Donald Trump Weighs Order To Investigate Google, Facebook: Report

Washington: President Donald Trump is weighing an executive order that would open federal antitrust and criminal probes into Google, Facebook and other social media firms, US media said Saturday, though the White House promptly distanced itself from the reports.

Last month, Trump stepped up his attacks on big tech companies, warning them to be "careful," and slamming what he called "rigged" internet search results.

The US president had complained that Google searches for "Trump news" brought up mostly negative stories about him.

Google strongly rejected any bias claims.

The White House's draft executive order focuses on alleged "bias" at the companies.

"Executive departments and agencies with authorities that could be used to enhance competition among online platforms (agencies) shall... use those authorities to promote competition and ensure that no online platform exercises market power in a way that harms consumers, including through the exercise of bias," read a draft of the report circulated by US media.

"Not later than 30 days from the date of this order, agencies shall submit to the Director of the National Economic Council an initial list of (1) actions each agency can potentially take to protect competition among online platforms and address online platform bias."

The text also demands that federal agencies investigation any potential "violation of the antitrust laws" by an online platform.

However, The Washington Post cited three White House aides as saying they did not write the draft order and did not know its origins, while a senior official said the document existed but had yet to go through the formal process controlled by the staff secretary.

"Although the White House is concerned about the conduct of online platforms and their impact on society, this document is not the result of an official White House policymaking process," deputy White House spokeswoman Lindsey Waters was quoted as saying.

Google and other internet firms have long faced complaints about search results, which are based on algorithms that can take into account user browsing history, location and other factors.

But technology and media analysts say there is little evidence to suggest Google skews results for political reasons. And if they did, the president would have little recourse under the constitution's free speech protections.

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Social Networks and the Price of Truth

While Trump was making his remarks against the possible censorship of conservative speech, the news of the hacking of Cubainformacion.tv website was disclosed on Facebook.

The president of the United States, who often says that US journalists are "the enemies of the people", because they only publish "fake news", has just declared "it is dangerous for social networks such as Twitter Inc and Facebook Inc to silence the diversity of voices on their services."

Trump's remarks, made on Monday during an interview with Reuters, come at a time when social networks are struggling to monitor foreign propaganda on their platforms.

Facebook has spent more than a year and a half trying to put an end to the "fake news demon" and recently suffered the scandal of Cambridge Analytica, a company that used, as it became known only a few months ago, its platform to obtain data of 87 million people that may have been used in the presidential elections of the United States in favor of Donald Trump’s election.

Less than three months before the November elections in the United States, Planet Facebook is determined to improve its impartial network image after, thus it is ensured, there will be revealed that Russians financed thousands of false political ads in the 2016 elections.

To do this Facebook wants to investigate people who place political advertisements in national elections and require them to confirm their names and addresses. The political ads must, according to the new rules, have a note clarifying who paid for them.

Just a few days ago, Apple Inc, YouTube and Facebook decided to remove some content published by Infowars, a website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the same man who claimed on the networks that the massacres caused by the Sandy Hook Elementary School and High School shootings, in Parkland, Florida, are an hoax in which the students are "used as political tools by the extreme left to boost their anti-conservative rhetoric and anti-weapon agenda."

According to the Spanish newspaper El País, Facebook said Jones's pages violated its terms of service. "We have removed it because it glorifies violence, which violates our policy on graphic violence, and uses a dehumanizing language to describe transgender, Muslim and immigrant people, thus violating our policy on hate speech and bullying."

Thus Reuters insinuates, Trump's assertions that "I'm not going to mention names, but when they take some people off Twitter or Facebook, and they're making that decision, that's really a dangerous thing, because tomorrow it can happen to you", might have to do with Jones's recent social media censorship. Trump appeared on a show produced by Infowars and hosted by Jones in December 2015, while campaigning for the White House.

Trump's fears over censorship are to some extent justified if you take into account that the president has a glass roof. A few hours after his statements, the New York governor called him "anti-American" because "he protects white supremacists, denies basic healthcare rights, discriminates people because of their sex orientation, closes doors for refugees, rips babies from their mother's arms because they want to come to this country and because he locks children in cages."

It is not the first time that users ask for the shutdown of Trump’s Twitter account because the president's tweets violate several of the rules of that social network according to which "behaviors that crosses the line into abuse are not tolerated, and that includes harassment, intimidation or the use of fear to silence other users’ voice or threatening or inciting violence."

But so far Twitter has made it clear that it does not intend to shutdown Donald Trump's account, even if the president violates its rules to combat harassment of others. The executive director of the firm Jack Dorsey told NBC in May that "it is very important to listen to the leaders directly" in order to ask for an accountability and to be able to openly address the problems, not behind closed doors. In addition, he also said that besides the presidential prominence, Trump’s account is attractive from a commercial point of view because his tweets constantly generate headlines that constitute free advertising for the company and could attract more users.

In the end, Trump continues to insult right and left in that way, as he did recently with his former adviser, Omarosa Manigault, whom he called "bitch” and nobody seems to care much about the double standard of Twitter censorship.

The same happens with Facebook and its concern over political interference in North American elections. Who has protested or questioned the role played by Cambridge Analytica in the elections of other countries?

According to data published recently by PhD in Social Communication and Sciences Rosa Miriam Elizalde: "Cambridge Analytica, the London branch of a US contractor devoted to active military operations online  for twenty-five years, has intervened in some 200 elections all over the world. "Psychological operations" were its modus operandi, its goal: to change public opinion and influence not through persuasion, but via "information control." The novelty is not the use of flyers, Radio Europa Libre or TV Martí, but rather Big Data and artificial intelligence to lock each citizen who leaves information traces on the network in an observable, parameterized and predictable bubble."

Task Force through both Facebook and Twitter, fake news and hate and bullying against Cuba dominate the scene. The same happens against countries such as Nicaragua and Venezuela. It is worth wondering. Will Facebook and other social networks take the same precautions before the political manipulation of other countries' elections or their concern over "foreign propaganda" is only exclusivity for the U.S.?

Just today, while Trump was making his remarks against the possible censorship of conservative speech, the news of the hacking of Cubainformacion.tv website, an alternative outlet online that defends the Cuban Revolution, was disclosed on Facebook. Of course no "news" agency has said anything about it and likely they never will. In this case, how much will it be necessary to pay for the news to be promoted to the largest number of people?

Does anyone know how much can truth cost in social networks?

Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / CubaSi Translation Staff

 
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Will Facebook ban subversive propaganda against Cuba?

Does Facebook have any notion regarding the sort of propaganda Radio Marti is trying to camouflage through its platform to Cuban internet users?

As I have warned in previous articles, and after being accused of allowing Russia to interfering in the 2016 presidential election, Facebook is being absorbed in a campaign to remove all the paid propaganda from its website.

The last attempt to improve its “unbiased” image occurred on Tuesday when the social network removed more than 650 websites, groups, and accounts identified as “inauthentic behavior,” according to its CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The “conspiracy” refuted by Facebook, according to the report delivered to the American authorities, was carried out from websites that were tracked to Iran and groups linked to operations of the Russian intelligence.

According to Facebook, the accounts —also in Instagram and owned by Facebook as well— the news that were presented as independent or by groups belonging to the civil society were actually working in coordinated efforts targeting users from UK, Latin America, Middle East, and the U.S.

The websites, in the words of Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher, were linked to state-owned media from Iran through the publicly available website registration information. Such is the case of Quest 4 Truth, which claims to be an organization independent from Iran media.

The vast majority of the removed accounts focused its activity range on the Near East and tried to manipulate public opinion on some U.S. policies and certain anti-Israeli, anti-Saudi Arabian stances. Similarly, they favor pro-Palestinians viewpoints.

The same source also confirmed in a news conference that Facebook removed a number of websites and accounts previously identified as Russian military services, and following the reports, they were unrelated to Iran.

The HuffPost revealed that this network had 813 000 accounts in Facebook and 10 000 in Instagram and spent around 6,000 USD in ads for Facebook between 2012 and April 2018.

In other words, according to Facebook latest policies, the removed networks were not only related to governments that Washington targets in its sanctions, but these countries also paid ads in order to spread their political propaganda.

So far, so good. Facebook assumes its right to host or not in its platform, paid political propaganda. The problem lays in discerning if the largest social network in the world can be consistent with its principles with other sort of “paid political propaganda.”

Of course we are referring to the kind of propaganda Facebook is using against Cuba. The later was recently confirmed in the budgetary documents for the tax years of 2018 and 2019 of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, released by the Miami New Times.

The document highlights that the U.S. government has plans to use Cuban “native” and “non-branded” accounts in Facebook to spread content created by the government without notifying Cuban users in Facebook:

Due to the Cuban blockade of Radio and TV Marti, the OCB digital strategy has turned to social networks. These consist of Facebook, YouTube, and Google which are the most visited in Cuba. By using AVRA technology, the Radio Marti programs became radio-visual and were broadcasted via Facebook Live along with the programming of TV Marti. It certainly gives the OCB and additional, efficient, and profitable distribution either for its radio-visual or TV content.

In the tax year of 2018, the OCB is creating digital devices in Cuba aiming for creating fake accounts in Facebook to spread information. The websites opened in the island increase the chances of reaching Cuban users in Facebook. The same strategy will be copycatted in other social networks.

According to the Miami New Times, the budgetary document suggests that the OCB (Office of Cuba Broadcasting) plans to spread American propaganda against Cuba to deceive users in Cuba and make them believe that the information is coming from other Cuban users, not from the Radio Marti headquarters.

Does Facebook have any notion regarding the sort of propaganda the OCB is trying to camouflage through its platform to Cuban internet users?

There is no doubt who are the ones paying for it. Since the 1980s, when the inappropriately called Radio Marti was created by the government of Ronald Reagan, such radio station has not stopped trying convey subversive propaganda against the Cuban Revolution either by radio or television; and recently by using new technologies. As the article states, the OCB created the text message service Piramideo (Pyramid), which could not “meet its goal of promoting dissent in Cuba” and for years managed to smuggle small satellite devices that could provide internet access until such smuggling was stopped in 2015 due to the excessive spending.

As we have said before, the hate speech against Cuba abounds in that social network and quoting the Miami New Times, Nasserie Carew, spokeswoman at the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, the Facebook project never “took off.” But honestly, that is a “weird answer” if we take into account the plan was linked to documents that account for the 2018-2019 budget.

It is also weird that Facebook, a social network that presents itself to the world as an independent enterprise, emerges as part of a dirty war against Cuba in a U.S. government document. Is Facebook part of the Task Force created last January by the Trump Administration, which according to the State Department, “will evaluate the technological challenges as well as the opportunities to widen the access to the Internet and the independent media in Cuba? And it will certainly find ways to spread the usage of social networks and the free Internet access in the island.

Although the spokesman of Facebook did not answer any of the questions on the subject, we may assume that the new subversive plans of the OCB against Cuba are not allowed by such social network by a simple reason, as noted by Professor John S. Nichols, from the Pennsylvania University, co-author of the book 1987 Clandestine Radio Broadcasting in his book:

"Third-party countries see what they’re doing and say, 'There goes the United States again doing that dumb stuff,'" he says. "It's small, mean, and not worthy of a great power. Other countries say, 'If the U.S. is willing to violate international law, why should we obey our treaty obligations?' I think that has a long-term negative effect. And given what Radio and TV Martí might doing right now, it becomes hard for us to complain about what other countries might be doing to us."

Suffice to say that amid such strong misinformation campaign Facebook is in, removing the subversive propaganda posted in its platform would increase the trust of its users for sure. Besides, it should not be complicated to achieve it if we take into account that the budget report of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors has saved Facebook time and resources in the investigation.

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Diaz // CubaSi Translation Staff

After teleSUR Social Media Page, HispanTV's Accounts Blocked

The HispanTV, HispanTV Programas, HispanTV Documentales and HispanTV Films and Series accounts have all been closed and rendered inaccessible since Tuesday.

U.S. search engine giants Google has blocked HispanTV's access to its YouTube and Google Plus accounts, preventing any new videos from being posted to the social media.

RELATED: teleSUR English Removed From Facebook for Second Time

The HispanTV, HispanTV Programas, HispanTV Documentales and HispanTV Films and Series accounts have all been closed and rendered inaccessible since Tuesday. Spanish satellite provider Hispasat had also stopped providing services to both HispanTV, and PressTV, in 2012.

Some information is still visible to the public on the channel's YouTube page but totally restricted on its Google Plus. HispanTV is a Spanish language channel operated by Iran's state-owned public broadcasting corporation.

Google has not disclosed a reason for the block, but HispanTV is no stranger to being censored following last year's lock on the channel's live broadcast YouTube feed. This recent block comes after the second removal of fellow state-affiliated news outfit teleSUR's Facebook page.

According to multiple reports, HispanTV was censored, in 2013, after the United States imposed stiff sanctions on the Iranian Government. Additionally, U.S. President Donald Trump has recently discarded an agreement from the previous administration and reimpose hefty sanctions on Iran last May.

Similarly, teleSUR's headquarters and founding state, Venezuela, is in the United States' line of fire and has also been hit with major sanctions.

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Facebook pledges tough U.S. election security efforts as critical memo surfaces

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Facebook officials on Tuesday said the company is using a range of techniques including artificial intelligence to counter Russian operatives or others who use deceptive tactics and false information to manipulate public opinion.

The officials told reporters in a telephone briefing they expected to find such efforts on the social network ahead of the U.S. mid-term elections in November, but declined to disclose whether they have already uncovered any such operations.

Facebook has faced fierce criticism over how it handles political propaganda and misinformation since the 2016 U.S. election, which U.S. intelligence agencies say was influenced by the Russian government, in part through social media.

The controversy has not abated despite Facebook initiatives including a new tool that shows all political advertising that is running on the network and new fact-checking efforts to inform users about obvious falsehoods.

But the company reiterated on Tuesday that it will not take down postings simply because they are false. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg last week drew fire for citing Holocaust denials as an example of false statements that would not be removed if they were sincerely voiced.

Tuesday’s briefing, which included Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy, and Tessa Lyons, manager of Facebook’s core “news feed,” came just before the publication of an internal staff message from Facebook’s outgoing chief security officer that was sharply critical of many company practices.

The note by Alex Stamos, written in March after he said he was going to leave the company, urged colleagues to heed feedback about “creepy” features, collect less data and “deprioritize short-term growth and revenue” to restore trust. He also urged the company’s leaders to “pick sides when there are clear moral or humanitarian issues.”

Stamos posted the note on an internal Facebook site but Reuters confirmed its authenticity. It was first disclosed by Buzzfeed News.

Stamos said the company needed to be more open in how it manages content on its network, which has become a major medium for political activity in many countries around the world. Tuesday’s media briefing was part of the company’s efforts in that direction.

Lyons said the company was making progress in smoothing its process for fact-checkers assigned to label false information. Once an article is labeled false, users are warned before they share it and subsequent distribution drops 80 percent, Lyons said.

Posts from sites that often distribute false information are ranked lower in the calculations that determine what each user sees but are not entirely removed from view.

Gleicher said those seeking to deliberately promote misinformation often use fake accounts to amplify their content or run afoul of community standards, both of which are grounds for removing posts or entire pages.

He said the company would use a type of artificial intelligence known as machine learning as part of its efforts to root out abuses.

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Twitter suspends 70mn 'fake' accounts in 2 months amid pressure from Congress & media

Some 70 million accounts, a number roughly equal to 20 percent of Twitter's monthly active users, have been yanked off of the platform in May and June, as the company opts for user 'safety' over free speech, it's been reported.

The social media company has exacerbated its crusade against the 'fake accounts' accused of spreading divisive political content in tons of messages, the Washington Post has reported on Friday.

Twitter has confirmed to the newspaper it suspended a staggering 70 million accounts within just two months, in May and June, and the purge has continued at the same pace in July.

While some have sounded the alarm that such a sweeping effort can lead to genuine accounts being wiped out from the platform along with fake ones, Twitter's Vice President for Trust and Safety Del Harvey has brushed off the concerns, telling WaPo that the campaign has not made "a ton of impact" on the overall number of the active Tweeters.

 
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Despite Twitter's claims that the effort is targeted, there have been reports of innocent victims of the crusade. In May, the Verge reported that many Bulgarian users, who, just like Russians, are writing in Cyrillic, complained that they have their accounts suspended for some unknown reason. The likely explanation was Twitter's 'bot' criteria, that states that having a name in Cyrillic is a fact damning enough.

The driving force behind the crackdown, Harvey has revealed,  is that the company has changed its perception of free speech, limiting the freedom of expression to make Twitter a safe space for all.

"One of the biggest shifts is in how we think about balancing free expression versus the potential for free expression to chill someone else's speech. Free expression doesn't really mean much if people don't feel safe," she said.

Another push came from the outside, sources within the company told the publication, referring to the immense pressure from US lawmakers, who demanded Twitter and Facebook act on reports of Russia-linked accounts stirring up the American public, as well as mainstream media frenzy.

In order to pluck out the so-called "Russian trolls" from hundreds of millions of Twitter profiles, the company has reportedly launched "Operation Megaphone." The project, the existence of which Harvey refused to acknowledge, saw Twitter buying suspicious accounts, deemed fake, and then sifting through their contacts to determine how the supposed fake accounts are linked with each other.

Another effort saw Twitter setting up an internal task force responsible for scrutinizing accounts believed to be operated by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a supposedly state-funded propaganda firm, dubbed the "Russian troll factory." In February, the US indicted 13 Russian nationals it said were employees of the IRA for its attempt "to conduct 'information warfare'" against the US by supporting Trump campaign and "disparaging" Hillary Clinton.

 
© Dado Ruvic

In addition to that, Twitter also covertly limits the outreach of the tweets it believes to be generated by fake accounts, without notifying the users, by not showing them in the search results. The practice, known as "shadow banning," has been criticised as a "stealth method of censorship" aimed at silencing unfavorable political opinions.

Twitter and Facebook have been under growing pressure from Congress to act against the so-called Russian-linked accounts that some lawmakers believe meddled in the US presidential elections. In one of its latest policy updates in May, Twitter rolled out new restrictive advertising policies in the US, barring users who are not actually within the country's territory from running political advertisements on the platform.

Twitter has also been warning users of their interaction with "Russian bots" as part of its "transparency" policy. Over 1.4 million people have been notified as of February.

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Celebs and Social Networking

Until very recently, celebs could only express their opinions when their field of performance called the attention of the so-called traditional media.

Whenever there was a concert, an exhibition or a scientific discovery, journalists went there not only to cover the event, but also to get one or two statements from the celeb on some topic out of his reach, almost always on politics, which of course was in line with the editorial policy of the interviewer’s outlet.

Today, with the appearance of social networking it is no longer quite like that and celebs do not have to wait for journalists to look for them, because Facebook, Instagram, blogs, twitter and Youtube are there. A good example of what I am referring to is that of US President Donald Trump, who, constantly hounded by traditional media that according to him only produces fake news, has made Twitter social networking his favorite outlet to communicate with the world.

By the way, his mistakes on and out of Twitter are anthological, because the fame that his post grants him as a “new emperor” does not allow him to lead the world with the same Mafia methods that a hotel chain is managed with.

Although, everybody knows about baseball, celebs should talk about what they really know, if they’re politicians about politics, if they’re painters about painting, if they’re musicians about music and about tourism if they’re hotel owners. But apparently, such logic seems very complicated for some especially in these days of intrigues in social networks.

Besides Trump, there are some around a bit egocentric, who do not find it enough with the fame they earned from their talent in certain field and decide to venture into journalism.  What in Cervantes’s language could be called professional intrusiveness.

Italian semiologist and novelist Umberto Eco: "Social networks give the right of expression to legions of imbeciles, who beforehand only talked in the bar after a glass of wine, without disturbing the community. They were quickly silenced, but now they have the same right of expression as a Noble Prize laureate. It’s the invasion of the imbeciles.”

Although it sounds easy, journalism is a science that has its rules and one of the most important is that of responsibility. A celebrity who has not yet lost his mind should think very carefully before issuing or amplifying judgments about which he does not really have the slightest idea, at least, as long as the opposite is not proven.

That personality should be aware that a wrong opinion of him can influence thousands or millions of those fans who blindly believe that fame alone allows the celeb to approach any issue.

But that is not the worst thing of the matter. The worst thing is that social networks have become a breeding ground for new celebrities. Any nice guy who does not have the slightest idea of what he is saying can collect a legion of followers in the networks just for having a pretty face.

So now in the networks there are experts in all kind of subjects. If Archimedes lived in these times he would have said: "Give me a cell phone and I will move the world".

The formula of reggaeton is an indisputable example. With a computerized rhythm, a good anthology of obscene words and a synthesized voice, anyone can become another star throwing nonsense right and left in the networks.

But all is not lost. Luckily the applications of social networks yet do not allow to perform surgeries via the Internet because in these technological times surely novice surgeons will not be left out. Hopefully, nobody comes up with the idea because you can be sure that the killing would be indiscriminate ...

Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / Cubasi Translation Staff

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.

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