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Facebook banned Gavin Newsom recall organizer during 2020 crackdown

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SACRAMENTO — Orrin Heatlie, the primary leader of the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, was banned from Facebook last year after the company concluded that he had violated its community standards.

Heatlie said Facebook never told him exactly why he was removed, though he said he was part of two groups he later found “questionable.” He said one was a militia-type group of which he was briefly an administrator, and that the other promoted misinformation about vaccines and masks. His profile is still removed from the social media platform.

A spokesperson for Facebook confirmed Heatlie’s profile was removed in September and said the ban was unrelated to the Newsom recall. Facebook would not elaborate, but the spokesperson pointed to a company policy stating that it removes “pages and groups for a variety of reasons including hate speech (and) incitement to violence,” and group administrators whose pages pose “a risk to public safety.”

Heatlie suggested Facebook’s action was part of a pattern of censorship aimed at proponents of the recall and other conservative activists.

He said he was, for a short time, part of a militia-type Facebook group and that someone in it made him an “honorary administrator,” which allowed him to share information about the recall on its page. He said he could not recall the group’s name.

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Heatlie, a retired Yolo County sheriff’s sergeant, said he stopped posting on the militia-type group after Facebook notified him that it had deleted comments on its page that contained misinformation or violated the site’s community standards.

“It wasn’t a group I had interaction with other than to promote the recall,” Heatlie told The Chronicle in a text message. “Their inflammatory agenda and rhetoric was counterproductive to our mission objective. We promote a peaceful and lawful recall process, the power of the people to petition their government, a fundamental right.”

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Heatlie said he was a member of about 250 Facebook groups and an administrator of at least 75 groups before the company banned him. Administrators on Facebook have broad powers to manage pages, including the ability to reject posts and remove members.

“I joined many groups with high membership as a means to help spread word of the recall by any means possible,” Heatlie said. “It was a means of conveyance for me to message the group members rather than specific affiliation with any particular group.”

He said he did not play a role in managing the militia-type group’s page. He added, “I believe I had even removed my name from the group because they were constantly flagged for misinformation.”

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Heatlie said he was also part of a Facebook group for the Freedom Angels, who have spread false information about vaccines and discouraged people from wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

Heatlie said he briefly worked with the Freedom Angels early in the recall effort but parted ways because “their agenda was not something I supported or endorse.”

Facebook ramped up its misinformation policing efforts last summer ahead of the November election. Facebook said it removed more than 6,500 pages and groups tied to “militarized social movements” in August and September, around the time it banned Heatlie.

Thousands more groups and conservative activists had their pages and profiles removed after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Heatlie said he has no affiliation with any militia groups that took part in the riot. He added, “It should be noted my profile was deleted months and months before what took place in Washington D.C. and I have only advocated for peaceful activism.”

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Heatlie, 52, launched the effort to recall Newsom in February 2020. Initially seen as a long-shot gambit, the movement caught fire and the recall is now on the verge of qualifying for the ballot.

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He is the leader of the California Patriot Coalition — Recall Governor Gavin Newsom, one of two groups that submitted a total of 2.1 million signatures supporting the recall to election officials. The groups needed just short of 1.5 million valid signatures of registered voters to put the recall on the ballot this fall. Officials are still checking signatures, but both sides expect the recall to qualify.

Heatlie has drawn scrutiny in recent weeks over his past social media comments. Newsom’s campaign has pointed to a June 2019 Facebook post in which Heatlie wrote, “Microchip all illegal immigrants. It works! Just ask animal control! Process photograph, identify, and implant!”

Heatlie said that post, first reported by Politico, was “hyperbole” intended to spark a discussion with friends on Facebook. In an interview, he said he opposes forced microchipping, tattoos or vaccinations.

Nathan Click, a spokesperson for Newsom’s campaign, said Facebook’s action against Heatlie buttressed Democrats’ argument that the recall is being led by far-right extremists.

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“For those trying to understand the forces behind this Republican recall, simply look to the recall’s top leadership,” Click said in an email. “They are telling us who they are, and Californians should listen.”

Heatlie said his removal from Facebook and its refusal to provide specifics indicated that the company was biased against the recall. He noted that Facebook is represented by the lobbying firm Axiom Advisors, where Newsom’s close friend Jason Kinney is a partner. Facebook declined to respond to Heatlie’s accusations.

Heatlie said attacks on his social media use are a distraction from the reasons for the recall.

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“The fact is, I’m not running for governor,” Heatlie said. “This battle isn’t between me and the governor. It’s between the people of California and their governor.”

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Dustin Gardiner is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: dustin.gardiner@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @dustingardiner

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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

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Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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