Bill that could make TikTok unavailable in the US advances quickly in the House

The American Civil Liberties Union and other free speech advocacy groups urged lawmakers to reject the TikTok bill. (Shutterstock)
Short Url
Updated 08 March 2024
Follow

Bill that could make TikTok unavailable in the US advances quickly in the House

  • Some lawmakers and critics of TikTok have argued the Chinese government could force the company to share data on American users

WASHINGTON: A bill that could lead to the popular video-sharing app TikTok being unavailable in the United States is quickly gaining traction in the House as lawmakers voice concerns about the potential for the platform to surveil and manipulate Americans.
The measure gained the support of House Speaker Mike Johnson and could soon come up for a full vote in the House. The bill advanced out of committee Thursday in a unanimous bipartisan vote — 50-0.
The White House has provided technical support in the drafting of the bill, though White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the TikTok legislation “still needs some work” to get to a place where President Joe Biden would endorse it.
The bill takes a two-pronged approach. First, it requires ByteDance Ltd., which is based in Beijing, to divest TikTok and other applications it controls within 180 days of enactment of the bill or those applications will be prohibited in the United States. Second, it creates a narrow process to let the executive branch prohibit access to an app owned by a foreign adversary if it poses a threat to national security.
“It’s an important, bipartisan measure to take on China, our largest geopolitical foe, which is actively undermining our economy and security,” Johnson said Thursday.
Some lawmakers and critics of TikTok have argued the Chinese government could force the company to share data on American users. TikTok says it has never done that and wouldn’t do so if asked. The US government also hasn’t provided evidence of that happening.
Critics also claim the app could be used to spread misinformation beneficial to Beijing.
Former President Donald Trump attempted to ban TikTok through executive order, but the courts blocked the action after TikTok sued, arguing such actions would violate free speech and due process rights.
TikTok raised similar concerns about the legislation gaining momentum in the House.
“This bill is an outright ban of TikTok, no matter how much the authors try to disguise it. This legislation will trample the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans and deprive 5 million small businesses of a platform they rely on to grow and create jobs,” the company said in a prepared statement.
The bill’s author, Rep. Mike Gallagher, the Republican chairman of a special House committee focused on China, rejected TikTok’s assertion of a ban. Rather, he said it’s an effort to force a change in TikTok’s ownership. He also took issue with TikTok urging some users to call their representatives and urge them to vote no on the bill.
The notification urged TikTok users to “speak up now — before your government strips 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression.” The notification also warned that the “ban” of TikTok would damage millions of businesses and destroy the lives of countless creators around the country.
“Today, it’s about our bill and it’s about intimidating members considering that bill, but tomorrow it could be misinformation or lies about an election, about a war, about any number of things,” Gallagher said. “This is why we can’t take a chance on having a dominant news platform in America controlled or owned by a company that is behold to the Chinese Communist Party, our foremost adversary.”
The bill comes about one year after TikTok’s CEO was grilled for hours by skeptical lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee concerned about data security and the distribution of harmful content. That same committee met Thursday to debate and vote on the bill.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the committee’s Republican chair, said TikTok’s access to so many Americans makes it a valuable propaganda tool for the Chinese government to exploit. She also noted that its parent company ByteDance is currently under investigation by the US Department of Justice for surveilling American journalists.
“Through this access, the app is able to collect nearly every data point imaginable, from people’s location, to what they search on their devices, who they are connecting with, and other forms of sensitive information,” Rodgers said.
To assuage concerns from lawmakers, TikTok has promised to wall off US user data from its parent company through a separate entity run independently from ByteDance and monitored by outside observers. TikTok says new user data is currently being stored on servers maintained by the software company Oracle.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other free speech advocacy groups urged lawmakers to reject the TikTok bill, saying in a letter to the Energy and Commerce Committee’s leadership that “passing this legislation would trample on the constitutional right to freedom of speech of millions of people in the United States.”
Biden’s reelection campaign has opened a TikTok account as a way to boost its appeal with young voters, even as his administration continued to raise security concerns about whether the popular social media app might be sharing user data with China’s communist government.
Jean-Pierre said the White House welcomes lawmakers’ efforts on the TikTok legislation, but lawmakers need to continue work on it.
“Once it gets to a place where we think .. it’s on legal standing and it’s in a place where it can get out of Congress, then the president would sign it,” she told reporters on Wednesday during the daily White House briefing.
She also defended the White House’s efforts to limit the dangers of TikTok, even as the president engages with influencers on the social-media platform and his campaign hosts a TikTok account.
“We are going to try to meet the America people where they are,” Jean-Pierre said. “We are trying to reach everyone. The president is the president for all Americans .. it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to try to figure out how to protect our national security.”


EU bans 4 more Russian media outlets from broadcasting in the bloc, citing disinformation

Updated 18 May 2024
Follow

EU bans 4 more Russian media outlets from broadcasting in the bloc, citing disinformation

  • The EU has already suspended Russia Today and Sputnik among several other outlets since February 2022

BRUSSELS: The European Union on Friday banned four more Russian media outlets from broadcasting in the 27-nation bloc for what it calls the spread of propaganda about the invasion of Ukraine and disinformation as the EU heads into parliamentary elections in three weeks.
The latest batch of broadcasters consists of Voice of Europe, RIA Novosti, Izvestia and Rossiyskaya Gazeta, which the EU claims are all under control of the Kremlin. It said in a statement that the four are in particular targeting “European political parties, especially during election periods.”
Belgium already last month opened an investigation into suspected Russian interference in June’s Europe-wide elections, saying its country’s intelligence service has confirmed the existence of a network trying to undermine support for Ukraine.
The Czech government has imposed sanctions on a number of people after a pro-Russian influence operation was uncovered there. They are alleged to have approached members of the European Parliament and offered them money to promote Russian propaganda.
Since the war started in February 2022, the EU has already suspended Russia Today and Sputnik among several other outlets.

 

 


Israeli soldiers post abusive videos despite army’s pledge to act: BBC analysis

Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

Israeli soldiers post abusive videos despite army’s pledge to act: BBC analysis

  • The BBC analyzed 45 photos and videos posted online by Israeli soldiers that showed Palestinian prisoners in the West Bank being abused and humiliated

LONDON: Israeli soldiers continue to post videos of abuse against Palestinian detainees despite a military pledge to take action against the perpetrators, analysis by the BBC has found.

The broadcaster said it had analyzed 45 photos and videos posted online by Israeli soldiers that showed Palestinian prisoners in the West Bank being abused and humiliated. Some were draped in Israeli flags. 

Experts say the footage and images, which showed Palestinians being stripped, beaten and blindfolded, could breach international law and amount to a war crime.

The Israel Defense Forces said some soldiers had been disciplined or suspended for “unacceptable behavior” but did not comment on the individual cases identified by the BBC.

The most recent investigation into social media misconduct by Israeli soldiers follows a previous inquiry in which BBC Verify confirmed Israeli soldiers had filmed Gazan detainees while beating them and then posted the material on social platforms.

The Israeli military has carried out arbitrary arrests across Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. The number of Palestinian prisoners in the West Bank has since risen to more than 7,060 according to the Commission of Detainees’ Affairs and the Palestinian Prisoner Society.

Ori Givati, spokesperson for Breaking the Silence, a non-governmental organization for Israeli veterans working to expose wrongdoing in the IDF, told the BBC he was “far from shocked” to hear the misconduct was ongoing.

Blaming “current far-right political rhetoric in the country” for further encouraging the abuse, he added: “There are no repercussions. They [Israeli soldiers] get encouraged and supported by the highest ministers of the government.”

He said this played into a mindset already subscribed to by the military: “The culture in the military, when it comes to Palestinians, is that they are only targets. They are not human beings. This is how the military teaches you to behave.”

The BBC’s analysis found that the videos and photos it examined were posted by 11 soldiers of the Kfir Brigade, the largest infantry brigade in the IDF. None of them hid their identity.

The IDF did not respond when the BBC asked about the actions of the individual soldiers and whether they had been disciplined.

The BBC also attempted to contact the soldiers on social media. The organization was blocked by one, while none of the others responded.

Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association, urged an investigation into the incidents shown in the footage and called for the IDF to discipline those involved.

In response to the BBC’s investigation, the IDF said: “The IDF holds its soldiers to a professional standard … and investigates when behavior is not in line with the IDF’s values. In the event of unacceptable behavior, soldiers were disciplined and even suspended from reserve duty.

“Additionally, soldiers are instructed to avoid uploading footage of operational activities to social media networks.”

However, it did not acknowledge its pledge to act on BBC Verify’s earlier findings in Gaza, according to the broadcaster.


4 journalists killed in Gaza as death toll climbs above 100

Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

4 journalists killed in Gaza as death toll climbs above 100

  • 104 Palestinian media workers reported dead, along with 3 Lebanese and 2 Israelis

LONDON: The Gaza Media Authority on Thursday said that four journalists had been killed in an Israeli airstrike, bringing the total number of journalists killed in the conflict to more than 100.

The victims were identified as Hail Al-Najjar, a video editor at the Al-Aqsa Media Network; Mahmoud Jahjouh, a photojournalist at the Palestine Post website; Moath Mustafa Al-Ghefari, a photojournalist at the Kanaan Land website and Palestinian Media Foundation; and Amina Mahmoud Hameed, a program presenter and editor at several media outlets, according to the Anadolu Agency.

The Gaza Media Office said the four were killed in an Israeli airstrike, but did not provide additional details on the circumstances surrounding their deaths.

A total of 104 Palestinian journalists have been killed since the conflict began on Oct. 7. Two Israeli and three Lebanese media workers also have been killed.

The latest loss adds to the already heavy toll on media workers, with the Committee to Protect Journalists saying the Gaza conflict is the deadliest for journalists and media workers since it began keeping records.

Israel is continuing its offensive on Gaza despite a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire.

On Thursday, South Africa, which has brought a case accusing Israel of genocide to the International Court of Justice, urged the court to order Israel to halt its assault on Rafah.

According to Gaza medical authorities, more than 35,200 Palestinians have been killed, mostly women and children, and over 79,200 have been injured since early October when Israel launched its offensive following an attack by Hamas.


Russia outlaws SOTA opposition news outlet

Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

Russia outlaws SOTA opposition news outlet

  • Authorities said outlet tries to destabilize the socio-political situation in Russia
  • Move could criminalize SOTA content and puts its reporters at risk of arrest

LONDON: Russia declared opposition media outlet SOTA “undesirable” on Thursday, a move that could criminalize the sharing of its content and put its reporters at risk of arrest.
Authorities in Russia have declared dozens of news outlets, think tanks and non-profit organizations “undesirable” since 2015, a label rights groups say is designed to deter dissent.
In a statement, Russia’s Prosecutor General accused SOTA of “frank attempts to destabilize the socio-political situation in Russia” and “create tension and irritation in society.”
“Such activities, obviously encouraged by so-called Western inspirers, have the goal of undermining the spiritual and moral foundations of Russian society,” it said.
It also accused SOTA of co-operating with TV Rain and The Insider, two other independent Russian-language outlets based outside of the country that are linked to the opposition.
SOTA Project, which covers opposition protests and has been fiercely critical of the Kremlin, denied it had anything to do with TV Rain and The Insider and rejected the claims.
But it advised its followers in Russia to “remove reposts and links” to its materials to avoid the risk of prosecution. SOTA’s Telegram channel has around 137,000 subscribers.
“Law enforcement and courts consider publishing online to be a continuing offense. This means that you can be prosecuted for reposts from 2023, 2022, 2021,” it said.
SOTA Project was born out of a split with a separate news outlet called SOTAvision, which still covers the opposition but distanced itself from the prosecutors’ ruling on Thursday.
Since launching its offensive in Ukraine, Moscow has waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent that rights groups have likened to Soviet-era mass repression.
Among other organizations labelled as “undesirable” in Russia are the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, Transparency International and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.


OpenAI strikes deal to bring Reddit content to ChatGPT

Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

OpenAI strikes deal to bring Reddit content to ChatGPT

  • Deal underscores Reddit’s attempt to diversify beyond its advertising business
  • Content will be used to train AI models

LONDON: Reddit has partnered with OpenAI to bring its content to popular chatbot ChatGPT, the companies said on Thursday, sending the social media platform’s shares up 12 percent in extended trade.
The deal underscores Reddit’s attempt to diversify beyond its advertising business, and follows its recent partnership with Alphabet to make its content available for training Google’s AI models.
ChatGPT and other OpenAI products will use Reddit’s application programming interface, the means by which Reddit distributes its content, following the new partnership.
OpenAI will also become a Reddit advertising partner, the company said.
Ahead of Reddit’s March IPO, Reuters reported that Reddit struck its deal with Alphabet, worth about $60 million per year.
Investors view selling its data to train AI models as a key source of revenue beyond Reddit’s advertising business.
The social media company earlier this month reported strong revenue growth and improving profitability in the first earnings since its market debut, indicating that its Google deal and its push to grow its ads business were paying off.
Reddit’s shares rose 10.5 percent to $62.31 after the bell. As of Wednesday’s close, the stock is up nearly 12 percent since its market debut in March.