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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)

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Apple Card Faces Investigation After Accusations of Gender Discrimination

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  • A popular Twitter thread has accused Apple Card, which is put out in partnership with Goldman Sachs, of gender bias. 
  • A programmer said he got 20 times the credit card limit as his wife, despite the fact that they file joint tax returns and the fact that she has a higher individual credit score than he does. 
  • Others said they faced similar problems, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who now holds a ceremonial role at the company.
  • Goldman Sachs insisted that gender is not a factor in card applications and approvals, but New York’s Department of Financial Services said it will investigate.

Thread Accusing Apple Card of Gender Bias Goes Viral

The New York Department of Financial Services says it will be looking into potential gender discrimination from Apple Card after several people, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, accused it of having a bias.

Problems with Apple Card, which is made in partnership with Goldman Sachs, first made their way to the surface when programmer and author David Heinemeier Hansson posted a twitter thread accusing it of sexism.  He wrote that it approved him of a higher limit than his wife.

According to Hansson, even after his wife paid off her card in full, she was not allowed to spend until the next billing period.

He initially said that customer service was overall unhelpful when trying to address the problem. One day after posting his thread, however, he followed up to say that his wife’s limit was bumped up.

As for his wife’s experience with Apple, he says she spoke to two representatives. He claims that the first said it was not discrimination and blamed it on the algorithm.

The second encouraged his wife to check her credit score again. Hansson and his wife both ended up checking their scores and learned that his wife actually had a higher score than he did. 

He continued to share his frustrations with this algorithm and its lack of transparency.

Steve Wozniak and Others Back Up the Claim 

Once this thread blew up, many others said they had experienced a similar problem.

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Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who now holds a ceremonial role at the company, also replied to Hansson. Wozniak said his wife got ten times less than he did, despite them having shared assets and accounts. 

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He also said his wife had difficulty with customer service, and could not use her card after paying it off as well.

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In a Sunday interview with Bloomberg, Wozniak elaborated on his concerns about Apple Card and the algorithm behind it. 

“These sorts of unfairnesses bother me and go against the principle of truth. We don’t have transparency on how these companies set these things up and operate,” he told the outlet. “Our government isn’t strong enough on the issues of regulation. Consumers can only be represented by the government because the big corporations only represent themselves.”

“Algos obviously have flaws,” he added. “A huge number of people would say, ‘We love our technology but we are no longer in control.’ I think that’s the case.”

Goldman Sachs and New York’s DFS Respond

While some did respond to both Hansson and Wozniak saying they did not experience this, tweets accusing Apple Card of gender bias blew up, prompting several responses. 

Goldman Sachs released a statement on Sunday saying that, “In all cases, we have not and will not make decisions based on factors like gender.”

“With Apple Card, your account is individual to you; your credit line is yours and you establish your own direct credit history,” the statement read. “Customers do not share a credit line under the account of a family member or another person by getting a supplemental card.”

They also said that applications are evaluated independently, looking at things like income, credit score, and debt management.

Linda Lacewell, the Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services said she would be looking into the matter. 

“We will work to investigate what may have gone wrong, and if the algorithm used by Apple Card did indeed promote unlawful discrimination we will take appropriate action,” she wrote in a Medium post on Sunday. “But this is not just about looking into one algorithm — DFS wants to work with the tech community to make sure consumers nationwide can have confidence that the algorithms that increasingly impact their ability to access financial services do not discriminate and instead treat all individuals equally and fairly no matter their sex, color of skin, or sexual orientation.”

She encouraged consumers who have been affected by this, as well as tech leaders who have commentary on it, to reach out to New York’s DFS.  

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (The Verge) (Bloomberg)

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Instagram Will Test Hiding Likes in the US Starting This Week

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  • Instagram will start testing a feature this week that hides like counts on posts for some users in the United States. 
  • The feature has already been piloted in countries including Australia, Ireland, and Canada.
  • Some say the change will help improve people’s well-being and allow them to focus on the content they post. 
  • Others doubt Instagram’s intentions, are concerned about its potential impact on businesses, and have suggested that features in the comment section are more of a problem. 

Instagram CEO Announces Change 

Instagram likes will disappear from public view for some accounts in the U.S. this week in an effort to help users focus more on content.

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri officially announced the long-rumored plan at a Wired tech event in San Francisco on Friday and followed it up with a Twitter post. 

“It’s about young people,” Mosseri said at the Wired25 conference. “The idea is to try to ‘depressurize’ Instagram, make it less of a competition and give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them.”

Mosseri added, “We will make decisions that hurt the business [in the short term] if they’re good for people’s well-being and health — because it has to be good for the business over the long-term.”

The change shouldn’t come as a complete surprise since Mosseri has talked about making this move in the past. In fact, Instagram has already been testing hidden likes for a few months in places like Canada, Brazil, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand, Italy, and Australia. 

However, Instagram won’t be getting rid of likes altogether. Users will still be able to view their likes themselves, they just won’t be displayed publically to their followers anymore. 

Reactions to the Change 

The decision has received pretty mixed responses from users. Many are concerned about how this will impact marketing strategies for businesses, influencers, or emerging artists that use the platform for promotion. However, Karen Civil, a social media strategist, argued that influencers shouldn’t pay too much attention to how many likes their posts get.

Many others have supported the move, as they believe it will stop people from allowing likes to control their content. Some, like Kim Kardashian-West, have specifically focused more on how this move could impact people’s well-being. 

“As far as mental health… I think taking the likes away and taking that aspect away from [Instagram] would be really beneficial for people,” she said Wednesday at the New York Times’ DealBook Conference ahead of the official announcement. 

“I know the Instagram team has been having a bunch of conversations with people to get everyone’s take on that and they’re taking it really seriously, and that makes me happy,” she added.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also praised the move on Saturday by retweeted Mosseri’s post and adding, “Great step.” 

Meanwhile, Rapper Cardi B argued that the comment section should be a bigger concern. In a video posted to Instagram, she said she noticed toxic behavior increasing on the platform after users were given the option to like and reply to comments. 

“If anything is affecting Instagram right now, I really feel it’s the way the comments have been done or have been changing these past few years.”

“Because I feel people been saying the most weirdest shit, been starting the craziest arguments, been starting to race bait, all because of comments, because they want to get to the top, they want to get the most reactions.”


Fellow artist Nicki Minaj also chimed in on the news, vowing to stop using the platform altogether. 

She argued that the move is bad for independent artists who use Instagram for power and exposure. She also suggested, among other things, that Instagram might be hiding likes to manipulate what posts users see on their feed.

A Wave of Demetrication 

Instagram appears to be the latest platform experimenting with what many describe as “demetrication,” where social media companies reduce the importance of public metrics. 

Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, has also been testing hiding likes on its platform for users in Australia. Earlier this year, YouTube changed the way it displays subscriber counts. 

On several occasions, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey has hinted that he too was reconsidering whether the platform should publicize metrics. Twitter denied that it plans to remove likes and retweets but did say it was looking at the features as part of wider moves to “improve the health” of conversations happening on the site. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Business Insider) (CBS News)

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Deadspin Editor Fired After Ignoring “Stick to Sports” Order

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  • Deadspin’s Interim Editor-in-Chief Barry Petchesky was fired after he disobeyed an order from the executive director of the site’s parent company, G/O Media.
  • Though the site has often been known to post non-sports related stories, the order instructed Deadspin to only post sports-related content moving forward.
  • At the same time, employees are embroiled in another dispute with G/O Media after it implemented a new auto-play ad feature on the site.

Editor-in-Chief Doesn’t “Stick to Sports”

Deadspin’s Interim Editor-in-Chief Barry Petchesky announced he had been fired Tuesday morning after disobeying an executive who ordered the site to only publish sports-related stories.

Deadspin, an online sports news website owned by G/O Media, has been known to occasionally break away from sports on its site, so much so that it’s become a running joke, even receiving its own category on the home page and merchandise with the label “Stick to Sports.”

Monday, however, G/O Media’s recently-appointed editorial director Paul Maidment ordered employees to refrain from writing non-sports related stories in the future. 

“To create as much great sports journalism as we can requires a 100% focus of our resources on sports,” Maidment said in a statement to employees. “And it will be the sole focus. Deadspin will write only about sports and that which is relevant to sports in some way.”

“Where such subjects touch on sports, they are fair game for Deadspin,” the statement continues. “Where they do not, they are not. We have plenty of other sites that write about politics, pop culture, the arts, and the rest, and they’re the appropriate place for such work.”

Instead of “sticking to sports,” however, Petchesky did the exact opposite by converting the website’s front page into a collection of non-sports related stories. Staff then tagged those stories with the label “Stick to Sports.”

Deadspin became part of G/O Media in April after being bought by the private equity firm Great Hill Partners. Before the acquisition, the site was part of the Gizmodo Media Group owned by Univision. In the deal, G/O Media also acquired sites like Gizmodo, The Onion, Kotaku, and Jezebel.

The Concourse,” Deadspin’s non-sports category, features everything from political commentary to an annual “Hater’s Guides to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog.” The site has also dipped into video game news, one 2014 article receiving high praise for its deep dive into sexism and harassment in the gamer community.

In fact, according to former editor Timothy Burke, those stories were some of the site’s most-viewed, despite the fact that The New York Times reports the section only made up about one of every 50 posts.

Fallout After Petchesky’s Firing

About thirty minutes after Petcheksy’s firing, the Gizmodo Media Group Union confirmed the termination, adding, “This will not stand.”

The following day, the site’s founder, Will Leitch, addressed Petchesky’s ousting.

“There is also no more Deadspin person than Barry,” Leitch said. “He has been with the site its entire history. He covered the Westminster Dog Show for Deadspin in 2007 WHILE A JOURNALISM STUDENT.”

By Tuesday evening, the site’s main page reverted back to sports stories, though as of Wednesday afternoon, several non-sports stories still remain on the home page, as well. Following the change, GMG Union tweeted again, saying Deadspin staffers did not play any role in the new changes to the front page.

The New York Times then reported that two sources with “full knowledge of the situation” said Maidment was in direct control of Deadspin on Tuesday.

The same day, senior Editor Diana Moskovitz announced that she had given her two-weeks notice the week prior.

“What happened today — and everything that preceded it — are among the reasons I decided to move on,” she said.

The situation follows Deadspin’s former Editor-in-Chief Megan Greenwell leaving the site in August after disagreeing with several top executives, including Maidment.

In response to revolt, Maidment issued another statement.

“I sent a memo to Deadspin staff stating that our sports site should be focused on sports coverage,” he said. “As I made clear in that note, sports touches on nearly every aspect of life — from politics to business to pop culture and more.”

We believe that Deadspin reporters and editors should go after every conceivable story, as long as it has something to do with sports,” he continued. “We are sorry that some on the Deadspin staff don’t agree with that editorial direction and refuse to work within that incredibly broad mandate.”

Leitch then accused G/O Media executives of potentially attempting to ruin to the website.

“The only way you could buy Deadspin and say, ‘Here are some edicts and now everyone follow them,’ is if you never read Deadspin in the last 10 years,” he said. It feels like they are either trying to kill the site and squeeze whatever money they can out of it or get rid of the entire staff. Or both because there’s no sense they have any plan.”

The Intersection of Sports and Politics

The situation with Deadspin and G/O Media has breached another debate: how sports news outlets cover other topics like politics, especially as the two become increasingly related.

According to Maidment, the staff at Deadspin has full range to talk about sports-related issues like the NCAA saying it will allow student-athletes to profit from their names, images, and likenesses or about the debate around the NBA, China, and Hong Kong

But there’s also been some concern that the site’s freedom to publish such stories may be stripped away in the future.

“If [the] past year has shown anything, it’s that when a company says ‘stick to sports, except when there’s a connection to politics,’ what they mean is ‘stick to sports,’”  Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay said. “It’s meant to have a chilling effect. This is like buying a hat and wearing it as a shoe.”

Auto-Play Ad Complaints

Deadspin employees and employees from the other sites have also expressed discontent with another decision by G/O Media. Last week, G/O Media landed a seven-figure advertising deal, but employees were reportedly not happy with the move because that deal includes sound-on, auto-play video ads.

Employees claimed to the sites had all received a ton of negative feedback from their readers, which is why, on Monday, they directly addressed these concerns to their audiences.

In a series of identical articles, they said that they were “as upset with the current state of our site’s user experience as you are.” The posts then went on to say that none of the individual sites had any control over those ads.

Source: Deadspin

“Editorial staffers at all levels of this company have made our concerns known in various conversations with members of G/O Media’s senior leadership team,” the article concluded. “We think it would be good for them to hear from you, as well.”

“This isn’t what any of us signed up for,” The Daily Beast quoted one staffer as saying. “It’s amateurish and pushing longtime readers away and making the sites difficult to enjoy.”

Those posts were then deleted shortly after they went up. 

“The GMG Union has been informed that posts across our websites asking for reader feedback on an autoplay ad campaign were taken down by management,” GMG Union said in a tweet. “We condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”

The union followed up Tuesday by claiming that G/O Media executives had disabled the forwarding address to the email provided in those posts.

See what others are saying: (Vice) (Wall Street Journal) (The Wrap)

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