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Russian trolls are outsourcing to Africa to stoke US racial tensions

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With tech companies wise to many of the tactics that Russia’s now-infamous troll farms used to seed disinformation during the 2016 election, those campaigns are getting creative.

According to a pair of reports out from Facebook och Twitter, a disinformation campaign run by individuals with links to Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) is back and focused on the U.S., but this time it’s being run out of Africa.

“This network was in the early stages of building an audience and was operated by local nationals — some wittingly and some unwittingly — in Ghana and Nigeria on behalf of individuals in Russia,” Facebook explained in its blog post.

CNN apparently conducted its own deep investigation into the operations in Ghana and Nigeria, going so far as to even tour one of the houses where a group of Ghanaians worked to craft posts targeting American social issues.

Surprisingly, Graphika, a social analytics firm that specializes in disinformation, observed that these campaign did not focus on the U.S. election or presidential candidates specifically, but when candidates did come up in the content “it was through the lens of human rights, tolerance and racism.”

Graphika Chief Innovation Officer Camille Francois notes that the Russia-based campaign relied on a Ghana-based NGO as a kind of proxy and that at least some of those involved were likely not aware of the true nature of their work.

“That operation shows us the appetite of foreign actors to use proxy groups in increasingly creative way,” Francois told TechCrunch. “It also shows information operations can be based anywhere”

Most of the accounts were created in the second half of 2019 and the content they generated addressed issues around race, particularly tensions between black and white Americans. According to Facebook, the campaign concentrated on topics like black history and black excellence, but also “content about oppression and injustice, including police brutality.”

Facebook detected 49 Facebook accounts, 69 Facebook Pages and 85 Instagram accounts participating in the campaign. On Facebook, the relatively nascent accounts accumulated roughly 13,500 followers. On Instagram, the accounts had a following of around 265,000.

On Twitter, 71 accounts linked to the Russian-run operations in Ghana and Nigeria spread similar messages in an effort to “sow discord by engaging in conversations about social issues, like race and civil rights.”

It’s alarming — if not surprising — that Russian efforts to inflame existing social divides in the U.S. continue, but Twitter offered a useful reminder that most disinformation in the country comes from within, not from without.

TechCrunch

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Eight dogs at risk of being “destroyed” if not found homes

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Eight dogs at risk of being “destroyed” if not found homes

SAN ANGELO, Texas (Concho Valley Homepage) — Concho Valley PAWS posted on their Facebook page today that eight dogs are currently at risk of being “destroyed” if not found homes by 5 p.m. Friday, February 10, 2023.

Editors note: A ninth dog has been added to the list on the City of San Angelos’s Facebook page

The San Angelo Animal Shelter is currently at capacity with 180 dogs on the premise with more on the way.

CC PAWS

Listed below is a description of each at-risk dog from Concho Valley PAWS:

Leavey is a neutered male husky. High energy! Needs training and PAWS will provide new owners with professional training. He is 2 years and plays well in playgroup but requires 6 ft. fencing. No cats!

Charming is a 2-year-old male All-American Mix and prefers to be an only dog. He may do well with a submissive female in the home. He needs leash training. He does well with older children. He is still shy and a bit fearful so younger children may scare him. No cats!

Zeus is around 5 years old. He is a male lab mix that loves humans but not other animals. He does well on a leash and in a kennel. He’s neutered and ready to go home TODAY! No Cats!

Gilgo has anxiety issues and needs patience. He is GREAT with other dogs but does not trust humans and fear prevents him from showing well to adopters. He has the potential to be someone’s best friend. He needs a kind and patient soul to invest time and effort and we know he’s worth it! We are unsure if he will get along with cats.

Yowza is a female lab mix. She is one year old and has spent her life in the shelter and hasn’t even had a chance. She deserves to know what it’s like to be a part of a loving family! She’s high energy and needs training – she’s been confined her entire life. She does great with other dogs in the playgroup! PAWS will provide new owners with professional training. We are unsure if she will get along with cats.

Gummy Bear came to the shelter from a hoarding situation. He is shy and standoffish. He is fearful of men. He does great with other dogs – he lived in a home with 20 small dogs. But humans he does not trust. He is a male All-American breed approximately 3 years old.

Chewie is dog-selective and kennel reactive. He could benefit from living in a foster home where we could better get to know who he really is without the stress of the shelter environment. He is a large 60lb male dog and is approximately 2 years old.

Tac is a super fun boy with zero manners. Prior to living in the shelter, he had no opportunity for proper socialization or training. He has the potential to be a fantastic dog. He is loving and playful and has joy in life. PAWS will provide professional training for his new owner or foster.

Cheyenne is the ninth dog at risk and is listed as a Terrier, American Pit Bull / Mix. She is four years and six months old.

If interested, please contact [email protected] as soon as possible.

Click here for an Adoption Application

Click here for a Foster Application

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Layoffs Alone Won’t Solve Tech’s Problems: Parmy Olson

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Layoffs Alone Won’t Solve Tech’s Problems: Parmy Olson

The world’s largest tech companies are promising across the board to spend less, new territory for an industry that thrives on perks. Already last year, Facebook parent Meta Platforms shut down its laundry service for staff, and in January of this year, Alphabet’s Google included more than 30 massage therapists in its first big round of layoffs.

Tech giants are tightening up on fringe benefits and showing their talent the door. But there is still more to do.

Hiring freezes and cutting perks are the easy part. Now, having grown fat on old business models and morphed into sprawling bureaucracies, Silicon Valley’s biggest firms must become innovative again. That means spearheading a shift in culture away from protecting mini-fiefdoms and more toward getting ideas in motion and product features out the door. That’s an entirely new challenge for big tech’s stable, mostly technocrat leaders. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Google parent Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai have overseen years of continued growth largely by keeping things ticking along.

When the pandemic came, their steady growth went into overdrive. Collective profits at Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft grew by 55 percent in 2021 from an already eye-popping baseline. Their combined $1.4 trillion (roughly Rs. 1,15,83,670 crore) in sales would have made them the world’s 13th largest economy, overtaking Australia.

Now with shares and growth under pressure, Zuckerberg is talking about flattening his leadership structure and trimming middle management. Pichai wants to “re-engineer the company’s cost base in a durable way.” That will mean more layoffs because even the latest, painful cuts haven’t brought staffing levels anywhere close to pre-pandemic levels.

Facebook hired about 30,000 new staffers during the pandemic while Alphabet went on an even bigger hiring spree, swelling its ranks by 68,000 to 187,000. But Meta and Google have announced 11,000 and 12,000 job cuts, respectively, so far. Microsoft, which hired 58,000 people in the two years following the start of the pandemic, said last month that it was cutting 10,000 positions. The painful truth is that for these companies to earn the market’s trust in their pledges for efficiency, cuts will need to continue through 2023.

They also will have to continue to get the most out of their top talent, who might be less inclined to stay loyal to their employers now that they know that their bosses could cut them loose at any time.

An equally difficult task will be changing tech’s management culture. Already last year, months before the layoffs began, Zuckerberg and Pichai were telling staff they needed to work harder, with “greater urgency,” in the words of the Alphabet chief executive, and to come to the office more frequently.

Google especially needs to get better at executing on new product features. For all the attention that the company receives about its exciting moonshot projects, Google is notoriously conservative in its release of new products and services, because it doesn’t want to tinker too much with its $150 billion (roughly Rs. 12,41,000 crore) search business or its lucrative ad-tech operation. But the search business has come under threat from ChatGPT and other AI tools that generate conversational answers to any query.

Under pressure to respond, Google on Monday said it would soon release a ChatGPT competitor called Bard to the public. The service will be powered by LaMDA, Google’s highly sophisticated large language model. Google has rarely moved so quickly to develop a product, marking a risky new era for the company while it’s simultaneously trying to cut back on spending.

Doing more with less is much harder than it sounds for companies in Silicon Valley, who are used to throwing money at problems to make them go away. At least they know that needs to change. Meta Chief Technology Officer Andrew “Boz” Bosworth said in an email to the company’s 18,000 Reality Labs employees, who are driving its metaverse efforts, that “we have solved too many problems by adding headcount.” Now Meta needs to learn to solve problems by innovating and executing.

Zuckerberg used the word “efficient” or “efficiency” approximately 40 times in his earnings call with analysts last week. (By comparison, he mentioned “metaverse” just seven times.) Investors liked that direction of travel so much that they sent Meta’s shares up by more than 20 percent after earnings day, despite a miss on profit estimates.

A looming question is how much all this talk of efficiency from Alphabet, Meta, and Microsoft, the world’s biggest internet and software companies, will lead to real improvements. And if it doesn’t, will investors care? Meta’s rally last week could be a sign that investors are looking for any excuse to resume their love affair with some of the most profitable companies in history. Who wants to agitate for efficiencies from companies (barring Amazon) that have regular quarterly net margins of around 30 percent? Compare that with two other popular stocks, Walmart, and Walt Disney, that have margins of 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively, according to Bloomberg data.

Still, high margins weren’t enough to stop big tech stocks from getting bruised over the last year in the markets. Wall Street wants to see these companies become leaner and meaner. Big Tech’s investor-friendly, technocratic operators will almost certainly comply.

© 2023 Bloomberg LP


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Meta, Long an AI Leader, Tries Not to Be Left Out of the Boom

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Meta, Long an AI Leader, Tries Not to Be Left Out of the Boom

SAN FRANCISCO — Two weeks before a chatbot called ChatGPT appeared on the internet in November and wowed the world, Meta, the owner of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, unveiled a chatbot of its own. Called Galactica, it was designed for scientific research. It could instantly write its own …

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