Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter remove fake pro-Trump accounts | FCC, DOJ make case for T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Facebook to run first Super Bowl ad

Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter remove fake pro-Trump accounts | FCC, DOJ make case for T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Facebook to run first Super Bowl ad
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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills).

 

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PROGRAMMING NOTE: Hillicon Valley will be on hiatus until Jan. 6. We wish our readers a Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!

 

FACEBOOK, TWITTER TACKLE FAKE PRO-TRUMP ACCOUNTS: Facebook and Twitter on Friday removed a network of fake accounts linked to the pro-Trump conspiracy website The Epoch Times.

Facebook in a blog post said it had connected the accounts to U.S.-based media company The BL, which in turn has ties to The Epoch Times. 

That group, with ties to the Chinese spiritual group Falun Gong, has used social media to push for President TrumpDonald John TrumpNational Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Democratic lawmaker dismisses GOP lawsuit threat: 'Take your letter and shove it' MORE's reelection, NBC News first reported in August.

The hundreds of accounts were operated by individuals in Vietnam and the U.S., many of whom used artificial intelligence to generate profiles to infiltrate groups and dodge Facebook enforcement.

The individuals then pretended to be Americans and posted anti-impeachment and pro-Trump messages, often linking back to The BL's website.

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The accounts were removed because of the way they operated -- coordinated inauthentic behavior, misrepresentation and violating spam rules -- rather than the content they posted.

Facebook removed 610 Facebook accounts, 89 pages, 156 groups and 72 Instagram accounts.

Roughly 55 million individuals followed at least one of the accounts and an estimated 92,000 people followed one or more of the Instagram accounts, showing a broad reach. For context, Trump himself has 26 million followers.

Read more here.

 

...AND ACCOUNTS LINKED TO SAUDI ARABIA: Twitter on Friday announced that it had taken down more than 88,000 accounts linked to Saudi Arabia, citing concerns they were involved in spreading misinformation and spam.

The company wrote in a blog post that it is adding data and information on almost 6,000 of the accounts to its public archive of state-backed information campaigns.

"Today, we are sharing comprehensive data about 5,929 accounts which we have removed for violating our platform manipulation policies," Twitter wrote, adding that internal investigations "have allowed us to attribute these accounts to a significant state-backed information operation on Twitter originating in Saudi Arabia."

The accounts were used to spread positive messages about Saudi authorities, along with advancing the country's "geopolitical interests on the world stage," including discussion of sanctions on Iran, Twitter said. The company said the accounts used third-party automated tools to help spread their messages.

The coordinated accounts were traced back by Twitter to Smaat, a social media and marketing company based in Saudi Arabia that is known to manage accounts of Saudi government agencies. Smaat and its senior executives have been suspended from Twitter as a result of the accounts.

Read more here.

 

FEDS BACK TELECOM MERGER: The country's top antitrust enforcers on Friday argued in favor of the $26 billion merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, saying the states attempting to block the enormous telecom deal could wind up harming customers across the country. 

In a legal filing on Friday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) claimed they have already secured a deal that would allow T-Mobile and Sprint to merge while ensuring there is adequate competition in the telecommunications marketplace. They said the federal court in New York will have to weigh whether it's better for consumers to undo all of the commitments that the government has already secured from the companies. 

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The DOJ and FCC both green-lit the deal this year, but the merger is facing one final obstacle from a coalition of 14 state attorneys general. They argue the merger should not be allowed to move forward because combining two of the top four mobile carriers in the country could drive up prices for consumers and result in an unhealthily concentrated market. 

The agencies were largely expected to file papers on behalf of the deal after securing a slew of commitments from the companies, including a promise that T-Mobile will help stand up a fourth carrier and that the merged company will dedicate significant resources to build next-generation wireless networks, also known as 5G.

"A group of thirteen states and the District of Columbia (the "Litigating States") seek to block the merger in its entirety," the filing reads. "In doing so, they ask this court to undo the benefits of the relief secured by the Antitrust Division ... and the FCC." The agencies argued the state attorneys general "face a high bar in their challenge."

Keep reading here.

 

FACEBOOK GOES SUPER: Facebook in February will run its first Super Bowl commercial, a 60-second ad that will feature Chris Rock and Sylvester Stallone promoting the company's Groups feature, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Fox, which is airing the game, said last month that it had run out of ad space for Super Bowl LIV.

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Companies are reportedly paying up to $5.6 million for 30 seconds of commercial time during the 2020 Super Bowl. Prices during the 2019 game reached as high as $5.3 million.

The social media giant has ramped up its advertising game in recent years.

The Journal reports that Facebook spent $382 million on ads in the U.S. in 2018, up from $50 million in 2017.

Read a little more.

 

FRANCE FINES GOOGLE: France has fined Google $167 million for engaging in anti-competitive behavior and for having unclear advertising on its Google Ads page.

Isabelle de Silva, who leads France's competition authority, told reporters that Google had "extraordinary" dominance over online advertising, with about 90 percent of market share, Reuters reported Friday.

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Google will reportedly appeal the fine. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

The fine comes after France and the U.S. have sparred over the European country's attempts to regulate revenue in the tech industry.

France this year levied a 3 percent tax on companies that provide digital services, a move seen as targeting big tech firms.

Read a bit more.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Tech tips hot off the press!

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Confidence in the Max aircraft will be restored before confidence in Boeing

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Smartphones are spies. Here's whom they report to (The New York Times / Charlie Warzel, Stuart Thompson) 

Social media made America tired of rich people (The Atlantic / Amanda Mull) 

Broadcasters win Capitol Hill's TV lobbying wars (Politico / John Hendel) 

The New York Times recaps the 2010s in pictures (The New York Times / Joseph Kahn)

T-Mobile's merger trial has been all about Dish (The Verge / Makena Kelly, Russell Brandom)