Russia’s invasion into Ukraine has caused global angst, putting the military super powers of the world at odds once again, and potentially forcing an intervention that could lead to one of the biggest conflicts in decades.
And unlike similar incidents in times past, this battle is playing out in the age of social media, with memes, misinformation campaigns and scams all adding to the growing maelstrom of information, which can confuse, contort and cloud what’s actually happening in the eastern European region.
Given this, and the role that social media now plays in the dissemination of information, the platforms need to work fast to limit any misuse of their networks for questionable purpose, and many have already enacted plans to mitigate certain elements of misuse and misinformation.
Here’s a look at what’s been announced thus far from the major social apps.
Facebook is at the center of the social media information flow within the conflict zone, with around 70 million users in Russia, and 24 million in Ukraine, approximately half of the total population of each respective nation.
Late last week, the Russian Government announced that it would restrict access to Facebook due to Meta’s refusal to remove misinformation warning labels on posts from state-affiliated media. Now, Meta has taken that action a step further, by also prohibiting ads from Russian state media, and demonetizing these accounts, severely limiting the capacity for Russian authorities to use Facebook as an information vector.
Russia, of course, does have its own social media platforms and messaging tools, so there are other ways for the Kremlin to communicate their activities and motivations to Russian citizens. But Meta has taken a strong stance, while it’s also restricted access to many accounts within Ukraine, including those belonging to Russian state media organizations.
In addition to this, Meta has also established a special operations center, staffed by native Russian and Ukrainian speakers, to monitor for harmful content trends, while it’s also added new warning labels when users go to share war-related images that its systems detect are over one year old.
Meta’s also outlined a range of safety features for users in Ukraine, “including the ability for people to lock their Facebook profile, removing the ability to view and search friends lists, and additional tools on Messenger”.
Thus far, Meta seems to be staying ahead of major misinformation trends in the conflict, though the amount of posts from spammers and scammers seeking to capitalize on the situation for engagement is significant.
At the request of the Ukrainian Government, Google-owned YouTube has announced that it’s restricting access to Russian state-owned media outlets for users in Ukraine, while it’s also suspending monetization for several Russian channels.
YouTube’s also removing Russian state-owned channels from recommendations, and limiting the reach of their uploads across the platform.
As per YouTube (via The Wall Street Journal):
“As always, our teams are continuing to monitor closely for news developments, including evaluating what any new sanctions and export controls may mean for YouTube.”
In response, Russia’s state communications regulator has demanded that access to Russian media’s YouTube channels be restored on Ukrainian territory.
The situation is similar to Facebook, which could eventually see YouTube also face restrictions within Russia in response.
As it looks to help ensure optimal flow of information for users within the impacted region, Twitter has announced a temporary ban on all ads in Ukraine and Russia “to ensure critical public safety information is elevated and ads don’t detract from it”.
Twitter banned political ads, including those from state-affiliated media, back in 2019, so it’s already ahead of the curve in this respect. The ban on all ads will help to clarify information flow via tweets, while Twitter additionally notes that it’s proactively reviewing Tweets to detect platform manipulation, and taking enforcement action against synthetic and manipulated media that presents a false or misleading depiction of what’s happening.
A key platform to watch right now is TikTok, with reports that Russian-affiliated groups are using the app to spread ‘orchestrated disinformation’, while thousands of related videos are being uploaded to the platform, many fake, causing significant headaches for TikTok’s moderation teams.
Here’s a good example of war misinfo that’s plaguing TikTok right now.
This video of a parachuting soldier has 20 million views on TikTok.
The top comment? “Bro is recording an invasion.”
But he isn’t. This video is from 2016. pic.twitter.com/6WsjpWOLVI
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) February 24, 2022
The introduction of monetization incentives for popular clips has also added new motivation for bad actors to create fake streams and broadcasts in the app, in a bid to lure viewers, while on the other side, reports have also suggested that Ukrainian TikTok users are using the app to communicate Russian troop locations to Ukrainian fighters.
Thus far, TikTok has made no official comment on the conflict, nor how its platform is being used. And given that TikTok is owned by China-based Bytedance, and China has backed Russia’s action in the region (to some degree), it may not take a firm stance, officially.
But already, some are labeling this the ‘TikTok War’ given the way the platform is being used, which could force TikTok to take more definitive action, and it’ll be interesting to see if and how it does so in line with its links back to the CCP.
The conflict is a significant concern for all of the world, but most obviously for the Ukrainian people, and our thoughts are with those directly impacted by the conflict, and their families.
Hopefully, a peaceful resolution is still a possibility.
New Legal Challenges Could Further Impact Elon Musk’s Twitter Takeover Push
So as the fifth week of the Elon Musk Twitter takeover drama comes to a close, let’s just check in on how things are progressing.
Oh, it’s bad. Nothing good to see here.
This week, as Musk maintains that his $44 billion takeover offer remains ‘on hold’ due to questions over the accuracy of Twitter’s claim that 5% of its active users are fake, Twitter itself has faced its own drama, connected to the takeover push.
Having already lost several top executives, either directly or indirectly stemming from the pending change in ownership (as well as former CEO Jack Dorsey exiting the company entirely), Twitter is now facing a battle over its board members, with Silver Lake Partners’ Egon Durban resigning from the board after Twitter shareholders blocked his re-election.
Durban was given a Twitter board seat in 2020, following a push by Elliott Management Group to buy up Twitter shares, and force Jack Dorsey out of his position as CEO. Elliott’s view was that Dorsey was underperforming, and it partnered with Silver Lake to put pressure on the company to either improve its bottom line, or accept a change in management.
In addition to his work with Twitter and various other public companies, Durban has also been a longtime ally of Elon Musk, and earlier this week, Twitter shareholders voted to stop Durban from being re-appointed, in a move that many viewed as a statement of protest, of sorts, from Twitter investors.
But as with all things Elon and Twitter, it’s not that simple – today Twitter itself has refused to accept Durban’s resignation.
In a statement to the SEC, Twitter explained that Durban’s board re-election was likely rejected by shareholders due to him also serving on the board of six other publicly traded companies. Durban has vowed to take a step back from these other commitments, which Twitter says is enough to keep him on its team.
As per Twitter:
“While the Board does not believe that Mr. Durban’s other public company directorships will become an impediment if such engagements were to continue, Mr. Durban’s commitment to reduce his board service commitment to five public company boards by the Remediation Date appropriately addresses the concerns raised by stockholders with regard to such engagements. Accordingly, the Board has reached the determination that accepting Mr. Durban’s Tendered Resignation at this time is not in the best interests of the Company.”
Why does Twitter want to keep Durban on? It’s hard to say – especially given that Musk has noted that he’ll be looking to eliminate Twitter’s board if/when he becomes the platform’s owner.
The inclusion of representatives from key investors, however, may ensure Twitter maintains a level of stability, in case the deal goes south.
And there could be another key reason to maintain the link between Twitter’s board and Musk.
On another front, Twitter shareholders are also mulling a class-action lawsuit against Elon Musk over his Twitter takeover push, based on the allegation that Musk has ‘violated California corporate laws on several fronts’ with his Twitter acquisition commentary, effectively engaging in market manipulation.
As reported by CNBC:
“In one potential violation, they claim that Musk financially benefited by delaying required disclosures about his stake in Twitter and by temporarily concealing his plan in early April to become a board member at the social network. Musk also snapped up shares in Twitter, the complaint says, while he knew insider information about the company based on private conversations with board members and executives, including former CEO Jack Dorsey, a longtime friend of Musk’s, and Silver Lake co-CEO Egon Durban, a Twitter board member whose firm had previously invested in SolarCity before Tesla acquired it.”
Maybe that’s why Twitter wants to keep Durban in-house, due to both his past dealings with Musk, which may help ease the deal through, or to assist shareholders in their class action.
Durban’s current participation likely doesn’t hold any additional legal clout in this respect, but there may be some linkage between these two aspects of the increasingly messy Twitter deal.
And yes, there is still a possibility that the Musk takeover may not happen.
Musk himself has repeatedly and publicly vowed that he will not pay for the company unless it can convince him that its data on fake profiles is accurate – though Twitter maintains that there’s no such thing as the deal being ‘on hold’ and it’s continuing to prepare for the final transaction to be approved.
But there may also be other complications, with the SEC now investigating Musk’s conduct in the lead-up to his Twitter takeover push. Add to that his many public criticisms and disclosures, which border on market manipulation (as per the proposed shareholder action) and there could well be a breakpoint for Musk’s Twitter deal, where authorities simply veto the process entirely due to his conduct.
Could that be Musk’s plan? Various analysts have suggested that Musk is looking for a way out of the acquisition, and while the overall sentiment is that Musk will, eventually, be forced to pay-up, and take ownership of the app, there are still some legal cracks that he could explore that could end the transaction.
Which would be a disaster for Twitter.
While investors are unhappy with Musk right now, especially since his various comments and critiques have tanked the stock, Musk walking away would leave Twitter in a much lesser state, with many product leaders gone, and a declining share price that would be difficult to correct, given the various questions raised by Musk about its processes.
Could Twitter get itself back on track, and back to growth, if Musk were to abandon his takeover push?
In essence, Musk walking away would be a big, public statement that Twitter is not a good investment, and as the media hype dies down, that could see interest in the app decline even further, harming growth for, potentially, years to come.
Maybe that, then, is Musk’s real intent here – to harm the company so much that it has no choice but to accept a lower offer price, which could save Elon himself millions in his takeover bid.
Either way, right now, it’s not looking good, and there are many moving parts that must be keeping current Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal up at night.
It still seems like the Elon era is coming, but when, exactly, is a whole other question.
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