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Twitter and Facebook Want to Shift Power to Users. Or Do They?

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SAN FRANCISCO — Not so long ago, the technology behind Bitcoin was seen in Silicon Valley as the best hope for challenging the enormous, centralized power of companies like Twitter and Facebook.

Now, in an unexpected twist, the internet giants think that technology could help them solve their many problems.

The chief executive of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, said last week that he hoped to fund the creation of software for social media that, inspired by the design of Bitcoin, would give Twitter less control over how people use the service and shift power toward users and outside programmers.

Likewise, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has said he hopes the same concepts from Bitcoin could “take power from centralized systems and put it back into people’s hands.”

This push toward decentralization — the buzzword people in tech are using to describe these projects — has already gained enough currency and has sounded outlandish enough that it was one of the central themes of the satirical HBO show “Silicon Valley.”

Though Bitcoin’s digital tokens are widely used among the tech set, its underlying concept — a network of computers managing the currency without anyone in charge — is what’s most interesting to many people working on decentralization.

Countless entrepreneurs are working on decentralization projects, including the creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee. He founded Solid, which seeks to fix the problems of the centralized internet by shifting the ownership of personal data away from big companies and back toward users.

But the other efforts have largely been aimed at taking down Twitter and Facebook rather than helping them solve their problems. And the two behemoths have plenty of problems, from policing their sites for toxic content to dealing with pressure from regulators who think tech companies have grown too powerful.

Not surprisingly, the efforts at Twitter and Facebook have faced skepticism and questions about whether they are just trying to land some positive press while dodging responsibility — and regulations.

“When a company does something like this when it is under pressure, it becomes a way to distract attention by appearing to do something,” said Mitra Ardron, the head of the decentralized web project at the Internet Archive, which has hosted the Decentralized Web Summit the last four years.

Many people working on decentralization projects are concerned that Twitter and Facebook are trying to align themselves with the work’s countercultural spirit without giving up their enormous power.

“The monoliths see it as a threat to their model, so they try to weave in the concepts into their own products to maintain control,” said Eugen Rochko, the founder of Mastodon, a competitor to Twitter. With around two million users, Mastodon has been one of the most successful alternative projects.

Mr. Dorsey said Twitter was just starting to look at the idea and had committed only five people to it. Facebook has moved ahead with its Bitcoin-inspired cryptocurrency and has beefed up encryption, but the company has otherwise taken few steps to decentralize its services. Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Zuckerberg, though, have frequently discussed decentralization, suggesting they have a personal fascination that goes beyond business interests.

Mr. Dorsey also hired a small team at his second company, Square, to work full time on Bitcoin, without any commercial responsibilities. And he recently announced that he was hoping to take an extended sojourn in Africa to understand how Bitcoin was working there.

“It’s clearly catching on in part because people believe in it,” said Neha Narula, the director of the Digital Currency Initiative at the M.I.T. Media Lab. “It’s not necessarily that it is cheaper or more efficient or faster or easier. In fact, it is much harder. But it’s clear that this idea speaks to people.”

Mr. Dorsey’s tweets last week suggest that he wants the new team, Blue Sky, to build essentially a basic version of Twitter that would be available for anyone to copy. This would make it easier for outside developers to build on top of Twitter and to compete with it. A competitor might be able to offer a version without ads, or one that recommends tweets to readers based on different standards.

While that would most likely pose a commercial threat to Twitter, Mr. Dorsey said it would also force the service to be “far more innovative than in the past” and could draw more overall users to it.

The idea of decentralization harks back to the basic design and ideals of the internet, which was supposed to be a global gathering place where everyone was welcome and no one was in charge.

Mr. Dorsey said the invention of Bitcoin had made it possible to revive those early ideals. The key to Bitcoin is its blockchain database, which provides a way for a network of disconnected computers to agree on a single set of records for every Bitcoin in existence.

Mr. Dorsey is following in the steps of the many cryptocurrency advocates who have argued that the underlying technology could be used to record all the users and activity on a social network, and to agree on a single set of rules for the network, without having any single company in charge. He said, though, that it would most likely take “many years.”

Facebook has pursued several projects over the past year that would shift control to its users.

The company’s most notable effort with blockchains is the Libra cryptocurrency, which aims to create money outside the control of any one company. The Libra effort has faced crippling opposition from politicians, regulators and even some of the project’s original partners. But it appears to have inspired central banks in China and Europe, which are also considering ways to duplicate Bitcoin’s underlying technology.

Already, many start-ups have tried to use blockchains to create social networks to compete with Twitter and Facebook. But these networks, with names like Minds and Steemit, have faced many of the same problems that Bitcoin has, struggling to attract mainstream attention and leaving users to fend off hackers themselves. Many investors have largely given up on blockchain investments.

Several up-and-coming projects focused on decentralization, including Mr. Berners-Lee’s Solid, have steered clear of the blockchain entirely because they don’t believe it is useful for anything other than financial transactions.

Mr. Dorsey said one of the great appeals of a decentralized future was that Twitter would no longer be the only one in charge of deciding what is and isn’t allowed on the network.

To many people, that sounded like an effort by Mr. Dorsey to wash his hands of the hardest but arguably most important responsibility of social networks today: identifying and filtering bad actors and disinformation.

“I’m concerned that Twitter may try to foist the responsibility for dealing with these problems onto the decentralization community,” said Ross Schulman, the senior policy technologist at New America’s Open Technology Institute.

A spokeswoman for Facebook had no comment on the company’s efforts.

Mastodon, the Twitter competitor, allows anyone to tweak the software in order to create his or her own version of Mastodon. If people don’t like the rules set up in one version, they can move to another.

But Mastodon has provided a window into just how difficult these problems are to deal with, even with decentralization.

The Mastodon software was created to form a refuge from anger and hate speech on Twitter. But recently, a social network with close ties to hate crimes and the far right, Gab, used Mastodon’s software to create a new home after it was pushed off the mainstream internet. Mastodon’s leaders were opposed to it but could do little to stop it.

“Building these types of decentralized social networks comes with a slew of challenges that we haven’t figured out how to solve yet,” said Ms. Narula, who was a co-author of an article titled “Decentralized Social Networks Sound Great. Too Bad They’ll Never Work.”





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Trump Marketing campaign Site Is Defaced by means of Hackers

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President Trump’s marketing campaign website online used to be in brief taken over by means of hackers who defaced the website on Tuesday.

The defacement lasted not up to 30 mins, however the incident got here as Mr. Trump’s marketing campaign and that of his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., in addition to legislation enforcement and intelligence businesses, were on prime alert for virtual interference forward of subsequent week’s election.

In a remark, Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump marketing campaign, showed the website online’s defacement and stated it used to be “operating with legislation enforcement government to research the supply of the assault.” He added, “There used to be no publicity to delicate knowledge as a result of none of it’s in fact saved at the website. The website online has been restored.”

The F.B.I. didn’t instantly remark at the incident. The defacement used to be first famous on Twitter by means of Gabriel Lorenzo Greschler, a journalist on the Jewish Information of Northern California, whilst he used to be researching an editorial on local weather exchange.

It used to be no longer transparent whether or not the defacement used to be the paintings of overseas hackers or cybercriminals. However in a screed posted to Mr. Trump’s website online — donaldjtrump.com — the hackers claimed to have compromised “more than one gadgets” that gave them get entry to to the “maximum inside and secret conversations” of the president and his family members, together with labeled knowledge.

The hackers additionally accused the Trump management, with out evidence, of getting a hand within the origins of the coronavirus and cooperating with “overseas actors manipulating the 2020 elections.”

The hackers seemed to be having a look to generate cryptocurrency. They invited guests to donate cryptocurrency to considered one of two price range — one classified “Sure, proportion the knowledge,” the opposite classified “No, Don’t proportion the knowledge.” They solicited bills in Monero, a hard-to-trace cryptocurrency.

“After the cut-off date, we will be able to examine the price range and execute the desire of the arena,” they wrote, with out specifying a cut-off date. The hackers additionally posted what they stated used to be their encryption key, ostensibly to ensure that no matter knowledge they posted got here from them. The important thing corresponded to an e mail cope with at a nonexistent web website.

Regardless that the defacement seemed to be a part of a not unusual cryptocurrency rip-off to get other people to irreversibly donate cash on-line, the incident took on added urgency one week prior to the election. Cybersecurity mavens stated that the incident can have been led to by means of tricking a website online administrator into turning over their credentials, in what’s referred to as a phishing assault, or by means of redirecting the marketing campaign website online to the hacker’s personal server.

Intelligence businesses were intently tracking hacking teams, together with groups sponsored by means of Iran and Russia, that experience attempted to wreck into election-related methods and feature been eager about affect operations in contemporary weeks.

Closing week, John Ratcliffe, the director of nationwide intelligence, recognized Iran and Russia as two countries liable for disinformation and a few restricted intrusions into voter registration databases.

He cited threatening emails, ostensibly from the far-right staff the Proud Boys, that have been despatched to citizens in Florida and in different places. However the emails depended on publicly-available knowledge; no hacking used to be vital. And so they have been written in damaged English — as used to be the defaced Trump website online.

Closing week, Mr. Trump advised a marketing campaign rally in Tucson, Ariz., “No person will get hacked. To get hacked you want anyone with 197 I.Q. and he wishes about 15 p.c of your password.”

Julian E. Barnes, Adam Goldman and David E. Sanger contributed reporting.



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The 12 months in Incorrect information, So A long way

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This has been, through any measure, a nasty 12 months for consensus truth.

First, there used to be President Trump’s impeachment — a divisive and emotionally charged continuing that unleashed a torrent of lies, exaggerations and viral innuendo.

Then got here the Covid-19 pandemic — an excellent larger alternative for cranks, conspiracy theorists and wishful thinkers to divide us alongside epistemic traces, into those that believed the mavens and people who most popular to “do their very own analysis.”

The Black Lives Subject protests this summer season had been a feeding frenzy for the ones taking a look to distort and reframe the narrative about police violence and racial justice.

And whilst election years are at all times busy instances for fact-checkers, Mr. Trump’s fusillade of falsehoods about voter fraud, Spygate and Hunter Biden’s emails this 12 months has ended in a larger problem for the ones charged with isolating reality from fiction.

Zignal Labs, a company that tracks on-line incorrect information, analyzed which main information subjects in 2020 had been in all probability to generate incorrect information. Its information, which attracts from resources together with social media apps like Fb, Twitter, Instagram and Reddit, in addition to newspapers and broadcast TV transcripts, isn’t an actual accounting of each and every unmarried piece of incorrect information in the market. Nevertheless it’s a coarse gauge of which subjects are maximum continuously used as automobiles for incorrect information, through the ones taking a look to inject confusion and chaos into media narratives.

(Fast methodological observe: Those “incorrect information mentions” are restricted to subjects associated with both the election or the Covid-19 pandemic, and are calculated through Zignal’s automatic machine in response to the choice of mentions of a given time period together with a time period this is continuously related to incorrect information. So, for instance, a submit that mentions vaccines within the context of Covid-19 would no longer be counted as a incorrect information point out, however a submit that mentions vaccines together with a hashtag like #FauciTheFraud or a reputation like Invoice Gates — a common goal of anti-vaccine activists — can be counted, even supposing the underlying tale used to be debunking this kind of false declare.)

The subject in all probability to generate incorrect information this 12 months, in step with Zignal, used to be an previous standby: George Soros, the liberal financier who has featured prominently in right-wing conspiracy theories for years.

Out of two.6 million overall media mentions of Mr. Soros up to now this 12 months, just about part (1.1 million) had been accompanied through phrases (“Soros-funded,” “bankroll”) that recommended that he performed a job in investment left-wing agitators. They peaked this summer season, as false claims that Mr. Soros had funded Black Lives Subject protests went viral following the killing of George Floyd.

2d at the checklist used to be Ukraine, which peaked as a incorrect information matter in January and February, all over Mr. Trump’s impeachment complaints together with key phrases like “deep state” and “WWG1WGA,” a shorthand utilized by fans of the QAnon conspiracy motion. About 34 % of Ukraine’s 9.2 million overall media mentions had been flagged as misinformation-related.

3rd used to be vote-by-mail, which has been the topic of a torrent of incorrect information through Mr. Trump and right-wing media retailers. Kind of one out of each and every 5 vote-by-mail tales in 2020 has been incorrect information, in step with Zignal’s research, with phrases like “fraud” and “rip-off” being commonplace pink flags.

With all 3 topics, one of the maximum commonplace spreaders of incorrect information had been right-wing information websites like Breitbart and The Gateway Pundit. YouTube additionally served as a big supply of incorrect information about those subjects, in step with Zignal.

After all, the incorrect information we’ve noticed up to now this 12 months would possibly faded compared to what occurs after subsequent week’s election, if a contested end result or allegations of fraud lead to a brand new wave of false or deceptive claims. Social media platforms have signaled that they are going to take away untimely claims of victory, and makes an attempt to delegitimize the election. However additionally they pledged to take down incorrect information about Covid-19, and feature had handiest combined luck in doing so.

Listed here are the themes that generated the best share of incorrect information narratives:

1. George Soros (45.7 % incorrect information mentions)

2. Ukraine (34.2 %)

3. Vote through Mail (21.Eight %)

4. Bio Weapon (24.2 %)

5. Antifa (19.Four %)

6. Biden and Defund the Police (14.2 %)

7. Hydroxychloroquine (9.2 %)

8. Vaccine (8.2 %)

9. Anthony Fauci (3.2 %)

10. Mask (0.Eight %)



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Trump Allies Amp Up Combat Over Tech’s Prison Defend Prior to Election

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WASHINGTON — In September, the White Area nominated a legal professional to be a commissioner at the Federal Communications Fee. One line on his résumé: helping the management’s push to restrict a very powerful felony protect for Silicon Valley firms.

That very same month, the Justice Division despatched Congress an in depth proposal for the best way to exchange the regulation at the back of that felony protect.

And on Wednesday, lawmakers will confront the manager executives of Fb, Google and Twitter. The subject of debate: whether or not that regulation permits dangerous conduct from the corporations.

The Trump management and its allies have fanned out broadly in Washington in fresh months to assault that regulation, Segment 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The regulation is thought of as sacred by means of social media platforms like Fb, Google and Twitter, as it protects them from legal responsibility for content material posted by means of their customers.

Increasingly more, the regulation is criticized by means of politicians of each events. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee for president, has referred to as for it to be revoked, announcing it lets in the corporations to shirk accountability over what seems on their websites.

However President Trump and Republican lawmakers had been more and more vocal within the months prior to Election Day, announcing the corporations have concealed at the back of the regulation to suppress conservative perspectives. Their frustration flared up once more two weeks in the past when Twitter and Fb restricted the distribution of an unsubstantiated New York Put up article that used to be important of Mr. Biden’s son Hunter.

Their animosity is perhaps on complete show at Wednesday’s listening to, when Republicans at the Senate Trade Committee like Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Ted Cruz of Texas are anticipated to assault the manager executives.

Republicans have invoked the problem as “a cudgel,” mentioned Olivier Sylvain, a regulation professor at Fordham College who has argued for adjustments to Segment 230. Mr. Trump, he mentioned, is “making some extent along with his base.”

Judd Deere, a White Area spokesman, mentioned the president have been transparent about why the problem used to be necessary to deal with.

“He believes the tech monopolies are proscribing American citizens’ freedom of speech,” Mr. Deere mentioned, “and his management is taking steps to resolve this downside.”

Google, Fb and Twitter have mentioned up to now that they are trying to restrict the achieve of deceptive data on their platforms, however that they don’t make choices according to political affairs. Google declined to remark. Fb and Twitter pointed to the ready testimony from their leader executives.

The proof that conservative speech is matter to unfair remedy on-line has all the time been anecdotal. And lots of conservative personalities, just like the commentator Ben Shapiro, have constructed massive audiences at the platforms.

The felony protect, handed within the 1996, has performed a key function within the enlargement of Silicon Valley. It has allowed firms like Fb and Twitter to increase unexpectedly with out taking up extra felony legal responsibility with each and every new submit.

The White Area’s efforts to weaken the regulation started in earnest closing yr when Mr. Trump hosted a Social Media Summit with right-wing influencers, a lot of whom level to anecdotal proof to mention the platforms have suppressed their perspectives. The attendees incorporated individuals who had unfold conspiracies or doctored content material.

In Would possibly, Twitter implemented fact-checking labels to 2 tweets by means of Mr. Trump that made false claims about voter fraud. Days later, the White Area introduced that Mr. Trump had signed an govt order intended to slender the protections for the tech firms.

Many legal professionals and mavens mentioned the president used to be exceeding his energy with the manager order, which ordered the Trade Division to petition the Federal Communications Fee, an unbiased company, to modify its interpretation of the regulation.

In a speech quickly after the Trade Division request, Michael O’Rielly, one of the crucial 3 Republican commissioners on the F.C.C., perceived to rebuke the request on free-speech grounds.

“It’s time to prevent permitting purveyors of First Modification gibberish to say they give a boost to extra speech, when their movements shed light on that they’d if truth be told curtail it thru govt motion,” he mentioned.

On the time, Mr. O’Rielly used to be looking forward to Senate affirmation to a brand new time period on the company. He mentioned his feedback weren’t a critique of Mr. Trump,

The White Area rescinded Mr. O’Rielly’s nomination 5 days after his speech with out a proof. In his position, it nominated Nathan Simington, a Trade Division legal professional who helped write the petition that requested the F.C.C. to restrict the regulation. Mr. Trump tweeted in give a boost to of Mr. Simington’s nomination.

This month, the fee’s Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, mentioned he would take steps to imagine the proposal to restrict the regulation.

“Social media firms have a First Modification appropriate to loose speech,” Mr. Pai mentioned in an Oct. 15 remark. “However they don’t have a First Modification appropriate to a distinct immunity denied to different media retailers, similar to newspapers and broadcasters.”

The White Area and its allies have additionally attempted to prod the Federal Business Fee, which polices the claims that businesses make to shoppers, to deal with its considerations with the regulation.

Mr. Trump’s govt order requested the business fee to analyze proceedings about how social media firms reasonable their content material, having a look at whether or not they violate the prohibition on “unfair and misleading” practices. At a listening to in August, Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, requested the company’s chairman whether or not it had taken motion at the order but.

The chairman, Joseph J. Simons, driven again. “Our authority makes a speciality of business speech, now not political content material curation,” he mentioned. Mr. Trump additionally met with Mr. Simons in fresh months to talk about the problem, mentioned an individual with wisdom of the assembly, who would discuss best anonymously since the individual used to be now not licensed to speak publicly in regards to the assembly.

Mr. Trump’s allies at the Senate Trade Committee are anticipated to spend the Wednesday listening to asking Mark Zuckerberg of Fb, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Sundar Pichai of Google in regards to the firms’ content material moderation and use of the felony protect. The Senate Judiciary Committee has additionally subpoenaed Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Zuckerberg to testify about the best way they take care of content material, in a listening to scheduled for after the election.

Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican at the Judiciary Committee, mentioned that just because some conservative personalities have been thriving on-line didn’t negate cases when conservative content material have been taken down. And he disagreed with fighters who say the fitting is solely looking to paintings the referees of the guidelines age.

“The purpose is, there shouldn’t be refs,” Mr. Hawley mentioned.

Many Democrats say the management’s movements — and the ones of its allies in Congress — are little greater than political theater. Some instructional critics of Segment 230, too, say the management’s assaults appear extra rooted in politics than a want for a particular coverage consequence.

“There’s merely no explanation why to have this listening to simply previous to the election, except for that it should intimidate the platforms, who’ve proven themselves to be at risk of political blunt power up to now,” Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, wrote in a tweet in regards to the Wednesday listening to.





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