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YouTube Shuts Down 210 Accounts Tied to “Influence Operations” Against Hong Kong

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  • YouTube has removed 210 channels that engaged in “coordinated influence operations” against the protest movement in Hong Kong.
  • Earlier this week, Twitter and Facebook took actions to suspend similar accounts that they said were connected to a state-backed operation controlled by China.
  • All three companies have recently come under fire for running anti-protest ads sponsored by Chinese government-funded media outlets.

YouTube Accounts Suspended

Google announced Thursday that it had suspended 210 YouTube accounts tied to a “coordinated influence” campaign against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The move comes just days after Twitter and Facebook both said they had shuttered similar accounts linked to a state-backed operation launched by China to undermine the protest movement in Hong Kong that started over a proposed extradition bill.

Google, which owns YouTube, made the announcement in a blog post.

“Earlier this week, as part of our ongoing efforts to combat coordinated influence operations, we disabled 210 channels on YouTube when we discovered channels in this network behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong,” the statement said. 

“This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter,” it continued.

“We found use of VPNs and other methods to disguise the origin of these accounts and other activity commonly associated with coordinated influence operations.”

Twitter and Facebook Suspend Accounts

In a blog post on Monday, Twitter disclosed that it had found “a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong.”

Twitter said that it had suspended 936 accounts “originating from within” China, that were “deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.”

Also on Monday, Facebook announced that it had “removed seven Pages, three Groups and five Facebook accounts involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior as part of a small network that originated in China and focused on Hong Kong.”

“The individuals behind this campaign engaged in a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake accounts […] to manage Pages posing as news organizations, post in Groups, disseminate their content, and also drive people to off-platform news sites,” the post continued.

Facebook also included examples of the content that had been posted on some of the pages it removed.

One post translated by Facebook compared the protestors to Islamic State militants. “Protesters. ISIS fighters What’s the difference?” the post read. Other posts referred to the activists as “cockroaches.” 

Google, however, did not explicitly say in its blog post if it had found that the Chinese government was behind the now removed accounts. 

A Google spokesperson had no comment when asked by BBC if the company agreed with Twitter and Facebook’s findings that the suspended accounts were part of a state-backed misinformation campaign to undermine the demonstrations in Hong Kong.

Platforms Slammed for Chinese Ads

Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have also been criticized for running anti-protest advertisements from state-owned Chinese media companies.

Twitter responded to these complaints Monday by announcing that it would no longer sell ads to state-controlled news media outlets. 

Facebook did not indicate that it was changing its ad sales policies, though a spokesman did tell Reuters that the company will “continue to look at [our] policies as they relate to state-owned media.” 

Facebook’s statement comes after BuzzFeed News reported that they had found three ads from Chinese state-owned media on Facebook downplaying the human rights abuses occurring at Muslim internment camps run by the Chinese government.

YouTube also said it was not planning to change it’s ad policies, but told Reuters that “it would soon be expanding its labeling of state-backed media outlets in the region.”

According to Reuters, while YouTube places disclaimers on government-funded networks from all over the world, including several Chinese outlets, it does not give that disclaimer for the Chinese newspapers People’s Daily, China Daily, and Global Times, all of which are funded by the Chinese government.

Protests Continue

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, planned demonstrations continued Friday as protestors formed a human chain that reportedly spanned more than 20 miles.

The demonstration was planned for the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way, a peaceful demonstration against Soviet occupation where an estimated two million people formed a 372-mile-long human chain across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Friday’s event comes as part of a series of other demonstrations planned for the 12th consecutive week of protests in the city. It also follows a march last Sunday that protest leaders said drew 1.7 million people in one of the biggest shows of support since the movement began.

Despite escalating clashes with the police and mounting pressure from China, which has said it is not afraid to use force against the protestors in Hong Kong, the activists do not appear to have plans to stop their efforts any time soon.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (BBC) (CNN)

Business

Walmart Ends E-Cigarette Sales

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  • Walmart announced its plans to stop selling e-cigarettes on Friday.
  • The company said it made its decision in light of the “uncertainty” regarding the products on local and federal levels.
  • Federal health officials have growing concerns about the products and have potentially linked over 500 illnesses and eight deaths to them.

Walmart Ends E-Cigarette Sales

Walmart plans to end its sale of e-cigarettes due to ongoing concerns about the products.

“Given the growing federal, state and local regulatory complexity and uncertainty regarding e-cigarettes, we plan to discontinue the sale of electronic nicotine delivery products at all Walmart and Sam’s Club U.S. locations,” the company said Friday in a confirmed internal memo obtained by CNBC.

National Concerns About E-Cigarettes

This decision comes as both New York and Michigan have banned the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. President Donald Trump has also suggested his interest in banning flavored products. 

Recently, federal health officials have become increasingly concerned about their potential link to serious illnesses. They investigating 530 cases of people who have contracted vaping related illnesses. Eight people have died from diseases believed to be related to vaping since August. 

This is not the first decision of this sort the company has made this year. Back in May, Walmart said it would raise its minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 to prevent possible sales to minors.

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (Fox Business) (Engadget)

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School Shooting-Themed Hoodies Slammed by Gun Violence Victims

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  • A fashion brand faced criticism for designing hoodies that featured bullet holes along with the names of schools that were sites of some of the nation’s deadliest school shootings. 
  • Bstroy, a streetwear line known for rebellious designs, said it wanted to make a bold statement about gun violence “while also empowering the survivors of tragedy through storytelling in the clothes.”
  • While the hoodies were just created for their New York fashion show, the designers are now considering selling the sweatshirts despite widespread outrage from victims.

School Shooting Sweatshirts 

A fashion brand known as Bstroy sparked outrage on social media after designing school shooting-themed hoodies for a show during New York Fashion Week.

The brand’s latest collection, designed by Brick Owens and Duey Catorze, featured distressed hoodies with the names of schools that were all impacted by gun violence and even included bullet hole details throughout each piece.  

The schools included in the show were Stoneman Douglas, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Columbine, all sites of some of the nation’s deadliest school shootings. 

Backlash From Victims 

Photos from the runway posted to Instagram over the weekend were quickly met with a wave of backlash from commenters who identified themselves as shooting survivors and friends or relatives of gun violence victims. 

Comments below Instagram images posted to Bstroy and Owens’ accounts.

A spokesperson for the Vicky Soto Memorial Fund, which was created after teacher Victoria Soto was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, took to Twitter to call the designs “absolutely horrific.”

“A company is [making] light of our pain and other’s pain for fashion,” she continued. “Selling sweatshirts with our name and bullet holes. Unbelievable.”

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jamie died during the Stoneman Douglas shooting also tweeted, “This has me so upset. If any of my followers no anybody involved with this clothing line, please ask them to stop it immediately.”

Shawn Sherlock, the aunt of another Stoneman Douglas victim named Gina Rose Montalto, said the company “should be ashamed of taking advantage of [her niece’s] death to make money.”

More About Bstroy

Bstroy, which describes itself as a “Neo-Native Menswear Design House,” was featured in a New York Times piece published last week about the next generation of high-end streetwear. The Times specifically pointed to the brand’s rebellious takes on classic designs.

They’re probably most well known for their double-edge jeans, which essentially look like two pairs of jeans stitched together at the ankle holes, as well as their Nike shoes dipped in concrete. 

@bstroy.us
Source: Theface.com

According to the paper, the brand has also designed “graphic T-shirts that nod to preppy interests like tennis and fencing, but with the sports gear replaced by guns.”

@bstroy.us

“We are making violent statements,” one designer told The Times. “That’s for you to know who we are, so we can have a voice in the market. But eventually that voice will say things that everyone can wear.”

Bstroy’s Response 

Late Tuesday, Owens posted a handout from the show on Instagram that read: “Sometimes life can be painfully ironic. Like the irony of dying violently in a place you considered to be a safe, controlled environment, like school. We are reminded all the time of life’s fragility, shortness, and unpredictability yet we are also reminded of its infinite potential.”

In an email sent to the Today show, Owens explained that he and Catorze were trying to make a bold statement. “We wanted to make a comment on gun violence and the type of gun violence that needs preventative attention and what its origins are, while also empowering the survivors of tragedy through storytelling in the clothes,” the designer wrote.

“Also built into the device is the fact that our image as young, black males has not been traditionally awarded credit for introducing avant-garde ideas. So many people have assumed our message to be lazy just because of what they’ve been taught about black men. These hoodies were made with all of these intentions in mind, and to explore all of these societal issues. Not just the surface layer of gun violence in schools but also the different ways that we relate to each other and the dated ideas that still shape the assumptions we make about each other,” he wrote.

The designers also spoke to The Cut about the response to the collection and said, “People get the opportunity to form their opinions before they get all the information and here we see the internal desire of society rear its head.” 

“People seem to want to release hateful energy as a default,” they added. 

The designers then explained that they are now considering whether or not to put the hoodies up for sale, saying: “The hoodies have only been shown not sold and the school shooting hoodies were initially intended to be just for the show and not to sell but that may change now.”

The backlash surrounding the designs comes just as the nonprofit organization Sandy Hook Promise released an intense video about gun violence in schools. 

See what others are saying: (The Cut) (The Washington Post) (Today)

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Nearly 50,000 Workers Strike Against General Motors

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  • GM Employees are striking for the second day after contract negotiations between their union and company did not meet their demands. 
  • GM did give an offer after negotiations, but it was not satisfactory to the nearly 50,000 employees, who are asking for higher wages, better healthcare, a share of profits, job security, and more.
  • Many of the employees say they will commit to the strike until the company meets their requirements, however, others are concerned about living off the estimated $250 of weekly assistance pay while the strike carries on.

Employees Strike

As General Motors and the United Automobile Workers union resume negotiations, GM employees are entering their second day of nationwide strikes.

Fair wages, affordable healthcare, fairer profit shares, job security, and a path to permanent employment for temps are all on the list of demands for the close to 50,000 GM workers striking throughout nine states today. This is the first strike in the U.S. auto industry since 2007, which was also led by GM workers. Striking began Sunday at midnight after a weekend of failed negotiations between GM and UAW. 

Their 2015 Collective Bargaining Agreement expired Saturday night, but the UAW declined to extend it. After negotiations ended, the UAW’s Vice President, Terry Dittes released a statement standing by his commitment to worker’s needs. 

“While we are fighting for better wages, affordable quality health care, and job security, GM refuses to put hard-working Americans ahead of their record profits of $35 billion in North America over the last three years,” he said. “We are united in our efforts to get an agreement our members and their families deserve.”

GM extended an offer to its employees that included over $7 billion in investments and 5,400 jobs. The deal also included wage or lump sum increases for every year of the four-year contract, an improved profit-sharing formula, and additional forms of health benefits.

Employees rejected that offer and went forward with their strike after this proposal, forcing GM to resume negotiations with UAW on Monday. 

“Our goal remains to reach an agreement that builds a stronger future for our employees and our business,” GM said in a statement announcing the continued talks. 

Potential Consequences of Strike

The strike does not come without potential consequences, not just for GM, but for the employees as well. Reports say GM could lose up to $90 million a day during the strike, but employees also stand to lose a lot. 

According to a Fox Business report, GM employees will have to wait 15 days to receive their assistance pay, which comes out to $250 a week. This barely covers rent in Detroit, a city that hosts many employees of the company. 

One Detroit-area employee, Patricia Brown, told the outlet that one of her main fears is “that we might be here for a while… and we can’t make it on $250 a week. You know, GM might not want to budge. So I’m just here trying to prove a point, that’s it.”

Still, some see the risk to be worth the reward. Ray Carter-Wilson, a single father also striking in the Detroit area told CNN he is comfortable striking for a long time as long as it all works out. 

“I understand the difficulty of the negotiations and the importance of them,” he said. “This being a lengthy strike, I’m fine with it as long as everything gets ironed out and is fair for everyone.” 

Politicians Support Strike

Strikers also have support from prominent public officials. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) said she was “inspired” by the workers. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also pointed out the wage inequality at the company while adding that he stood with the strike. 

See what others are saying: (Fox Business) (CNN) (The Hill)

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