Hillicon Valley: Hate speech finds home on Instagram | Senators push Facebook to fix its ad tools | Manchin hacked | Twitter apologizes after 'Kill All Jews' becomes trending topic

Hillicon Valley: Hate speech finds home on Instagram | Senators push Facebook to fix its ad tools | Manchin hacked | Twitter apologizes after 'Kill All Jews' becomes trending topic

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley.

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NOT A ROSY PICTURE: The image-sharing app Instagram is increasingly becoming a home for hate speech and hoaxes, even as its parent company Facebook works to stamp out troublesome content ahead of the midterms.

Instagram has long been viewed as free from the toxic atmosphere seen on other social media platforms, with users regularly posting photos of family, pets and travel to their personal followers.

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But as the midterms near experts say a number of accounts are proliferating conspiracy theories, including about billionaire Democratic donor George Soros funding a migrant caravan headed to the U.S. and attempted bombings of prominent Democrats being a false flag.

Facebook says it is making strides to crack down on misinformation on its own platform, but critics say the company's efforts have forgotten about Instagram.

"Instagram right now is completely overrun with hate speech and propaganda memes. It's possibly the worst I've ever seen, and only a few days before the election," social media researcher Jonathan Albright told The Hill.

In recent weeks as the migrant caravan and pipe bombs dominated the news, Albright's research found misinformation spreading across the platform. He tracked a growing number of posts spreading conspiracy theories that Soros was behind the caravan and controlling other movements such as NFL players kneeling during the anthem to protest racial injustice.

The conspiracy theories about Soros are rooted in far-right, anti-Semitic groups on sites such as 4Chan and Reddit, but are now appearing on an app owned by tech giant Facebook that boasts over 1 billion registered accounts.

Albright said Instagram's search function seems to have few safeguards against sharing such content.

Breaking the law, breaking the law: Other search terms led Albright to anti-Semitic content that included swastikas, praise for Adolf Hitler and references to gas chambers. That content violates not only Instagram's community guidelines banning "hate speech" but likely German laws barring Nazi symbols, Albright noted. He said he was able to access almost all of the pro-Nazi content even after changing his IP to an address located in Germany.

"An abundance of this type of extreme content - often with ten to twenty related hashtags - has other effects," Albright said, noting that it would affect searches and content even for "regular users."

He said the ease in finding hate speech on Instagram was unprecedented compared to how tightly Twitter and Facebook police their content.

Read more here.

 

A SENATE SCOLDING: A pair of Democratic senators on Friday pressed Facebook to fix its political ad transparency tools that reportedly allow users to make misleading claims about who is purchasing an ad.

"The fact that Facebook's new security tools allow users to intentionally misidentify who placed political ads is unacceptable," Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDrug industry nervous about Grassley’s new role Some of us Midwesterners think maybe Amy Klobuchar would do OK as president Hillicon Valley: Facebook reeling after NYT report | Dems want DOJ probe | HQ2 brings new scrutiny on Amazon | Judge upholds Russian troll farm indictments | Cyber moonshot panel unveils recommendations MORE (Minn.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDems slam Trump for siding with Saudi Arabia in Khashoggi killing CIA's report complicates US response to Khashoggi murder Banking panel showcases 2020 Dems MORE (Va.) wrote in a letter to CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergZuckerberg says neither he nor Sandberg will step down from Facebook Trump: 'I can't imagine anybody else' other than myself for Time Person of the Year Former US Labor Secretary: Break up Facebook MORE. "That Facebook is unable to recognize ads connected to a well-established foreign interference operation is also deeply troubling."

The letter follows reports in which Vice News was able to purchase ads on Facebook and attribute them as being paid for by Vice President Pence, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and all 100 U.S. senators.

The two Senate Democrats also used their letter to promote their legislation, The Honest Ads Act, which aims to create more transparency in political ads by holding social media firms like Facebook to the same standards as traditional media like TV, radio and newspapers.

"You have committed to implementing transparency measures similar to those that the Honest Ads Act would require; however, your company is currently failing to carry out the basic disclosure and disclaimer provisions of the legislation," Klobuchar and Warner wrote.

The two lawmakers introduced their legislation in late 2017, following revelations that Facebook's platform, along with Twitter and YouTube, had been manipulated by Russian trolls in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election. Read more here.

 

GOT HACKED... OH MAN-CHIN: Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSotomayor: Kavanaugh now part of the Supreme Court ‘family’ Trump to nominate former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as next EPA administrator Schumer reelected as Senate Democratic Leader MORE (D-W.Va.) said Thursday that social media accounts associated with his Senate office had been hacked.

The statement from Manchin's office did not indicate who was responsible for the hacking, but said the accounts had since been secured and that the Democratic senator and his staff were cooperating with law enforcement officials.

Manchin "was notified that social media accounts associated with his official office had been hacked. The accounts have since been secured. Manchin and staff are working with state and federal law enforcement officials to prevent further hacking and secure all accounts," the statement says.

Manchin isn't the first senator to be targeted online. A Google spokesperson told CNN in September that foreign government hackers targeted the personal Gmail accounts of multiple senators and Senate staffers. Democratic Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDems slam Trump for siding with Saudi Arabia in Khashoggi killing Senators push back on Russian official's candidacy for Interpol president Sunday shows preview: New members preview agendas after Democratic House takeover MORE (N.H.) told CBS's "Face the Nation" in July that her office had been subjected to at least one phishing attack targeting email accounts and social media profiles.

And Microsoft said earlier this year that it identified and stopped hacking attempts against three congressional candidates in the 2018 midterms. Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillWhy Democratic policies outperform Democratic politicians in rural America Josh Hawley will defend the First Amendment and religious liberty Missouri New Members 2019 MORE (D-Mo.) who, like Manchin, is running for reelection, revealed she was one of the three candidates.

Manchin is one of 10 Democrats running for reelection in states won by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: WHCA picking non-comedian for headliner a 'good first step' Five takeaways from Mississippi's Senate debate Watergate’s John Dean: Nixon would tell Trump 'he's going too far' MORE in 2016. The hacking comes days before he'll face Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, his challenger, at the polls.

Read more here.

 

#MODEL3GOALS: Tesla said in its most recent Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing that the federal agency subpoenaed the company over its Model 3 production goals.

The tech and transportation company has missed its stated goals for ramped-up production of its most affordable car, which costs $46,000, up from the previous $35,000 price tag.

The company has not met its goal of manufacturing 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week, but it turned a profit during the third quarter. Tesla also revealed in its filing that it had been investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Department of Justice and various state agencies.

The disclosure follows an SEC investigation of Tesla CEO Elon Musk earlier this year over his claims that he had secured funding to take his company private at $420 a share.

"Aside from the settlement with the SEC relating to Mr. Musk's statement that he was considering taking Tesla private, there have not been any developments in these matters that we deem to be material, and to our knowledge no government agency in any ongoing investigation has concluded that any wrongdoing occurred," the company wrote, adding that it is complying with authorities.

Read more here.

 

TWITTER SHOULD'VE THOUGHT THAT THROUGH: Twitter is apologizing for the fact that "Kill all Jews" appeared as a trending topic on its platform Friday. In a statement, a representative from Twitter said the phrase should not have appeared on the trending topic list and that "we're sorry for this mistake."

"This was trending as a result of coverage and horrified reactions to the vandalism against a synagogue in New York," it said. "Regardless, it should not have appeared as a trend."

BuzzFeed first reported on Twitter's statement after the phrase began trending following the discovery that the incendiary hate comments were written inside of a New York City synagogue Thursday.

The New York Police Department said other anti-Semitic messages were also discovered in the stairwell of the Union Temple in Brooklyn Heights. "Broad City" star Ilana Glazer canceled a political event scheduled there Thursday night after the vandalism was found.

Read more here.

ON TAP FOR NEXT WEEK: THE MIDTERM ELECTIONS. BRACE YOURSELVES.

A reminder: Lyft and Uber are offering discounted rides to polling stations on Tuesday so plan accordingly.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Have a ~ Greek ~ weekend.

And, anyone good at foreign languages?

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

CIA's poorly secured communications system was compromised by Iran and others. (Yahoo News)

File-sharing software on Kentucky and Wisconsin's election servers could be vulnerable to hackers. (ProPublica)

The Pentagon is prepared to respond with a cyberattack if Russia meddles in midterms. (Center for Public Integrity)

Swipe left, swipe right: political campaigning invades dating apps. (The Wall Street Journal)

Facebook lets advertisers target people interested in "white-genocide." (The Intercept)

'You can't erase us': in Silicon Valley, Google workers share assault stories. (The Guardian)