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Politics The Technology 202: Trump's refusal to concede presents a new test for social networks

16:50  10 november  2020
16:50  10 november  2020 Source:   washingtonpost.com

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with Tonya Riley

Tech companies were very explicit about how they would handle misinformation in the 2020 election until media companies projected the results. They now face a new and high-stakes test as President Trump refuses to concede and continues leveling baseless accusations of election fraud to his large followings on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter as Joe Biden emerges as the president-elect.

Experts researching disinformation warn that this is not the time for tech companies to lower their defenses.

They are calling on the companies to stick to the special measures they took last week. Companies flagged the president’s false claims of victory and other unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, and limited key features on their services such as political ads. But they haven't said much about how they would handle this precarious lame duck period.

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“Platforms and governments I think treat elections as an endpoint and not an inflection point,” said Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the Wilson Center and author of “How to Lose the Information War.”

“If the Trump campaign believes the election is not over yet, that’s how [the tech companies] should be treating their policies because that’s an indication how at least one actor, supported by an entire ecosystem of media influencers and disinformers, is going to behave,” Jankowicz said.

Supporters of President Donald Trump protest outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where vote counting continues. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) © Rebecca Blackwell/AP Supporters of President Donald Trump protest outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where vote counting continues. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The Biden camp is publicly complaining that Facebook hasn't been doing enough to address disinformation post-election.

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Bill Russo, Biden's campaign spokesman, blasted Facebook's handling of false or misleading content in recent days, such as allowing a video of a press conference where White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany made allegations of vote fraud with no evidence. Fox News cut away from the event.

There are already signs that tech companies are rolling back some of their disinformation defenses.

Twitter said it will no longer label false claims of victory on its service, as it had been before news services called the race in favor of Biden on Saturday.

Now Trump is telling his more than 88 million followers that he won the state of Georgia on election night without a response from the social network. In fact, the race remains too close to call, with Biden leading by more than 12,000 votes, according to the Washington Post election results tracker.

The company also has been far less aggressive in moderating the president’s baseless claims of voter fraud since Saturday morning. The company has not shielded any of the president’s tweets with a gray box and prevented them from being retweeted since then, as it frequently did during election week.

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Instead Twitter has been appending a small label to the bottom of Trump’s disputed tweets. The company says these tweets are “deamplified” in its recommendation systems, but people can still retweet and like them. For instance, the company appended a label to one of Trump’s tweets that claimed without evidence that Nevada was a “cesspool of fake votes.” But it was still retweeted nearly 80,000 times and liked more than 300,000 times as of last night.

Google and Facebook haven’t said how long they intend to keep some of their additional moderation efforts in effect.

Facebook and YouTube have been applying a label to posts about the election results – accurate or not – that says Biden is the winner, based on news sources. For instance, Facebook applied that label to Trump’s false claim about Georgia, as well as Biden’s live stream of his victory speech.

YouTube spokeswoman Ivy Choi did not give a specific timeline for how long the company’s election results labels would continue to be appended to videos. “Our election results information panel will be available as long as it’s necessary,” Choi said.

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Facebook and Google also gave no specifics about how long they’re planning to continue their temporary political ad ban.

Both companies announced that they would temporarily ban political ads on their services after the polls closed on Election Day, as they prepared for the possibility that candidates might use their powerful ad tools to amplify false claims of victory.

Google had previously said the ban would last at least until today, but it declined to comment on exactly when it would be lifted. The company told advertisers in a letter it would “carefully examine a number of factors before deciding to lift this policy for advertisers,” but it did not give an exact timeline of how long the ban would last.

In an internal memo to Facebook sales staff that was obtained by my colleague Elizabeth Dwoskin, executives instructed staff to tell advertisers that the ban would last a week, which would mean it would end today. But Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said the social giant didn't yet have specifics to share on their plans, though he emphasized the ban is temporary.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign is turning to other channels – such as organic social media posts, texts and emails – to try to raise funds for its legal challenges to the election results.

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Some civil rights advocates don't want the tech companies to ever roll back some of the special measures they took during the election.

In addition to being more aggressive in labeling posts, many tech companies made changes to their products to limit the spread of falsehoods on their service during the election. Facebook for instance quietly suspended recommendations of political groups ahead of the election, as Buzzfeed previously reported. And Facebook-owned Instagram said it would temporarily remove the “Recent” tab from hashtag pages to reduce the real-time spread of disinfomation around the election, as Reuters reported.

Some of the top advocates for changes in the tech industry have questioned why some of these temporary measures shouldn't be in effect more permanently on the platform given the frequency of elections broadly in the United States and around the world.

The platforms should consider making the expanded definition of voter suppression and some of the product changes permanent after the election, says Vanita Gupta, the president and chief executive officer of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“My hope is that the the platforms are taking the warnings from this election cycle and really thinking about more systematic solutions rather than the piecemeal approach that they've had to take over the last several months and weeks,” Gupta said.

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Facebook took down a network of pages tied to former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

Stephen K. Bannon wearing a suit and tie: Former Trump chief strategist and senior counselor Stephen K. Bannon. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post) © Matt McClain/The Washington Post Former Trump chief strategist and senior counselor Stephen K. Bannon. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

The pages used the “Stop the Steal” hashtag and other messaging to delegitimize election results and spread false claims of voter fraud, Elizabeth Dwoskin reports. The seven pages had more than 2.45 million followers.

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Analysts at the liberal research group Avaaz flagged the pages after noticing that they seemed to be coordinating content in a way that raised red flags.

“We’ve removed several clusters of activity for using inauthentic behavior tactics to artificially boost how many people saw their content,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said. “That includes a group that was originally named ‘Stop the Steal,' which later became 'Gay Communists for Socialism’ and misled people about its purpose using deceptive tactics.”

Facebook removed several groups using the Stop The Steal moniker last week after concerns about calls for violence from some of the posts.

Bannon's personal page incurred penalties but was not removed.  Some of the seven pages were tied to a crowdfunding effort that Bannon helped spearhead to raise money for a private U.S.-Mexico border wall. Bannon and three of his allies were indicted on a charge of defrauding donors in August.

Bannon did not respond to a request for comment.

Zoom settled with the FTC over security and privacy issues.

a sign in front of a tall building: Zoom on Nasdaq. (Mark Lennihan/AP) © Mark Lennihan/AP Zoom on Nasdaq. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

The arrangement will require the video conferencing company to agree to a biennial third-party audit and enact a new security program, the Federal Trade Commission announced.

The agency accused the popular video service of misleading consumers about the level of encryption it offered, as well compromising the security of some Mac users with its desktop application. Zoom also misled customers by saying their recordings were encrypted and uploaded to the cloud, when they in fact remained on company servers unencrypted for up to 60 days, the FTC alleged.

Zoom says it fixed the concerns in the agreement before settling. The company made end-to-end encryption available to all users last month.

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We are proud of the advancements we have made to our platform, and we have already addressed the issues identified by the FTC, Zoom spokeswoman Colleen Rodriguez said.

The FTC could issue a civil penalty of up to $43,280 per violation of the agreement.

The 20-year settlement is a warning shot to all companies “that they need to live up to their privacy and security promises,” FTC Consumer Protection Bureau Director Andrew Smith said on a media call.

Both dissenting commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter criticized the settlement for failing to offer any redress to consumers who may have been harmed by the fraudulent behavior.

Google critics say U.S. officials should learn from the European Union's mistakes in reining in the search giant.

a close up of a card: The Google logo displayed on a tablet in Paris. © Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images The Google logo displayed on a tablet in Paris.

They hope regulators will take a tougher approach as the United States launches its own antitrust case against the company, Jeanne Whalen reports.

The European Union successfully fined the search giant $10 billion for antitrust violations, but critics say the court's decision to allow Google to decide its own remedies failed to make serious change.

“The bad actor gets to decide what their medicine is going to be. And that’s just crazy, right?” Megan Gray, general counsel of rival search engine DuckDuckGo, said in an interview. The fixes Google did adopt changed little, Gray said.

Google spokesman Jose Castaneda disputed the idea that the European Commission investigations have changed nothing, saying that the changes were “generating billions of clicks for more than 600 comparison shopping services.” Google is appealing the E.U. rulings.

The United States could be more willing to force Google to sell off parts of its business.

“It’s more difficult to win a case in the U.S. than in Europe. However, the U.S. in the past has applied more far-reaching remedies, mandating divestitures and breakups,” said Gene Kimmelman, former chief counsel for the Justice Department’s antitrust division, who now serves as senior adviser to the nonprofit tech policy group Public Knowledge.

The Justice Department may also be more willing to break up an American company than European regulators, experts say. It's a result that could help Google critics in Europe.

“In a way the best thing that could happen in the E.U. would be for the U.S. action to succeed,” said Damien Geradin, a lawyer in Brussels who regularly represents companies opposing Google in antitrust matters.

Privacy monitor

The European Union will put new guardrails on the export of spyware technologies.

a man wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a curtain: European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis. (Francisco Seco/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock) © Francisco Seco/Pool/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis. (Francisco Seco/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The regulation will require companies to get a government license to sell facial recognition and cyber-surveillance technologies with military capabilities, Patrick Howell O'Neill at MIT Technology Review reports.

The change comes in response to growing concerns about the use of the technologies by authoritarian governments in other parts of the world. Enforcement will be up to individual European Union members and guidance to consider the risk of human rights violations in licensing is nonbinding.

The action still needs to be finalized by the International Trade Committee and European Parliament.

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Daybook

  • The Atlantic Council will host a conversation with researchers at the Election Integrity Partnership on initial reactions to disinformation in the 2020 elections today at 11 a.m.
  • Lyft will release earnings today.
  • The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation will hold a virtual briefing "Is the United States Tax System Favoring Excessive Automation?" Thursday at 9 a.m.
  • The Bipartisan Policy Center will hold an event on "What's Next for Telehealth: Sustaining and Expanding Access After COVID-19" Friday at noon.

Before you log off

Pfizer, Moderna have delivered 'best news so far' in COVID-19 fight, but USA TODAY's vaccine panel warns of logistical challenges .
Expert panel pushes USA TODAY's COVID vaccine clock ahead on positive candidate news but logistic challenges loom getting doses into Americans' arms.Normally restrained and cautious, a panel of experts convened by USA TODAY could barely contain its enthusiasm over the latest effectiveness figures from both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, whose vaccine candidates have been shown to be about 95% effective, while not raising any serious safety concerns.

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