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EU Launching Formal Investigation Into Meta Regarding Election Misinformation Before June Polls Open 

The European Union (EU) is set to launch a formal investigation into Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram. The investigation was prompted over the EU’s concerns that the tech giant isn’t doing enough to counter Russian disinformation ahead of the EU elections in June, according to reports

The EU is also likely to express their concerns regarding the lack of effective monitoring of election content, and the inadequate tools they use for flagging illegal content. 

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Lisa O’Carroll, a correspondent for The Guardian, wrote that the European Commission is worried about Meta’s moderation system, claiming that it is not extensive enough to combat the presence of misinformation, and even suppresses voting. 

The Financial Times revealed that government officials are worried about how Meta is handling Russia’s specific efforts to undermine the upcoming elections. 

Meta’s plan to discontinue its CrowdTangle tool also has officials concerned. CrowdTangle is a public insights tool that allows researchers, journalists, and others within the EU to monitor in real time the spread of misinformation and any attempts to suppress voting. 

The EU currently has new laws in place that require tech companies to regulate their content and have systems in place to guard against any and all systemic risks involving election interference. 

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“We have a well-established process for identifying and mitigating risks on our platforms. We look forward to continuing our cooperations with the European Commission and providing them with further details of this work,” a spokesperson for Meta stated

The commission recently carried out “stress tests” on all the major social media platforms as a means of determining if there were proper safeguards in place to prevent the spreading of misinformation. The tests involved a series of made-up scenarios that are based on past attempts at election manipulation, such as using deep fakes and speech suppression.

“The aim was to test platforms’ readiness to address manipulative behavior that could occur in the run-up to the elections, in particular the different manipulative tactics, techniques and procedures,” the commission stated.

This past Monday, parliament released official tips for voters in the upcoming elections, which will be taking place between June 6th and 9th. They cited previous voting issues such as the specific pen colors needed for a ballot to be valid, and warned citizens to be diligent about spotting disinformation. 

tiktok

America’s Still Moving To Ban TikTok 

Last week, a key house committee introduced and approved a bill that is targeting the social media platform TikTok. The full House is set to vote this week potentially, and the White House has stated that President Joe Biden is also prepared to sign it, according to reports from CNN.

The bill itself, if fully approved, would give TikTok about five months to separate from its Chinese parent company ByteDance. If they refuse, app stores in the US will be prohibited from hosting the app on their platforms. 

Besides TikTok, the bill will also restrict other apps that are allegedly controlled by foreign adversaries like China, Iran, Russia, or North Korea. The bill would also set up a process for Biden, and future presidents to identify apps that should be banned under the specific legislation. 

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Any app store that violates said legislation could be fined based on the number of users of the banned apps; specifically a fine of $5,000 per user of the banned app. For example, if the bill passes and Apple or Google decide to keep TikTok on its app stores, they could face fines up to $850 billion. 

One of the bill’s lead cosponsors, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, says “the bill does not ban TikTok; it simply offers TikTok the choice to be divested.”

TikTok has responded to this recent bill’s momentum, stating that it’s an attack on the First Amendment rights of its users, according to CNN. It’s even launched a call-to-action campaign within the app itself, urging users to call their states representatives in Washington to oppose the bill. Multiple congressional offices have already stated that they’ve been “flooded” with calls. 

In a statement, TikTok said: 

“The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression. This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience, and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country.”

Lawmakers have long been alleging that TikTok poses a national security threat because the government in China can use its intelligence laws against ByteDance to force them to hand over the data of US TikTok users. If done, that information can then be potentially used to identify intelligence targets or enable disinformation or propaganda campaigns. 

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The US government has not yet presented any evidence that China has accessed user data from TikTok, and according to reports, cybersecurity experts have stated that it still remains a hypothetical scenario. 

During the Trump administration, there was a major effort to ban TikTok, however, others debated whether or not the president had the power to ban a foreign-owned social media app. With this new congressional legislation, the president would have clear, new authorities to do that. 

With the speed in which House leaders are promising a floor vote, it can be assumed that they’re confident in the bill’s clearance. There is still not a lot of information regarding if the bill will have a chance in the Senate. 

Gallagher stated that the bill will likely fall to the Senate Commerce Committee. Senator Maria Cantwell, who chairs the Commerce Committee, told CNN that she will be talking to her “Senate and House colleagues to try to find a path forward that is constitutional and protects civil liberties.”

Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said that “passing a nationwide privacy law regulating how all companies, not just TikTok, handle Americans’ data would lead to the same result without raising First Amendment concerns.” 

“By that precedent, it would be unconstitutional for the government to ban TikTok even if it were blatantly a direct mouthpiece for the Chinese government,” Jaffer said.

“If you give the government the power to restrict Americans’ access to propaganda, then you’ve given the government the power to restrict Americans’ access to anything the government deems to be propaganda.”

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Indiana State’s Lawsuit Against TikTok Over Child Safety Dismissed By Judge

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit in Indiana state that was filed against TikTok over accusations of making false claims about safety of children on the app and age-appropriate content. 

According to CNN, Judge Jennifer DeGroote of Allen County Superior Court in Fort Wayne, Indiana stated that the court lacks “personal jurisdiction” over the social media platform, and that downloading an app for free is not considered “consumer transaction” under the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act.” 

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The lawsuit was initially filed in December 2022, and was originally two separate lawsuits that were later consolidated. This was the first lawsuit filed by a state against TikTok, however, similar lawsuits are currently active in other states. 

“[The state respects the ruling] but we also disagree with it on various points and are considering appellate options at this time,” the office of Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said in a statement to CNN

“We were the first state to file suit against TikTok, but not the last, and it’s reassuring to see others take up this ongoing fight against a foreign Big Tech threat, in any jurisdiction.”

Rokita also stated that TikTok is a “malicious and menacing threat unleashed on unsuspecting Indiana consumers by a Chinese company that knows full well the harms it inflicts on users.”

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The lawsuit alleged that the social media platform advertises to younger individuals with the sentiment that it’s a safe app, however, the app itself easily grants access for users to see inappropriate content such as nudity, profanity, and drug and alcohol use. 

The lawsuit also stated that TikTok collects sensitive data from its users and uses their personal information. “[TikTok] has deceived those consumers to believe that this information is protected from the Chinese government and Communist Party.”

Indiana also has been involved in a lawsuit against Meta, the parent company of Instagram, for its addictive nature and harm to young users’ mental health. Dozens of other states have filed similar lawsuits against Meta as well. 

Indiana was also one of the first states to ban TikTok on any government-issued devices over “the threat of gaining access to critical US information and infrastructure.”

Chiefs

Travis Kelce Says NFL Is ‘Overdoing It’ When It Comes To Taylor Swift Coverage

On Travis Kelce and his brother Jason’s podcast, “New Heights,” the Kansas City Chiefs player stated that the NFL was going a bit overboard when it came to covering his potential relationship with Taylor Swift. 

While Kelce and Swift have not confirmed or denied their relationship, Swift has been seen cheering for the Chiefs for the past two games, and the coverage has been widespread and highly discussed. 

On Travis and Jason’s “New Heights” podcast, Travis stated: “I think it’s fun when they show who was at the game. I think it brings a little bit more to the atmosphere, brings a little bit more to what you’re watching. But at the same time…”

“I think they’re overdoing it,” Jason interrupted, which Travis agreed, saying, “They’re overdoing it a little bit for sure, especially my situation, [but] I think they’re just trying to have fun with it.”

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The NFL responded to the claims on their social media, defending how engagement and exposure has been increasing as the world’s of professional sports and pop culture collide. 

“The Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce news has been a pop cultural moment we’ve leaned into in real time, as it’s an intersection of sport and entertainment, and we’ve seen an incredible amount of positivity around the sport.”

When Swift attended the first Chiefs game, there was a 400% spike in sales for Kelce’s Chiefs jersey, according to Fanatics, a sports retailer. TV ratings for the game were also the “highest among female demographics across various age groups,” according to Variety Magazine.

Swift was seen enjoying the game with Kelce’s brothers’ mom, Donna, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City on September 24th, and also attended the game at MetLife Stadium when the Chiefs played, and won against, the New York Jets.

twitter

Police Halt Elon Musk’s Attempt to Remove Twitter Sign From HQ After Rebranding

Elon Musk’s efforts to rebrand Twitter as X are not going as smoothly as planned. While workers were trying to remove the company’s old name and famed bird logo from the front face of its headquarters, police intervened.

The local police department stopped the impromptu renovation Monday afternoon, citing the act as “unauthorized work.” The authorities say the social media company failed to notify the building’s owner and security about its intention to remove the sign from its San Francisco headquarters.

After the incident, a representative for the police department shared with The Associated Press in an email that no crime had been committed. The police were trying to ascertain if Twitter had a permit to close Market Street and block a lane of traffic.

“Officers assigned to Tenderloin Station responded to the area of 10th and Market streets regarding a report of a possible unpermitted street closure. Through their investigation, officers were able to determine that no crime was committed and this incident was not a police matter.”

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By the time the work had been interrupted, only the old Twitter logo and the letters “er” remained. On Sunday, Musk had tweeted, “And soon we shall bid adieu to the Twitter brand and gradually, all the birds.” Later that day, he shared on the platform that the bird logo would be replaced with the letter X.

X.com now points to https://twitter.com/. Interim X logo goes live later today.”

However, users like NYTimes Tech Reporter @Rmac18 tweeted, the hyperlink redirected many users to a GoDaddy landing page.

“Despite this, X dot com is still redirecting some people (including myself) to a GoDaddy site with ads for sectional sofas.”

The New York Times reported that Musk renamed conference rooms in the building, incorporating the letter X. Some titles seen in photos include “s3Xy,” “eXposure,” and “eXult.” The letter X was also projected into the cafeteria.

Musk has made a number of controversial changes to the site since he purchased the social media platform for $44 billion last year, the most recent being the name change to X. Many of these amendments to the platform, with its lax moderation policies, have driven advertisers off the website.

He has also been accused of not holding up his alleged “free-speech absolutist” philosophy. Aside from his supporters, users claim that the new paid Twitter Blue subscription directly puts a price on speech, amplifying his supporters while dampening the reach of his opponents or those who cannot afford it.

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Users with left-wing views and progressive activists are seeing their accounts suspended with no explanation. He was recently accused of removing the community-based fact-check under one of his tweets inciting vaccine hesitancy.

Earlier this month, Musk told CNN that the company was struggling with its finances, citing a 50% drop in advertising revenue and a negative cash flow.

In a tweet about the rebranding, Twitter’s new chief executive Linda Yaccarino praised taking the platform in a new direction.

“It’s an exceptionally rare thing – in life or in business – that you get a second chance to make another big impression. Twitter made one massive impression and changed the way we communicate. Now, X will go further, transforming the global town square.”

However, analysts say that this move could end up costing Twitter. Mike Proulx, research director and vice president at Forrester, said in a blog post that given the drop in revenue and negative cash flow, ditching the Twitter name will damage the platform further.

“This is far from a position of strength from which to attempt what is essentially an app relaunch — a move that will only alienate more users and more advertisers. While Musk’s vision is to turn “X” into an “everything app,” this takes time, money, and people — three things that the company no longer has. Disenfranchised Twitter users will increasingly turn to Threads while Musk’s company continues to lose money. Simply put, X’s runway is coming to an end.”

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Threads Reaches 100 Million Sign-Ups As Twitter’s Traffic Falls

In just five days, 100 million users have signed up for Twitter’s rival app, Threads. Meanwhile, Twitter’s user traffic has dropped as the platform continues to battle outages and controversies over its lax moderation policies.

The new platform’s rapid expansion has already outpaced that of ChatGPT, OpenAI’s viral chatbot, which had reached 10 million users in 40 days.

Due to Europe’s intricate regulatory systems, the app has not yet been released there. If it does launch there, it can potentially pose a serious threat to Twitter, which has 238 million daily active users.

Threads’s success can largely be traced to its integration with Meta’s Instagram service. New users can sign up using their already established Instagram handle.

In a post on the platform, Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, shared his excitement for the speed of the app’s growth.

“Threads reached 100 million sign-ups over the weekend. That’s mostly organic demand and we haven’t even turned on many promotions yet. Can’t believe it’s only been 5 days!”

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Similarweb, a data company specializing in web analytics, found that in the first two full days Threads was generally available, web traffic to Twitter was down 5 percent compared to the previous week. According to the company, Twitter has seen an 11% drop in website traffic compared to the same period in 2022.

A letter from Elon Musk’s longtime attorney Alex Spiro to Meta alleging “unlawful misappropriation” of trade secrets shows that Musk, Twitter’s owner, is already concerned about Threads.

The letter accuses Threads of hiring former Twitter employees to build a “copycat” platform using confidential information. In a tweet, Elon Musk acknowledged the letter, stating, “Competition is fine, cheating is not.”

Instagram head Adam Mosseri said in a Threads post that Meta’s purpose is not to replace Twitter but rather “to create a public square for communities on Instagram that never really embraced Twitter.”

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“The goal isn’t to replace Twitter. The goal is to create a public square for communities on Instagram that never really embraced Twitter and for communities on Twitter (and other platforms) that are interested in a less angry place for conversations, but not all of Twitter. Politics and hard news are inevitably going to show up on Threads – they have on Instagram as well to some extent – but we’re not going to do anything to encourage those verticals.”

Messages posted on Threads will have a 500-character limit. Like on Twitter, users can reply to, repost and quote other user posts. The app has a similar aesthetic to Instagram and also allows users to share posts from Threads directly to their Instagram stories.

Accounts can be public or private, and verification on Instagram carries over to Threads. Mark Zuckerberg also called the app a “public space” in a Threads post after its launch.

“The vision for Threads is to create an option and friendly public space for conversation. We hope to take what Instagram does best and create a new experience around text, ideas, and discussing what’s on your mind.”

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TikTok Creators File Lawsuit Challenging Montana Ban

A group of TikTok creators in Montana have filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s new ban of the app, arguing that the law signed by Governor Greg Gianforte violates their First Amendment rights.

The ban signed by Gov. Gianforte on Wednesday is the first state-level ban of the social media platform. The complaint was filed just hours later in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana Wednesday evening.

The lawsuit asserts that TikTok is comparable to other forms of media, which the state does not have the authority to keep Montanans from accessing and contributing to.

“Montana can no more ban its residents from viewing or posting to TikTok than it could ban the Wall Street Journal because of who owns it or the ideas it publishes.”

The group of creators stated that the new ban, set to take effect in January 2024, goes far beyond restrictions already in place in Montana and other states.

Other states have prohibited the use of TikTok on government devices, citing a potential threat to national security because of TikTok’s ties to China via its parent company ByteDance. The Montana ban extends to personal devices, making it illegal for TikTok to operate the app and for the Apple and Google app stores to offer it for download within state lines.

According to the law, TikTok could be fined $10,000 for each violation of the ban, plus another $10,000 for each day the infraction persists. Google and Apple may face the same fines.

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A spokesperson for Gov. Gianforte said in a statement that the Governor’s decision was motivated by wanting to protect “Montanans’ personal and private data being harvested by the Chinese Communist party.”

“While the Chinese Communist Party may try to hide their nefarious spying and collection of individuals’ personal, private, sensitive information under the banner of our First Amendment, the governor has an obligation to protect Montanans and their individual privacy right, as guaranteed by the Montana Constitution, from the Chinese Communist Party’s serious, grave threats.”

TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, has stated that the Chinese government has never asked TikTok for its data on users in the U.S. There has also been no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, released a statement saying that the office expects a legal challenge but is “fully prepared to defend the law.”

Emilee Cantrell, another spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office, told The New York Times that the state would enforce the ban through “geo-fencing,” which is “already in use across the gaming industry.”

“A basic internet search will show you companies that provide geolocation compliance. If companies do not comply with the ban, the agency will investigate and hold offending entities accountable in accordance with the law.”

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In addition to citing the First Amendment, the lawsuit argues that Montana’s ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment by depriving TikTok users of other rights without due process.

It also asserts that the new law violates federal authority to set foreign policy and regulate interstate commerce, undermining the federal government’s powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union described the ban as “unconstitutional.” Ramya Krishnan, a lawyer at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, told The New York Times that to justify a ban and have it hold up to legal scrutiny, the state would have to demonstrate its security concerns are real.

“Many have hypothesized that China might demand that ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, turn over Americans’ data or use TikTok to push disinformation in some way, but neither Montana nor the U.S. government has pointed to any evidence that China is actually doing this. That’s a problem because speculative harms can’t justify a total ban on a communications platform, particularly one that’s used by hundreds of thousands of Montanans daily.”

TikTok told Reuters that the new measure “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok.”

“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”

The five plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit include a former Marine sergeant, a rancher, a swimwear business, and an exercise influencer.

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NPR Quits Twitter After Being Labeled ‘State-Affiliated Media’

NPR will no longer post on its 52 Twitter accounts after Musk categorized the private news organization as “U.S. state-affiliated media.” The move equated NPR, which receives less than 1% of its funding from the government, with Russia’s RT and China’s Xinhua propaganda outlets.

NPR, which stands for “National Public Radio,” issued a statement on Wednesday saying the mislabeling damages the media organization’s credibility with readers.

“NPR’s organizational accounts will no longer be active on Twitter because the platform is taking actions that undermine our credibility by falsely implying that we are not editorially independent. We are not putting our journalism on platforms that have demonstrated an interest in undermining our credibility and the public’s understanding of our editorial independence.”

In a letter to staff on Wednesday, NPR CEO John Lansing commented on the risks posed by Twitter’s decision.

“Actions by Twitter or other social media companies to tarnish the independence of any public media institution are exceptionally harmful and set a dangerous precedent.”

After being questioned by NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn on how NPR functioned, Musk, who acquired Twitter for $44 billion last fall, admitted that he may have gotten it wrong. The Twitter account for NPR was then recategorized as “government-funded media.”

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The news organization asserted that this new label was still misleading since NPR is a private, nonprofit company with editorial independence. Less than 1% of its $300 million annual budget comes from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Musk also applied the “government-funded media” label to the BBC Twitter account. Later, in an interview with the broadcaster, he shared that he may change the label to “publicly funded” media.

Right-wing and conservative commentators have long claimed that NPR and its affiliates’ content is biased toward the left and more progressive ideologies. Meanwhile, Musk has also been accused of allowing the proliferation of far-right extremists on Twitter.

Musk, who describes himself as a free-speech absolutist, removed the New York Times’ blue check mark earlier this month after the paper refused to pay for one.

Formerly, the badges indicated that Twitter had confirmed the identity of a news outlet, government agency or public figure. They are now available for a subscription fee once a month.

“We aren’t planning to pay the monthly fee for check mark status for our institutional Twitter accounts,” the New York Times said in a statement. “We also will not reimburse reporters for Twitter Blue for personal accounts, except in rare instances where this status would be essential for reporting purposes.”

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In his new interview with the BBC, Musk said he hoped to make information on Twitter as accurate as possible but acknowledged that media companies are often critical of him.

“I’ve been under constant attack. It’s not like I have a stone-cold heart or anything. If you’re under constant criticism or attack and that gets fed to you, including through Twitter – it’s rough, you know.”

BBC also asked Musk if he was concerned about the spread of misinformation due to longstanding media organizations, such as the New York Times, being stripped of their verification badges.

“I must confess to some delight in removing the verification badge from the New York Times,” Musk said. “Anyway, they’re still alive and well so they’re doing well.”

NPR is the first major news organization to stop using the platform. In an email to NPR employees, Lansing stated that it was ultimately up to them to decide if they would like to keep using Twitter on their personal accounts.

“It would be a disservice to the serious work you all do here to continue to share it on a platform that is associating the federal charter for public media with an abandoning of editorial independence or standards.”

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Elon Musk Implements Multiple Changes To Twitter

April 1st marked the official deadline for verified Twitter users to pay for Twitter Blue in order to keep their blue check mark verification with their account. 

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Many celebrities and news organizations have vowed to not pay for Twitter Blue to maintain their verification. While many legacy verification accounts still have their check marks, the system has begun removing them from accounts without a subscription to the paid service. 

LeBron James, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The White House are just a handful of verified accounts that have made public statements about their refusal to pay for the service; The New York Times has since lost its checkmark. 

No one working for Twitter had planned for a mass deletion of verifications, so removing the legacy verifications may take a while, as employees need to remove each one manually. 

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In Twitter’s new “For You” section, the platform has updated the way it ranks content within the section. Developers have begun identifying certain accounts as Democrat or Republican as a means of teaching whether algorithm changes were affecting one group disproportionately over another. 

Musk’s own Twitter account has its own special type of coding that many users have reported making it so his tweets are more widely viewed by users on the platform. 

Apart from these changes, many users have also noticed that Twitter is making content with certain words harder to see, such as “trans” or “transgender,” with users reporting that when tweets containing those words are sent to a user via direct message, the message won’t preview the tweet in the new messages section. 

This type of “shadow banning” for certain words are causing users to speak out against the changes, stating they’ve been put in place to limit just how much free speech users are actually allowed to have on the platform. 

The US Government Is Still Threatening To Ban TikTok

TikTok told the media this week that US federal officers are demanding that the Chinese Owners of the app sell their stake in the social media app, or they risk facing a US ban of the app due to security concerns.