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The countries who use Facebook against their own citizens

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Last month, Facebook discovered evidence of a coordinated influence campaign on its platform led by g
 
September 4 · Issue #200 · View online
The Interface
Last month, Facebook discovered evidence of a coordinated influence campaign on its platform led by groups in Iran. Today, a pair of investigations cast new light on other ways that autocratic governments are using Facebook to terrible ends: creating brigades of influencers and paid troll armies to suppress dissent and deny the reality of human-rights atrocities within their own countries.
In The New York Times,  Declan Walsh and Suliman Ali Zway examine how the “keyboard warriors” of Libya use Facebook to hunt and kill their enemies. “Armed groups use Facebook to find opponents and critics, some of whom have later been detained, killed or forced into exile, according to human rights groups and Libyan activists,” they write. “Swaggering commanders boast of their battlefield exploits and fancy vacations, or rally supporters by sowing division and ethnic hatred. Forged documents circulate widely, often with the goal of undermining Libya’s few surviving national institutions, notably its Central Bank.”
Of course, it’s easier to hunt and kill your enemies when you can buy your weapons using the same platform you’re hunting them on:
The New York Times found evidence of military-grade weapons being openly traded, despite the company’s policies forbidding such commerce. Human traffickers advertise their success in helping illegal migrants reach Europe by sea, and use their pages to drum up more business. Practically every armed group in Libya, and even some of their detention centers, have their own Facebook page. […]
“The most dangerous, dirty war is now being waged on social media and some other media platforms,” Mahmud Shammam, a former information minister, said last week as fighting ripped through the Tripoli suburbs. “Lying, falsifying, misleading and mixing facts. Electronic armies are owned by everyone, and used by everyone without exception. It is the most deadly war.”
Meanwhile in the Philippines, BuzzFeed’s Davey Alba finds that the autocrat Rodrigo Duterte has found Facebook highly effective for harassing critics and contributing to a general sense of unreality. That’s been helpful for covering up the country’s estimated 12,000 extrajudicial state-sponsored killings since Duterte took office.
The broad outlines of the story of Duterte and Facebook were laid out nine months ago in a beautifully reported piece by Lauren Etter in Bloomberg. Alba’s story today advances it by focusing on how three influential Duterte fans, one of whom became a paid government spokeswoman, coordinate to spread misinformation and targeted harassment against the strongman’s political opponents:
Nieto does publish news as well, both to his blog and directly on Facebook, where he posts “10 to 20 times a day,” he told BuzzFeed News. That news is typically unverified; sometimes it’s demonstrably inaccurate. Beyond the conspiracies noted above, Nieto has misquoted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a way that made it appear Trudeau supported a massive garbage dump in the Philippines. He’s promoted a falsified1979 psychiatric report on the former Philippine president Noynoy Aquino, which claimed that the reason Aquino wanted to become president was “to heap a measure of revenge” on those who imprisoned his father, Benigno Aquino Jr., the rival of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and a national hero who was assassinated in 1983. Nieto has also tried to artificially deflate the number of Filipinos murdered in Duterte’s bloody war on drugs. He has used Facebook Live footage of child autopsies in a crusade to blamea health crisis on the former administration.
Nieto speaks to an audience of more than 2 million Facebook followers. Each of his posts gets thousands of likes and shares, consistently more than the political commentators he’d be most comparable to in the US. He touts all this as evidence that everything is just fine in the Philippines. “They’re saying that freedom of speech is under threat. No,” he said. “It’s never been more democratic.”
The focus at tomorrow’s hearings in Congress — more on those below — will be on how foreign countries can use tech platforms to create discord here in America. But reading these investigations, I’m left wondering what authority will ask companies about the ways in which countries use their platforms against their own citizens.

Hearings
The tech platforms return to Congress tomorrow for two hearings. In the morning, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will talk to Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, and an empty chair meant to shame Google for not sending CEO Larry Page. And in the afternoon, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will yell Jack Dorsey for an extended period of time.
A couple good previews are below, along with links to speakers’ testimony, all of which will sound familiar to anyone who reads this newsletter. The only interesting bit was this, from Dorsey’s testimony:
In preparation for this hearing and to better inform the members of the Committee, our data scientists analyzed Tweets sent by all members of the House and Senate that have Twitter accounts for a 30 day period spanning July 23, 2018 until August 13, 2018. We learned that, during that period, Democratic members sent 10,272 Tweets and Republican members sent 7,981. Democrats on average have more followers per account and have more active followers. As a result, Democratic members in the aggregate receive more impressions or views than Republicans.
Despite this greater number of impressions, after controlling for various factors such as the number of Tweets and the number of followers, and normalizing the followers’ activity, we observed that there is no statistically significant difference between the number of times a Tweet by a Democrat is viewed versus a Tweet by a Republican. In the aggregate, controlling for the same number of followers, a single Tweet by a Republican will be viewed as many times as a single Tweet by a Democrat, even after all filtering and algorithms have been applied by Twitter. Our quality filtering and ranking algorithm does not result in Tweets by Democrats or Tweets by Republicans being viewed any differently. Their performance is the same because the Twitter platform itself does not take sides.
Sheryl Sandberg’s New Job Is to Fix Facebook’s Reputation — and Her Own
Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg testify in Washington: Preview
Senator Mark Warner Is Not Happy With Google
Our testimony to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
Read Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's opening statement to Congress
Testimony of Jack Dorsey
Democracy
Inside Twitter’s Long, Slow Struggle to Police Bad Actors
Jon Kyl, Former Senator, Will Replace John McCain in Arizona
FCC chairman says Twitter, Facebook, Google may need transparency law
Fringe Figures Find Refuge in Facebook’s Private Groups
This Group Posed As Russian Trolls And Bought Political Ads On Google. It Was Easy.
The Real Story Behind The Anti-Immigrant Riots Rocking Germany
Inside Facebook's 'arms race' to protect users ahead of midterm elections
India Pushes Back Against Tech ‘Colonization’ by Internet Giants
Tech Giants Now Share Details on Political Ads. What Does That Mean For You?
U.S. accuses China of 'super aggressive' spy campaign on LinkedIn
Elsewhere
Instagram is building a standalone app for shopping
Alex Jones Said Bans Would Strengthen Him. He Was Wrong.
Can You Spot the Deceptive Facebook Post?
In India, Google races to parry the rise of Facebook
An Army Director Hired To A Top Immigration Post Spewed Anti-Muslim Comments On Facebook — Then He Lost The Job
Unpaid and abused: Moderators speak out against Reddit
Facebook Is Bingeing on Bay Area Real Estate
Jake Paul’s predatory marketing tactics point to bigger regulation concerns
Launches
Twitter is testing threaded replies and status indicators
TikTok adds video reactions to its newly-merged app
Takes
It’s time to break up Facebook
And finally ...
@sweden signs off after seven years as Twitter voice of nation
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and Instagram Shopping prototypes: casey@theverge.com
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