a need for this ban,” the social media giant said in a statement.
“We believe the risks of allowing the Tatmadaw on Facebook and Instagram are too great,” it added, using the Myanmar name for the country’s armed forces.
The junta has steadily increased its use of force against a massive and largely peaceful civil disobedience campaign demanding Myanmar’s army leaders relinquish power.
Three anti-coup protesters have been killed in demonstrations, while a man patrolling his Yangon neighborhood against night arrests was also shot dead.
Facebook said its ban was intended to prevent Myanmar’s generals “from abusing our platform.”
The military has used Facebook to boost its claims that voter fraud marred an election last November after ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.
Since seizing power, the junta has arrested hundreds of anti-coup protesters, ordered nightly Internet blackouts and banned social media platforms — including Facebook — in an effort to quell resistance.
Thursday’s announcement follows Facebook’s earlier decision to kick off a page run by the regime’s “True News” information service after the tech giant accused it of inciting violence.
Pages for government offices now run by the junta remain unaffected.
“This ban does not cover government ministries and agencies engaged in the provision of essential public services,” the company said. “This includes the Ministry of Health and Sport, and the Ministry of Education.”
In recent years, hundreds of army-linked pages have been blocked by Facebook after the social media giant came under heavy criticism for its ineffective response to malicious posts in the country.
Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing and other top brass were booted from the platform in 2018, a year after a military-led crackdown forced around 750,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim community to flee into neighboring Bangladesh.
Facebook admitted that year it had failed to do enough to prevent the incitement of violence in Myanmar.
“We can and should do more,” Facebook executive Alex Warofka said at the time.


Australian lawmakers expected to pass amendments to Facebook, Google law

Updated 24 February 2021

Australian lawmakers expected to pass amendments to Facebook, Google law

  • Amendments introduced to the so-called Media Bargaining Code after Facebook last week escalated a dispute
  • The code was designed to address a power imbalance between the social media giants and publishers

CANBERRA: Australian lawmakers are expected to approve amendments to landmark legislation to force Facebook and Alphabet’s Google to pay media companies for news content, despite opposition from some minor political parties.
The government introduced amendments to the so-called Media Bargaining Code after Facebook last week escalated a dispute over the new laws by blocking Australian users from sharing and viewing news content on its popular social media platform.
Australia’s Senate began debating the amendments on Wednesday. The ruling conservative Liberal Party does not have a majority in the upper house, but support from the opposition Labour Party is expected to be enough to pass the bill.
“What we’ve sworn to do is create a level playing field,” Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Sky News on Wednesday.
“We’ve sought to sustain public interest journalism in this country, and we’ve also sought to enhance and encourage those commercial deals between the parties.”
Facebook on Tuesday said it would restore Australian users’ access to news in light of the compromise it had reached with the government.
In one major change, Frydenberg will be given the discretion to decide that either Facebook or Google need not be subject to the code, if they make a “significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry.”
The original legislation had required the tech giants to submit to forced arbitration if they could not reach a commercial deal with Australian news companies for their content, effectively allowing the government to set a price.
Some politicians and media companies are concerned the change allows Frydenberg to exempt Facebook or Google from the new laws even if they do not strike deals with all media companies, to the detriment of smaller publishers.
“This changes the bill significantly,” independent senator Rex Patrick, who plans to vote against the amended bill, told Reuters.
“The big players could successfully negotiate with Facebook or Google. The minister then doesn’t designate them, and all the little players miss out.”
Lee O’Connor, owner and editor of regional newspaper The Coonamble Times, said the amendments appeared to favor big media groups.
“It’s the vagueness of the language that’s the main concern, and the minister’s discretion is part of that,” O’Connor said.
Frydenberg has said he will give Facebook and Google time to strike deals with Australian media companies before deciding whether to enforce his new powers.
The code was designed by the government and competition regulator to address a power imbalance between the social media giants and publishers when negotiating payment for news content displayed on the tech firms’ sites.
After first threatening to withdraw its search engine from Australia, Google has instead struck a series of deals with several publishers, including a global news deal with News Corp.
Major television broadcaster and newspaper publisher Seven West Media on Tuesday said it had signed a letter of intent to reach a content supply deal with Facebook within 60 days.
Rival Nine Entertainment Co. also revealed on Wednesday it was in negotiations with Facebook.
“At this stage, we’re still obviously proceeding with negotiations,” Nine chief executive Hugh Marks told analysts at a company briefing on Wednesday. “It is really positive for our business and positive particularly for the publishing business.”


Australia says Facebook will lift its Australian news ban

Australia’s government announced on Tuesday that Facebook has agreed to lift its ban on Australians sharing news after a deal was struck on legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism. (File/Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2021

Australia says Facebook will lift its Australian news ban

  • Facebook blocked Australian users from accessing and sharing news after the House of Representatives passed the draft law late Wednesday last week

CANBERRA: Australia’s government announced on Tuesday that Facebook has agreed to lift its ban on Australians sharing news after a deal was struck on legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed in statements that they had reached agreement on amendments to proposed legislation that would make the social network and Google pay for news that they feature.
Facebook blocked Australian users from accessing and sharing news after the House of Representatives passed the draft law late Wednesday last week.
The Senate will debate amended legislation on Tuesday.
“The government has been advised by Facebook that it intends to restore Australian news pages in the coming days,” Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said in a statement.