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Social media companies step up battle against militant propaganda

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Social media companies step up battle against militant propaganda | Thaiger

PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Social media companies step up battle against militant propaganda
Phuket Gazette / Reuters


PHUKET: Facebook, Google and Twitter are stepping up efforts to combat online propaganda and recruiting by Islamic militants, but the Internet companies are doing it quietly to avoid the perception that they are helping the authorities police the Web.

On Friday, Facebook Inc said it took down a profile that the company believed belonged to San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik, who with her husband is accused of killing 14 people in a mass shooting that the FBI is investigating as an “act of terrorism.”

Just a day earlier, the French prime minister and European Commission officials met separately with Facebook, Google, Twitter Inc and other companies to demand faster action on what the commission called “online terrorism incitement and hate speech.”

The Internet companies described their policies as straightforward: they ban certain types of content in accordance with their own terms of service, and require court orders to remove or block anything beyond that. Anyone can report, or flag, content for review and possible removal.

But the truth is far more subtle and complicated. According to former employees, Facebook, Google and Twitter all worry that if they are public about their true level of cooperation with Western law enforcement agencies, they will face endless demands for similar action from countries around the world.

They also fret about being perceived by consumers as being tools of the government. Worse, if the companies spell out exactly how their screening works, they run the risk that technologically savvy militants will learn more about how to beat their systems.

“If they knew what magic sauce went into pushing content into the newsfeed, spammers or whomever would take advantage of that,” said a security expert who had worked at both Facebook and Twitter, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

One of the most significant yet least understood aspects of the propaganda issue is the range of ways in which social media companies deal with government officials.

Facebook, Google and Twitter say they do not treat government complaints differently from citizen complaints, unless the government obtains a court order. The trio are among a growing number that publish regular transparency reports summarizing the number of formal requests from officials about content on their sites.

But there are workarounds, according to former employees, activists and government officials.

A key one is for officials or their allies to complain that a threat, hate speech or celebration of violence violates the company’s terms of service, rather than any law. Such content can be taken down within hours or minutes, and without the paper trail that would go with a court order.

“It is commonplace for federal authorities to directly contact Twitter and ask for assistance, rather than going through formal channels,” said an activist who has helped get numerous accounts disabled.

In the San Bernardino case, Facebook said it took down Malik’s profile, established under an alias, for violating its community standards, which prohibit praise or promotion of “acts of terror.” The spokesman said there was pro-Islamic State content on the page but declined to elaborate.

ACTIVISTS MOBILIZE

Some well-organized online activists have also had success getting social media sites to remove content.

A French-speaking activist using the Twitter alias NageAnon said he helped get rid of thousands of YouTube videos by spreading links of clear cases of policy violations and enlisting other volunteers to report them.

“The more it gets reported, the more it will get reviewed quickly and treated as an urgent case,” he said in a Twitter message to Reuters.

A person familiar with YouTube’s operations said that company officials tend to quickly review videos that generate a high number of complaints relative to the number of views.

Relying on numbers can lead to other kinds of problems.

Facebook suspended or restricted the accounts of many pro-Western Ukrainians after they were accused of hate speech by multiple Russian-speaking users in what appeared to be a coordinated campaign, said former Facebook security staffer Nick Bilogorskiy, a Ukrainian immigrant who helped some of those accounts win appeals. He said the complaints have leveled off.

A similar campaign attributed to Vietnamese officials at least temporarily blocked content by government critics, activists said.

Facebook declined to discuss these cases.

What law enforcement, politicians and some activists would really like is for Internet companies to stop banned content from being shared in the first place. But that would pose a tremendous technological challenge, as well as an enormous policy shift, former executives said.

Some child pornography can be blocked because the technology companies have access to a database that identifies previously known images. A similar type of system is in place for copyrighted music.

There is no database for videos of violent acts, and the same footage that might violate a social network’s terms of service if uploaded by an anonymous militant might pass if it were part of a news broadcast.

Nicole Wong, who previously served as the White House’s deputy chief technology officer, said tech companies would be reluctant to create a database of jihadists videos, even if it could be kept current enough to be relevant, for fear that repressive governments would demand such set-ups to pre-screen any content they do not like.

“Technology companies are rightfully cautious because they are global players, and if they build it for one purpose they don’t get to say it can’t be used for anything else,” said Wong, a former Twitter and Google legal executive.

“If you build it, they will come – it will also be used in China to stop dissidents.”

TRUSTED FLAGGER

There have been some formal policy changes. Twitter revised its abuse policy to ban indirect threats of violence, in addition to direct threats, and has dramatically improved its speed for handling abuse requests, a spokesman said.

“Across the board we respond to requests more quickly, and it’s safe to say government requests are in that bunch,” the spokesman said.

Facebook said it banned this year any content praising terrorists.

Google’s YouTube has expanded a little-known “Trusted Flagger” program, allowing groups ranging from a British anti-terror police unit to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization, to flag large numbers of videos as problematic and get immediate action.

A Google spokeswoman declined to say how many trusted flaggers there were, but said the vast majority were individuals chosen based on their past accuracy in identifying content that violated YouTube’s policies. No U.S. government agencies were part of the program, though some non-profit U.S. entities have joined in the past year, she said.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

 

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Drugs

Crystal meth worth nearly AUD$100 million found on Thai cargo ship in Sydney

Maya Taylor

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PHOTO: Flickr/Maryland GovPics

Drugs worth nearly A$100 million dollars have been found hidden in heaters and barbecues on a Thai cargo ship docked in Sydney. It’s understood the drugs were discovered inside electric barbecue grills and water heaters.

9News reports that the Thai vessel was intercepted by police officers at Sydney’s Port Botany, with the authorities searching 62 large cardboard boxes after inconsistencies were noted in the consignment information. Officers found over 300 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine (ice), with an estimated street value of AUD$94.5 million.

The Organised Crime division of New South Wales Police is now investigating, alongside Federal Police and the New South Wales Crime Commission.

SOURCE: 9NEWS

 

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World

Escaped Bengal tiger in America captured after terrorising locals

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Stock photo via Wikimedia Commons

An escaped, 9 month old Bengal tiger, that has terrorised the city of Houston in the American state of Texas, has been captured unharmed. The tiger, named India, was being minded by the wife of its owner who is 26 year old Victor Cuevas.

The owner was recently seen on social media kissing the tiger before putting it in his car and driving away. The tiger was last seen a week ago, wandering around houses in the suburbs of the large city. Houston police commander, Ron Borza, says the animal was unharmed when they captured it and transferred it to an animal sanctuary.

“We got him, and he’s healthy.”

Videos showed an off-duty sheriff pulling a gun on the tiger, before Cuevas arrived to take it away. He did not tell police where the tiger had spent the last week, but said that his wife had always known its whereabouts. However, owning a tiger within the city limits of Houston, Texas is illegal. Police say that Cueva’s wife would not face charges. But Borza did tell news reporters that having a tiger was not good.

“You should not have that in your home. It’s not good for the tiger.”

India was transported to a sanctuary where it will have its own habitat with a .2 hectare of land which includes a wooded area and pool. But first, the seemingly healthy tiger will undergo a quarantine for 30 days before being introduced to its new home.

The WWF conservation group estimates that there are some 5,000 tigers living in captivity across America, a number greater than the entire world population of wild tigers. The state of Texas is one of the biggest offenders in taking wild animals captive.

According to media reports, Cuevas was arrested last week, but was released 2 days later, only to be arrested again another 2 days later. This wasn’t his first arrest, as he previously faced a murder charge. No other details were given on his arrests.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

 

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World

PM weighs in after Thai national injured in Gaza explosion

Neill Fronde

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PHOTO: An explosion in the Gaza Strip injured a Thai national this week. (via Flickr/Jim Forest)

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha has made statements expressing concern and sorrow for the violence in the Gaza Strip as recent explosions have injured a Thai national. Thailand has a quota for agricultural labourers that work on exchange in Israel, with about 250 workers travelling to Israel each week on a charter flight. 3,100 Thai workers are currently already working in Israel.

Among the Thai labourers is Sitthichok Nanam, a 24 year old from Udon Thani who was injured in the Gaza Strip this week by a Hamas-launched explosion. No details about the nature of his injuries have been released yet, though he was treated at Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva already. The Thai man had been working in Israel since June of 2017.

The Thai Royal Embassy in Tel Aviv passed on the information to the Labour Ministry who then contacted his family in Udon Thani to keep them updated on the situation. The ministry also requested funds to take care of the injured Thai man as well as to help other labourers who may need assistance.

Conflict has been escalating in the region as Israeli police and Palestinians have battled most recently over Muslims gathering at the Damascus Gate for iftar, the evening meal after daily fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. This is in addition to balloon bombs and dozens of rockets being launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel last week and other growing local conflicts.

PM Prayut has weighed in on the international matter since it does affect Thai citizens working near the Gaza Strip and in the region. His concern was added to a recent statement Thailand released regarding growing violence in the area.

“Thailand is deeply concerned by the violence in Israel and Palestine and strongly urges all parties concerned to exercise utmost restraint and refrain from any provocative actions that could escalate the situation and cause further casualties of innocent civilians and damages to heritage sites. Thailand also expresses its condolences and sympathies to those who have been affected by the violence.”

SOURCE: The Phuket News

 

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