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Phony ‘Fact Check’ Account on Twitter Raises New Concerns

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The deception was easy to pull off and came with barely any consequences.

Britain’s Conservative Party changed the name of its press office’s Twitter account to “factcheckUK” during a televised election debate between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn this week.

The renaming made the account look like a neutral fact-checker, raising new concerns about all the creative ways groups and individuals can use social media to deceive voters.

The party hardly even got a slap on the wrist, as Twitter pledged to take “decisive corrective action” only if the Conservatives try to mislead people again.

The incident occurred after years of promises, new rules and millions of dollars spent by social media companies to prevent election interference following Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

It shows that whatever steps tech companies have taken, users will continue to look for ways to exploit loopholes, unevenly enforced or nonexistent policies and companies’ fears of appearing partisan in their crackdowns.

“This is dirty tricks and should be dealt with mercilessly,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities who covers social media. “It shows how difficult it is for social media to police tricks like these.”

In one tweet, the Conservative Party account posted a short video with the words “factcheckUK verdict,” declaring Johnson the winner of the debate. The renamed account still carried the blue checkmark reserved for “verified” Twitter users.

It’s not clear if large swaths of people were misled by the fake fact-checking account. Plenty of Twitter users called out the deception while it was happening.

The Conservative Party changed only the name that appeared at the top of the account, not the actual username that comes after the “at” symbol. Anyone who took a closer look could still see who the tweets were coming from.

Twitter declined to answer questions Wednesday on whether it is rethinking its policies to prevent similar incidents and why it didn’t suspend the offending account.

Twitter users can easily change their account names. This is popular around Halloween, when people temporarily adopt spooky monikers. While impersonation is technically against Twitter’s policies, the rules don’t apply to parody accounts.

There is no specific rule on Twitter against calling yourself a fact-checker, even if you’re peddling anything but facts.

As for Twitter’s bigger rival Facebook, it is unclear if there’s anything to stop a verified group from changing its name on the social network to something like TheTruthUK or FactCheckUSA.

While Facebook bars impersonating the official account of a brand or a public figure, its rules are silent on names that merely describe the account’s intent.

Some journalists fear that sites that co-opt the phrase “fact check” to make political points could cause the term to lose its meaning.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab defended the party’s actions, saying the Twitter account was clearly linked to the Conservatives and asserting that voters would not be perturbed by “the social media cut and thrust.”

“We make no apology for having an instant rebuttal to all the nonsense and lies put out,” Raab told the BBC.

Twitter, long known for its freewheeling and public nature, has said in the past that it cares “deeply” about misinformation and its “potentially harmful effect on the civic and political discourse that is core to our mission.”

But it does not offer third-party fact checks like Facebook. Nor does it ban misinformation save for a few specific cases, such as instances in which people are being told the wrong time or place to vote.

Twitter cannot check every single tweet for accuracy. Instead, the company said in a 2017 blog post, its “open and real-time nature is a powerful antidote to the spreading of all types of false information.”

Even so, the company recently banned all political ads, calling it an important step in reducing the flow of election-related misinformation. But the policy does not apply to the myriad other ways misinformation can be spread.

Tim Bajarin, president of consultancy Creative Strategies, said that while the misleading name change happened in Britain, both major parties in the U.S. will probably “go to school on how this works and how Twitter responds to this.”

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Twitter Said to Be Planning Bitcoin Payments as Tips on Its Platform

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Twitter is considering a feature that would allow users to tip one another – in Bitcoins though.

The Information reports that the micro-blogging platform is working on implementing a new payment feature to let people send money to each other.

It is not yet clear whether the Twitter tipping feature would integrate with Jack Dorsey’s other company, Square, which is a financial services, merchant services aggregator, and mobile payment company based in San Francisco.

Dorsey has made absolutely no secret of his love of Bitcoin over the years.

NewsBTC has reported on the Twitter CEO opining that Bitcoin will one day be the currency of the internet and his company Square integrating cryptocurrency payments.

“Dorsey has been a major investor in the Bitcoin micropayments solution Lightning Network,” said the report.

Dorsey will move to Africa for three-six months this year to “define the future”.

“Sad to be leaving the continent for now. Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!). Not sure where yet, but I’ll be living here for 3-6 months mid-2020. Grateful I was able to experience a small part,” said the Twitter CEO.

Dorsey has also hired Bitcoin developers for his payments company.

He is an advocate of digital currency bitcoin but he also says it is “not functional as a currency”.

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Twitter System ‘Outage’ Briefly Blocked Trump Whistleblower Tweet

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A tweet from US President Donald Trump that identified an intelligence analyst as the alleged whistleblower who helped spark his impeachment was temporarily blocked at the weekend, with Twitter blaming an outage that affected a number of user accounts. In recent days, Trump shared an unsubstantiated media report and a second post that appeared to name the intelligence community member.

However, the second tweet, from the president’s personal account, was not visible on Saturday to all of his 68 million followers. It was visible again on Sunday afternoon, although the original account that shared the alleged whistleblower’s name had been deleted.

“Due to an outage with one of our systems, tweets on account profiles were visible to some, but not others,” Twitter Support said. “We’re still working on fixing this and apologise for any confusion.” A spokeswoman for the social media platform confirmed that the US president’s account was among those affected.

The spokeswoman added that, per Twitter policy, any tweets that included private information about an individual, including the alleged whistleblower, would be in violation of its rules. Names are not considered private information, she said.

Democrats, some Republicans, and members of the US intelligence community have strongly objected to the effort to reveal the whistleblower’s identify, calling it inappropriate and possibly illegal.

Mark Zaid, one of the whistleblower’s lawyers, said on Twitter in early November that Republicans had “sought to expose our client’s identity which could jeopardise their safety, as well as that of their family.”

Other Republicans, including Senator Rand Paul and the president’s son Donald Trump Jr, have previously shared links on Twitter to articles from right-wing news outlets identifying what they claimed was the likely whistleblower. However, Thursday marked the first time the president had done so, when he retweeted a link to a Washington Examiner article.

On Friday, Trump retweeted a post from a pro-Trump account that featured the same name prominently, and that has also shared photos of a person who it alleged was the whistleblower.

That retweet briefly disappeared from Trump’s Twitter account on Saturday, reported the Washington Post, CNN, and other media.

© Thomson Reuters 2019

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Twitter Adds Support for iPhone’s Live Photos, Will Now Preserve Image Quality for Uploads on Web

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Twitter announced earlier this year that it is planning on adding support for Apple’s Live Photos feature on iOS devices while everyone was looking for a simple edit button for tweets. Now, four years after Apple launched the feature on iOS devices, Twitter has added support for Live Photos. The social networking giant announced the new feature for iPhone users on Wednesday. Live Photos will be converted to GIFs when they’re shared on Twitter.

Apple’s Live Photos feature lets iOS users capture very short videos while taking a photo. Users who tried to share Live Photos on Twitter, until now, would end up with a still photo. Users could convert their Live Photos to GIF using a third-party app and then share them on Twitter.

Twitter’s support for Live Photos will now eliminate the need for using a third-party application. Users can directly share their Live Photos and they’ll be automatically converted to GIFs.

To use the new feature, Twitter users need to use the company’s iOS app. While posting a new tweet, users can select a Live Photo from their camera roll, select the GIF button on the left corner of the compose window, add relevant text, and that’s it.

Separately, Twitter will now preserve JPEG image quality for all photo uploads on Twitter for Web. The social networking company will still compress the thumbnails that users see on their timeline. However, when users click on the thumbnail to see the full image, it’ll be presented in high resolution. Twitter engineer Nolan O’Brien announced via a tweet. The company will still strip EXIF data from the images.

O’Brien further clarified that the company will continue to impose limits for images, but those will remain ‘very generous’. He says users will be able to share images up to 16-megapixels which will be preserved in original quality.

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