Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Obama Proclaims Vietnam and the Unites States As Partners, Appeals For More Progress on Human Rights

May 24, 2016


By Foster Klug and Nancy Benac
The Associated Press
HANOI, Vietnam — May 24, 2016, 6:09 AM ET

President Barack Obama on Tuesday pressed Vietnam to allow greater freedoms for its citizens, arguing that better human rights would improve the communist country’s economy, stability and regional power.

On his second full day in the southeast Asian nation, Obama also met with activists as part of a push for closer ties with the fast-growing, strategically crucial country that included the lifting of one of the last vestiges of Vietnam War-era antagonism: a five-decades-old arms sale embargo.

In a speech at the National Convention Center, Obama sought to balance a desire for a stronger relationship with Vietnam with efforts to hold its leadership to account over what activists call an abysmal treatment of government critics.

Nations are more successful when people can freely express themselves, assemble without harassment and access the internet and social media, Obama said.

“Upholding these rights is not a threat to stability but actually reinforces stability and is the foundation of progress,” Obama told the audience of more than 2,000, including government officials and students from five universities across the Hanoi area. “Vietnam will do it differently than the United States does … But there are these basic principles that I think we all have to try to work on and improve.”

Freedom of expression is where new ideas happen, Obama said. “That’s how a Facebook starts. That’s how some of our greatest companies began.”

Journalists and bloggers can “shine a light on injustice or abuse” when they are allowed to operate free of government interference or intimidation, he added. And, stability is encouraged when voters get to choose their leaders in free and fair elections “because citizens know that their voices count and that peaceful change is possible. And it brings new people into the system,” Obama said.

Obama also traced the transformation of the U.S.-Vietnamese relationship, from wartime enemies to cooperation. He said the governments are working more closely together than ever before on a range of issues.

“Now we can say something that was once unimaginable: Today, Vietnam and the Unites States are partners,” he said, adding that their experience was teaching the world that “hearts can change.”

Earlier Tuesday, Obama met with six activists, including a pastor and advocates for the disabled and sexual minorities. He said several others were prevented from coming. “Vietnam has made remarkable strides in many ways,” Obama said, but “there are still areas of significant concern.”

Obama, in his speech, also referred to China’s growing aggression in the region, something that worries many in Vietnam, which has territorial disputes in the South China Sea with Beijing.

Obama got a round of applause when he declared that “big nations should not bully smaller ones,” an allusion to China’s attempt to push its rivals out of disputed territory. Obama said the United States will continue to freely navigate the region and support the right of other countries to do the same.

After Hanoi, Obama flew to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. He visited the Jade Emperor Pagoda, considered one of the most beautiful pagodas in southern Vietnam and a repository of religious documents that includes more than 300 statues and other relics. A strong smell of incense hung in the air as visitors frequently burn incense outside the main temple to announce to the heavens their arrival.

As Obama paused before one statue, a guide explained that if he wanted to have a son, he should pray to her.

“I like daughters,” Obama replied.

Shifting from the historical to the modern, Obama was also stopping by the Dreamplex business complex in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, a space for startup entrepreneurs that fits with Obama’s message about the potential benefits of closer ties to Vietnam’s growing economy and its burgeoning middle class.

Obama’s meeting with entrepreneurs will let him talk up the benefits of what he says will be enhanced trade under a 12-nation trade deal that is stalled in Congress and opposed by the leading U.S. presidential candidates. Obama said during his address that the agreement would give Vietnamese workers the right to form labor unions and would prohibit forced and child labor. He also predicted that the pact, if ratified, would lead to greater regional cooperation.

“Vietnam will be less dependent on any one trading partner and enjoy broader ties with more partners, including the United States,” Obama said.


 (Includes links to several articles, same topic)


President Barack Obama waves after addressing his speech to the Vietnamese people at the National Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam Tuesday, May 24, 2016. In a speech at the National Convention Center, Obama sought to ease fears that Washington wanted to dictate terms to Vietnam on improving rights. (Kham/Pool Photo via AP)

The Associated Press
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — May 24, 2016, 7:04 AM ET

The Latest on U.S. President Barack Obama’s first visit to Vietnam (all times local):

5:50 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain say President Barack Obama’s visit to Vietnam proves that old enemies can become new partners.

Kerry, McCain and former Sen. Bob Kerrey all served in the Vietnam War. They say in a joint op-ed that there are few easy answers about what lessons were learned from the war.

The three veterans say the U.S. must never again confuse a war with its warriors. They say U.S. leaders must be honest about the goals when deploying troops. And they say the U.S. must approach foreign cultures with humility.

Writing in the New York Times, they say they could never have imagined during the war that the countries would one day cooperate on trade and even security. They say mutual interests will drive the future partnership.


5:30 p.m.

President Barack Obama is talking with Vietnamese entrepreneurs about their business ideas and roadblocks to their eventual success.

The conversation is taking place at the Dreamplex, a shared office space in Ho Chi Minh City that rents workstations and rooms to startup entrepreneurs.

Obama is telling his audience that their success will send a message about Vietnam’s potential for innovation to the world.

He says the Dreamplex is where ideas are “becoming reality” and that the young people who use the space are “making things happen.”

Obama is also using the appearance to pitch a 12-nation, trans-Pacific trade agreement that’s stalled in the U.S. Congress and opposed by the leading U.S. presidential candidates. He says the pact will accelerate economic reforms in Vietnam, boost its economic competitiveness and open up new markets.


5 p.m.

President Barack Obama had a quick comeback for a Buddhist monk who urged him to pray to a certain statue if he’d like to have a son.

“I like daughters,” quipped Obama, who is the father of teenagers Malia and Sasha.

Obama was touring the Jade Emperor Pagoda, one of the most notable and most visited cultural destinations in Ho Chi Minh City.

The pink-colored building with a turquoise tiled roof was built in the early 1900s by the immigrant Chinese community and today serves multiple faiths.

Obama headed straight for the pagoda after landing in Ho Chi Minh City from Hanoi, where he spent the opening days of his first visit to Vietnam.

Vietnam’s Ngoc Hoang (Jade Emperor or King of Heaven)


4:15 p.m.

President Barack Obama has arrived in Ho Chi Minh City.

It’s the second stop on Obama’s three-day visit to America’s former wartime enemy.

Ho Chi Minh City is formerly known and still referred to as Saigon, and is famous for its role in the Vietnam War as the capital of U.S.-backed South Vietnam.

Obama plans to do some sightseeing by taking in the Jade Emperor Pagoda. It’s considered to be one of the most beautiful pagodas in southern Vietnam. It’s also a repository for religious documents and includes more than 300 statues and other relics.

Obama also scheduled a tour of the Dreamplex, a shared office space that rents workstations and rooms to startup entrepreneurs.

Obama spent the opening days of his trip in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. He arrived late Sunday.


2 p.m.

President Barack Obama taped the second part of an interview with CNN personality Anthony Bourdain before leaving the Vietnamese capital for his next stop: Ho Chi Minh City.

Bourdain’s “Part Unknown” food travelogue is one of the network’s most popular nonfiction series.

Obama and Bourdain met in a small complex in Hanoi’s Me Tri neighborhood in a heavy downpour.

The two met over a restaurant dinner on Monday to discuss Obama’s trip to Asia and his interest in the people, food and culture of Vietnam, CNN said.

CNN has aired Bourdain’s show since 2013. He travels to a different part of the world for each episode to explore that area’s culture, primarily by sharing in the area’s distinct native cuisine.

The interview with Obama will be featured in the eighth season of “Parts Unknown,” which begins in September.


1:10 p.m.

President Barack Obama is pressing Vietnam to respect rights to freedom of speech, a free press, and to associate and demonstrate that are written into the country’s constitution.

Obama says Vietnam has nothing to fear from upholding these rights. He says doing so reinforces stability and doesn’t threaten it. Obama also says nations are more successful when these rights are respected.

Vietnam is routinely criticized for its human rights record.

The communist nation holds about 100 political prisoners. There have also been more detentions this year, including some in the past week.

The government in Hanoi says that only lawbreakers are punished.


12:40 p.m.

President Barack Obama is pushing for ratification of a 12-nation, free-trade agreement as he speaks to the Vietnamese people, saying it will lessen reliance on one trading partner and broaden ties with more partners, including the United States.

Obama says the Trans-Pacific Partnership will lead to regional cooperation among participating nations and bring about higher wages for Vietnam’s workers. He says that would help them buy more goods from the United States.

He notes that the agreement gives workers the right to form unions and prohibits forced labor and child labor.

Obama is pitching a trade agreement that is stalled in Congress and opposed by the leading U.S. presidential candidates.

He says the U.S. is ready to help Vietnam as it works to fully implement its commitments under the agreement.


12:30 p.m.

President Barack Obama says improved relations with Vietnam, America’s former wartime foe, is teaching the world a few lessons.

Obama is in the midst of a historic visit to the southeast Asian nation and is delivering an address to the Vietnamese people.

Obama says what was once unimaginable has come true – that Vietnam and the United States are partners in a thriving relationship.

And it’s a partnership that he says is teaching the world that hearts can change.

Obama says it’s also showing the world that peace is better than war.

Obama is speaking at the National Convention Center in Hanoi.


10:40 a.m.

President Barack Obama is taking his push for closer ties with Vietnam directly to the people.

A day after knocking down one of the last vestiges of Cold War antagonism with a former war enemy, he faces calls Tuesday to more strongly address what’s seen as Vietnam’s abysmal human rights record.

Obama plans meetings with civil society members and entrepreneurs and then a speech aimed at the people of Vietnam.

On Monday he announced the lifting of a five-decade-old arms sales embargo that’s meant to help forge a new economic and security relationship.

Obama must balance this push for better ties with efforts to hold Vietnam’s communist leadership to account for charges of widespread abuse of dissidents.

From Hanoi, Obama will fly to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

Vietnam rights record puts Obama in a fix as U.S. seeks new Asian alliance

May 20, 2016


A security personnel (R) films Huynh Ngoc Chenh (L) holding a sign which reads, ‘Protecting the environment is more important than economic development’ during a demonstration demanding cleaner waters in the central regions after mass fish deaths in recent weeks, in Hanoi,…

With police watching his home around the clock, Vietnamese blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh sneaked out through a back door and reappeared the next day in a public square to hold a one-man, anti-government protest.

But having been given the slip once, police wasted no time in nabbing him after only five minutes.

It was one of many free-speech experiments squashed by Vietnam’s communist government, underscoring the dilemma U.S. President Barack Obama has ahead of a visit on Monday in which human rights will be central to decisions about how far Washington is willing to engage its former enemy.

Chenh got lucky. Unlike many dissidents, he was not arrested for Sunday’s demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City, which got him 12,000 Facebook “likes” for making a stand against what he calls an endemic problem of abusive police.

“There are six men watching my house right now,” said Chenh, 64, who was escorted home and told to stay there.

“Sometimes, they stop me from leaving, other times they let me go out but they follow me everywhere.”

His sit-in came as rights groups and activists accuse police of using heavy-handed measures to stop protests held in cities the past two Sundays to demand government answers over an unexplained environmental disaster that caused mass fish deaths last month.

The timing of protests could not be worse for Vietnam. The White House on Thursday said Obama was still grappling with a decision on whether to lift a lethal arms embargo on Hanoi, one of the last vestiges of the Vietnam War.

The United States has been clear that its removal hinges on progress on rights.

Vietnam wants closer military ties and access to U.S. defense technology as a deterrent against Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, over which the neighbors are bitterly at odds.

Though that fits in with the U.S. strategy of containing China, Vietnam’s jailing and intimidation of dissidents remains an obstacle to Washington’s push to turn its former enemy into its newest Asian ally.

Obama’s top Asia adviser Daniel Kritenbrink on Wednesday told reporters human rights would be a key factor in “whatever arms sales decisions we may or may not make”.

Obama will not try to duck the issue. He is expected to meet dissidents and will address human rights in Vietnam “both publicly and in private”, Kritenbrink said.


The issue is taboo for Vietnam’s government, which did not respond to Reuters questions about the extent to which rights improvements had been made.

The United States has been watching closely and is familiar with the Communist Party’s boldest opponents, including Nguyen Quang A, an intellectual who met U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski last week.

Quang A was among several dissidents named in a scathing, documentary-like news report broadcast on state television on Sunday that accused them of masterminding recent protests intended to violently overthrow the government.

The arms embargo is contentious, with support in Washington for countries threatened by China’s rise, but misgivings about losing leverage with Vietnam if too many concessions are given to a government that New-York-based Human Rights Watch described in a letter to Obama as “among the most repressive in the world”.

Loretta Sanchez, a Democrat on the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam, said the United States should be wary of “giving a free pass to a government that continually harasses, detains and imprisons its citizens”.

Republican Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Hanoi who backed the easing of the embargo in 2014, said sales of technology for Vietnam’s maritime security should be unrestricted, but the transfer of other arms should be case-by-case and linked to human rights progress.

“There’s still repression,” McCain told Reuters. “Yes, there’s been improvement but there’s still quite a way to go.”

Obama will meet Vietnam’s new president, Tran Dai Quang, who until recently ran the Ministry of Public Security, a powerful police-run agency that U.S. rights envoy Malinowski last year said “holds the key” to how far U.S-Vietnam ties could advance.

But political analyst Le Hong Hiep said it was unlikely rights would constrain ties that are strengthening rapidly, as the United States had “other more vital interests” at stake.

“It remains an issue of low politics at a time when issues of high politics such as strategic cooperation, and joint efforts to check China’s ambitions in the South China Sea, have been placed much higher in bilateral agenda,” he said.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

Asia has become a much more dangerous place during the Obama administration….


 (May 19, 2016)

Thailand’s tyranny exposed — “Human Rights a Thing of the Past”

May 12, 2016

Facing the law: Natthika Worathaiyawich (left) and Harit Mahaton (centre), two of the eight activists jailed after posting comments criticising the junta on Facebook, arriving at a court in Bangkok. — Reuters

Facing the law: Natthika Worathaiyawich (left) and Harit Mahaton (centre), two of the eight activists jailed after posting comments criticising the junta on Facebook, arriving at a court in Bangkok. — Reuters


BANGKOK: Thailand faces a “moment of shame” when the United Nations Human Rights Council reviews its rights record, a rights group said amid fresh arrests of online critics accused of criticising the junta.

The crackdown comes as Thai­land’s military government prepares to put out a widely criticised military-written constitution to the public in August.

The military seized power in a May 2014 coup, saying it had to end a bitter cycle of political unrest that had rocked Thailand since 2006 when the army ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawat­ra.

Rights groups say the junta has tightened its grip on power and severely repressed rights in the past year.

It has jailed critics, introduced new laws aimed at curbing freedom of speech, censored the media and restricted political debate.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a cyclical review of the human rights record of the 193 United Nations member states.

Thailand, which was last reviewed in 2011, is one of 14 countries being questioned by the UPR working group in the current session, which ends on Friday.

“It will be a moment of shame for the Thai government at a major international forum where Thailand was once honoured and respected,” Sunai Phasuk, Thailand researcher for Human Rights Watch, said yesterday.

Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha

“I hope it will send a clear message back to Bangkok that it immediately has to reverse its course.”

Colonel Winthai Suvaree, a spokesman for the junta, said it wanted the Thai delegation to “tell the truth about what is happening in Thailand”.

On April 27, troops arrested eight activists over Facebook comments critical of the junta and the draft constitution.

The eight were released on bail on Tuesday.

Two of the eight face separate charges of royal insult. They were charged yesterday with insulting the revered monarchy in private Facebook messages, the latest in a growing number of royal insult charges under the junta.

“We have additionally charged them with royal defamation and computer crimes,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Chaiporn Nittayapat, who is in charge of the case, said.

Issues raised in documents seen by Reuters submitted to the UN by rights groups and UN member countries include the expansion of internal policing powers for the military and the use of military courts to try critics.

Over a decade of political strife has seen occasional, violent street protests by both Thaksin’s supporters and their opponents. — Reuters


Facebook Ready To Help Duterte, The Philippines — “Eighty-seven percent of the world’s governments have some sort of Facebook presence.”

May 11, 2016
Facebook in a statement last month said around 15.2 million people have engaged in conversations related to the elections on the social media site, generating 124 million interactions on the platform from Nov. 20, 2015 to April 5, 2016. file

MANILA, Philippines – Incoming president Rodrigo Duterte never knew that social media would significantly help his campaign in the May 9 elections.

The 71-year-old Duterte often wonders what “tag n’yo ako” (tag me), means whenever people would ask him to pose with them for selfies.

“Unsa man nang tag-tag? (What is tag)?” Duterte would usually quip in the local dialect after every selfie.

Facebook in a statement last month said around 15.2 million people have engaged in conversations related to the elections on the social media site, generating 124 million interactions on the platform from Nov. 20, 2015 to April 5, 2016.

And for presidential candidates, 64 percent of conversations on Facebook focused on Duterte.

With the imminent proclamation of Duterte, executives of Facebook said they have plans of reaching out to the incoming administration and offer support on how it can use the online platform in governance.

“We absolutely have plans to reach out and tell them we can help, not only to use Facebook on inauguration day but also in terms of governing after that,” Katie Harbath, director of Facebook global politics and government outreach director, told The STAR on Tuesday.

“Eighty-seven percent of the world’s governments have some sort of Facebook presence. Many of the world leaders who have used Facebook a lot in their elections continue to do so as the leaders,” she added.

Elizabeth Hernandez, head of Facebook public policy for Asia Pacific, noted the high level of engagement among social media users in the recent elections.

“Once they’ve tapped that kind of engagement, I don’t think you can stop doing that. That’s a great opportunity to continue that kind of conversation, but during the governance part of it,” she said.

Based on data released by the social media giant on Monday, 22 million people around the world engaged in conversations related to the elections, making it the most engaged elections in the region.

Duterte, who has taken a commanding lead in the unofficial count, remained the most talked about candidate in the social media site since it started monitoring election-related conversations in November.

“Social media’s biggest impact is really not only building up supporters, but persuading people to vote for you and actually getting them out to vote,” Harbath said.

“Now we have to see how they keep using Facebook for governing. That’s where I think we’ll really see if they can use it to actually help take citizens’ input to help determine what their policies are going to be,” she added.

Hernandez said Facebook has been instrumental in making the conversations reach more Filipinos, not just across the country but also those overseas.

“Through social media, the candidates were also able to reach those voters outside the Philippines,” she said.

The Facebook executives revealed they have conducted trainings for all the teams of the candidates to give them a level playing field on using the platform for their respective campaigns.

“There’s a lot of interest from all of the candidates in wanting to use Facebook. We did trainings not only for all the presidential and vice presidential campaigns, but also for many of the candidates for the Senate,” Harbath said.

“We are a neutral platform. We want to make sure that everybody has the same best practices,” she added.

Thailand defends rights restrictions at U.N. review

May 11, 2016
World | Wed May 11, 2016 8:14am EDT

A student activist is detained during a silent protest after Thailand’s election commission filed charges against a group for posting ‘foul and strong’ comments online criticising a military-backed draft constitution in Bangkok, Thailand. REUTERS/JORGE SILVA

Thailand on Wednesday defended its curbs on freedom of expression at a review of its rights record by the U.N. Human Rights Council, saying the measures were aimed at “those who stir up violence”.

At a time of fresh arrests of online critics accused of criticizing Thailand’s junta, U.N. member states attending the review in Geneva expressed concern over the deteriorating rights situation since the military took power in a May 2014 coup.

Some U.N. members urged the military to review controversial laws, such as a royal insults law, that rights groups say have increasingly been used to silence critics.

Thailand should “allow all Thai people to fully participate in the political process,” the United States said in a brief statement to the council, and called for the elimination of “mandatory minimum sentences for lese-majeste”.

The restrictions were “meant for those who stir up violence”, a representative of Thailand’s justice ministry said in a live broadcast of the meeting, responding to the concerns raised at the review, the country’s first since 2011.

The military seized power in May 2014, saying it had to end a bitter cycle of political unrest that had rocked Thailand since 2006, when the army ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Rights groups say the junta has tightened its grip on power and severely repressed rights in the past year. It has jailed critics, introduced new laws aimed at curbing freedom of speech, censored the media and restricted political debate.

The military government has stepped up prosecutions of those accused of defamation, handing down harsher sentences.

The latest crackdown comes as the military government prepares to put a widely criticized military-written constitution to the public in August.

Thai authorities on Tuesday released on bail eight activists arrested in April over Facebook comments critical of the junta and the draft constitution.

Two of the eight activists face separate charges of royal insult. They were charged on Wednesday with insulting the revered monarchy in private Facebook messages.

Thailand’s strict royal defamation law makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen, heir to the throne or regent. Those found guilty face prison terms of up to 15 years for each offense.

Thailand is one of 14 countries being questioned at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a cyclical review of the human rights record of the 193 United Nations members.

More than a decade of political strife has seen at times violent street protests by both Thaksin’s supporters and their opponents.

In their closing remarks, Thai officials told the council they expected to adopt some of its recommendations on Friday, when its current session ends.

(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez)


Thailand’s Red Bowl Caper: Theerawan Charoensuk faces a sedition charge in Thailand’s military court for posting a photo of herself holding a plastic bowl that she received from the deposed prime ministers.

Backpackers David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were found beaten to death on Koh Tao.Source:Supplied

Luke Miller, left, was found dead in a hotel pool on the island of Koh Tao in Thailand. Picture: GofundmeSource:Supplied

Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha

Uproar Over Facebook Bias Claims — Facebook Rebuts Criticisms About Bias Against Conservatives

May 11, 2016

Response follows report that site suppressed stories of interest to conservative readers

Facebook is responding to a Gizmodo report, which was based in part on claims by unnamed news curators that used to work for the social network.
Facebook is responding to a Gizmodo report, which was based in part on claims by unnamed news curators that used to work for the social network. PHOTO: REUTERS

Updated May 10, 2016 8:41 p.m. ET

Allegations that Facebook Inc. workers manipulated for political purposes the social network’s ranking of popular topics triggered new anxieties about the influence of Silicon Valley giants through both their software and their employees.

Facebook denied a report that its “news curators” altered its list of “trending topics” by suppressing conservative viewpoints and injecting news stories that weren’t popular.

Tom Stocky, the Facebook executive in charge of the feature, said in a post on the social site that computers generate a list of the most-discussed topics on the network, but that humans then curate the list to remove duplicates, screen out hoaxes and other “junk.”


Mr. Stocky said Facebook “found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.” Tech blog Gizmodo reported the allegations Monday, citing unnamed former Facebook contract workers.

The report sparked widespread criticism, particularly from Republicans. The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee sent a letter to Facebook seeking more information on the issue.

Media scholars say using human editors to curate trending topics inevitably introduces biases, both conscious and unconscious. Some called for Facebook to reveal more about how the feature works.

“At the core, this controversy is really about Facebook’s gatekeeping powers,” said Jason Turcotte, assistant professor of communication at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

“I think Facebook has a responsibility to be transparent about its gatekeeping processes and newsmaking decisions, but I also believe that the site can remain a platform for the free flow of ideas and perspectives without sacrificing journalistic responsibility,” he added. He said Facebook’s curators “must be cognizant of the motivations undergirding various information sources for both conservative and liberal sources.”
Of course, even the computer algorithms that do most of the work of selecting and ordering items on Facebook and other sites are written by people. Facebook tweaks the algorithm controlling its news feed roughly once a month, confusing both users and marketers.

Google parent Alphabet Inc. faces antitrust charges in Europe for allegedly using the algorithm behind its search engine to favor its own sites over rivals.’ Google denies violating European law.

In 2014, Facebook acknowledged having changed the news feeds, the torrent of new stories, images, videos and advertisements that greets users whenever they log on, of nearly 700,000 people to gauge their reactions to predominantly positive or negative posts. The disclosure sparked widespread fury among users who felt Facebook had treated them like lab rats.


The controversy doesn’t involve Facebook’s news feed, but the “trending stories” feature is located to the right of the news feed on Facebook’s desktop page; it appears on the mobile app when a user taps the search bar.

“Trending algorithms can identify patterns in data, but they can’t make sense of it,” wrote Tarleton Gillespie, an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University who is also affiliated with Microsoft Research. Computers can identify the words and phrases that appear most often on Facebook, Mr. Gillespie wrote in a blog post Monday, “but there is so much more to figure out.”

An algorithm may not be able to tell if posts about Beyoncé and her new album “Lemonade” are of the same topic, he said.

Still, the Gizmodo report ignited a firestorm of criticism. The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, sent a letter to Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg asking how the company chooses its trending topics and who is ultimately responsible for approving its content.

Outside Washington, the allegations also revived long-simmering concerns about Facebook’s unusual power to shape the outlook of its 1.6 billion users, as the lens through which they view much of the world.

A Pew Research study last year found 61% of Americans between ages 18 and 33 got some political news from Facebook in a given week. A new Pew study released Monday about how Americans read news on smartphones concluded that “Facebook sends by far the most mobile readers to news sites of any social media site.”

The Gizmodo report, citing an unnamed former journalist who worked on Facebook’s trending project, said Facebook workers prevented stories about the right-wing gathering known as the Conservative Political Action Conference as well as topics about Mitt Romney, Rand Paul and other conservative issues from appearing in the section, “even though they were organically trending among the site’s users.” The report also said stories from conservative outlets like Breitbart were excluded, even when they were popular, unless mainstream sites such as the New York Times, the BBC or CNN covered the same news.

In his reply, Mr. Stocky said popular topics are revealed by a Facebook algorithm and then “audited” by reviewers. He said Facebook had reviewed Gizmodo’s allegation that Facebook curators promoted the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag across the social network. “We looked into that charge and found that it is untrue,” Mr. Stocky said.

Gawker Media, which runs Gizmodo, said Tuesday it stood by the report. “We are proud of Mike Nunez’s thorough and ongoing reporting into the opaque process by which Facebook decides what news its users see,” said John Cook, editor in chief of Gawker Media, in a statement.

Facebook’s response didn’t quell the anger among conservatives, who lashed out at the social network, and by extension Silicon Valley. “Facebook must answer for conservative censorship,” Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted Monday night.

In an interview, Sen. Thune cast his interest in the issue as a matter of “consumer protection.”

“We want to know, to just clarify, whether you are using an objective algorithm to determine what your trending topics are, then just fine and show us that’s the case,” he said. “If their message to the American people is, ‘We are this objective news organization that doesn’t apply editorial discretion to those decisions,’ that policy ought to be followed.”

A spokeswoman said Facebook is reviewing the senator’s letter.

Facebook is a corporate sponsor of both the Republican and Democratic conventions this summer. Peter Thiel, a Facebook director, is running as a delegate supporting Donald Trump in the June 7 California primary.

Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, suggested the effort was misplaced, taking a swipe at the GOP-controlled Senate’s refusal to hold hearings on President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland.

“The Republican Senate refuses to hold hearings on Judge Garland, refuses to fund the President’s request for Zika aid and takes the most days off of any Senate since 1956, but thinks Facebook hearings are a matter of urgent national interest,” he said.

—Joshua Jamerson and Janet Hook contributed to this article.

Write to Deepa Seetharaman at


Egypt arrests four over video mocking President Sisi on the Internet

May 10, 2016


© AFP/File | Rights groups accuse Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (portrait) of running an ultra-authoritarian and repressive regime since he deposed his democratically elected Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013

CAIRO (AFP) – Four young Egyptians have been remanded in custody accused of making fun of the government in a satirical video posted on social networks, judicial sources said on Tuesday.

The move is the latest in a crackdown on voices critical of the authorities in Egypt.

At the same time, a fifth member of the group known as Street Children arrested on Saturday was ordered released on bail.

Their latest production appears to have touched a nerve as police round up activists involved in April protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for handing over two islands to Saudi Arabia.

Rights groups accuse Sisi of running an ultra-authoritarian and repressive regime since he deposed in 2013 his democratically elected Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi.

Mahmud Ottman, a lawyer for the four, said they were arrested late Monday while visiting a friend’s home in central Cairo.

On Tuesday, Mohammed Adel, Mohammed Gabr, Mohammed al-Dessouki and Mohammed Yehya were remanded in custody for 15 days, their lawyer and a judiciary official said.

In the group’s latest video, Street Children mock the devaluation of the Egyptian pound as well as the return of the islands to Saudi Arabia.

The four are accused of “promoting ideas calling for terrorist acts by posting a video on social networks and YouTube,” Ottman said.

They are also suspected of “incitement to take part in demonstrations disturbing the public order” and “inciting mobs to commit hostile actions against state institutions,” he added.

A Cairo court on Tuesday ordered the release on bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (about 990 euros) for a fifth member of the group, Ezzedine Khaled.

He is accused of “inciting protests and publishing a video that insulted state institutions”.

Ottman said the bail had been paid and he expected Khaled to be released.

Attempts to protest last month against the handover of the two islands to Saudi Arabia were nipped in the bud by the authorities.

Since then, they have also cracked down on activists, bloggers, lawyers and journalists.

The overthrow of Morsi, who was deeply unpopular, unleashed a police crackdown on his supporters that has killed hundreds of protesters and imprisoned thousands of people.

Hundreds of people including Morsi have also been sentenced to death in speedy mass trials denounced by the United Nations as “unprecedented in recent history”.


Facebook denies anti-conservative bias, censorship

May 10, 2016


Facebook on Tuesday denied allegations from a former news curator that it scrubs its site of articles by and about political conservatives.

Tech news outlet Gizmodo reported Monday that a former news curator at the social media giant has alleged that articles from politically conservative outlets — particularly when written about conservative subjects — were deliberately omitted from Facebook’s “trending news” sidebar of popular stories.

“I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) or (former presidential candidate) Mitt Romney or (radio talk show host) Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias,” the individual told Gizmodo anonymously.

The charges unleashed a fierce debate in the US media and on the social network itself, which has some 1.6 billion users around the globe.

But the Silicon Valley-based Facebook, a dominant player in the social media world, denied having an anti-conservative bias.

“We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true,” wrote Tom Stocky, vice president of search at Facebook, where he oversees the team responsible for engineering and designing Trending Topics.

“Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum,” Stocky wrote on the site.

The company said the popularity of news stories is determined by an algorithm, then audited — never manipulated — by review team members to confirm that the topics are in fact trending news items.

“There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality. These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. Nor do they permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another,” Stocky said.

“We want to encourage that robust political discussion from all sides.”

Facebook dismissed charges, also made anonymously, that it manipulated #BlackLivesMatter so that it would become a trending topic.

“We looked into that charge and found that it is untrue. We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so,” said Stocky.


Egypt: Satirical Group Arrested For Insulting President Sisi

May 10, 2016

BBC News

Members of Atfal al-Shawarea (Street Children) in video posted on Facebook, entitled Sisi, My President, Made Things Worse

Atfal al-Shawarea recently posted a video entitled Sisi, My President, Made Things Worse. Photo credit Atfal al-Shawarea

Egypt under Sisi

Five members of an Egyptian group whose satirical videos have mocked President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi have been arrested, their lawyer says.

Four of the six men in Atfal al-Shawarea (Street Children) were held on Monday on suspicion of insulting state institutions and inciting protests.

The fifth was detained on Saturday on similar charges.

Last week, they posted a video online that criticised the crackdown on anti-Sisi demonstrations and journalists.

More than 1,200 people were detained in April after people took to the streets to protest against the president’s controversial decision to hand over control of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

At least 577 people are reportedly facing charges including violating a law banning unauthorised public gatherings of more than 10 people.

The government has also been condemned by the journalists’ union for sending police into its headquarters this month to arrest two journalists from a website critical of the president. Prosecutors have accused the two journalists of inciting the protests.


The first member of Atfal al-Shawarea, which has a large following on Facebook, to be detained was Ezz el-Din Khaled.

The 19-year-old was arrested at his home in Cairo on Saturday and accused of inciting protests and publishing a video that insulted state institutions.

Protest against President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi outside the journalists' union in Cairo on 15 April 2016

Thousands of Egyptians protested in April against President Sisi. EPA

On Monday, a court ordered Mr Khaled’s release on bail, but prosecutors appealed against the decision. A ruling on the appeal was expected on Tuesday.

Four other members of the group – Mohammed Adel, Mohammed Yehia, Mohammed Gabr and Mohammed Desouki – were arrested late on Monday.

The sixth member of the group, Mohammed Zein, has so far not been detained.

It was not clear which of the group’s videos prosecutors had deemed insulting.

In one recent selfie-style clip filmed on a street, the men pretend to interrogate each other.

“What do you have to say about the charges against you?” one of them asks.

“I’m not [Muslim] Brotherhood! I’m a womaniser,” another responds, referring to the banned Islamist movement of former President Mohammed Morsi, whose overthrow in 2013 was led by Mr Sisi, then the military’s commander-in-chief.

The clip also sees the group sing about the devaluation of the Egyptian pound and the decision over the islands – which critics have condemned as unconstitutional and lacking transparency.

Another recent video is entitled Sisi, My President, Made Things Worse

Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News (And Christian Messages)

May 9, 2016

By Michael Nunez

Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential “trending” news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project. This individual says that workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users.

Several former Facebook “news curators,” as they were known internally, also told Gizmodo that they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all. The former curators, all of whom worked as contractors, also said they were directed not to include news about Facebook itself in the trending module.

In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing—but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.”

These new allegations emerged after Gizmodo last week revealed details about the inner workings of Facebook’s trending news team—a small group of young journalists, primarily educated at Ivy League or private East Coast universities, who curate the “trending” module on the upper-right-hand corner of the site. As we reported last week, curators have access to a ranked list of trending topics surfaced by Facebook’s algorithm, which prioritizes the stories that should be shown to Facebook users in the trending section. The curators write headlines and summaries of each topic, and include links to news sites. The section, which launched in 2014, constitutes some of the most powerful real estate on the internet and helps dictate what news Facebook’s users—167 million in the US alone—are reading at any given moment.

Read more:

In our own experience at Peace and Freedom, Facebook has also been caught suppressing Christian news and information….


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