Hillicon Valley: Twitter to refuse all political ads | Trump camp blasts ‘very dumb’ decision | Ocasio-Cortez hails move | Zuckerberg doubles down on Facebook’s ad policies | GOP senator blocks sweeping election reform bill
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TWITTER TO BAN POLITICAL ADS: Twitter will no longer run any political advertising promoting candidates or particular hot-button issues, CEO Jack Dorsey announced Wednesday.
The announcement comes amid ongoing controversy over rival Facebook’s decision to allow misinformation in political advertising, a move decried by top Democrats over recent weeks.
Dorsey said Wednesday afternoon that Twitter’s stance from now on will be that “political message reach should be earned, not bought.”
“We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally,” Dorsey wrote in a Twitter thread. “A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.”
Twitter’s announcement comes as Facebook, a much larger rival and dominant player in digital advertising, faces a whirlwind of controversy over its own policies concerning political ads.
The controversy began earlier this month after Facebook declined to remove an ad from President Trump’s campaign attacking former Vice President Joe Biden, a top political rival, that multiple Democratic contenders noted contained ungrounded allegations.
Facebook, though, says it will not fact-check political ads from public officials or candidates.
…ZUCKERBERG REACTS: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday ardently defended Facebook’s controversial political advertising policy, just over an hour after Twitter announced it will ban all political ads from its platform.
Zuckerberg kicked off Facebook’s quarterly earnings call by addressing the firestorm of criticism that his company has faced this month over its policy allowing politicians to lie in advertisements.
Just before Facebook’s earnings call, Dorsey hit Zuckerberg in his announcement that Twitter will no longer run any political advertising on its platform.
“Although I’ve considered whether we should not carry [political] ads in the past, and I’ll continue to do so, on balance so far I’ve thought we should continue,” Zuckerberg told investors.
“Ads can be an important part of voice — especially for candidates and advocacy groups the media might not otherwise cover so they can get their message into debates,” he added.
…HILLARY CLINTON REACTS: Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton doubled down Wednesday on her earlier criticism of Facebook’s political ads policy after fellow social media giant Twitter announced that it would ban paid political advertising from its platform.
In a tweet Wednesday afternoon, Clinton appeared to dare Facebook executives to follow suit after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced the changes just minutes earlier.
Earlier Wednesday, Clinton joined the ranks of Democrats in attacking what she called an “appalling” decision by Facebook to allow ads from politicians that contain proven falsehoods.
In a tweet, the former secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate accused Facebook of bearing responsibility for “misinformation” regularly being shared on the platform.
“Facebook’s decision to allow false information in political advertisements is appalling. Voters are being confronted by millions of pieces of misinformation. A world where up is down and down is up is a world where democracy can’t thrive,” she tweeted.
…OCASIO-CORTEZ REACTS: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) lauded Twitter following its Wednesday announcement it will no longer accept political advertising.
“This is a good call. Technology – and social media especially – has a powerful responsibility in preserving the integrity of our elections. Not allowing for paid disinformation is one of the most basic, ethical decisions a company can make,” the progressive lawmaker tweeted.
…AND THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN REACTS: President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign slammed Twitter on Wednesday over the company’s decision to stop running political ads on its platform.
“Twitter just walked away from hundreds of millions of dollars of potential revenue, a very dumb decision for their stockholders,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.
“Will Twitter also be stopping ads from biased liberal media outlets who will now run unchecked as they buy obvious political content meant to attack Republicans?” he added.
THE RUSSIANS ARE BACK, PART ONE: Facebook on Wednesday announced that it had removed a wide-ranging Russian disinformation campaign targeting African countries, linking the network of fake accounts to a Russian oligarch previously indicted by the Justice Department for allegedly interfering in U.S. elections.
The social media giant unearthed the network of inauthentic pages and accounts with assistance from researchers at the Stanford Internet Observatory, who found that millions of users across African countries including the Central African Republic (CAR), Madagascar, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were reached.
Facebook said it removed 35 Facebook accounts, 53 pages, seven groups and five Instagram accounts that originated in Russia and targeted a broad swath of African countries.
“Our investigation connected these campaigns to entities associated with Russian financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who was previously indicted by the US Justice Department,” Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook’s cybersecurity policy, wrote in a blog post. Prigozhin was indicted for allegedly helping to fund the Russian disinformation campaigns that targeted the U.S. presidential election around 2016.
THE RUSSIANS ARE BACK, PART TWO: FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday testified that he expects Russian actors to attempt to interfere in the 2020 elections, adding that he also expects countries like China to explore disinformation efforts.
“Some of the things that the Russians have tried in other countries we expect them to try to do here as well, it’s pretty common to test it out in other jurisdictions, thankfully we don’t have elections every year, so that gives us a little bit of time to plan ahead,” Wray testified in regards to potential attacks on U.S. elections to the House Homeland Security Committee.
Wray did not offer details of what exactly the Russians might attempt due to the open setting of the hearing.
Wray noted that while the FBI has not seen “any intention” from China, Iran and North Korea to attempt attacks on election infrastructure, these countries are “clearly interested in engaging in malign foreign influence” in regards to elections, such as through social media disinformation efforts.
“They all have different ways of going about it, but they are all taking pages out of each others’ playbooks, and as we project forward that is something that we have to be vigilant about,” Wray said of the three countries.
Wray made these comments during a hearing on threats to the homeland, at which acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan also testified on potential election security threats.
BLOCKED: Senate Republicans blocked a sweeping House-passed election and ethics reform bill on Wednesday–the latest of several failed attempts by Democrats to clear election legislation ahead of 2020.
Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) tried to pass an ethics and elections reform bill, known as H.R. 1, which they argued had been buried in the “legislative graveyard.”
“The For the People Act repairs our broken campaign finance system, opens up the ballot box to all Americans, lays waste to the corruption in Washington,” Udall said before they made the request. “We must unite in defense of our electoral system and in defense of the sanctity of our democracy.”
Merkley argued that the bill was crucial “because everything else we care about … is going to fail if we let this chamber be controlled by powerful special interests through this corrupted system.”
But Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the chairman of the Rules Committee, objected to the bill passing, arguing that the legislation would “give the federal government unprecedented control over elections in this country.”
PAY UP: Facebook announced Wednesday that it will pay a $645,000 fine imposed by the U.K. government over the company’s failure to guard data gathered illegally by the Cambridge Analytica data firm.
The fine comes as part of a settlement between Facebook and the U.K. government in which the company will not admit any liability over its data practices, CNN reported; however, press representatives for Facebook said the company wished it “had done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica in 2015.”
“Protecting people’s information and privacy is a top priority for Facebook, and we are continuing to build new controls to help people protect and manage their information,” Harry Kinmonth, an associate general counsel for Facebook, told CNN.
“We are pleased to hear that Facebook has taken, and will continue to take significant steps to comply with the fundamental principles of data protection,” Information Commissioner’s Office President James Dipple-Johnstone said in his own statement.
The settlement comes just days after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by lawmakers on Capitol Hill over Facebook’s data practices as well as its standards for political advertising.
NEW CYBER LEGISLATION: A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced legislation intended to shore up cybersecurity for local governments by providing resources for them to switch to secure internet domains administered by the federal government.
The bill, dubbed the DOTGOV Online Trust in Government Act, would not require local governments to switch their domains to .gov, but would require the Department of Homeland Security to provide resources and assistance to local governments that do intend to make the switch.
Cyber criminals have spoofed local government websites due to some governments not using .gov addresses, which can trick individuals or businesses into sharing personal information with what they think is a secure government website.
Most federal and state governments websites already use the .gov domain, which is administered by the federal General Services Administration (GSA), but many local governments do not.
The bill is sponsored by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) as well as Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), the panel’s top Democrat, along with Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.).
MORE BABY SHARK: Spotify on Wednesday reportedly launched a new music app tailored for children, starting only in Ireland.
The app, intended for kids between the ages of 3 and 10, will allow parents to designate whether “younger kids” or “older kids” are listening to regulate which of its 6,000 tracks, selected by Spotify editors, are available, The Verge reported.
Editors will not include songs with foul language and may also exclude songs referring to guns and violence.
The app, which does not show ads, will only be available through a Spotify Premium Family subscription, costing $14.99 in the U.S. Each child’s account will count as one of the six allowed under the plan, according to The Verge.
FACIAL RECOGNITION DOWN UNDER: Australia’s Department of Home Affairs has reportedly proposed a measure that would use facial recognition technology to verify the age of people watching pornography online.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the government agency would use a facial recognition system to verify that those watching pornographic content are of legal age, though there is no law currently in place that prohibits minors from viewing such content.
Under the facial recognition proposal, a user’s face would be matched to images from official identity documents, though there are no specifics as to how the user would submit a facial image when getting online.
“Home Affairs is developing a Face Verification Service which matches a person’s photo against images used on one of their evidence of identity documents to help verify their identity,” the government agency wrote in a proposal. “This could assist in age verification, for example by preventing a minor from using their parent’s driver licence to circumvent age verification controls.”
The proposal is still conceptual at this point, but the Times reports that it shows Australia’s attempt to expand the reach of its Department of Home Affairs since the agency was created roughly two years ago.
A LIGHTER CLICK: No arguments allowed
AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Congress must confront online extremism
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
New federal voting guidelines could ban internet in voting machines (Politico)
Hackers who tried extorting Uber, Lynda plead guilty (CyberScoop)
School apps are tracking students wherever they go (The Washington Post)
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