Facebook says 10 million US users saw Russia-linked ads

This July 16, 2013 file photo shows a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. (AP)
Updated 03 October 2017
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Facebook says 10 million US users saw Russia-linked ads

NEW YORK: Some 10 million people in the United States saw politically divisive ads on Facebook that the company said were purchased in Russia in the months before and after last year’s US presidential election, Facebook said on Monday.
Facebook, which had not previously given such an estimate, said in a statement that it used modeling to estimate how many people saw at least one of the 3,000 ads. It also said that 44 percent of the ads were seen before the November 2016 election and 56 percent were seen afterward.
The ads have sparked anger toward Facebook and, within the United States, toward Russia since the world’s largest social network disclosed their existence last month. Moscow has denied involvement with the ads.
Facebook has faced calls for increased US regulation from US authorities. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has outlined steps that the company plans to take to deter governments from abusing the social media network.
Earlier on Monday, Facebook said in a separate statement that it planned to hire 1,000 more people to review ads and ensure they meet its terms, as part of an effort to deter Russia and other countries from using the platform to interfere in elections.
The latest company statement said that about 25 percent of the ads were never shown to anyone.
“That’s because advertising auctions are designed so that ads reach people based on relevance, and certain ads may not reach anyone as a result,” Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president of policy and communications, said in the statement.
For 99 percent of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent, he said. The total ad spend was $100,000, the company has said.
Still, he said it was possible Facebook would find more Russia-linked US ads as it continues to investigate.
Schrage, while criticizing the ad buyers for using fake accounts, also said many of the ads otherwise “did not violate our content policies” and could have remained if bought using real accounts.
“While we may not always agree with the positions of those who would speak on issues here, we believe in their right to do so — just as we believe in the right of Americans to express opinions on issues in other countries,” he wrote.
Facebook is working with others in the tech sector, including Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc’s Google, on investigating alleged Russian election meddling, Schrage added.
The 1,000 new workers represent the second time this year that Facebook has responded to a crisis by announcing a hiring spree. In May, it said it would hire 3,000 more people to speed up the removal of videos showing murder, suicide and other violent acts that shocked users.
Like other companies that sell advertising space, Facebook publishes policies for what it allows, prohibiting ads that are violent, discriminate based on race or promote the sale of illegal drugs.
With more than 5 million paying advertisers, however, Facebook has difficulty enforcing all of its policies.
The company said on Monday that it would adjust its policies further “to prevent ads that use even more subtle expressions of violence.” It did not elaborate on what kind of material that would cover.
Facebook also said it would begin to require more thorough documentation from people who want to run ads about US federal elections, demanding that they confirm their businesses or organizations.
(Reporting by David Ingram in New York)


Israel targets rights groups with bill to outlaw filming of soldiers

Israeli soldiers are under constant attack by Israel haters, says defense minister. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2018
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Israel targets rights groups with bill to outlaw filming of soldiers

  • Rights groups frequently film Israeli soldiers on duty in the occupied West Bank, documentation the organizations say is necessary to expose abuse by the military
  • A ministerial committee which oversees legislation voted to approve the bill on Sunday

JERUSALEM: Israel moved on Sunday to snap the lens shut on rights groups that film its troops’ interactions with Palestinians by introducing a bill that would make it a criminal offense.
Rights groups frequently film Israeli soldiers on duty in the occupied West Bank, documentation the organizations say is necessary to expose abuse by the military.
A video filmed by Israeli rights group B’Tselem in 2016 showing an Israeli soldier shoot dead an incapacitated Palestinian assailant drew international condemnation and led to the soldier’s conviction for manslaughter in a highly divisive trial.
The proposed law, formulated by the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, would make filming or publishing footage “with intent to harm the morale of Israel’s soldiers or its inhabitants” punishable by up to five years in prison.
The term would be raised to 10 years if the intention was to damage “national security.”
A ministerial committee which oversees legislation voted to approve the bill on Sunday. It will now go to parliament for a vote that could take place this week and if ratified, will be scrutinized and amended before three more parliamentary votes needed for it to pass into law.
Yisrael Beitenu leader and Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, praised the committee and said: “Israeli soldiers are under constant attack by Israel haters and supporters of terrorism who look constantly to degrade and sully them. We will put an end to this.”
A Palestinian official condemned the move.
“This decision aims to cover up crimes committed by Israeli soldiers against our people, and to free their hands to commit more crimes,” Deputy Palestinian Information Minister Fayez Abu Aitta told Reuters.
The phrasing of the bill stops short of a blanket ban, aiming instead at “anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian organizations” which spend “entire days near Israeli soldiers waiting breathlessly for actions that can be documented in a slanted and one-sided way so that soldiers can be smeared.”
Naming B’Tselem and several other rights groups, the bill says many of them are supported by organizations and governments with “a clear anti-Israel agenda” and that the videos are used to harm Israel and national security.
The ban would cover social networks as well as traditional media.
B’Tselem shrugged off the bill.
“If the occupation embarrasses the government, then the government should take action to end it. Documenting the reality of the occupation will continue regardless of such ridiculous legislation efforts,” the group’s spokesman, Amit Gilutz, said.
B’Tselem’s video of the shooting in the West Bank in 2016 led to Israeli soldier Elor Azaria being convicted of manslaughter. He was released in May after serving two-thirds of his 14-month term. Opinion polls after his arrest showed a majority of Israelis did not want a court-martial to take place.