Maryam Sanda to Appeal Death Sentence

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•Justice was served, says co-convener of BBOG

Alex Enumah and Udora Orizu in Abuja

Mrs. Maryam Sanda, who was on Monday sentenced to death by hanging for killing her husband, will appeal the judgment, a member of his legal team has told THISDAY.
Justice Yusuf Halilu of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had given her the maximum sentence for killing her husband, Mr. Bilyaminu Bello.

However, some women and civil rights activists have condemned the death penalty, describing it as unacceptable.
But another activist and co-convener of #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) movement, Mrs. Aisha Yesufu, welcomed the death penalty, saying that it was not only an adequate punishment but also that justice had been served in the case.

The federal government had arraigned her on a two-count charge bordering on murder.
In the judgment delivered, the trial judge held that there was circumstantial evidence coupled with the defendant’s testimony and statement to the police that she “fatally” stabbed her husband to death in Abuja on November 19, 2017.
The judge while stating that the offence for which the defendant was convicted was based on Section 221 of the Penal Code imposed the maximum sentence.

“It has been said that thou shall not kill. Whoever kills in cold blood shall die in cold blood,” the judge said, adding: “Maryam Sanda should reap what she has sown. It is blood for blood.”
However, reacting to the judgment yesterday, one of the lawyers, who spoke off the record, said they would go on appeal against the judgment.

“She has a constitutional right of appeal and definitely she has to exercise it,” he said, adding: “We will definitely appeal the judgment.”
Sanda killed her husband on November 19, 2017, through multiple stabbing.
She was arraigned alongside three other persons, including her mother and brother.
However, the others were discharged because the prosecution was unable to link them to the charges.
The late Bello is a son of a former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Haliru Bello.

Activists Condemn Death Penalty

Some women and civil rights activists have condemned the death penalty given to Sanda, describing it as unacceptable.
In a WhatsApp conversation with THISDAY, an activist and Director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Mrs. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, condemned the court’s ruling.

Though she agreed that anyone found guilty of such conduct should be punished, she said death penalty was condemnable.
She said: “It’s a very unfortunate situation, killing of a spouse whether a man or woman is condemnable and anyone found guilty of such conduct should be punished, as deterrence.

The society should have zero tolerance to gender-based violence. “However, death penalty is condemnable. I think maximum sentence in this instance is not the option given the background of the offence. The society should shift from the culture of death penalty; it is no longer acceptable, it has not served the purpose it was meant in the society.”

Corroborating Akiyode-Afolabi’s comment, human rights lawyer and Director of Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), Mr. Frank Tietie, said Sanda should not have been given the maximum punishment.

Tietie in a phone conversation with THISDAY hinged his claim on the possibility of defendant being mentally unstable during the time the crime was committed and the defence team not doing enough to explore all the possible defences available to the woman.
He added that Nigeria must move beyond being a retentionist country in these modern times and realise that death penalty does not solve problems.

According to him, “Mental incapacity is something that should have been brought to the court and with the use of expert witness to prove that she’s not mentally capable of organising herself in such a state of frustration.

“Firstly, for someone to want to kill her husband is an expression of abnormality; it’s not quite natural. I suspect that her mental health was something to be questioned, which should have been brought before the court. If to argue that the woman did not do it, it’s a different thing but to say that she did it, her mind set was not in control of her mental faculty as at the time she did it because of the marital trauma she must have been exposed to which was prolonged and eventually led to pent-up anger and she was also left unattended to by relatives and friends.”

He expressed optimism that Sanda has a window for appeal both at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
He said: “It’s my hope that some new pieces of evidence will be introduced.

“Even by law, death penalty is barbaric; Oscar Pistorius wasn’t given maximum sentence not to talk about this kind of culpable homicide that was done based on crime of passion. What led her to committing those crimes should have been brought to the court.”
But activist and co-convener of #BringBackOurGirls, Yesufu, believed that justice was served.

She, however, tasked the judiciary to also apply the same energy in ensuring that everyone gets justice regardless of one’s status or gender.

She said: “For me basically the case is simple. Maryam Sanda was found guilty of killing her husband and of course justice has been served. My take out from this is that if the Nigerian judiciary system can be very strict in ensuring that people get justice, a lot of things that happen in Nigeria, we wouldn’t see them happening.

“People won’t have any reason to take the laws into their hands and feel that they can do anything and get away with it. No matter who you are, you have to pay for your crimes no matter your gender, age or status. It’s all a tragic ending for the families involved but it’s what it is, justice has been served.”

The post Maryam Sanda to Appeal Death Sentence appeared first on THISDAYLIVE.

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Irregular migration: Death trap for desperate youths, stakeholder warns

By Juliana Agbo, Abuja

Nigerian youths have been urged to shun all forms of irregular migration in quest for greener pasture and work hard towards the development of themselves and the country.

The outgoing Country Director, Symbols of Hope Project, Dr Lesmore Gibson who gave the charge in an interview with the Nation in Abuja said hundreds of Nigerians are dying daily due to the act of desperation for greener pasture.

Dr Lesmore while noting that the Symbols of Hope Project was initiated by Lutheran World Foundation to focus on reversing the trend of irregular migration in Nigeria, said they will continue to work with the government and other relevant stakeholders to permanently curb the act.

While explaining that countries like Libya, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia among others have zero tolerance for illegal migration, said many young people have lost their lives in deserts and the Mediterranean sea all in quest for greener pasture.

According to him, “many have endangered their lives and many of our young people have been buried in the desert all in their quest for greener pasture.

READ ALSO: Obaseki targets 50 percent reduction in irregular migration, human trafficking

” There are irreversible factors that have forced people to migrate, it could be as a result of conflict or political unrest in some context, but the context in Nigeria is more of economic factors.

“Most of the returnees or victims of migrants smuggling are people who felt that they need to go out in search of a greener pastures. It is a fact that Europe is attractive because things are working there, but it does not mean people should migrate irregularly.

“We are not condemning migration but we are saying irregular migration is bad.

Speaking further, Dr Lesmore said in changing the narrative, they have designed some interventions programmes for potential migrants and those who are contemplating on illegal migration.

“Apart from the advocacy we carry out, we are working on empowering returnees but with emphasis and attention been placed on potential migrants.

“The returnees need to go through psychological and healing process, because most of them return brutalized, also they have been violated in different forms.
We want the narrative to change.

“The project have designed interventions for those purposes, the other dimension is engaging in networking because symbols of hope cannot do every thing.

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Nollywood: Board Urges Filmmakers To Produce Movies For Children ⋆

The National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) has urged Nollywood filmmakers to produce more movies under the ‘general viewing’ (G) classification for the viewing interests of children.

SEE ALSO: NIMC Takes NIN Enrollment to 195 Post-Basic Schools in Jigawa

Mrs. Olayemi Alonge-Oyadiran, the board’s Director of Film Censorship and Classification, made the call in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Tuesday in Abuja.

Alonge-Oyadiran noted that the trend of film submission for censorship during the past year showed that filmmakers have little or no interest in producing children-friendly movies.

She advised that since children were always attracted to entertainment, especially movies, there was a need to produce more films suitable for their age.

“Filmmakers have continued to shy away from child-friendly movies as contents and themes of movie submitted for censoring in 2019 largely received such ratings as ‘18’ and ‘15’.

“It implies that most of the films they are producing now are meant for adults and they are not children friendly in any way.

“There is an urgent need for sensitization of stakeholders on the importance of making movies that are full of child-friendly contents,” she said.

The director noted that the trend was not good enough for the moral development of children since they were prone to watching films than adults.

According to her, most of the movies submitted for censorship in the past year were centered on themes such as royalty, domestic violence, money rituals, prostitution, and marriages.

She added that “only a few treated themes on advocacy and awareness on diseases such as Sickle Cell, Polio, HIV, and VVF”.

Alonge-Oyadiran, therefore, advised movie producers in the Nigerian movie industry to eschew storylines that erode values that define the African people.

She warned that films that reinforce violence and moral decadence have a demeaning effect on age-long values and acceptable ways of life, which may escalate juvenile delinquency.

While noting that the filmmakers are business persons set out to make a profit, she, however, said there is a need for them to be socially responsible as they shape public opinions.

She, therefore, urged filmmakers to always submit their contents to NFVCB for a rating in order to safeguard the Nigerian child.

“The language used in a film, act of violence and nudity, send messages out to people, especially children, who may apply them wrongly,” said the director.

According to her, 406 films were approved by the board in 2019, covering genres such as Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Bini, Urhobo, Hindi and movies in English.

NAN reports that the NFVCB is a Federal Government body that regulates the films and video industry in Nigeria.

The board is empowered by law to classify all films and videos whether imported or produced locally.

It is also the duty of the board to register all films and videos outlet across the country and to keep a register of such registered outlets, among other functions.

Its classification symbols include the “G” rating, which implies ‘suitable for viewing by persons of all ages’, “15” meant only for persons of 15 years and “18” meant for mature audiences.

Others are “12” meant only for persons of 12 years and the “12A” for 12 years and above, “PG” implying Parental Guidance and “RE”, which implies Restricted Exhibition.

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Nigerians React As Oyedepo Sacks Church Officials For Stealing Millions

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David Oyedepo
David Oyedepo

Mixed reactions have trailed the decision of David Oyedepo, presiding bishop of the Winner’s Chapel, to sack some church officials for allegedly looting the church’s treasury.

Oyedepo, who during an empowerment summit organized for the church’s ordained workers on Saturday, said some “very high up officials,” including accountants, turned themselves into a network of fraudsters — the very vices they were “trusted to prevent.”

He said, “We had no choice but to dismiss them. You can imagine top church officials engaging in doubling figures and other dubious practices. After we dismissed them, we discovered more fraud. ”

“Those who should discover the fraud were the ones involved in it. One of them refused to confess until the last minute. Can you imagine accountants perpetrating fraud in the house of God?

“Don’t employ them, don’t sympathize. Whoever sympathizes with the wicked is wicked himself. Don’t sympathize with any perpetrator of fraud, otherwise, you are a partaker of the evil act.”

This statement has stirred mixed reaction from many Nigerians on Twitter, as they have taken to the platform to either bash or defend the cleric over his decision.

Read Also: Oyedepo Fumes As Highly Placed Church Officials Steal Millions

See some reactions below

I see nothing wrong with Oyedepo dismissing those thieves that stole from God 🙏🏼 but asking others not to employ them is totally wrong, even God forgives who is Oyedepo not to. And besides those private Jets and luxury life style was not handed over to him directly from heaven 🚶🏼‍♂️

— Warlord (@BalogunGambari) January 12, 2020

“Don’t employ them and don’t sympathise with them. Whoever sympathises with the wicked is wicked himself.” – Bishop Oyedepo on church members who stole church money.

But same person has “sympathised” with the wicked and wanted Nigerians to “employ” him.

What has changed? 🤔

— Musa Ahmed (@Kempez2017) January 11, 2020

There are real prophets and there are fake prophets.. For sure.

I can’t say which oyedepo belongs to..
But y’all that derive joy in jumping into every pastor bant, you think you’re “woke”, you think you’re the modern day “3wise men” all in one body. 👇🏾👇🏾👇🏾

— captain steam 👨🚀 (@nielo_2wit) January 12, 2020

Many People Especially The So Called “Born Again” Claim They Don’t Believe In Karma But It’s Clearly Playing Out To Business Man Oyedepo,

When He’s Dinning With Looters, Wailing & Supporting Them He Didn’t Know Looting Shall Be His Portion Too,

SHIOR! pic.twitter.com/YlfWqPprAG

— Iké Nná (@IKENNA_____) January 12, 2020

But How Come The God Of Oyedepo That Gives Him All The Visions And Prophecies That He Always Shouts Didn’t Show Him When The Officials Were Looting His Church Treasury?

Is This Not A Confirmation That This Oyedepo Man Is Just A Business Man?

God Cannot Allow Such To His Own! pic.twitter.com/8qp95qot0G

— Iké Nná (@IKENNA_____) January 12, 2020

So a church treasury was looted and bishop oyedepo dismissed thoes that were involved, so one fool said he should have seen it in a vision before it happened….

Well he should have but he still caught them so we move 💪.

— Australia visa specialist 💯 🇦🇺 (@Haryurlar1) January 12, 2020

The church officials stole millions and the pastor sacked them. Where is the forgiveness once preached and visionary of Christ Jesus advocacy? By their fruits ye shall know them, Oyedepo isn’t different from end time pastors. After una go say nah pastor matter e no concern me 😡

— Ijaw Damsel 🚣🏽‍♀️ (@Dabobelemabo) January 12, 2020

I’m not concerned on why Bishop David Oyedepo is trending…
I’m concerned as to why @OfficialAPCNg Bots and handles, APC sympathizers are the ones launching these attacks…

Is Oyedepo contesting elections or has he hammer Buhari recently? 🤔🤔🤔

— The Puppeteer * (@AkporCharles) January 12, 2020

The post Nigerians React As Oyedepo Sacks Church Officials For Stealing Millions appeared first on Information Nigeria.

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Facebook group begins education advocacy project

By Kofoworola Belo-Osagie

With all it achieved last year, the Concerned Parents and Educators Initiative (CPE), a Facebook group of school owners, teachers, parents and other lovers of education plans to push its influence further by pursuing advocacy and reforms in the Nigerian education space this year.

Founder of the group, Mrs Yinka Ogunde said in an interview that last year the CPE raised millions of naira in cash and kind that was used to provide mobility equipment for some cerebral palsy children; support about 50 families, pay fees in low-cost schools; reward creativity in teachers through the short story challenge; connect people in need with those that had to give, among others.

She added that through CPE members’ generosity, children of widows got scholarship, examination fees got paid, teachers got trained, and affluent schools gave supplies to smaller schools.

“We never thought when we started we would make this kind of impact.  To us we just simply wanted to provide a platform for discussion between parents, school owners and stakeholders in the education sector.  But it has gone beyond our initial brief substantially to what it is today,” she said.

This year, Mrs. Ogunde said the group which has over 112,000 members – with more than 90,000 of them in Nigeria – would get more coordinated in its approach with the aim of deepening its impact on society. Tagged the Year 2020 Advocacy for Qualitative Education, members of the group would be expected to raise issues of education in their areas of influence, including places of worship, and advocate for a call to action.

Read Also: Education gap: Turning information to action

To this end, Mrs. Ogunde said CPE had identified volunteers in various states who would drive conversations towards critical areas of need in the education sector.  The CPE in various states are already planning meetings for this week in Ibadan, Kano and Kaduna- starting from today (Thursday) that would identify areas of needs to focus on ahead of its advocacy month – February.

Throughout February, Mrs Ogunde said CPE members would engage people in churches, mosques, clubs and other places highlighting the problems in the education sector and calling for action in such areas.

“February is our education transformation month – where everyone on CPE would be talking about education.  It is something that would require a seven minute pitch that all we will be saying is the same thing and asking what can be done  about the state of education.  We will also be writing to corporate organisations to ask them what they are doing,” she said.

Mrs. Ogunde said a key lesson she has learnt from running CPE with other administrators was that impact can be achieved regardless of government.

She said: “When we go out to all these schools, they don’t believe we are private individuals; they keep on thanking government for the support.  So, we say  we are not government; this is not your local government chairman; it is people just like you.

It shows that people can actually do what government is supposed to do and invariably make the government to do its work.  That is why we are just determined that we will not keep quiet about it but call their attention.”

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“I would have been celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary and no one would know I’m a lesbian behind closed doors”- Pamela Adie – YabaLeftOnline

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Nigerian lesbian and LGBT rights campaigner, Awhobiwom Pamela Adie is celebrating 10th anniversary of her ”freedom day”. a day on which she came out of the closet.

Taking to Facebook yesterday, she shared a throwback photo from her bridal shower and listed her achievements since she came out as gay in 2011 to the shock of her ex-husband, family and friends.

I always mark this day, December 12, as my “Freedom Day” because it was the day my life began to change Frfr. By now, I would have had 3 children and would have been celebrating the 10th anniversary of the wedding to my ex-husband. Many would have clapped and congratulated me for having been married for so long. But I wouldn’t have been honest with my self and those celebrating me…no one would know that I am lesbian behind closed doors. But today, I celebrate my truth and my freedom.

So much has changed in the last decade. First of all, I was 25years old at the beginning of the decade and now, at the end, I’m 35. I have gotten married, gotten divorced, came out of the closet, and earned 2 masters degrees. In the same time, I have gone from a full head of locs to a three-quarter head of locs, lost a dog and got a new dog companion, Midge.

Within this timeframe, I have led a global campaign that mobilized people to stop a deeply homophobic pastor from entering South Africa to spread hate, been listed as one of 100 most inspiring women in Africa, listed among the 10 most powerful names in Advocacy in Nigeria, spoke at the World Economic Forum, received the Young Alumni Achievement Award, wrote, produced and directed my first documentary film, and became an Obama Foundation Leader.

But it hasn’t been all rosy. I was broke many times because I was committed to seeing the end of my film project. My heart was broken multiple times, I cried a lot. I was sad many times. I loved again and again. I showed up. I fell short many times. I didn’t give up. I believed most times, and other times, I wasn’t as sure. I knew myself a lot more than I ever thought. And I also met some very awesome people…including the love of my life!

I traveled to 6 new countries, I faced some of my fears – I facilitated 3 training sessions of LGBTQ+ activists from across Africa, screened my film in 5 countries, went skydiving and parasailing – went on the desert safari, gotten 3 tattoos, did a safari tour, stayed at the Burg Al Arab, went ziplining, visited Nelson Mandela’s prison cell, and challenged the Nigerian government for infringing on my right to freely associate.

I say all this not to brag (well, there’s a lil bit of that) but to say that nothing ever stays the same forever. When we open up to living our truth, we can explore and take opportunities as they present themselves. Sure, there were times I had doubts or felt unworthy. But I abandoned religion and found Meditation, which helped me overcome my self-doubt and guilt.

As a side note, I have to reject the notion that I am somehow “lucky”. I’m not lucky. I paid my dues. I paid the heavy price and I’m getting the reward. So, please don’t say “she’s lucky”.

Anyway, I hope this inspires you to be all you can be and open yourself to life by focusing and working on the things you want to achieve. If all these can happen in the last 10 years, imagine what can happen in the next 10? Imagine what YOU can achieve in the next 10 years!

Begin with the end in mind.

Thank you to my many helpers who have contributed to my journey in the last decade. Some of what was achieved was possible because of your support.

I’m grateful and hopeful and on that note, I say Cheers to the next decade!

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Nollywood: Audition for pro-NYSC scheme movie debuts in FCT | P.M. News

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A cross section of participants at the audition for new movie “A Call to Service” in Abuja.

Audition for ‘ A call to Service’, an advocacy movie geared towards promoting core values, Acts and Bye-Laws of the National Youth Service Corps(NYSC), on Saturday, holds in the Federal Capital Territory(FCT).

The youths, including and corps members, seeking acting opportunities, in large number, took part in the audition for the new movie, which held at the Bolingo Hotels.

Mr Jairuspaul Osazuwa, the scriptwriter and producer of the film, said that “A Call to Service” is conceived to promote, tribal tolerance, national peace and unity, which the NYSC scheme champions, NAN reports.

He explained that the audition was to discover corps members that had potential and passion for acting in line with the Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development ( SAED ) initiative of the scheme.

He noted that Nigeria as a nation has faced a lot of challenges in recent times, and it was imperative to promote things and initiatives that bind citizens inrespective of tribal and religious divides.

“This is the first time a project of this nature and magnitude will be carried out in the history of the NYSC scheme.

“We are glad is it happening now under the Leadership of Brig-Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim, who is the executive producer of the Film “A Call To Service”.

“The initiative is birthed by the Director-General of the NYSC and it is aimed at projecting the scheme and spread the message of peaceful co-existence and selfless service to fatherland.

“The film will also promote the Acts and Bye-Laws of the scheme by putting the book on screen for effective communication to all stakeholders,” he said.

Osazuwa explained that the star-studded film will feature upcoming and seasoned actors drawn from across the country, including Nollywood veterans Pete Edochie, Ali Nuhu, Imeh Bishop Omoh,( Okon ) Steve Ebor and Bruno Iwuoha.

He disclosed further that Jairuspaul Osazuwa and the D-G of the NYSC will also feature among the cast of ‘A Call to Service.”

According to him, the film will be shot in locations in FCT, Kano and Delta , among others.

NAN reports that NYSC was created on 22 May 1973 , based on decree No. 24 as an avenue for the reconciliation, reconstruction, and rebuilding of the nation after the civil war.

It was created “with a view to encourage and develop common ties among the youth of Nigeria as well as promote national unity.

Under the scheme, young university graduates under the age of 30 are expected to serve their fatherland for one year, known as national service year.

They are posted to states other than their state of origin where they are expected to mix with people from different ethnic groups and learn the culture of the indigenes in the location they are posted to.

This action is aimed at bringing about unity in the country and help the youth appreciate other ethnic groups.

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Why the fight against disinformation, sham accounts and trolls won’t be any easier in 2020

2020 Election

The big tech companies have announced aggressive steps to keep trolls, bots and online fakery from marring another presidential election — from Facebook’s removal of billions of fake accounts to Twitter’s spurning of all political ads.

But it’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole that’s only getting harder as we barrel toward the 2020 election. Disinformation peddlers are deploying new, more subversive techniques and American operatives have adopted some of the deceptive tactics Russians tapped in 2016. Now, tech companies face thorny and sometimes subjective choices about how to combat them — at times drawing flak from both Democrats and Republicans as a result.

This is our roundup of some of the evolving challenges Silicon Valley faces as it tries to counter online lies and bad actors heading into the 2020 election cycle:

1) American trolls may be a greater threat than Russians

Russia-backed trolls notoriously flooded social media with disinformation around the presidential election in 2016, in what Robert Mueller’s investigators described as a multimillion-dollar plot involving years of planning, hundreds of people and a wave of fake accounts posting news and ads on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube.

This time around — as experts have warned — a growing share of the threat is likely to originate in America.

“It’s likely that there will be a high volume of misinformation and disinformation pegged to the 2020 election, with the majority of it being generated right here in the United States, as opposed to coming from overseas,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Barrett, the author of a recent report on 2020 disinformation, noted that lies and misleading claims about 2020 candidates originating in the U.S. have already spread across social media. Those include manufactured sex scandals involving South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and a smear campaign calling Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) “not an American black” because of her multiracial heritage. (The latter claim got a boost on Twitter from Donald Trump Jr.)

Before last year’s midterm elections, Americans similarly amplified fake messages such as a “#nomenmidterms” hashtag that urged liberal men to stay home from the polls to make “a Woman’s Vote Worth more.” Twitter suspended at least one person — actor James Woods — for retweeting that message.

“A lot of the disinformation that we can identify tends to be domestic,” said Nahema Marchal, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Project. “Just regular private citizens leveraging the Russian playbook, if you will, to create … a divisive narrative, or just mixing factual reality with made-up facts.”

Tech companies say they’ve broadened their fight against disinformation as a result. Facebook, for instance, announced in October that it had expanded its policies against “coordinated inauthentic behavior” to reflect a rise in disinformation campaigns run by non-state actors, domestic groups and companies. But people tracking the spread of fakery say it remains a problem, especially inside closed groups like those popular on Facebook.

2) And policing domestic content is tricky

U.S. law forbids foreigners from taking part in American political campaigns — a fact that made it easy for members of Congress to criticize Facebook for accepting rubles as payment for political ads in 2016.

But Americans are allowed, even encouraged, to partake in their own democracy — which makes things a lot more complicated when they use social media tools to try to skew the electoral process. For one thing, the companies face a technical challenge: Domestic meddling doesn’t leave obvious markers such as ads written in broken English and traced back to Russian internet addresses.

More fundamentally, there’s often no clear line between bad-faith meddling and dirty politics. It’s not illegal to run a mud-slinging campaign or engage in unscrupulous electioneering. And the tech companies are wary of being seen as infringing on American’s right to engage in political speech — all the more so as conservatives such as President Donald Trump accuse them of silencing their voices.

Plus, the line between foreign and domestic can be blurry. Even in 2016, the Kremlin-backed troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency relied on Americans to boost their disinformation. Now, claims with hazy origins are being picked up without need for a coordinated 2016-style foreign campaign. Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic strategist who has spent recent years focused on online disinformation, points to Trump’s promotion of the theory that Ukraine significantly meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, a charge that some experts trace back to Russian security forces.

“It’s hard to know if something is foreign or domestic,” said Rosenberg, once it “gets swept up in this vast ‘Wizard of Oz’-like noise machine.”

3) Bad actors are learning

Experts agree on one thing: The election interference tactics that social media platforms encounter in 2020 will look different from those they’ve trying to fend off since 2016.

“What we’re going to see is the continued evolution and development of new approaches, new experimentation trying to see what will work and what won’t,” said Lee Foster, who leads the information operations intelligence analysis team at the cybersecurity firm FireEye.

Foster said the “underlying motivations” of undermining democratic institutions and casting doubt on election results will remain constant, but the trolls have already evolved their tactics.

For instance, they’ve gotten better at obscuring their online activity to avoid automatic detection, even as social media platforms ramp up their use of artificial intelligence software to dismantle bot networks and eradicate inauthentic accounts.

“One of the challenges for the platforms is that, on the one hand, the public understandably demands more transparency from them about how they take down or identify state-sponsored attacks or how they take down these big networks of authentic accounts, but at the same time they can’t reveal too much at the risk of playing into bad actors’ hands,” said Oxford’s Marchal.

Researchers have already observed extensive efforts to distribute disinformation through user-generated posts — known as “organic” content — rather than the ads or paid messages that were prominent in the 2016 disinformation campaigns.

Foster, for example, cited trolls impersonating journalists or other more reliable figures to give disinformation greater legitimacy. And Marchal noted a rise in the use of memes and doctored videos, whose origins can be difficult to track down. Jesse Littlewood, vice president at advocacy group Common Cause, said social media posts aimed at voter suppression frequently appear no different from ordinary people sharing election updates in good faith — messages such as “you can text your vote” or “the election’s a different day” that can be “quite harmful.”

Tech companies insist they are learning, too. Since the 2016 election, Google, Facebook and Twitter have devoted security experts and engineers to tackling disinformation in national elections across the globe, including the 2018 midterms in the United States. The companies say they have gotten better at detecting and removing fake accounts, particularly those engaged in coordinated campaigns.

But other tactics may have escaped detection so far. NYU’s Barrett noted that disinformation-for-hire operations sometimes employed by corporations may be ripe for use in U.S. politics, if they’re not already.

He pointed to a recent experiment conducted by the cyber threat intelligence firm Recorded Future, which said it paid two shadowy Russian “threat actors” a total of just $6,050 to generate media campaigns promoting and trashing a fictitious company. Barrett said the project was intended “to lure out of the shadows firms that are willing to do this kind of work,” and demonstrated how easy it is to generate and sow disinformation.

Real-life examples include a hyper-partisan skewed news operation started by a former Fox News executive and Facebook’s accusations that an Israeli social media company profited from creating hundreds of fake accounts. That “shows that there are firms out there that are willing and eager to engage in this kind of underhanded activity,” Barrett said.

4) Not all lies are created equal

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are largely united in trying to take down certain kinds of false information, such as targeted attempts to drive down voter turnout. But their enforcement has been more varied when it comes to material that is arguably misleading.

In some cases, the companies label the material factually dubious or use their algorithms to limit its spread. But in the lead-up to 2020, the companies’ rules are being tested by political candidates and government leaders who sometimes play fast and loose with the truth.

“A lot of the mainstream campaigns and politicians themselves tend to rely on a mix of fact and fiction,” Marchal said. “It’s often a lot of … things that contain a kernel of truth but have been distorted.”

One example is the flap over a Trump campaign ad — which appeared on Facebook, YouTube and some television networks — suggesting that former Vice President Joe Biden had pressured Ukraine into firing a prosecutor to squelch an investigation into an energy company whose board included Biden’s son Hunter. In fact, the Obama administration and multiple U.S. allies had pushed for removing the prosecutor for slow-walking corruption investigations. The ad “relies on speculation and unsupported accusations to mislead viewers,” the nonpartisan site FactCheck.org concluded.

The debate has put tech companies at the center of a tug of war in Washington. Republicans have argued for more permissive rules to safeguard constitutionally protected political speech, while Democrats have called for greater limits on politicians’ lies.

Democrats have especially lambasted Facebook for refusing to fact-check political ads, and have criticized Twitter for letting politicians lie in their tweets and Google for limiting candidates’ ability to finely tune the reach of their advertising — all examples, the Democrats say, of Silicon Valley ducking the fight against deception.

Jesse Blumenthal, who leads the tech policy arm of the Koch-backed Stand Together coalition, said expecting Silicon Valley to play truth cop places an undue burden on tech companies to litigate messy disputes over what’s factual.

“Most of the time the calls are going to be subjective, so what they end up doing is putting the platforms at the center of this rather than politicians being at the center of this,” he said.

Further complicating matters, social media sites have generally granted politicians considerably more leeway to spread lies and half-truths through their individual accounts and in certain instances through political ads. “We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an October speech at Georgetown University in which he defended his company’s policy.

But Democrats say tech companies shouldn’t profit off false political messaging.

“I am supportive of these social media companies taking a much harder line on what content they allow in terms of political ads and calling out lies that are in political ads, recognizing that that’s not always the easiest thing to draw those distinctions,” Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state told POLITICO.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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