Posts Tagged ‘fake news’

Expect China and Russia To Continue To Undermine Democracies

June 16, 2018

Riga, Latvia: Bob Posner’s name is perfect for who he is: a mild, middle-aged British public servant, not given to grand statements or dramatic claims.

He comes across as the sort of chap who’d say things like “anything for a quiet life”.

But suddenly it’s not that quiet.

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Posner is the director of the UK Electoral Commission’s finance and regulation section. His job is to make sure, using the principle of “follow the money”, that elections and referendums are run lawfully.

Usually this is just going over receipts and rapping the knuckles of anyone loose in their funding declarations.

By Nick Miller
Sydney Morning Herald

But now there are a “significant number of major investigations and inquiries on our books”, he says. Just last week they opened another new investigation into “a major campaigner” in the Brexit referendum.

“It does seem different and it does seem a concern,” he says.

“I find myself talking to my counterparts in a number of other countries about their issues. I find myself talking to security services in the UK and elsewhere, in the US in particular.

“That doesn’t seem normal to me. That seems very different to when I started my job four years ago. There’s been a change of some sort.”

When fake news meets marketing

Earlier this year British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “deeply concerned by Russia’s attempts to weaponise information”.

“The Kremlin is seeking to undermine the international rules-based system,” she said.

Millionaire Brexit campaigner Arron Banks, who had multiple contacts with Russian officials.
Millionaire Brexit campaigner Arron Banks, who had multiple contacts with Russian officials.Photo: PA

Britain’s secret services have warned since 2016 that hostile nation-states were seeking to undermine democracy and cause disruption in the West, including but not limited to influencing elections.

“The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty,” the head of MI6 said in December 2016.

In May this year, the head of MI5 accused Russia of having a “well-practised doctrine of blending media manipulation, social media disinformation and distortion along with new and old forms of espionage”.

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Vladimir Putin: “Blending media manipulation, social media disinformation and distortion.”Photo: AP

Posner says that for now, Britain is not aware of attempts – or at least successful attempts – to subvert British polls on the scale seen in other countries.

“But I would be very cautious on resting on that statement, because evidence continues to emerge all the time,” he says.

“Issues around the influence of and the efficacy of digital campaigning techniques used in the UK in the 2016 [Brexit referendum] campaign do seem increasingly concerning.”

Fake news and digital marketing have been combined and weaponised.

Targeting trust

Russia has been caught trying to manipulate elections in the USFrance and elsewhere. Experts say “microtargeted” messages are crafted using the latest behavioural psychology theories to bypass reason, exploit emotions and manipulate our biases, and these messages are injected into online echo chambers.

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Facebook is a key disseminator of fake news.Photo: AP

They’re used to nudge voters towards political extremes, or to destroy their belief that any of their institutions tell them the truth.

This was the scenario presented to leaders of the West’s military-academic complex at the “StratCom” (strategic communication) conference in Riga last week.

By the banks of the Daugava River, in the mountainous National Library of Latvia, professors rubbed shoulders with generals in the search for advantage in the “information space”.

And in Riga’s dive bars (including a famous Lenin-themed speakeasy), late at night, military consultants downed beers, swapped theories and tested each others’ Russian.

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The National Library of Latvia in Riga.

At this conference the boffins were asked to provide solutions. Some were radical: treat the disseminators of fake news, whether in Russia’s pay or not, as having committed treason.

Others asked if politicians themselves are to blame for losing the trust of voters, and if the real solution is in political reform and education of the young, not an escalating, literal war of words.

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Janis Sarts, of the StratCom centre of excellence in Riga.

Janis Sarts is being asked these questions regularly.

He’s the head of the host of the conference, the NATO-accredited StratCom (strategic communication) centre of excellence in Riga.

They’ve been around only a few years and already governments are banging on the door asking how to insulate their elections from Russian (or other) influence.

“Once you lose trust in [elections] so much else is at stake,” Sarts says. “And the Russians are active all over the place.

“The US, UK, France, Netherlands, Spain … Montenegro was a coup attempt during the election moment, really bold,” Sarts says. “Russia as a declining power has a huge risk appetite. They don’t see the existing system as one they benefit from.”

Even now that their meddling is being exposed he doesn’t see them stopping. Look at their attitude to MH17, he says.

“Putin has seen that denial works and he knows that the typical attention span is two weeks.”

Information is war

Mark Laity, who runs strategic communications at NATO’s command HQ in Europe, says Russia believes that war involves “information confrontation” at every stage of a conflict, long before an obvious war develops.

“For Russia, information dominance is an indispensable prerequisite of combat.”

Mikk Marran, director-general of Estonia’s foreign intelligence service, is on the frontline of this conflict – Estonia had been suffering this stuff long before the West woke up to it.

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He agrees with Sarts.

“One might think that maybe as Russia’s activities are exposed it would deter them and they would not do it again. I will assure you that it has not deterred Russia. They will do it again and we will see more of it.”

Marran points out that Russia is influencing elections in all sorts of ways, not just through tech wizardry. It has built a network of influence through Europe of politicians, journalists and academics who are paid in media exposure or business opportunities, and become vocal Putin backers.

But the tech side is more insidious.

Charles Kriel is a writer and broadcaster, a specialist advisor to a British House of Commons committee which is investigating fake news, and an associate fellow at King’s College London’s centre for strategic communications.

People can think they made a rational decision when in fact rationality had very little to do with it, he says. And that’s being exploited.

“What has changed is ’emotional targeting’, the use of social media – primarily Facebook,” Kriel says.

“Through Facebook I can emotionally target people with different messages, the message they will be most receptive to. I can do something now that no one has been able to do before. I can shout in your ear one thing, and in [someone else’s] ear another thing, and neither of you can hear that I am shouting different things.”

Each message is individualised using data scraped from people’s digital footprint, shaped into the most persuasive form based on an assessment of your likely biases and vulnerabilities.

And it can all be automated. Kriel calls it “microtargeting to scale … I can do this across millions of people on social media.”

He says there are “convenient collaborators” as well as direct Russian stooges: like a troll farm in Poland selling its services to all comers – brands, political parties, corporations, the Kremlin – who want online promotion. Or it could be a campaign that has entirely domestic aims, which finds its interests aligned with Russia’s.

Deliberate collusion or not, it’s all destabilising democratic societies, Kriel says.

“It’s not very hard to take someone who’s out at the margins and push them even further, into action or inaction, into further or lesser support, and in fact to push them to extremism. Bad actors are destroying people’s belief in truth and their faith in any institution whatsoever.

“We need to view some of these collaborations in the way historically we’ve viewed [them]. When you collaborate with an enemy working against your own country, criminal investigations need to be conducted and real punishment needs to be meted out.”

If the problem is the platform, then the platform needs to be fixed. But the committee Kriel is advising met a stone wall trying to get information out of Facebook. Kriel says it’s like “pulling teeth”. And he thinks it’s not just an attitude, it’s fundamental to what Facebook is.

“The big companies’ interests lie in the distribution of disinformation,” he says. “Silicon Valley has gotten away with a lot. They have made terrible mistakes, deploying products that weren’t fit for purpose and weren’t ready for our society.”

The trouble with Facebook

Sarts also wants to crack down on social media.

“These platforms incite behaviour that is not seeking facts, that is strong on emotions, that aggravates cognitive biases,” he says. “We are solely at the mercy of the platform to tell us whether this is happening or not.”

Recently Facebook and others have made more helpful noises but “it’s still a wild guess whether they’ll do it fully or not”, Sarts says.

“If a bank makes a profit out of dirty money, it has to face the consequences.”

Posner says they want transparency in online campaigning. When someone sees an ad or a story seeded into social media, it should be clear “who is placing it, who is the source of it, so voters can know in real time and can judge for themselves”, he says.

In France, they are relative newcomers to the problem but one of the fastest movers. Last year, just before the presidential vote, an apparently Kremlin-coordinated sting dubbed “MacronLeaks” tried to discredit candidate Emmanuel Macron with a release of hacked emails from his campaign.

Talk: Also on Thursday, the French president and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 46, gave a joint press conference in Ottawa

Macron, the French president and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Macron’s government is now pushing a “fake news law” that should be passed by the end of July, giving greater powers to its media regulator to monitor and dis-accredit organisations spreading fake news, and putting transparency obligations on digital platforms around sponsored content and ads.

Dr Jean-Baptiste Jeangene Vilmer, director of France’s institute for strategic research at the ministry of defence, says the attack on Macron’s En Marche party was “sloppy”, and didn’t take into account France’s lack of appetite for tabloid-like news. He also praises the mainstream media for being “very careful not to propagate false information”, the “whitewashing” of fake news that helps it spread.

Leaks and whitewashes

It’s one example of how civil society may be a better counter – in terms of morality as well as efficacy – to fake news than top-down regulation. One conference attendee warned that if you respond to the problem with stronger political and media controls, you risk “Putinising” your own society.

Eerik-Niiles Kross, a member of Estonia’s parliament, says it is “fruitless” to try to control the media environment.

“Instead of limiting information we should adapt. It’s pure Darwinism,” he says.

Microtargeting of messages is not going to go away. Instead, “politicians need to go back to the basis and start to stand for something”, Kross says.

Alex Aiken, executive director of government communications at Downing Street, agrees that “fake news can temporarily beat fact but it cannot overcome a compelling story”.

Many at the conference said education was the best long-term solution. People need to be made more aware of their biases; more wary of the overconfidence instilled by social media that saps critical judgement.

Professor Ben Newell, deputy head of the school of psychology at UNSW, says there is evidence that “de-biasing” techniques work, and people can be trained to second-guess information and resist unconscious influence.

He warns against just fighting fake facts with more facts.

“People tend to disengage,” he says – a result the Russians can also exploit, by flooding the field with a myriad of alternative theories, as they did with MH17 and the Skripals.

Fact checking can help shore up the beliefs of people who are already more or less convinced – but there’s a famous quote about “bringing fact-checking to a culture war”, says King’s College London researcher Leonie Haiden.

She prefers the idea of “credibility indicators” on social media, subtle design cues that visualise, unobtrusively, when information comes from a dodgy source.

The panda in the room

Image result for Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, photos
Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.Photo: AP

All of these ideas have merit, says Sarts. The aim is to change the cost-benefit analysis for Russia when it next weighs up whether to meddle in a vote.

But, he adds, Russia may not always be the problem.

“Russia has most of the attention, but China has most capability,” he says. “They definitely play in that area.”

As a successful, rising power, they have no incentive right now to “cross the line”, Sarts says.

But Laity points out that China has a concept of “three warfares” – media, psychological and legal warfares – an Eastern remix of the familiar Russian “hybrid war” idea.

 

China is “building capability”: amassing huge quantities of data and investing in artificial intelligence technology and talent, Sarts says

As technology continues to “hack” psychology, “down the road there’s an argument you can influence even more subtle behaviour, and there will be very few players as well placed for that as China”.

Nick Miller is Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/targeting-trust-how-russia-and-soon-china-will-undermine-us-20180615-p4zlm1.html

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India arrests 15 over latest ‘child abduction’ lynchings incited by social media

June 10, 2018

Vigilante mob killings sparked by fake news on social media….

Indian police have arrested 15 men after the latest in a spate of lynchings incited by rumours spread on WhatsApp of strangers abducting children, an officer said Sunday.

A mob in a mainly tribal area of the northeastern state of Assam pulled two men out of their car on Friday night and beat them to death before police could arrive.

© AFP/File | Smartphones are fuelling rumours of child abductions in India

A video on YouTube shows the badly bruised and bleeding men pleading for their lives.

The two friends, residents of Guwahati city in the state, were returning from a picnic spot.

“We have arrested 15 persons. We have also zeroed in on a couple of people who recorded and uploaded the video,” senior state police official Mukesh Agrawal told AFP.

“The villagers got suspicious of the strangers as for the last three or four days messages were going around on WhatsApp, as well as through word of mouth, about child lifters roaming the area,” the officer said.

India has seen a string of similar vigilante mob killings sparked by fake news — often looking like newspaper clippings — circulated on social media.

Last month six people were killed in separate incidents in southern India prompted by rumours about a child kidnapping gang.

And last year eight men were killed in similar attacks in Jharkhand state in the east.

Experts say false news spreads like wildfire in rural India, with vulnerable and often illiterate first-time smartphone users unable to sift real news from fake.

With ‘Spygate,’ Trump Shows How He Uses Conspiracy Theories to Erode Trust

May 29, 2018

“The diabolical brilliance of the Trump strategy of disinformation is that many people are simply going to hear the charges and countercharges, and decide that there must be something to them because the president of the United States is saying them.”

As a candidate, Donald J. Trump claimed that the United States government had known in advance about the Sept. 11 attacks. He hinted that Antonin Scalia, a Supreme Court justice who died in his sleep two years ago, had been murdered. And for years, Mr. Trump pushed the notion that President Barack Obama had been born in Kenya rather than Honolulu, making him ineligible for the presidency.

None of that was true.

Last week, President Trump promoted new, unconfirmed accusations to suit his political narrative: that a “criminal deep state” element within Mr. Obama’s government planted a spy deep inside his presidential campaign to help his rival, Hillary Clinton, win — a scheme he branded “Spygate.” It was the latest indication that a president who has for decades trafficked in conspiracy theories has brought them from the fringes of public discourse to the Oval Office.

Now that he is president, Mr. Trump’s baseless stories of secret plots by powerful interests appear to be having a distinct effect. Among critics, they have fanned fears that he is eroding public trust in institutions, undermining the idea of objective truth and sowing widespread suspicions about the government and news media that mirror his own.

President Trump’s promotion of elaborate, unproven theories appears to be having a distinct effect.Credit Eric Thayer for The New York Times

“The effect on the life of the nation of a president inventing conspiracy theories in order to distract attention from legitimate investigations or other things he dislikes is corrosive,” said Jon Meacham, a presidential historian and biographer. “The diabolical brilliance of the Trump strategy of disinformation is that many people are simply going to hear the charges and countercharges, and decide that there must be something to them because the president of the United States is saying them.”

Read the rest:

The New York Times

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/28/us/politics/trump-conspiracy-theories-spygate.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Google and Facebook face threat of Government probe over their dominance of digital advertising

May 28, 2018
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A Government review of the threats to press funding is considering a full competition investigation of Google and Facebook over their dominance of the digital advertising market.
The Cairncross Review was launched by Theresa May earlier this year to investigate the “danger to our democracy” posed by the squeeze on news publishers, particularly at the ­local level.

It is understood the panel of industry experts, led by the economist Dame Frances Cairncross, is working on recommendations including a referral of the digital advertising duopoly to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The idea attracted cross-party support over the weekend.

A consultation is being lined up for the autumn with a view to unleashing Britain’s competition watchdog on the £11.6bn a year sector next year.
It follows a recent House of Lords report that attacked the “dysfunctional and opaque” digital advertising market. A committee of peers heard that as much as 85pc of the British market relies on Google’s technology. Between them, Google and Facebook take around 55pc of every pound spent on digital advertising.

A demonstrator wears a mask depicting Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, who has become the focus of a parliamentary committee on fake newsCredit:Bloomberg
A CMA investigation would be likely to become a focus for calls to break up Google and Facebook by separating their monopolies on major web search and social networking from their sales operations.

Their opponents argue the move would encourage innovation and competition, and help publishers demand a bigger slice of digital advertising. A senior advertising source suggested multiple sales houses could “plug into” the Google search algorithm, for instance. Less radical action could curb the tech giants by ensuring they make it easier for advertisers to judge the impact of their spending.
Dame Frances is considering such issues as part of a broad analysis of press funding and the impact of digital “clickbait” for Matt Hancock, the Culture Secretary.

As well as a competition investigation, it is understood she is looking at separate options for forcing Google and Facebook to share more of their advertising income with publishers.
Dozens of local newspapers have closed in the last 18 months and many surviving titles are operating a skeleton staff. Rupert Murdoch has urged the introduction of “carriage fees”, whereby news publishers would negotiate blanket fees with Google and ­Facebook as broadcasters do with pay-TV operators.

Government manoeuvres against Google and Facebook have been boosted by backing for CMA intervention via the Cairncross Review from Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader.

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson attacked Google and Facebook for the impact they are having on journalism. Credit:Heathcliff O’Malley

A frequent critic of the press, he told The Daily Telegraph: “There’s no doubt that the dominance of the big social media and internet companies has had a big effect on journalism and it has often been very negative. We need to find a way to safeguard traditional public interest journalism, and particularly local journalism, from being crushed beneath these expanding social media and internet giants. We need to scrutinise how the digital advertising market is working, or maybe not working. A CMA investigation would be the obvious place to do that.”
He said Labour was considering whether to back a levy on Google and Facebook to help fund journalism.

Dame Frances is understood to be grappling with how the press could be shielded from government influence if a levy was imposed. Jeremy Corbyn has warned publishers that “change is coming” under a Labour government.

International calls have been mounting for action against the market power of Google and Facebook, intensified by political controversies over “fake news”, hosting of terrorist and paedophile material and privacy violations.

Over the weekend, a joint statement from British, US and European publishers warned that “Google holds a vast share of the digital advertising market and there are very few alternatives”, as part of a row over advertising contracts under Brussels’ new GDPR regulations.
A spokesman for the publishing companies said: “Google is effectively putting a gun against publishers’ heads. The implication in not signing Google’s GDPR terms, and not doing business with them, is that publishers will suffer dire consequences in terms of revenues. This is a flagrant abuse of their dominant position.”

Other players in the digital advertising sector are arguing that the stranglehold of Google and Facebook could be broken by Amazon, which has a fast-growing advertising business.

Steve Allan, the global chief executive of the WPP agency Mediacom, said that despite concerns, a full regulatory clampdown would be ­“premature”. Google and Facebook have recently redoubled attempts to work with publishers as regulation looms. In March, Google said it would spend $300m to tackle misinformation online and help publishers build subscriptions.

Facebook has sought to back away from news. Its decision to show fewer news articles in its main feed in favour of personal updates from friends has hit outlets such as MailOnline, which last week revealed a 9pc drop in traffic

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Zuckerberg’s European Parliament testimony — “he dodged too many questions”

May 23, 2018

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has apologised to EU lawmakers for the company’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal and for allowing fake news to proliferate on its platform.

Mr Zuckerberg apologised for Facebook’s tools being used “for harm”.

But his testimony did not please all MEPs at the meeting, some of whom felt he had dodged their questions.

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BBC News

One leading UK politician later said the session at the European Parliament had been a “missed opportunity”.

“Unfortunately the format of questioning allowed Mr Zuckerberg to cherry-pick his responses and not respond to each individual point,” said Damian Collins, chair of the UK Parliament’s Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee.

The format was very different from that of Mr Zuckerberg’s testimony to US lawmakers in April.

Mark ZuckerbergImage copyrightEUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
Image captionMr Zuckerberg met European Parliament President Antonio Tajani before the Q&A session

While the US politicians took turns to cross-examine the Facebook chief in a series of back-and-forth exchanges, the leaders of the European Parliament’s various political groups each asked several questions apiece.

The tech chief had to wait until they were all delivered before responding.

Mr Zuckerberg spent 22 minutes going through the huge number of questions put to him during the session and was able to pick and choose which to give answers to.

Several of the politicians expressed frustration at this, and one accused Mr Zuckerberg of having “asked for this format for a reason”.

A spokesman for Facebook later contacted the BBC to say it had not chosen the structure. This was subsequently confirmed by the parliament’s president, Antonio Tajani.

In a follow-up press conference, Mr Tajani added that the MEPs had been aware Mr Zuckerberg’s time was limited yet had decided to use up much of the allotted period speaking themselves.

He also drew attention to the fact that the chief executive had agreed to provide follow-up written answers.

Unaddressed topics

Mr Zuckerberg did not address questions about whether Facebook was a monopoly and how it plans to use data from its WhatsApp division.

Nor did he directly answer questions about shadow profiles or whether non-Facebook users’ data should be collected.

Guy Verhofstadt
Guy Verhofstadt had threatened not to attend when the event was set to be restricted from public view

Several of the MEPs had also voiced scepticism about the business.

Guy Verhofstadt MEP had asked Mr Zuckerberg if he wanted to be remembered as “the genius who created a digital monster”, which the Facebook boss did not answer.

British MEP and leading Brexiteer Nigel Farage expressed his view that Facebook was not a politically neutral platform, asking whether the social network “wilfully discriminated” against right-of-centre commentators.

Mr Zuckerberg did respond to this point, saying Facebook had “never made a decision about what content was allowed on the basis of political orientation”.

Tackling other questions, he also said he expected to find other apps that had misused customer data and pointed out that an internal investigation into thousands of third-party developers to see if there similar cases to the Cambridge Analytica scandal would take “many months”.

So far, he said, Facebook had suspended more than 200 apps.

Presentational grey line

Analysis:

Mark ZuckerbergImage copyright EPA

By Dave Lee, North America technology reporter

The European Parliament has been left wanting more.

The format of the meeting meant that rather than tackle specific concerns – particularly about the tracking of non-Facebook users – Mr Zuckerberg was able to group the questions into broad areas.

That meant he could give broad answers.

Reading any blog from the company published in the past three months would give you much the same information as we heard today.

This clearly angered several MEPs, who expressed frustration over what they saw as insufficient responses to their concerns.

Then again, how detailed can you be when you have been given less than half an hour to answer huge, almost existential, questions?

Facebook is under close examination, but maybe so too should be the way politicians question these incredibly powerful figures.

If you’re following along, here’s a scorecard for Mr Zuckerberg’s “tough” committee appearances: Congress achieved little, Europe even less.

Presentational grey line

‘Committed to Europe’

The meeting between Mr Zuckerberg and the European Parliament’s political group leaders had originally been planned to be held in private.

But that sparked a wave of criticism resulting it being livestreamed via the web.

One popular topic among the MEPs was an imminent shake-up of data privacy rules.

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage challenged Facebook’s claims to impartiality

Facebook recently transferred 1.5 billion of its international users from the jurisdiction of its European headquarters, in Ireland, to that of its US headquarters, with some speculating this was to avoid costly legal action resulting from breaches of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The sweeping changes to data laws will give consumers much more control over how their personal details are used.

Several of the MEPs challenged Mr Zuckerberg over whether he was truly committed to obeying the regulation.

Media caption WATCH: What is GDPR?

He responded that he expected Facebook would be fully compliant with the law by the time it came into force on Friday.

He added that the app had already presented European members with the revised settings required and “a large percentage” of the users had already reviewed them.

UK MPs are keen to pose their own questions to Mr Zuckerberg about the Cambridge Analytica scandal but the Facebook founder has so far declined to make a trip to the UK.

Includes videos:

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-44210800

Mark Zuckerberg to Apologize Again, This Time to European Parliament

May 22, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, plans to strike a conciliatory note when he speaks to members of the European Parliament on Tuesday, in the latest stop on his apology tour for the social network’s mishandling of user information.

Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, is expected to stick to what has become a well-used script when he appears before European lawmakers in Brussels.Credit Tom Brenner/The New York Times

By Sheera Franel
The New Tork Times
May 22, 2018

Mr. Zuckerberg is expected to stick to what has become a well-used script when he appears before European lawmakers in Brussels on Tuesday evening. The chief executive intends to say that Facebook did not do enough to prevent the social network from being used for harm, according to an excerpt from his prepared remarks viewed by The New York Times.

“Whether it’s fake news, foreign interference in elections or developers misusing people’s information, we didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibilities,” Mr. Zuckerberg plans to say, according to the prepared remarks. “That was a mistake, and I’m sorry.”

The language closely mirrors what Mr. Zuckerberg told members of Congress last month when he went to Washington for a two-day grillingover how Facebook handled the data of tens of millions of its users. The Times and others had revealed in March that a British political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, had improperly used the information of Facebook members to build psychographic profiles of American voters, setting off a data privacy storm.

Since then, Mr. Zuckerberg has posted a public apology for the scandal, accepting personal responsibility for the data leak and vowing to “step up.” The Silicon Valley company has also announced new privacy and security settings and begun an advertising campaign in which it has promised to clean up the social network.

In his appearance in front of Congress last month, Mr. Zuckerberg said, “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry.”

Mr. Zuckerberg has been under pressure for weeks to appear in front of lawmakers in Europe, where officials have been more proactive than in the United States in regulating the tech giants. His appearance before the European Parliament on Tuesday comes just days before the region’s introduction of new regulations for protecting data privacy, known as the General Data Protection Regulation. Under the rules, European regulators will have the power to fine companies up to 4 percent of their global revenue for violations — a sum equivalent to $1.6 billion in Facebook’s case.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision to meet with members of the European Parliament was disclosed last week, when Antonio Tajani, the president of the body, tweeted that the chief executive would visit this week. It quickly became clear that the conditions for Mr. Zuckerberg’s appearance were favorable for him because the European Parliament does not directly regulate Facebook or other technology companies and because it had agreed to a closed-door session with the chief executive.

That created a backlash, with several European lawmakers quickly threatening to not attend the meeting if it was not made public.

On Sunday, Mr. Tajani tweeted that it was “great news” that Mr. Zuckerberg had agreed to a live web broadcast of the session after all. Facebook accepted a livestream after fears that a boycott by European lawmakers would grab even more headlines and detract from the message of the meeting, according to an official within Facebook, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Antonio Tajani

@EP_President

I have personally discussed with Facebook CEO Mr Zuckerberg the possibilty of webstreaming meeting with him. I am glad to announce that he has accepted this new request. Great news for EU citizens. I thank him for the respect shown towards EP. Meeting tomorrow from 18:15 to 19:30

On Tuesday, Mr. Zuckerberg is also expected to assure European lawmakers that Facebook is “committed to Europe,” according to a copy of his prepared remarks. He plans to cite Facebook’s European headquarters in Ireland as an example, as well as the company’s offices in London, where the social network has its largest engineering team outside of the United States.

“By the end of 2018, Facebook will employ 10,000 people across 12 European cities — up from 7,000 today. And we will continue to invest,” Mr. Zuckerberg intends to say. “Europeans make up a large and incredibly important part of our global community.”

After Mr. Zuckerberg testifies to the European Parliament, he is scheduled to make other stops in Europe. On Wednesday, he is set to have lunch with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in Paris to discuss a range of issues. Mr. Zuckerberg will also be interviewed onstage at the Viva Technology conference in Paris on Thursday in a conversation that will be livestreamed.

Adam Satariano contributed reporting from London.

Follow Sheera Frenkel on Twitter: @sheeraf.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page B4 of the New York edition with the headline: Zuckerberg Is Set to Apologize to European Parliament.

 

Zuckerberg in Brussels: five things to watch

May 22, 2018
Facebook founder faces European Parliament over data protection and election meddling

Image may contain: 3 people, suit
© Reuters

Hannah Kuchler in San Francisco and Mehreen Khan in Brussels


As Mark Zuckerberg’s apology tour rolls into Brussels on Tuesday, members of the European Parliament will get to question the Facebook chief executive on everything from Cambridge Analytica to Europe’s new privacy rules to the social network’s role in elections.

Mr Zuckerberg will try to appeal to European politicians by talking about how Facebook is a force for good in the EU, from helping users find loved ones during terrorist attacks, to helping small businesses find customers, to employing 10,000 people on the continent by the end of 2018.

“Many of the values Europeans care most deeply about are values we share: from the importance of human rights and the need for community to a love of technology, with all the potential it brings,” he will say, according to pre-released testimony.

But the politicians will have plenty of other things to ask about. Here are five:

Who is responsible for the massive data leak to Cambridge Analytica?


It has been more than two months since the first reports of a leak of up to 87m Facebook users’ personal information to the data analytics firm which worked for the Trump campaign. Mr Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives have answered questions in front of Congress, the UK parliament, and in the press. But it is still not clear who inside Facebook was responsible for making the decision not to inform the public when the company first discovered the leak in 2015. Facebook opted instead to secure promises from Cambridge Analytica and others that it would delete the data.

Damian Collins, the UK MP who chairs the Digital, Media, Culture and Sport committee probing the leak, has complained that Facebook has refused to answer this question and urged his colleagues in the European Parliament to pursue it.

What action has Facebook taken to make sure a similar leak never happens again?


Facebook has rushed out many restrictions on the data that can be accessed by third party app developers and made changes that allow users to opt out of some data collection, such as that which tracks them across the web. But the members of the European Parliament will be trying to figure out if these changes are significant and address the root causes of the problem. Syed Kamall, a Tory MEP and head of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, said he wants to know how Facebook could investigate third party apps it suspects of abuse, or whether there are commercial limits to what it can do.

How will Facebook comply with GDPR and the ePrivacy directive?


Mr Zuckerberg’s appearance in Brussels is timely, in the week that the largest ever reform of European privacy rules comes into force. Politicians will look carefully at changes Facebook has already announced in response to the General Data Protection Regulation, examining whether it is asking users for consent in a clear enough fashion to comply with the law. They may also want answers on other areas of GDPR, such as how Facebook plans to notify regulators of data breaches within 72 hours and how Facebook will try to minimise the data it collects.

Facebook could also be affected by the ePrivacy regulation — an updated set of rules that restrict the use of cookies to track users around the web — being drafted by the EU. Claude Moraes, a Labour MEP and chair of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee, said he wanted to ask how the ePrivacy laws would impact Facebook’s business model. Progress on approving the laws has been stuck for more than 18 months amid disagreement from EU governments. “Data driven advertising of the type Facebook is involved in, is captured more by the ePrivacy regulation than GDPR. This is what the tech companies fear the most,” said Mr Moraes.

How will Facebook fight fake news during European elections?


Politicians are also interested in how Facebook is trying to stop the spread of disinformation during elections, particularly given next year’s vote for the European Parliament. MEPs will question Mr Zuckerberg on how Facebook will deal with fake news in Europe.

“Every election now is tainted and we want to get to the heart of this,” said Mr Moraes.

Facebook has formed partnerships with fact-checkers across Europe and boasted it had had better success in using artificial intelligence to tackle fake accounts and fake news in the French and German elections last year than it did in the US presidential election in 2016.

How will Facebook restrict political advertising?


The members of the European Parliament will also be interested in how Facebook’s new restrictions on political advertising, designed to unmask rogue foreign interference in elections, could impact genuine campaigns and news publishers. Facebook is asking for identification from advertisers that promote not just candidates but also political issues — a long list that features everything from “the economy” to “government reform”.

News organisations have protested that when they pay to boost political articles, they could be subject to the same rules. They do not want to have to label the stories with “paid for by”, as if they were a political party.

https://www.ft.com/content/cd745340-5d47-11e8-ad91-e01af256df68

Europe’s antitrust cop, Margrethe Vestager, has Facebook and Google in her crosshairs

May 13, 2018

Regulators are looking closely at how technology companies harness vast troves of data to enrich themselves, quash competition and exert control over their users. Not to mention “fake news.”

“I think they are wrong in believing that data must have all the characteristics of cash.”

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The Washington Post
May 12 at 7:40 PM
 

Margrethe Vestager is an avid Twitter user who likes to post photos of flowers and cityscapes from her native Denmark.

Her account is also a means of tracking her travels as Europe’s chief antitrust cop and a scourge of big technology companies. Here she is at the European Parliament. Here she is speaking in Washington and at Harvard and delivering a Ted talk in New York. Here she is imposing a $2.9 billion fine on Google for “abusing its search dominance.” And slapping Facebook with a fine for “wrong/misleading information when it took over WhatsApp.” And threatening higher taxes for Apple and other digital companies that do business in Europe.

Vestager was scrutinizing tech companies long before the latest scandals about Russian election interference through social media and misuse of data by Cambridge Analytica. But she said those episodes “changed the context very much.”

“Just as there is a wonderful side to big data in a variety of different kinds and ways, there is a dark side to it as well,” she said in an interview. “And I think that has been much more obvious.”

The disclosure that Cambridge Analytica deployed personal data from millions of Facebook users, without their permission, in the service of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has fueled privacy concerns most prominently. Vestager said that, as a consumer, she worries about data privacy, too.

But she and other regulators are also looking closely at how technology companies harness vast troves of data to enrich themselves, quash competition and exert control over their users.

The value of data is skyrocketing: For example, Facebook made $11.8 billion on advertising in the first three months of 2018, up 50 percent from the same period a year earlier.

Competition watchdogs have often viewed the privacy concerns surrounding data and technology as unworthy of their full regulatory firepower. Yet as more value is ascribed to peoples’ information, that is starting to change.

Germany’s Federal Cartel Office is investigating whether Facebook abused its dominant position to force users to accept its terms and conditions and hand over information that the company then sold to advertisers. The case is limited to a single country. But the outcome could set a model for others to follow.

“The issues are not clear, at least not yet,” Vestager said. “We follow with interest what the Germans are doing in the space between competition law enforcement and privacy.”

Growing European frustrations with technology companies, many of which are American, were evidenced by the European Parliament’s endorsement last month of a nonbinding report that advocated breaking up Google. Vestager said a breakup is “not very much my preoccupation.”

But many European analysts agree that data concerns could evolve into other competition concerns.

“Data has such an economic value. It’s sometimes characterized as the raw materials of the new economy,” said Christopher Kuner, co-chair of the Brussels Privacy Hub at the Free University of Brussels, who said he has watched his students seek to bring together privacy and antitrust issues in novel ways.

“It’s hard to see how this wouldn’t become more important in the future. There seems to be growing concern about the market power of digital services,” he said.

The European Commission already reviews whether companies that are merging could bring together a volume of data that would close the market to competitors. Vestager said she has also directed members of her team to explore whether control over data could create a violation of antitrust law more broadly.

Antitrust regulators face a range of challenges in taking on data concerns. It can be hard to assign a value to data. Some can easily be shared or copied. And the economic value of some user information can be fleeting: News Corp. bought the social networking site MySpace for $580 million in 2005, only to sell it for $35 million six years later.

Vestager said she sometimes doubted the value of the targeted advertising that drives much of the companies’ business. Her ­pixie-cut hair is unapologetically salt and pepper, but, she said, “I get a lot of advertising on how to cover your gray hair. So obviously they don’t know that I wear it with pride.”

She said that her job, however, is to keep watch over the industry, no matter the effectiveness of its advertising.

This month, a broad new set of privacy regulations will go into effect in the European Union, forcing companies to hand over far more control of personal data to the 500 million consumers of the bloc. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has said that U.S. Facebook users will also be granted some of those increased controls.

In congressional hearings with Zuckerberg last month, lawmakers appeared to be considering imposing new regulations on the way Facebook and other Internet giants use their users’ information.

But, so far, U.S. antitrust regulators have been cautious about getting involved in what they say is an evolving market for privacy. Some have said they are worried that too much regulation could stifle innovation — and they say that as consumer attitudes change about how much value to place in privacy, regulators should stand aside unless there are clear market abuses.

“The mentality regarding free platforms may well be changing. I know that for me, it has changed,” said Makan Delrahim, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s antitrust division, in a speechlast month. “Antitrust enforcers may need to take a close look to see whether competition is suffering and consumers are losing out on new innovations as a result of misdeeds by a monopoly incumbent.”

Many Europeans are skeptical of the cautious U.S. approach.

“Data is itself valuable, and people give it in exchange for services,” said Alec Burnside, a lawyer at the Dechert law firm in Brussels who has taken part in antitrust complaints against Google. “I think they are wrong in believing that data must have all the characteristics of cash.”

Quentin Ariès contributed to this report.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/europes-antitrust-cop-margrethe-vestager-has-facebook-and-google-in-her-crosshairs/2018/05/10/519eb1a0-47cd-11e8-8082-105a446d19b8_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.101c8541ab70

‘Transparency’ is the Mother of Fake News — Opinion

May 7, 2018

For some time now everyone has been worrying about “fake news” or the world of “alternative fact” and wondering just how and why this unhappy phenomenon has flourished. My take on this question is simple, although I hope not simple-minded: Fake news is in large part a product of the enthusiasm — not to say rage — for transparency and absolutely free speech.

By Stanley Fish

Mr. Fish is a legal scholar and author.

Credit Mike Clarke/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

I know that this is a counterintuitive proposition. I would like to begin my defense of it with an anecdote.

In November 2016, Scott Titsworth, dean of the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University, informed the university community of the first meeting of a presidential advisory group charged with recommending free speech policies for the campus. Titsworth reported that the group’s first action was to affirm transparency as one of its “core values”; the second action was to decide (unanimously) that its meetings would not be open to the public, but held in private.

As you can imagine, it was easy to make fun of the obvious contradiction, but the contradiction is not so glaring once we understand that two notions of what “free” means are in play here. The group wants (understandably) to be free of the pressures that would be felt if the proceedings were conducted under public scrutiny; at every moment members would be tempted to tailor what they said to the responses and criticisms of an imagined audience. In short, they would not be speaking freely but under a shadow if the meaning of “freely” in force were “entirely without filters, gatekeepers and boundaries.”

That sense of “freely” is championed by techno-utopians whose mantra is “information wants to be free” and who believe that the promised land predicted by the authors of every technological advance — the printing press, newspapers, the telegraph, the railroad, radio, television, the digital computer, the internet — is just around the corner. It is a land in which democracy’s potential is finally realized in a communication community where all voices are recognized and none marginalized, with no one hoarding information or controlling access or deciding who speaks and who doesn’t.

What Titsworth and his fellow committee members see is that this more ambitious and abstract sense of “freely” is antithetical to the successful completion of their task: Not speaking freely in front of everyone is a condition of speaking freely — without anxiety and mental reservation — on the way to exploring the complexities and difficulties of their charge.

The moral (provisionally, and perhaps prematurely, drawn) is that transparency is not unambiguously a good thing. (I pass over for the moment the prior question of whether it is a possible thing.) And if that is right, then the proliferation of speech may not be a good thing either; silence and the withholding and sequestering of speech may be useful and even necessary in some contexts, like the preparing of a report or maintaining of a marriage. I say this aware that many free speech advocates believe that the more free speech there is the better the human condition will be, and who believe, too, that it is the business of our institutions, including our legislatures and courts, to increase the amount of speech available.

At first glance the bias in favor of unlimited speech and information seems perfectly reasonable and even unassailable. What arguments could be brought against it? An answer to that question has been offered in recent years by a small, but growing, number of critics.

In a 2009 essay in The New Republic titled “Against Transparency,” the law professor Lawrence Lessig (known as an apostle of openness), asked, as I just have, “How could anyone be against transparency?” Lessig responds to his own question by quoting a trio of authors who in their book “Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promise of Transparency” observe that by itself information doesn’t do anything; its effects depend on the motives of those who make use of it, and raw information (that is, data) cannot distinguish between benign and malign appropriations of itself. Misunderstanding and manipulation are always more than possible, and there is no way to assure that “new information is used to further public objectives.”

Another way to put this is to say that information, data and the unbounded flow of more and more speech can be politicized — it can, that is, be woven into a narrative that constricts rather than expands the area of free, rational choice. When that happens — and it will happen often — transparency and the unbounded flow of speech become instruments in the production of the very inequalities (economic, political, educational) that the gospel of openness promises to remove. And the more this gospel is preached and believed, the more that the answer to everything is assumed to be data uncorrupted by interests and motives, the easier it will be for interest and motives to operate under transparency’s cover.

This is so because speech and data presented as if they were independent of any mechanism of selectivity will float free of the standards of judgment that are always the content of such mechanisms. Removing or denying the existence of gatekeeping procedures will result not in a fair and open field of transparency but in a field where manipulation and deception find no obstacles. Because it is an article of their faith that politics are bad and the unmediated encounter with data is good, internet prophets will fail to see the political implications of what they are trying to do, for in their eyes political implications are what they are doing away with.

Indeed, their deepest claim — so deep that they are largely unaware of it — is that politics can be eliminated. They don’t regard politics as an unavoidable feature of mortal life but as an unhappy consequence of the secular equivalent of the Tower of Babel: too many languages, too many points of view. Politics (faction and difference) will just wither away when the defect that generates it (distorted communication) has been eliminated by unmodified data circulated freely among free and equal consumers; everyone will be on the same page, reading from the same script and apprehending the same universal meanings. Back to Eden!

This utopian fantasy rests on a positive, vaguely perfectionist view of human nature: Rather than being doomed by original sin to conflict, prejudice, hatred and an insatiable will to power, men and women are by nature communitarian, inclined to fellowship and the seeking of common ground. These good instincts, we are told, have been blocked by linguistic differences that can now be transcended by the digital revolution.

A memorable Facebook news release written by Mark Zuckerberg a few years back, cited by Evgeny Morozov in his book “To Save EverythingClick Here” tells the happy and optimistic story: “By enabling people from diverse backgrounds to easily connect and share their ideas, we can decrease world conflict in the short and long run.” The idea, Morozov explains, is that factions and conflict “are simply the unfortunate result of an imperfect communication infrastructure.” If we perfect that infrastructure by devising a language of data algorithms and instantaneous electronic interaction that bypasses intervening and distorting institutions like the state, then communication would be perfect and undistorted, and society would be set on the right path without any further political efforts required. Talk about magical thinking!

In the alternative and true story rehearsed by many, human difference is irreducible, and there is no “neutral observation language” (a term of the philosopher Thomas Kuhn’s in his 1962 book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”) that can bridge, soften, blur and even erase the differences. When people from opposing constituencies clash there is no common language to which they can refer their differences for mechanical resolution; there are only political negotiations that would involve not truth telling but propaganda, threats, insults, deceptions, exaggerations, insinuations, bluffs, posturings — all the forms of verbal manipulation that will supposedly disappear in the internet nirvana.

They won’t. Indeed, they will proliferate because the politically angled speech that is supposedly the source of our problems is in fact the only possible route to their (no doubt temporary) solution. Speech proceeding from a point of view can at least be recognized as such and then countered. You say, “I know where those guys are coming from, and here are my reasons for believing that we should be coming from some place else” — and dialogue begins. It is dialogue inflected by interests and agendas, but dialogue still. But when speech (or information or data) is just sitting there inert, unattached to any perspective, when there are no guidelines, monitors, gatekeepers or filters, what you have are innumerable bits (like Lego) available for assimilation into any project a clever verbal engineer might imagine; and what you don’t have is any mechanism that can stop or challenge the construction project or even assess it. What you have, in short, are the perfect conditions for the unchecked proliferation of what has come to be called “fake news.”

The rise of fake news has been attributed by some to the emergence of postmodern thought. Victor Davis Hanson, a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University wrote in 2017 that fake news can be “traced back to the campus,” specifically to “academic postmodernism,” which Hanson says, “derides facts and absolutes, and insists that there are only narratives and interpretations.”

That’s not quite right. The insistence on the primacy of narratives and interpretations does not involve a deriding of facts but an alternative story of their emergence. Postmodernism sets itself against the notion of facts just lying there discrete and independent, and waiting to be described. Instead it argues that fact is the achievement of argument and debate, not a pre-existing entity by whose measure argument can be assessed. Arguments come first; when they are successful, facts follow — at least for a while, until a new round of arguments replaces them with a new set of facts.

This is far from the picture of Nietzschean nihilism that Hanson and others paint. Friction, not free invention, is the heart of the process: You commit yourself to the standards of evidence long in place in the conversation you enter, and then you maneuver as best you can within the guidelines of those standards. Thus, for example, a judge who issues a decision cannot simply decide which side he favors and then generate an opinion; he must first pass through and negotiate the authorized routes for getting there. Sometimes the effort at negotiation will fail and he will say that despite his interpretive desires, “This opinion just won’t write.”

Any opinion will write if there are no routes to be negotiated or no standards to hew to, if nothing but your own interpretive desire prevents you from assembling or reassembling bits of unmoored data lying around in the world into a story that serves your purposes. It is not postmodernism that licenses this irresponsibility; it is the doctrine that freedom of information and transparency are all we need.

Those who proclaim this theology can in good faith ignore or bypass all the usual routes of validation because their religion tells them that those routes are corrupt and that only the nonmethod of having no routes, no boundaries, no categories, no silos can bring us to the River Jordan and beyond.

In many versions of Protestantism, parishioners are urged to reject merely human authority in any form and go directly to the pure word of God. For the technophiles the pure word of God is to be found in data. In fact, what is found in a landscape where data detached from any context abounds is the fracturing of the word into ever proliferating pieces of discourse, all existing side by side, indifferently approved, and without any way of distinguishing among them, of telling which of them are true or at least have a claim to be true and which are made up out of whole cloth.

That is the world of fake news. It is created by the undermining of trust in the traditional vehicles of authority and legitimation — major newspapers, professional associations, credentialed academics, standard encyclopedias, government bureaus, federal courts, prime-time nightly news anchors.

When Walter Cronkite was the longtime anchor at CBS, he was known as the most trusted man in America; and when he signed off by saying, “And that’s the way it is,” everyone believed him. In the brave new world of the internet, where authority is evenly distributed to everyone with a voice or a podcast, no one believes anybody, or (it is the same thing) everyone believes anybody.

This wholesale distrust of authoritative mechanisms leads to the bizarre conclusion that an assertion of fact is more credible if it lacks an institutional source. In this way of thinking, a piece of news originating in a blog maintained by a teenager in a basement in Idaho would be more reliable than a piece of news announced by the anchor of a major network. And, again, what has brought us to this sorry pass is not the writings of Derrida or Foucault or any postmodern guru but the twin mantras of more free speech and absolute transparency.

Stanley Fish is a professor of law at Florida International University and a visiting professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. He is the author of many books and is currently at work on a book about free speech in America.

Now in print: “Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments,” and “The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments,” with essays from the series, edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, published by Liveright Books.

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NYT, May 7, 2018

Malaysia’s opposition cries foul over uneven playing field in election

May 5, 2018

Everyone said this would be a “dirty election” in Malaysia. Opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad is under seige and officials from PM Najib Razak’s party BN are cutting out or painting over his image on some billboards and police are investigating him for spreading “fake news”.

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Opposition lawmaker Liew Chin Tong of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) speaks in front of an election banner, after a picture of opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad is cut out, in Johor, Malaysia April 30, 2018 in this photo obtained from social media. MANDATORY CREDIT. Liew Chin Tong/via REUTERS

Mahathir and other opposition leaders say the moves are intended to further help the prospects of Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose ruling coalition already enjoys a near-monopoly of coverage in newspapers and on television and radio.

“I have never seen an election like this. It hasn’t yet begun but efforts to cheat are already underway,” Mahathir, 92, said at an election rally on Thursday. “You can see that this time Najib is so afraid, he is afraid of even a picture.”

Najib’s Barisan Nasional (BN) alliance dismissed the allegations. “Every election we hear the same complaints,” Communications Minister Salleh Said Keruak said in response to Mahathir’s comments.

Najib has said the opposition has subjected the government to a “tsunami of slander”.

BN, which analysts say is facing its toughest election since it took power when Malaysia became independent six decades ago, has previously said the opposition claims are an effort to win sympathy votes and smear the reputation of the Election Commission.

Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, Mahathir was once a mentor of Najib but turned against him and joined the opposition over a multi-billion-dollar financial scandal that has plagued the government since 2015.

Pictures of Mahathir have been removed from billboards in a constituency in Johor state, an opposition MP has said. The Election Commission said that was done to comply with new guidelines regulating the use of images of party officials on campaign materials.

Mahathir said his allegations of “cheating” also referred to the redrawing of electoral boundaries just weeks before the poll, which his camp says will favor the government.

“TOO MANY OBSTACLES”

The Election Commission said the redrawing of the electoral map in March was free from political interference, and says its rules on campaign materials are being applied equitably.

A recent report by political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said that although support for the opposition appeared to be gaining momentum, it had only a 15 percent chance of winning.

“Najib has placed too many obstacles in their way and there is too little time before the vote on May 9 to overcome those,” said Eurasia’s Asia director, Peter Mumford.

A BN spokesman said the government had placed no such obstacles.

“The opposition are preparing excuses for when they lose, but Malaysians – whose free and fair votes will determine the result – know better,” the spokesman said.

In April, Najib’s government passed an anti-fake news law seen by critics as a move to suppress dissent and free speech.

Within four weeks of the introduction of the law, Mahathir was under investigation for spreading “fake news” over claims his plane was sabotaged in the run up to elections.

“Go ahead and charge me,” Mahathir said on Thursday.

The opposition also says BN has stifled publicity for its candidates and campaigns, which get negligible coverage on national television, radio or newspapers, most of which are state-linked or seen as supportive of the government.

There are no laws stipulating equal broadcast airtime for political parties in Malaysia, though in recent years this has become less of a disadvantage for the opposition because of the growing importance of social media.

Elections in Malaysia have mostly been seen by international observers as lopsided and in favor of BN, including under Mahathir, who was prime minister from 1981 to 2003.

A U.S. State Department human rights report released in April said opposition parties in Malaysia have been unable to compete on equal terms with BN because of “malapportionment” of parliament constituencies and government control over traditional media outlets.

“The lack of equal access to media was a serious problem for the opposition in national elections,” the report said. “News about the opposition was restricted and reported in a biased fashion in print and broadcast media.”

(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi, additional reporting by Emily Chow; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Reuters