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ZUCKERBERG RETURNS: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is visiting Washington this week to meet with lawmakers, including at least one of his company’s biggest critics.
“Mark will be in Washington, D.C., to meet with policymakers and talk about future internet regulation,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told The Hill. “There are no public events planned.”
One of those meetings will be with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the plans. Hawley is one of the most outspoken Facebook critics in the GOP, and has criticized the Federal Trade Commission’s $5 billion fine against the company in a privacy settlement for not being harsh enough.
Axios first reported Zuckerberg’s visit.
It’s unclear who else Zuckerberg will be meeting with or what exactly he plans to discuss. A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that she would not be meeting with him and that Facebook did not seek out a meeting.
Context: Congress is exploring the possibility of a bipartisan consumer privacy bill, which would put into place the nation’s first federal privacy law regulating social media companies’ data practices.
Zuckerberg has encouraged policymakers to get involved with regulating Silicon Valley. In March he published an op-ed in the Washington Post, arguing that there needs to be more legal clarity in four areas: “harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.”
WE’RE DOING BETTER, WE PROMISE: Facebook, Google and Twitter tried to assure skeptical senators on Wednesday that they are improving their efforts to find and remove violent and hateful content on their platforms.
The social media companies have been sharply criticized over the issue after a spate of mass shootings this year that appeared to be inspired by online extremism and in some cases were even broadcast on the internet.
The three companies sent executives to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday for a hearing on “mass violence, extremism and digital responsibility.”
“In today’s internet-connected society, misinformation, fake news, deep fakes and viral online conspiracy theories have become the norm,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the committee’s chairman. “This hearing is an opportunity for witnesses to discuss how their platforms go about identifying content and material that threatens violence and poses a real and potentially immediate danger to the public.”
What tech is doing: The executives told lawmakers that they were collaborating with each other and other tech companies on the issue and that they had made strides using artificial intelligence (AI) to detect hateful and violent content.
Facebook has “updated our proactive detection systems and reduced the average time it takes for our AI to find a violation on Facebook Live to 12 seconds — a 90 percent reduction in our average detection time from a few months ago,” said Monica Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of global policy management. “Being able to detect violations sooner means that in emergencies where every minute counts, we can assist faster.”
“Over 87 percent of the 9 million videos we removed [from YouTube] in the second quarter of 2019 were first flagged by our automated systems,” added Derek Slater, Google’s director of information policy. “More than 80 percent of those auto-flagged videos were removed before they received a single view. And overall, videos that violate our policies generate a fraction of a percent of the views on YouTube.”
And Twitter’s director of public policy strategy, Nick Pickles, told the committee that its “proactive measures” account for 90 percent of the suspensions it has carried out under its terrorism policies.
But lawmakers want more: Lawmakers made it clear they expected tech companies to follow through.
“I welcome that you’re doing more and trying to do it better,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) during the hearing. “But I would suggest that even more needs to be done and it needs to be better.”
Pressure on Trump as well…: Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.) is urging President Trump to address the issue of online extremism at the United Nations General Assembly this month, according to a letter provided exclusively to The Hill.
The New York Democrat, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee’s counterterrorism panel, said the president and the United Nations should push the social media companies to invest in their efforts to stop extremist content from spreading.
“I know you share my concerns that terrorists are using social media to spread their ideologies across the world, to recruit future terrorists, to find funding, and to plan and disseminate terrorist attacks,” Rose wrote in the letter to Trump.
In the wake of the El Paso, Texas, shooting last month, which left 22 dead and dozens injured, the White House has been honing in on the issue of online radicalization while Democrats have pushed for new gun control legislation.
In the letter, Rose said the top social media companies could stave off the spread of extremist content by building out the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), a 2017 initiative by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube aimed at curbing the spread of Islamic terrorist content online.
Right now, the GIFCT is mainly an effort by the companies to share digital footprints for specific pieces of terrorist content. But Rose is pushing to build it into its own organization with a dedicated staff.
TRUMP’S SILICON VALLEY FUNDRAISER: President Trump on Tuesday attended a closely guarded fundraiser in Silicon Valley, his first visit to the liberal enclave since he took office.
The fundraiser took place at a private residence in Portola Valley, Calif., in a swanky home atop a hill where attendees were out of sight from the press and members of the public.
“The President participated in a roundtable [with] approximately 25 supporters, then moved to a larger area and spoke to a couple of hundred supporters about the many accomplishments of his Administration,” press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement after the event.
Limited information was made public about the host location in advance, but dozens of protesters who caught wind of the event lined the road leading to the residence to greet the president’s motorcade.
They set up large “Trump Chicken” and “Trump Baby” balloons and carried signs that read “resist” and that decried Trump as corrupt.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the host of the event, which was expected to bring in $3 million for the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee, was Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy.
The news outlet reported that the exact location of the event was not disclosed in advance in an effort to avoid mass protests.
LATEST DEM PUSH ON ELECTION SECURITY: Congressional Democrats renewed their call for election security legislation during a national day of action on Tuesday, as a Senate Appropriations subcommittee left funding for it out of its annual spending bill.
Democrats including Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.) argued on Tuesday that time is running out to implement election security upgrades such as replacing outdated voting machines with just over a year left prior to the 2020 elections.
“Congress has essentially until the end of October to pass legislation that can still make an impact in time for the general election in 2020, so we have to move, and the fact is that the window may have already closed to secure some of the 2020 primaries,” Wyden, who has sponsored multiple election security bills, told reporters during a press conference.
Blumenthal added that he is “deeply alarmed” about the small amount of time remaining before the 2020 elections.
“The simple mechanics of purchasing new machines, training personnel, assuring that systems are implemented absolutely takes time, and the urgency of the effort now, and the reason we are having this call and speaking out — we are, in effect, every day trying to advance this agenda and sound the alarm to the American people that elections are just like any other critical infrastructure,” Blumenthal said.
Wyden and Blumenthal’s comments were made on the same day that election security advocates around the country held around 40 gatherings outside of the offices of members of Congress to promote taking action on election security. Activists gathered outside the district offices of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, including Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and John Thune (R-S.D.).
Klobuchar, Blumenthal, and Wyden have championed legislation related to election security, with all three involved in a sustained push to pressure Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring bills on the topic to the Senate floor for a vote.
A NEW ELECTION SECURITY BILL: Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) introduced legislation on Wednesday meant to combat foreign influence in U.S. elections through the establishment of a response center that coordinates intelligence sharing.
The Combating Foreign Influence Act would require the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to establish a Malign Foreign Influence Response Center.
This center would be the primary group responsible for compiling and analyzing intelligence on foreign influence operations and campaigns directed against U.S. elections.
The center would also help coordinate intelligence sharing between agencies including the FBI, and the departments of Homeland Security, Defense and State. The center would be required to submit an annual report to Congress detailing how its work is addressing privacy and civil liberties issues.
“We currently have numerous agencies and departments independently working to combat foreign influence, and it’s past time that our intelligence community comes together to fight these threats,” Klobuchar said in a statement.
“The creation of this Response Center at the ODNI will help our intelligence community coordinate to better secure our democracy,” she added.
Reed noted in a statement that “Russian information warfare and malign foreign influence operations are ongoing and pose a serious threat to both our national security and democracy. The U.S. must step up efforts to counter this increasingly sophisticated and evolving threat.”
ONE CYBERSECURITY COORDINATOR PLEASE: Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is urging President Trump’s new national security adviser Robert O’Brien to prioritize reestablishing the White House cybersecurity coordinator position.
The post was eliminated in 2018 following the departure of former Cybersecurity Coordinator Rob Joyce.
Former National Security Advisor John Bolton then formally eliminated the position, which was originally created by President Obama in 2009 to help coordinate cyber efforts across federal agencies.
With President Trump’s designation of O’Brien, who previously served as the chief hostage negotiator for the State Department, as the new national security adviser on Wednesday, Thompson called on O’Brien to immediately bring back the cybersecurity coordinator position.
“[T]hreats facing the nation have evolved and our adversaries are exploiting cyberspace in new ways to advance their economic ambitions, assert influence, and undermine U.S. power,” Thompson said in a statement.
FACEBOOK TECH AND THE ISLAMIC STATE: New details from an updated complaint expected to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) suggest that Facebook’s auto-generation technology is continuing to be used to boost extremist groups such as the Islamic State and al Qaeda.
The nonprofit National Whistleblower Center’s updated complaint accuses Facebook of having provided a tool allowing dozens of pages to be produced that promote or represent the two extremist groups. The update was first reported by the Associated Press.
The filing states that nearly 200 auto-generated pages reference the Islamic State while dozens more point to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. The AP reported that the nonprofit plans to file the update to its complaint this week.
The report comes as members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee were slated to question representatives from a number of social media platforms on Wednesday including Monika Bickert, who is in charge of Facebook’s attempts to curtail extremist messaging.
“Our priority is detecting and removing content posted by people that violates our policy against dangerous individuals and organizations to stay ahead of bad actors,” a Facebook spokesperson told the AP. “Auto-generated pages are not like normal Facebook pages as people can’t comment or post on them and we remove any that violate our policies. While we cannot catch every one, we remain vigilant in this effort.”
ALEXA, DONATE: Amazon announced Wednesday that Alexa, the company’s popular virtual assistant, will now be able to donate money to campaigns of candidates running for president.
The new feature, dubbed Alexa Political Contributions, activates when an Alexa user says, “Alexa, donate to [candidate name].” Candidates must sign up for the program, but if they do, they’ll be able to receive donations of up to $200 starting in October, according to Amazon’s website.
Alexa can already answer basic questions about the presidential campaigns such as who endorses a particular candidate, how a candidate is polling, when the Iowa caucuses are and more.
OMAR PUSHES TWITTER OVER TRUMP TWEET: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Wednesday asked what Twitter would do about “lies that put my life at risk” after President Trump promoted a false claim that a video of her and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) dancing was filmed on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“This is from a CBC event we hosted this weekend to celebrate black women in Congress. The President of the United States is continuing to spread lies that put my life at risk. What is Twitter doing to combat this misinformation?” Omar tweeted after Trump quote-tweeted a tweet from user Terrence K. Williams falsely claiming the Sept. 13 video was taken on Sept. 11.
The clip of the two dancing to Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” initially went viral on Saturday after it was first tweeted, with the rapper and singer, who, like Omar, is from Minneapolis, retweeting it.
After the quote-tweet from the president, which Williams also retweeted, Williams apparently deleted the original. The Hill has reached out to Williams for comment. A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to The Hill that the tweet was not deleted as a result of any action by the company.
Trump previously retweeted Williams when he suggested the Clintons had ordered the killing of financier and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
A LIGHTER CLICK: A reporter on a busy news day
AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: America faces fresh challenges to technology innovation leadership
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
U.S. cyber offensive against ISIS continues and eyes are now on Afghanistan (CyberScoop)
Huawei suspended from global forum meant to prevent cyber breaches (The Wall Street Journal)
Poll finds two-thirds of Americans support breaking up big tech companies (Vox)
Facebook introduces Portal TV, a video chat camera accessory for your television. (The Verge)