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Facebook Said to Consider Banning Political Ads – The New York Times

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SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook is considering banning political advertising across its network before the November general election, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions, after facing intense pressure for allowing hate speech and misinformation to flourish across its site.

The decision has not been finalized, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential, and the company could continue with its current political advertising policy. Discussions on potentially banning political ads have simmered since late last year, they said, as insiders weighed the idea while reaching out to political groups and candidates for feedback.

But the issue has come to the forefront in recent weeks, with the November election looming and as Facebook grapples with intensifying scrutiny over content posted to its platform. The core of the debate is whether banning political ads would help or harm “giving users a voice,” said the people with knowledge of the discussions. Stopping ads could stifle speech for some groups, they said, though allowing political ads to run could also allow more misinformation that could disenfranchise voters.

A Facebook spokesman declined to comment. Bloomberg News earlier reported the potential change in policy.

If a ban on political ads were to happen, it would be a reversal for Facebook and its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg. The social network has long allowed politicians and political parties to run ads across its network virtually unchecked, even if those ads contained falsehoods or other misinformation.

Mr. Zuckerberg has repeatedly said he would not police politicians’ ads and stated that the company was not an arbiter of truth because he believes in free speech. He has also said that removing political ads from the network could harm smaller, down-ballot candidates who are less well-funded than nationally prominent politicians. Political advertising makes up a negligible amount of Facebook’s revenue, he has said, so any decision would not be based on financial considerations.

But that hands-off approach has led to an intense backlash against the social network. Lawmakers, civil rights groups and Facebook’s own employees have assailed it for letting hate speech and misinformation fester on its site. Last month, the Biden presidential campaign said it would begin urging its supporters to demand that Facebook strengthen its rules against misinformation. More recently, advertisers such as Unilever and Coca-Cola have paused their advertising on the platform in protest.

That was punctuated this week by the release of a two-year audit of Facebook’s policies. The audit, conducted by civil rights experts and lawyers who were handpicked by the company, concluded that Facebook had not done enough to protect people on the platform from discriminatory posts and ads. In particular, they said, Facebook had been too willing to let politicians run amok on the site.

“Elevating free expression is a good thing, but it should apply to everyone,” they wrote. “When it means that powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules that everyone else does, a hierarchy of speech is created that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices.”

Mr. Zuckerberg has stuck to his free speech position even as other social media companies have taken more action against hate speech and inaccurate posts by politicians and their supporters. Twitter recently started labeling some of President Trump’s tweets as untruthful or glorifying violence, while Snap has said it would stop promoting Mr. Trump’s account on Snapchat because his speech could lead to violence. Twitch, the video game streaming site, suspended Mr. Trump’s account entirely, and the internet forum Reddit banned a community of Mr. Trump’s supporters for harassment.

Last year, Twitter said it would ban all political ads because the viral spread of misinformation presented challenges to civic discourse.

Vanita Gupta, chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said it was positive that Facebook was thinking through its options but that “what they need to have in place is a system that actually catches real-time voter misinformation.” She added, “Voter suppression is happening every day, and their inaction is going to have profound ramifications on the election.”

On Friday, some of the top Democratic outside groups that are major spenders on Facebook said they had not discussed with the company any potential banning of political ads closer to the election. A spokesman for the D.N.C. referred questions to a tweet from Nellwyn Thomas, the D.N.C.’s chief technology officer, who wrote on Friday: “We said it seven months ago to @Google and we will say it again to @Facebook: a blunt ads ban is not a real solution to disinformation on your platform.”

Democratic officials have argued that blanket bans or restrictions on political ads are not a sufficient way to root out disinformation, particularly as that kind of content can spread in closed Facebook groups. Banning ads also restricts important digital tools that campaigns have come to rely on for activities such as acquiring new donors and raising money to getting out the vote, they said.

Some Democrats added that the Trump campaign has a significant structural advantage on Facebook, having built up a community of more than 28.3 million followers. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has only around 2.1 million followers on the social network. Removing the ability to pay for ads would give Mr. Trump a far greater reach online than Mr. Biden, they said.

A spokesman for the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Facebook is by far the preferred and most popular platform for campaigns. The Trump campaign has spent more than $55 million on Facebook since 2018, and the Biden campaign has spent more than $25 million.

Mike Isaac reported from San Francisco, and Nick Corasaniti from New York.

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Timeline: Thailand's turbulent politics since 2014 military coup – The Journal Pioneer

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BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai protesters, led by student groups, are returning to the streets calling for the ousting of the government less than two years after a general election was held. One group has openly criticised the monarchy, in a rare show of defiance.

Here are the major events that have led up to these protests:

May 22, 2014 – Military stages a coup, ousting an elected government for the second time in a decade, citing the need to restore order in the face of street demonstrations against a populist government linked to telecoms tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, who himself was ousted in a coup in 2006.

Oct. 13, 2016 – Constitutional monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej dies after a 70-year reign. His son becomes King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

April 6, 2017 – A military-backed constitution is ratified after being approved in a referendum, with changes requested by King Vajiralongkorn that increased his powers, paving the way for an election.

Feb. 7, 2019 – The king rebukes his sister, Princess Ubolratana, over a Thaksin-linked party’s nomination of her as its candidate for prime minister. The party is later dissolved by a court before the election.

March 24, 2019 – General elections held amid complaints of cheating and vote-buying. Former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup and was then prime minister of a military government, heads a pro-army party that wins the most votes.

Nov. 20, 2019 – Court disqualifies rising opposition figure Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, from parliament prompting thousands to rally in Bangkok.

Jan. 12, 2020 – More than 12,000 people join an anti-government “Run Against Dictatorship” in the biggest show of dissent since the 2014 coup. A rival group holds a run in support of Prayuth.

Feb. 21 – Future Forward Party is banned for illegally taking a loan from its billionaire leader, Thanathorn, prompting small student protests on university campuses.

March 22 – Given restrictions to stop the novel coronavirus, student protests peter out but online criticism of government continues, with some also directing criticism at the king. The hashtag “#whydoweneedaking?” is posted more than 1 million times.

June 8 – Small protests held to call for an investigation into the disappearance of an exiled government critic in Cambodia.

June 15 – Prayuth warns political activists not to criticise the monarchy.

June 24 – Protesters gather to mark the anniversary of the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.

July 18 – About 2,500 protesters gather at Democracy Monument, one of the largest demonstrations since the coup, calling for the dissolution of parliament and new elections.

Aug. 4 – Speakers call for the monarchy’s power to be curbed at a rally attended by hundreds in Bangkok.

(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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'Sheep without a shepherd': Hong Kong churches torn by politics – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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By Yanni Chow

HONG KONG (Reuters) – When Hong Kong’s largely peaceful pro-democracy protests turned violent last summer, it drove a wedge through every section of society, dividing friends, families and also worshippers at its more than 1,500 churches.

The majority of people in Hong Kong follow some form of Buddhist, Taoist or other traditional Chinese religion, but the former British colony has about 900,000 practicing Christians, about 12% of the population according to government figures, split almost evenly between Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths. There is no consensus among them about the protests or China’s tightening grip on the city.

Canaan Wong, Blesson Chan and Kristy Chan, all in their mid-20s, are part of a group of about 40 people who in late June quit their positions as mentors and teachers at the evangelical Tung Fook Church, because they said they felt pressure from senior church leaders to keep quiet about political matters.

They said several pastors were told by church leaders to remove their names from public statements opposing a bill last year that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China, the issue which sparked the protests. The bill was eventually withdrawn. The three said they did not know which church leaders, or how many, were telling pastors to remove their names.

“It sends chills down our spine with such self-censoring,” said Wong. “This shows that in this church, politics clearly overrides religion and truth.”

The group wants the church to speak up on political issues, such as the new national security law enacted by China on June 30, which makes anything that Beijing regards as subversion or promoting independence punishable by life in prison.

“We are not asking for a yellow church,” said Blesson Chan, using the local shorthand for pro-democracy. “We just feel that church is a part of the society and should not be hiding up in an ivory tower.”

The group is set to have talks with leaders of the church, which is located next to the headquarters of China’s new national security agency in Hong Kong, about how to resolve their issues. A representative for Tung Fook church said it wanted to “enhance communication and eliminate misunderstanding” with the group.

If the church does not take a stand, the three said they feared it will end up resembling the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, a Protestant organization in mainland China that is closely controlled by the state and whose leaders staunchly support the Chinese Communist Party.

The National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China declined to comment.

Although China is an officially atheist state, it does allow certain state-supervised religious organizations, such as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, to operate. However, Beijing has closed down many so-called underground or house churches outside the state-controlled system and has imprisoned worshippers on the grounds that they are more loyal to their religion than to the Chinese state.

Chinese authorities did not respond to a request for comment.

‘TEAM JESUS’

On the other side of the divide is a 49-year-old police officer, who said he left the Christian and Missionary Alliance Tak Tsuen Church after 14 years last June, when he was abused by fellow worshippers who told him the police deserved to be attacked by protesters.

“As Christians, seeing the police bleed and wounded, how can you think it’s good and we deserve it?” said Sing, who asked to be identified by only one name. The church did not reply to a request for comment.

Shortly after, the policeman joined Trinity Theology Baptist Church, set up by former police officer Ricky Wong, 54, as a refuge for police who felt unwelcome elsewhere.

“I want to minimize my brothers’ and sisters’ hatred towards the yellow camp,” Wong told Reuters, referring to the general opposition among police officers to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

“When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” said Wong, quoting a passage from the Bible. “These people are also lambs.”

Wong said the 120 or so members of his church, which include many members of the uniformed services plus some doctors and teachers, pray at secret locations for fear of being targeted by pro-democracy activists.

Despite his concern about the yellow camp, Wong said he did not identify as blue, or pro-Beijing. Instead, he described his congregation as “Team Jesus.”

ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD

When China took back control of Hong Kong in 1997, it adopted the principle of “one country, two systems” and agreed to uphold the territory’s Basic Law, its de facto constitution, which includes the freedom of speech and religion.

That principle is now seen to be under threat after China imposed the new national security law, which supporters say will bring stability to the financial hub, but critics say will crush all forms of freedom.

Hong Kong’s government did not reply to a request for comment. It has said previously the new security law preserves “the basic rights and freedom lawfully enjoyed by law-abiding citizens.” The law makes no mention of religious groups.

Nevertheless, church leaders are treading cautiously.

A day before the law was imposed, Lo Hing-choi, president of the Baptist Convention of Hong Kong, the umbrella group for the city’s 164 Baptist congregations, posted a message critical of the law on the convention’s website, but took it down a day later.

“We expect the government to enact just laws to make society harmonious and stable,” said Lo in the withdrawn post, arguing that the new security law could not achieve long-term stability and that only a truly democratic system would lead to prosperity. 

Lo, 68, told Reuters he was unnerved by an anonymous caller who accused him of encouraging violence.

Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper controlled by the Chinese state, singled out Lo for what it called “hijacking the churches.” The newspaper did not reply to a request for comment.

“In churches now, different people, different political stances are constantly fighting,” said Wong. “Right now, I don’t think the rift in our society can be mended.”

(Reporting By Yanni Chow in Hong Kong; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Bill Rigby)

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The politics of fiscal relief is failing Americans – Financial Times

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In one of its worst-ever years in peacetime, the US has been able to nurse a consolation. As badly as it handled the Covid-19 pandemic, it was quick to soften the economic effects. Fiscal relief for a shuttered economy achieved bipartisan support in March. The $2tn Cares Act — worth roughly a tenth of national output — raised unemployment benefit, offered credit to companies and shored up state governments. Given the initial defeat of the 2008 bank bailout in Congress, none of this was inevitable.

Even this solace, it seems, is shortlived. Another round of fiscal intervention is clearly necessary. Continuing hardship, a surge in infections and the re-closing of many businesses that had opened put that beyond doubt. This time, however, the politics is failing.

Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on the size or duration of another bill. Among the unseen victims in this tiff are the recipients of the extra $600 in weekly unemployment aid that passed in March. It ran out on July 31. Democrats want to extend it until the end of the year, while Republicans cite the moral hazard of disincentivising work. Democrats propose $3.4tn in total stimulus. Republicans balk at that cost.

It is not frivolous to worry about intervention on this scale. It can have distorting effects and lead to waste. A return to some semblance of normality will involve unpicking this tapestry of fiscal transfers and lines of credit. Such is the nature of the crisis, however, that politicians must for now err on the side of action. Congress debates at leisure: the human cost in lay-offs and home-evictions mounts at pace. In haggling over aid, to the unemployed for instance, the bias of lawmakers should be towards generosity, and towards speed.

Ideally, it would be enough to appeal to conscience. If this is not enough, then lawmakers should remember that the jobless rolls include many of their own voters (they are simply too large not to) and that an election is less than three months off.

As well as the domestic suffering, Congress should also heed the implications for a world economy that America helps to drive. The first bill was an international event. If it transpires, this one will be, too. Jay Powell, chosen to chair the Federal Reserve by President Donald Trump and hardly a notorious socialist, urges against premature withdrawal of government support.

It would help matters if Mr Trump took a lead. He is less of an ideological free marketeer than many of his partisan colleagues, including Larry Kudlow, his economic adviser. Tellingly, the president made sure to associate himself with the original stimulus in the Cares Act. With the presidential election in the offing, he has an interest in what is proving to be popular intervention in the economy.

Of late, though, Mr Trump’s contribution has been to suggest a cut in payroll taxes. (“What payroll?” those without jobs will ask). He also repeated insinuations on Wednesday that Democrats want to bail out states they run. The first notion is one his own side say they will not support. The second just sours the cross-partisan mood that is needed for a deal.

In the end, this unprecedented intervention will have to be paid for through some blend of tax, borrowing and cuts to spending. Politicians who dread the growth of government, or of the deficit, should certainly set out a path to a more “normal” state of fiscal affairs. In the meantime, however, a devastated economy needs their help. An often traduced Washington salvaged some of its reputation in the spring. It is close to forfeiting it all over again.

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