Twitter removes China-linked accounts spreading false news

Twitter removes China-linked accounts spreading false news
The US social media company suspended 23,750 accounts that were posting pro-Beijing narratives. (File/AFP)
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Updated 12 June 2020

Twitter removes China-linked accounts spreading false news

Twitter removes China-linked accounts spreading false news
  • The US social media company suspended 23,750 accounts that were posting pro-Beijing narratives
  • Another 150,000 accounts dedicated to retweeting and amplifying those messages were also removed

LONDON: Twitter has removed a vast network of accounts that it says is linked to the Chinese government and were pushing false information favorable to the country’s communist rulers. Beijing denied involvement Friday and said the company should instead take down accounts smearing China.
The US social media company suspended 23,750 accounts that were posting pro-Beijing narratives, and another 150,000 accounts dedicated to retweeting and amplifying those messages.
The network was engaged “in a range of coordinated and manipulated activities” in predominantly Chinese languages, including praise for China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and “deceptive narratives” about Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, the company said.
The accounts also tweeted about two other topics: Taiwan and Guo Wengui, an exiled billionaire waging a campaign from New York against China’s president and party leader Xi Jinping and his administration. Most had little to no followers and failed to get much attention. The accounts were suspended under Twitter’s manipulation policies, which ban artificial amplification and suppression of information.
Twitter and other social media services like Facebook and YouTube are blocked in China.
“While the Chinese Communist Party won’t allow the Chinese people to use Twitter, our analysis shows it is happy to use it to sow propaganda and disinformation internationally,” said Fergus Hanson, director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Center, which worked with the company on the takedown.
China denied involvement.
“It holds no water at all to equate China’s response to the epidemic with disinformation,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily news briefing on Friday.
“If Twitter wants to make a difference, it should shut down those accounts that have been organized and coordinated to attack and discredit China,” she added.
Twitter also removed more than 1,000 accounts linked to a Russian media website engaging in state-backed political propaganda in Russian, and a network of 7,340 fake or compromised accounts used for “cheerleading” the ruling party in Turkey.


Electronic publications to benefit from Saudi direct clearance service

Electronic publications to benefit from Saudi direct clearance service
Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi. (SPA)
Updated 19 June 2021

Electronic publications to benefit from Saudi direct clearance service

Electronic publications to benefit from Saudi direct clearance service
  • The authority forecasts the number of clearances for the first year after the launch to reach 300,000 publications

LONDON: The Saudi Ministry of Media and the General Authority for AudioVisual Media on Saturday co-launched a service that allows the immediate and direct clearance of external electronic publications.

The launch comes as Media Minister Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi approved amendments to the executive regulations of the Press and Publications Law.

The service is available to both the public and private sectors.

In a statement, the authority confirmed that Saudi Arabia is one of the first countries in the region to provide a direct and immediate clearance service from private sector publications.

Previously, beneficiaries had to apply for immediate clearance of foreign publications through the authority’s electronic licensing platform, only after such publications complied with the regulations and controls.

The new service includes books, e-books and publications whose requests for clearance services are 61 percent abroad and 39 percent locally.

The authority forecasts the number of clearances for the first year after the launch to reach 300,000 publications. 
It said that the amendments will strengthen the e-commerce and publications sector, facilitating the clearance process for authors, publishers and book distributors, shortening the waiting period, and also encouraging investors to enter the writing, publishing and distribution sector.

The immediate clearance application will help reduce piracy, fraud and users’ intrusion into international stores, the authority added.

 


Hong Kong pro-democracy media executives denied bail under security law

Hong Kong pro-democracy media executives denied bail under security law
Updated 19 June 2021

Hong Kong pro-democracy media executives denied bail under security law

Hong Kong pro-democracy media executives denied bail under security law
  • The case is the first time political views and opinions published by a Hong Kong media outlet have triggered the security law

HONG KONG: Two executives from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Apple Daily appeared in court on Saturday on charges of collusion and were denied bail after authorities deployed a sweeping security law to target the newspaper, a scathing critic of Beijing.
Chief editor Ryan Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung are accused of colluding with foreign forces to undermine China’s national security over a series of articles that police said called for international sanctions.
Chief magistrate Victor So said there were insufficient grounds “for the court to believe that the defendants will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”
The two will remain in custody until their next court appearance on August 13 as prosecutors said police needed time to examine more than 40 computers and 16 servers seized from the newsroom.
The case is the first time political views and opinions published by a Hong Kong media outlet have triggered the security law, which was imposed last year by Beijing to stamp out dissent in the financial hub.
Apple Daily and its jailed owner Jimmy Lai have long been thorns in Beijing’s side, with unapologetic support for the city’s pro-democracy movement and caustic criticism of China’s authoritarian leaders.
More than 500 police officers raided the paper’s newsroom on Thursday. Five executives were arrested. Law and Cheung were charged on Friday while the three others were released on bail pending further investigations.
“We will continue to publish our paper tomorrow,” deputy chief editor Chan Pui-man said outside court. She was released late Friday on bail.
Dozens of supporters were queuing to get seats in court on Saturday morning, including many former and current employees of Apple Daily.
A staff member, who gave her surname as Chang, said she and many other Apple Daily employees treat “every day like it is our last” working for the paper.
“At first, authorities said the national security law would only target a tiny number of people,” she said.
“But what has happened showed us that is nonsense,” she added.
Another staff reporter, who gave her first name as Theresa, said she felt Apple Daily’s legal troubles were a warning shot.
“I think what has happened to Apple Daily today can eventually happen to every other news outlet in the city,” she said.
Multiple international media companies have regional headquarters in Hong Kong, attracted to the business-friendly regulations and free speech provisions written into the city’s mini-constitution.
But many are now questioning whether they have a future there and are drawing up contingency plans as Beijing presses on with a broad crackdown on dissent in the city.
Local media have an even tougher time, with journalist associations saying reporters are increasingly having to self-censor.
Hong Kong has steadily plunged down an annual press freedom ranking by Reporters Without Borders, from 18th place in 2002 to 80th this year.
Mainland China languishes at 177th out of 180, above only Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
Hong Kong and Chinese officials say the arrests were not an attack on the media.
Earlier this week, security secretary John Lee described Apple Daily as a “criminal syndicate.”
Apple Daily is by far the most outspoken of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy media outlets. But it is not clear how long it can survive.
Its wealthy owner Lai, 73, is currently serving multiple jail sentences for his involvement in democracy rallies in 2019.
He has also been charged under the national security law and has had his Hong Kong assets frozen.
Authorities froze a further HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of Apple Daily’s company assets on Thursday.
Police say they also plan to prosecute three companies owned by Apple Daily under the security law, which could see the paper fined or banned.
It is the first time companies, rather than an individual, have faced a national security investigation.
Mark Simon, an aide to Lai who lives overseas, said the paper would have difficulty paying its staff of about 700.
Company lawyers were trying to work out the breadth of the asset freeze order, he added.
“Money is not an issue. Draconian orders from Beijing via the NSL (national security law) are the issue,” he said.


FB’s ‘Neighborhoods’ faces crowded niche market, profiling concerns

FB’s ‘Neighborhoods’ faces crowded niche market, profiling concerns
A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration taken March 25, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 June 2021

FB’s ‘Neighborhoods’ faces crowded niche market, profiling concerns

FB’s ‘Neighborhoods’ faces crowded niche market, profiling concerns
  • Neighborhoods users are prompted to introduce themselves, log interests and answer ice-breaker questions, like favorite DIY projects

OTTAWA: When Facebook began testing its new “Neighborhoods” feature in Canada last October amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the tech giant described it as a dedicated place for people to connect with their local communities.
Here, in a corner of the world’s largest social network, people met neighbors, shared banana bread ingredients, helped locate missing cats and swapped local business recommendations, the feature’s product manager Reid Patton said in a recent interview.
But Facebook, which is rolling out the feature in four US cities — Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Charlotte, North Carolina; Newark, New Jersey; and San Diego, California — is already playing catch-up in the red-hot market for local social apps. Community site Nextdoor has emerged as a key player along with Amazon Ring’s Neighbors and crime-tracking app Citizen. Nextdoor, which saw usage surge during lockdowns, reported 50 percent annual growth in daily active users last year.
Facebook has in recent years focused on on-site communities that matter to its users as a tactic to drive engagement. The company, which made the vast majority of its almost $84.2 billion ad revenue last year from smaller businesses, many of whom court local users, also said users’ activity and information in Neighborhoods may be used to personalize their experience and ads across Facebook.
Neighborhoods users are prompted to introduce themselves, log interests and answer ice-breaker questions, like favorite DIY projects. People can take roles like “socializer” or “helper” and their profile information populates a directory that even identifies local pets by name, Patton said.
But Facebook, long under fire for its moderation and design decisions, will likely contend with challenges that have bedeviled rival hyperlocal platforms, such as misinformation, racial profiling and privacy concerns, say civil rights groups and social media researchers.

SPEEDREAD

• Facebook, which is rolling out the feature in four US cities is already playing catch-up in the red-hot market for local social apps.

• Community site Nextdoor has emerged as a key player along with Amazon Ring’s Neighbors and crime-tracking app Citizen.

Facebook is already under scrutiny from lawmakers over its Groups feature, which it says is used by more than 1.8 billion people every month, including to connect with their local communities. Researchers identified Facebook Groups as a source of false claims and violent incitement ahead of the US Capitol riot.
“Online rhetoric can lead into offline antagonism and violence really quickly,” said Nina Jankowicz, a global fellow at the Wilson Center who has researched how Facebook Groups have been used to push conspiracies. “Facebook’s moderation of Groups leaves a lot to be desired.”
Facebook’s Patton said the team designing Neighborhoods took into account problems in Groups: “We’ve tried to learn from across Facebook products and beyond, and build an experience that does make people feel safe.”
A Neighborhood largely relies on multiple unpaid community moderators, offered the role by Facebook after it assesses how active they are in other communities and screens rule-breakers. It is also developing moderator training on sensitive issues. All Neighborhoods users must be over 18 and new accounts or repeat rule-violators are not allowed.
As designed, recent traffic on some Neighborhoods showed typical local community messages. In San Diego, residents shared dog photos and alerts for lost house keys. In Toronto, posts ranged from a poll about dating in the pandemic to pictures of a stolen bike.
Facebook has not marketed public safety as a focus of Neighborhoods, but Reuters found the citizen crime warnings endemic in community apps are already showing up. In Vancouver, users commented on a photo of a man said to have been following women in the area, while someone else described an encounter with someone breaking into their house. Stills were shared from security cameras of a “suspicious person” looking at a property and kids who allegedly stole packages. On the last post, a user advised saving a box and putting dog feces in it.


Google searches for new measure of skin tones to curb bias in products

Google says that it's pursuing better measures for classifying skin tones. (File/AFP)
Google says that it's pursuing better measures for classifying skin tones. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 June 2021

Google searches for new measure of skin tones to curb bias in products

Google says that it's pursuing better measures for classifying skin tones. (File/AFP)
  • Google developing new measure for classifying skin tones in attempt to combat biases against people of color.
  • Companies know their products can be faulty for groups that are under-represented in research and testing data.

Alphabet Inc’s Google told Reuters this week it is developing an alternative to the industry standard method for classifying skin tones, which a growing chorus of technology researchers and dermatologists says is inadequate for assessing whether products are biased against people of color.
At issue is a six-color scale known as Fitzpatrick Skin Type (FST), which dermatologists have used since the 1970s. Tech companies now rely on it to categorize people and measure whether products such as facial recognition systems or smartwatch heart-rate sensors perform equally well across skin tones.
Critics say FST, which includes four categories for “white” skin and one apiece for “black” and “brown,” disregards diversity among people of color. Researchers at the US Department of Homeland Security, during a federal technology standards conference last October, recommended abandoning FST for evaluating facial recognition because it poorly represents color range in diverse populations.
In response to Reuters’ questions about FST, Google, for the first time and ahead of peers, said that it has been quietly pursuing better measures.
“We are working on alternative, more inclusive, measures that could be useful in the development of our products, and will collaborate with scientific and medical experts, as well as groups working with communities of color,” the company said, declining to offer details on the effort.
The controversy is part of a larger reckoning over racism and diversity in the tech industry, where the workforce is more white than in sectors like finance. Ensuring technology works well for all skin colors, as well different ages and genders, is assuming greater importance as new products, often powered by artificial intelligence (AI), extend into sensitive and regulated areas such as health care and law enforcement.
Companies know their products can be faulty for groups that are under-represented in research and testing data. The concern over FST is that its limited scale for darker skin could lead to technology that, for instance, works for golden brown skin but fails for espresso red tones.
Numerous types of products offer palettes far richer than FST. Crayola last year launched 24 skin tone crayons, and Mattel Inc’s Barbie Fashionistas dolls this year cover nine tones.
The issue is far from academic for Google. When the company announced in February that cameras on some Android phones could measure pulse rates via a fingertip, it said readings on average would err by 1.8 percent regardless of whether users had light or dark skin.
The company later gave similar warranties that skin type would not noticeably affect results of a feature for filtering backgrounds on Meet video conferences, nor of an upcoming web tool for identifying skin conditions, informally dubbed Derm Assist.
Those conclusions derived from testing with the six-tone FST.
’STARTING POINT’
The late Harvard University dermatologist Dr. Thomas Fitzpatrick invented the scale to personalize ultraviolet radiation treatment for psoriasis, an itchy skin condition. He grouped the skin of “white” people as Roman numerals I to IV by asking how much sunburn or tan they developed after certain periods in sun.
A decade later came type V for “brown” skin and VI for “black.” The scale is still part of US regulations for testing sunblock products, and it remains a popular dermatology standard for assessing patients’ cancer risk and more.
Some dermatologists say the scale is a poor and overused measure for care, and often conflated with race and ethnicity.
“Many people would assume I am skin type V, which rarely to never burns, but I burn,” said Dr. Susan Taylor, a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist who founded Skin of Color Society in 2004 to promote research on marginalized communities. “To look at my skin hue and say I am type V does me disservice.”
Technology companies, until recently, were unconcerned. Unicode, an industry association overseeing emojis, referred to FST in 2014 as its basis for adopting five skin tones beyond yellow, saying the scale was “without negative associations.”
A 2018 study titled “Gender Shades,” which found facial analysis systems more often misgendered people with darker skin, popularized using FST for evaluating AI. The research described FST as a “starting point,” but scientists of similar studies that came later told Reuters they used the scale to stay consistent.
“As a first measure for a relatively immature market, it serves its purpose to help us identify red flags,” said Inioluwa Deborah Raji, a Mozilla fellow focused on auditing AI.
In an April study testing AI for detecting deepfakes, Facebook Inc. researchers wrote FST “clearly does not encompass the diversity within brown and black skin tones.” Still, they released videos of 3,000 individuals to be used for evaluating AI systems, with FST tags attached based on the assessments of eight human raters.
The judgment of the raters is central. Facial recognition software startup AnyVision last year gave celebrity examples to raters: former baseball great Derek Jeter as a type IV, model Tyra Banks a V and rapper 50 Cent a VI.
AnyVision told Reuters it agreed with Google’s decision to revisit use of FST, and Facebook said it is open to better measures.
Microsoft Corp. and smartwatch makers Apple Inc. and Garmin Ltd. reference FST when working on health-related sensors.
But use of FST could be fueling “false assurances” about heart rate readings from smartwatches on darker skin, University of California San Diego clinicians, inspired by the Black Lives Matter social equality movement, wrote in the journal Sleep last year.
Microsoft acknowledged FST’s imperfections. Apple said it tests on humans across skin tones using various measures, FST only at times among them. Garmin said due to wide-ranging testing it believes readings are reliable.
Victor Casale, who founded makeup company Mob Beauty and helped Crayola on the new crayons, said he developed 40 shades for foundation, each different from the next by about 3 percent, or enough for most adults to distinguish.
Color accuracy on electronics suggest tech standards should have 12 to 18 tones, he said, adding, “you can’t just have six.”


Twitter’s India woes worsen as police summon chief over viral video

Prasad has said Twitter has not complied with a new set of government rules that required them to appoint new compliance officers. (File/AFP)
Prasad has said Twitter has not complied with a new set of government rules that required them to appoint new compliance officers. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 June 2021

Twitter’s India woes worsen as police summon chief over viral video

Prasad has said Twitter has not complied with a new set of government rules that required them to appoint new compliance officers. (File/AFP)
  • Indian police summon Twitter's top official in the country to answer allegation of inciting hate between communities.
  • This comes amidst India's crackdown on Twitter and other social media firms to comply with country's new IT rules.

LUCKNOW: Police in India have summoned Twitter’s top official in the country to answer allegations that the US firm failed to stop the spread of a video that allegedly incited “hate and enmity” between Hindu and Muslim communities.
An official police notice, seen by Reuters, showed a case had been registered in Ghaziabad in northern Uttar Pradesh state over a video of a few men, apparently Hindu, beating an elderly man believed to be a Muslim and cutting his beard.
The police report names Twitter Inc, its local unit and seven others for their alleged roles in disseminating a video that was deemed insulting to religious beliefs and causing public mischief in a state with a long, bloody history of communal violence.
The controversy comes just as India’s federal government is locking horns with Twitter over non-compliance with new IT rules, which have raised doubts whether the platform would continue to enjoy protection against legal liability for user-generated content. The new rules became effective in late May.
In a notice dated Thursday, Ghaziabad police wrote to Twitter India head Manish Maheshwari to appear before officials within seven days of the receipt of the summons.
“Some people used their Twitter handles to spread hatred and enmity in the society and Twitter did not take cognizance,” said the notice, which was reviewed by Reuters.
“Writings and works which promoted enmity and affected harmony between different communities in the country and the state were encouraged and such anti-society messages were allowed to go viral.”
Twitter declined to comment, and Maheshwari did not respond to a request for comment.
IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad lashed out at Twitter this week for the Ghaziabad incident, saying its failure to act was “perplexing.”

NO SAFE HARBOUR
Prasad has said Twitter has not complied with a new set of government rules that required them to appoint new compliance officers by May 26.
The rules state that in case of non-compliance, protection that companies enjoy related to any liability against user generated content “shall not be applicable” and companies “shall be liable for punishment under any law.”
“The moment Twitter was non-complaint, the safe harbor protection was automatically not available,” said Shlok Chandra, a New Delhi-based lawyer who represents the federal government in various cases. “The position is very clear.”
Some free speech activists and lawyers, however, disagree.
“The Central Government neither has the power to bestow, nor the power to “withdraw” the exemption from liability...The determination of the question whether Twitter is entitled to seek exemption from liability is solely within the domain of the Courts,” Delhi-based Ira Law firm said in a LinkedIn post this month.
Three special rapporteurs appointed by a top United Nations human rights body last week urged India to review the new IT rules, saying their broadened scope did not conform with international human rights norms and could threaten digital rights.
To comply with India’s new IT rules, companies such as Twitter needed to appoint a chief compliance officer, a nodal officer and a resident grievance officer. But LinkedIn job postings show all three positions were currently open at Twitter.
The social media giant has however retained an interim chief compliance officer, it said this week, adding that it was making all efforts to adhere to the new IT rules.