Oct 23, 2018

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

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1 big thing: Regimes weaponizing social media

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Repressive regimes are making ever more use of aggressive social media techniques to silence critics or exert control over vulnerable populations, reports Axios' Sara Fischer.

Why it matters: General lack of oversight of social media makes it easy for those in power to influence populations without being detected — or at least not until after damage is done.

Driving the news: The latest alleged incident, reported by the New York Times and covered in yesterday's Login, is of Saudi-backed troll farms inundating journalists (like the late Jamal Khashoggi) with hateful messages and threats of violence in an effort to silence them.

  • In Myanmar, a UN-backed fact-finding mission found that members of the Myanmar military used Facebook as a tool in the government’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against the country's Rohingya population.
  • In Brazil, businessmen allegedly linked to far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro have been bankrolling a campaign to spread misinformation in support of the leading far-right presidential candidate by spamming users with fake news via WhatsApp, per the Washington Post.
  • In Mexico, several political parties used bots and fake accounts in an attempt to influence the presidential election in July. Pro-government bots have been used for years in Mexican politics to silence activists.

Russia and Iran are leveraging social media to undermine stability or elections in other nations.

  • Last week, the Justice Department charged a Russian national with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., including crimes related to interference in the 2018 midterms via social media.
  • New data released last week from Twitter shows that Russian trolls sent thousands of pro-Brexit messages the day of Britain's referendum on EU membership.
  • A Reuters investigation this summer found that the Iranian influence operation, originally identified on Facebook and then Google, Twitter and Reddit, was actually targeting internet users across a network of anonymous websites and social media accounts in 11 different languages.

Facebook and Twitter have taken action in nearly all of these instances, some of which were first uncovered by third parties or reporters.

  • But often groups will use various tactics, like spreading social media bot attacks across hundreds of seemingly-unrelated accounts and platforms, so that it's harder to track their actions in real time.

What's next? Even democratic regimes are not immune to this type of abuse, argues Jennifer Grygiel, assistant professor of communications at Syracuse University.

In the U.S., Grygiel argues, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an independent agency, was engaging in domestic propaganda through the purchase of Facebook ads for some of its European channels that were targeted to U.S. users. That's in violation of a law meant to prohibit domestic propaganda.

"My most immediate concern is here in the United States. The Facebook discovery makes me wonder what else is not being managed around our own government's potential use of communications systems for propaganda here in this country."
— Jennifer Grygiel

Go deeper: Sara has more here.

2. Tech's role in immigration enforcement

Photo: Atilgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A new report commissioned by advocacy groups finds that multiple tech companies, including Amazon and Palantir, are of special importance to immigration authorities "due to their involvement at multiple points in the profiling, tracking and apprehension of undocumented persons."

Why it matters: Contracts between major tech companies and immigration enforcers have drawn attention from the companies’ employees, some of whom object to playing a role in the Trump administration's immigration crackdown.

The report draws on various sources, notes Axios' David McCabe, including congressional testimony, contracting records and agreements between agencies.

  • It was backed by Mijente, the National Immigration Project and the Immigrant Defense Project. It was produced by outside research firm Empower.

Details, per the report:

  • “Recent changes in policy and contracting at ICE have heightened the importance of two key tech companies: Amazon, as the primary cloud service provider for the agency, and Palantir, as a provider of case management that can be integrated with key DHS fusion centers and local and state law enforcement agencies."
  • It describes how the companies work with United States immigration authorities. Palantir provides “management and analysis software for local, regional and federal law enforcement, including key ICE systems” and Department of Homeland Security facilities in California.
  • Amazon hosts “numerous state and federal data systems key to immigration enforcement, including Palantir's Integrated Case Management system at ICE,” and works with state and local law enforcement that feed into DHS systems.

Neither Amazon nor Palantir responded to requests for comment.

Go deeper: David has more here.

3. College towns turning into tech hubs

Map: CompTIA

A trade group ranked the 20 best places for techies to work, with some interesting findings. Sure, traditional tech hubs were there, including San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Austin and the Research Triangle of North Carolina.

Yes, but: Also on CompTIA's list were a number of college towns, including Madison (Wis.), Boulder (Colo.), and Lansing (Mich.).

"From Michigan State in Lansing to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and even larger cities like Boston which hosts 35 colleges, we see the direct correlation between talent availability and innovation creation...”
"For so many of our nation’s tech towns, the pipeline of skilled talent can be found at local universities."
— Nancy Hammervik, EVP, CompTIA, said in a statement to Axios

The top 5: The North Carolina cities of Charlotte and Raleigh topped the list, followed by Austin, San Jose and San Francisco.

Go deeper: You can view the full list here.

4. Former Windows boss has two new jobs

Terry Myerson. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Former Windows boss Terry Myerson has a new gig, two of them actually.

What's new: Myerson, who left Microsoft in March, is signing up as a venture partner at Seattle's Madrona Venture Group and as an operating executive with The Carlyle Group.

As for why he is doing that rather than sign on with another company full-time, Myerson told me:

"I’m enjoying getting to work with many companies and work with many teams for now – vs. committing everything to one."

P.S. He's still a Windows fan, having written the blog announcing his new gig on a new Microsoft Surface Pro 6.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Oracle OpenWorld continues in San Francisco.
  • Money 20/20 continues in Las Vegas.
  • The Federal Trade Commission is hosting the fourth in a series of meetings on regulating tech in the 21st century. The latest meetings will take place today and tomorrow in D.C.

Trading Places


6. After you Login

This shot was money. About $30,000, to be specific.

Ina Fried