An Arizona woman accused of abusing her adopted children who starred on her popular YouTube channel has died, authorities said Wednesday.
Maricopa Police Department spokesman Ricardo Alvarado said Machelle Hobson died Tuesday at a Phoenix-area hospital. Her death was ruled natural and there was no crime suspected in it, according to Scottsdale police.
Hobson, 48, had been accused of starving her children and using pepper spray to punish them when they didn’t perform to her liking in the skits that garnered thousands of online views.
She had been hospitalized with “extreme health issues” at the end of May and released from jail custody on June 12 because of her diagnosis, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Lauren Reimer said in a statement. Authorities said she hadn’t been hospitalized since then, but it’s not known where she was before she was admitted again.
A judge in August declared Hobson incompetent to stand trial, the Arizona Republic reported. Hobson’s criminal case was on hold while authorities worked to restore Hobson to competency to stand trial.
Authorities have said Hobson locked up children in a closet for days without food, water or access to a bathroom.
YouTube terminated Hobson's channel after determining the channel violated its guidelines.
Episodes featured skits about children stealing cookies and a boy with superpowers.
The Pinal County Attorney’s Office, the agency prosecuting Hobson, did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. But county attorney Kent Volkmer said in a news conference that he was saddened by the death, according to the Maricopa Monitor. He said he wasn’t able to elaborate on Hobson’s medical condition.
Volkmer said that while prosecutors were looking forward to proving the case against Hobson, he was glad the kids don’t have to go through trial.
“The only way that we could have proven these charges is these children would have been required to testify under oath in front of the jury, in front of the world. Because of the resolution of this case, these kids don't have to testify. They now can begin the healing process,” Volkmer said.
Volkmer said his office was able to seize some of the earnings from the YouTube channel and that it’s being held in an account.
“We believe ultimately all of the victims are going to make a claim for that. We have no real control of that,” he said.
Police have said the children were taken out of school so they could keep filming the video series and hadn't been back for years.
Hobson's biological daughter, who is an adult, alerted police of the abuse, prompting officers to visit Hobson's home in the city of Maricopa, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of Phoenix.
The Arizona Department of Child Safety removed the children from the home.
Facebook says it removed 3.2 billion fake accounts from its service from April to September, up slightly from 3 billion in the previous six months.
Nearly all of the bogus accounts were caught before they had a chance to become “active” users of the social network, so they are not counted in the user figures the company reports regularly. Facebook estimates that about 5% of its 2.45 billion user accounts are fake.
The company said in a report Wednesday that it also removed 18.5 million instances of child nudity and sexual exploitation from its main platform in the April-September period, up from 13 million in the previous six months. It says the increase was due to improvements in detection.
In addition, Facebook said it removed 11.4 million instances of hate speech during the period, up from 7.5 million in the previous six months. The company says it is beginning to remove hate speech proactively, the way it does with some extremist content, child-exploitation and other material.
Facebook expanded the data it shares on its removal of terrorist propaganda. Its earlier reports only included data on al-Qaida, ISIS and their affiliates. The latest report shows Facebook detects material posted by non-ISIS or al-Qaida extremist groups at a lower rate than those two organizations.
The report is Facebook’s fourth on standards enforcement and the first to include data from Instagram in areas such as child nudity, illicit firearm and drug sales, and terrorist propaganda. The company said it removed 1.3 million instances of child nudity and child sexual exploitation from Instagram during the reported period, much of it before people saw it.
Seattle, Nov 9 (AP/UNB) — Family and friends of a former Twitter employee accused of spying for Saudi Arabia call him a dedicated husband and father who has overcome recent mental health struggles, according to letters of support filed to federal court.
Ahmad Abouammo, a U.S. citizen and a media partnership manager for Twitter's Middle East region, is charged with acting as an agent of Saudi Arabia without registering with the U.S. government.
The case marks the first time the kingdom, long linked to the U.S. through its massive oil reserves and regional security arrangements, has been accused of spying in America.
The seven letters — four from family members, including Abouammo's wife, and three from former co-workers — were filed Thursday ahead of the hearing. The letters paint a portrait of a kind, caring man who is needed at home to support his family and friends.
Roy Abdo, who worked with Abouammo at the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, urged the court to double check the facts.
"Knowing Ahmad's personality, work ethics, and having worked with him on a personal level for over two years, something seems not right about this," Abdo wrote.
Judge Paula L. McCandlis on Friday ordered Abouammo released on bail with GPS monitoring, a mental health evaluation and travel restrictions. His release was then at least temporarily put on hold because federal prosecutors said they planned to file an appeal Friday afternoon.
Abouammo's attorney Christopher Black said during the hearing that Abouammo's wife, sister, uncle and a good friend were in court and that Abouammo is not a flight risk because he has no assets, is deeply in debt and surrendered his passports to agents last year.
Prosecutors allege Abouammo and another former Twitter employee, Saudi citizen Ali Alzabarah, were rewarded by Saudi royal officials with a designer watch and tens of thousands of dollars funneled into secret bank accounts.
Alzabarah and a third suspect, a Saudi named Ahmed Almutairi who worked as a social media adviser for the Saudi royal family and acted as an intermediary with the Twitter employees, are believed to be in Saudi Arabia. Both are wanted by the FBI.
The federal complaint, unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, detailed a coordinated effort by Saudi government officials to recruit Twitter employees to look up the private data of accounts, including email addresses linked to the accounts and internet protocol addresses that can give up a user's location.
The accounts included those of a popular critic of the government with more than 1 million followers and a news personality. Neither was named.
Twitter said Wednesday it cooperated in a U.S. investigation of two former employees accused of accessing personal account information on behalf of the Saudi government.
The San Francisco-based social media company said in a statement it recognizes "the length bad actors will go to try and undermine" its service, and that there are tools in place to protect users with sensitive accounts.
A senior Saudi official in Washington said Thursday that "we expect all our citizens to abide by the laws of the countries in which they live." The official spoke with reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss issues sensitive to the government.
On LinkedIn, Abouammo lists his present work as a digital consultant with "Cyrcl," which Washington state records show was dissolved in 2017, as well as a co-founder of a "new startup that will redefine social."
He has previously worked at Amazon and Middle East Broadcasting Networks, both companies confirmed. However, the titles he listed on LinkedIn for those jobs did not match their records. His website states he is finishing a master's degree in management from Harvard University, which did not immediately confirm if he was enrolled.
In her letter to the court, Abouammo's wife, Zeina, called her husband "my backbone, my rock, and my companion." They have been married for 10 years and have three children together.
Zeina Abouammo wrote that they both suffered from mental health issues over the last year, "yet he was always strong and helpful." The allegations date back to 2014.
Abouammo's sister Amani said her brother helped her escape an abusive marriage and has taken care of her daughter, who has multiple disabilities.
"Ahmad is genuine, family guy, and generous," his cousin Rabih Abouammo wrote. "There is no way that he would jeopardize all of (this) for anything, he doesn't even need to."
Another former co-worker at the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Shirine Hossaini, told The Associated Press he was a "really sweet, happy, very thoughtful, really trustworthy" man who was not political.
"I find it really hard to believe Ahmad would be a part of that," she said. "I can't imagine anybody changing like that. That's a big shift if it's all true."
Facebook says it is deleting the name of the person who has been identified in conservative circles as the whistleblower who triggered a congressional impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump's actions.
The company said Friday that mention of the potential whistleblower's name violates Facebook's "coordinating harm policy," which prohibits material that could identify a "witness, informant, or activist."
Facebook says it is removing mentions of the alleged whistleblower's name and will revisit this decision if the name is widely published in the media or used by public figures in debate. The policy is not new. Facebook says it has been applying it to the whistleblower case and removing the person's name for a few days.
On Twitter, though, the alleged whistleblower's name was circulating widely on Friday. The company does not have a policy against identifying whistleblowers by name and is not removing the posts.
Some of the stories identifying the person came from the conservative news site Breitbart, which Facebook counts as one of its news partners in a newly launched news section on its app. However, the company said it was also removing identifying posts on the whistleblower from Breitbart.
In a statement, Twitter said it prohibits the sharing of "personally identifiable information about any individual, including the alleged whistleblower." But the company's policy on such information does not consider a person's name to be private information, a category that does include details such as a person's address, contact information or medical records.
This is not the first time Twitter and Facebook diverged on important policies. Last week, Twitter said it is banning all political ads from its service, in sharp contrast to Facebook , which continues to defend running paid political ads, even false ones, as a free speech priority.
U.S. whistleblower laws exist to protect the identity and careers of people who bring forward accusations of wrongdoing by government officials. Lawmakers in both parties have historically backed those protections.
The Associated Press typically does not reveal the identity of whistleblowers.
So far, President Donald Trump has avoided identifying the whistleblower by name. Exposing whistleblowers can be dicey, even for a president. For one thing, doing so could be a violation of federal law.
While there's little chance Trump could face charges, revealing the name could give Democrats more impeachment fodder. It could also prompt a backlash among some Senate Republicans who have long defended whistleblowers.
Amid all this, a false claim about the identity of the whistleblower has also been circulating online. Falsely captioned photos of former White House staffer David Edelman circulated widely on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit this week as social media users tried to unmask the whistleblower.
They were possibly inspired by posts and stories shared by conservative outlets and the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., that claimed to reveal the person's identity.
Facebook will be forced to divulge details of its proposed cryptocurrency amid concerns about its impact on Australia's national security and banking.
News Corp Australia reported on Wednesday that eight regulators have joined forces to use their respective power to probe Facebook and Libra, the global cryptocurrency which it plans to launch in 2020.
Australian authorities have expressed fears that the currency could make it more difficult to enforce anti-money laundering and anti-terror laws while also enabling scams through the social media platform.
The regulators that have joined forces include the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and Austrac, the anti-money laundering regulator.
According to documents obtained by News Corp, ASIC's "emerging threat and harm committee" met in July to discuss "the potential disruption to Australian financial markets posed by the Libra crypto-asset and ecosystem."
A meeting between the watchdogs and Facebook executives in October failed to allay their concerns about Libra.
Ahead of the earlier ASIC meeting senior staff were warned that an "inability" to effectively supervise Libra could affect "all consumers (and) investors."
"The proposed Libra eco-system also poses many risks and threats, including the proliferation of scams based on Libra via mobile apps," briefing notes for the meeting said.
"We also expect that we may identify more risks and threats once we have more information."
Facebook announced plans for Libra in June, with the currency to be managed by a coalition of almost 30 technology companies.
Approximately 15 million Australians are active users of Facebook platforms including Instagram and secure messaging service WhatsApp.