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February 8, 2022 T&S Newsletter

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Kids are flocking to Facebook’s ‘metaverse.’ Experts worry predators will follow.

The Washington Post | February 8, 2022

Company Listed: Social Media

I was alone in the virtual world, meandering through a side corridor of a simplistically rendered palace, when a stranger entered.

“Hello?” a small voice called from the palace’s central plaza. “Where are you?”

I hesitated. The voice sounded like it belonged to a child.

“I can’t find you,” the child said, plaintively. “Can you give me a hint?”

In theory, kids aren’t allowed in the game. The new virtual-reality app Horizon Worlds, the first foray into the much-hyped “metaverse” for Facebook parent company Meta, is limited to adults 18 and older.

In practice, however, very young kids appear to be among its earliest adopters. The person I met that day, who told me they were 9 and using their parents’ Oculus VR headset, was one of many apparent children I encountered in several weeks on the app. And reviews of Horizon Worlds include dozens of complaints about youngsters, some of them foulmouthed and rude, gleefully ruining the experience for the grown-ups.

But experts say the presence of children in Meta’s fledgling metaverse raises a graver concern: that by mixing children with adult strangers in a largely self-moderated virtual world, the company is inadvertently creating a hunting ground for sexual predators.

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Disinformation, Radicalization, and Algorithmic Amplification: What Steps Can Congress Take?

JustSecurity| February 8, 2022

Company Listed: Social Media

Design features of social media platforms are exploited to promote extremism. The platforms’ after the fact, whack-a-mole approach to content moderation is insufficient. However, Section 230 reform – a popular rallying cry – is a blunt instrument that may lead to unintended suppression of important speech and not address radicalization. Congress or agencies acting on their own should push for transparency, consumer protection (in terms of consistent, transparent enforcement of terms of service), and development of transparent codes of conduct. This approach mirrors elements of Europe’s Digital Services Act and could be endorsed by the United States and European Union (EU).

A Glimpse Inside Online Amplification Engines

When an internal Facebook experiment created a fake account for a fictional user – “Carol Smith,” a 41-year old conservative mother from North Carolina – this account was recommended pages and groups related to QAnon within days of its creation. “Carol” was recommended an account associated with the militia group Three Percenters within three weeks.

This research and other documents released by the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen underscore that the design features of large social media platforms are exploited to promote extremism.

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Monday Morning Moan - Meta might take its ball home if Europe's regulators don't make the 'right' decisions

Diginomica | February 7, 2022

Company Listed: Meta Facebook

It's safe to say that the past few days won’t be coming up as fond memories to look back on on Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Facebook timeline. On the back of falling user numbers - apparently the one sin that Wall Street isn’t prepared to turn a commercially expedient blind eye to when it comes to The Company Formerly Known As Facebook - the firm’s share price went into freewill, clocking up the largest ever one day collapse. Meanwhile poor old Zuck himself woke up to find his personal fortune down $30 billion.

But before we all start weeping crocodile tears - no? Me neither! - something else emerged from the embers of last week that’s worth keeping front of mind in the months to come. Remember all those protestations from Zuckerberg about how he wanted government to come up with regulations for the social media sector, such as when he told members of the US Congress.

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Getting Rid of Joe Rogan Won’t Solve the Health Misinformation Problem

The New York Times | February 7, 2022

Company Listed: Spotify

Another week, another platform in trouble for allowing its talent to give voice to misinformation. This time, Joe Rogan suggested that the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines are a type of “gene therapy” and that young people are at a greater risk from the shots than the disease, among other false and dubious health claims featured on his popular, Spotify-hosted podcast. The calls to remove his podcast have only intensified after revelations that he’s also repeatedly used a racist slur on the show, leading Spotify’s chief to apologize to the company’s employees.

The best outcome of the scandal wouldn’t be that Mr. Rogan was kicked off Spotify, at least not for the health bunk. It would be seeing his misleading Covid content in context: It’s just a tiny drop in the ocean of online health nonsense.

Medical drivel has ballooned with the rise of streaming, e-commerce and social media platforms. Unlike the anti-vaccine pamphlets that skeptics handed out centuries ago, people spreading erroneous health advice today can near-instantly reach audiences of millions.

The problem is so much bigger than Joe Rogan or Spotify. And platforms, lawmakers and regulators aren’t keeping up.

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China’s cultural industry is being co-opted for disinformation operations

AspiStrategist | February 7, 2022

Company Listed: Social Media

Beijing’s quest to promote positive images of China overseas blurs the distinction between publicity and propaganda. Government departments contract private companies to funnel disinformation on Western social media and co-opt influencers alongside their legitimate public-relations activities. Consequently, the country’s cultural industry is financially incentivised to follow a broader ideological agenda while being strangled by censorship and regulation on sensitive issues.

On 6 September 2021, a representative from a Hong Kong–based marketing agency, Pear Technology (梨科技), emailed more than 100 English-speaking YouTube influencers, mostly based in the US, offering cash to post promotional videos about Hainan, an island province of the People’s Republic of China. Accidentally, one of the recipients was the shared business email account of YouTube content creators and Chinese Communist Party critics Winston Sterzel and Matthew Tye.

After some initial correspondence, the representative offered Sterzel and Tye a new deal. They had another ‘client’ that could pay US$2,000 to promote a pre-made video insinuating that Covid-19 originated in North America and spread via white-tailed deer.

The emails received by Sterzel and Tye potentially provide new details of how Western content creators or ‘key opinion leaders’ can be approached by private companies to be co-opted into pro-CCP disinformation operations. Key opinion leaders, or ‘influencers’, are individuals who have a significant online following and authority on social media. They typically derive some income from producing social media content and can be leveraged by businesses to build brand awareness or trust in products. In ASPI’s December 2021 report Borrowing mouths to speak on Xinjiang, my colleagues and I explored how the CCP uses foreign social media influencers to shape and push messages domestically and internationally that are aligned with its preferred narratives.

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Price comparison site sues Google for $2.4 billion over alleged antitrust breach

CNBC | February 7, 2022

Company Listed: Google

A Swedish price comparison website is suing Google for 2.1 billion euros ($2.4 billion) over allegations that it manipulated search results in favor of its own competing shopping service.

PriceRunner said Monday that it plans to take Google to court in Stockholm. It’s seeking compensation for damages in relation to a 2017 ruling from the European Commission that Google breached antitrust laws by giving preference to its own shopping comparison product, Google Shopping, through its popular search engine.

After a seven-year investigation into the practices, the EU executive body dealt Google a historic $2.7 billion fine. Google appealed the penalty, but in November 2021, the decision was upheld by the EU’s General Court. The verdict can still be appealed and taken to the EU’s highest court.

PriceRunner CEO Mikael Lindahl said the company launched its lawsuit following “extensive and thorough preparations.”

“We are of course seeking compensation for the damage Google has caused us during many years, but are also seeing this lawsuit as a fight for consumers who have suffered tremendously from Google’s infringement of the competition law for the past fourteen years and still today,” Lindahl said in a statement.

“This is also a matter of survival for many European entrepreneurial companies and job opportunities within tech.”

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Feds seek experts’ help in bid to tackle cutting-edge legal issues posed by online harmful content

LawyersDaily| February 7, 2022

Company Listed: Social Media

The federal government has gone back to the drawing board after receiving overwhelmingly negative public feedback to its proposed legislative and regulatory blueprint for tackling online “harmful content.”

During the federal election last fall, the Liberals pledged to introduce online harm regulatory legislation within 100 days of forming government.

At the end of that period, on Feb. 3, 2022, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, joined by Justice Minister David Lametti and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, instead announced that the government is applying the brakes and “will engage a group of experts whose mandate will be to collaborate with stakeholders and Canadians, in order to provide the government with advice on how to adjust the proposal.”

Pledging to work “in a transparent and expedited manner” the government said it will propose a revised framework “as soon as possible” and as “as quickly as possible.”

“We are committed to ensuring that online platforms provide safe and respectful experiences for Canadians to engage and share information with one another,” Rodriguez said in a Feb. 3 statement. “This is a very important and complex issue. ... We will continue to engage stakeholders and Canadians in order to get this right.”

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EU Regulators Call for Action to Catch Up to Potential Systemic Risk of Digital Finance

Insurance Journal| February 7, 2022

Company Listed: Social Media

Rapid action is needed to update how cross-border financial services are scrutinized and consumers protected as the sector becomes digitalized with “Big Tech” playing an increased role, European Union regulators said on Monday.

People are turning to social media and using smartphones to buy and sell shares, move money around bank accounts and make payments, a trend accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving regulators playing catch-up.

Digital finance has unlocked new synergies between financial and non-financial activities that potentially introduce systemic risk into the market for financial services,” a joint report from the EU’s banking, insurance and markets watchdogs said.

Cloud computing, or banks and other financial firms using outsourced providers for services, is booming, the report said.

It is sometimes unclear how to categorize some digital financial services under existing rules, creating uncertainty over data privacy, anti-money laundering safeguards and how much capital they should be holding, the report said.

It called on the bloc’s executive European Commission, which has opened a public consultation on digital finance, to take a “holistic” view of supervising financial services.

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T&S Policies & Regulations

Regulatory news and policy decisions impacting the T&S ecosystem.

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State senators seek crackdown on social media sites