Posts Tagged ‘Russia Today’

Ukraine raids Kiev offices of Russian state media — “No more hybrid war against Ukraine.”

May 15, 2018

Ukraine’s state security service searched the Kiev offices of Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency and TV channel RT on Tuesday, after detaining one journalist near his home, officials said.

“Investigative actions are continuing, there are searches in RIA Novosti and other media structures,” Olena Gitlyanska, a spokeswoman for the SBU security services told AFP.

On her Facebook page, Gitlyanska said Russian-controlled media were being “used as tools in a hybrid war against Ukraine.”

© AFP/File | Ukraine’s state security service searched the Kiev offices of Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency and TV channel RT, after detaining one journalist near his home, officials said

Earlier the day, RIA Novosti reporter Kyrylo Vyshynsky was detained by Ukrainian law enforcement officers near his house.

The raids and detention came just hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin was to open a bridge that will provide the first direct road connection to the Crimean Peninsula which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

“Kiev decided to take revenge on us for the Crimean bridge,” Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief, said on her Twitter feed.

The Kremlin called the raid “scandalous”.

“If it is the case that the actions of Ukrainian law enforcement bodies are somehow connected with the professional work of these media organisations, that would be outrageous and scandalous,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

According to the SBU, RIA Novosti and RT share the same offices in the centre of Kiev.

Up to 15 journalists work for RIA Novosti in Ukraine, some of whom transmit information to its headquarters in Moscow while others, led by Vyshynsky, are in charge of the website for the Ukrainian audience.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter feud since the 2014 Crimea takeover.

Moscow has been accused of fuelling a rebel conflict in eastern Ukraine that broke out after the annexation of Crimea that has cost the lives of some 10,000 people.


Russian parliament to discuss ban on access for U.S. media

December 1, 2017

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian lawmakers are to discuss a proposal to bar representatives of U.S. media organizations from accessing the lower house of parliament, RIA news agency quoted the chair of one of the chamber’s committees as saying.

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Policemen stand guard in Red Square near the Kremlin wall before the events, dedicated to the upcoming Final Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, in Moscow, Russia November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Olga Savastyanova, who chairs the chamber’s rules and regulations committee, said her committee would consider a resolution containing the proposal next Monday. It would be put forward for approval of the chamber, known as the State Duma, on Tuesday or Wednesday, according to RIA.

“It’s a ban on journalists who represent American media, all American media, visiting the State Duma,” RIA quoted Savastyanova as saying. She represents the ruling United Russia party, which holds a majority of the seats in the chamber.

U.S. authorities have designated Kremlin-funded broadcaster RT as a “foreign agent,” after intelligence officials alleged it tried to meddle in the U.S. presidential election last year. RT denies that.

The Kremlin has pledged to retaliate in kind. At the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing the Russian authorities to designate some foreign media as “foreign agents.”

The move to deny U.S. journalists access to the State Duma was a response to a similar move in Washington, RIA quoted Savastyanova as saying.

RT on Wednesday night published a letter from the Executive Committee of the Congressional Radio And Television Correspondents Gallery saying the channel’s Congressional press credentials had been withdrawn due to its registration as a foreign agent in the United States.

That means RT’s reporters will not be able to have as much access to Congress as other foreign media.

Russian MPs back law targeting foreign media — “A hybrid war has been declared against us,” Russian Communist Party Leader says

November 15, 2017



MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian MPs on Wednesday backed new legislation that could force foreign media outlets to register as “foreign agents” in a reciprocal response to US pressure on Kremlin-backed TV channel RT.

Lawmakers approved amendments that would allow any international media that receive financing from abroad to be classified as “foreign agents,” a measure previously used only against NGOs.

The Kremlin praised the move as allowing it to offer a “very harsh” response to attacks on Russian media abroad.

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“Any attempts to encroach on the freedom of Russian media abroad… will not remain without response from Moscow — without a very harsh response,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

Russia will be able to use the law “to give a timely retaliatory response,” he said.

The law could be used against US media such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which receive funding from the US Congress.

Members of parliament have given contradictory statements on whether the law could apply to commercial TV network CNN.

Lawmakers unanimously voted to back the amendments in rushed second and third readings within a few hours on Wednesday.

“A hybrid war has been declared against us and we are obliged to respond,” Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said in parliament.

The lower house of parliament’s deputy speaker Pyotr Tolstoy told the chamber reciprocal measures were “forced” by the actions of the United States, which he earlier said was spitting in Russia’s face.

“They forced us to take these measures,” he said.

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The amendments now need to be passed by the Senate and then be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, after which they will enter force immediately.

– ‘Selective measures’ –

The wording of the law is very broad, potentially allowing its use against any foreign media organisation operating in Russia.

Tolstoy told parliament the amendments would not be automatically enforced, but would be selectively applied by the justice ministry.

“You shouldn’t think that after this law enters force… all foreign media in Russia will automatically become foreign agents,” he told parliament.

“We are making it possible… to take selective retaliatory measures — that is the idea of the law, and I hope it will be enforced this way.”

He denied it will affect any Russian media with foreign funding.

Amnesty International has warned the law will allow the Russian authorities “to tighten their stranglehold on press freedom.”

A Russian law adopted in 2012 forces NGOs that have international funding and whose activities are deemed “political” to undergo intensive scrutiny of their finances and staffing and label themselves as “foreign agents” on paperwork and statements.

Many NGOs have closed in response to the legislation.

RT television, which is funded by the Kremlin to give a Russian point of view on international affairs, confirmed Monday it has registered as a foreign agent in the United States, meeting a deadline from the US Department of Justice.

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Washington considers RT a propaganda arm of the Kremlin and told it to register its American operation under the Foreign Agents Registration Act aimed at lobbyists and lawyers representing foreign political interests.

The Moscow-based broadcaster has become a focus of the investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

by Anna MALPAS

NATO commander tells Russia: ‘stop meddling’

November 9, 2017


© AFP/File | Spanish media have accused Moscow-backed outlets such as Russia Today and Sputnik of playing a destabilising role in the crisis triggered by Catalonia’s banned October 1 referendum

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The commander of NATO forces in Europe, US General Curtis Scaparrotti, on Thursday demanded Russia “stop meddling” in European elections, amid concerns about Kremlin interference in the Catalan crisis.

Spanish media have accused Moscow-backed outlets such as Russia Today and Sputnik — which have Spanish language services — of playing a destabilising role in the crisis triggered by Catalonia’s banned October 1 referendum.

Moscow is also suspected of interfering in last year’s US presidential election and Britain’s Brexit vote, and Scaparrotti said he was concerned by “Russian malign influence” in other countries.

“It is something that we’ve seen in the United States, we’ve seen it in a number of countries here in the elections of late,” Scaparrotti said when asked about claims of Russian interference in Catalonia.

“It should stop meddling in other nations, (in) what is their sovereign right to determine their government and how it works,” he told reporters at a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said NATO ministers had “discussed at length Russia’s now constant efforts to intercede in our sovereign democratic processes”.

Bogus news reports and images shared widely online have helped fuel the crisis triggered by Catalonia’s banned October 1 independence referendum.

Last year Moscow mounted a hacking and disinformation campaign making heavy use of social media to boost the now President Donald Trump’s chances.

When asked if he had particular concerns about the Catalan crisis undermining key NATO member Spain, Scaparrotti said “we’ve seen these kinds of activities in other nations as well. It’s a part of… what I call a destabilisation campaign.”

“We would encourage Russia to stay within the accepted international order and to honour each sovereign nation’s right to determine their means of government, their way of government and how they run their government,” Scaparrotti said.

Congress grills Facebook, Twitter, Google over Russian influence

November 2, 2017

Things get heated as tech executives face the second day of congressional hearings to answer questions about fake news and Russia’s misinformation campaign.

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Left to right: Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, Twitter General Counsel Sean Edgett and Google General Counsel Kent Walker testify during a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Facebook, Google and Twitter came to Capitol Hill to argue they’re ready to fight back against the scourge of fake news and the Russian misinformation campaign that influenced the 2016 US presidential election.

The senators were left unimpressed.

“You showed a lack of resources, commitment and a lack of genuine effort,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia. The Senate Intelligence Committee has been studying this issue since January and, he said, the committee’s early concerns “were frankly blown off by your leadership.”

“That’s not enough,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, shot back when Twitter General Counsel Sean Edgett said the company is constantly improving its process of identifying propaganda on its platform.

Edgett, alongside Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch and Google General Counsel Kent Walker, faced intense questions on Capitol Hill on Wednesday — the second day of hearings looking into how such powerful companies were able to let Russian operatives effectively use their platforms to spread fake news and outrage.

Now Playing: Senators show frustration with Facebook, Google and Twitter

The hearings, in which several senators expressed frustration with the lack of answers, are the latest twist in the high-profile investigation into Russia’s influence over the US election, with Congress looking to hold Silicon Valley accountable for its role. At issue in the overall inquiry is how much the Russian government may have attempted to influence the electorate and whether President Donald Trump or anyone working for him was knowingly involved. Trump has repeatedly denied involvement.

The companies faced the Senate Intelligence Committee early Wednesday and went before the House Intelligence Committee in the afternoon. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee also interrogated companies, which disclosed that the reach of the Russian campaign was worse than earlier thought.

It was a hot ticket in DC: The massive room for the Senate hearing filled up quickly after lines formed around the corner to get in.

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Facebook said Tuesday that roughly 126 million people could have seen bogus posts, while Twitter confirmed that there were more than 2,700 accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency, a Russian-backed troll farm. Altogether, those trolls have spread propaganda and fake news that’s garnered more than 414 million impressions on Facebook and Twitter, the companies said.

On Facebook’s earnings call Wednesday in which the company blew past Wall Street estimates for profits, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that even though beefing up security would affect the company’s bottom line, the social networking site will do what it takes to protect its more than 2 billion users. 

“Our business is doing well,” Zuckerberg said in a statement. “But none of that matters if our services are used in ways that don’t bring people closer together. We’re serious about preventing abuse on our platforms. We’re investing so much in security that it will impact our profitability. Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.”

Next stop: Regulation?

Part of the purpose of these committee hearings is to gauge whether regulations are needed to help prevent this kind of information manipulation. Feinstein offered such a warning.

“You will have to be the ones to do something about it,” she said. “Or we will.”

While the tech executives walked in confident this morning, the barrage of queries from the senators started to wear them down. Stretch endured the brunt of the scrutiny, and his answers stumbled as the questions became more pointed.

They walked into the second House Committee hearing looking less confident than before.

On Tuesday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, asked the executives if they’d support the Honest Ads Act legislation she and Warner have introduced that requires social networks to meet the same standards that political ads on TV and radio must meet.

Facebook’s Stretch said the company is “not waiting for legislation” and is already taking action. Richard Salgado, Google’s director of law enforcement and information security, said the company supports the goals of the legislation and that the company is willing to work through nuances with lawmakers to get the kinks out of the legislation.

But when pressed by Klobuchar, Twitter’s Edgett admitted that without regulation there would be no enforcer to make sure they are complying with their policies and promises.

In the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday, Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, asked the companies if they’d lobby against the Honest Ads Act.

Though reluctant to fully endorse the bill that’s already been proposed, none of the tech executives seemed willing to say they’d fight the new regulations. Stretch said Facebook is willing to work with legislators on a new law, and Edgett said Twitter is supportive of the direction the legislation is taking but that it plans to work with lawmakers to fine tune it.

In the House Intelligence Committee hearing Rep. Terri Sewell, a Democrat from Alabama, applauded the companies for their “self-policing” activity of finding “malicious and deceptive activity” on their platforms.

But she said there still needs to be legislation that bans political ads funded by a foreign governments looking to influence elections and requires disclosures of who pays for ads on these sites. She asked the executives if they’d be willing to post disclosures with their advertisements. They each agreed they support the “general direction” of the Honest Ad legislation.

Fearing unwanted regulation, Facebook and Twitter pre-emptively adopted new policies days before the hearings. Facebook promised more transparency for its political ads. Twitter announced it’s blocking ads from Russia-sponsored news sites Russia Today and Sputnik.

Still, even legislators pondered the effectiveness of new laws in this scenario. The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff of California, said in an interview following the hearing that he supports the Senate’s Honest Ad legislation and believes disclosures are needed. But he admitted it won’t fix the problem entirely.

“Congress is not going to regulate an algorithm, so there are limits to what we can do,” he said.

High stakes

But lawmakers have said the companies need to do more.

“We need to recognize that current law was not built to address these threats,” Warner said in his prepared statement. “We can all be assured that other adversaries, including foreign intelligence operatives and potentially terrorist organizations, are reading their playbook and already taking action.”

Cart after cart of boards with printed out Facebook posts came into the room on Wednesday, as Facebook’s Stretch had to come face-to-face with the Russian propaganda that had poured throughout the social network during the presidential election.

Executives from Facebook and Twitter admitted they began seeing Russian interference on their platforms as early as 2015. Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, expressed his frustration with the companies’ efforts thus far.

“In the last election, you failed,” Wyden said. “You need to stop paying lip service to shutting down bad actors running these accounts … Congress has given you the legal protection to actually act and deal with this.”

He asked the companies if they were satisfied with their response to tackling the problem of foreign interference. All three answered no, and they acknowledged they must do better.

Tech fix?

In an attempt to assuage the senators, the companies listed the ways they were improving the situation.

Google’s Walker said the company is creating an archive of ads to make it possible to see who is sponsoring ads, along with enhanced verification measures for advertisements. Google is also working to combat “fake news” with new algorithms to look for hoax posts, fake ads and news. It’s also reconsidering its ad policies.

For its part, Twitter has formed an information quality team to help stop bad actors from automatically tweeting. And it’s working with law enforcement to counter misinformation.

Facebook’s Stretch reiterated that the company has added an additional 10,000 staffers to work on safety and security with a goal of having 20,000 people working on that by the end of 2018. And he said the company will be more transparent about who’s paying for and posting political ads.

Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina and the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, concluded the hearing by underscoring the task these companies face. He noted they were the front line of defense to “minimize the damage” from Russian interference.

He told them to ask for antitrust waivers if they need to in order to collaborate in order to fix the problems. And he warned that if they are unsuccessful in their efforts, the consequences are grave.

“Don’t let nation states disrupt our future,” he said.

First published Nov. 1, 8:30 a.m. PT.
Update, 10:53 a.m., 1:56 p.m. , 3:57 p.m and 3:15 p.m.: Adds more comments from senators, representatives and company executives made during the Senate and House Intelligence Committee hearings. Adds comments from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

See also:

Facebook Tops Sales Projections While Russia Ad Inquiry Unfolds

Facebook Is Still In Denial About Fake News

Facebook Says It Will Double Safety and Security Staff to 20,000




Russian Ads Worked to Polarize U.S. Over Race and the Police

Sean Edgett, Twitter’s acting general counsel, testified Wednesday in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Credit Eric Thayer for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers released scores of political ads on Wednesday purchased by Russian agents on Facebook and Twitter that showed the extent of the Kremlin’s attempts to polarize the American voting public on issues like race, police abuse and religion.

Russia-linked actors created accounts with names like Blacktivists and Back the Badge aimed at voters concerned about police relations with their communities, and other accounts that called for secure borders that were aimed at immigration hard-liners. One account, Army of Jesus, published an illustration of an arm-wrestling match between Christ and the devil. “Satan: If I win, Clinton wins!” the headline read.

The sampling of ads, some of which had been made public earlier, came during a second day of hearings with the top lawyers for Facebook, Twitter and Google and were intended to show the executives how pervasively Russia used their platforms to further its campaign of misinformation. Lawmakers of both parties expressed frustration with answers that fell short of what they had hoped and insisted that the companies, long the darlings of American technology, do better.

“I must say, I don’t think you get it,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who was also at the first hearing a day earlier. “I went home last night with profound disappointment. I asked specific questions, I got vague answers.”

Facebook, Google and Twitter said their general counsels were best equipped to dive into policy and legal questions. But counsels’ appearances on Capitol Hill also allowed the companies’ chief executives to escape high-profile scrutiny.

“I’m disappointed that you’re here, and not your C.E.O.s,” said Senator Angus King, independent of Maine.

Lawmakers also complained that the companies had taken months to acknowledge Russia’s interference on their sites.

“I have more than a little bit of frustration that many of us on this committee have been raising this issue since the beginning of this year, and our claims were, frankly, blown off by the leadership of your companies,” said Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, and chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, spent Wednesday at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., talking to investors and analysts as they reported blockbuster quarterly earnings. The stocks of both Google and Facebook, which faced the most criticism in the hearings, are at record highs.

During the earnings call, Mr. Zuckerberg was unequivocal in his stance on the issue of Russian meddling in the election.

“I’ve expressed how upset I am that the Russians used our tools to sow mistrust,” Mr. Zuckerberg said, noting that Facebook’s profits will probably be affected by the amount of money the company will spend fighting abuse of its platform. Facebook said it plans to double the number of content reviewers it employs, to 20,000, and will try to add a greater degree of transparency into its advertising system.

“What they did is wrong, and we’re not going to stand for it,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.

The tech companies also provided new numbers on the reach of Russia’s influence campaign. Facebook said an estimated 150 million users of its main site and its subsidiary, Instagram, were exposed to the posts, a larger figure than it provided even as recently as Monday.

During the last of the three hearings, members of the House Intelligence Committee spoke in front of posters displaying the content, complaining that it was divisive.

Representative André Carson, Democrat of Indiana, said an account called Being Patriotic, which amassed 200,000 followers, pushed out content that “cynically exploits grieving officers and their loved ones in order to pit Americans concerned about our law enforcement personnel against Americans concerned about African-American lives lost during police encounters.”


A collection of ads that were created by Russia-linked social media firms tasked with creating influential content.

The account was created by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency.

“My concern is that a dictator like Vladimir Putin abused flaws in our social media platforms to inject the worst kind of identity politics into the voting decisions of at least 100 million Americans,” Mr. Carson said, referring to the Russian president.

Facebook has found a particularly vocal set of critics on the Congressional Black Caucus, of which Mr. Carson is a member along with Representative Terri A. Sewell, Democrat of Alabama. Together, they pressed Facebook to grapple with its role in promoting racial animus.

Ms. Sewell cited figures showing few blacks in Facebook’s work force and its leadership — a lack of diversity that she said made it hard to believe that those reviewing socially divisive ads could spot problematic posts.

The hearings exposed a growing rift between Silicon Valley and Washington, where sentiment toward big tech companies has drastically shifted.

While the lawyers showed humility and promised to beef up security and improve technology to prevent foreign interference in elections, they admitted they could not guarantee they would prevent future intrusions. Google’s general counsel, Kent Walker, said the company would work on creating new technologies to detect foreign actors and misinformation on its site. All three said they would build artificial intelligence tools to combat fake and problematic content.

Some lawmakers used the hearings to stake a position on the influence of the Kremlin’s social media use in the election. The conclusions, particularly among senators, split along political lines. Republicans offered an implicit defense of the legitimacy of President Trump’s victory and dismissed the effect of Russian meddling.

“A lot of folks, including many in the media, have tried to reduce this entire conversation down to one premise: Foreign actors conducted a surgically executed covert operation to help elect a United States president,” said Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. “I’m here to tell you this story does not simplify that easily.”

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, emphasized that the real intent of Russian propaganda was to broadly spread misinformation and create chaos.

“These operations — while we’re talking about the 2016 presidential race — they’re not limited to 2016, and they were not limited to the presidential race, and they continue to this day,” he said. “They are much more widespread than one election.”

Such comments offered a rare view into the Senate committee’s investigation, which has largely played out over the past nine months in secured briefing rooms. Publicly and in private, Mr. Burr and Mr. Warner have taken pains to preserve bipartisan comity, and their success has set the committee apart from the other panels investigating Russia’s efforts.

But the difference in their emphasis on Wednesday also underscored the political realities buffeting their work. In advancing an investigation tied to Mr. Trump, Mr. Burr has been careful to make clear that the committee’s work is larger than an individual candidate, and he has repeatedly tried to tamp down expectations about what it might find.

Democrats did not have such reticence.

Read the rest:

America Has a Monopoly Problem—and It’s Huge

November 1, 2017

The Nobel Prize winner argues that an economy dominated by large corporations has failed the many and enriched the few.

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Google, Facebook and Twitter: It’s Time to Bust the Online Trusts

November 1, 2017

Anticompetitive practices by Google and Facebook made foreign election interference possible.


This week some of America’s most beloved internet companies will follow the footsteps of Big Tobacco and Wall Street in a dreaded rite of passage: the Capitol Hill perp walk. The top lawyers for Google, Facebook and Twitter will try their best to explain to the Senate Intelligence Committee how misinformation spread through their platforms in the months leading up to the 2016 election.

They are also likely to argue that the best response to their platforms’ negligence is not government regulation. If Google and Facebook are lucky, the result will be the passage of the bipartisan Honest Ads Act, which would merely require buyers of online political advertisements to reveal their identities. This is a necessary move to increase transparency, but it is not sufficient to protect the electorate from manipulation.

Focusing on the narrow question of online advertising will only distract lawmakers from the true problem: In the absence of rigorous antitrust enforcement, the consumer internet has become too concentrated in a few dominant companies, creating easy targets for bad actors.

There is a reason Congress did not have to investigate foreign meddling after the 2008 or 2012 elections. Back then the internet was still a diverse, decentralized network. Anyone could create a website or blog to satisfy the demand for popular or niche content. This older form of online community building has largely been supplanted by tools provided by the dominant players. Facebook Groups allows people to create communities without requiring much technical skill. It does, however, require a Facebook account, meaning participants have no choice but to share their identity and their data. Today, many internet services are inaccessible unless you have joined Facebook’s “community” of two billion users.

Google used to be the engine that drove the open web. In a 2004 interview, co-founder Larry Page denounced powerful intermediaries on the internet, saying that “we want you to come to Google and quickly find what you want. Then we’re happy to send you to the other sites. In fact, that’s the point. The portal strategy tries to own all of the information.”

Over time, Google’s philosophy shifted in the opposite direction, making the internet less open and pluralistic than even a few years ago. Now people are nudged to stay on The company has committed to presenting a single “answer” to every inquiry, even ones that are subjective opinions based on sparse Google-owned content, like “best pediatrician NYC.” The result has been a decline of traffic to swaths of the web.

Facebook’s walled garden is even more stringent, requiring all third-party content accessed from its app to run through its frame. As web activity is drawn within the confines of these two tech giants, so is the revenue that follows.

Of every new dollar spent in online advertising last year, Google and Facebook captured 99 cents. Yet neither company has ever faced serious antitrust scrutiny in the U.S. A fleeting opportunity to foster competition came in 2011, when the Federal Trade Commission opened an investigation into Google’s conduct. But the FTC closed the case in 2013 without taking meaningful action.

Regulators ostensibly decided to settle after being persuaded the marketplace was adequately competitive, but the assumptions baked into their conclusion have not aged well. When the investigation was begun in 2011, smartphones were a nascent product and Google’s market share of internet search was 66%. Today, most search traffic has migrated to smartphones—nearly 4 in 5 Americans own one—where Google has 97% market share.

The economics have also changed for internet startups hoping to reinvent the web. Early-stage capital has dried up, dropping more than 40% since 2015, as investors have become pessimistic that any new Googles and Facebooks will ever be capable of disrupting the deeply entrenched incumbents.

The internet has turned into a pair of walled gardens, offering economies of scale for attackers. Ad dollars from Google products like YouTube and AdSense provide economic incentives to “content farms” that peddle misleading or outright false news. Russia Today, Moscow’s official English-language television network, is a “premium partner” on YouTube, entitling it to higher shares of revenue from advertisements sold by Google. A quick estimate—multiplying standard rates of revenue-sharing by RT’s view counts—suggests Google could be sending the Russians seven-figure annual payouts. Facebook has already identified at least $100,000 spent by Russians on its platform to influence voters. Paid ads have the ability to amplify the virality of the fake content. This suggests a feedback loop optimized for mischief: monetize on Google, and spend the proceeds to propagandize on Facebook.

Policy makers can solve this problem by compelling large information firms to embrace interoperability. Instead of trying to own everything, Google could power its local searches with services like TripAdvisor , ZocDoc and Yelp . This would dilute Google’s position as an advertising monopoly and help smaller players to compete. Facebook could allow users to export their full social graph, which would allow them to bargain for better terms from new social startups. Such efforts would diffuse information once again across the web, ensuring that future attempts at malfeasance cannot scale.

For the most egregious examples of anticompetitive conduct by a dominant internet firm, antitrust enforcers should fight to spin off newer business lines that leverage the legacy platform. If regulators find that Facebook is using its social data to foreclose competing messaging apps, they should consider structurally separating the company’s social and messaging functions. Instead of steering users to its house products, Google should rely on its merit-based algorithms to power services like local search.

Requiring transparency for political advertising online is a good step, but it isn’t enough. Until the structural problems in the technology markets are addressed, American voters will continue to consume information from a pair of barrels—Google and Facebook—in which we are much easier to shoot.

Mr. Lowe is vice president of public policy at Yelp.

Appeared in the November 1, 2017, print edition.



Vastness of Russian Fake News “Massive” Social Media Giants Now Confess — More than We Ever Dreamed

October 31, 2017


© AFP/File / by Paul HANDLEY | Russian fake-news operations were able to reach millions of Americans in an effort to spread discord across US society using the networks of Google, Facebook and Twitter.

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US internet giants go before Congress on Tuesday with new data showing the success of Russian fake news operations, the day after bombshell indictments in a US probe of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.

Google, Facebook and Twitter were reported to be armed with information showing many millions of Americans were exposed to the fake news, far more than previously thought.

The new data, revealed in testimony leaked late Monday ahead of the hearings in Congress, is expected to give the broadest picture yet of the Russian effort to spread discord across US society.

It comes as the first indictments in a US probe into Russian attempts to sway the 2016 presidential elections were reverberating through Washington.

One of three indictments unsealed by US special prosecutor Robert Mueller revealed early contacts between Kremlin-linked figures and a former advisor of President Donald Trump’s campaign.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted Tuesday the US accusations of election-meddling were being made “without one piece of evidence.”

The scope of Russian use of US social media to spread divisive messages is expected to figure prominently in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, and House and Senate Intelligence Committees Wednesday.

Leaked testimony by three companies shows that Russian activities were far greater than they had previously reported.

– Huge fake news challenge –

Twitter has found that nearly 37,000 automated “bot” accounts with Russian links generated 1.4 million tweets that were seen by a potential 288 million people in the three months before the November 8, 2016 presidential election, according to a source familiar with its planned testimony.

Facebook says some 126 million US users, a potentially huge portion of the voting public, may have seen stories, posts or other content from Russian sources, media including the Wall Street Journal and Recode reported.

The top legal officials from all three are expected to face intense questioning on how they plan to counter such operations, which analysts say were part of a broader effort last year to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

“Foreign governments like Russia -? in the 2016 election cycle -? were deeply involved in manipulating popular social media websites with misinformation to sow discord among Americans,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Tuesday.

“The manipulation of social media sites by terrorist organizations and foreign governments is one of the greatest challenges to American democracy and a significant threat to our national security in the 21st century.”

– Twitter blocking Russian media –

But all three social media firms face the difficult challenge of keeping their platforms open, in order to avoid accusations of censorship and bias, and not becoming the curators of truth in society.

The three have already begun taking measures to try to screen out manipulative Russian content. Researchers have identified efforts in the past year that aimed to make white Americans angry at blacks, to hurt the image of feminists, and other such targeting that may have hurt Clinton and helped Trump.

Twitter announced last week it would no longer accept advertising from Russia Today and Sputnik, two Russian government-backed media groups that allegedly hone their stories and news placement for political impact.

“This decision was based on the retrospective work we’ve been doing around the 2016 US election and the US intelligence community’s conclusion that both RT and Sputnik attempted to interfere with the election on behalf of the Russian government,” Twitter said.

Google said Monday it had found “some evidence of efforts to misuse our platforms during the 2016 US election by actors linked to the Internet Research Agency in Russia.”

“We’re committed to finding a way to stop this type of abuse, and to working closely with governments, law enforcement, other companies, and leading NGOs to promote electoral integrity and user security, and combat misinformation,” the company said.


Russia To Target U.S. and Coalition Aircraft Over Syria

June 19, 2017

Russia steps up rhetoric after U.S. fighter shoots down Syrian government jet


June 19, 2017 10:33 a.m. ET

MOSCOW—Russia escalated tensions with the United States Monday, promising to actively track U.S. and coalition aircraft over Syria with air defense systems and warplanes, the country’s defense ministry said.

In a statement released Monday, the Russian military said it would treat U.S. and coalition operating west of the Euphrates Rivers as “aerial targets,” but stopped short of threatening a shootdown.

“In regions where the…



Russia warns US-led coalition over downing of Syrian jet


Defence ministry says planes flying west of Euphrates will be treated as targets and that it has suspended safety agreement with US

A US navy F/A-18 Super Hornet
The Pentagon confirmed that a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet had shot down a Syrian warplane on Sunday. Photograph: US DoD handout/EPA

Russia’s defence ministry has said it will treat any plane from the US-led coalition flying west of the Euphrates river in Syria as a potential target, after the US military shot down a Syrian air force jet on Sunday.

The ministry also said it was suspending a safety agreement with Washington designed to prevent collisions and dangerous incidents in Syrian airspace.

According to the Pentagon the Syrian jet in question had dropped bombs near US partner forces involved in the fight to wrest Raqqa from Islamic State (Isis) control. It was the first such US attack on a Syrian air force plane since the start of the country’s civil war six years ago.

In an apparent attempt at deescalation, Viktor Ozerov, the chairman of the defence and security committee at the upper chamber of Russian parliament, described the defence ministry’s statement as a warning. “I’m sure that because of this neither the US nor anyone else will take any actions to threaten our aircraft,” he told the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency. “That’s why there’s no threat of direct confrontation between Russia and American aircraft.”

Ozerov said Russia will be tracking the coalition’s jets, not shooting them down, but he added that “a threat for those jets may appear only if they take action that pose a threat to Russian aircraft”.

The deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said the US strike “has to be seen as a continuation of America’s line to disregard the norms of international law.

“What is this if not an act of aggression? It is, if you like, help to those terrorists that the US is fighting against, declaring they are carrying out an anti-terrorism policy.”

The Russian response increases the risk of an inadvertent air fight breaking out between US and Russian warplanes in the skies above Syria.

The US military confirmed that a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet had shot down a Syrian SU-22 on Sunday. The US said the Syrian jet had dropped bombs near Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters who are aligned with US forces in the fight against Isis. Damascus said its plane had been on anti-Isis mission.

Col John Thomas, a spokesman for US Central Command, said there were no US forces in the immediate vicinity of the Syrian attack but that the SDF was under threat for more than two hours.

The growing risk of a direct confrontation between the US and Russia follows a decision by Donald Trump to grant his military chiefs untrammelled control of US military strategy in Syria.

Tensions have also been bubbling between Washington and Moscow over efforts to dislodge Isis from its Raqqa stronghold.

Russia, a staunch supporter of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has been pressing the US to make the removal of Isis a joint land and air operation, but discussions over Syria’s long-term political future appear to have ground to a halt, leaving the US military to operate in a political vacuum.

The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters working alongside western special forces, said it would take action to defend itself from Syrian warplanes if attacks continued.

The Trump administration has promised to improve arms supplies to the SDF after it concluded that it was the force most capable of freeing Raqqa from Isis.

In a sign of how complex the Syrian peace process has become, Russian-sponsored peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, are scheduled to resume on the same day – 10 July – as talks convened by the UN in Geneva.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, announced the date on Monday in the knowledge that it would coincide with the UN schedule. He also said that the UN’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, would take part.

A spokesman for de Mistura said “the subject is currently being discussed”.

Russia halts US aviation cooperation over downing of Syrian jet

June 19, 2017

AFP, Reuters and The Associated Press

© Omar haj kadour, AFP | A Syrian army jet fires rockets over the village of Rahbet Khattab in Hama province on March 23, 2017.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-06-19

The Russian defence ministry said Monday that it was halting aviation cooperation with the United States after the US downed a Syrian government warplane on Sunday, a move one Russian official described as a clear “act of aggression”.

The Russian defence ministry said it was halting cooperation with Washington within the framework of the Memorandum on the Prevention of Incidents and Ensuring Air Safety in Syria, effective immediately. It also accused the United States of not using the proper communication channels before shooting down the Syrian army jet.

“The command of the coalition forces did not use the established communication channel for preventing incidents in Syrian airspace,” the ministry said, adding that Moscow “ends cooperation with the American side from June 19”.

Moreover, any coalition aircraft flying to the west of the Euphrates will be treated as targets, the defence ministry said.

“Any flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, discovered west of the Euphrates river will be tracked as aerial targets by Russia’s air defences on and above ground.”

URGENT: Russian military halts Syria sky incident prevention interactions with US as of June 19 – Moscow


@RT_comCoalition’s airborne objects in Russian Air Force’s Syria missions areas to be tracked as targets – Moscow

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Russia previously suspended the memorandum of understanding on air safety in April to protest against US airstrikes launched in response to a suspected chemical attack.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, on Monday firmly condemned the United States for shooting down the Syrian plane, calling it an “act of aggression”.

“This strike has to be seen as a continuation of America’s line to disregard the norms of international law,” Ryabkov told journalists in Moscow on Monday, the TASS news agency reported. “What is this if not an act of aggression?”

Ryabkov said the Kremlin had also warned the United States not to use force against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime Moscow ally.

A Syrian jet plane

The incident marked the first time an American fighter jet had taken down a Syrian warplane, which Washington accused of attacking US-backed fighters.

The tensions come as the US-led coalition and allied fighters battle to evict the Islamic State (IS) group from its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

>> Read more: MSF says 10,000 Syrians flee Raqqa as battle for the city nears

The Syrian jet was shot down after regime forces engaged fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance battling IS jihadists with US support, in an area close to Raqqa. The American F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down the Syrian SU-22 around 7pm as it “dropped bombs near SDF fighters” south of the town of Tabqa, the coalition said in a statement.

It said that several hours earlier, regime forces had attacked the SDF in another town near Tabqa, wounding several and driving the SDF from the town.

The coalition said the Syrian warplane had been shot down “in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defence of Coalition partnered forces”.

Syria’s army disputed the account, saying its plane was hit while “conducting a mission against the terrorist Islamic State group”.

It warned of “the grave consequences of this flagrant aggression”.

International imbroglio

The SDF entered Raqqa for the first time earlier this month and now holds four neighbourhoods in the east and west of the city.

In a further escalation of military action in Syria, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it launched a series of missiles into Syria on Sunday in revenge for deadly attacks on its capital that were claimed by the Islamic State group. It said the missiles were “in retaliation” for a June 7 attack on the parliament complex and the shrine of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that killed 17 people.

Assad has focused his forces further east, to the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor, which is largely under IS group control and where government forces are besieged in part of the provincial capital.

Outside of coalition operations, US forces have only once directly targeted the regime – when Washington launched air strikes against an airbase it said was the launchpad for an alleged chemical attack that killed more than 80 civilians in April.

The Kremlin denounced those US strikes as an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law”.

Syria’s war began in March 2011 with anti-government protests but has since spiralled into a complex and bloody conflict that has killed more than 320,000 people and become a proxy war for regional powers as well as ensnaring the United States and Russia.

Interfax reported that Ryabkov and the US under secretary of state, Thomas Shannon, would meet in St Petersburg on June 23 to discuss persistent tensions in bilateral ties.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)


The Syrian SU-22 fighter bomber was shot down by an American F18 Super Hornet after it had dropped bombs near the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces north of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil)-held city of Raqqa in northern Syria.

The US, which has special forces troops in the area, had earlier sent a warning to the Syrian military to stop targeting the forces and called on Russia to rein in its ally, but they were ignored.

Russia, which intervened militarily to back the Syrian regime in 2015,on Monday condemned the US action, saying it flouted international law.

“It is, if you like, help to those terrorists that the US is fighting against, declaring they are carrying out an anti-terrorism policy,” Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said, adding it was a “dangerous escalation”.

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Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said: “It is hard for me to choose any other words but these: if you [the US] can’t help you should at least not interfere. As your ‘efforts’ once again do nothing but help the militants.

“You are fighting the wrong party: it is not the Syrian army that perpetrates terror attacks in European capital cities.”

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