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Hillicon Valley: Tech confronts impact of coronavirus | House GOP offers resolution to condemn UK over Huawei | YouTube lays out plans to tackle 2020 misinformation

Hillicon Valley: Tech confronts impact of coronavirus | House GOP offers resolution to condemn UK over Huawei | YouTube lays out plans to tackle 2020 misinformation
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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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CORONAVIRUS CHALLENGES TECH: Major American tech companies are facing a new challenge as they grapple with the outbreak of the coronavirus in China.

In recent days, tech companies have closed stores and offices, restricted executives and workers from traveling to the country and warned about the potential effects on their supply chains.

The pneumonia-like disease has infected at least 17,000 people and has led to 300 deaths, all but one of which have been in China. The rapid spread of the disease has already had economic repercussions in China, where stocks dropped 8 percent Monday after markets reopened for the first trading session since Jan. 23.

Experts have warned that the outbreak in the world's most populous country and an economic superpower could threaten global growth this year.

But the effects could be particularly felt by the U.S. tech industry, which has depended on China both as a major market for its goods and as a critical supplier of components for a number of consumer products.

Financial analysts at Goldman Sachs on Monday predicted Chinese gross domestic product growth would drop 1.6 percentage points compared to first quarter last year, which they estimate would slow growth 1 percentage point globally over the same period.

Producers of smartphones and other consumer electronics could face steeper hits from the loss of revenue and productivity, according to the firm's equity research team. Beyond the factories in Wuhan, where the disease originated, manufacturing throughout China could be affected. The outbreak coincided with the Chinese Lunar New Year, which sees millions traveling throughout the country.

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Read more here.

 

CORONAVIRUS MISINFO: The world's top social media platforms are facing their own challenges, as they try to push users toward fact-driven and reputable sources about the deadly coronavirus.

But wild conspiracy theories and misleading advice about the coronavirus are continuing to spread largely unabated on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and other networks with billions of users overall.

U.S. lawmakers, many of whom are working to publicize trustworthy information about the little-understood health epidemic, say they want the platforms to do more to stave off the wave of misinformation.

House Democrats take note: "These lies can cause immediate and tangible harm to people, and the platforms must act to stop them from spreading," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said in a statement to The Hill.

"It's critical that Americans receive verified, trustworthy information about the coronavirus and heed the advice of our country's public health officials as we learn more about its potential impact here at home," Pallone said.

Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellGM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards Ex-AG Holder urges GOP to speak against Trump efforts to 'subvert' election results McEnany disputes any Trump 'advocacy' with invite to Michigan lawmakers MORE (D-Mich.), a member of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee focused on health, sent a letter Friday to the heads of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok pressing them to do more to curb coronavirus disinformation.

"During a global health emergency, it is vital to the public interest that individuals have access to timely and accurate information," she wrote.

"As expert's knowledge and understanding about this virus grows, so too will the necessity of accurate and reliable information for the world," Dingell added. "As global companies, a rampant spread of inaccurate information will have a decidedly negative impact on the response efforts to contain and mitigate this global health emergency." 

The debunked narratives: So far, experts who spoke to The Hill said they are monitoring several specific strains of misinformation, including conspiracy theories that the U.S. or Chinese government created the virus, false rumors linking billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates to the disease, and a debunked narrative that the coronavirus was caused by Chinese people drinking "bat soup." Many of the falsehoods and narratives that gained traction this week have racist undertones, implying the eating habits of Chinese people are to blame for the outbreak.

Dr. Arthur Caplan, the founding head of the division of medical ethics at New York University's School of Medicine, told The Hill that much of the rhetoric he has come across online has a "xenophobic" tone. 

What the platforms are doing: The social media giants -- Twitter, Facebook and Google -- have chosen to fight the spread of coronavirus-related misinformation in part by promoting authoritative sources. When a user searches "coronavirus" on Twitter, for instance, they are met with a banner that reads "know the facts," with a link to the CDC's summary page on the illness.

"We've launched a new dedicated search prompt to ensure that when you come to the service for information about the #coronavirus, you're met with credible, authoritative information first," Twitter wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.

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Facebook, meanwhile, announced Thursday that it will surface "educational pop-up[s] with credible information" when users search for information related to the virus based on guidance from the WHO.

Read more on viral misinformation here.


GOP ANGER OVER UK'S HUAWEI DECISION: A group of House Republicans on Monday introduced a resolution condemning the British government's decision to allow Chinese telecommunications group Huawei limited involvement in its 5G networks despite pressure from the Trump administration to ban the company.

The resolution, which "affirms that all Chinese companies, private and state-owned, are under the effective control of the Chinese Communist Party," was introduced following the decision by the U.K.'s National Security Council to allow Huawei equipment in "periphery" 5G systems, but not core secure systems. The resolution strongly urges the U.K. to reconsider its decision.

The decision went against sustained pressure from the Trump administration to outright ban the company from the U.K.'s networks, with U.S. officials citing espionage concerns due to a Chinese law that requires Chinese companies to help with state intelligence work.  

Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulOvernight Defense: Pentagon prepping for Trump order to draw down in Afghanistan, Iraq | Questions swirl after DOD purge | 10th service member killed by COVID-19 Former VOA producer sues US global media agency over termination Record number of women to serve in the next Congress MORE (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is the lead sponsor of the resolution, with Republican Reps. Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoHere are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year Ocasio-Cortez after Yoho confrontation: 'I won't be so nice next time' Overnight Defense: US, India to share satellite data | Allegations of racism at Virginia Military Institute | Navy IDs 2 killed in Alabama plane crash MORE (Fla.), Michael Turner (Ohio), Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyPressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Trump: Liz Cheney's election remarks sparked by push to bring US troops home Biden's lead over Trump surpasses 6M votes as more ballots are tallied MORE (Wyo.) and Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherReestablishing American prosperity by investing in the 'Badger Belt' Actors union blasts Democrat for criticizing GOP lawmaker's wife Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats MORE (Wis.) joining him.  

The sponsors said in a joint statement that they were "extremely disappointed" in the U.K.'s decision on Huawei.

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Read more on the resolution here.

 

YOUTUBE SETS MISINFORMATION POLICY: YouTube is committing to remove misinformation ahead of the Iowa caucuses on Monday, reiterating its pledge to take down videos aimed at misleading or confusing voters ahead of the pivotal first nominating contest of the 2020 election cycle.

The Google-owned video giant is bracing itself for an onslaught of viral falsehoods and manipulated video footage as the Democratic presidential candidates face off in the key battleground state.

All of the top social media platforms, including YouTube, have spent four years building up their defenses against election interference after Russian trolls successfully used social networks like Facebook and Twitter to sow discord online, bolstering then-candidate Donald Trump's campaign for the White House in 2016. 

"As the 2020 election season kicks into high gear in the United States, people will visit YouTube to learn about the candidates and watch the election season unfold," Leslie Miller, YouTube's vice president of government affairs and public policy, wrote in a blog post published Monday. 

"Over the last few years, we've increased our efforts to make YouTube a more reliable source for news and information, as well as an open platform for healthy political discourse," Miller wrote.

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YouTube is specifying it won't allow videos that spread lies about where or when to vote, nor will it allow videos that promote misinformation about whether particular candidates are eligible to run.

Read more on YouTube's policy here.

 

IOWA SETS RECORD STRAIGHT: Iowa's Republican secretary of State is disputing a viral claim from a Washington, D.C.-based conservative group in an attempt to kneecap the spread of election-related misinformation ahead of the Iowa caucuses on Monday night. 

In a press release, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said the group, Judicial Watch, is feeding a "misinformation campaign" as its leaders and followers continue to spread a debunked report that alleges eight Iowa counties have total registration rates larger than their eligible voting population. 

"It's unfortunate this organization continues to put out inaccurate data regarding voter registration, and it's especially disconcerting they chose the day of the Iowa Caucus to do this," Pate said in a statement.

"My office has told this organization, and others who have made similar claims, that their data regarding Iowa is deeply flawed and their false claims erode voter confidence in elections," he added. "They should stop this misinformation campaign immediately and quit trying to disenfranchise Iowa voters." 

Judicial Watch did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment.

Read more here.

 

STEPHEN KING OUT: Author Stephen King announced over the weekend that he was quitting Facebook over the social media platform's privacy issues and failure to forbid misinformation in political advertising.

"I'm quitting Facebook. Not comfortable with the flood of false information that's allowed in its political advertising, nor am I confident in its ability to protect its users' privacy. Follow me (and Molly, aka The Thing of Evil) on Twitter, if you like," King tweeted Friday, referencing his corgi.

Critics of the social media giant have castigated it for its policy of not fact-checking political ads. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump rages against '60 Minutes' for interview with Krebs Cornyn spox: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick Five things to know about Georgia's Senate runoffs MORE's campaign was among those voicing criticism, blasting Facebook last October for allowing a spot from President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rages against '60 Minutes' for interview with Krebs Cornyn spox: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick Pa. lawmaker was informed of positive coronavirus test while meeting with Trump: report MORE's reelection campaign that falsely claimed Biden "promised Ukraine a billion dollars if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son's company."

During a round of questioning from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezClub for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Trump will soon be out of office — but polarization isn't going anywhere Trump tweets Thanksgiving criticism of NFL QBs for kneeling MORE (D-N.Y.) in October, Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democrats press Facebook, Twitter on misinformation efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Hillicon Valley: Facebook content moderators demand more workplace protections | Ousted cyber official blasts Giuliani press conference | Tech firms fall short on misinformation targeting Latino vote MORE was unable to answer whether, for example, she would be permitted to run ads targeting Republicans in primaries by claiming they voted for her Green New Deal policy proposals.

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Sorry to this man

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: The state of tech: Our top 5 issues for 2020

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

This man created traffic jams on Google Maps using a red wagon full of phones (Motherboard / Matthew Gault)

What the Iowa caucus means for getting Iowa online (Verge / Makena Kelly)

Conservatives spread false claims on Twitter about electoral fraud as Iowans prepare to caucus (Washington Post / Isaac Stanley-Becker and Tony Romm)

Conspiracy theories swirl over canceled Iowa poll, pushed by Sanders and Yang supporters (NBC News / Ben Collins)