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Twitter turmoil, staff exodus aggravate security concerns

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Twitter turmoil, staff exodus aggravate security concerns

The Twitter Headquarters in San Francisco, California. – © AFP Hector RETAMAL

Anuj CHOPRA

Twitter’s owner Elon Musk has pledged the platform will not become a “hellscape,” but experts fear a staff exodus following mass layoffs may have devastated its ability to combat misinformation, impersonation and data theft.

Twitter devolved into what campaigners described as a cesspit of falsehoods and hate speech after recent layoffs cut half the company’s 7,500 staff and fake accounts proliferated following its botched rollout of a paid verification system.

Further throwing the influential platform into disarray – and raising doubt about its very existence – reports said hundreds of employees chose to depart the company on Thursday in defiance of an ultimatum from Musk.

“The huge number of layoffs and resignations raises serious questions about content moderation and the security of user data,” Cheyenne Hunt-Majer, from the nonprofit Public Citizen, told AFP.

“It is imperative that (US regulators) act with urgency as users could have their sensitive data exploited or even stolen given the lack of sufficient staff that remain to adequately protect it.”

The hashtag #RIPTwitter gained huge traction on the site after resignations poured in from employees who chose “no” to Musk’s demand that they either be “extremely hardcore” or exit the company.

Twitter has plunged into turmoil as Musk, a self-professed free speech absolutist, seeks to shake up the money-losing company after his blockbuster $44 billion buyout late last month.

– ‘Debacle’ –

The site’s content moderation teams – largely outsourced contractors that combat misinformation – have been axed and a number of engineers fired after openly criticizing Musk on Twitter or on an internal messaging board, according to reports and tweets.

Wary brands have paused or slowed down ad spending – Twitter’s biggest revenue source – after a spike in racist and antisemitic trolling on the platform.

“Misinformation super spreaders” – or untrustworthy accounts peddling falsehoods — saw a 57 percent jump in engagement in the week after Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, according to a survey by the nonprofit watchdog group NewsGuard.

“Elon Musk has swiftly decimated Twitter’s ability to maintain the platform’s integrity, health and safety,” said Jessica Gonzalez, co-chief executive officer at the nonpartisan group Free Press.

“If there is one lesson that all social-media platforms must take away from this debacle, it’s that without protecting users from hate and lies you have no company at all.”

In a response to critics, Musk on Friday as he indicated a new direction for content moderation on the site.

While not being totally removed from the site, Musk said that “negative/hate tweets” will be “max deboosted (and) demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter.”

“You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically seek it out, which is no different from rest of Internet,” he added.

But his plan fell on skeptical ears.

– ‘Significant blow’ –

“We could certainly see a spike in misinformation, hate speech, and other objectionable content because of Musk’s latest moves,” Zeve Sanderson, executive director of the New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics, told AFP.

“Content moderation is a lot harder to do without people around to actually do content moderation.”

In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, a regulatory agency, a group of Democratic senators blamed Musk for introducing “alarming” new features that undermined safety despite warnings that they would be “abused for fraud, scams and dangerous impersonation.”

“Users are already facing the serious repercussions of this growth-at-all-costs strategy,” they wrote in the letter published Thursday, noting the recent spike in fake accounts impersonating companies, politicians and celebrities.

Among the victims was drugmaker Eli Lilly, whose stock price nosedived — erasing billions in market capitalization — after a parody account stamped with a verification tag purchased for $8 tweeted that insulin was being made available for free.

Last week, Twitter disabled sign-ups for the contentious feature known as Twitter Blue, with reports saying it had been temporarily disabled to help address impersonation issues — but not before several brands took a hit.

Given the apparent vulnerabilities, digital experts have warned activists, particularly in autocratic countries, of the increased risk of identity theft or their private messages falling into the hands of hackers.

“Around the world, Twitter is used to organize against oppression,” said Hunt-Majer.

“If Musk’s mismanagement kills it, that would be a significant blow to freedom of information and, frankly, human rights in general on a global scale.”

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The North Face Delivered Jacket Via Helicopter After Viral TikTok Complaint

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The North Face Delivered Jacket Via Helicopter After Viral TikTok Complaint

  • Popular apparel brand The North Face posted a crazy marketing stunt on TikTok recently. 
  • In a video, they delivered a rain jacket to a woman at the top of a mountain in New Zealand via helicopter. 
  • The woman had complained in a viral TikTok that her waterproof jacket got soaked in the rain. 

The North Face pulled an elaborate marketing stunt on TikTok and delivered some rain gear via helicopter to a woman in New Zealand, whose complaint about the brand went viral on the platform. 

Jenn Jensen posted a TikTok video on November 17 showing herself on a hiking trail in the rain where she’s soaked whilst wearing a rain jacket sporting The North Face logo. 

“I’ve got a bone to pick with North Face,” Jensen says in the video which has racked up over 11 million views. “I bought this ‘rain jacket’ a couple of days ago and the tag for the advertising said that it’s waterproof. Well listen, I’m 100% sure that it’s raining outside and I’m soaking wet.” 

She added: “Listen… I don’t want a refund. I want you to redesign this rain coat to make it waterproof and express deliver it to the top of Hooker Valley Lake in New Zealand where I will be waiting.” 

She tagged The North Face’s TikTok page in her caption. In one comment a user named @timbrodini wrote: “*Northface has left the conversation.” 

The popular outdoor clothes brand made their own TikTok video in response to @timbrodini’s comment in which they said: “We were busy express delivering @Jenn her jacket at the top of mountain.”

In the TikTok video, a North Face employee can be seen grabbing a red jacket from one of its physical stores and then hopping onto a helicopter where he’s flown out to New Zealand. The man then jumps out of the helicopter at the top of the mountain and runs out to throw the jacket to Jensen who is waiting. 

She says “thank you” at the end of the video, which has also gone viral and gained 4.1 million views. 

Jensen then made a follow up video on her page explaining that The North Face’s marketing team saw her video and wanted to make “amends.” She said they flew her out by helicopter to the top of a mountain in New Zealand to give her new rain gear. 

“At this point the ultimate test will be if the new rain gear they gave me at the top of that mountain will hold up to the very high bar that North Face has now set for themselves,” she concluded at the end of the video. 

Some users speculated whether her original video was also a part of the marketing stunt but Jensen responded that she “turned down” the opportunity to be paid for the company’s follow up video. 

“I’m not an influencer, I was just a disappointed customer.” 

The marketing strategy appears to be a new way for brands to connect with customers by showing their care whilst also providing an entertaining video on social media. 

The North Face seems to be following the steps of the Stanley cup brand which recently went viral after gifting a woman a new car. The woman’s own car had burnt down, but in a TikTok video she showed that her insulated Stanley cup had survived the car fire and that the ice inside hadn’t even melted. 



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U.S. Judge Blocks Montana’s Effort to Ban TikTok in the State

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U.S. Judge Blocks Montana’s Effort to Ban TikTok in the State

TikTok has won another reprieve in the U.S., with a District Judge blocking Montana’s effort to ban the app for all users in the state.

Back in May, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed legislation to ban TikTok outright from operating in the state, in order to protect residents from alleged intelligence gathering by China. There’s no definitive evidence that TikTok is, or has participated in such, but Gianforte opted to move to a full ban, going further than the Government device bans issued in other regions.

As explained by Gianforte at the time:

The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented. Today, Montana takes the most decisive action of any state to protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party.”

In response, a collection of TikTok users challenged the proposed ban, arguing that it violated their first amendment rights, which led to this latest court challenge, and District Court Judge Donald Molloy’s decision to stop Montana’s ban effort.

Montana’s TikTok ban had been set to go into effect from January 1st 2024.

In issuing a preliminary injunction to stop Montana from imposing a full ban on the app, Molloy said that Montana’s legislation does indeed violate the Constitution, and “oversteps state power”.

Molloy’s judgment is primarily centered on the fact that Montana has essentially sought to exercise foreign policy authority in enacting a TikTok ban, which is only enforceable by federal authorities. Molloy also noted that there was apervasive undertone of anti-Chinese sentiment” within Montana’s proposed legislation.

TikTok has welcomed the ruling, issuing a brief statement in response:

Montana attorney general, meanwhile, has said that it’s considering next steps to advance its proposed TikTok ban.

It’s a win for TikTok, though the Biden Administration is still weighing a full TikTok ban in the U.S., which may still happen, even though the process has been delayed by legal and legislative challenges.

As I’ve noted previously, my sense here would be that TikTok won’t be banned in the U.S. unless there’s a significant shift in U.S.-China relations, and that relationship is always somewhat tense, and volatile to a degree.

If the U.S. Government has new reason to be concerned, it may well move to ban the app. But doing so would be a significant step, and would prompt further response from the C.C.P.

Which is why I suspect that the U.S. Government won’t act, unless it feels that it has to. And right now, there’s no clear impetus to implement a ban, and stop a Chinese-owned company from operating in the region, purely because of its origin.

Which is the real crux of the issue here. A TikTok ban is not just banning a social media company, it’s blocking cross-border commerce, because the company is owned by China, which will remain the logic unless clear evidence arises that TikTok has been used as a vector for gathering information on U.S. citizens.

Banning a Chinese-owned app because its Chinese-owned is a statement, beyond concerns about a social app, and the U.S. is right to tread carefully in considering how such a move might impact other industries.

So right now, TikTok is not going to be banned, in Montana, or anywhere else in the U.S. But that could still change, very quickly.



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Israeli president tells Musk he has ‘huge role’ in anti-Semitism

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Elon Musk, the world's richest person, said in video remaks that Hamas militants 'have been fed propaganda'

Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, said in video remaks that Hamas militants ‘have been fed propaganda’ – Copyright POOL/AFP Leon Neal

Israel’s president told Elon Musk on Monday that the tech mogul has “a huge role to play” to combat anti-Semitism, which his social media platform is accused of spreading.

The meeting came after the world’s richest person visited a kibbutz community devastated in attacks by Hamas militants on October 7, and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defence officials.

Musk has been criticised over what critics say is a proliferation of hate speech on X, formerly Twitter, since his takeover of the social media site in October 2022.

He has been accused by the White House of “abhorrent promotion” of anti-Semitism after endorsing a conspiracy theory seen as accusing Jews of trying to weaken white majorities.

Israel’s figurehead President Isaac Herzog told him: “Unfortunately, we are inundated by anti-Semitism, which is Jew hatred.

“You have a huge role to play,” he said. “And I think we need to fight it together because on the platforms which you lead, unfortunately, there’s a harbouring of a lot of… anti-Semitism.”

Musk did not mention anti-Semitism in his video remarks released by Herzog’s office, but said Hamas militants “have been fed propaganda since they were children”.

“It’s remarkable what humans are capable of if they’re fed falsehoods, from when they are children; they will think that the murder of innocent people is a good thing.”

On October 7 Hamas militants broke through Gaza’s militarised border into southern Israel to kill around 1,200 people and seize about 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials, in the worst-ever attack since the nation’s founding.

Vowing to destroy Hamas in response, Israel has carried out a relentless bombardment of targets in Gaza, alongside a ground invasion, that the Hamas government says has killed almost 15,000.

A temporary truce has been in effect since Friday.

– Talk of satellites –

Earlier Monday, Netanyahu and Musk discussed “security aspects of artificial intelligence” with senior defence officials, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Musk and Netanyahu held a conversation on X following their tour of Kfar Aza, one of the communities attacked by Hamas.

“We have to demilitarise Gaza after the destruction of Hamas,” Netanyahu said, calling for a campaign to “deradicalise” the Palestinian territory.

“Then we also have to rebuild Gaza, and I hope to have our Arab friends help in that context.”

Netanyahu told Musk he hoped to resume United States-mediated normalisation talks with Saudi Arabia after Hamas’s defeat and “expand the circle of peace beyond anything imaginable”.

The war stalled progress towards a Saudi-Israel normalisation deal, and in early November Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler denounced the conduct of Israeli forces fighting Hamas in Gaza.

Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said his country had reached an understanding in principle on the use of Starlink satellites, operated by Musk’s company SpaceX, in Israel and the Gaza Strip “with the approval of the Israeli Ministry of Communications”.

Starlink is a network of satellites in low Earth orbit that can provide internet to remote locations, or areas that have had normal communications infrastructure disabled.

In September, Netanyahu urged Musk “to stop not only anti-Semitism, or rolling it back as best you can, but any collective hatred” on X.

Musk said at the time that while his platform could not stop all hate speech before it was posted, he was “generally against attacking any group, no matter who it is”.

X Corp is currently suing nonprofit Media Matters on the grounds that it has driven away advertisers by portraying the site as rife with anti-Semitic content.

Musk has also threatened to file suit against the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group, over its claims that problematic and racist speech has soared on the site since he completed his $44-billion takeover.

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