Tokyo Olympic organisers are trying to shoot down rumours that this year’s 2020 Games might be cancelled or postponed because of the spread of a new virus.
Japan has so far reported no deaths from the coronavirus that has killed more than 200 people in China. Japanese organisers have hesitated to say much for several days, but on Friday they addressed the rumours. So did the International Olympic Committee, which also has said little.
Olympic organisers have finally addressed rumours that the Tokyo Games could be cancelled due to the coronavirus.
The Olympics open on July 24, just under six months away.
“We have never discussed cancelling the games,” Tokyo organisers said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with the IOC and relevant organisations and will review any countermeasures that may be necessary.”
READ MORE: * Coronavirus: How does NZ compare? * Coronavirus dooms Winter X Games * McCaw understands Olympics pressure
Rumours of a cancellation have spread in Japan with reports that the Swiss-based IOC has met with the World Health Organisation about the outbreak. The WHO has called the virus a global emergency.
“Preparations for Tokyo 2020 continue as planned,” the IOC said in a statement. “It is normal practice for the IOC to collaborate with all the main UN agencies, as necessary, in the lead up to the games and this naturally includes the WHO.”
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, speaking earlier in the week to the heads of 62 municipalities, warned about the dangers. Japan has also urged citizens not to travel to China.
“We must firmly tackle the new coronavirus to contain it, or we are going to regret it,” she said.
Rumours have spread online with thousands of comments on Twitter under the hashtag in Japanese “Tokyo Olympic Cancelled”.
The Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus, is pressing ahead with the construction of two purpose-built hospitals.
The IOC has faced challenges like this before, and carries insurance for such possibilities. It has cancelled Olympics during wartime, and faced boycotts in 1980 and 1984. It also held the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City just months after the 9-11 attacks in the United States.
The mosquito-borne Zika virus also cast a shadow over the run-up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The larger problem for the Olympics could come with qualifying events in China and elsewhere being cancelled or postponed. International federations will have to reschedule events and Chinese athletes could present extra challenges and screening.
World Athletics, the governing body of track and field, announced earlier in the week it was postponing the world indoor championships in Nanjing, China, until next year. The event had been scheduled for March 13-15.
Travel, screening and allaying fears are certain to be more complicated if the outbreak continues. The 11,000 athletes expected to compete at the Tokyo Olympics will also face pressure to stay safe.
Sponsors and television networks who have invested billions of dollars will also try to keep the games on track.
Demand for Olympic tickets in Japan is unprecedented, exceeding supply by at least 10 times. Organisers say 7.8 million tickets are being issued for the Olympics.
Organisers say they are spending about US$12.6 billion to put on the games. But a national audit bureau says the costs are twice that much.
It has been a long time coming, it has even been alluded to in some Sci-Fi series such as Incorporated, where in the near future a corporation runs a country and is also a state in its own right. With Facebook earlier in 2019 officially unveiling plans to launch Libra, its own (along with other corporate partners) digital currency, in 2020, it is almost safe to say that Mark Zuckerberg’s (despite being a public company, Facebook’s share structure and voting rights afford Zuckerberg a lot of control and power) social network is almost a country in its own right.
With approximately 2 billion monthly active users as reported at the end of 2018, even if you had to account for duplicate and fake accounts, it would still measure up as one of the largest populations any country has on the planet.
If you add WhatsApp, considering that the messaging app’s users will also be able to transact using Libra (once, or rather if, it eventually launches), with its reported 1,5 billion active users (although some are already Facebook users), you are looking at a size of a country like one we have never witnessed before.
Welcome to the .
Strong political opposition
It didn’t take long after the official announcement of Libra earlier in the year that three countries, France, England, and Germany, started displaying signs that they were feeling threatened by Facebook & Co.’s newly proposed digital currency. Specifically, France’s Finance Minister stated unequivocally that Libra cannot be a replacement for sovereign currencies.
So far, it has not been an easy ride for Libra since that official announcement earlier in 2019. What looked like a good list of partners has been reduced with several of its (Libra Association) member companies deciding to pull their membership and support for Facebook’s proposed digital currency. It all started with PayPal withdrawing from the Libra Association, this was then followed by Visa, Mastercard, eBay, Stripe and Mercado Pago who all announced that they will no longer be participating nor supporting Libra.
The withdrawals, which ended up leaving Libra without any major global payments companies as members, were politically motivated as the United States Senate sent a letter to the various Libra Association member organizations CEOs urging them “to proceed with caution until Facebook is able to provide real answers to you.”
Despite this strong political opposition to Libra by various countries and regulators, which has also seen Facebook being hauled before the USA’s policy makers to answer questions about the planned digital currency, I still think there is a high probability that not only will Libra launch in 2020, but it has better than average chances of gaining traction.
This is despite those involved in the Libra project at Facebook stating that there is no clear product roadmap nor a s et launch date.
However, important to note that Patrick Ellis, one of the board members of the Libra Association, confirmed to Reuters that Libra would launch during 2020, but couldn’t provide any indication of when or even the initial markets it would be launched in.
Before I elaborate on why I think it will succeed, what will it mean for your money to be controlled and managed by Facebook?
Your money in Facebook’s control
To further understand why some countries, including the USA, have been vocally opposing Libra in public, the letter that The United States House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services wrote to Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg (COO at Facebook), and David Marcus (CEO of Facebook subsidiary, Calibra), gives us a few hints in my opinion.
Firstly, as compared to say, Bitcoin, it is easier and possible to write to Facebook’s Zuckerberg and Sandberg regarding Libra compared to trying to write to Satoshi Nakamoto. In this case, there are real people and organizations that can be held accountable. Secondly, and as they allude to in the letter, the policy makers feel that Libra is a threat to the US Dollar and the country’s monetary policy, despite it being merely a stablecoin and not a cryptocurrency in the strictest of terms.
There’s also the matter that should Libra ever get into trouble (eg. not be able to guarantee customers withdrawals etc.), the US government in one way or another would need to step in to protect Americans as we’ve seen it do before with some of the country’s large banks (side note: this is exactly what Bitcoin avoids, but alas. A discussion for another day).
However, more importantly for us in Africa is, does Libra offer any of us any value?
Does it help us with anything we are struggling with currently?
Does it make life easier?
To use and transact in Libra, users will have to download and run the official wallet, Calibra (a subsidiary company of Facebook). From what I’ve seen and what has so far led me to say in its current form Libra will struggle to gain traction (unless they address the following two issues) is that to use Calibra one will require a bank account and a government issued ID.
It’s no secret that Africa has a high number of unbanked people mainly as a result of low income and unemployment. As such, it is mind boggling that a product punting financial inclusion would require users to first have a bank account before using it. However, it’s possible that this will change by the time Facebook launches the digital currency and wallet in 2020. If it doesn’t, it could prove to be a stumbling block for gaining traction especially across Africa.
The second issue, which also leads me to explaining why I think Libra will succeed, is around the requirement of government issued ID.
On the surface, in most countries in Africa at least, the requirement for a government issued ID could prove a real stumbling block to adoption. In many African countries, eg. Nigeria, there is no real organized government ID system. Immediately this makes it rather interesting how Facebook is going to verify identity in such cases.
However, Facebook and its Libra partners seem to already have thought of this and have a possible solution in mind. A solution which, once it can be implemented, will make a strong argument that Facebook is now essentially a country.
Facebook’s possible Trojan Horse
Earlier in 2019 when the noise around Libra was at its peak and being frustrated that no African policymakers we commenting on it or providing any clarification on how they view Facebook’s proposed digital currency that is mainly targeted a developing countries, I set out to read the Libra white paper for the third time. Somehow, I found something in the Libra white paper I had missed or wasn’t paying enough attention to previously.
Hidden (in plain sight) deep in the guts of a white paper light on details and heavy on marketing talk about financial inclusion and the world’s 2 billion without adequate financial services are two sentences that seem to be placed nonchalantly atop page 9 of the Libra white paper, yet they could have far reaching impact.
“An additional goal of the [Libra] association is to develop and promote an open identity standard. We believe that decentralized and portable digital identity is a prerequisite to financial inclusion and competition.”
This, the development of an open standard for digital IDs, as mentioned, could mean that Facebook already has a solution for part of this problem. The other part of this solution is that Facebook previously acquired a company that verifies government issued IDs in 2018. These two solutions combined could help onboard and verify people onto Libra and from there start issuing them with verified Facebook IDs.
Considering that Facebook, along with its subsidiary platforms like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger, is home to over 2 billion people, could this be the new global ID standard that will surpass and be more trusted than government issued IDs?
Although I could not find any further details on the proposed Libra digital ID and Facebook have also refused to comment when I asked, in my opinion it has a far bigger impact than the proposed currency as, if adopted and rolled out successfully it solves one of the web’s biggest issues, trust. I can already envision how it fits in with some of its other acquisitions, for example, Facebook acquired a face recognition tool that it incorporated into its main Facebook platform that would identify faces in the photos you post automatically and suggest you tag them. This, could possibly be used outside of government issued IDs given the trove of (tagged) photos Facebook already has of billions of people around the world, to verify identity.
This to me is Facebook’s Trojan Horse with Libra a necessary part but of lesser significance than the ability for Facebook to be able to run a platform that can verify and vouch for the identity of billions of people independent from any government.
Managing the flow of money gives you some power. Handling trust and identities gives you control, and essentially, makes you a nation state.
A virtual nation state
As far as why I now think this completes the idea of Facebook becoming a country, it’s simply because of the leverage it will hold over some countries especially across the continent who not only do not have near as accurate data about their citizens like Facebook has, but are struggling to maintain the value and usefulness of their own sovereign currencies (e.g. Zimbabwe).
At the heart of it (Libra) people just want a quicker and cheaper way to transact and send money, and already in Africa, many are used to using mobile money for their daily living.
Apart from having such a huge virtual population, a currency, and possibly its own verifiable IDs for its citizens, Facebook also does not fall under any single country’s jurisdiction. For example, its US-based users are governed by a corporation registered in the USA, its users in the rest of the world are governed by a corporation registered in Ireland, while in China it works under different laws. This not only applies to laws but where it pays taxes too. So, as such, you cannot exactly call it a US company as it is not bound any single country’s laws and to make matters worse (or good if you’re Facebook) it is a virtual entity.
It really, in my view, has officially become the People’s Republic of Facebook (and like its namesake, it’s not a democracy 😊)
GOLDMAN Sachs Group Inc could end up paying less than US$2 billion (RM8.32 billion) to resolve US criminal and regulatory probes over its role in raising money for scandal-ridden Malaysian investment fund 1MDB, said three people familiar with the negotiations.
The Justice Department and other federal agencies, in internal discussions held in recent weeks, have weighed seeking penalties of between US$1.5 billion and US$2 billion, the people said. That’s less than what some analysts have signalled Goldman might have to pay. While a settlement could be announced as soon as next month, the terms could change before a deal is finalised, said the people who asked not to be named in discussing private negotiations.
The bulk of the penalties would be paid to the Justice Department. Attorney General William Barr has directly immersed himself in the case, according to another person familiar with the matter. Earlier this year, Barr obtained a waiver to let him oversee the investigation, even though his former law firm, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, is representing Goldman. It’s unclear whether the Justice Department is seeking a guilty plea from the bank.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, as did spokesmen for the Federal Reserve and Securities and Exchange Commission, which have been pursuing civil investigations into Goldman. The bank reiterated its previous statements that it continues to cooperate with authorities.
Goldman Sachs shares climbed as much as 3.1 per cent on the discussions, the biggest intraday gain in almost two months. The bank’s stock is up 33 per cent this year.
Goldman’s involvement with 1MDB has triggered one of the biggest blows to its reputation in recent years, leading to a litany of investigations and embarrassing revelations of a former banker bribing government officials. The Wall Street firm has been eager to move past the scandal, and a US settlement of below US$2 billion would put it on track to avoid the worst-case scenario that some analysts pegged at as much as US$9 billion in global fines.
Goldman is separately negotiating a settlement with Malaysian authorities, who have in recent discussions floated much lower figures than their public stance of wanting to recover US$7.5 billion. Goldman is still privately seeking to reduce its sanctions, arguing that the crimes were committed by a rogue employee and that the bank wasn’t aware of the misconduct.
If it pays anywhere close to US$2 billion, Goldman would join other banks that have been subjected to massive US penalties this decade. In 2012, HSBC Holdings Plc set a new bar when it agreed to pay more than US$1.9 billion to settle allegations that it violated sanctions and enabled money laundering. BNP Paribas SA was then hit with the largest financial penalty ever in a US criminal case when it paid US$9 billion over sanctions violations.
In previous international corruption cases, the US has sometimes credited penalties paid to other countries for the same conduct. For example, a US$1.3 billion US settlement last year with Societe Generale SA included a credit of almost US$300 million that was paid to French authorities.
1MDB became the hub of a global corruption and embezzlement scandal in which a massive amount of cash was allegedly diverted to corrupt officials and financiers. Goldman helped the state investment fund raise cash, with the Wall Street bank making about US$600 million from US$6.5 billion in bond sales in 2012 and 2013.
Tim Leissner, a former senior Goldman banker in Southeast Asia, admitted last year to bribery and pleaded guilty to US charges that he conspired to launder money.
Money diverted from 1MDB was allegedly spent around the world, including on a super yacht, the Hollywood movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” and high-end real estate. Authorities in several countries have been working to recoup some of the missing billions and punish those involved.
There are signs that Goldman has made progress in its negotiations with US agencies and may also have a sense of how much it might pay to settle the investigations.
For instance, Goldman stopped buying back its stock in the third quarter as it began discussions with US authorities on 1MDB. Goldman later restarted its buybacks as talks with the government progressed and the firm added US$300 million to its estimate of possible legal losses, chief financial officer Stephen Scherr said on an October conference call with analysts and investors.
Goldman has previously blamed Leissner for concealing his wrongdoing from the firm’s compliance efforts. Leissner has countered that the bank’s culture of secrecy led him to bypass compliance. US authorities allege that in addition to Leissner, two other bankers were aware of the scheme, including one who went on to become the bank’s top dealmaker in the region.
Earlier this year, the Fed banned Leissner and his former deputy, Roger Ng, from the banking industry. Ng faces US accusations of money laundering and bribery, and also Malaysian charges of aiding the bank’s efforts to mislead investors. – Bloomberg
Hey everyone. Thank you for welcoming me into you inboxes yet again.
Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. After dodging your inboxes for a couple weeks as I ventured off to China for a TechCrunch event in Shenzhen, I am rested up and ready to go.
If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox here, and follow my tweets here.
The big story
When Apple announced details on their three new subscription products (Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and Apple News+ — all of which are now live) back in March, the headlines that followed all described accurately how Apple’s business was increasingly shifting away from hardware towards services and how the future of the company may lie in these subscription businesses.
I largely accepted those headlines as fact, but one thing I have been thinking an awful lot about this week is how much I have loved Disney+ since signing up for an account and just how little I have thought about Apple TV+ despite signing up for both at their launches.
It’s admittedly not the fairest of comparisons, Disney has decades of classic content behind them while Apple is pushing out weekly updates to a few mostly meh TV shows. But no one was begging Apple to get into television. The company’s desires to diversify and own subscriptions that consumers have on their Apple devices certainly make sense for them, but their strategy of making that play without the help of any beloved series before them seems to have been a big miscalculation.
At TechCrunch, we write an awful lot about acquisitions worth hundreds of million, if not billions, of dollars. Some of the acquisitions that have intrigued me the most have been in the content space. Streaming networks are plunking down historic sums on series like Seinfeld, Friends and The Big Bang Theory. The buyers have differed throughout these deals, but they have never been Apple.
That’s because Apple isn’t bidding on history, they’re trying to nab directors and actors creating the series that will be the next hits. And while that sounds very Apple, it also sounds like a product that’s an awfully big gamble to the average consumer looking to try out a new streaming service. Why pick the service that’s starting from a standstill? Apple has ordered plenty of series and I have few doubts that at least one of the shows they plan to introduce is going to be a hit, but there isn’t much in the way of an early favorite yet and for subscribers that haven’t found “the one” yet, there’s very little reason to stick around.
Other networks with a half-dozen major series can afford a few flops because there’s a library of classics that’s filling up the dead space. Apple’s strategy is bold but is going to lead to awfully high churn among consumers that won’t be as forgiving of bad bets. This is an issue that’s sure to become less pronounced over time, but I would bet there will be quite a few consumers unsubscribing in the mean time leaving those on freebie subscriptions responsible for gauging which new shows are top notch.
Apple has also made the weird move of not housing their content inside an app so much as the Apple TV’s alternative UI inside the TV app. One one hand, this makes the lack of content less visible, but it also pushes all of the original series to the back of your mind. If you’re a Netflix user who has been subconsciously trained never to use the TV app on your Apple TV because none of their content is housed there, you’re really left forgetting about TV+ shows entirely when using the traditional app layout.
We haven’t received any super early numbers on Apple News+, Apple Arcade or Apple TV+, but none of the three appears to have made the sizable cultural splashes in their debuts that were hoped for at launch. Apple’s biggest bet of the three was undoubtedly TV+ and while their first series haven’t seemed to drop any jaws, what’s more concerning is whether the fundamentals of the service have been arranged so that unsatisfied subscribers feel any need to stick around.
Send me feedback on Twitter @lucasmtny or email firstname.lastname@example.org
On to the rest of the week’s news.
Image via AMY OSBORNE/AFP/Getty Images
Trends of the week
Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:
How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:
It’s hard to believe it’s already that time of the year again, but we just announced the agenda for Disrupt Berlin and we’ve got some all-stars making their way to the stage. I’ll be there this year, get some tickets and come say hey!
Sign up for more newsletters in your inbox (including this one) here.
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.
SAN FRANCISCO — The data-collection business model fueling Facebook and Google represents a threat to human rights around the world, Amnesty International said in a report Wednesday.
The organization argued that offering people free online services and then using information about them to target money-making ads imperils a gamut of rights including freedom of opinion and expression.
“Despite the real value of the services they provide, Google and Facebook’s platforms come at a systemic cost,” Amnesty said in its report, “Surveillance Giants.”
“The companies’ surveillance-based business model forces people to make a Faustian bargain, whereby they are only able to enjoy their human rights online by submitting to a system predicated on human rights abuse.”
With ubiquitous surveillance, the two online giants are able to collect massive amounts of data which may be used against their customers, according to the London-based human rights group.
The business model is “inherently incompatible with the right to privacy,” Amnesty contended.
The report maintained that the two Silicon Valley firms have established “near-total dominance over the primary channels through which people connect and engage with the online world,” giving them unprecedented power over people’s lives.
“Google and Facebook dominate our modern lives — amassing unparalleled power over the digital world by harvesting and monetizing the personal data of billions of people,” said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s secretary general.
“Their insidious control of our digital lives undermines the very essence of privacy and is one of the defining human rights challenges of our era.”
The report called for governments to implement policies that ensure access to online services while protecting user privacy.
“Governments have an obligation to protect people from human rights abuses by corporations,” Amnesty maintained.
“But for the past two decades, technology companies have been largely left to self-regulate.”
DISPUTE ON FINDINGS
Facebook pushed back against what it contended were inaccuracies in the report, saying it strongly disagreed with its business model being characterized as surveillance-based.
“Our business model is what allows us to offer an important service where people can exercise foundational human rights — to have a voice (freedom of expression) and be able to connect (freedom of association and assembly),” said a letter from Facebook privacy and public policy director Steve Satterfield in an annex to the Amnesty report.
“Facebook’s business model is not, as your summary suggests, driven by the collection of data about people.”
Facebook spotlighted its measures implemented which limit data information used for ad targeting; controls provided to users regarding their data; and steps taken to restrict abuses by apps on the social network.
“As you correctly note, we do not sell data; we sell ads,” Facebook said.
Facebook chief and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has called for governments to implement uniform rules regarding data-handling instead of leaving private companies to make crucial social decisions such as the limits of free speech.
Google did not offer a specific written response.
But the Amnesty report noted that Google announced this month it would limit data that it shares with advertisers through its ad auction platform, following the launch of an inquiry by the Irish data protection authority and had launched a new feature allowing users to delete location data.
Before walking down the aisle, popularly known as E-Money and his wife, Juliet were best friends who stood by each other when they had nothing.
As their 10th wedding anniversary kicks off, E-Money celebrated the day with sweet words to his darling Juliet.
After three kids and billions in the bank account, the duo is still waxing strong. As they celebrate their wedding anniversary, Emeka showed off how he is still spoiling his wife.
In his post, he shard photos of both of them and captioned it with sweet words, saying:
“I woke up this morning feeling butterflies in my tummy. The same butterflies I have been feeling for over 15 years since I met you. And of course darling, our marriage is already 10 years old today. Reminiscing on the last 15 years and I cannot but thank God for ensuring our paths crossed. If not, the E-Money many know today may have just remained another Emeka on the streets of Ajegunle. You will come over to Mama’s shop in Ajegunle then, not ashamed of me. You saw Emeka then and you believed in what could come out of him. You stood by me against all odds. Indeed, from the black pot, my white pap was produced. How time flies !Yes Juliet, we are already a decade in this union. Waow!!! God saw my need and made our paths cross; for this, I will always have cause to thank God.
Many see the glamour today, you saw the dream, and believed in it even when it was not obvious to the discerning. You equally saw my struggles, the downs. You encourage me to try again when it seems like I am losing; always reminding me that nothing is impossible, that the next attempt may just be the jackpot. You are right, we made it. Yes ‘we’, because everything I am today, I owe it to God, an almost spartan lifestyle and to you, my dear doting wife.
Lolo, you were my first love and only true love. You have given me handsome sons that call me daddy and you, mummy. You give me a heart that can help bear my burden. You give me prayer support in both good and bad times. You have been a true source of help to me and I cannot thank you enough. Your support drives me to keep trying. You gave me a home which is a definition of peace. You give me and our children everything we demand of you, without requesting for anything in return . You are a true wife and I love you. You are my joy, support, backbone and engine room. On this auspicious occasion, babe, I pray the Almighty meets you at the points of your need. You shall be a mother of many nations. People will see you and bow. To a century of our union, I assure you of my unflinching and total love. I thank you so much, my virtuous wife.”
The entire Nollywood is to be blamed for the disqualification of Nigeria’s Oscar choice “Lionheart’’, a movie producer, Chima Okereke, said on Wednesday
“Lionheart”, directed by Genevieve Nnaji, was Nigeria’s first-ever Oscar submission for best international feature film.
It was disqualified on Monday by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for not having “a predominantly non-English dialogue track”.
Films for the must have a predominantly non-English dialogue track but the 95-minute Lion Heart is largely in English, with an 11-minute section in the Igbo Language.
Okereke, the Managing Director of the Fresh Talent Production, a movie company, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the structure was flawed.
“In the opinion of the screeners, the film should have used majorly the Igbo Language than the English Language, and the blame game started flying.
“It is important to understand that profit considerations cannot allow a big film of that status, shot in Nigeria, to be shot majorly in Igbo or any other Nigerian Language.
“It will most likely lead to loss of capital investment; people might not want to watch because it was done in a local language; sentiments, politics and ethnic nuances will kill its potential patronage no matter how great the film is in terms of theme, interpretation, value and impact,’’ he said.
He saidd that the committee that nominated “Lionheart’’ did not want an opportunity to slip by.
“The gamble did not fly; now, we should learn from it.
“At least, thousands of filmmakers who lampooned some of us for not aiming for Oscar will now see the reason.
“King of Boys’’, “Trip to Jamaica’’, “Wedding Party’’ and others that made huge profits as we gathered, would not have made it to Oscar because they were not shot in Yoruba or Igbo language and then
subtitled in English,’’ he said.
He noted that some years back at a seminar organised Directors Guild of Nigeria, the issue of nomination for Oscar came up.
“I told everyone who nursed that idea to do that in indigenous language. You see it now.
“Only one category is reserved for films made outside Hollywood, and to be qualified to win Oscar, the language must be indigenous.
“It could be Spanish, Portuguese, Igbo, Efik, Mandarin, Yoruba, etc., targeting at least 60-65 per cent indigenous language.’’ he said.
READ ALSO: Genevieve Nnaji’s ‘Lionheart’ is Nigeria’s submission for the Oscar
Okere said that filmmakers working toward entrance for Oscar would have no choice than to use non-English language.
Use your local language; shooting a film with American or British Language will not get you a nomination,’’ he said.
Okereke, however, said that a film shot in English Language could make it to Oscar if co-produced with a Hollywood producer.
“The lesson from “Lionheart’’ disqualification is: Take your language serious; follow the rules. Hollywood takes film production as a serious business and protects it with its award system.
“There has to be collaborative efforts from filmmakers in Nigeria by putting the elements needed to win at the big stage – from story to language options and to value and marketing.
“Filmmakers have to go back to the drawing board and get it right.
“If we neglect this facts, we miss billions in not keying into global film business,’’ he said.
A number of Facebook’s recent decisions have fueled a criticism that continues to follow the company, including the decision not to fact-check political advertising and the inclusion of Breitbart News in the company’s new “trusted sources” News tab. These controversies were stoked even further by Mark Zuckerberg’s speech at Georgetown University last week, where he tried—mostly unsuccessfully—to portray Facebook as a defender of free speech. CJR thought all of these topics were worth discussing with free-speech experts and researchers who focus on the power of platforms like Facebook, so we convened an interview series this week on our Galley discussion platform, featuring guests like Alex Stamos, former chief technology officer of Facebook, veteran tech journalist Kara Swisher, Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain, and Stanford researcher Kate Klonick.
Stamos, one of the first to raise the issue of potential Russian government involvement on Facebook’s platform while he was the head of security there, said he had a number of issues with Zuckerberg’s speech, including the fact that he “compressed all of the different products into this one blob he called Facebook. That’s not a useful frame for pretty much any discussion of how to handle speech issues.” Stamos said the News tab is arguably a completely new category of product, a curated and in some cases paid-for selection of media, and that this means the company has much more responsibility for what appears there. Stamos also said that there are “dozens of Cambridge Analyticas operating today collecting sensitive data on individuals and using it to target ads for political campaigns. They just aren’t dumb enough to get their data through breaking an API agreement with Facebook.”
Ellen Goodman, co-founder of the Rutgers Institute for Information Policy & Law, said that Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the first to have to struggle with tensions between free speech and democratic discourse, “it’s just that he’s confronting these questions without any connection to press traditions, with only recent acknowledgment that he runs a media company, in the absence of any regulation, and with his hands on personal data and technical affordances that enable microtargeting.” Kate Klonick of Stanford said Zuckerberg spoke glowingly about early First Amendment cases, but got one of the most famous—NYT v Sullivan—wrong. “The case really stands for the idea of tolerating even untrue speech in order to empower citizens to criticize political figures,” Klonick said. “It is not about privileging political figures’ speech, which of course is exactly what the new Facebook policies do.”
Evelyn Douek, a doctoral student at Harvard Law and an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center For Internet & Society, said most of Zuckerberg’s statements about his commitment to free speech were based on the old idea of a marketplace of ideas being the best path to truth. This metaphor has always been questionable, Douek says, “but it makes no sense at all in a world where Facebook constructs, tilts, distorts the marketplace with its algorithms that favor a certain kind of content.” She said Facebook’s amplification of certain kinds of information via the News Feed algorithm “is a cause of a lot of the unease with our current situation, especially because of the lack of transparency.” EFF director Jillian York said the political ad issue is a tricky one. “I do think that fact-checking political ads is important, but is this company capable of that? These days, I lean toward thinking that maybe Facebook just isn’t the right place for political advertising at all.”
Swisher said: “The problem is that this is both a media company, a telephone company and a tech company. As it is architected, it is impossible to govern. Out of convenience we have handed over the keys to them and we are cheap dates for doing so. You get a free map and quick delivery? They get billions and control the world.” Zittrain said the political ad fact-checking controversy is about more than just a difficult product feature. “Evaluating ads for truth is not a mere customer service issue that’s solvable by hiring more generic content staffers,” he said. “The real issue is that a single company controls far too much speech of a particular kind, and thus has too much power.” Dipayan Ghosh, who runs the Platform Accountability Project at Harvard, warned that Facebook’s policy to allow misinformation in political ads means a politician “will have the opportunity to engage in coordinated disinformation operations in precisely the same manner that the Russian disinformation agents did in 2016.”
Sign up for CJR‘s daily email
Today and tomorrow we will be speaking with Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute, Claire Wardle of First Draft and Sam Lessin, a former VP of product at Facebook, so please tune in.
Here’s more on Facebook and speech:
Other notable stories:
Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.
(CNN)A year ago, Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi writer, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork so he could marry his Turkish fiance, who was waiting for him outside the building. He was never seen again.
A contributor to the Washington Post, Khashoggi, aged 59, was a critic of the Saudi regime and was living in self-imposed exile in the United States. He was murdered inside the Istanbul consulate on October 2, 2018, by a team that was dispatched from Saudi Arabia, among them associates of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman — known as MBS — the then-32-year-old de facto ruler of the country.
The Saudis (and MBS himself) have consistently denied that bin Salman had any direct role in Khashoggi’s murder and instead have ascribed it to a rogue operation by overzealous subordinates. They charged 11 of them, five of whom face a possible death penalty, although given the opaque nature of the Saudi legal system little is clear about the yet unresolved case.
Khashoggi’s murder brought into sharp focus concerns about the judgment of the young prince that had percolated for years. MBS had variously entered an ongoing war in Yemen that, according to the UN, had precipitated the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet; he had blockaded the gas-rich state of Qatar, a close American ally and the site of the most important US military base in the Middle East. Domestically, MBS had also imprisoned a host of clerics, dissidents and businessmen.
Trump: ‘I’m extremely angry’ about Khashoggi killing
At first it looked like Trump might distance himself from MBS. Less than two weeks after Khashoggi’s murder on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” President Donald Trump promised “severe punishment” for the Saudis if it was proven that they had murdered Khashoggi. Khashoggi, after all, was both a legal resident of the United States and a journalist who was contributing regularly to a major American media institution.
A month later, Trump backpedaled, citing putative massive American arms sales to the Saudis. Trump told reporters, “…it’s ‘America First’ for me. It’s all about ‘America First.’ We’re not going to give up hundreds of billions of dollars in orders, and let Russia, China, and everybody else have them … military equipment and other things from Russia and China. … I’m not going to destroy the economy for our country by being foolish with Saudi Arabia.”
Until Khashoggi’s murder, it was possible to emphasize the positive case for bin Salman, to argue that he was genuinely reforming Saudi Arabia’s society and economy. He had clipped the wings of the feared religious police in the kingdom and had given women greater freedoms, such as the right to drive and a larger role in the workplace.
Bin Salman encouraged concerts and movie theaters in a society that had long banned both and he also started to end the rigid gender separation in the kingdom by, for instance, allowing women to attend sports events.
Wolf Blitzer presses senator over meeting with world leader
MBS also has a somewhat plausible plan for diversifying the heavily oil-dependent Saudi economy known as Vision 2030, to be financed in part by the sale of parts of the oil giant Aramco, which may be the world’s most valuable corporation with a market value that the Saudis hope is two trillion dollars.
But after Khashoggi’s murder, the positive case for Mohammed bin Salman was largely submerged in the West, where he was increasingly viewed as an impetuous autocrat. In 2015, he had authorized the disastrous and ongoing war in neighboring Yemen, in which tens of thousands of civilians have been killed. He had also effectively kidnapped the Lebanese Prime Minister, a dual Lebanese-Saudi citizen, when he was on a trip to Saudi Arabia. And MBS led the blockade of his country’s neighbor, gas-rich Qatar, which continues to this day.
Now Bin Salman faces what may be his most difficult foreign policy challenge yet: What to do about the drone and missile attacks earlier this month against the crown jewel of Saudi Arabia’s economy, the Aramco Abqaiq oil facility, an attack the crown prince and the Trump administration have plausibly blamed Iran for. The Iranians have denied involvement in the attacks
This attack is particularly problematic for MBS, as he is also Saudi minister of defense and he has presided over a massive arms buildup, yet was not able to defend the kingdom against the missile and drone barrage that took down half of Saudi’s oil capacity, at least temporarily.
Post-Khashoggi murder, why should U.S. believe anything Saudi Arabia has to say?
The Iranian attack also poses a quandary for President Trump, who doesn’t want the United States to get embroiled in another war in the Middle East, even though he has embraced MBS as a close ally.
One can only hope that MBS and Trump don’t launch a war against Iran, which has a large army, significant proxy forces around the Middle East and sophisticated ballistic missile systems. However, it’s hard to imagine them not responding at all since the Iranians have shown they can now attack with impunity a key node of the world’s energy markets.
Mohammed bin Salman may be able to preside over the murder of a dissident journalist in Turkey with relative ease, but there is little in his conduct of foreign policy hitherto to suggest that he will skillfully deal with the Iranians.