Tag Archives: Twitter

Twitter Suspended 936 China-Linked Accounts



Twitter disclosed that it has suspended accounts for violations of its platform management policies. Those accounts include a “state-backed information operation focused on the situation on Hong Kong”, as well as spam accounts.

This disclosure consists of 936 accounts originating from within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Overall, these accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground. Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protest.

Twitter stated that Twitter is blocked in PRC, and many of the accounts that were suspended were using VPNs. Some accounts access Twitter from specific unlocked iP addresses that originated in mainland China. The accounts Twitter shared today “represent the most active portions of this campaign; a larger, spammy network of approximately 200,000 accounts – many created following initial suspensions – were proactively suspended before they were substantially active on the service.”

Some of the violations that resulted in a ban include:

  • Spam
  • Coordinated activity
  • Fake accounts
  • Attributed activity
  • Ban evasion

Twitter is adding archives containing complete Tweet and user information for the 936 accounts they have disclosed to their archive of information operations. The archive is the largest of its kind in the industry.

It bothers me that Twitter is so easy to use by those who wish to manipulate public opinion regarding significant politically-related matters. Doing so seems very mean-spirited and deceitful. There is something about Twitter that attracts nefarious people to use it in ways that were not intended (or allowed).


Twitter Tests Letting Users Follow Topics



Twitter is in the process of letting users follow topics in a similar way to how they already follow accounts. According to The Verge, the feature is not quite live yet. When it goes live, users will be able to follow topics like sports teams, celebrities, and television shows. A selection of tweets of topics that are of interest to you will appear alongside tweets in your home feed.

Topics will be curated by Twitter, with individual tweets being identified through machine learning rather than editorial curation, the company said. For now, only sports-related interests can be followed, said Rob Bishop, a Twitter product manager. The feature is now being tested on Android.

The Verge reported that Twitter made this announcement at an event with reporters, which probably explains why I can’t find anything official about it on Twitter’s accounts or its blog. I’m going to assume Twitter will issue a press release, or something with more details about this change, soon.

From what I can tell, there are some cool things about being able to follow topics. You can mute topics. So, for example, if you followed a topic about a specific sport, but the information isn’t about your team right now, you can mute it. The Verge reported that people can mute TV show topics – to avoid spoilers.

Overall, it sounds like Twitter is trying something different that could, potentially, reduce the toxic polarization that Twitter is currently full of. If Twitter makes it easier to find things users enjoy, perhaps this will influence people to be nicer to each other.


Twitter Adds New Notice to Rule Breaking Tweets of Public Officials



Twitter has finally come up with a plan to deal with the tweets of government officials and political figures who post content that breaks Twitter’s rules. It involves a new notice attached to the tweet that will provide additional clarity. Twitter will not remove those tweets, or suspend the account (in most cases).

Twitter explained it’s reasoning this way:

Serving the public conversation includes providing the ability for anyone to talk about what matters to them; this can be especially important when engaging with government officials and political figures. By nature of their positions, these leaders have outsized influence and sometimes say things that could be considered controversial or invite debate and discussion. A critical function of our service is providing a place where people can openly and publicly respond to their leaders and hold them accountable.

The new notice will apply to tweets from the following criteria:

  • Be or represent a government official, be running for office, or be considered for a government position (i.e., next in line, awaiting confirmation, named successor to an appointed position)
  • Have more than 100,000 followers;
  • Be verified

Twitter points out there are cases, such as direct threats of violence or calls to commit violence against an individual, that are unlikely to be considered in the public interest. The implication is that Twitter might actually remove those kinds of tweets, or perhaps suspend the account.

Here is what Twitter’s Trust and Safety, Legal, Public Policy, and regional teams will consider before adding the new notice to a tweet:

  • The immediacy and severity of potential harm from the rule violation, with an emphasis on ensuring physical safety;
  • Whether preserving a Tweet will allow others to hold the government official, candidate for public office, or appointee accountable for their statements;
  • Whether there are other sources of information about this statement available for the public to stay informed;
  • If removal would inadvertently hide context or prevent people from understanding an issue of public concern; and
  • If the Tweet provides a unique context or perspective not available elsewhere that is necessary to a broader discussion.

When a tweet has a notice placed on it, it will feature less prominently on Twitter. It will not longer appear in: Safe search, Timeline when switched to Top Tweets, Live event pages, Recommend Tweet push notifications, Notifications tab, or Explore.

It is worth noting that the new notice will not be applied to any tweets that were posted before today.

Personally, I am interested in seeing how the new notice will be used. I expect that some Twitter users will feel like the notice doesn’t go far enough towards cleaning up Twitter, while others will complain that the new notice is “shadow banning” or “censorship”.


Twitter is Questioning if Nazis Belong on Twitter



Twitter has started conducing in-house research in an effort to better understand how white nationalists and white supremacists use Twitter. According to Vice, Twitter is trying to decide whether those groups should be banned from Twitter, or if they should be allowed to stay so their views can be debated by others.

Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, legal and public policy, said Twitter believes “counter-speech and conversation are a force for good, and they can act as a basis for de-radicalization, and we’ve seen that happen on other platforms, anecdotally.”

“So one of the things we’re working with academics on is some research here to confirm that this is the case,” she added.

Vice reported that the idea that “counter-speech” can counteract white supremacy specifically on Twitter is one that academics are skeptical of. Vice spoke with Becca Lewis, who researches networks on far right influencers on social media for the nonprofit Data & Society, and Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters. Both said that Twitter’s platform makes that very unlikely.

Part of the reason is because changing someone’s mind requires engaging in good-faith conversations. Twitter is simply not a good environment for that. Instead, Twitter is often used for brigading. People also make bots and sock puppet accounts specifically to harass people.

I find it strange that Twitter is considering allowing white nationalists and white supremacists to remain on their platform. It is abundantly clear that most people don’t want those groups around. For example, every time Twitter announces a new feature, several users respond with “Great! Now ban the Nazis!”


Facebook and Twitter Disabled a Disinformation Campaign with Ties to Iran



The Washington Post reported that both Facebook and Twitter said they had disabled a “sprawling disinformation campaign that appeared to originate in Iran”. It included two Twitter accounts that mimicked Republican congressional candidates and may have sought to push pro-Iranian political messages.

According to The Washington Post, a private security firm called Fire Eye “did not attribute the activity to either Iranian state leaders or malicious actors operating within the country.” However, some of the tweets supported the Iranian nuclear deal, which President Trump withdrew from a year ago.

Some of the disabled account appeared to target their propaganda at specific journalists, policymakers, dissidents and other influential U.S. figures online. Those tactics left experts fearful that it could mark a new escalation in social-media warfare, with malicious actors stealing real-world identities to spread disinformation beyond the web.

Facebook posted on its Facebook Newsroom that it had removed 51 Facebook accounts, 36 Pages, seven Groups, and three Instagram accounts involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Iran.

Facebook said the individuals involved misled people about who they were and what they were doing. “They purported to be located in the US and Europe, used fake accounts to run Pages and Groups, and impersonated legitimate news organizations in the Middle East. The individuals behind this activity also represented themselves as journalists or other personas and tried to contact policymakers, reporters, academics, Iranian dissidents and other public figures.”

Yoel Roth, Head of Site Integrity at Twitter, posted a thread of tweets that began with: “Earlier this month, we removed more than 2,800 inauthentic accounts originating in Iran. These are the accounts that FireEye, a private security firm, reported on today. We were not provided with this report or its findings.”

In another tweet, he wrote: “These accounts employed a range of false personas to target conservatives about political social issues in Iran and globally. Some engaged directly through public replies with politicians, journalists, and others.”

People need to be smarter about how they consume content on Facebook and Twitter. Think before you click a link. Seek out the real news website instead. Don’t retweet or share something without first taking the time to verify that it isn’t “fake news”.


Trump Administration Launches Tool to Report Censorship



The Trump Administration has launched a web survey for people to use if they feel they have been wrongly censored on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube. The survey was created with the online form-building tool Typeform. The first page of the survey says:

SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Yet too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear “violations” of user policies. No matter your views, if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you, share your story with President Trump.

The Guardian reported that the survey asks users to provide their names, contact information, social media accounts, and screenshots of interactions with social media platforms. Only US citizens and permanent residents are asked to participate. The Guardian wonders what the Trump administration will do – and what it won’t do – with the names and contact information of the people who fill out the survey.

Typeform tweeted: “We didn’t get any further than this @WhiteHouse”. The tweet included a screenshot of the question “Are you a U.S. citizen or permanent resident?” Typeform checked “no”. The Guardian reported that Typeform is based in Barcelona.

As always, it is a good idea to read a survey’s user agreement before you post any of your information into it. Ars Technica reported that the user agreement gives the Trump Administration a broad license to use the information that users post into the survey, including publishing it.

More specifically, the user agreement “grants the U.S. Government a license to use, edit, display, publish, broadcast, transmit, post, or otherwise distribute all or part of the Content (including edited, composite, or derivative works made therefrom)”.

“You waive any right to inspect or approve of any Content edited, composite or derivative works made from Content (including those which may contain your information) before use. You are not entitled to any prior notice before the U.S. Government uses Content or Information. You are not entitled to any compensation for Content.”

“You understand that Content may not be altered or deleted by you after submission, You further understand that your submission may be subject to the Federal Records Act and/or the Presidential Records Act and may be subject to public release according to those statutes.”

The Verge reported that near the end of the survey, it invites users to opt into email newsletters from President Trump “so we can update you without relying on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.”

Another part of the survey points users toward the user agreement, and states: “you understand this form is for information gathering only.” I think there are going to be a lot of disappointed people who presume that filling out the survey will instantly make their suspended or banned accounts accessible once again. In addition, some people may not realize they opted-in to a newsletter.


Social Media Companies to Tackle Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content



Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter have responded to the Christchurch Call to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online by committing to remove that content from their social media sites. As far as I can tell, this is the first time those three companies have decided to work together on removing that type of content.

In March of this year, a terrorist attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was livestreamed. The Christchurch Call was created by New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and French President, Emmanuel Macron. Ars Technica reported that Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom have signed on.

The Christchurch Call is a commitment by Governments and tech companies to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online. It rests on the conviction that a free, open and secure internet offers extraordinary benefits to society. Respect for freedom of expression is fundamental. However, no one has the right to create and share terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft have all committed to the Christchurch Call. Each company posted nearly identical details about how they will enact policies to combat the spread of terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Each company will be: “identifying appropriate checks on livestreaming, aimed at reducing the risks of disseminating terrorist and violent extremist content online. These may include enhanced vetting measures (such as streamer ratings or scores, account activity, or validation processes) and moderation of certain livestreaming events where appropriate. Checks on livestreaming necessarily will be tailored to the context of specific livestreaming services, including the type of audience, the nature or character of the livestreaming service, and the likelihood of exploitation.”

The companies will also improve technology to detect and remove terrorist and violent extremist content. They will combat hate and bigotry by providing greater support for relevant research – with an emphasis on the impact of online hate on offline discrimination and violence – and supporting capacity and capability of NGOs working to challenge hate and promote pluralism and respect online.

Personally, I think this is a step in the right direction. It is abundantly clear that hateful content online influences some people to take that hate offline and to act in ways that cause harm to other people. Something must be done to prevent that.