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Social Media Firms Introduce Few Changes Ahead of Upcoming US Midterm Elections

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Social media companies are offering few specifics as they share their plans for safeguarding the US midterm elections. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are generally staying the course from the 2020 voting season, which was marred by conspiracies and culminated in the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.

Video app TikTok, which has soared in popularity since the last election cycle while also cementing its place as a problem spot for misinformation, announced Wednesday it is launching an election center that will help people find voting locations and candidate information.

The center will show up in the feeds of users who search election-related hashtags. TikTok is also partnering with voting advocacy groups to provide specialized voting information for college students, people who are deaf, military members living overseas and those with past criminal convictions.

TikTok, like other platforms, would not provide details on the number of full-time employees or how much money it is dedicating to US midterm efforts, which aim to push accurate voting information and counter misinformation.

The company said it is working with over a dozen fact-checking organizations, including US-based PolitiFact and Lead Stories, on debunking misinformation. TikTok declined to say how many videos have been fact-checked on its site. The company will use a combination of humans and artificial intelligence to detect and remove threats against election workers as well as voting misinformation.

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TikTok said it’s also also watching for influencers who break its rules by accepting money off platform to promote political issues or candidates, a problem that came to light during the 2020 election, said TikTok’s head of safety Eric Han. The company is trying to educate creators and agencies about its rules, which include bans on political advertising.

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“With the work we do, there is no finish line,” Han said.

Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, announced Tuesday that its approach to this election cycle is “largely consistent with the policies and safeguards” from 2020.

“As we did in 2020, we have a dedicated team in place to combat election and voter interference while also helping people get reliable information about when and how to vote,” Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

Meta declined to say how many people it has dedicated to its election team responsible for monitoring the midterms, only that it has “hundreds of people across more than 40 teams.”

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As in 2020, Clegg wrote, the company will remove misinformation about election dates, voting locations, voter registration and election outcomes. For the first time, Meta said it will also show US election-related notifications in languages other than English.

Meta also said it will reduce how often it uses labels on election-related posts directing people toward reliable information. The company said its users found the labels over-used. Some critics have also said the labels were often too generic and repetitive.

Compared with previous years, though, Meta’s public communication about its response to election misinformation has gone decidedly quiet, The Associated Press reported earlier this month.

Between 2018 and 2020, the company released more than 30 statements that laid out specifics about how it would stifle US election misinformation, prevent foreign adversaries from running ads or posts around the vote and subdue divisive hate speech. Until Tuesday’s blog post, Meta had only released a one-page document outlining plans for the fall elections, even as potential threats to the vote persist.

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Twitter, meanwhile, is sticking with its own misinformation labels, though it has redesigned them since 2020 based in part on user feedback. The company activated its “civic integrity policy” last week, which means tweets containing harmful misinformation about the election are labeled with links to credible information. The tweets themselves won’t be promoted or amplified by the platform.

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The company, which like TikTok does not allow political advertisements, is focusing on putting verified, reliable information before its users. That can include links to state-specific hubs for local election information as well as nonpartisan public service announcements for voters.


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US Senate Panel Approves Bill Empowering News Organisations to Negotiate With Facebook, Google for Revenue

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The US Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve a bill aimed at allowing news organizations to band together to negotiate with Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook and win more revenue.

The bill passed the committee by a vote of 15 to 7, according to a congressional aide. It must now go to the Senate for their approval. A similar bill is before the US House of Representatives.

The bill is aimed at giving news and broadcast organisations more clout after years of criticism that big tech companies use their content to attract traffic and ad revenue without fairly compensating the publishers, many of which struggle financially.

The bill, led by Democrat Amy Klobuchar, attracted some Republican support, with Senators John Kennedy and Lindsey Graham sponsoring it. Other Democrats, like Senator Alex Padilla, expressed reservations about it.

The bill hit a speed bump earlier this month when Senator Ted Cruz won backing for a plan to include provisions to address what he considers the platforms stifling conservative voices.

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On Thursday Klobuchar won support for an amendment that specified that prices for use of content was the issue.

“The goal of the bill is to allow local news organisations to get compensation when major titans, monopolies like Facebook and Google, access their content,” she said at a committee session to vote on the bill.

Unlike other bills aimed at reining in big tech, some progressive groups oppose this measure, including Public Knowledge, on the grounds that it favors big broadcasters like News Corp, Sinclair, and Comcast/NBCU.

Also opposing the bill are two technology industry trade groups that Facebook and Google belong to: the Computer & Communications Industry Association and NetChoice.

See also  Twitter Tests New Tools to Expand Recommendations, Allows Users to Remove Unrelated Tweets From Timeline

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Buying an affordable 5G smartphone today usually means you will end up paying a “5G tax”. What does that mean for those looking to get access to 5G networks as soon as they launch? Find out on this week’s episode. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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WhatsApp Working to Keep Iranians Connected Amid Widespread Internet Shutdown Over Nationwide Protests

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Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp said on Thursday that it was working to keep users in Iran connected after the country restricted access to the app and social media platform Instagram.

WhatsApp “will do anything” within its technical capacity to keep the service accessible and that it was not blocking Iranian phone numbers, the messaging service said in a tweet.

We exist to connect the world privately. We stand with the rights of people to access private messaging. We are not blocking Iranian numbers. We are working to keep our Iranian friends connected and will do anything within our technical capacity to keep our service up and running

— WhatsApp (@WhatsApp) September 22, 2022

Iran on Wednesday restricted access to Instagram and WhatsApp, two of the last remaining social networks in the country, amid protests over the death of a woman in police custody, according to residents and internet watchdog NetBlocks.

Last week’s death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by morality police in Tehran for “unsuitable attire”, has unleashed anger over issues including freedom in the Islamic Republic and an economy reeling from sanctions.

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Protesters in Tehran and other Iranian cities torched police stations and vehicles earlier on Thursday as public outrage over the death showed no signs of abating, with reports of security forces coming under attack.

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that the country had imposed a near-total Internet blackout on Wednesday on the fifth day of protests against the government over Amini’s death, after she was held by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating its strictly-enforced dress code.

Previously, a government official had hinted that security concerns might prompt measures to restrict internet access. As previously mentioned, Instagram and WhatsApp were the last major social media networks operating in Iran.

The country currently blocks Facebook, Telegram, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and WhatsApp. However, top Iranian officials have access to public accounts on these platforms, while Iranians are able to access these services using virtual private networks and proxies, according to the report.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Buying an affordable 5G smartphone today usually means you will end up paying a “5G tax”. What does that mean for those looking to get access to 5G networks as soon as they launch? Find out on this week’s episode. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

See also  WhatsApp, Snapchat Fined in Russia for Failing to Store Users’ Data on Local Servers
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Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen Launches ‘Beyond the Screen’ Organisation to Tackle Social Media Harms

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Whistleblower Frances Haugen – a former Facebook engineer who leaked documents suggesting the firm put profits before safety – on Thursday launched an organisation devoted to fighting harm caused by social media.

The new Beyond the Screen nonprofit said that its first project will be to document ways big tech is failing in its “legal and ethical obligations to society” and help come up with ways to solve those problems.

“We can have social media that brings out the best in us, and that’s what Beyond the Screen is working toward,” Haugen said in a statement.

“Beyond the Screen will focus on tangible solutions to help users gain control of our social media experience.”

Haugen last year leaked reams of internal studies showing executives knew of their site’s potential for harm, prompting a renewed US push for regulation.

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Haugen contended the tech titan, which has since rebranded itself as Meta, put profits over safety. Meta has fought back against the accusation.

Haugen’s nonprofit said it will collaborate with groups including Common Sense Media and Project Liberty that share a “commitment to supporting healthier social media.”

Beyond the Screen’s first project “represents a bold, inclusive, and much-needed effort to drive a seismic shift in how social media operates,” Project Liberty founder Frank McCourt said, according to Beyond the Screen’s statement.

“We look forward to working with Frances and her team to launch this new initiative and advance our shared goal of enabling healthier digital communities and stopping harmful business models.”

Since leaving Facebook in 2021, Haugen has advocated in the US and other countries for legislation meant to make social media platforms safer, particularly for young people.

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Buying an affordable 5G smartphone today usually means you will end up paying a “5G tax”. What does that mean for those looking to get access to 5G networks as soon as they launch? Find out on this week’s episode. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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