No evidence of RT manipulating YouTube during US election – Google

Google says it found no evidence that RT manipulated video hosting platform YouTube or violated its policies during the 2016 US election campaign. It comes amid a frenzy in the US over alleged Russian meddling in the election and RT’s coverage in particular.

On Monday, Richard Salgado, Google’s director for law enforcement and information security, shared the results of the company’s investigation into how Google products may have been misused to affect the election. The two-page report falls far short of revealing the smoking gun that some commentators were hoping for.

 
© Dado Ruvic

Google identified two accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian-based NGO accused by some US media reports of being a Russian government “troll bot factory.” The accounts spent a total of $4,700 on Google platforms during the 2016 election cycle on search and display ads, the report said. The ads were not targeted at specific groups based on geography or political preferences.

On YouTube, Google found 18 channels “likely associated” with the campaign that published videos in English and “with content that appeared to be political,” but not exclusively so. The channels uploaded 1,108 such videos representing 43 hours of content and totaling 309,000 US views from June 2015 to November 2016, the report said, noting that a single user may generate multiple views on a single video. Only 3 percent of the videos generated more than 5,000 views, Google said. Neither channel was targeted at the US or any particular part of the US public. The company has suspended the channels in question.

The report also specifically mentioned the use of YouTube by RT, which remains the most-viewed international news network on the platform. “Some have raised questions about the use of YouTube by RT, a media service funded by the Russian government,” the document said. “Our investigation found no evidence of manipulation of our platform or policy violations; RT—and all other state-sponsored media outlets— remains subject to our standard rules.”

Commenting on Google’s report, RT’s Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan said: “As they said in school, QED [Latin: quod erat demonstrandum, English: ‘what was to be shown].”

Earlier, microblogging website Twitter banned the accounts of RT and another Russian news outlet, Sputnik, from using the service’s advertising mechanism. RT criticized the news, saying it was inconsistent with the US-based company’s multimillion-dollar offer of an exclusive ad campaign on Twitter to raise the news outlet’s presence during the 2016 election.

 
© Sputnik

Russian officials say RT is being targeted as part of a general anti-Russian “witch-hunt” in the US. Moscow denies any interference in the US election and says it was drawn into partisan strife in America that has nothing to do with Russia.

Executives from Google, Facebook and Twitter are expected to testify before the US Senate Judiciary Committee's panel on Crime and Terrorism on Wednesday, with more hearings scheduled with other Senate and House committees. The tech giants are to report to lawmakers on the results of their internal investigations into alleged use of their online services by the Russian government to influence the US election campaign.

Leaks from Facebook and Twitter testimonies reported this week imply that the scale of such alleged actions, as identified by the companies, was very small.

  • Published in World

Facebook scours $150k 'divisive ads' for links to Russia amid US election meddling claims

Facebook has targeted Russia in a review of ad purchases, searching for those which originated in Russia or used the Russian language from an IP address in the US - even though the ads "didn't necessarily violate any policy or law."

The social network released a statement on Wednesday, addressing claims that Russia had interfered in the US presidential election.

"There have been a lot of questions since the 2016 US election about Russian interference in the electoral process..." the site wrote.

 
© Heinz-Peter Bader

 

"One question that has emerged is whether there's a connection between Russian efforts and ads purchased on Facebook. These are serious claims and we've been reviewing a range of activity on our platform to help understand what happened."

Facebook claims that its review found that approximately $100,000 in ad spending from June 2015 to May 2017 – associated with roughly 3,000 ads – was "connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and pages in violation of our policies."

It goes on to accuse Russia of being behind the "inauthentic accounts," stating that the analysis suggests the "accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia."

Following the analysis, the site shut down the accounts and pages that were still active, Facebook said, stressing that "we don't allow inauthentic accounts on Facebook."

However, the statement admits that the "vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn't specifically reference the US presidential election, voting, or a particular candidate."

Still, Facebook manages to perceive a connection: the ads, it says, focus on "amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum - touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights."

READ MORE: ‘No doubt’ US will try to meddle in 2018 Russian presidential election – foreign ministry

An unnamed Facebook employee went as far as to mention unspecified connections between the ads and something known as a "troll factory" in St. Petersburg, often mentioned by Western mainstream media as the source of Russian "propaganda" on social media.

Facebook's hunt for Russian misbehavior doesn't stop at "inauthentic ads." It also casts a wide net for legitimate ads originating in Russia – or even "those with very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort."

 
© MIDRussia

 

That connection could be as tentative as language settings on the accounts that bought the ads: those with American IP addresses but set to Russian language, even though they "didn't necessarily violate any policy or law."

"In this part of our review, we found approximately $50,000 in potentially politically related ad spending on roughly 2,200 ads," the statement reads.

While admitting that its findings include ads which are perfectly legitimate both under federal law and its own guidelines, Facebook still shared the information "with US authorities investigating these issues."

It also briefed members of the Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees on Wednesday about the suspected Russian advertising, Reuters reported, citing a congressional source familiar with the matter. Both committees are hunting for evidence of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including potential collusion between Moscow and Donald Trump's campaign.

Facebook also reportedly delivered its findings to Robert Mueller, the special counsel in charge of investigating the alleged Russian interference, a source told Reuters.

The social network's latest statement comes after Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, met with Facebook officials in July as part of the committee's investigation into Russia's alleged election interference. 

Meanwhile, there remains a complete lack of evidence that Russia interfered in the US presidential election or colluded with President Trump in any way - a point that has been reiterated numerous times by the US president himself.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called claims of Russian meddling "nonsense," and has accused the US of repeatedly interfering in Moscow's politics, "especially aggressively" in the 2012 presidential elections.

  • Published in World

Facebook Launches A New Tool That Combats Fake News

During the presidential campaign trail late last year, substantial amounts of misleading information in the form of fake news spread about President Donald Trump and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Facebook and Google. Google responded by banning fake news outlets from the AdSense display ad network and by tweaking the Google News algorithm to filter out fake news. And Facebook has just launched a tool that flags fakes news in the News Feed, according to a tweet posted by Gizmodo investigative reporter Anna Merlan.

A screenshot of a tweet written by Anna Merlan in regards to the new Facebook fake news tool

A screenshot of a tweet written by Anna Merlan in regards to the new Facebook fake news tool

In the screenshot above, you will notice a headline that says “Trump’s Unsecured Android Device Source Of Recent White House Leaks.” This fake news article was spread by a website called TheSeattleTribune.com. While this domain might sound legitimate and the homepage does not show any signs of the website being a fake news source, it has an inapparent disclaimer that says “The Seattle Tribune is a news and entertainment satire web publication. The Seattle Tribune may or may not use real names, often in semi-real or mostly fictitious ways. All news articles contained within The Seattle Tribune are fictional and presumably satirical news – with the exception of our ‘list style’ articles that include relevant sources.” However, the article about President Trump's "unsecured Android device" was viewed nearly 200,000 times and TheSeattleTimes.com financially benefitted from duping people into thinking it was real news.

Fortunately, Facebook’s new tool appears to be showing that the article was “Disputed by Snopes.com and PolitiFact” so that users should not be fooled into thinking that it is true going forward. Snopes is a website that clears up misinformation that spreads on the Internet and PolitiFact fact-checks political claims by officials. All of the non-partisan fact-checkers that Facebook appointed to help with the prevention of misinformation are required to sign a "Code of Principles" by the Poynter non-profit school for journalism.

Back in December 2016, Facebook said that it would bury fake news articles and label them as hoaxes in the News Feed. Facebook also made it easier to report a hoax if you see one in the News Feed by clicking on the upper right-hand corner of a post and tapping on “It’s a fake news story.” After a story is flagged as disputed, it will be reviewed by the third-party fact-checkers. And if it has been proven to be a fake news story, then the post cannot be turned into an ad or promoted. 

During the presidential campaign trail late last year, substantial amounts of misleading information in the form of fake news spread about President Donald Trump and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Facebook and Google. Google responded by banning fake news outlets from the AdSense display ad network and by tweaking the Google News algorithm to filter out fake news. And Facebook has just launched a tool that flags fakes news in the News Feed, according to a tweet posted by Gizmodo investigative reporter Anna Merlan.

A screenshot of a tweet written by Anna Merlan in regards to the new Facebook fake news tool

Anna Merlan

A screenshot of a tweet written by Anna Merlan in regards to the new Facebook fake news tool

In the screenshot above, you will notice a headline that says “Trump’s Unsecured Android Device Source Of Recent White House Leaks.” This fake news article was spread by a website called TheSeattleTribune.com. While this domain might sound legitimate and the homepage does not show any signs of the website being a fake news source, it has an inapparent disclaimer that says “The Seattle Tribune is a news and entertainment satire web publication. The Seattle Tribune may or may not use real names, often in semi-real or mostly fictitious ways. All news articles contained within The Seattle Tribune are fictional and presumably satirical news – with the exception of our ‘list style’ articles that include relevant sources.” However, the article about President Trump's "unsecured Android device" was viewed nearly 200,000 times and TheSeattleTimes.com financially benefitted from duping people into thinking it was real news.

Fortunately, Facebook’s new tool appears to be showing that the article was “Disputed by Snopes.com and PolitiFact” so that users should not be fooled into thinking that it is true going forward. Snopes is a website that clears up misinformation that spreads on the Internet and PolitiFact fact-checks political claims by officials. All of the non-partisan fact-checkers that Facebook appointed to help with the prevention of misinformation are required to sign a "Code of Principles" by the Poynter non-profit school for journalism.

Back in December 2016, Facebook said that it would bury fake news articles and label them as hoaxes in the News Feed. Facebook also made it easier to report a hoax if you see one in the News Feed by clicking on the upper right-hand corner of a post and tapping on “It’s a fake news story.” After a story is flagged as disputed, it will be reviewed by the third-party fact-checkers. And if it has been proven to be a fake news story, then the post cannot be turned into an ad or promoted. Here is a video that Facebook posted in December about the new reporting tool.

Facebook is also compiling a list of website domains that have been notorious for posting fake news so that it is automatically flagged.

As the words "fake news" became more mainstream over the last few months, President Donald Trump started using them on a regular basis to describe some of the larger news outlets such as CNN and The New York Times.

Screenshot from President Donald Trump's Twitter account

Donald Trump via Twitter

Screenshot from President Donald Trump's Twitter account

Former President Barack Obama also acknowledged that the spread of fake news on Facebook became a major problem during Hillary Clinton's campaign trail. “The way campaigns have unfolded, we just start accepting crazy stuff as normal. And people, if they just repeat attacks enough and outright lies over and over again, as long as it's on Facebook and people can see it, as long as it's on social media, people start believing it. And it creates this dust cloud of nonsense,” said Obama during a Hillary for America rally in Ann Arbor last year.

One of the biggest victims of fake news was a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. called Comet Ping Pong. A fake news article claiming Hillary Clinton and her aides were involved in human trafficking at the Comet Ping Pong location in Washington, D.C. quickly spread on social media. So a 28-year-old from North Carolina fired his rifle inside the pizzeria and attempted to search for child slaves. Later he surrendered to the police after discovering there weren’t any child slaves there. This incident has been labeled as "PizzaGate."

Initially, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was skeptical that the spread of fake news on the social network could have influenced the election. During an interview at the Techonomy conference in November 2016, Zuckerberg said that it was a "pretty crazy idea." But about a month later, he published a Facebook status that said: "While we don't write the news stories you read and share, we also recognize we're more than just a distributor of news. We're a new kind of platform for public discourse -- and that means we have a new kind of responsibility to enable people to have the most meaningful conversations, and to build a space where people can be informed."

Facebook's Fake Advertisement Problem

Interestingly, Forbes staff writer Matt Drange recently pointed out that Facebook is also vulnerable to fake advertisements. Facebook ads are being created that appear to be directing users to a trustworthy website, but it redirects them somewhere else when the ad is clicked on using a bait-and-switch approach also known as “domain spoofing” and “clickjacking.” This can be done in the Facebook ad platform where users are able to manually enter the URL displayed in each ad. Google faces a similar problem with its AdWords platform and the Internet giant ended up having to remove 1.7 billion ads in 2016 alone — which is more than double the previous year.

Facebook spokesman Tom Channick told Drange that the ability to edit the URL is “not always misleading or malicious.” As an example of the URL changing feature being beneficial, Channick said a nonprofit that is running a donation campaign through a third-party site would likely want to display the organization website URL in the ad instead.

When Will I See The Facebook Post Disputes?

Facebook posts that have been flagged as disputes are not appearing for everyone yet. It seems like Facebook is rolling out the feature over time. Most likely, every Facebook user should see this feature appear in the coming weeks.

What are your thoughts about Facebook's new fake news tool? Do you think this is a good way to prevent the spread of misinformation?

  • Published in World

US Marines 'spread nude photos of female soldiers in secret Facebook group'

'Degrading behaviour of this kind is entirely unacceptable,' says chairman of US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.

Senior US lawmakers have condemned the suspected distribution of nude photographs of female Marines to military personnel and veterans via a social media network that promotes sexual violence, and called on the Marine Corps to fully investigate.

The Marine Corps Times, an independent newspaper focusing on issues involving the service, published an internal Marine Corps communications document with talking points about the issue, describing the social media network as a closed Facebook group with about 30,000 members.

The network solicited nude photos of female service members, some of whom had their name, rank and duty station listed, the newspaper reported.

A Marine Corps spokesman told the newspaper that military officials are uncertain how many military personnel could be involved.

The chairman of the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, Republican Mac Thornberry of Texas, and the panel's senior Democrat, Adam Smith of Washington state, separately called for a complete investigation.

"Degrading behaviour of this kind is entirely unacceptable," Thornberry said in a statement. "I expect the Marine Corps to investigate this matter fully with appropriate consequences for those who willingly participated."

Smith also called for proper care to be provided to the victims, and said that, "This behaviour by Marines and former Marines is degrading, dangerous, and completely unacceptable."

Officials from the Marine Corps Naval Criminal Investigative Service were not immediately available for comment.

The site talked of misogynist behaviour, the Marine Corps document said, and the photos were on a secure drive in cloud storage, which has been removed.

The document advised a response along the lines of: "The Marine Corps is deeply concerned about allegations regarding the derogatory online comments and sharing of salacious photographs in a closed website. This behaviour destroys morale, erodes trust, and degrades the individual."

According to an annual report that the Pentagon released in May 2016, the U.S. military received about 6,000 reports of sexual assault in 2015, similar to the number in 2014, but such crimes are still underreported.

  • Published in World

Facebook lifts RT page block after almost 24-hour blackout

Facebook has restored RT's ability to post content to its page on the social network, following an as yet unexplained blackout that lasted for some 20 hours.

RT's rights to share such content as live streams, images and videos with its over 4 million followers on its Facebook page were restored on Thursday. The ban was put in place on Wednesday evening Moscow time, shortly after RT's broadcast of Barack Obama's final press conference as president.

Facebook's restriction to allow RT to post text content only was apparently linked to live-streaming rights. RT was streaming the Obama press conference broadcast from an AP direct feed, to which it is officially subscribed. The agency has confirmed to RT the issue "must have been... on [Facebook’s] end."

According to the Facebook bot, the restrictions were originally set to last until Saturday 10:55pm Moscow time (2:55pm EST).

The Facebook bot notification that interrupted RT's live stream stated that rights to the content had been claimed by Current Time TV, a project of Radio Liberty in collaboration with the Voice of America. Radio Liberty is an independent corporation, financed by the US Congress.

Current Time TV claimed it had "not sent any complaints regarding RT or any other organizations in connection with the live feed." 

During the time RT’s rights were blocked, it did not receive any emails from Facebook to its page administrators.

Once the restrictions had been lifted, Facebook told RT in an email that "the reasons behind the temporary block of certain functions are being determined."

Another US digital platform, Twitter-based news-breaking service Dataminr, has moved to deny service to RT with immediate effect. No official explanation behind the decision has been given by Dataminr, a company which cooperates with news agencies around the world.

Earlier on Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman dubbed Facebook's actions "unacceptable."

It might have been either a form of censorship or an "instrument of competitive struggle," Maria Zakharova said.

"If it's actually perceived as censorship under a technical pretext, then it's unacceptable. It's also unacceptable because blocking of the competitive position that Russia Today (RT) TV channel has is obvious," Zakharova told a briefing in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Russia’s telecom regulator, Roskomnadzor, has announced it will find ways to affect the work of American media and social networks in Russia should pressure on RT continue.

"It is obvious to us that at this stage there is an unprecedented pressure on RT. And the most important thing is that it's groundless," the watchdog’s head, Aleksandr Zharov, told TASS.

WATCH MORE: FBI blocks RT https://www.facebook.com/RTvids/videos/1440431772633738/

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Havana Book Fair 2017 - Canada as Guest

The 2017 Havana International Book Fair has announced that Canada will be the guest of honor.

The 2017 International Book Fair will also celebrate 150 years of the Canadian Confederation.

'The vibrant diversity of Canada and its culture will be exhibited for everyone's enjoyment. The participants will have the chance to explore the diversity and inheritance of this northern country and at the same time, celebrate the long time friendship between Cuba and Canada,' said the organizers statement on Facebook.

The generation who came unto the literary scene in Canada in the 60s is one of the most significant, bequeathing names such as Michael Ondaatje, Leonard Cohen, Eli Mandel, Margaret Avison, and the already known Margaret Atwood, whose work has already been published in Cuba.

The 25th edition of the Fair held in 2016, was dedicated to Uruguay.

The Havana International Book Fair is the greatest editorial event in the Caribbean island, and is mainly hosted at the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress, east of the Cuban capital.

  • Published in Culture
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