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Twitter Responsible for Creating Bots, Encouraged Them in Past, Says Koo CEO

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Koo — the made-in-India rival of Twitter — will not charge users for a verification badge, its co-founder and CEO Aprameya Radhakrishna said as he took on the larger rival for allegedly first creating bots and now charging users for verification.

Koo, which allows users to express views in Indian languages, has already crossed 50 million downloads and is now flying into the rival’s nest, starting a campaign on Twitter by making itself prominently visible on verified handles and offering them better deals on its platform at no cost.

Since taking over Twitter, billionaire Elon Musk has set in motion massive changes, sacking employees and talking of levying a $8 (nearly Rs. 650) charge for ‘verified’ handles.

Koo, on the other hand, offers Aadhaar-based self-verification and a free-of-cost yellow verification tag for eminent persons.

Radhakrishna said Twitter bots, also known as zombies, are automated accounts controlled by bot software. Their purpose is to tweet and retweet content for specific goals on a large scale while resembling everyday Twitter users.

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“Bots on Twitter are known to be responsible for spreading fake news campaigns, spamming, violating others’ privacy, and sock-puppet marketing,” he told PTI. “This is a problem of Twitter’s own making.” At one point, Twitter encouraged bots as a novel idea but has now struggled to control them, he said.

“Its only response (in 2021) has been to offer a program to label some bots as ‘good’ based on a declaration by the bot! This is an artificial solution and completely sidesteps the problem,” he added. “If Twitter is meant to be the town square of human interaction, then only real humans should be allowed to speak in the square.” He further said the only way forward is to ensure that accounts that do not verify themselves as humans must be rooted out of the platform.

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“Just like the offline world, every human is entitled to be recognised as a human in the online world as well,” he said.

In the Indian social media space, verifying yourself as a human is a legal right under Rule 4(7) of the Intermediary Guidelines, 2021.

“Twitter’s proposal of charging money for a right, which is granted by law, is nothing short of putting salts to wounds that were created by Twitter itself,” he said. “Twitter created the bot problem, paid only lip service to solve it and then now intends to gouge money from citizens for an identity document that was paid for by the Indian taxpayer!” The internet, he said, needs to be about the people, not about the company or the owner.

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“Koo believes in enabling trustworthy and healthy conversations between people. Earlier this year, we started by offering voluntary self-verification free of charge and more than 125,000 Indians have availed of this right.

“All that a user has to do is verify their identity using their Aadhaar number and within seconds they can verify that they are the true owner of the card by entering the OTP sent to the mobile linked to their Aadhaar. All of this is done in the most secure manner using an UIDAI-approved third-party vendor,” he said.

Koo, he said, will continue to safeguard this important digital right and “the verification of humanness will always remain free.”

Serial entrepreneur Radhakrishna, known for building ride-sharing company TaxiForSure (which was acquired by Ola in 2015), started Koo — a language-focused microblogging platform — in early 2020. It was meant to be a homegrown, hyperlocal alternative to Twitter.

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Stating that eminence is a recognition of the impact, stature, achievements, abilities, or professional status of a person, he said Koo awards a Yellow Tick against user profiles based on transparent, pre-defined criteria which reflect regional ethos and achievements.

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“Koo takes pride in its transparent and inclusive criteria which is a far cry from Twitter’s legacy criteria of ‘Authentic, Notable and Active’ or even the newer criteria of being able to pay $8! Koo is in fact the first social media platform that celebrates Eminence with a clear and transparent methodology.” The Koo Eminence Tick, he said, cannot be purchased and is granted forever.

“The ability to purchase a blue tick and be considered a special verified person is a disservice to the real heroes contributing to society. The purchased blue tick makes fun of these real heroes who must continue to pay a foreign company every month just to be recognised for their work,” he added. 


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Meta Oversight Board Calls for Overhaul of ‘Cross-Check’ Programme That Prioritises VIP Users

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Meta Platforms’ Oversight Board recommended on Tuesday that the company revamp its system exempting high-profile users from its rules, saying the practice privileged the powerful and allowed business interests to influence content decisions.

The arrangement, called cross-check, adds a layer of enforcement review for millions of Facebook and Instagram accounts belonging to celebrities, politicians and other influential users, allowing them extra leeway to post content that violates the company’s policies.

Cross-check “prioritises users of commercial value to Meta and as structured does not meet Meta’s human rights responsibilities and company values,” Oversight Board director Thomas Hughes said in a statement announcing the decision.

The board had been reviewing the cross-check programme since last year, when whistleblower Frances Haugen exposed the extent of the system by leaking internal company documents to the Wall Street Journal.

Those documents revealed that the programme was both larger and more forgiving of influential users than Meta had previously told the Oversight Board, which is funded by the company through a trust and operates independently.

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Without controls on eligibility or governance, cross-check sprawled to include nearly anyone with a substantial online following, although even with millions of members it represents a tiny slice of Meta’s 3.7 billion total users.

In 2019, the system blocked the company’s moderators from removing nude photos of a woman posted by Brazilian soccer star Neymar, even though the post violated Meta’s rules against “nonconsensual intimate imagery,” according to the WSJ report.

The board at the time of the report rebuked Meta for not being “fully forthcoming” in its disclosures about cross-check.

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In the opinion it issued on Tuesday, the board said it agreed that Meta needed mechanisms to address enforcement mistakes, given the extraordinary volume of user-generated content the company moderates each day.

However, it added, Meta “has a responsibility to address these larger problems in ways that benefit all users and not just a select few.”

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It made 32 recommendations that it said would structure the programme more equitably, including transparency requirements, audits of the system’s impact and a more systematic approach to eligibility.

State actors, it said, should continue to be eligible for inclusion in the programme, but based only on publicly available criteria, with no other special preferences.

The Oversight Board’s policy recommendations are not binding, but Meta is required to respond to them, normally within 60 days.

A spokeswoman for the Oversight Board said the company had asked for and received an extension in this case, so it would have 90 days to respond.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Facebook Dating Will Allow Users to Verify Their Age Using AI Face Scanning, Meta Says

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Meta on Monday announced that it has introduced a new method for users to verify their age on its Facebook Dating service. Facebook is experimenting with methods, such as using an AI face scanner, to allow users of the platform’s dating service to verify their age.

Meta announced in a blog post that it would start prompting users on Facebook Dating to verify that they’re over 18 if the platform suspects a user is underage.

Users can then verify their age by sharing a selfie video that Facebook shares with a third-party business or by uploading a copy of their ID. According to Meta, the company, Yoti, uses facial cues to determine a user’s age without identifying them.

Meta says the new age verification systems will help stop children from accessing features meant for adults. It doesn’t appear that there are any requirements for adults to verify their age on Facebook Dating.

The US social media giant has used Yoti for other age verification purposes, including vetting Instagram users who attempt to change their birthdate to make them 18 or older.

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However, according to a report by The Verge, the system isn’t equally accurate for all people: Yoti’s data shows that its accuracy is worse for “female” faces and people with darker complexions.

Last year, Instagram announced that it had started prompting users to fill in their birthday details. The prompts could initially be dismissed but the social media giant eventually made it compulsory for users who wanted to continue using Instagram. The prompts were designed to ascertain how old users were on Instagram and prevent content that isn’t suitable for young people to appear on their feed. At the time, Instagram had stated that the information is necessary for new features it was developing to protect young people.

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Meta Threatens to Remove News From Platform if US Congress Passes Media Bill

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Facebook parent Meta Platforms on Monday threatened to remove news from its platform if the US Congress passes a proposal aimed at making it easier for news organisations to negotiate collectively with companies like Alphabet’s Google and Facebook.

Sources briefed on the matter said lawmakers are considering adding the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act to a must-pass annual defense bill as way to help the struggling local news industry. Meta spokesperson Andy Stone in a tweet said the company would be forced to consider removing news if the law was passed “rather than submit to government-mandated negotiations that unfairly disregard any value we provide to news outlets through increased traffic and subscriptions.”

He added the proposal fails to recognise that publishers and broadcasters put content on the platform because “it benefits their bottom line – not the other way around.”

The News Media Alliance, a trade group representing newspaper publishers, is urging Congress to add the bill to the defense bill, arguing that “local papers cannot afford to endure several more years of Big Tech’s use and abuse, and time to take action is dwindling. If Congress does not act soon, we risk allowing social media to become America’s de facto local newspaper.”

More than two dozen groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Knowledge and the Computer & Communications Industry Association on Monday urged Congress not to approve the local news bill saying it would “create an ill-advised antitrust exemption for publishers and broadcasters” and argued the bill does not require “funds gained through negotiation or arbitration will even be paid to journalists.”

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A similar Australian law, which took effect in March 2021 after talks with the big tech firms led to a brief shutdown of Facebook news feeds in the country, has largely worked, a government report said.

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Since the News Media Bargaining Code took effect, various tech firms including Meta and Alphabet have signed more than 30 deals with media outlets, compensating them for content that generated clicks and advertising dollars, the report added.

© Thomson Reuters 2022


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