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Microsoft Still in Talks to Buy TikTok After Trump Threatens Ban

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  • President Trump on Friday said that he would ban TikTok in the U.S., though he did not specify how he would go about doing so.
  • There are a number of actions he could take, including forcing the sale of TikTok to an American company, though the president initially said he did not favor this idea.
  • The announcement came just hours after it was reported that Microsoft was in talks to buy TikTok, and the two were close to finalizing a deal.
  • After reports began to circulate that the deal had been put on hold, Microsoft announced in a blog post on Sunday that it was resuming talks after the company’s CEO spoke to Trump.
  • On Monday, Trump confirmed that he had changed his mind about immediately banning TikTok and said that he would allow Mircosoft to continue negotiations for 45 days. If a deal is not struck by Microsoft or another American company in that time, TikTok will go out of business in the U.S.

Microsoft Backtracks

Microsoft announced in a blog post Sunday that it was going to continue discussions to buy TikTok in the United States after CEO Satya Nadella spoke to President Donald Trump, who had previously said on Friday that he would ban the app’s use in the United States.

“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump told reporters. 

While the president did not say how he would ban the app, there are several options at his disposal. One possibility would be for Trump to direct the Commerce Department to put TikTok on what’s called the “entity list” which would basically block U.S. companies from having any commercial ties with TikTok.

Another option would be for the president to use a law called the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which allows him to essentially ban any foreign communications products that are seen as a threat to U.S. national security. That option could have a very extreme outcome.

“No American could work for them,”  Stewart Baker, a former National Security Agency general counsel told The Washington Post. The app store couldn’t make them available. American advertisers couldn’t pay them for ads. It would be economically devastating for them.”

A third potential action Trump could take would be to basically force TikTok’s owner ByteDance to sell the app or divest from its U.S. operations. That would be done through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) which recommends to the president if acquisitions should be rejected or reversed on national security grounds.

CFIUS, which is chaired by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, launched an investigation into ByteDance. According to The New York Times, a source said that as a result of the investigation, CFIUS recommended that Trump order ByteDance to divest from TikTok, which is essentially another way forcing them to sell it.

Trump on Friday said that he did not want a deal selling TikTok to a U.S. company, and when asked if he would use the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, he said, “I have that authority. I can do it with an executive order or that.”

Microsoft Deal

Trump’s announcement came just hours after reports that Microsoft was in talks to buy TikTok began to circulate. Following Trump’s announcement, the Wall Street Journal reported Microsoft had put those talks on hold.

In the Sunday blog post, Microsoft dispelled those rumors, while also publicly confirming for the first time that the company was in talks to buy the popular chinese-owned app.

“Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns,” Microsoft said in the post. “It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.”

The company stated it will move quickly and complete the discussions “no later than September 15” and continue to dialogue with Trump and his Administration. Notably, the post also noted that the preliminary proposal would include a purchase of TikTok in the U.S. as well as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and that Microsoft “may invite other American investors” to be minority owners.

Addressing security concerns, Microsoft said it will add protections and ensure transparency and added that, in addition to other measures, the company will “ensure that all private data of TikTok’s American users is transferred to and remains in the United States.”

To the extent that any such data is currently stored or backed-up outside the United States, Microsoft would ensure that this data is deleted from servers outside the country after it is transferred.”

A deal between Microsoft and TikTok—which would probably be valued somewhere in the billions—would be a huge win for both companies. For TikTok, even though it would be a concession to pressure from the Trump administration, it would still be better than the alternative.

It would allow them to keep the app in the U.S. rather than being banned and taking a huge hit in users right after it was banned in India.

The move would arguably be an even bigger win and a definite huge step for Microsoft. Unlike almost all other big tech companies that are its competitors, Microsoft does not have a social media platform or own a social media company.

If Microsoft did acquire TikTok, not only would it be acquiring its first social media company, it would also be acquiring one of the most popular and fastest-growing platforms. Rather than starting from scratch with a platform that may or may not take off, Microsoft would be diving in headfirst.

Immediately, it would become a major rival to huge platforms like the Facebook-owned Instagram, as well as the Google-owned YouTube, especially because so many tech companies, including Facebook, have been coming up with alternatives to TikTok.

In other words, it would give Microsoft a massive foothold in a consumer market it has not been a part of before and drastically change the landscape of Big Tech in a fundamental way.

Trump Administration Response

On Monday, Trump himself confirmed that TikTok would shut down on Sept. 15 unless it was purchased by Microsoft or another company. He also said that the Treasury Department would need to get a lot of money for the deal, though he did not explain how that would work legally.

According to the Times, Trump changed his mind after several phone calls, including ones from Nadella and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Sc.), who voiced his support for the move on Twitter Sunday.

But there are still some high level members of the administration that believe more needs to be done to crack down on TikTok, including Trump’s top trade adviser Peter Navarro, who has taken a hardline stance on the matter.

“Every time you sign up for TikTok, all your information is potentially going right back to the Chinese Communist Party,” he said on Fox News Saturday,. “The Chinese military and the Chinese government, they can use this social these social media apps to steal your personal information, your business information.

“They use these social media apps to track you and surveil you and monitor your movements,” he continued. “This is a national security threat. So here’s what I would ask the American people. If they’re using TikTok and they hear the president is going to basically ban that, get on the Trump train with that, because that app you’re using, fun as it may be, is dangerous.”

Navarro doubled down on his remarks during an interview to CNN Monday, where he accused Microsoft of selling products to China that enable censorship and surveillance and suggested that Microsoft be required to divest from any business in China if it buys TikTok. 

“I mean, whose software does the People[‘s] Liberation Army in China run on? Microsoft. Who — the Chinese Communist Party, whose software do they use to do their — all the things they do? It’s Microsoft,” he said. 

“So, this is not a white hat company, right? It’s an American company. It’s clearly a multi-national company that’s made billions in China, that enables Chinese censorship through things like Bing and Skype.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also seemed to echo Navarro in an interview with Fox News on Sunday, where he took a hardline on China but also did not rule out a sale.

“These Chinese software companies doing business with the United States, whether it’s TikTok or WeChat, there are countless more, as Peter Navarro said, are feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party their national security apparatus,” he said.  

“President Trump has said ‘enough’ and we’re gonna fix it. And so he will take action in the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party,” he continued.

When asked if the Microsoft deal would still pose risks, Pompeo responded, “I promise you the president, when he makes his decision, will make sure that everything we have done drives us as close to zero risk for the American people.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Trump Refuses to Denounce White Supremacy During Debate

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  • When asked in Tuesday’s presidential debate if he would agree to denounce white supremacist groups and tell them to stand down, President Trump said he would, but when asked to explicitly say the words, he addressed only the far-right group the Proud Boys, and told them to “stand back and stand by.” 
  • Many people criticized Trump for not condemning white supremacist groups, others also slammed him for seeming to issue a call to arms for the Proud Boys.
  • Organizations that track online extremism said the group embraced the “stand back and stand by” quote as a slogan, and some members took to social media sites to praise Trump’s remarks.
  • Trump also attempted to shift the focus to unrest caused by left-wing groups and falsely claimed that they caused more violence than right-wing groups, a claim that is contrary to the evidence presented by high-level members of his own administration. 

Trump Asked to Denounce White Supremacist Groups

President Donald Trump refused to directly denounce white supremacist groups when asked to do so in the contentious first presidential debate Tuesday night, sparking condemnation from critics and cheers from members of certain white nationalist-tied groups.

“Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?” Fox News Sunday host and debate moderator Chris Wallace asked the president.

“Sure, I’m willing to do that,” Trump responded. “I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing not from the right wing […] I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.”

“Well, then do it, sir,” Wallace implored.

What do you want to call them?” Trump asked. “Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead who do you want me to condemn,” 

“White supremacist and right-wing militia, proud boys,” Wallace responded, singling out the all-male white supremacist-tied group that has been known for engaging in and promoting violence.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” the president responded. “But I’ll tell you what somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem this is a left wing.”

Response

That moment and the response from the president has been described as one of the most significant moments of the night because while Trump said “sure” when asked if he would condemn white supremacist groups, when asked actually do so, he refused.

Even in telling the Proud Boys to stand down, he also told them to “stand by,” a refrain that alarmed many people who believed it sounded as though the president was signaling to members of the group to be ready for something.

“When Trump says: ‘Proud Boys – stand back and stand by’ – he is signalling that he considers them a private army waiting for his command to take to the streets if the result is not to his liking. That is very frightening,” writer Katy Brand tweeted.

“I still can’t get over the fact that Trump was told to condemn violent white supremacists, and all he could eek out was to tell the Proud Boys to ‘stand by’— effectively a call to arms,” political commentator Brian Tyler Cohen also wrote on twitter.

Many others also took aim more specifically at the president’s refusal to condemn white supremacists.

“He was given the opportunity multiple times to condemn white supremacy and he gave a wink and a nod to a racist nazi muerderous organization that is now celebrating online, that is now saying we have a go ahead,” attorney and commentator Van Jones told CNN.

However, in a separate interview with CNN, former Senator Rick Santorum seemed to defend Trump for refusing to denounce white supremacist groups.

“He was asking the president to do something he knows the president doesn’t like to do, which is say something bad about people who support him,” he said, though in a later appearance on another CNN program, he said Trump made a huge mistake by not condemning white supremacy.

As far as the official response from Trump’s team, when White House communications director Alyssa Farah was asked to clarify the president’s comments on Fox News, she said she did not think there was anything to clarify.

“He’s told them to stand back,” she said. “This president has surged federal resources when violent crime warrants it in cities. He’s leading.” 

Proud Boys Respond

According to SITE Intel Group, which tracks online extremism, the Proud Boys embraced the “stand back and stand by” quote as a slogan. Some also took to social media sites like Parler, which is known for its large pro-Trump user base, to celebrate Trump’s words.

“Trump basically said to go fuck [protesters] up! this makes me so happy,” one prominent ally wrote on the platform, seemingly in regards to Trump’s remarks about antifa.

While Trump’s comments about antifa took up less focus, it is important to note that his attempts to deflect questions about right-wing groups contained multiple falsehoods that have been contradicted by people within his own administration and the intelligence community.

Despite the president’s claims that almost all the violence he sees is from the left, earlier this month, his own FBI director, Christopher Wray, said that “racially motivated violent extremism,” most of which has come from white supremacists, composes the majority of domestic terrorism threats. 

Separately, just days after that, Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Kenneth Cuccinelli said that “when white supremacists act as terrorists, more people per incident are killed.”

Additionally, DHS also pointed to white extremism as a primary threat in a domestic terrorism assessment published last year. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Business Insider)

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Trump and Biden Spar Over Voting Security at First Debate

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  • In the final round of Tuesday’s presidential debate, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden addressed concerns over election security and voter fraud.
  • As Biden correctly noted, top officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have said that there is no evidence of widespread mail-in voter fraud.
  • Trump later claimed that mailmen in West Virginia are selling ballots. According to state officials, this is not true.
  • While Biden promised that he would not declare victory on election night, Trump did not make any such promises when asked by moderator Chris Wallace.

Election Security Concerns 

During the final leg of Tuesday night’s presidential debate, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden sparred over the topic of election security in the face of widespread mail-in voting. 

Here are some fact-checked claims made by both candidates.

Biden: No Evidence That Mail-In Voting Leads to Cheating

At the start of the sixth and final round of the debate, Biden said of Trump: “His own Homeland Security director, and as well as the FBI director, says that there is no evidence at all that mail-in ballots are a source of being manipulated and cheating.”

“They said that. The fact is that there are going to be millions of people because of COVID that are going to be voting by mail-in ballots like he does, by the way.” 

While Biden does seem to confuse “homeland security director” with the DHS cybersecurity director, the gist of this claim is mostly true.

A few weeks ago, that director, Christopher Krebs, told CBS News that mail-in voting systems are resilient and secure because they create paper trails that can be audited.

Biden also referenced testimony given by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who last week, said that the U.S. has never experienced a large-scale mail-in voter fraud effort. Wray added that any such fraud would be a “major challenge” for foreign countries to pull off. 

Trump: Ballots Found in Wastepaper Baskets

Trump opened the round by saying that he is fine with solicited ballots but that his problem lies with states automatically sending ballots to all registered voters. He then went on to assert a number of claims. 

“They’re sending millions of ballots all over the country,” Trump said. “There’s fraud. They found them in creeks. They found some, just happened to have the name Trump, just the other day in a wastepaper basket.” 

Trump repeated that claim several more times, saying at one point, “They found ballots in a wastepaper basket three days ago, and they all had the name military ballots. There were military. They all had the name Trump on them.” 

The president is referring to a situation in Pennsylvania where nine mailed-in military ballots were found “discarded” by a local election office. Seven of those ballots are known to have been cast for Trump, while two remain sealed. 

It is fully possible that those nine ballots could have been improperly discarded, and it is also possible that the move was intentional; however, an ongoing investigation has yet to make that determination.

As The Washington Post reports, military absentee ballots also look like absentee ballot requests, so it is possible they were opened accidentally. 

It’s also possible that the ballots could have been what’s known as “naked ballots,” meaning each voters’ candidate choices would have been revealed after opening the envelope. If that is the case, those ballots would have had to have been thrown out because of a recent ruling by the state’s Supreme Court. 

Still, as of the debate, it is unproven that this incident is fraud, as Trump claimed.

Trump: Mail Carriers Are Selling Ballots

Following that, Trump claimed that mail carriers in West Virginia are selling ballots.

“Did you see what’s going on?” Trump said. “Take a look at West Virginia, mailman selling the ballots. They’re being sold.”

Plain and simple, this is not true. 

In fact, the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office has since said that it doesn’t know of any instances in which ballots were sold in the state.

The closest comparison to Trump’s remarks stem from an incident that occurred earlier this year where a mailman pleaded guilty to election fraud after changing several absentee request forms from Democrat to Republican. 

As many have noted, this instance of fraud was quickly caught. Additionally, the mailman’s actions never resulted in any altered ballots. 

Wallace: Will You Pledge Not to Declare Immediate Victory?

Debate moderator Chris Wallace ended Tuesday’s debate by asking both candidates if they would urge their supporters to stay calm and not engage in civil unrest in the days following the election. 

That’s because, as Wallace pointed out, the results of the election likely won’t be known for days or even maybe weeks after Nov. 3rd, due to the high volume of mail-in ballots.

“And will you pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified?” Wallace asked.

“I’m urging my supporters to go in to the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen,” Trump responded. “I am urging them to do it.

“If it’s a fair election, I am 100% on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that. And I’ll tell you why—”

What does that mean, not go along?” Wallace asked. “Does that mean you’re going to tell your people — to take to the streets?”

“I’ll tell you what it means,” Trump said. “It means you have a fraudulent election. You’re sending out 80 million ballots… These people are not equipped to handle it.” 

Biden, however, responded with a much more concrete answer to Wallace’s question.

“Yes,” Biden said. “And here’s the deal. We count the ballots, as you pointed out. Some of these ballots in some states can’t even be opened until election day. And if there’s thousands of ballots, it’s going to take time to do it.”

See what others are saying: (Forbes) (ABC News) (The Washington Post)

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Cambridge Analytica Passed Voter Suppression Information Over to the 2016 Trump Campaign, New Report Claims

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  • A new report claims Donald Trump’s campaign disproportionately targeted Black voters in the 2016 presidential election in an attempt to dissuade them from voting.
  • According to Channel 4, Cambridge Analytica compiled that information and passed it to the Trump campaign as part of a “Deterrence” category.
  • While this practice is legal, through the use of Facebook ads, it also potentially targeted 3.5 million Black voters in many states that were ultimately decided in tight races. 
  • Trump’s re-election campaign has denied these reports, but according to Channel 4, the 2016 campaign’s chief scientist explicitly said the “Deterrence” category contained people that the campaign “hope don’t show up to vote.”

Cambridge Analytica Database

A new report claims Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign received and used data that disproportionately targeted Black voters in an attempt to discourage them from voting in the last presidential election.

The report, published by U.K. outlet Channel 4 News, alleges that the Trump campaign received a database on 200 million American voters from the now-defunct firm Cambridge Analytica. That firm attracted international scrutiny after it was found to have harvested millions of Facebook users’ personal data without their consent. 

In 2016, the Trump Campaign pumped $5.9 million into Cambridge Analytica. 

As The Washington Post puts it, this database “could add detail to allegations about Cambridge Analytica’s role in the campaign, particularly in efforts to harness Facebook’s powerful ad technologies to dissuade Black voters from supporting Hillary Clinton.”

According to Channel 4, which claims to have obtained the database made by Cambridge Analytica, the list of voters covers 16 key battleground states. Among those states, voters were then separated into eight different categories.

For example, likely Democratic voters were listed as either “Core Clinton,” “Disengaged Clinton,” or “Deterrence.” Channel 4 quoted the chief data scientist of Trump’s 2016 campaign as explicitly saying the “Deterrence” category contained people that the campaign “hope don’t show up to vote.”

Notably, more than half the people listed in that category were either Black, Asian, or Latino.

On top of that, while Black voters only make up about 5.4% of the voting population in Wisconsin, the database marked 17% of Black voters in the state for “Deterrence.” 

Likewise, in Michigan, Black voters accounted for 15% of the voting population in 2016; however, the database marked 33% of Black voters in the state for “Deterrence.”

Both races were extremely tight. In fact, Trump won Michigan by just 11,000 votes. At the same time, Black voter turnout in the state dropped by more than 12%.

Ties to the Trump Campaign

Channel 4 has not revealed how it obtained this database, but it does claim that Cambridge Analytica worked “hand in glove with a team from the Republican National Committee.”

Following the report, Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Trump’s reelection campaign, dismissed it as “fake news,” saying that Trump’s record gave him a “relationship of trust with African American voters.”

Paris Dennard, the RNC’s senior communications adviser for Black media affairs, affirmed that the data obtained by Channel 4 “is not our data.”

Matt Braynard, the Trump data director for the 2016 campaign, said his team didn’t use those categorizations. Instead, he said they relied on material from the party and another firm, L2 political. 

“Deterrence doesn’t mean suppression and it doesn’t mean deterrence from voting,” Braynard specified. “It just means deterrence from voting for Hillary Clinton.”

Many of the testimonies seem to conflict with one another. While Murtaugh has claimed the story is “fake news,” Braynard has seemingly admitted that this data is at least real. In addition to that, Braynard said the category wasn’t meant to be a full deterrence from voting, but Channel 4’s quote from the Trump data scientist indicates the direct opposite.

According to The Washington Post, Brittany Kaiser, Cambridge Analytica’s former director of business development, said Channel 4’s report is consistent with “her understanding of how Cambridge Analytica and Republicans targeted Black voters in 2016.”

Kaiser then provided The Post with an internal company document from 2016 which described a similar classification strategy for Democrats, including a category labelled “Deterrent.” 

Was This Legal?

The tactics described in the Channel 4 report are legal.

David Carroll, a professor at the Parsons School of Design in New York, called the database “a diabolically effective campaign tactic,” but added in a statement to The Post, “They’re just using free speech, even if it is misleading.”

Despite the tactic by Cambridge Analytica being legal, Channel 4 criticized Facebook for its role in airing ads potentially aimed at dissuading voters. Of particular note, during the 2016 Election, Facebook also employed “dark posts,” or ads that vanish from feeds after a campaign stops paying for them. 

Those ads make it difficult to go back and track how campaigns targeted specific groups, and that has become a major point of contention because the Trump Campaign pumped $44 million in such types of ads in 2016. 

Channel 4 was also critical of Facebook because it was seemingly the original source of information used to help create this database; however, Facebook has maintained that its information was improperly obtained and that Cambridge Analytica was in violation of its policies.

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

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