Fake US election-related accounts proliferating on X, study says

The fake accounts praising Trump this cycle are part of a coordinated campaign to sway public opinion and influence online discussions, Cyabra said. (AFP/File)
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Updated 24 May 2024
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Fake US election-related accounts proliferating on X, study says

  • Cyabra’s analysts found that 15 percent of X accounts praising former President Donald Trump and criticizing President Joe Biden are fake
  • Despite X pledge to ‘purge bots and trolls,’ fake accounts on the platform are on the rise

NEW YORK: Fake accounts posting about the US presidential election are proliferating on the social media platform X, according to a social media analysis company’s report shared with Reuters exclusively ahead of its release on Friday.
Analysts from Israeli tech company Cyabra, which uses a subset of artificial intelligence called machine learning to identify fake accounts, found that 15 percent of X accounts praising former President Donald Trump and criticizing President Joe Biden are fake. The report also found that 7 percent of accounts praising Biden, a Democrat, and criticizing Trump, a Republican, are fake.
Cyabra’s study is based on a review of posts on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, over two months beginning March 1. The review included analyzing popular hashtags and determining sentiment in terms of whether posts are positive, negative or neutral.
The analysis shows that newly detected fake accounts had increased up to tenfold during March and April.
The report cites 12,391 inauthentic pro-Trump profiles out of 94,363 total and 803 inauthentic pro-Biden profiles out of 10,065 total.
A spokesperson for X did not respond to a request for comment about the fake accounts, nor did representatives from the White House and Trump campaign.
X and other social media platforms have been under greater scrutiny since 2016, when Russia interfered in the US presidential election in an attempt to boost Trump’s candidacy and harm his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Election officials and online misinformation experts are again watching for misleading narratives ahead of the Nov. 5 election.
The fake accounts praising Trump this cycle are part of a coordinated campaign to sway public opinion and influence online discussions, Cyabra said. The report did not identify the individuals or groups behind the campaign.
Cyabra said it made that determination based on evidence including the use of identical hashtags and the fact that fake accounts published posts and comments at the same time. The report found that the fake pro-Trump accounts pushed two main messages: “Vote for Trump” and “Biden is the worst president the US has ever had.”
“The level of coordination suggests that there is a nefarious objective and that there is a whole operation in order to change people’s opinion,” said Cyabra’s vice president, Rafi Mendelsohn.
The fake accounts backing Biden are not part of a coordinated campaign, the report said, as the hallmarks of a coordinated campaign — such as fake accounts posting at the same time — were not identified.
X, which was publicly held until its 2022 takeover by billionaire Elon Musk, has long downplayed the use of fake accounts on its platform. Twitter said in May 2022 that fewer than 5 percent of its daily active users were “false or spam” based on an internal review of accounts. At the time, Cyabra had estimated that 13.7 percent of Twitter profiles were inauthentic.
In an X post on April 4, Musk wrote that a “system purge of bots and trolls” was under way and that the company “will be tracing the people responsible and bringing the full force of the law to bear upon them.” In October the company tested its “Not a Bot” program in New Zealand and the Philippines to combat bots and spammers.


Russia to hold espionage trial of US reporter Gershkovich behind closed doors

Updated 17 June 2024
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Russia to hold espionage trial of US reporter Gershkovich behind closed doors

  • US reporter was detained in March on charges of espionage that carry up to 20 years in prison

MOSCOW: Russia will hold the espionage trial of detained US reporter Evan Gershkovich, who denies charges of collecting secrets for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), behind closed doors later this month, a court in city of Yekaterinburg said on Monday.
Gershkovich was detained by the Federal Security Service (FSB) on March 29, 2023, in a steak house in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on charges of espionage that carry up to 20 years in prison.
“According to the investigation authorities, the American journalist of The Wall Street Journal, Gershkovich, on the instructions of the CIA, in March 2023, collected secret information in the Sverdlovsk region about the activities of the defense enterprise JSC NPK Uralvagonzavod for the production and repair of military equipment,” the Sverdlovsk Regional Court said.
“The process will take place behind closed doors.”
The first hearing is scheduled for June 26, the court said.
Russia has said Gershkovich was caught “red-handed” and the FSB, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said he was trying to obtain military secrets.
Gershkovich, the first American journalist to be detained on spy charges in Russia since the Cold War over three decades ago, denies the charges.
The White House has called the charges “ridiculous” and President Joe Biden has said Gershkovich’s detention is “totally illegal.” The Wall Street Journal denies he is a spy and has called for his immediate release, as has his family.


CNN rules for first US presidential debate: no props, muted microphones

Updated 16 June 2024
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CNN rules for first US presidential debate: no props, muted microphones

  • CNN said candidates eligible to participate must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold needed to win and receive at least 15 percent in four separate national polls

WASHINGTON: The first US presidential debate between incumbent Joe Biden and Republican rival Donald Trump on June 27 will include two commercial breaks, no props and muted microphones except when recognized to speak, CNN said Saturday. In May, the candidates agreed to face off in two debates including one this month that will be moderated by CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash in Atlanta, while the other on Sept. 10 will be hosted by ABC.
CNN said Saturday both candidates will appear at a uniform podium during the 90-minute debate, podium positions will be determined by a coin flip and candidates will be given a pen, a pad of paper and a bottle of water but cannot use props.
“Microphones will be muted throughout the debate except for the candidate whose turn it is to speak,” CNN said.
CNN, a division of Warner Bros Discovery, said the moderators “will use all tools at their disposal to enforce timing and ensure a civilized discussion.”
During the two commercial breaks, campaign staff may not interact with their candidate, and there will be no studio audience.
CNN said candidates eligible to participate must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold needed to win and receive at least 15 percent in four separate national polls. CNN said it is “not impossible” Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is running as an independent, could qualify, saying he has received at least 15 percent in three qualifying polls to date and has qualified for the ballot in six states, making him eligible for 89 electoral college votes.
Debates, which will draw a US live television audience in the tens of millions, are fraught with risks for both candidates, who face a close race. Biden has three preferred debate topics, according to a campaign memo viewed by Reuters: abortion rights, the state of democracy and the economy.
Trump refused to debate his rivals during the Republican nominating race. His team has pointed to immigration, public safety and inflation as key issues ahead of the debate.

 


Indonesia minister threatens to shut down X over adult content

Updated 14 June 2024
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Indonesia minister threatens to shut down X over adult content

  • X has recently updated its policies to permit consensually produced adult content
  • Minister Budi Arie Setiadi said it had sent a letter to X to demand revision of policy

JAKARTA: Indonesia is prepared to shut down social media platform X if it does not comply with a regulation barring adult content, the country’s communications minister said on Friday.
Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, has strict rules that ban the sharing online of content deemed obscene.
Minister Budi Arie Setiadi told Reuters he had sent a warning letter to X related to this matter.
“We will certainly shut its services down,” he said, pointing to Indonesia’s electronic information and transaction (ITE) law that can carry a six-year jail sentence if someone spreads pornographic content.
His comments in an interview come after the social media platform recently updated its policies to permit consensually produced adult content.
X, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, has not responded to Indonesia’s warning letter, Budi said, adding the government would send more letters before deciding on a potential closure.
X, formerly known as Twitter, did not immediately respond to a request by Reuters for comment.
Indonesians are big users of social media and X has 24.85 million users in the country, according to data gathering business Statista.


New ‘Million Dollar Island’ seasons to be produced at NEOM

Updated 14 June 2024
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New ‘Million Dollar Island’ seasons to be produced at NEOM

  • Talpa Studios recommissions hit reality show for MBC in the Middle East, NET5 in the Netherlands

DUBAI: Talpa Studios, which was founded by John de Mol, the creator of popular shows “The Voice” and “Big Brother,” has recommissioned its reality show “Million Dollar Island” for new seasons in the Middle East and the Netherlands.

The new seasons — titled “Million Dollar Land” or “Ard Al-Million” for MBC in the Middle East and “Million Dollar Desert” for NET5 in the Netherlands  — will be produced at Saudi Arabia’s NEOM production hub, in collaboration with regional production house Blue Engine Studios.

This will be the second season of “Ard Al-Million.” The first season aired on MBC Group’s TV channels MBC1, MBC IRAQ, and Shahid last May.

Produced by Monday Media, “Million Dollar Island” also ran for two seasons in the Netherlands. The new season, however, marks a shift to the desert-oriented format and will be shot at NEOM.

Blue Engine Studios played a key role in facilitating the deal between Talpa Studios and NEOM’s media sector and aims to bring more countries to NEOM’s production hub.

Its work on the Dutch edition included facilitating Monday Media’s production of the latest season, such as sourcing suppliers, permits and equipment as part of the studio’s commitment to establish a hub for the show at NEOM.

Ziad Kebbi, CEO at Blue Engine Studios, said that the “collaboration with NEOM and Talpa Studios underscores our commitment to producing high-quality entertainment that resonates with audiences.”

Unlike previous seasons, which featured 100 contestants, the new seasons will see 30 contestants test their endurance as they navigate the challenges of life in the desert.

There will be other changes to the format revealed when the new seasons go on air.

“These spin-offs preserve “the core principles that have made the original so compelling, while introducing innovative new elements that are perfectly suited to NEOM’s stunning desert scenery,” said Sebastian van Barneveld, director of international distribution at Talpa Studios.

Partnerships such as these ensure “a robust pipeline of productions and afford opportunities to accelerate our media ecosystem while training the next generation of talent,” said Wayne Borg, managing director of NEOM Media Industries.

The broadcast date of the new seasons is yet to be announced. “Ard Al-Million” will air on MBC1 and Shahid.


Al Habtoor scraps plans for Beirut-based TV channel over ‘severe security challenges’

Updated 13 June 2024
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Al Habtoor scraps plans for Beirut-based TV channel over ‘severe security challenges’

  • The Emirati company says it was targeted by ‘orchestrated campaigns including accusations, slander and threats’ against staff
  • ‘We have encountered insurmountable obstacles that exceed what can reasonably be borne regarding the safety and security of our team,’ says boss Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor

LONDON: Emirati business Al Habtoor Group has abandoned its plans to launch a TV channel in Beirut due to what it described as “severe security challenges,” including physical threats against the company and its employees.

“Following the project announcement, the group encountered a barrage of orchestrated campaigns including accusations, slander, and threats,” the company said.

Those responsible have not been identified but the group said it has filed criminal and civil complaints in Lebanon. It thanked the Lebanese minister of information, Ziad Makary, for his support.

Chairperson Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor confirmed on Tuesday that the launch of the TV channel, which would have focused on cultural, social and sporting content, had been canceled.

“We have encountered insurmountable obstacles that exceed what can reasonably be borne regarding the safety and security of our team,” he said.

“We find ourselves compelled to seek an alternative to launching the project from Lebanon.”

The company, which is based in Dubai, said it is considering alternative locations in “countries that offer a more stable and secure environment supportive of such initiatives.”

The group’s businesses operate in various sectors, including construction, real estate and hospitality in the Middle East, Europe and the US.

It said the aim of the new TV channel was to “spread positivity, success and good stories” from Lebanon. It was expected to create about 300 jobs and the plans included construction of a 100,000-square-meter studio city.

“Our goal has always been to support the Lebanese people and provide content that inspires hope and positivity,” the company said.

“The current situation has left us no choice but to step back from this initiative and abandon the launch of our television station from Lebanon.”