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Reddit, YouTube, and Twitch Crack Down on Trump and Far-Right Extremists

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  • Reddit banned nearly 2,000 subreddits on Monday, including r/The_Donald, arguing it violated its new policies on hate speech, among other rules.
  • The same day, Twitch temporarily suspended President Trump’s account over two videos from rallies where he made racist remarks against the Latinx community– marking the first time one of the president’s personal accounts has been suspended.
  • YouTube also permanently banned several accounts belonging to white supremacists including David Duke, Stefan Molyneux, and Richard Spencer.

Reddit Announces Bans

Reddit, Twitch, and YouTube all took steps to crack down on President Donald Trump and right-wing accounts Monday.

In a post on the platform, Reddit announced that it had rolled out several new content rules, including updates to its policies that more explicitly ban hate speech.

“Communities and users that promote hate based on identity or vulnerability will be banned,” the post said.

As a result of those new rules, Reddit also announced that it was banning about 2,000 subreddits, notably including r/The_Donald, the main forum for Trump supporters on the platform.

The subreddit was created in 2015 when Trump was running for president and quickly became a very significant online base for him, boasting just under 800,000 users. While it does not have an official connection to Trump, he has been known to share memes from it, and in July 2016, when he was running for president, he did an Ask Me Anything.

The page has long been accused of sharing hate speech, conspiracies theories, and promoting violence. Over the years, Reddit has cracked down on the page multiple times for violating its policies.

Last year, the company “quarantined” the page⁠— meaning it was placed behind a warning screen⁠— over comments that Reddit said incited violence. Even before that, the platform had also prevented posts on the subreddit from reaching the front page.

Recently, the page’s moderators and much of its audience have moved to other websites that are similar to Reddit but have fewer content rules, and as a result, the forum has been largely inactive for about three months.

In their post, Reddit noted that the “vast majority” of the 2,000 subreddits they banned were already inactive. The post also went on to explain why they banned the r/The_Donald subreddit.

“All communities on Reddit must abide by our content policy in good faith,” it said. “We banned r/The_Donald because it has not done so, despite every opportunity. The community has consistently hosted and upvoted more rule-breaking content than average, […] antagonized us and other communities, […] and its mods have refused to meet our most basic expectations. Until now, we’ve worked in good faith to help them preserve the community as a space for its users—through warnings, mod changes, quarantining, and more.”

Notably, Reddit also said that it had banned the subreddit r/ChapoTrapHouse—which is a spinoff of the popular left-wing podcast—for similar reasons.

“Though smaller, r/ChapoTrapHouse was banned for similar reasons: They consistently host rule-breaking content and their mods have demonstrated no intention of reining in their community,” it said.

Twitch Suspends Trump

Around the same time, as Reddit’s post, Twitch also announced that it was temporarily suspending President Trump’s Twitch account for “hateful conduct.”

In statements to the media, the company noted two recent streams uploaded by Trump that violated their rules. The first was a rebroadcast of his famous 2015 campaign rally where he made racist comments about Mexico sending the U.S. rapists who bring drugs and crime.

The other was a broadcast of Trump’s rally a few weeks ago in Tulsa, where he talked about a “very tough hombre” breaking into a woman’s house in the middle of the night, saying that was something that happened a lot.

“Hateful conduct is not allowed on Twitch,” a spokesperson said in a statement to the media. “In line with our policies, President Trump’s channel has been issued a temporary suspension from Twitch for comments made on stream, and the offending content has been removed.”

While the company did not say how long the suspension would last, the move is still highly significant as it marks the first time ever that one of Trump’s personal social media accounts has been suspended.

YouTube Bans White Supremacists

Later on Monday, YouTube too took steps to address hate speech and announced that it was permanently banning several prominent white supremacist channels, including ones belonging to former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, podcaster Stefan Molyneux, and white supremacist activist Richard Spencer.

In a statement, the platform said that the channels repeatedly violated its rules by claiming that members of protected groups were inferior, among other violations.

“We have strict policies prohibiting hate speech on YouTube, and terminate any channel that repeatedly or egregiously violates those policies,” a spokesperson said. “After updating our guidelines to better address supremacist content, we saw a 5x spike in video removals and have terminated over 25,000 channels for violating our hate speech policies.”

These bans come almost exactly a year after YouTube announced that it would start cracking down on supremacist channels. The company, however, has already received pushback for the move.

In a tweet Monday, Spencer said that he would appeal the suspension, which he described as “part of a systemic, coordinated effort.”

Molyneux also took to Twitter to voice his displeasure, writing that that YouTube “just suspended the largest philosophy conversation the world has ever known.”

A Broader Shift

The steps taken by Reddit, Twitch, and YouTube are part of this recent shift many social media platforms have begun to make.

Most companies have long-embraced a more hands-off approach and said they want to remain neutral, but now, more and more are changing their tones— especially when it comes to hate speech and President Trump.

Twitter has now placed labels on multiple Trump tweets for sharing misinformation or inciting violence. Recently, Snapchat said it will not promote Trump’s account anymore because his posts can be seen as encouraging violence.

At the same time, Facebook, the biggest social media platform in the world, has consistently refused to address these issues. While the company has claimed over and over again it does not want to police speech, numerous critics have said that they are simply allowing hate speech on the platform.

With so many other social media companies beginning to make changes, Facebook is now seeing unprecedented backlash for its refusal to follow suit.

Over the last week or so, a steadily growing number of major advertisers like Starbucks, Honda, Verizon, Coca-Cola, and more have joined a boycott of Facebook over its policies on hate speech and misinformation on the platform.

The move comes after civil rights groups pressured companies to stop paying for advertisements on Facebook, specifically, because the company has allowed posts from Trump that other platforms like Twitter have flagged as inciting violence.

Despite the numerous requests—and the fact that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly lost $7 billion last week because of the boycott— the company has refused to take any action in removing the content.

On Friday, Facebook responded to the boycott by announcing it will expand its hate speech policies and label posts from politicians who violate rules as “newsworthy.” However, those labels do not explain why the posts are inaccurate or hateful, and many say the company is just going to label hate speech from political figures “newsworthy” without taking any real steps.

Currently, it is unclear if the boycott has had any real, lasting impact, especially because some of the companies are only boycotting for a month. Because Facebook is such a huge incredibly rich company, losing those advertisers is probably just a drop in the bucket.

The issue of political speech is something Zuckerberg has remained really firm on, and while it seems unlikely he will waiver in any meaningful absent some massive event, it will be interesting to see how other companies like YouTube and Twitter continue to change.

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

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SpaceX Boosts a Record 143 Satellites Into Orbit With Rideshare Launch

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  • SpaceX sent 143 satellites into orbit Sunday, breaking the record for most satellites lofted into space on a single launch.
  • It marked the first of SpaceX’s dedicated rideshare program, “SmallSat Rideshare,” which splits up the payload of the rocket launch among multiple customers who want to send satellites of their own. 
  • However, the new launch has also triggered conversations about the increasing number of satellites congesting low-earth orbit.
  • Experts fear that overcrowding there could create a rise in potentially catastrophic orbital collisions and dangerous levels of space debris. Now, many are calling for regulations to be put in place.

SpaceX Breaks Record

SpaceX launched 143 satellites into orbit Sunday, setting a new world record for most satellites sent into space on a single rocket.

The mission, dubbed Transporter-1, surpassed the previous 104-satellite mark set in February 2017 by India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

The launch was the first of SpaceX’s dedicated rideshare program, “SmallSat Rideshare,” which is essentially a carpool for satellites.

Ridesharing efforts are a recent innovation that came in response to growing demands for low-cost access to space by smaller companies and institutions. The idea is to split up the payload of the rocket launch among multiple customers who want to send satellites of their own.

It could prove to be a profitable new venture for SpaceX, which charges a relatively low $1 million to launch a 440-pound satellite and $5,000 for every 2.2 pounds above that base level.

On this latest mission, SpaceX launched 133 satellites for a broad variety of government and private customers, as well as 10 of its own Starlink satellites.

Concerns of Overcrowding and Need for Regulation

While widely celebrated by smaller institutions and companies focused on space, the launch has also triggered conversations about the increasing number of satellites congesting low-earth orbit.

Experts fear that overcrowding in that area could create a rise in potentially catastrophic orbital collisions and dangerous levels of space debris. Now, many are calling for regulations to be put in place.

“Given the recent increase in non-traditional commercial space operations, including satellite servicing, space tourism and the deployment of large numbers of satellites to provide worldwide internet access, updates to the existing roles and responsibilities may be appropriate,” NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel wrote in its 2020 annual report.

“As things stand today, there are no clear lines of authority for directing coherence among the many entities that operate in space.”

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (CNN) (Quartz)

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FDA Recalls 11,000 Ice Cream Containers and Sportsmix Pet Food Products

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  • Over 11,000 cartons of Weis Markets ice cream were recalled after a customer discovered an “intact piece of metal equipment” inside a 48-ounce container of the brand’s Cookies and Cream flavor. 
  • The FDA also expanded a recall of Sportsmix pet food over concerns that the products may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins.
  • So far, more than 70 dogs have died and more than 80 pets have become sick after eating Sportsmix food. The agency recommends taking your pet to a veterinarian if they have eaten the recalled products, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

Metal Pieces in Weis Ice Cream Cause Massive Recall

The Food and Drug Administration announced two major product recalls this week following serious consumer complaints.

The first came Sunday when the agency revealed that over 11,000 cartons of Weis Market ice cream were recalled. “The products may be contaminated with extraneous material, specifically metal filling equipment parts,” the FDA’s statement explained.

At least one customer discovered an “intact piece of metal equipment” inside a 48-ounce container of the brand’s Cookies and Cream flavor.

Those containers were available in 197 Weis Market grocery stores, but they have already been pulled from shelves. The products have a sell-by date of October 21, 2020, and customers who purchased the product can return it for a full refund.

Along with removing 10,869 units of the Cookies and Cream containers, the brand also recalled 502 3-gallon bulk containers of Klein’s Vanilla Dairy Ice Cream.

Those bulk containers were not for retail sale, but were instead sold to one retail establishment in New York and have since been removed.

Sportsmix Recall Follows 70 Pet Deaths, 80 Illnesses

The second major recall came Tuesday when the FDA expanded a recall of Sportmix dog food.

According to the agency, the product may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins – toxins produced by the Aspergillus flavus mold, which can grow on corn and other grains used as ingredients in pet food.

As of Tuesday, more than 70 pets have died and more than 80 have gotten sick after eating Sportsmix pet food. Not all the cases have been officially confirmed as aflatoxin poisoning at this time. This count also may not reflect the total number of pets affected.

For now, the FDA is asking pet owners and veterinary professionals to stop using the impacted Sportsmix products that have an expiration date on or before July 9, 2022, and have “05” in the date or lot code.

More detailed information about the recalled products can be found on the FDA’s announcement page.

Pets experiencing aflatoxin poisoning may have symptoms like sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice, and/or diarrhea. In some cases, this toxicity can cause long-term liver issues without showing any symptoms. Because of this, pet owners are being advised to take their animals to a veterinarian if they have eaten the recalled products, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

There is currently no evidence that pet owners who have handled the affected food are at risk of aflatoxin poisoning. Still, the FDA recommends that wash your hands after handling pet food.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (USA TODAY) (PEOPLE)

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Signal and Telegram Downloads Surge After WhatsApp Announces It Will Share Data With Facebook

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  • Downloads for Signal and Telegram have skyrocketed in the last week, with the encrypted messaging apps boasting 7.5 million and 9 million new followers, respectively.
  • The growth comes after WhatsApp said it will require almost all users to share personal data with its parent company Facebook.
  • It also comes after Parler’s shutdown and bans against President Trump from Twitter and Facebook, which prompted his supporters to turn specifically to Telegram.

Telegram and Signal See Big Boost

Downloads for the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram have surged in the last week after WhatsApp announced that it will start forcing all users outside the E.U. and U.K. to share personal data with Facebook.

Last week, WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, told users that they must allow Facebook and its subsidiaries to collect their phone numbers, locations, and the phone numbers of their contacts, among other things.

Anyone who does not agree to the new terms by Feb. 8 will lose access to the messaging app. The move prompted many to call for people to delete WhatsApp and start using other services like Signal or Telegram.

Now, it appears those calls to use other encrypted messaging apps have been heard. According to data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower, Signal saw 7.5 million installs globally through the App Store and Google Play from Jan. 6 to Jan. 10 alone, marking a 4,200% increase from the previous week.

Meanwhile, Telegram saw even more downloads. During the same time, it gained 9 million users, up 91% from the previous week. It was also the most downloaded app in the U.S.

WhatsApp responded to the exodus by attempting to clarify its new policy in a statement Monday.

“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way,” the company said. “Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.”

Other Causes of App Growth

Notably, some of the spikes in the Telegram downloads, specifically, also come from many supporters of President Donald Trump flocking to alternative platforms after Parler was shut down and Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook.

Far-right chat room membership on the platform has increased significantly in recent days, NBC News reported. Conversations in pre-existing chatrooms where white supremacist content has already been shared for months has also increased since the pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week.

According to the outlet, many of the president’s supporters have moved their operations to the app in large part because it has very lax community guidelines. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have recently cracked down on groups and users sharing incendiary content, known conspiracy theories, and attempting to organize events that could lead to violence.

There have been several documented instances of Trump supporters now using Telegram channels to discuss planned events and urge acts of direct violence. Per NBC, in one channel named “fascist,” users have called on others to “shoot politicians” and “encourage armed struggle.” A post explaining how to radicalize Trump supporters to become neo-Nazis also made rounds on the “fascist” channel, among others. 

Membership one channel frequently used by members of the Proud Boys has grown by more than 10,000 in recent days, seeming to directly attract users from Parler.

“Now that they forced us off the main platforms it doesn’t mean we go away, it just means we are going to go to places they don’t see,” a user posted in the chatroom, according to NBC.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Business Insider) (CNBC)

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