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Elon Musk’s China Ties Add Potential Risks to Twitter Purchase: Report

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Elon Musk’s ties to China through his role as electric car brand Tesla’s biggest shareholder could add complexity to his bid to buy Twitter.

Other companies that want access to China give in to pressure to follow Beijing’s positions on Taiwan and other issues. But Twitter is shut out by Internet barriers that block most Chinese users from seeing global social media, which gives Beijing no leverage over the company, though the ruling Communist Party uses it to spread propaganda abroad.

Tesla’s ambitions in China might give Beijing that leverage to pressure Twitter to silence human rights activists and other critics or ease its rules on propaganda if Musk’s $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,37,465 crore) purchase goes ahead, some experts suggest. Chinese customers bought half the Teslas sold last year. Its busiest factory and “main export hub” is in Shanghai.

“The Chinese exert tremendous leverage over businesses,” said Anne Stevenson-Yang of J Capital Research. “If you care about the Shanghai operation (of Tesla), then you’re going to put everything else in service to that.”

Musk says he sees “no indications” Beijing might use Tesla as leverage, but other companies don’t wait for government orders. Automakers, clothing brands and others take pre-emptive action to protect their access to China by changing marketing or products sold worldwide to reflect official positions such as the ruling party’s claim that self-ruled Taiwan is part of its territory.

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Musk said Friday his offer was suspended while he tried to confirm whether the number of Twitter accounts without real users behind them was below 5 percent of the total, as the company says.

On Monday, he said at a business conference in Miami that a deal at a lower price wasn’t “out of the question,” Bloomberg News reported. That supported suggestions by industry analysts that Musk wants out of the deal or a lower price due to a fall in the value of Tesla sock, some of which he has pledged to finance the purchase.

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Trying to use an investor’s stake in one company to pressure a different company outside China would be a new tactic. But foreign investors know the ruling party is increasingly assertive about defending its “core interests” worldwide and attacks global brands even when that imposes costs on China and its public.

Officials have warned companies must “respect the feelings of the Chinese people” and avoid “eating Chinese rice while smashing Chinese bowls.”

A handful have given up opportunities in China to avoid cooperating with official censorship or surveillance or suffering a consumer backlash abroad over human rights or other issues. More common are companies such as hotel operator Marriott, which in 2018 fired an employee who “liked” a Twitter post praising a customer survey outside China that called Tibet a country.

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Regulators can pressure automakers by blocking them from expanding output while ordering them to stay silent about the reason. More openly, state media have called for boycotts of Japanese, South Korean and other brands during disputes with their governments.

Tesla’s sales in China rose 226 percent last year to 473,600 vehicles, according to LMC Automotive. That was about half of its 935,222 global deliveries.

Musk, who is Tesla’s chairman, was asked about the possibility the automaker might be used by Beijing as leverage over Twitter while appearing virtually at a May 11 event hosted by The Financial Times newspaper on the auto industry’s future.

“I’ve seen no indications to that effect,” Musk replied.

Musk said he expects China to be 25 percent to 30 percent of Tesla’s market in the long term.

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The South African-born billionaire said he doesn’t see another Tesla factory in China in the near term but the company will expand in Shanghai.

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The company, headquartered in Austin, Texas, didn’t respond to questions by email about its expansion plans.

Human rights activists criticised Tesla after it opened a showroom in Xinjiang in the northwest last year despite complaints of abuses against ethnic Muslim groups living there. The company isn’t alone: Volkswagen AG operates a factory in the region and Chinese partners of other global brands have sales outlets there.

Musk says he wants to make Twitter a “politically neutral” forum for as much free speech as each country’s laws allow.

He hasn’t said what he might do about Twitter’s requirement that accounts of China’s state media and officials must be labelled “state-affiliated.” Scrapping that or curbs on inflammatory speech might make it easier for Beijing or other governments to influence American public opinion during elections.

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A reporter for the official China Daily newspaper wants the tag dropped.

“Elon Musk should remove my label,” Chen Weihua wrote on Twitter on April 30. “This is totally discriminatory and suppression of free speech.”

Some companies fail to find a compromise between Chinese pressure and public outrage abroad over accusations of forced labor in Xinjiang and other abuses.

Last year, state media called for a boycott of Swedish clothing retailer H&M and other brands that stopped using cotton from Xinjiang. Most stuck to their position despite a hit to sales, possibly fearing bigger losses from a consumer backlash abroad.

Some companies don’t want to be seen to “carry the water for the government,” said Lester Ross, head of the Beijing office of Washington law firm WilmerHale.

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China has the biggest population of Internet users at just over 1 billion, according to official data. But most cannot see Twitter, other social media abroad and thousands of websites run by news outlets, human rights or pro-democracy activists and others.

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China has its own popular but heavily censored social media. They are required to delete material deemed subversive or pornographic.

Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog service, says it has 573 million active monthly users, or more than double Twitter’s 229 million. Tencent’s WeChat message service says 1.2 billion people use it every day.

Censorship has tightened steadily since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.

Accounts run by support groups for young gays and lesbians have been closed. Complaints about food shortages when Shanghai was shut down to fight virus outbreaks were deleted.

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In 2018, Tesla became the first foreign automaker to set up its own factory in China after ownership restrictions in the industry were scrapped. Until then, global automakers had to work through state-owned partners that assembled their vehicles.

Tesla’s honeymoon included access to subsidies for buyers of electrics and an exemption from sales tax. But when subsidies were extended in 2020 to help the industry through the pandemic, Tesla was excluded, while its closest Chinese rival, luxury electric brand NIO, remained eligible.

Musk is known for flamboyant gestures that include smoking marijuana during a radio interview. But he is alert to Chinese sensitivities.

He complained anti-virus measures in California disrupted Tesla production but said nothing in public after the shutdown of Shanghai forced his company’s factory to close.


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Twitter Under Elon Musk Leaning on Automation to Moderate Content Against Hate Speech

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Elon Musk’s Twitter is leaning heavily on automation to moderate content, doing away with certain manual reviews and favoring restrictions on distribution rather than removing certain speech outright, its new head of trust and safety told Reuters.

Twitter is also more aggressively restricting abuse-prone hashtags and search results in areas including child exploitation, regardless of potential impacts on “benign uses” of those terms, said Twitter Vice President of Trust and Safety Product Ella Irwin.

“The biggest thing that’s changed is the team is fully empowered to move fast and be as aggressive as possible,” Irwin said on Thursday, in the first interview a Twitter executive has given since Musk’s acquisition of the social media company in late October.

Her comments come as researchers are reporting a surge in hate speech on the social media service, after Musk announced an amnesty for accounts suspended under the company’s previous leadership that had not broken the law or engaged in “egregious spam.”

The company has faced pointed questions about its ability and willingness to moderate harmful and illegal content since Musk slashed half of Twitter’s staff and issued an ultimatum to work long hours that resulted in the loss of hundreds more employees.

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And advertisers, Twitter’s main revenue source, have fled the platform over concerns about brand safety.

On Friday, Musk vowed “significant reinforcement of content moderation and protection of freedom of speech” in a meeting with France President Emmanuel Macron.

Irwin said Musk encouraged the team to worry less about how their actions would affect user growth or revenue, saying safety was the company’s top priority. “He emphasizes that every single day, multiple times a day,” she said.

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The approach to safety Irwin described at least in part reflects an acceleration of changes that were already being planned since last year around Twitter’s handling of hateful conduct and other policy violations, according to former employees familiar with that work.

One approach, captured in the industry mantra “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach,” entails leaving up certain tweets that violate the company’s policies but barring them from appearing in places like the home timeline and search.

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Twitter has long deployed such “visibility filtering” tools around misinformation and had already incorporated them into its official hateful conduct policy before the Musk acquisition. The approach allows for more freewheeling speech while cutting down on the potential harms associated with viral abusive content.

The number of tweets containing hateful content on Twitter rose sharply in the week before Musk tweeted on November 23 that impressions, or views, of hateful speech were declining, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate – in one example of researchers pointing to the prevalence of such content, while Musk touts a reduction in visibility.

Tweets containing words that were anti-Black that week were triple the number seen in the month before Musk took over, while tweets containing a gay slur were up 31%, the researchers said.

‘More risks, move fast’

Irwin, who joined the company in June and previously held safety roles at other companies including Amazon.com and Google, pushed back on suggestions that Twitter did not have the resources or willingness to protect the platform.

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She said layoffs did not significantly impact full-time employees or contractors working on what the company referred to as its “Health” divisions, including in “critical areas” like child safety and content moderation.

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Two sources familiar with the cuts said that more than 50 percent of the Health engineering unit was laid off. Irwin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the assertion, but previously denied that the Health team was severely impacted by layoffs.

She added that the number of people working on child safety had not changed since the acquisition, and that the product manager for the team was still there. Irwin said Twitter backfilled some positions for people who left the company, though she declined to provide specific figures for the extent of the turnover.

She said Musk was focused on using automation more, arguing that the company had in the past erred on the side of using time- and labor-intensive human reviews of harmful content.

“He’s encouraged the team to take more risks, move fast, get the platform safe,” she said.

On child safety, for instance, Irwin said Twitter had shifted toward automatically taking down tweets reported by trusted figures with a track record of accurately flagging harmful posts.

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Carolina Christofoletti, a threat intelligence researcher at TRM Labs who specializes in child sexual abuse material, said she has noticed Twitter recently taking down some content as fast as 30 seconds after she reports it, without acknowledging receipt of her report or confirmation of its decision.

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In the interview on Thursday, Irwin said Twitter took down about 44,000 accounts involved in child safety violations, in collaboration with cybersecurity group Ghost Data.

Twitter is also restricting hashtags and search results frequently associated with abuse, like those aimed at looking up “teen” pornography. Past concerns about the impact of such restrictions on permitted uses of the terms were gone, she said.

The use of “trusted reporters” was “something we’ve discussed in the past at Twitter, but there was some hesitancy and frankly just some delay,” said Irwin.

“I think we now have the ability to actually move forward with things like that,” she said.

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© Thomson Reuters 2022


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Elon Musk Introduces ‘Live Tweeting’ Feature Amid Ongoing Plans for Twitter

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Twitter CEO Elon Musk, on Saturday, added a new feature ‘live tweeting’ and now it is currently active on the platform.

Author Matt Taibbi becomes the first user to use this new feature with his cryptic tweet “Thread: THE TWITTER FILES”

Taking to Twitter, Musk wrote, “Here we go!!” with popcorn emoticons.

Earlier, he tweeted, “We’re double-checking some facts, so probably start live tweeting in about 40 mins.”

We’re double-checking some facts, so probably start live tweeting in about 40 mins

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 2, 2022

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Griftopia writer followed his first tweet which reads, “Thread: THE TWITTER FILES”, “What you’re about to read is the first installment in a series, based upon thousands of internal documents obtained by sources at Twitter.”

He added, “The “Twitter Files” tell an incredible story from inside one of the world’s largest and most influential social media platforms. It is a Frankensteinian tale of a human-built mechanism grown out the control of its designer.”

Twitter’s new boss is also working on “purging a lot” of spam/scam accounts.

On Thursday, Musk took to his Twitter account and shared the word limit update with everyone. He tweeted, “Twitter is purging a lot of spam/scam accounts right now, so you may see your follower count drop.”

Twitter is purging a lot of spam/scam accounts right now, so you may see your follower count drop

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 1, 2022

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Musk is also planning to up Twitter’s character limit from 280 to 1000.

A few days ago, a social media user tagged Musk and tweeted, ” Idea on explanding character limit to 1000.”

In response, Musk wrote, “It’s on the todo list.”

The character limit has been one of the prime differences between Twitter and other social media services.Musk has shown interest in the idea of increasing the character limit on a number of occasions since his takeover of the platform, as per a report by Mashable. On November 27, a Twitter user suggested to Musk to increase the platform’s word limit from 280 to 420.

“Good idea” Musk wrote in response. Prior to that, another user had suggested “get rid of character limits.”

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“Absolutely”, the multi-billionaire responded.

Now it remains to be seen when Musk finally makes the changes regarding character limit.


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WhatsApp Begins Beta Testing Android Tablet Support, iOS Testers Get ‘Search by Date’ Feature

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WhatsApp is rolling out an update for its beta testers on Android that introduces support for WhatsApp for tablets. Select Android beta testers can now link their existing WhatsApp account on their phones with the tablet version of the app. Until now, a WhatsApp account on an Android phone could not be accessed on a secondary Android device. Meanwhile, some beta testers on WhatsApp for iOS are reportedly getting access to a new feature that will allow them to quickly jump to messages based on the date they were sent or received.

Spotted by WhatsApp feature tracker WABetaInfo, users who have signed up for WhatsApp’s beta programme will begin to see an in-app banner announcing the feature. A screengrab on the website shows a banner on top of chats which reads “Have an Android tablet? WhatsApp for tablet is available for beta testers.’ The banner will be visible as part of WhatsApp beta 2.22.25.8 update for Android, which makes the popular messaging app compatible on tablets. Gadgets 360 staff members who are part of the beta programme also received the banner on their smartphones.

However, the feature tracker states that the new tablet version of the app might not be feature-complete. “Note that some features may still not be available when installing WhatsApp on your tablet, for example, the ability to share a new status update, live locations, and broadcast lists,” the report said.

Notably, WhatsApp users can access their primary account on computer and WhatsApp for Web. The feature is finally coming to Android tablets, allowing beta testers to access their messages on both their smartphone and their tablet.

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Meanwhile, WABetaInfo also reports that beta testers on iOS are getting a new update that adds the ability to search for messages by date. WhatsApp version 22.24.0.77, via the TestFlight beta programme, will make it easier for users to jump to specific dates in a chat window. To check if the feature is available, users can look for a calendar icon inside the search option for a chat. The icon lets you use the ‘Jump to Date’ feature to look for specific messages sent on the day.

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WhatsApp has been busy in the past few weeks, rolling out multiple features on both Android and iOS. The app recently rolled out a ‘Message Yourself’ feature on both platforms that lets users text themselves, in case they need to note down important information, reminders, or store files. Additionally, iOS users also received an update that adds the ability to include captions for forwarded media.


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