US congressional committee releases sealed Brazil court orders to Musk’s X, shedding light on account suspensions

US congressional committee releases sealed Brazil court orders to Musk’s X, shedding light on account suspensions
Brazil's Superior Electoral Court president, Alexandre de Moraes, whose relentless campaign against online disinformation has gained himself another adversary, X tycoon Elon Musk. (AFP)
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Updated 19 April 2024
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US congressional committee releases sealed Brazil court orders to Musk’s X, shedding light on account suspensions

US congressional committee releases sealed Brazil court orders to Musk’s X, shedding light on account suspensions

RIO DE JANEIRO: A US congressional committee released confidential Brazilian court orders to suspend accounts on the social media platform X, offering a glimpse into decisions that have spurred complaints of alleged censorship from the company and its billionaire owner Elon Musk.
The Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee late Wednesday published a staff report disclosing dozens of decisions by Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordering X to suspend or remove around 150 user profiles from its platform in recent years.
The 541-page report is the product of committee subpoenas directed at X. In his orders, de Moraes had prohibited X from making them public.
“To comply with its obligations under US law, X Corp. has responded to the Committee,” the company said in a statement on X on April 15.
The disclosure comes amid a battle Musk has waged against de Moraes.
Musk, a self-proclaimed free-speech absolutist, had vowed to publish de Moraes’ orders, which he equated to censorship. His crusade has been cheered on by supporters of far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro, who allege they are being targeted by political persecution, and have found common cause with their ideological allies in the US
De Moraes has overseen a five-year probe of so-called “digital militias,” who allegedly spread defamatory fake news and threats to Supreme Court justices. The investigation expanded to include those inciting demonstrations across the country, seeking to overturn Bolsonaro’s 2022 election loss. Those protests culminated in the Jan. 8 uprising in Brazil’s capital, with Bolsonaro supporters storming government buildings, including the Supreme Court, in an attempt to oust President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from office.
De Moraes’ critics claim he has abused his powers and shouldn’t be allowed to unilaterally ban social media accounts, including those of democratically elected legislators. But most legal experts see his brash tactics as legally sound and furthermore justified by extraordinary circumstances of democracy imperiled. They note his decisions have been either upheld by his fellow justices or gone unchallenged.
The secret orders disclosed by the congressional committee had been issued both by Brazil’s Supreme Court and its top electoral court, over which de Moraes currently presides.
The press office of the Supreme Court declined to comment on the potential ramifications of their release when contacted by The Associated Press.
“Musk is indeed a very innovative businessman; he innovated with electric cars, he innovated with rockets and now he invented a new form of non-compliance of a court order, through an intermediary,” said Carlos Affonso, director of the nonprofit Institute of Technology and Society. “He said he would reveal the documents and he found someone to do this for him.”
Affonso, also a professor of civil rights at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said that the orders are legal but do merit debate, given users were not informed why their accounts were suspended and whether the action was taken by the platform or at the behest of a court. The orders to X included in the report rarely provide justification, either.
The Supreme Court’s press office said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the orders do not contain justifications, but said the company and people with suspended accounts can gain access by requesting the decisions from the court.
While Musk has repeatedly decried de Moraes’ orders as suppressing “free speech” principles and amounting to “aggressive censorship,” the company under his ownership has bowed to government requests from around the world.
Last year, for instance, X blocked posts critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and, in February, it blocked accounts and posts in India at the behest of the country’s government.
“The Indian government has issued executive orders requiring X to act on specific accounts and posts, subject to potential penalties including significant fines and imprisonment,” X’s global affairs account posted on Feb. 21. “In compliance with the orders, we will withhold these accounts and posts in India alone; however, we disagree with these actions and maintain that freedom of expression should extend to these posts.”
Brazil is a key market for X and other social media platforms. About 40 million Brazilians, or about 18 percent of the population, access X at least once per month, according to market research group eMarketer.
X has followed suspension orders under threat of hefty fines. De Moraes typically required compliance within two hours, and established a daily fine of 100,000-reais ($20,000) for noncompliance.
It isn’t clear whether the 150 suspended accounts represent the entirety of those de Moraes ordered suspended. Until the committee report, it wasn’t known whether the total was a handful, a few dozen or more. Some of the suspended accounts in the report have since been reactivated.
On April 6, Musk took to X to challenge de Moraes, questioning why he was “demanding so much censorship in Brazil”. The following day, the tech mogul said he would cease to comply with court orders to block accounts — and that de Moraes should either resign or be impeached. Predicting that X could be shut down in Brazil, he instructed Brazilians to use a VPN to retain their access.
De Moraes swiftly included Musk in the ongoing investigation of digital militias, and launched a separate investigation into whether Musk engaged in obstruction, criminal organization and incitement. On April 13, X’s legal representative in Brazil wrote to de Moraes that it will comply with all court orders, according to the letter, seen by the AP.
Affonso said the committee’s release of de Moraes’ orders were aimed less at Brazil than at the administration of US President Joe Biden. The report cites Brazil “as a stark warning to Americans about the threats posed by government censorship here at home.”
Terms like “censorship” and “free speech” have turned into political rallying cries for US conservatives since at least the 2016 presidential election, frustrated at seeing right-leaning commentators and high-profile Republican officials booted off Facebook and Twitter in its pre-Musk version for violating rules.
“The reason why the far-right needs him (Musk) is because they need a platform, they need a place to promote themselves. And Elon Musk needs far-right politicians because they will keep his platform protected from regulations,” said David Nemer, a Brazil native and University of Virginia professor who studies social media.
In the US, free speech is a constitutional right that’s much more permissive than in other countries, including Brazil. Still, the report’s release seemed to invigorate Bolsonaro and his far-right supporters.
Late Wednesday, soon after the court orders were released, Bolsonaro capped off a speech at a public event by calling for a round of applause for Musk.
His audience eagerly complied.
 


Apple holds talks with rival Meta over AI: report

Apple holds talks with rival Meta over AI: report
Updated 24 June 2024
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Apple holds talks with rival Meta over AI: report

Apple holds talks with rival Meta over AI: report
  • Pressure has been on Apple to persuade doubters on its AI strategy, after Microsoft and Google rolled out products in rapid-fire succession.

WASHINGTON: Apple is talking to major rival Meta about integrating the Facebook parent company’s generative AI into its products, as it tries to catch up with rivals on artificial intelligence, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
The report comes after Apple also struck a deal with OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, to help equip its Apple Intelligence suite of new AI features for its coveted products.
For months, pressure has been on Apple to persuade doubters on its AI strategy, after Microsoft and Google rolled out products in rapid-fire succession.
It has developed its own, smaller artificial intelligence but said that it will turn to others such as OpenAI to boost its in-house offering.
According to the Journal, which cited sources close to the matter, Meta has held discussions with Apple over integrating its own generative AI model into Apple Intelligence.
Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi said in early June that Apple also wanted to integrate capabilities from Google’s generative AI system, Gemini, into its devices.

The iPhone maker is also expected to discuss partnerships with other AI companies in different regions like China, where Microsoft-backed OpenAI chatbot ChatGPT is banned.
AI startup Anthropic has been in discussions with Apple to bring its generative AI to Apple Intelligence, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
Meta and Anthropic declined to comment, while Apple did not respond immediately to request for comment outside business hours.

AI search startup Perplexity has also been in discussions with Apple about bringing its generative AI technology to Apple Intelligence, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The big challenge for Apple has been how to infuse ChatGPT-style AI — which voraciously feeds off data — into its products without weakening its heavily promoted user privacy and security, according to analysts.
Apple Intelligence will enable users to create their own emojis based on a description in everyday language, or to generate brief summaries of emails in the mailbox.
Apple said Siri, its voice assistant, will also get an AI-infused upgrade and now will appear as a pulsating light on the edge of your home screen.
Launched over 12 years ago, Siri has long since been seen as a dated feature, overtaken by the new generation of assistants, such as GPT-4o, OpenAI’s latest offering.
According to Canalys, 16 percent of smartphones shipped this year will be equipped with generative AI features, a proportion it expects to rise to 54 percent by 2028.

The discussions have not been finalized and could fall through, WSJ reported, adding that deals with Apple would help AI companies to obtain a wider distribution of their products.
The size of potential financial windfall is unclear, but the talks involved AI companies selling premium subscriptions to their services through Apple Intelligence, the report said.
 


Reuters denies reporting imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon following social media claims

Reuters denies reporting imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon following social media claims
Updated 23 June 2024
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Reuters denies reporting imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon following social media claims

Reuters denies reporting imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon following social media claims

LONDON: Reuters denied on Saturday that it had reported that Israel would attack Lebanon within 48 hours, after reports circulated on social media citing the news agency as saying this.
“Any claims that Reuters reported that Israel will attack Lebanon within the next 48 hours are false. Reuters did not report this,” a Reuters spokesperson said.


Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza

Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza
Updated 21 June 2024
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Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza

Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza
  • Maha Hussaini accuses International Women’s Media Foundation of bowing to pressure she says is typical of the systematic attacks Palestinian journalists face
  • Foundation’s decision follows a report by a conservative publication that accused Hussaini of support for Hamas and antisemitic comments

LONDON: A group that represents women in journalism has rescinded a Courage in Journalism award it presented this month to Palestinian journalist Maha Hussaini.

The decision by the International Women’s Media Foundation follows a report this week by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication in the US, that alleged the freelance writer, who is based in Gaza, had posted messages on social media several years ago in which she praised terrorist actions by Hamas on at least two occasions and shared antisemitic cartoons.

The foundation said the comments in the posts “contradict the values of our organization,” adding: “Both the Courage Awards and the IWMF’s mission are based on integrity and opposition to intolerance. We do not, and will not, condone or support views or statements that do not adhere to those principles.”

Hussaini was named on June 10 as one of four recipients of the Courage Award, for her reporting during the war in Gaza. Her work included a story about the challenges women face giving birth at home during the conflict, and a harrowing account of a young girl who carried her paralyzed brother to safety during military bombing campaigns.

The IWMF describes itself as “a bold and inclusive organization that supports journalists where they are.” Its board and advisory council include prominent media figures such as former CNN journalist Suzanne Malveaux, the Washington Post’s Hannah Allam and CNN TV news anchor Christiane Amanpour.

Hussaini denounced the decision to rescind the award, accusing the Washington-based foundation of “succumbing to pressure” and “choosing to act contrary to courage.” She added that it “starkly demonstrated the systematic physical and moral attacks Palestinian journalists endure throughout their careers.”

Ina message posted on social media platform X, she added: “Each announcement of an award to a Palestinian journalist is systematically followed by extensive smearing campaigns and intense pressure on the awarding organizations from supporters of the Israeli occupation and the Zionist lobby.

“While some organizations uphold their principles and maintain their decision … others, regrettably, cave to the pressure and withdraw the prizes.”

Hussaini said she had “no regrets about any posts” and said her social media comments reflected her experiences of living under Israeli occupation and simply expressed support for resistance efforts.

The foundation’s decision was widely criticized by journalists and media groups. Some suggested Hussaini was the victim of a “vicious campaign,” others described the output of the Washington Free Beacon as “decadent and unethical” and said it had a history of targeting supporters of the Palestinian cause.


UK journalist Winnett will not join Washington Post as editor following backlash with staff

UK journalist Winnett will not join Washington Post as editor following backlash with staff
Updated 21 June 2024
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UK journalist Winnett will not join Washington Post as editor following backlash with staff

UK journalist Winnett will not join Washington Post as editor following backlash with staff
  • Robert Winnett is accused of using unethical methods to obtain information
  • Winnet’s candidacy faced criticism from Post staff who scrutinized his past

WASHINGTON: British journalist Robert Winnett will not be joining the Washington Post as its editor, an internal memo seen by Reuters showed, following media reports that he used unethical methods to obtain information while working with the Sunday Times.
Post publisher Will Lewis had named Winnett, a former colleague who serves as deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, to the role earlier this month after the exit of Sally Buzbee, the first woman to lead the storied newsroom. The reversal means Winnett will remain at the Daily Telegraph, which he joined in 2007.
“It is with regret that I share with you that Robert Winnett has withdrawn from the position of Editor at The Washington Post,” Lewis said in the memo on Friday.
The New York Times reported last Saturday that Lewis and Winnett used fraudulently obtained records in articles at London’s Sunday Times newspaper. On Sunday, the Post published a report detailing Winnett’s ties to John Ford, who has admitted to using illegal methods to gain information for stories.
Lewis did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment, while Winnett declined to comment.
Daily Telegraph editor Chris Evans said in an internal memo, “I’m pleased to report that Rob Winnett has decided to stay with us. As you all know, he’s a talented chap and their loss is our gain.”
The Post’s memo showed that it has started a search for a new editor and that Matt Murray, former editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal, will lead the newsroom and continue in his role as executive editor until after the US elections.
The newspaper, owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is one of many news outlets struggling to maintain a sustainable business model in the decades since the Internet upended the economics of journalism and digital advertising rates plummeted.
Executives at the Post last year offered voluntary buyouts across the company to reduce employee headcount by about 10 percent and shrink the size of the newsroom to about 940 journalists.
A report in the Post last month said the newspaper was planning to create new subscription tiers called Post Pro and Post Plus to draw more money from its readers after losing $77 million over the past year.


TikTok accuses federal agency of ‘political demagoguery’ in legal challenge against potential US ban

TikTok accuses federal agency of ‘political demagoguery’ in legal challenge against potential US ban
Updated 21 June 2024
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TikTok accuses federal agency of ‘political demagoguery’ in legal challenge against potential US ban

TikTok accuses federal agency of ‘political demagoguery’ in legal challenge against potential US ban
  • ByteDance-owned company said in court letter that Committee on Foreign Investment ceased negotions after submitting draft security agreement

LONDON: TikTok disclosed a letter Thursday that accused the Biden administration of engaging in “political demagoguery” during high-stakes negotiations between the government and the company as it sought to relieve concerns about its presence in the US
The letter — sent to David Newman, a top official in the Justice Department’s national security division, before President Biden signed the potential TikTok ban into law — was submitted in federal court along with a legal brief supporting the company’s lawsuit against measure. TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company ByteDance is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which is expected to be one of the biggest legal battles in tech and Internet history.
The internal documents provide details about negotiations between TikTok and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a secretive inter-agency panel that investigates corporate deals over national security concerns, between January 2021 and August 2022.
TikTok has said those talks ultimately resulted in a 90-page draft security agreement that would have required the company to implement more robust safeguards around US user data. It would have also required TikTok to put in a “kill switch” that would have allowed CFIUS to suspend the platform if it was found to be non-compliant with the agreement.
However, attorneys for TikTok said the agency “ceased any substantive negotiations” with the company after it submitted the draft agreement in August 2022.
CFIUS did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Justice Department said it is looking forward to defending the recently enacted legislation, which it says addresses “critical national security concerns in a manner that is consistent with the First Amendment and other constitutional limitations.”
“Alongside others in our intelligence community and in Congress, the Justice Department has consistently warned about the threat of autocratic nations that can weaponize technology — such as the apps and software that run on our phones – to use against us,” the statement said. “This threat is compounded when those autocratic nations require companies under their control to turn over sensitive data to the government in secret.”
The letter sent to Newman details additional meetings between TikTok and government officials since then, including a March 2023 call the company said was arranged by Paul Rosen, the US Treasury’s undersecretary for investment security.
According to TikTok, Rosen told the company that “senior government officials” deemed the draft agreement to be insufficient to address the government’s national security concerns. Rosen also said a solution would have to involve a divestment by ByteDance and the migration of the social platform’s source code, or its fundamental programming, out of China.
TikTok’s lawsuit has painted divestment as a technological impossibility since the law requires all of TikTok’s millions of lines of code to be wrested from ByteDance so that there would be no “operational relationship” between the Chinese company and the new US app.
After the Wall Street Journal reported in March 2023 that CFIUS had threatened ByteDance to divest TikTok or face a ban, TikTok’s attorneys held another call with senior staff from the Justice and Treasury departments where they said leaks to the media by government officials were “problematic and damaging.”
That call was followed by an in-person meeting in May 2023 between TikTok’s attorneys, technical experts and senior staff at the Treasury Department focused on data safety measures and TikTok’s source code, the company’s attorneys said. The last meeting with CFIUS occurred in September 2023.
In the letter to Newman, TikTok’s attorneys say CFIUS provides a constructive way to address the government’s concern. However, they added, the agency can only serve this purpose when the law — which imposes confidentiality — and regulations “are followed and both sides are engaged in good-faith discussions, as opposed to political subterfuge, where CFIUS negotiations are misappropriated for legislative purposes.”
The legal brief also shared details of, but does not include, a one-page document the Justice Department allegedly provided to members of Congress in March, a month before they passed the federal bill that would require the platform to be sold to an approved buyer or face a ban.
TikTok’s attorneys said the document asserted TikTok collects sensitive data without alleging the Chinese government has ever obtained such data. According to the company, the document also alleged that TikTok’s algorithm creates the potential for China to influence content on the platform without alleging the country has ever done so.