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Big tech grapples with Russian state media, propaganda – CTV News

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WASHINGTON —
As Russia’s war in Ukraine plays out for the world on social media, big tech platforms are moving to restrict Russian state media from using their platforms to spread propaganda and misinformation.

After the European Union’s president called for a ban on Russian state media, a wave of tech companies blocked the channels from their platforms.

Google announced Tuesday that it’s blocking the YouTube channels of those outlets in Europe “effective immediately” but acknowledged “it’ll take time for our systems to fully ramp up.” Russia’s RT and Sputnik accounts were also disabled in Europe on China’s TikTok, a video-sharing platform, a company spokesperson confirmed Tuesday. The actions followed Meta’s announcement that it would bar the state media from its platforms, Instagram and Facebook.

Tech companies have also offered more modest changes in other parts of the world so far: limiting the Kremlin’s reach, labeling more of this content so that people know it originated with the Russian government, and cutting Russian state organs off from whatever ad revenue they were previously making.

The changes are a careful balancing act intended to slow the Kremlin from pumping propaganda into social media feeds without angering Russian officials to the point that they yank their citizens’ access to platforms during a time of war, said Katie Harbath, a former public policy director for Facebook.

“They’re trying to walk this very fine line; they’re doing this dance,” said Harbath, who now serves as director of technology and democracy at the International Republican Institute. “We want to stand up to Russia, but we also don’t want to get shut down in the country. How far can we push this?”

The U.S. government has not applied sanctions to Russian state media or called on the tech companies to take action, leaving the American-owned tech companies to wrestle with how to blunt the Kremlin’s reach on their own.

The results have been mixed.

RT and other Russian-state media accounts are still active on Facebook in the U.S. Twitter announced Monday that after seeing more than 45,000 tweets daily from users sharing Russian state-affiliated media links in recent days, it will add labels to content from the Kremlin’s websites. The company also said it would not recommend or direct users to Russian-affiliated websites in its search function.

Over the weekend, the Menlo Park, California-based company announced it was banning ads from Russian state media and had removed a network of 40 fake accounts, pages and groups that published pro-Russian talking points. The network used fictitious persons posing as journalists and experts, but didn’t have much of an audience.

Facebook began labeling state-controlled media outlets in 2020.

Meanwhile, Microsoft announced it wouldn’t display content or ads from RT and Sputnik, or include RT’s apps in its app store. And Google’s YouTube restricted Russian-state media from monetizing the site through ads, although the outlets are still uploading videos every few minutes on the site.

On TikTok, a Chinese platform popular in the U.S. for short, funny videos, state-affiliated media is not labeled as such. And pro-Russian pro-Russian propaganda and misinformation around the war has flourished on its site.

One recent video posted to RT’s TikTok channel, which is still active in the U.S., features a clip of Steve Bannon, a former top adviser to ex-President Donald Trump who now hosts a podcast with a penchant for misinformation and conspiracy theories.

“Ukraine isn’t even a country. It’s kind of a concept,” Bannon said in the clip, echoing a claim by Russian President Vladimir Putin. “So when we talk about sovereignty and self-determination it’s just a corrupt area where the Clintons have turned into a colony where they can steal money.”

Already, Facebook’s efforts to limit Russian state media’s reach have drawn ire from Russia. Last week, Meta officials said they had rebuffed Russia’s request to stop fact-checking or labeling posts made by Russian state media. Kremlin officials responded by restricting access to Facebook.

The company has also denied requests from Ukrainian officials who have asked Meta to remove access to its platforms in Russia. That would prevent everyday Russians from using the platforms to learn about the war, voice their views or organize protests, according to Nick Clegg, recently named the company’s vice president of global affairs

“We believe turning off our services would silence important expression at a crucial time,” Clegg wrote on Twitter Sunday.

More aggressive labeling of state media and moves to de-emphasize their content online might help reduce the spread of harmful material without cutting off a key information source, said Alexandra Givens, CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington non-profit.

“These platforms are a way for dissidents to organize and push back,” Givens said. “The clearest indication of that is the regime has been trying to shut down access to Facebook and Twitter.”

Russia has spent years creating its sprawling propaganda apparatus, which boasts dozens of sites that target millions of people in different languages. That preparation is making it hard for any tech company to mount a rapid response, said Graham Shellenberger at Miburo Solutions, a firm that tracks misinformation and influence campaigns.

“This is a system that has been built over 10 years, especially when it comes to Ukraine,” Shellenberger said. “They’ve created the channels, they’ve created the messengers. And all the sudden now, we’re starting to take action against it.”

Redfish, a Facebook page that is labeled as Russian-state controlled media, has built up a mostly U.S. and liberal-leaning audience of more than 800,000 followers over the years.

The page has in recent days posted anti-U.S. sentiment and sought to downplay Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, calling it a “military operation” and dedicating multiple posts to highlighting anti-war protests across Russia.

One Facebook post also used a picture of a map to highlight airstrikes in other parts of the world.

“Don’t let the mainstream media’s Eurocentrism dictate your moral support for victims of war,” the post read.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia sent letters to Google, Meta, Reddit, Telegram, TikTok and Twitter urging them to curb such Russian influence campaigns on their websites.

“In addition to Russia’s established use of influence operations as a tool of strategic influence, information warfare constitutes an integral part of Russian military doctrine,” Warner wrote.

___

Klepper reported from Providence, R.I. AP Business Writer Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.

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Social Media Increasingly Linked With Mass Shootings – Forbes

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On Wednesday, authorities in Texas identified Salvador Ramos as the 18-year-old shooter who had opened fire in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Ramos, who had killed at least 19 students and two teachers during his shooting spree on Tuesday, had allegedly posted disturbing images online prior to carrying out the senseless attack.

According to reports, an Instagram account allegedly connected to Ramos featured disturbing photos. That account has since been taken down.

It was just last week that New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, announced that her office was investigating social media companies after another mass shooter had used the online platforms to plan, promote and stream a massacre in a Buffalo grocery store that left 10 dead. James said her office would investigate Twitch, 4chan, 8chan and Discord along with other platforms that the shooter used to amplify the attack.

Many are asking if warning signs were missed.

“It is impossible to prevent people from making threats online,” explained William V. Pelfrey, Jr., Ph.D., professor in the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Yet he suggested that social media organizations do have a moral responsibility to identify and remove threatening messaging.

“They are generally abysmal at this task. Direct threats (i.e. I want to shoot the President, I want to kill myself) frequently are flagged and investigated. Indirect threats are much harder to identify and rarely receive any attention,” Pelfrey continued. “Many social media companies will need to make decisions – protect individual’s rights to make oblique threats or protect safety. Compromising freedom of speech seems abhorrent until we weigh that compromise against the lives lost in Buffalo or the many other places where radicalized violent extremists found their motivation to kill.”

The Anti-Social Networks

As the United States remains very much in what President Joe Biden has identified as an “Uncivil War,” where the country remains so politically divided, the platforms that were once about friendly discussions have evolved very much into “anti-social networks” where people now find themselves in echo chambers that support their opinion and views.

“Social media has compounded a growing racial, cultural and gender divide in America and the world,” explained Anthony Silard, professor at the Luiss Business School, Rome, and the author of The Art of Living Free in the Digital Age.

Social media has enabled the actions of extremists to be live-streamed to the masses.

“One facet of the Buffalo shooting that is critical for understanding its conception and operation is that it was not the work of one person,” added Silard. “The shooter brought his thought community with him via live stream. They were poised and ready to send out the horrific imagery of innocent people being slaughtered before the social media site, Twitch, could take it down, in an impressive two minutes. They succeeded, yet millions watched from the comfort of their screens.

“With his thought community virtually present and at the ready, the shooter felt less alone and propped up by the hate-imbued ideology of his group,” Silard added. “Herein lies an important point for lawmakers to consider about the role of social media in this tragedy: it enabled rapid, collective action by a hate group.”

Lack Of Empathy

Social media has also been seen as responsible in lowering the empathy of most Americans. It is easy to “speak your mind” about someone on social media based on a tweet they made or something they posted on Facebook. Even like-minded individuals with similar interests can find themselves in serious flare ups that turn hostile.

This has been common with email, posts on Newsgroups and online forums, but has increased significantly in the era of social media.

“One of the primary reasons social media has become so dangerous to a healthy society is that it erodes empathy. The reason town hall meetings became a healthy medium for cross-aisle conversations is that people had to listen to each other, even when they disagreed,” said Silard.”Now that these conversations have gone online, empathy has fallen to the wayside. A recent meta-analysis of seventy-two studies conducted between 1979 and 2009, for instance, found that the empathy levels of American college students have dropped 40 percent, which the authors primarily attribute to the rise of social media.”

The social media platforms have largely failed to address the issue, and in some cases it has only served to radicalize individuals, such as the recent mass shooters.

“Social media companies like Facebook promised us that its services would encourage people to care more for each other and express their authentic views more both online and in person. None of this has happened,” warned Silard. “Instead, recent Pew research has found that people speak up less in person now for fear of retribution. Why? Social media has helped them realize there are many opposing views out there they would prefer not to confront.”

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Media Advisory: Premier Furey to Announce Additional Measures to Help Residents with the Cost of Living – News Releases – Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

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The Honourable Andrew Furey, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Honourable Siobhan Coady, Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance, and the Honourable Bernard Davis, Minister Responsible for Labour, will announce additional measures today (Thursday, May 26) to help Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with the cost of living. The event takes place at 1:00 p.m. in the Media Centre, East Block, Confederation Building.

The announcement will be livestreamed on Facebook.

– 30 –

Media contacts
Meghan McCabe
Office of the Premier
709-729-3960
meghanmccabe@gov.nl.ca

Victoria Barbour
Finance
709-729-4087, 327-6152
victoriabarbour@gov.nl.ca

Lynn Robinson
Environment and Climate Change
709-729-5449, 691-9466
lynnrobinson@gov.nl.ca

2022 05 26
11:10 am

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Ideon Media announces exclusive Canadian partnership with VICE Media Group – GlobeNewswire

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TORONTO, May 25, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Ideon Media announced today it will serve as the exclusive ad sales and branded content development partner for VICE Media Group (VMG), the world’s largest independent youth media group, in Canada. VMG digital properties, which include VICE.com, and Refinery29.com, reach a combined 13.3 million unique visitors in Canada per month across all platforms (GAR, GWL, Comscore, VICE Census).

The new partnership will see Ideon Media exclusively represent the commercial activity of  VICE.com and Refinery29.com in Canada to brands and advertisers. This includes the sale of media advertising and sponsorships, production of branded content as well as affiliate advertising and commissions.

“VICE leaves an indelible mark on the public discourse, with impressive in-depth reporting and authentic storytelling that resonates worldwide. We’re so proud to represent VICE in Canada, and so flattered that Ideon has been given full latitude to help Canadian advertisers tell their stories on platforms like VICE and Refinery29 using Canadian talent and creators,” said Kevin Bartus, Ideon Media President and CEO.

“VICE is a true Canadian media success story, and has always been the gold standard for integrated campaigns targeting the youth demographic, and I am thrilled to be working with the company again. From best-in-class branded content, to incredible brand-sponsored events, and even cutting-edge proprietary digital ad products; VICE and Refinery29 allow brands to reach a huge Canadian audience of highly influential Gen-Z and Millennial young people in authentic and meaningful ways,” said Shawn Phelan, Vice President of Brand Partnerships, Ideon Media.

“I am delighted to be partnering with Kevin, Shawn and the team at Ideon in Canada to drive future growth across our publishing business. Our shared passion for the VICE brands, storytelling, breakthrough content solutions and our audiences will allow us to realise our ambitious growth targets in the market and to forge new opportunities with brands and advertisers,” said Luke Barnes, Chief Revenue Officer and Chief Digital Officer, EMEA, VICE Media Group.

ABOUT VICE MEDIA GROUP
VICE Media Group is the world’s largest independent youth media company. Launched in 1994, VICE has offices across 25 countries across the globe with a focus on five key businesses: VICE.com, an award-winning international network of digital content; VICE STUDIOS, a feature film and television production studio; VICE TV, an Emmy-winning international television network; a Peabody award winning NEWS division with the most Emmy-awarded nightly news broadcast; and VIRTUE, a global, full-service creative agency. VICE Media Group’s portfolio includes Refinery29, the leading global media and entertainment company focused on women; PULSE Films, a London-based next-generation production studio with outposts in Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Berlin; and i-D, a global digital and bimonthly magazine defining fashion and contemporary culture and design.

ABOUT IDEON MEDIA (www.ideonmedia.com)
Ideon Media is a Toronto-based digital firm that offers a wide spectrum of advertiser solutions with best-in-class publisher representation and wholly owned and operated sites, including SavvyMom.ca and 29Secrets.com. Ideon specializes in custom content programs created by our award-winning in-house editorial team, influencer programs, events, performance network, proprietary data, and analytics. Ideon Media reaches a combined total of 18.6 million Canadians (Comscore, March 2022).

For more information or interview requests: Shawn Phelan at shawn.phelan@ideonmedia.com

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