Twitter says it has removed nearly 6,000 accounts it deemed tied to a state-backed information operation in Saudi Arabia.
In a blog post Friday, Twitter said the removed Saudi accounts were amplifying messages favorable to Saudi authorities, mainly through "aggressive liking, retweeting and replying." While the majority of the content was in Arabic, Twitter said the tweets also amplified discussions about sanctions in Iran and appearances by Saudi government officials in Western media.
The 5,929 accounts removed are part of a larger group of 88,000 accounts engaged in "spammy behavior" across a wide range of topics. But Twitter isn't disclosing all of them because some might be compromised accounts.
Twitter began archiving Tweets and media it deems to be associated with known state-backed information operations in 2018. It shut 200,000 Chinese accounts that targeted Hong Kong protests in August.
Social media companies have been trying to tackle misinformation on their services, especially ahead of next year's U.S. presidential elections. The efforts followed revelations that Russians bankrolled thousands of fake political ads during the 2016 elections. Twitter's announcement Friday underscores the fact that misinformation concerns aren't limited to the U.S. and Russia.
The Saudi Arabian Embassy in the U.S. did not immediately return a request for comment.
In September, Twitter suspended the account of the crown prince's former top adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, who also served as director of the cyber security federation. As with Friday's announcement, Twitter said that account had violated the company's platform manipulation policy.
The Saudi government has used different tactics to control speech and keep reformers and others from organizing, including employing troll armies to harass and intimidate users online. It has also arrested and imprisoned Twitter users.
Facebook's stock dropped almost 3% in regular trading after news reports suggested that the FTC may take antitrust action to prevent Facebook from integrating its disparate messaging apps.
The reports said the Federal Trade Commission may seek a court injunction that would block Facebook's "interoperability" plans for Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram, which involves revising them to use the same underlying software.
Both the FTC and Facebook declined to comment on the reports.
Facebook has been planning to integrate the apps since early 2019. Federal regulators are concerned that Facebook's plan could make it hard to break up the company should the FTC find that necessary. The news was first published by The Wall Street Journal.
Twitter is bringing back special labels to help users identify accounts and tweets from U.S. political candidates.
The company, which first used such labels for the midterm elections last year, said it is trying to provide users with original sources of information and prevent spoofed and fake accounts from fooling voters.
Many political candidates already have blue check marks to indicate that Twitter has confirmed that they are who they say they are.
The election labels go further and provide details such as what office a person is running for and where. They will also carry a small ballot box icon. The labels will appear on candidates' accounts and tweets, even if they are retweeted by someone else.
Twitter hopes its efforts will help people know when candidates are behind the words attributed to them. This could prevent someone from creating an account pretending to be a politician, for instance, or attributing a tweet to a candidate who didn't actually make the tweet.
Twitter, along with Facebook and other social media companies, has been under heavy scrutiny for allowing their services to be misused by malicious individuals and groups trying to influence elections around the world.
Facebook also verifies accounts for public figures and celebrities, while YouTube verifies official channels. But they don't go as far as adding election labels.
Labels will be used only for general election candidates and will start appearing once candidates have won their parties' primaries or have otherwise qualified for the general election ballot.
Twitter said it will apply the labels in House, Senate and gubernatorial races. Presidential candidates are not included in Twitter's new policies. The 2020 presidential candidates are already all verified and Twitter says if more join the race, they will get verified too. The company says it won't apply election labels to presidential candidates but may do so down the road.
Major presidential candidates already have blue check marks to indicate that Twitter has confirmed the accounts are legitimate. Many candidates for House, Senate and gubernatorial races have them as well.
Twitter said Thursday it will verify additional accounts, even if candidates do not seek them, by working with the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ballotpedia. Twitter said the verifications will happen on a rolling basis as candidates qualify for next year's primaries.
Facebook has been fined around $4 million for allegedly misleading its users in Hungary by claiming the use of its services was free, the Hungarian Competition Authority said Friday.
The authority called the fine of 1.2 billion forints ($4.01 million, 3.63 million euros) the largest-ever issued in Hungary in a matter of consumer protection.
According to the competition authority, Facebook posted slogans such as "Free and anyone can join" on its opening page and help center, claiming that its services were free of charge.
While true that users don't pay a fee, they paid for their use of Facebook by driving profits to the company through its collection and use of their detailed data, such as consumer preferences, interests and habits, the authority said.
It added that, using that information, Facebook sold advertising opportunities to its clients, with the ads reaching consumers through their insertion among users' Facebook posts.
The authority said that the notices about the free use of Facebook "distract consumers' attention" from the compensation they provide the company — the provision and extent of their data and its consequences.
The authority said it calculated the fine based not only on the advertising revenues in Hungary of Facebook Ireland Ltd., but also took into account that during the investigation the company made changes globally to the slogans on its opening page about the gratuitousness of the service, and also to the content of the help center.
The misleading information about the free services appeared on Facebook between Jan. 2010 and until earlier this year, the authority said.
Elon Musk defeated defamation allegations Friday from a British cave explorer who claimed he was branded a pedophile when the Tesla CEO called him "pedo guy" in an angry tweet.
Vernon Unsworth, who participated in the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped for weeks in a Thailand cave last year, had sought $190 million in damages for the shame and humiliation caused by the man his lawyer called a "billionaire bully."
It took less than an hour for an eight-person jury in Los Angeles federal court to reject Unsworth's claim after a four-day trial.
Musk said the verdict restored his faith in humanity as he quickly left the court with his security detail.
Musk — who deleted the tweet and later apologized for it — had asserted the expression was nothing more than a flippant insult that meant "creepy old man," not pedophile.
Unsworth had provoked the attack by belittling Musk's contribution to the rescue -- a miniature sub his engineers built that was never used -- as ineffective and nothing more than a "PR stunt." He further earned the ire of the tech whiz by suggesting Musk stick the sub "where it hurts."
On Friday, it was Unsworth who felt the pain.
"I accept the jury verdict, take it on the chin, and move on," Unsworth said outside court.
Jury foreman Joshua Jones said the panel decided Unsworth's lawyers failed to prove their case. He said they spent too much time trying to appeal to jurors' emotions and not concentrating on the evidence.
"The failure probably happened because they didn't focus on the tweets," Jones said after the verdict was announced. "I think they tried to get our emotions involved in it."
Attorney Lin Wood, in an impassioned and at times emotional closing argument, suggested the jury should award $190 million. Wood said $150 million of that figure should be a "hard slap on the wrist" to punish the "billionaire bully" for what he said was akin to dropping an atomic weapon on his client that would create problems for years like radioactive fallout.
Wood said it was important to challenge Musk's tweet in court even if they didn't win. Unsworth had said the statement would appear true if he didn't sue.
"Anybody that knows this man, knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that Elon's accusations were false," Wood said outside court. "This was not the justice that he deserved under the evidence."
Wood said the verdict sends a message that people can get away with making accusations.
"Everyone who hears about this verdict should be very, very concerned about their own reputations," he said.
Musk's lawyer told the jury the tweet did not rise to the level of defamation and cases over insults didn't belong in federal courtrooms.
Attorney Alex Spiro said Unsworth had tried to profit off his role in the cave rescue and basked in the many accolades he received.
Unsworth had been honored by the queen of England and the king of Thailand, had his photo taken next to British Prime Minister Theresa May and been asked to speak at schools and contribute to a children's book, which showed that no one took Musk's insult seriously.
"People accused of pedophilia don't get celebrated by world leaders," Spiro said. "Kings and queens and prime ministers don't stand next to pedophiles."
Unsworth hadn't demonstrated actual damage to his reputation other than asserting over a couple minutes of emotional testimony delivered with his voice cracking that he felt isolated, ashamed and dirtied, Spiro said. There was no supporting testimony from his girlfriend or other friends who could discuss the impact they witnessed, no evidence he had lost business or relationships as a result of the tweet and he hadn't sought psychological counseling or medication.
Spiro mocked Unsworth's claims that the tweet was like a life sentence without parole, noting that many people are serving such terms in actual prisons.
He urged jurors to return a verdict that would make clear no reasonable person would conclude Musk had called him a pedophile.
" Tell Mr. Unsworth once and for all, 'You are not a pedophile,' " Spiro said. "With our verdict, we free you, we free you from parole."