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Trump seeks to capitalize on Twitter’s attempts to constrain him

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Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump is set to announce an executive order against social media companies on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters aboard Air Force One on the return flight to Washington following NASA’s aborted SpaceX launch.

McEnany did not specify what the order would include, but it signals the most significant step the President has taken in his war with tech companies as they struggle to balance freedom of speech with the growing problem of misinformation.

On Tuesday, Twitter applied a fact-check to two of Trump’s tweets, including one that falsely claimed mail-in ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud. Trump immediately shot back, accusing the social media giant of censorship and warning that if it continued to offer addendums to his messages, he would use the power of the federal government to rein it in or even shut it down.

It is not clear what constraints the President would be able to apply to social media companies through executive order. Regardless, the move raises the stakes in Trump’s battle with Silicon Valley, and highlights what he believes is a fight worth having. In many ways, the latest episode with Twitter feeds Trump’s narrative that there are powerful forces in the media aligned against him, and that his is the only voice his supporters can trust.

“This plays right into President Trump’s hands,” said Jason Miller, the communications director for Trump’s 2016 campaign and someone who has been directly involved with Trump’s social media strategy. “They basically handed him a massive gift.”

Many of Trump’s political allies rushed to his defense on Wednesday.

“Twitter is engaging in 2020 election interference. They are putting their thumb on the scale,” said Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, a loyal Trump supporter and surrogate during an appearance on the Steve Bannon-produced podcast War Room Pandemic. “The notion that they would outsource fact checking to people who have been wrong about everything is an insult.”

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said that his team no longer pays for advertising on Twitter and accused the tech giant of purposefully influencing the election to hurt the President.

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“We always knew that Silicon Valley would pull out all the stops to obstruct and interfere with President Trump getting his message through to voters,” Parscale said in a statement. “Partnering with the biased fake news media ‘fact checkers’ is only a smoke screen Twitter is using to try to lend their obvious political tactics some false credibility.”

The President made the decision to warn Twitter despite the fact that the company and most other prominent social media platforms have allowed him and his associates to peddle unsubstantiated conspiracy theories with few constraints. While Twitter added the fact check to Trump’s tweets on mail-in voting, it did not do so on any of his recent tweets baselessly suggesting MSNBC host Joe Scarborough was somehow involved in the death of a former aide, despite a plea from the aide’s widower to take the tweets down.

Trump’s Twitter habits have been the scrutinized for virtually his entire political career, but people familiar with his use of the platform describe less of a strategy and more of a mindset as he or an aide taps out messages.

Other people inside the administration, and even some of Trump’s closest advisers, are regularly caught off-guard by what appears on his feed — if not always surprised.

While his messages often have the effect of distracting from an unfortunate headline, people close to the President say it is their impression that he genuinely believes many of the more conspiratorial things he sends — including debunked theories about his predecessor — and that he isn’t raising them only in the hopes of diverting attention elsewhere.

Trump’s top social media adviser, Dan Scavino Jr., was recently elevated to become one of the highest-ranking officials in the West Wing. His title, deputy chief of staff for communications, belies the fundamental role he plays both in Trump’s use of Twitter and in his life generally. Trump trusts Scavino almost unreservedly. Scavino has worked for the President since before the 2016 campaign when he was a manager at one of Trump’s golf clubs.

Scavino is usually the person who locates the internet content — sometimes from fringe sources and often incendiary — that finds it way to Trump’s Twitter feed, though other friends and advisers have suggested tweets and retweets as well.

Scavino’s West Wing office provides him regular access to the President, as does his near-ubiquitous presence on Trump’s trips, where he is often seen videotaping or photographing the President. He is believed to be the only other person with access to @RealDonaldTrump, though the mechanics of the account have never been confirmed by the White House.

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Trump’s tweet rants have always been controversial. But recently, as the US death toll from the pandemic has approached 100,000, they have become uncomfortable even for some of the President’s most prominent supporters.

“I do think the President should stop tweeting about Joe Scarborough in the middle of a pandemic,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican. “He’s the commander in chief of this nation and he is causing great pain to the family of the young woman who died.”

But those who understand the President’s social media habits believe it is unlikely that he will change his behavior any time soon. Miller, who has been present as Trump crafts his tweets, said the President views the platform as an outlet where he can speak directly to his supporters.

“It is one of President Trump’s super powers,” Miller said. “He understood very early on that social media, Twitter in particular, gave him unvarnished access to the American people and his supporters. What Trump maximized was social media’s ability to bypass the artificial conversation created by the mainstream media.”

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Meta Launches New Legal Proceedings Against Data Scraping, Helping to Establish Precedent Around Misuse

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Meta Implements New Changes to Housing, Employment and Credit Ads to Eliminate Potential Discrimination

Meta has launched two new legal actions against data scraping sites, which have extracted user data from both Instagram and Facebook for unauthorized use, while it’s also seen a new victory in its battle against platform misuse, with a court ruling in its favor in another case related to clone sites.

First off, on its new actions – Meta has launched legal proceedings against two companies that offer data scraping services, which illegally use people’s uploaded info for unintended purpose.

As explained by Meta:

The first action is against a company called Octopus, a US subsidiary of a Chinese national high-tech enterprise that claims to have over one million customers. Octopus offers scraping services and access to software that customers can use to scrape any website. For a fee, Octopus customers can launch scraping attacks from its cloud-based platform or hire Octopus to scrape websites directly. Octopus offers to scrape data from Amazon, eBay, Twitter, Yelp, Google, Target, Walmart, Indeed, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.”

Meta says that Octopus’ system is able to extract data about people’s Facebook Friends ‘such as email address, phone number, gender and date of birth, as well as Instagram followers and engagement information, such as name, user profile URL, location and number of likes and comments per post’.

That’s information that users never intended to be utilized in this way, and Meta’s looking to establish clearer legal standing on this type of misuse.

The second company that Meta has launched legal action against is managed by a single operator in Turkey, and has been using automated Instagram accounts to scrape data from the profiles of over 350,000 Instagram users.

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“These profiles were viewable to logged-in Instagram users. The Defendant published the scraped data on his own websites or “clone sites.” A clone site is a website that copies and displays Instagram profiles, posts and other information without authorization.”

Both seem like fairly clear-cut violations of Meta’s terms of service, but the legal technicalities of online data scraping are not so definitive, with LinkedIn currently engaged in a years-long battle over a similar data-scraping case, in which users’ publicly available LinkedIn info is being used to power an external employee database and recruitment site.

In the most recent finding in this case, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruled that scraping data that’s publicly accessible on the internet isn’t in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, despite users not explicitly providing consent for their information to be utilized by third-party providers in this way.

That case will no doubt also be used in the defense against Meta’s latest legal actions – but as Meta outlines, there is a variance here in that the information gathered by these tools is not publicly accessible, as such, which is part of the reason why Meta has gradually locked down Facebook and Instagram data more and more over the years, giving the company more definitive legal grounding in any such misuse.

That could lead to a new legal precedent for such, which may not necessarily help in LinkedIn’s case – but then again, LinkedIn has also been moving to lock down more of its user data to combat the same, which could eventually see any ruling apply to all such cases.

Either way, the misuse of user data in this way is clearly a violation of privacy, as it’s taking people’s personal info without consent. One way or another, it seems that the laws around such need to be updated – and maybe, these new cases from Meta can advance the argument in this respect.

Which is what Meta’s been trying to do with its various legal cases against platform misuse. And recently, it had a victory, with a court ruling that another operator that had been scraping Instagram user data to fuel clone sites was guilty of misuse.

As per Meta:

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In 2020, we filed an action against a defendant scraping people’s publicly-visible information from Instagram in order to create a network of clone sites. This was a violation of our Terms of Service and we filed a lawsuit in order to protect our users. The Court recently issued a final judgment in our favor and found Defendant liable for scraping data from Instagram users and republishing it on his clones sites. The Defendant was ordered by the Court to pay over $200,000 and is banned from using Facebook or Instagram.”

Each ruling in Meta’s favor helps to establish clearer precedent, and as it continues to launch new legal proceedings in order to reiterate the significance of data scraping and misuse, that, ideally, will further build Meta’s broader case load to solidify legal standing.

Which will see more of this type of activity outlawed and penalized, and will ultimately disincentive fraud in the space. It takes time, as each case needs to go through the legal process (as per this recent ruling), but Meta continues to establish stronger foundations for future cases with every step.

Which is another way to evolve the laws around such, embedding rulings by proxy, which will help to address such as clear legal violations in future. 

There’s a way to go, on several fronts, but Meta’s legal procedures help to build the foundations of law around these evolving forms of data misuse.

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