Twitter temporarily blocks US Republican Greene for COVID-19 posts

US Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (C)(R-GA) holds a press conference to call for the dismissal of Dr. Anthony Fauci on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (File/AFP)
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Updated 20 July 2021

Twitter temporarily blocks US Republican Greene for COVID-19 posts

  • Greene posted that the coronavirus is not dangerous for non-obese people under 65
  • Greene previously compared COVID-19 mask requirements and vaccinations to the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews

WASHINGTON: Twitter Inc. on Monday said it temporarily suspended Republican US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s account for tweets which violated the social media’s misinformation policy on COVID-19.
Greene posted that the coronavirus is not dangerous for non-obese people under 65, and that organizations should not force “non-FDA” approved vaccines or masks. These tweets have been labeled as “misleading” by the platform.
The United States is using vaccines made by Pfizer Inc. , Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson under Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization. None of these vaccines are fully approved but numerous studies have proven their efficacy.
US President Joe Biden has called on the social media companies to take action on vaccine misinformation.
“We took enforcement action on the account @mtgreenee for violations of the Twitter Rules, specifically the COVID-19 misleading information policy,” a Twitter spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Greene’s account will remain locked for 12 hours, according to Twitter.
In a video statement on Facebook Live, Greene acknowledged that she had been temporarily suspended from the platform and blamed the Biden administration for trying to control free speech.
“Remember, last week when our press secretary said the White House is working to stop the spread of (misinformation) because they want to be careful and they want to be in control of the information that is shared about COVID-19 and vaccines, isn’t that concerning?” Greene said.
The Republican representative has come under fire before for remarks on the pandemic. In June she apologized after comparing COVID-19 mask requirements and vaccinations to the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews.
In January, Twitter locked Greene’s account after she sparred with a state election official over voter fraud allegations.


Facebook spent over $13 bln on safety, security since 2016

Updated 21 September 2021

Facebook spent over $13 bln on safety, security since 2016

  • The social media giant said it now has 40,000 people working on safety and security
  • Facebook played down the negative effects on young users of its Instagram app

DUBAI: Facebook Inc. said on Tuesday it has invested more than $13 billion in safety and security measures since 2016.
This comes days after a newspaper reported the company had failed to fix “the platform’s ill effects” researchers had identified.
The social media giant said it now has 40,000 people working on safety and security, compared with 10,000 five years ago.
Facebook played down the negative effects on young users of its Instagram app and had a weak response to alarms raised by employees over how the platform is used in developing countries by human traffickers, the Wall Street Journal reported last week, citing a review of internal company documents.
“In the past, we didn’t address safety and security challenges early enough in the product development process,” the company said in a blog post
“But we have fundamentally changed that approach.”
Facebook said its artificial intelligence technology has helped it block 3 billion fake accounts in the first half of this year. The company also removed more than 20 million pieces of false COVID-19 and vaccine content.
The company said it now removes 15 times more content that violates its standards on hate speech across Facebook and its image-sharing platform Instagram than when it first began reporting it in 2017.


Netflix offers free plan in Kenya to entice new subscribers

The free plan started on Monday and will roll out across Kenya in the coming days. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 September 2021

Netflix offers free plan in Kenya to entice new subscribers

  • Netflix offers free mobile plan with one-quarter of its TV shows and movies in Kenya to increase frowth
  • The free plan is available on Android mobile phones and will not have ads

LOS ANGELES: Netflix Inc. on Monday began offering a free mobile plan with about one-quarter of its TV shows and movies in Kenya, a strategy aimed at sparking growth in a key African market, the company told Reuters.
The free plan is available on Android mobile phones and will not have ads. It features Netflix movies and TV shows such as dramas “Money Heist” and “Bridgerton” and African series “Blood & Water,” plus some of the programming the company licenses from others. Netflix hopes the free plan will lead to users signing up for a paid option with more content.
The world’s largest streaming video service is looking to add customers outside of more saturated markets such as the United States, where new subscriber signups have slowed at a time when competition for online audiences has intensified.
Executives remain bullish on the long-term future, noting there are large markets where streaming television is just starting to take hold. To attract customers in Africa, Netflix is investing in locally made programming such as “Queen Sono” and “Jiva!” and has partnered with production studios in Nigeria.
“If you’ve never watched Netflix before — and many people in Kenya haven’t — this is a great way to experience our service,” Cathy Conk, director of product innovation at Netflix, said in a blog post. “And if you like what you see, it’s easy to upgrade to one of our paid plans so you can enjoy our full catalog on your TV or laptop as well.”
The free plan started on Monday and will roll out across Kenya in the coming days.
The non-paying Netflix subscribers in Kenya will not be counted in the paid total the company reports each quarter, a spokesperson said.
Netflix has experimented with free offers before. In 2020, it made some episodes of series such as “Stranger Things” and movies including “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” available around the world for no charge via web browsers.
The free plan in Kenya is broader. It will look similar to paid Netflix profiles to give viewers a feel for the service, the spokesperson said. Shows that are not included in the free plan will be marked with a lock icon. Clicking on one of those titles will encourage the user sign up for a paid option.
Anyone 18 or older in Kenya can enroll in the free plan and create up to five profiles. No payment information will be required.
Some functions, such as the ability to download a show or movie, will not be available under the free plan.
Netflix, which streams in more than 190 countries, has taken other steps to boost usage in Africa, including creation of a paid mobile-only plan and partnerships with local telecom operators to ease payments.
The company reported 209 million paying customers worldwide at the end of June. New member pickups slowed in the first half of 2021 after a boom early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Africa currently is a relatively small market for streaming TV subscriptions. Digital TV Research projects Netflix will lead subscription video on demand services on the continent with 6.26 million paying customers in 2026, followed by Walt Disney Co’s Disney+.


Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened

Fenster is being detained in Yangon’s Insein Prison, an overcrowded facility that houses political prisoners. (AFP PHOTO / COURTESY OF THE FENSTER FAMILY)
Updated 20 September 2021

Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened

  • US journalist Danny Fenster appeared disheartened during a court hearing Monday, his lawyer said
  • Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was trying to board a flight to go to the US

BANGKOK: US journalist Danny Fenster, imprisoned in Myanmar for almost four months while awaiting trial, appeared disheartened during a court hearing Monday, his lawyer said.
Fenster has been charged with incitement — spreading inflammatory information — an offense for which he could be sentenced to up to three years’ imprisonment. The charge does not specify what he is accused of doing.
The military-installed government that took power in February has sought to curb independent news media by canceling their licenses and arresting dozens of journalists.
Fenster is being detained in Yangon’s Insein Prison, an overcrowded facility which for decades has housed political prisoners.
Lawyer Than Zaw Aung said Fenster seemed demoralized when he spoke with him in a video conference during Monday’s court hearing, his first opportunity to do so in more than a month. Hearings are conducted by video at a township court instead of in a special courtroom at the prison because of the coronavirus, which in the past few months has severely impacted Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
“His hair grew longer. He seemed disappointed and he told me in a frustrated tone that ‘I have nothing to say,’” the lawyer said. “I asked him if he had been vaccinated by the prison authorities, and he said no. His words showed that he is not feeling well. He didn’t request anything.”
Fenster said in mid-July that he believed he had contracted COVID-19 and was not given medicine he had requested. Prison authorities denied he was infected.
Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was trying to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family. He is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an independent online news outlet based in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.
“We are very concerned about Danny’s physical and mental health, particularly given his demeanor at today’s hearing,” said Thomas Kean, editor-in-chief of Frontier. “It’s totally understandable that he would be frustrated and disappointed -– he should never have been detained in the first place. Danny is now approaching four months in Insein Prison and there is no reason for the authorities to hold him a single day longer. He should be released immediately so he can go home to his family.”
Monday’s hearing was held to extend Fenster’s pre-trial detention, and set Oct. 4 for his next appearance. It was not clear if it could include allowing an application for release on bail.
Press associations and free speech organizations around the world have called for Fenster’s release, as has the US government.
“We remain deeply concerned over the continued detention of US citizen Danny Fenster who was working as a journalist in Burma,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier this month after Fenster marked his 100th day in detention. The United States refers to Myanmar as Burma, its name before a military government changed it in 1989.
“Journalism is not a crime. The detention of Daniel Fenster and other journalists constitutes an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma,” Price said. “We continue to press Burma’s military regime to release Danny immediately. We will do so until he safely returns home to his family.”


Navalny allies accuse YouTube, Telegram of censorship in Russian election

Navalny’s camp said YouTube had also taken down one of their videos that contained the names of 225 candidates they had endorsed. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 September 2021

Navalny allies accuse YouTube, Telegram of censorship in Russian election

  • Navalny’s allies already accused Alphabet’s Google and Apple of buckling under Kremlin pressure
  • Russia has for years sought sovereignty over its part of the Internet

MOSCOW: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s allies accused YouTube and Telegram of censorship on Saturday after the video platform and messaging app restricted access to their anti-government voting recommendations for Russia’s parliamentary election.
Navalny’s allies already accused Alphabet’s Google and Apple of buckling under Kremlin pressure on Friday after the companies removed an app from their stores that the activists had hoped to use against the ruling party at the election.
Voting began on Friday and runs until late on Sunday.
The app gives detailed recommendations on who to vote for in an effort to challenge the party that backs President Vladimir Putin. It is one of the few levers Navalny’s allies have left after a sweeping crackdown this year.
Telegram’s founder Pavel Durov, who has carved out a libertarian image and resisted past censorship, said the platform would block election campaign services, including one used by Navalny’s allies to give voter recommendations.
He said the decision had been taken because of a Russian ban on campaigning once polls are open, which he considered legitimate and is similar to bans in many other countries.
Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh condemned the move.
“It’s a real disgrace when the censorship is imposed by private companies that allegedly defend the ideas of freedom,” she wrote on Twitter.
Ivan Zhdanov, a political ally of Navalny, said he did not believe Telegram’s justification and that the move looked to have been agreed somehow with Russia’s authorities.
Late on Saturday, Navalny’s camp said YouTube had also taken down one of their videos that contained the names of 225 candidates they had endorsed.
“The video presentation of the smart voting recommendations for the constituencies with the nastiest (United Russia candidates) has also been removed,” they wrote.
Navalny’s camp said it was not a knockout blow as their voting recommendations were available elsewhere on social media.
But it is seen as a possible milestone in Russia’s crackdown on the Internet and its standoff with US tech firms.
Russia has for years sought sovereignty over its part of the Internet, where anti-Kremlin politicians have followings and media critical of Putin operate.
Navalny’s team uses Google’s YouTube widely to air anti-corruption videos and to stream coverage and commentary of anti-Kremlin protests they have staged.
’Dangerous precedent’
The ruling United Russia Party is widely expected to win the election despite a ratings slump. The voting, which opened on Friday and runs through Sunday, follows the biggest crackdown on the Kremlin’s domestic opponents in years.
The Navalny team’s Telegram feed continued to function normally on Saturday, and included links to voter recommendations available in Russia via Google Docs.
On a separate Telegram feed also used by the team, activists said Russia had told Google to remove the recommendations in Google Docs and that the US company had in turn asked Navalny’s team to take them down.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his statement, Durov said Google and Apple’s restrictions of the Navalny app had set a dangerous precedent and meant Telegram, which is widely used in Russia, was more vulnerable to government pressure.
He said Telegram depends on Apple and Google to operate because of their dominant position in the mobile operating system market and his platform would not have been able to resist a Russian ban from 2018 to 2020 without them.
Russia tried to block Telegram in April 2018 but lifted the ban more than two years later after ostensibly failing to block it.
“The app block by Apple and Google creates a dangerous precedent that will affect freedom of expression in Russia and the whole world,” Durov said in a post on Telegram.


Facebook to target harmful coordination by real accounts using playbook against fake networks

Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 September 2021

Facebook to target harmful coordination by real accounts using playbook against fake networks

  • Facebook is taking a more aggressive approach to shut down coordinated groups of real-user accounts engaging in certain harmful activities
  • The move could have major implications for how the social media giant handles political and other coordinated movements

LONDON: Facebook is taking a more aggressive approach to shut down coordinated groups of real-user accounts engaging in certain harmful activities on its platform, using the same strategy its security teams take against campaigns using fake accounts, the company told Reuters.
The new approach, reported here for the first time, uses the tactics usually taken by Facebook’s security teams for wholesale shutdowns of networks engaged in influence operations that use false accounts to manipulate public debate, such as Russian troll farms.
It could have major implications for how the social media giant handles political and other coordinated movements breaking its rules, at a time when Facebook’s approach to abuses on its platforms is under heavy scrutiny from global lawmakers and civil society groups.
Facebook said it now plans to take this same network-level approach with groups of coordinated real accounts that systemically break its rules, through mass reporting, where many users falsely report a target’s content or account to get it shut down, or brigading, a type of online harassment where users might coordinate to target an individual through mass posts or comments.
The expansion, which a spokeswoman said was in its early stages, means Facebook’s security teams could identify core movements driving such behavior and take more sweeping actions than the company removing posts or individual accounts as it otherwise might.
In April, BuzzFeed News published a leaked Facebook internal report about the company’s role in the Jan. 6 riot on the US Capitol and its challenges in curbing the fast-growing ‘Stop the Steal’ movement, where one of the findings was Facebook had “little policy around coordinated authentic harm.”
Facebook’s security experts, who are separate from the company’s content moderators and handle threats from adversaries trying to evade its rules, started cracking down on influence operations using fake accounts in 2017, following the 2016 US election in which US intelligence officials concluded Russia had used social media platforms as part of a cyber-influence campaign — a claim Moscow has denied.
Facebook dubbed this banned activity by the groups of fake accounts “coordinated inauthentic behavior” (CIB), and its security teams started announcing sweeping takedowns in monthly reports. The security teams also handle some specific threats that may not use fake accounts, such as fraud or cyber-espionage networks or overt influence operations like some state media campaigns.
Sources said teams at the company had long debated how it should intervene at a network level for large movements of real user accounts systemically breaking its rules.
In July, Reuters reported on the Vietnam army’s online information warfare unit, who engaged in actions including mass reporting of accounts to Facebook but also often used their real names.
Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. Others have criticized the company over allegations of censorship, anti-conservative bias or inconsistent enforcement.
An expansion of Facebook’s network disruption models to affect authentic accounts raises further questions about how changes might impact types of public debate, online movements and campaign tactics across the political spectrum.
High-profile instances of coordinated activity around last year’s US election, from teens and K-pop fans claiming they used TikTok to sabotage a rally for former President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to political campaigns paying online meme-makers, have also sparked debates on how platforms should define and approach coordinated campaigns.