With help from John Hendel
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— What to do about alleged outing of whistleblower: Unverified posts and memes claiming to identify the White House whistleblower are proliferating online, further highlighting the challenges facing social media platforms on how to tackle troubling political content.
— Veterans’ Affairs grilling: Facebook and Twitter will testify this week before a House committee concerned that social media platforms are being abused to impersonate veterans and feed scams and misinformation.
— C-Band fight escalates: President Donald Trump is now involved in disputes and speculation over how the FCC will handle the coveted 5G airwaves known as the C-Band, with debate around the issue at an all-time high.
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WHISTLEBLOWER DEBATE DIVIDES BIG TECH — The alleged name of the whistleblower in the Trump-Ukraine scandal continued to spread across social media in the form of text, images and memes over the weekend, further highlighting how some of the most influential social networks are still struggling to combat threats to the democratic process — and are continuing to diverge in their approaches.
— Facebook has pledged to take down content claiming to name the whistleblower (“any mention of the potential whistleblower’s name violates our coordinating harm policy, which prohibits content ‘outing of witness, informant, or activist,’” a Facebook spokesperson told MT), while Twitter has opted to keep it up. “Per our private information policy, any Tweets that include personally identifiable information about any individual, including the alleged whistleblower, would be in violation of the Twitter Rules,” a spokesperson told MT. The catch: Twitter does not consider a person’s name to be private, and therefore, sharing the alleged name is not a violation of Twitter policy.
— What we’re seeing: Verified Twitter accounts (of public figures, journalists and others) shared the alleged identity of the whistleblower over the weekend, in some cases through memes and photos that actually depicted someone else. “Memes are the perfect vehicle for a simple piece of propaganda like the attacks on the whistleblower,” Paul Barrett, deputy director of NYU’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights whose recent report on 2020 disinformation focused on the power and prevalence of memes in these campaigns, told MT. “They’re memorable and to the point, easy to manipulate and a snap to make.” He recommended that tech platforms enforce their policies banning content that puts people in harm’s way. “As a result of threats by President Trump and others, the whistleblower is in real, physical danger,” he said. “Outing the whistleblower materially heightens that danger.”
— Another wrinkle: Many of the Twitter posts were screenshots seeming to show Facebook blocking content that named the whistleblower. (“Your post goes against our Community Standards on coordinating harm and promoting crime,” one such notice said. “No one else can see your post.”) Mainstream platforms’ divergent approaches to the issue, like their major differences on how to handle political ads, underscores the lack of a cohesive, industry-wide approach to addressing toxic political content and misinformation as we head into 2020. (Something to watch for next: Facebook will revisit its decision to remove mentions of the potential whistleblower’s name “should their name be widely published in the media or used by public figures in debate,” a spokesperson told MT.)
THREATS TO VETERANS ON SOCIAL MEDIA — In a week kicked off by Veterans Day, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Wednesday will hold the hearing “Hijacking our Heroes: Exploiting Veterans through Disinformation on Social Media,” focusing on “the misappropriation of veterans’ identities for the dissemination of fake news and political propaganda, romance scams, and commercial fraud.” Jog your memory: A recent New York Times feature on military romance scams revealed that fraudsters are posing as veterans to steal money from people they meet on dating websites and mainstream social networks like Facebook. The story prompted a burst of scrutiny on what tech giants are doing to combat online imposters.
— What to watch: Witnesses for the hearing include Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook; Kevin Kane, public policy manager at Twitter; Vladimir Barash, science director at Graphika, a company that uses AI to analyze social media and other online networks; and Kristofer Goldsmith, associate director of policy and government affairs for Vietnam Veterans of America. The discussion ties into the broader ongoing debate about tech platforms’ failures to catch false accounts and misinformation before they can do damage.
FIGHT OVER 5G AIRWAVES REVS UP — Speculation is at a fever pitch surrounding FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s pending decision on how to sell the 5G-friendly airwaves in the so-called C-band, with many suspecting the commission may take up an item on the matter at the FCC’s Dec. 12 meeting. The satellite operators holding the airwaves prefer a private sale, which they say would be the fastest way to repurpose the spectrum, and their three-member C-Band Alliance offered a revised plan to do so on Friday. The group a day earlier sought to counter in a letter to lawmakers what they saw as misinformation raised in a House Energy and Commerce hearing.
— The Trump factor: A C-Band Alliance spokesperson confirmed to John that the alliance has conducted a number of White House meetings while advocating for its proposal. That could help counter efforts to get the issue on Trump’s radar from Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a vocal critic of the private-auction plan who instead prefers an FCC-run sale. Kennedy is planning an appropriations hearing on the issue this month featuring FCC auction staffers, as John reported. Meanwhile, Eutelsat, a former member of the satellite alliance, has broken with its former cohorts and is now telling the FCC that the commission “should closely oversee and control the auction of this spectrum to ensure a fair, transparent, equitable, and impartial auction and proceeds distribution process.”
— Broader 5G context: Wireless carriers are clamoring for this mid-band spectrum, which puts additional pressure on Pai. The need has spurred Verizon to back the private sale proposal and may be a motivating factor for some lawmakers eyeing the process. “If we don’t want China and South Korea to win the race to 5G — and seize the economic benefits 5G will bring — we need to substantially increase the amount of mid-band spectrum available to U.S. companies quickly,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said on the Senate floor last week.
BROADCASTERS PLEDGE TO SAFEGUARD TV VIEWERS — Broadcast networks are rushing to assure Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that they will prevent rural households from losing access to TV channels if Congress lets the 2014 satellite TV law known as STELAR expire with the new year. Graham is floating plans for a transition period to a free market in 2020 and seemed strongly skeptical of reauthorization in an initial letter to the broadcasters. He has now received responses from ABC, CBS and Fox. (Expect a similar one coming from NBC, a source said). But plenty of industry interests and lawmakers insist the satellite TV law is still necessary, and Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is moving to mark up on Wednesday his STAR Act, S. 2789, to reauthorize the law for five years. He told John last week he’s convinced Graham will go along with renewal.
Lorna Johnson, vice president of finance and administration at USTelecom – The Broadband Association, is being promoted to chief financial officer. … INCOMPAS, the internet and competitive networks association, named the companies that will serve on its board of directors in the next term.
Sunday’s front page: Although tech companies bar child sexual abuse imagery on their platforms, criminals are exploiting gaps — eternalizing the episodes on the internet and forcing victims to repeatedly relive their nightmares online years later, The New York Times reports.
Another political advertising problem: “Facebook Is Making Millions Off A Nationwide Gun Permit Scam,” via HuffPost.
Fintech fumble: “A Wall Street regulator is opening a probe into Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s credit card practices after a viral tweet from a tech entrepreneur alleged gender discrimination in the new Apple Card’s algorithms when determining credit limits,” Bloomberg reports.
2020 chatter: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reportedly called Michael Bloomberg months ago to ask him if he’d think about running for president, Vox reports.
Opinion: “Why Do We Tolerate Saudi Money in Tech?” by Kara Swisher in The New York Times.
T-Mo-Sprint tidbit: Arkansas on Friday joined the group of states signing on to a proposed Justice Department-led settlement approving the T-Mobile-Sprint mega-merger, the DOJ announced.
Bezos’ next frontier: Bezos is considering purchasing an NFL team, CBS Sports reports.
ICYMI: Police dogs can now be trained to help fight cybercrime by sniffing out electronics used by sex offenders and child pornographers, The New Yorker reports.
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