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Social media companies step up battle against militant propaganda

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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.

World

Sir Sean Connery dies at 90 years of age

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Sir Sean Connery dies at 90 years of age | The Thaiger

Sir Sean Connery has died at the age of 90. The Scottish actor was best known for his portrayal of British spy 007 “Bond… James Bond”, doing his first Bond movie in 1962 in “Dr. No”. According to his son, Jason Connery, he died peacefully in his sleep in the Bahamas.

He was knighted by the Queen at Holyrood Palace in 2000. He also received the Kennedy Centre Honour, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Scottish newspaper The Sunday Herald called him “The Greatest Living Scot” while People Magazine didn’t just vote him “Sexiest Man Alive” in 1989 but “Sexiest Man of the Century” a decade later.

He was the first to bring the role of James Bond to the big screen , appearing in 7 of the Bond franchise films, and the first of 7 actors that have played the role. Sir Sean was often voted the best actor to have played 007 in the long-running franchise in many polls.

His acting career spanned 5 decades and he eventually won an Oscar in 1988 playing an Irish cop in “The Untouchables”.

Sir Sean’s other films included The Hunt for Red October, Highlander (a Thaiger favourite), Entrapment, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Rock.

Jason Connery said many of his family were with him and around when he died peacefully in his sleep.

“We are all working at understanding this huge event as it only happened so recently, even though my dad has been unwell for some time.”

“A sad day for all who knew and loved my dad and a sad loss for all people around the world who enjoyed the wonderful gift he had as an actor.”

Sir Sean was also a long-time supporter of Scottish independence, saying in interviews in the run-up to the 2014 referendum that he might return from his Bahamas home to live in Scotland if it voted to break away from the rest of the UK.

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Weather

This year’s most powerful typhoon will hit Philippines tomorrow

The Thaiger

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This year’s most powerful typhoon will hit Philippines tomorrow | The Thaiger

Typhoon Goni continues to bear down on The Philippines in one of the South China Sea’s busiest storm years. 220,000 people have now been evacuated as of today.The typhoon, packing “destructive winds’, is expected to reach the south-east of the Philippine’s main island of Luzon tomorrow morning with the eye of the storm passing over during Sunday afternoon. Forecasters are expecting wind speeds of over 200 kilometres per hour.

Typhoon Goni is known locally as “Rolly”.

A warning has been issued “moderate to high risk” of storm surges up to 3 metres high along the east coast over the next 2 days.

On Wednesday this week Typhoon Molave smashed into Vietnam’s central coast, killing up to 35 people and flooding low-lying villages and then dropping heavy rain on southern Laos and Central Thailand. Molave killed 20 people as it passed over The Philippines.
This year's most powerful typhoon will hit Philippines tomorrow | News by The Thaiger
GRAPHIC: Typhoon Goni will reach Philippine’s island of Luzon tomorrow.

Schools are being used as emergency shelters as well as government-co-ordinated evacuation centres and gymnasiums. Authorities are ramping up preparations in the Bicol region southeast of Philippine capital Manila, readying rescue vehicles, emergency response teams and relief goods ahead of the storm.

The Philippines averages around 20 storms and typhoons every year, wiping out harvests, infrastructure and homes. The deadliest storm on record for The Philippines was Typhoon Haiyan, which dumped huge wave surges on the central city of Tacloban killing over 7,300 people in 2013.

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Economy

Dow and S&P 500 take a breath after an ugly week, tech stocks lead the way down

The Thaiger

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Dow and S&P 500 take a breath after an ugly week, tech stocks lead the way down | The Thaiger

US stocks closed lower yesterday to end an ugly week downbeat with ‘uncertainty’ remaining the overwhelming sentiment. Tech stocks led the march downwards. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped in its biggest monthly collapse since March with investors reacting to rising Covid-19 cases in the US and Europe, peppered by nervousness ahead of next Tuesday’s US presidential election. The increased volatility forced all three major indexes seeing their biggest weekly declines since the worst of the coronavirus-inspired selloff 8 months ago.

The Dow fell around 157 points, to end near 26,502, according to preliminary figures, while the S&P 500 lost around 40 points, or 1.2%, to finish near 3,270. The Nasdaq Composite gave up around 274 points, or 2.4%, closing near 10,912. The Dow had a 6.5% weekly fall and a 4.6% monthly drop. Friday’s decline saw the Nasdaq negative for the month of October, falling 2.3%. The Nasdaq was down 5.5% for the week.

The Dow dropped more than 500 points at its session low with tech stocks – primarily Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook – leading the market decline.

A number of stocks were on the move, down, following a slew of earnings, including from the tech giants. Twitter sank more than 20% on slowing growth, while Exxon reported its 3rd straight quarter of losses.

Key moments yesterday…

  • Dow closed down 0.59% for its 5th negative day out of 6
  • S&P 500 closed down 1.21% for its 4th negative day in 5
  • Dow closed down 6.47% this week for its worst week since March 20
  • S&P closed down 5.64% this week for its worst week since March 20 when the S&P lost 14.98%
  • S&P closed down 2.77% this month for its second-straight negative month
  • Nasdaq closed down 5.51% this week for its worst week since March 20 when the Nasdaq lost 12.64%

Dow and S&P 500 take a breath after an ugly week, tech stocks lead the way down | News by The Thaiger

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