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Hillicon Valley: Democrats press Facebook, Twitter to remove new Trump video of Pelosi | Iowa Dem chair calls for investigation into caucus problems | How Reddit is combating coronavirus 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).


FACEBOOK, WE HAVE A PROBLEM: A growing number of Democratic lawmakers are calling for Twitter and Facebook to pull down an edited video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) posted by President Trump on Thursday, reigniting a battle over how much responsibility social media platforms should assume over viral footage that could mislead viewers. 

The back-and-forth over the Pelosi video is opening up fresh wounds, as Democrats are still incensed by Twitter and Facebook’s previous decision to leave up different a manipulatively edited video of Pelosi that went viral last year. Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill on Friday said the “latest fake video of Speaker Pelosi is deliberately designed to mislead and lie to the American people.”  

“The American people know that the President has no qualms about lying to them – but it is a shame to see Twitter and Facebook, sources of news for millions, do the same,” Pelosi’s chief of staff Drew Hammill said on Friday. “Every day that these platforms refuse to take it down is another reminder that they care more about their shareholders’ interests than the public’s interests.” 

Hammill said Pelosi’s office has asked both Twitter and Facebook to take down the video. 

The five-minute video, which was pinned to the top of Trump’s powerful Twitter feed on Friday, shows Pelosi ripping up Trump’s State of the Union speech as he reunites a military family, announces a scholarship award for a young girl and awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh. 

Read more here.


DO IT YOURSELF: Reddit is encouraging its users to combat misinformation about the coronavirus on its platform, prompting medical experts to take matters into their own hands. 

The unpaid curators of the popular website’s largest coronavirus-related discussion groups, the r/coronavirus and r/china_flu subreddits, are working overtime to ensure verified information rises to the top of the platform. Reddit’s leadership is encouraging those users to take the lead. 

“I’d rather have experts in the field being the ones deciding what is actually an instance of misinformation,” Chris Slowe, Reddit’s chief technology officer and one of its founders, told The Hill in a phone interview on Wednesday. 

Reddit’s user-led content moderation system allows unvetted and anonymous users to decide what’s allowed on the website. That system has drawn immense scrutiny for years, with critics and researchers accusing Reddit, which calls itself the “front page of the internet,” of taking a back seat as users push conspiracy theories, hate speech and extremist messages. 

But this time around, amid an escalating health crisis that’s left people around the world with few answers, Reddit says its hands-off approach is working. The structure of the platform itself offers users several tools to control what they see and promote, and a team of PhDs and committed experts have helped curb conspiracy theories. 

“Being in infectious disease myself, I view this as some sort of extension of my day job, even though I’m not getting paid for it,” Emerson Ailidh Boggs, a Ph.D. candidate in infectious disease microbiology and a moderator of coronavirus subreddits, told The Hill.

Dr. Andrew Bohm, an epidemiologist who helps moderate the r/china_flu subreddit, said he dedicates hours each day to rooting bad information out of the forum. 

“We’re doing everything we can to make our resource a safe place for people to come for news discussion, important information, during this scary situation when people are coming to us because they are scared and they want safe, reliable information,” Bohm said. 

But some also say Reddit should do more, including instituting a policy against health misinformation.

Read more on Reddit here.


And more on health misinformation…  


FACEBOOK ON ANTI-VAXXERS: Facebook is renewing its pledge to combat “vaccine misinformation” after the death of a young child from the flu.

According to NBC News, the 4-year-old died after his mother followed advice given to her by the members of one of Facebook’s largest anti-vaccine groups.

The mother was a member of “Stop Mandatory Vaccination,” one of the largest known health misinformation groups with more than 139,000 members. According to NBC, she asked the group for advice after her child exhibited flu-like symptoms, including a high fever and a seizure. 

None of the recommendations included seeking medical help, and the mother reportedly said she did not pick up a prescription for the anti-viral drug Tamiflu. The child was eventually hospitalized and died. 

Read more here.


CALL IN THE INVESTIGATORS: The chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party called for an independent investigation into the problems that caused chaos and delayed Monday night’s caucus results in the Hawkeye State.

“With reports from 100% of the precincts in, we are taking steps to ensure the accuracy of the results. An independent investigation of what happened is necessary once we finalize the results,” tweeted Troy Price, the state party chairman. “@iowademocrats are committed to earning your trust and electing Democrats in Nov.”

The statement comes as the state party continues to grapple with reporting inconsistencies from Monday’s vote that sparked confusion over the caucuses’ results.

The Iowa caucuses were first thrown into turmoil Monday night after a new app, which was being tried for the first time and was intended to streamline the reporting process, showed inconsistencies in the outcomes it was tabulating.

More here.



PLEASE SUSPEND: A group of Republican senators led by Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) sent a letter to Twitter on Thursday asking the platform to suspend the accounts of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to comply with U.S. sanction law.

The letter to CEO Jack Dorsey argues that an executive order from last summer imposing sanctions on Khamenei and those acting on his behalf prohibits Twitter from providing services to the two Iranian officials.

Both have active Twitter accounts, and Zarif’s is verified. Twitter is blocked in Iran, although residents could theoretically use virtual private networks to access the site.

“While the First Amendment protects the free speech rights of Americans — and Twitter should not be censoring the political speech of Americans — the Ayatollah enjoys zero protection from the United States Bill of Rights,” Cruz and Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote.

“And, as the leader of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism — directly responsible for the murder of hundreds of U.S. citizens — the Ayatollah and any American companies providing him assistance are entirely subject to U.S. sanctions laws,” they added.

Read more here.


DECLINED: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday denied multiple appeals to rehear a decision upholding the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality rules.

The 2015 net neutrality rules classified internet service providers as common carriers, similar to telecommunications providers, who are not allowed to discriminate against various forms of traffic.

The FCC under Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai repealed those rules in late 2017 and also barred states from passing their own net neutrality regulations.

Pai’s action faced legal challenges but was upheld by a district court and then by the D.C. Circuit in October. The circuit court, however, struck down the measure blocking states from implementing their own net neutrality rules.

Multiple parties, including Mozilla, who led the initial lawsuit, filed for a rehearing in December.

“Given how important this issue is to people’s online experience and the internet, we believe these arguments deserved a rehearing,” Amy Keating, the chief legal officer at Mozilla, said in a statement to The Hill.

Read more here.


JUDGE HOLDS OFF ON INDICTING GREENWALD: A Brazilian judge on Thursday decided to hold off on indicting American journalist Glenn Greenwald on charges that he committed cyber crimes related to his reporting on top Brazilian officials.

According to The Intercept, where Greenwald is a co-founding editor, Brazilian Judge Ricardo Augusto Soares Leite ruled that proceedings would not move forward “for now” against Greenwald due to a previous ruling by the country’s Supreme Court that anti-corruption reporting by the outlet had not violated any laws.

However, Leite noted that if the previous ruling had not occurred, the case against Greenwald would have moved forward.

Leite did rule that proceedings would go forward against six individuals accused of directly hacking the phones of Brazilian officials, according to The New York Times.

Greenwald was charged with cyber crimes by Brazilian prosecutors in January after the publication of articles based on leaked phone calls involving Brazilian Justice Minister Sergio Moro. These articles were part of The Intercept’s series on “Operation Car Wash,” a federal police investigation that charged high-profile companies and top officials with misconduct. 

Greenwald tweeted Thursday that the decision “protects me from lawsuits” but noted that his “goal is not just to protect myself.”

Read more here.


DHS IS WATCHING: Federal law enforcement divisions have been purchasing commercial databases with cellphone location data to support immigration and border enforcement efforts, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has used the data to detect undocumented workers and other migrants entering the country illegally, according to the Journal.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – both divisions of Homeland Security – have reportedly utilized the data in a variety of ways.

Documents cited by the Journal show that the purchase of user location data started in 2017, when an experimental products division of DHS began to buy location data from Venntel Inc., a small Virginia-based tech company that reportedly shares several executives and patents with Gravy Analytics, a major mobile-advertising company.

The following year, ICE bought $190,000 worth of Venntel licenses. In 2019, CBP bought more than $1 million in licenses for multiple kinds of software. That purchase included Venntel subscriptions for location data.

Read more here.


WYDEN RAISES CONCERNS ABOUT ONLINE VOTING: Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D) is calling on his state’s secretary of State to work with him to address threats he said are posed by allowing some residents to vote via “insecure” electronic methods. 

“We share a common goal of making it easier for Oregonians serving in the military or otherwise living overseas to vote,” Wyden wrote in a letter Thursday to Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno. 

“I look forward to working with you to explore ways to do so, including, if appropriate, introducing federal legislation to provide states with additional resources. However, the security and integrity of Oregon’s elections must always come first,” he added. 

Oregon is one of 24 states that permit overseas and military voters to return marked ballots over the internet. 

Wyden said the methods pose threats to secure elections. He cited concerns laid out by cybersecurity experts in a 2018 National Academy of Sciences Report, which he urged Clarno to share with local officials across the state. 

Read more here.



A LIGHTER CLICK: We feel strongly about this


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: The time is now for congressional action on net neutrality



After the Iowa caucus meltdown, New Hampshire says it’s ready (Wired / Gilad Edelman)

Shadow’s canceled Nevada vote tabulation app had problems too (Motherboard / Joseph Cox) 

Facebook almost sent inaccurate voter registration information to users in Oklahoma (The Wall Street Journal / Dustin Volz and Alexa Corse)

Inside the billion-dollar disinformation campaign to reelect President Trump (The Atlantic / McKay Coppins) 

The Justice Department has more indictments related to Chinese hacking in the pipeline (CyberScoop / Sean Lyngaas)

Tags Donald Trump Marco Rubio Marsha Blackburn Nancy Pelosi Ron Wyden Ted Cruz Tom Cotton

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