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Facebook, Twitter, Other Social Media Platforms Brace for US Midterm Elections

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A Facebook search for the words “election fraud” first delivers an article claiming that workers at a Pennsylvania children’s museum are brainwashing children so they’ll accept stolen elections.

Facebook’s second suggestion? A link to an article from a site called MAGA Underground that says Democrats are plotting to rig next month’s midterms. “You should still be mad as hell about the fraud that happened in 2020,” the article insists.

With less than three weeks before the polls close, misinformation about voting and elections abounds on social media despite promises by tech companies to address a problem blamed for increasing polarisation and distrust.

While platforms like Twitter, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube say they’ve expanded their work to detect and stop harmful claims that could suppress the vote or even lead to violent confrontations, a review of some of the sites shows they’re still playing catchup with 2020, when then-President Donald Trump’s lies about the election he lost to Joe Biden helped fuel an insurrection at the US Capitol.

“You would think that they would have learned by now,” said Heidi Beirich, founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism and a member of a group called the Real Facebook Oversight Board that has criticized the platform’s efforts. “This isn’t their first election. This should have been addressed before Trump lost in 2020. The damage is pretty deep at this point.”

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If these US-based tech giants can’t properly prepare for a US election, how can anyone expect them to handle overseas elections, Beirich said.

Mentions of a “stolen election” and “voter fraud” have soared in recent months and are now two of the three most popular terms included in discussions of this year’s election, according to an analysis of social media, online and broadcast content conducted by media intelligence firm Zignal Labs on behalf of The Associated Press.

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On Twitter, Zignal’s analysis found that tweets amplifying conspiracy theories about the upcoming election have been reposted many thousands of times, alongside posts restating debunked claims about the 2020 election.

Most major platforms have announced steps intended to curb misinformation about voting and elections, including labels, warnings and changes to systems that automatically recommend certain content. Users who consistently violate the rules can be suspended. Platforms have also created partnerships with fact-checking organizations and news outlets like the AP, which is part of Meta’s fact-checking program.

“Our teams continue to monitor the midterms closely, working to quickly remove content that violates our policies,” YouTube said in a statement. “We’ll stay vigilant ahead of, during, and after Election Day.”

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Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, announced this week that it had reopened its election command center, which oversees real-time efforts to combat misinformation about elections. The company dismissed criticism that it’s not doing enough and denied reports that it has cut the number of staffers focused on elections.

“We are investing a significant amount of resources, with work spanning more than 40 teams and hundreds of people,” Meta said in a statement emailed to the AP.

The platform also said that starting this week, anyone who searches on Facebook using keywords related to the election, including “election fraud,” will automatically see a pop-up window with links to trustworthy voting resources.

TikTok created an election center earlier this year to help voters in the U.S. learn how to register to vote and who’s on their ballot. The information is offered in English, Spanish and more than 45 other languages. The platform, now a leading source of information for young voters, also adds labels to misleading content.

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“Providing access to authoritative information is an important part of our overall strategy to counter election misinformation,” the company said of its efforts to prepare for the midterms.

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But policies intended to stop harmful misinformation about elections aren’t always enforced consistently. False claims can often be buried deep in the comments section, for instance, where they nonetheless can leave an impression on other users.

A report released last month from New York University faulted Meta, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for amplifying Trump’s false statements about the 2020 election. The study cited inconsistent rules regarding misinformation as well as poor enforcement.

Concerned about the amount of misinformation about voting and elections, a number of groups have urged tech companies to do more.

“Americans deserve more than lip service and half-measures from the platforms,” said Yosef Getachew, director of Common Cause’s media and democracy program. “These platforms have been weaponized by enemies of democracy, both foreign and domestic.”

Election misinformation is even more prevalent on smaller platforms popular with some conservatives and far-right groups like Gab, Gettr and TruthSocial, Trump’s own platform. But those sites have tiny audiences compared with Facebook, YouTube or TikTok.

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Beirich’s group, the Real Facebook Oversight Board, crafted a list of seven recommendations for Meta intended to reduce the spread of misinformation ahead of the elections. They included changes to the platform that would promote content from legitimate news outlets over partisan sites that often spread misinformation, as well as greater attention on misinformation targeting voters in Spanish and other languages.

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Meta told the AP it has expanded its fact-checking network since 2020 and now has twice as many Spanish-language fact checkers. The company also launched a Spanish-language fact-checking tip line on WhatsApp, another platform it owns.

Much of the misinformation aimed at non-English speakers seems aimed at suppressing their vote, said Brenda Victoria Castillo, CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, who said that the efforts by Facebook and other platforms aren’t equal to the scale of the problem posed by misinformation.

“We are being lied to and discouraged from exercising our right to vote,” Castillo said. “And people in power, people like (Meta CEO) Mark Zuckerberg are doing very little while they profit from the disinformation.”


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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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