Twitter, Meta among tech giants subpoenaed by Capitol riots investigation panel

The committee stated how Meta was reportedly used to exchange hateful, violent and inciting messages between users. (file/AFP)
The committee stated how Meta was reportedly used to exchange hateful, violent and inciting messages between users. (file/AFP)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Twitter, Meta among tech giants subpoenaed by Capitol riots investigation panel

The committee stated how Meta was reportedly used to exchange hateful, violent and inciting messages between users. (file/AFP)
  • The committee investigating the Capitol riots issues subpoenas against Twitter, Meta, Reddit, and Youtube citing inadequate responses

WASHINGTON: Months after requesting documents from more than a dozen social platforms, the House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection has issued subpoenas targeting Twitter, Meta, Reddit and YouTube after lawmakers said the companies’ initial responses were inadequate.
The committee chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, demanded records Thursday from the companies relating to their role in allegedly spreading misinformation about the 2020 election and promoting domestic violent extremism on their platforms in the lead-up to the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.
“Two key questions for the Select Committee are how the spread of misinformation and violent extremism contributed to the violent attack on our democracy, and what steps — if any — social media companies took to prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds for radicalizing people to violence,” Thompson, D-Mississippi, said in the letter.
Thompson added that it’s “disappointing that after months of engagement,” the four companies have not voluntarily turned over the necessary information and documents that would help lawmakers answer the questions at the heart of their investigation.
In his letter, Thompson outlined the way the companies were complicit in the deadly insurrection perpetrated by supporters of Donald Trump and far-right groups.
YouTube, owned by Alphabet, was the platform where a significant amount of communication took place “relevant to the planning and execution” of the siege against the Capitol, “including livestreams of the attack as it was taking place,” the letter stated.
The committee stated how Meta, formerly known as Facebook, was reportedly used to exchange hateful, violent and inciting messages between users as well as spread misinformation that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent in an attempt to coordinate the “Stop the Steal” movement.
On Reddit, the r/The_Donald “subreddit” community grew significantly, the letter said, before members migrated to an official website where investigators believe discussions around the planning of the attack were hosted. A spokesperson for Reddit said Thursday that the company had received the subpoena and “will continue to work with the committee on their requests.”
The letter outlined how Twitter was warned about the potential violence that was being planned on its platform in advance of the attack and how its users engaged in “communications amplifying allegations of election fraud, including by the former President himself.”
The letter highlighted one specific tweet from Trump on Dec. 19, 2020: “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election” as he urged followers to come to Washington to engage in a “wild” protest on Jan. 6, 2021.
A spokesperson for Twitter declined to comment on the subpoenas. Representatives for Meta and Alphabet did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
The committee made its initial request for the documents from 15 social media companies in August, which also included TikTok, Parler, Telegram, 4chan and 8kun.
The subpoenas come as the nine-member committee continues its wide-reaching investigation into how a mob was able to infiltrate the Capitol and disrupt the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential victory, in what was the most serious assault on Congress in two centuries.
The committee of seven Democrats and two Republicans has interviewed more than 340 people and issued dozens of subpoenas to those in Trump’s inner circle, including his former chief of staff, as well as requests to their own colleagues in the House.
On Wednesday, the committee requested an interview with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
McCarthy as well as GOP Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania have denied the committee’s request to sit down for interviews or turn over documents related to their conversations on Jan. 6, 2021, with Trump or those close to him as hundreds of his supporters beat police, stormed the building and interrupted the certification of the 2020 election.


UK government to cut funding for BBC: Mail on Sunday report

UK government to cut funding for BBC: Mail on Sunday report
Updated 16 January 2022

UK government to cut funding for BBC: Mail on Sunday report

UK government to cut funding for BBC: Mail on Sunday report
  • Freezing license cost at its current £159 would provide some relief to consumers battling rising costs of living
  • But it would also be a large blow to the BBC’s finances as it tries to compete with privately funded news outlets

LONDON: Britain’s government will cut the BBC’s funding by ordering a two-year freeze on the fee that people pay to watch the broadcaster, the Mail on Sunday reported.
The future of the license-payer funded British Broadcasting Corporation is a perpetual topic of political debate, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government most recently suggesting its funding needs to be reformed.
Set against an inflation rate expected to reach a 30-year high of 6 percent or more in April, freezing the license cost at its current 159 pounds ($217.40) would provide some relief to consumers battling sharply rising costs of living.
But it would also be a large blow to the BBC’s finances as it tries to compete with privately funded news outlets and the likes of Netflix and other entertainment streaming services funded by consumer subscriptions.
In November, the government launched negotiations to agree how much the TV license would cost, part of a five year funding settlement due to begin in April 2022.
The Digital, Media, Culture and Sport department declined to comment when asked about the Mail on Sunday report.
Culture secretary Nadine Dorries said that the license fee settlement would be the last such agreement and tweeted a link to the Mail on Sunday article.
“Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content,” she said on Twitter.
The BBC declined to comment on Dorries’ tweet or the Mail on Sunday report.
The opposition Labour Party said the funding cut was politically motivated.
“The Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary seem hell-bent on attacking this great British institution because they don’t like its journalism,” said Lucy Powell, Labour lawmaker and culture policy chief.
The BBC’s news output is regularly criticized by UK political parties. Its coverage of Brexit issues — central to Johnson’s government — has long been seen as overly critical by supporters of leaving the European Union.
Last week, one Conservative lawmaker said BBC coverage relating to parties in Johnson’s Downing Street residence during coronavirus lockdowns amounted to a “coup attempt” against the prime minister.


Sudan revokes license of Al Jazeera Mubasher citing unprofessional coverage

Al Jazeera has given prominent coverage to the demonstrations and late last year also aired an interview with Burhan. (File)
Al Jazeera has given prominent coverage to the demonstrations and late last year also aired an interview with Burhan. (File)
Updated 16 January 2022

Sudan revokes license of Al Jazeera Mubasher citing unprofessional coverage

Al Jazeera has given prominent coverage to the demonstrations and late last year also aired an interview with Burhan. (File)
  • Sudan has been gripped by political turmoil since top military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan launched a coup on October 25

KHARTOUM: Sudan has revoked the license of Al Jazeera Mubasher, part of the Qatar-based network, accusing it of “unprofessional” TV coverage of anti-coup protests, the channel said Sunday.
“The Sudanese authorities announce they revoked the accreditation of Al Jazeera Mubasher and barred its team from working in Sudan,” tweeted the news channel.
Sudan has been gripped by political turmoil since top military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan launched a coup on October 25.
The military power grab triggered mass protests by pro-democracy movements demanding civilian rule that has met with a deadly crackdown.
At least 64 protesters have been killed, according to pro-democracy medics, and a police officer has also lost his life.
Al Jazeera has given prominent coverage to the demonstrations and late last year also aired an interview with Burhan.
In November, days after the interview, it said that its Khartoum bureau chief Al-Musalami Al-Kabbashi had been arrested at his home.
Kabbashi was released three days later with no official charges announced against him.
The editor-in-chief of the armed forces newspaper Ibrahim Al-Hory later accused Kabbashi of publishing “false” information and of airing “old video footage... that instigated strife” in the country.
Burhan declared a state of emergency on October 25, ousted the government and detained the civilian leadership.
Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok was placed under house arrest but later reinstated in a deal with the military.
Hamdok then resigned on January 2 warning that Sudan was at a dangerous crossroads threatening its very “survival.”
Burhan has insisted the military’s move “was not a coup” but a push to “rectify the course of the transition.”


DirecTV drops Trump-friendly One America News

Subscription television service DirecTV has decided not to renew its contract with One America News Network (OAN), an ultra-conservative, conspiratorial US channel that backs former US president Donald Trump. (Drew Angerer/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)
Subscription television service DirecTV has decided not to renew its contract with One America News Network (OAN), an ultra-conservative, conspiratorial US channel that backs former US president Donald Trump. (Drew Angerer/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)
Updated 16 January 2022

DirecTV drops Trump-friendly One America News

Subscription television service DirecTV has decided not to renew its contract with One America News Network (OAN), an ultra-conservative, conspiratorial US channel that backs former US president Donald Trump. (Drew Angerer/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)
  • The right-wing TV channel has been friendly to Donald Trump and widely criticized for spreading misinformation including the former president’s false claim that he won the 2020 election

BOSTON: DirecTV plans to drop One America News Network, significantly shrinking the reach of the right-wing TV channel friendly to Donald Trump and widely criticized for spreading misinformation including the former president’s false claim that he won the 2020 election.
The satellite television provider said Saturday that it has informed OAN’s owner, Herring Networks. Inc., that it will no longer carry its two channels when their contract expires. The other, AWA, is a lifestyle channel. The decision is believed to remove OAN from millions of homes.
“We informed Herring Networks that, following a routine internal review, we do not plan to enter into a new contract when our current agreement expires,” a DirecTV spokesman said in an emailed statement.
The spokesman would not say when the contract expires, but Bloomberg News, which first reported development on Friday, said it expires in early April.
San Diego-based Herring Networks did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Bloomberg said DirecTV is OAN’s largest distributor. On its website, Herring says OAN is carried by Verizon FiOS and several smaller TV providers. It can also be streamed online. Major cable companies including Comcast and Charter do not carry OAN.
AT&T has a 70 percent stake in DirecTV, which has carried OAN since April 2017 after AT&T settled a lawsuit demanding it carry the channels. Herring Networks had claimed AT&T reneged on an agreement to carry OAN on DirecTV, which it acquired in 2015.
OAN became a darling of Trump during his presidency and has continued to report his claim that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against him – a claim directly contradicted by the facts and exhaustive reporting. It has carried Trump live in post-presidency appearances, its reporters declining to challenge his contrafactual claims.
Trump came to OAN’s defense at a rally Saturday night in Arizona, praising the network — “I love One America News,” he said — and threatening to call for a boycott of DirecTV’s parent company, AT&T.
“This is horrible,” Trump said. “This is a great network. These are great people. I watch it all the time and you really get the truth. And they want to cancel them now because of politics — for purely political reasons. It’s a disgrace what’s going on.”
He added, “But I don’t think that people are gonna stand for it” and, noting the company’s founders were in the crowd, said, “Maybe what we should do is not use AT&T.”
Dominion Voting Systems sued OAN and other right-wing broadcasters in August, claiming they damaged the election technology company’s business by trumpeting lies spread by Trump adherents that it was complicit in an election-rigging conspiracy.
DirecTV does not provide a breakdown of its subscribers, but AT&T reported that as of the second quarter of 2021 it had a total of 15.4 million paid premium TV subscribers including DirecTV, AT&T U-verse wireline video and the online service AT&T TV.
The paid TV market has been steadily shrinking as more people abandon it for streaming services.


Twitter suspends account linked to Iranian supreme leader after Trump video post

The video, posted Wednesday on the website of Khamenei’s office, appears to show Trump, on the golf course at his Mar-a-Lago, Florida. (Screenshot)
The video, posted Wednesday on the website of Khamenei’s office, appears to show Trump, on the golf course at his Mar-a-Lago, Florida. (Screenshot)
Updated 15 January 2022

Twitter suspends account linked to Iranian supreme leader after Trump video post

The video, posted Wednesday on the website of Khamenei’s office, appears to show Trump, on the golf course at his Mar-a-Lago, Florida. (Screenshot)
  • The video showed the Trump-like figure being targeted by a robot under the shadow of a large drone on a golf course

LONDON: A Twitter account linked to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was suspended on Saturday, days after it carried a video depicting the hypothetical assassination of former US President Donald Trump.

The animation, which shows a golfer resembling Trump being targeted in a drone strike, was also posted on Khamenei’s official website, where it was described as the “winning animation from the people in the ‘Hero’ contest conducted by Khamenei.ir on the topic of revenge on Trump, (former US Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo and the murderers of Gen. Soleimani.”

It was tweeted from the Persian-language account with the text: “Revenge is definite.”

The video showed the Trump-like figure being targeted by a robot under the shadow of a large drone on a golf course.

“The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.

According to Twitter, the company's top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform.

The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.

Khamenei and other top Iranian officials have continually vowed retaliation for the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad in January, 2020.

A similar account linked to Khamenei was blocked by Twitter last year for sharing a similar image — with a golfer resembling Trump carrying the words: “Vengeance is inevitable.”

* With AFP


US anti-trust suit says Google, Facebook chiefs approved ‘illegal’ market pact

US anti-trust suit says Google, Facebook chiefs approved ‘illegal’ market pact
Updated 15 January 2022

US anti-trust suit says Google, Facebook chiefs approved ‘illegal’ market pact

US anti-trust suit says Google, Facebook chiefs approved ‘illegal’ market pact
  • The antitrust suit is one of three engaging Google on different fronts
  • Suit says the online search colossus sought to oust competition by manipulating ad auctions

SAN FRANCISCO, US: Top bosses of Google and Facebook were directly involved in approving an allegedly illegal 2018 deal to cement their dominance of the online advertising market, US court documents revealed Friday.
The records, part of an anti-trust lawsuit by a coalition of US states targeting Google, make serious allegations against Big Tech giants long accused of holding monopolies.
According to the states’ accusations, the online search colossus sought to oust competition by manipulating ad auctions — the ultra-sophisticated system that determines which ads appear on web pages based on the anonymized profiles of Internet users.
The legal documents filed in a New York court clearly refer to Sundar Pichai, chief of Google’s parent firm Alphabet, as well as Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg — even if their names were redacted.
“Google CEO Sundar Pichai also personally signed off on the terms of the deal,” the suit said.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. (AP file photo)


The documents note that the economic terms were emailed to Facebook’s CEO and he was advised: “’We’re nearly ready to sign and need your approval to move forward.’“
Google did not respond to a request for comment Friday, but has adamantly denied manipulating the digital ad market.
It was the third time the suit was amended, and did not list Facebook or its parent company Meta as defendants.
“Meta’s non-exclusive bidding agreement with Google and the similar agreements we have with other bidding platforms, have helped to increase competition for ad placements,” a spokesperson said in reply to an AFP inquiry.
“These business relationships enable Meta to deliver more value to advertisers while fairly compensating publishers, resulting in better outcomes for all.”
Google referred to the agreement internally as “Jedi Blue,” the color being a reference to Facebook’s logo, according to the filing.
“No rational developer would choose to have its auctions rigged by the market’s two largest buyers,” the suit said.
“So, Google and Facebook swore themselves to secrecy about the terms of their agreement.”
The antitrust suit is one of three engaging Google on different fronts.
The US government filed its blockbuster lawsuit in October of last year, accusing Google of maintaining an “illegal monopoly” in online search and advertising.
The country’s biggest antitrust case in decades, it opens the door to a potential breakup of the Silicon Valley titan.
While Google ad revenue has continued to grow, its share of the booming US online ad market is ebbing under pressure from competitors such as Facebook, Amazon and others, according to eMarketer.