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‘Troll factory’: Facebook, Twitter suspend Russian network ahead of U.S. election – National


Facebook said Tuesday that it removed a small network of accounts and pages linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the “troll factory” that has used social media accounts to sow political discord in the U.S. since the 2016 presidential election.

Twitter also suspended five related accounts. The company said the tweets from these Russia-linked accounts“were low quality and spammy” and that most received few, if any, likes or retweets.

The people behind the accounts recruited “unwitting” freelance journalists to post in English and Arabic, mainly targeting left-leaning audiences. Facebook said Tuesday the network’s activity focused on the U.S., U.K., Algeria and Egypt and other English-speaking countries and countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

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Facebook threatens to cut off news to Australia after years of spreading ‘misinformation’

The company said it started investigating the network based on information from the FBI about its off-Facebook activities. The network was in the early stages of development, Facebook added, and saw “nearly no engagement” on Facebook before it was removed. The network consisted of 13 Facebook accounts and two pages. About 14,000 accounts followed one or more of the pages, though the English-language page had a little over 200 followers, Facebook said.

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Still, its presence points to ongoing Russian efforts to disrupt the U.S. election and sow political discord in an already divided country. To evade detection, the people behind the network recruited Americans to do their bidding, likely unknowingly, both as journalists and as people authorized to purchase political advertisements in the U.S.

Facebook said the people behind the network posted about global events ranging from racial justice in the U.S. and the U.K., NATO, the QAnon conspiracy, President Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. The network spent about $480 on advertising on Facebook, primarily in U.S. dollars. However, Facebook said less than $2 worth of those ads targeted the U.S.

The network’s posts directed people to a website called PeaceData, which claims to be a global news organization that, according to a report by research firm Graphika, “took a left-wing stance, opposing what it portrayed as Western imperialism and the excesses of capitalism.”






‘Anarchists, rioters’ on plane: Trump echoes months-old Facebook conspiracy theory


‘Anarchists, rioters’ on plane: Trump echoes months-old Facebook conspiracy theory

The FBI said in a statement Tuesday that it provided information to the platforms “to better protect against threats to the nation’s security and our democratic processes.”

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“While technology companies independently make decisions regarding the content of their platforms and the safety of their members, the FBI is actively engaged with our federal partners, election officials, and the private sector to mitigate foreign threats to our nation’s security and our elections,” the statement said.

Separately, Twitter said Tuesday it will start adding context to its trending section, which shows some of the most popular topics on the service at any given moment. Experts and even Twitter’s own employees have expressed concerns that the trending section can be gamed to spread misinformation and abuse.

Read more:
Facebook erred by failing to remove post calling for armed civilians: Zuckerberg

Twitter uses algorithms and human employees to determine what topics are trending _ it is not simply the most popular topics, but topics that are newly popular at any given time. But it’s not difficult to artificially elevate trends.

In the coming weeks, Twitter said, users in the U.S., U.K., Brazil, India and several other countries will see brief descriptions added to some trends to add context.

“To be clear, we know there is more work to do to improve trends and the context updates we’re announcing today are just a small step in the right direction,” said Liz Lee, a product trust partner and Frank Oppong, a product manager, in a blog post. “We need to make trends better and we will.”

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_

Associated Press Writer Eric Tucker contributed to this story from Washington, D.C.




© 2020 The Canadian Press





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‘Tough Day for Twitter:’ Users React to Massive Platform Security Breach



Following the recent hijacking of multiple high-profile Twitter accounts, users on the platform have begun to analyze the cyber attack and the effects it may have on the platform’s future.

Twitter recently faced a major security breach as the accounts of multiple high-profile individuals and companies were hijacked, including Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, Former President Barack Obama, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and the official accounts of ride-sharing service Uber and tech giant Apple.

Now, many individuals from multiple fields are reacting to the news that major accounts were apparently easily hijacked in the space of a few hours, and how the platform could prevent such an attack again in the future.

Motherboard reporter Jason Koebler tweeted that photos of internal Twitter tools shared with Motherboard by sources claiming to have knowledge of the hack are being removed from Twitter for containing “personal information,” despite the screenshots simply showing an internal Twitter dashboard with no identifying info.

Many across Twitter have begun to worry about the impact of the hack, game developer Mark Kern best known for working as a team lead on the popular game World of Warcraft tweeted that the hack could have “some really, really, big impacts.”

Journalist and eSports commentator Richard Lewis claimed in a twee that the leaked internal tools prove that the company lied to Congress about the types of tools they had in place, this likely refers to what appears to be “blacklisting” options for accounts in Twitter’s internal tools. Dorsey and his staff have long claimed that the act of “shadowbanning” or preventing users’ tweets from being seen is a conspiracy theory.

Journalist Tim Pool came to a similar conclusion, stating that blacklisting options are clearly labeled in the leaked internal screenshots:

Kim Dotcom, the German-Finnish Internet entrepreneur and founder of the file-sharing website Megaupload.com who is fighting 2012 charges of copyright infringement and money laundering related to the site, commented that the hack has revealed that evidence from social media is no longer reliable in Court as it can be edited by Twitter employees or anyone with access to Twitter’s internal tools.

The account of the cryptocurrency wallet MyCrypto posted a number of tweets outlining when certain accounts posted tweets containing links to Bitcoin donation scams and the Bitcoin addresses linked to the scam.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted that it was a “tough day” at the company following the events of the hack:

Many made light of the situation including British television host Piers Morgan who tweeted that he would not be tweeting “Bitcoin advice”:

Breitbart News will continue to follow this story and update readers on the latest events as more information comes to light.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address [email protected]





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Twitter hack alarms experts already concerned about platform’s security – National


The extraordinary hacking spree that hit Twitter on Wednesday, leading it to briefly muzzle some of its most widely followed accounts, is drawing questions about the platform’s security and resilience in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election.

Twitter said late Wednesday hackers obtained control of employee credentials to hijack accounts including those of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, former president Barack Obama, reality television star Kim Kardashian, and tech billionaire and Tesla founder Elon Musk.

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Twitter says ‘coordinated social engineering attack’ targeted politicians, tech leaders

In a series of tweets, the company said: “We detected what we believe to be a coordinated social engineering attack by people who successfully targeted some of our employees with access to internal systems and tools.”

The hackers then “used this access to take control of many highly-visible (including verified) accounts and Tweet on their behalf.”

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The company statements confirmed the fears of security experts that the service itself — rather than users — had been compromised.

Twitter’s role as a critical communications platform for political candidates and public officials, including President Donald Trump, has led to fears that hackers could wreak havoc with the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election or otherwise compromise national security.






Facebook and Google suspend China’s data requests, TikTok to pull out of Hong Kong


Facebook and Google suspend China’s data requests, TikTok to pull out of Hong Kong

Adam Conner, vice president for technology policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank, said on Twitter: “This is bad on July 15 but would be infinitely worse on November 3rd.”

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Bitcoin bounty

Posing as celebrities and the wealthy, the hackers asked followers to send the digital currency bitcoin to a series of addresses. By evening, 400 bitcoin transfers were made worth a combined $120,000. Half of the victims had funds in U.S. bitcoin exchanges, a quarter in Europe and a quarter in Asia, according to forensics company Elliptic.

Those transfers left history that could help investigators identify the perpetrators of the hack. The financial damage may be limited because multiple exchanges blocked other payments after their own Twitter accounts were targeted.

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The damage to Twitter’s reputation may be more serious. Most troubling to some was how long the company took to stop the bad tweets.

“Twitter’s response to this hack was astonishing. It’s the middle of the day in San Francisco, and it takes them five hours to get a handle on the incident,” said Dan Guido, CEO of security company Trail of Bits.

An even worse scenario was that the bitcoin fraud was a distraction for more serious hacking, such as harvesting the direct messages of the account holders.






Donald Trump signs executive order on social media


Donald Trump signs executive order on social media

Twitter said it was not yet certain what the hackers may have done beyond sending the bitcoin messages.

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“We’re looking into what other malicious activity they may have conducted or information they may have accessed and will share more here as we have it,” the company said.

Mass compromises of Twitter accounts via theft of employee credentials or problems with third-party applications that many users employ have occured before.

Wednesday’s hack was the worst to date. Several users with two-factor authentication — a security procedure that helps prevent break-in attempts — said they were powerless to stop it.

Read more:
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“If the hackers do have access to the backend of Twitter, or direct database access, there is nothing potentially stopping them from pilfering data in addition to using this tweet-scam as a distraction,” said Michael Borohovski, director of software engineering at security company Synopsys.

In 2010, Twitter reached a settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission after it was found the company had lied about efforts to protect users’ information during an extended hack the year before.

Under the terms of the settlement, Twitter was barred for 20 years from misleading users about how it protects the security and confidentiality of private information.

U.S. Rep. Josh Hawley wrote to Twitter and its CEO Jack Dorsey during the hack calling for the company to work with the FBI and Department of Justice to secure its platform, and then answer questions publicly about the effects of the hack.

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One of his questions is how the hack may have affected the account of President Donald Trump.

(Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco and Raphael Satter in Washington; Additional reporting by Anna Irrera in New York; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Lincoln Feast.)

With files from Global News’ Sean Boynton








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Twitter Banned Zero Hedge For Doxing A Chinese Scientist It Falsely Accused Of Creating Coronavirus



Barcroft Media / Getty Images

People gather quilts on the roof of a building in Wuhan, China, Jan. 30.

A popular pro-Trump website has released the personal information of a scientist from Wuhan, China, falsely accusing them of creating the coronavirus as a bioweapon, in a plot it said is the real-life version of the video game Resident Evil.

On Wednesday, far-right news site Zero Hedge claimed without evidence that a scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology created the strain of the virus that has led the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency. The outbreak has grown to more than 9,776 cases, with 118 outside of China. The coronavirus has killed 213 people, all in China.

It concludes, “if anyone wants to find out what really caused the coronavirus pandemic that has infected thousands of people in China and around the globe, they should probably pay [the Chinese scientist] a visit.” It also lists their email address and a phone number.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to the scientist, whom it is declining to name.

Zero Hedge’s Twitter account was suspended Friday, following the publication of the scientist’s name.

“The account was permanently suspended for violating our platform manipulation policy,” a spokesperson for Twitter told BuzzFeed News.

The rumors and lies about the Wuhan Institute of Virology dovetail with a popular meme about how the institute’s logo is similar to that of the Umbrella Corporation, the shady agency responsible for making the virus that starts the zombie apocalypse in the Resident Evil video game franchise. The logo that inspired the meme isn’t actually from Wuhan Institute of Virology, but actually belongs to Shanghai Ruilan Bao Hu San Biotech Limited, located in Shanghai, 500 miles away.

Zero Hedge, which describes itself as a financial blog, has more than 50,000 followers on Facebook and more than 670,000 followers on Twitter and is run by Daniel Ivandjiiski, a Bulgarian-born, US-based, former investment banker, who writes the majority of the posts published by the pseudonym Tyler Durden. The site regularly amplifies conspiracy theories from anonymous message board 4chan and writes frequently about the deep state, doomsday prep, bitcoin speculation, and New Age pseudoscience.

Zero Hedge’s Wednesday coronavirus story — “Is This the Man Behind the Global Coronavirus Pandemic?” — focused on the Chinese scientist who researches the coronavirus.

Zero Hedge linked to a Wuhan Institute of Virology press release from January 2019 that says the scientist was studying why bats who carry the coronavirus don’t get sick from it. What the Zero Hedge article does not state is that studying a form of a virus strain found in animals is a standard way to make vaccines, whether for the flu or polio.

The logo that inspired the meme isn’t actually from Wuhan Institute of Virology, but actually belongs to Shanghai Ruilan Bao Hu San Biotech Limited.

Brandon J. Brown, an associate professor at the University of California, Riverside, and a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the International Society of Vaccines, and the Global Health Council, told BuzzFeed News it makes sense that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was researching the coronavirus in bats.

“One reason why this institute would be doing immune research would be to prevent what we are seeing right now with the novel coronavirus outbreak,” Brown said. “They have studied other coronaviruses at that site including SARS, where they discovered that it originated in bats.”

Brown also said that the entire idea of the coronavirus working as a bioweapon is pretty silly. “The fatality rate [of the coronavirus] is 200/10,000, which is currently lower compared to many other viruses including SARS, so if it was meant as a bioweapon, it is not a good one,” Brown said. “So let’s debunk the bioweapon idea that we are seeing in the news.”

As the virus has spread, so too has misinformation about it. The new focus on the scientist is the culmination of several conspiracy theories that have gained traction since the beginning of the outbreak early in January. One version of the hoax began in Facebook Groups run by supporters of the pro-Trump QAnon movement and the anti-vax community, where users claimed the outbreak was a population control plot by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates.

Another version claimed that the virus was smuggled out of Canada to the Wuhan Institute of Virology by two Chinese spies posing as scientists. This narrative is muddled, but it seems to be based on a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation story from July about a possible “policy breach” at the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg that resulted in Dr. Xiangguo Qiu, a researcher who regularly collaborates with Chinese scientific institutes, her husband, Keding Cheng, and an unknown number of her students from China being removed from Canada’s only lab that is a biosafety level 4, the maximum containment level for dangerous pathogens.

On Jan. 25, hedge fund manager Kyle Bass tweeted this version of the hoax. His tweet was retweeted over 12,000 times and has gone viral as a screenshot on Facebook. Factcheck.org, one of the platform’s official independent fact-checking organizations, debunked it, and on Facebook, screenshots of Bass’s tweet now appear with a “false information” disclaimer. Eric Morrissette, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada, told Factcheck.org, “this is misinformation and there is no factual basis for claims being made on social media.”

The theory about Chinese spies smuggling the coronavirus out of Canada is also being promoted by what appears to be inauthentic behavior on Twitter.

Zero Hedge has been aggressive in its promotion of misinformation about the coronavirus. Earlier this week, it published a massive article in collaboration with the Indian conspiracy theory site Great Game India titled, “Did China Steal Coronavirus From Canada and Weaponize It?”

Dr. Erica Bickerton, who studies avian pathology for the Pirbright Institute, which was falsely implicated in the Bill Gates coronavirus conspiracy theory, told BuzzFeed News last week that the coronavirus is a whole family of viruses. “Each of these viruses has their own characteristics,” she said.

“The fatality rate…is currently lower compared to many other viruses including SARS, so if it was meant as a bioweapon, it is not a good one.”

The Zero Hedge article has been posted on Twitter over 10,000 times and shared close 2,000 times on Facebook in the last 24 hours. Bass also tweeted the story out to his 120,000 followers, using the hashtag #biowarfare.

“As we are now right before the dawn of the new Golden Age, a strong purification must occur before we as a planet can enter the Light,” wrote one user, sharing the article to a Facebook Group with 13,000 members called Arcturian/Pleiadian Starseed Community. “This purification is called the end time madness.”

The rumors and lies are also being spread across 4chan. A user linked to the Zero Hedge article in a 4chan thread titled, “All hail [the scientist], creator of Corona-Chan.” In another 4chan thread, users claimed the scientist had created a mutant superbug.

The hoaxes surrounding the coronavirus have become so prevalent that “uncensored” subreddits about the outbreak are being created for users on Reddit who want to share the theories. The Zero Hedge article was shared to one subreddit called r/Wuhan_Flu. As of Friday, the subreddit was quarantined by Reddit and warns users that it may contain misinformation.

“If true it explains why our ‘authorities’ are doing sweet fuckall almost to the point of facilitating the spread,” the top comment reads. “The kind of deep nefarious [New World Order] shit that’d melt the tinfoil hat right on our heads.”





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Hillary Clinton’s Long, Strange Twitter Afterlife


As most Democrats look ahead to 2020, Clinton and her fans keep using Twitter to relive and recast 2016. Online, at least, there are still plenty of people who refer to her as “Madam President,” and she tosses this club a steady stream of caustic little bonbons: subtle Mean Girls references, snarky clapbacks, dry comments like “Yes, I am famously underscrutinized.” Fans responded to that one with cheers and GIFs of Rihanna putting on a crown. A writer for Esquire summed up the sentiment: “You’re having fun now, aren’t you?”

The tweets have helped conjure an image of the former candidate you might call Unchained Hillary, or, as some of her Twitter followers have dubbed it, Hillary with “zero f—s left to give.” The idea is that, unconstrained by public office, unfazed by critics and trolls, Clinton feels free to unleash a looser, truer, more spontaneous self. Her Twitter account is the most reliable vehicle for this version of Hillary, but she has shown flashes of the persona at public appearances, too: flipping through a book of her emails at a Venice Biennale art installation and filming a Halloween bit for about the scariness of the Electoral College for the Daily Show with Trevor Noah. In early December, she spent hours chatting with Howard Stern, talking trash about Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, even addressing head-on the rumors that she’s a lesbian. (“Never even been tempted,” she said.)

Unchained Hillary is perceived not just as a set of tweets but almost a new character on the political stage, the candidate her fans wish had run in 2016. She is casual, snappy, direct and less inclined to carefully triangulate every public statement. And her presence over the past few months, online and in a string of book-related media appearances, has sparked a whole new round of speculation: Could Unchained Hillary have beaten Trump? Could she swoop into the 2020 field? Is she laying the groundwork for yet another phase of a political career?

But Clinton’s fans might want to cool off their enthusiasm. If you take the full measure of Clinton’s career, her voice appears less as a reinvention than as a kind of solar eclipse: Without the candidate version of Clinton to dominate our view, delivering cautious speeches and walking rope lines, her online persona shines through far more clearly. And that persona isn’t a new thing. It’s a side of Hillary Clinton sharpened by what you might call the default voice of Twitter: Sardonic, mildly bitter, unafraid to say what everyone else is thinking. It’s the same voice her digital staff worked hard to craft in 2016. Hillary, and whoever still might tweet for her, has been good at that for a while. So what is she using her voice for now?

***

Donald Trump may get all the attention for being the first candidate who used Twitter to disrupt politics, but if he’d never come along, with his unspellchecked fire hose of insult and puffery, Clinton stood a good chance of being that person. Even before young upstarts like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar made emojis and quote-tweet clapbacks the norm on political Twitter—in fact, well before the 2016 race—Clinton’s digital staff was pioneering a new political tone on social media.

Early on, the Clinton team understood how to seize the made-for-internet moments that fell in their laps, as shown by one well-known episode in 2012 when Clinton was secretary of State and Reuters published a candid photo of her wearing sunglasses and staring at her BlackBerry. Two young Washington public relations hands launched a Tumblr blog featuring imagined text exchanges between this boss-lady version of Clinton and various public figures. One sample exchange from the blog went like this: Barack Obama: “Hey Hil, Whatchu doing?” Clinton: “Running the world.” Clinton’s staff had the instinct to capitalize on the moment: They quickly reached out to the bloggers, contributing an entry and inviting them to meet her. It was proof not just that she could get a joke, but that she could toss it back in fluent internet-speak. (There is a cautionary tale embedded here, too: It was literally that photo of Clinton on her Blackberry that prompted the initial questions about her use of a private email server.)

Imagewise, the moment felt like a stake in the ground, a sign of new-media savvy at a time when many veteran politicians found the internet a mystifying entity. And in the 2016 race, Clinton doubled down. To run her digital operations, she hired Teddy Goff, who had been President Barack Obama’s digital director in 2012, and led a staff of Brooklyn-based “content producers” who aimed for a savvy, conversational voice. “We’re not competing with Donald Trump on Facebook,” Goff told the New York Times at the time. “We’re competing with your best friend, your spouse, your mom, last night’s Olympics clips.”

Ultimately, though, Clinton was competing against Trump. And when you look back at the candidates’ bodies of social media work, you can see how hard Clinton’s campaign worked to match the energy of Trump’s insane, magnetic feed—and how successful it was in crafting something to meet the moment.

Trump wielded the medium much as he does now, with a reflexive mix of anger, pride, insults and oddball jokes. His tweets were an extension of his mood, his brain and his ego, and they felt like a manifestation of his true self. When his staff tweeted for him, it was often obvious: No one else could have crafted that voice. Clinton’s feed—which, like many other politicians’, was largely ghostwritten—was more tightly attuned to the social trends of the moment. Her staff balanced sly references to the Trump campaign with the salty terseness of Twitter clapbacks. “Delete your account,” read her most-retweeted entry. It came in response to a snide comment from Trump about Obama’s endorsement of Clinton. “(It’s only Wednesday.),” she tweeted in May 2016, above an image of a statement from her campaign chairman describing a rash of questionable behavior by Trump that week. “Vote your conscience,” read another, a reference to a speech Ted Cruz had made an hour and a half earlier at the Republican National Convention. (That tweet was paired with a link to a voter registration page.) Her feed was also savvy about pop culture; when Trump used an image of “Frozen” merchandise to defend himself against charges of anti-Semitism, Clinton shot back with a “Frozen” reference that eviscerated his argument.

Woven in with these grabs for clicks and cash were videos of the candidate at African American churches and talking with little girls—the kind of anodyne fare that, in a previous campaign, might have been the entire social media program. Clinton’s team didn’t have the luxury to fall back on feel-good messaging, so it made the most of the sometimes odd combination of her wonkish, earnest persona and Twitter’s hard-edged cynicism. The feed could be informal, curt, and bold. It aimed at looking effortless, even when tweets were layered with carefully considered meaning. In the case of the “Wednesday” tweet, for instance, Clinton was essentially dunking the ball after an alley-oop pass, adding humor on top of a substantive point—a tested social media trick to make the original point spread farther and wider than it would have on its own. “If there is one thing that the internet likes, it’s being really direct. If there’s been a change in how Hillary engages online, then that’s probably it,” Goff told Elle magazine in the summer of 2016.

The effort didn’t always hit the mark. Both supporters and critics on the left complained about the glibness of a tweet that asked, “How does your student loan debt make you feel? Tell us in 3 emojis or less.” Overall, though, Clinton’s social media operation was noted for its fluency in internet. “Hillary Clinton’s Twitter game is #Strong,” read one Elle social headline. A piece in Mashable explained “How the Clinton campaign is slaying social media.” By the July before the election, she had about 7 million Twitter followers, compared to Trump’s 10 million. (They’re now at 26 million and 68 million, respectively.)

The trademark success of her digital team was taking a candidate frequently knocked for her lack of charisma and building a charismatic online presence around the parts of her personality that matched. And in some ways, Twitter’s snarky milieu made that easy. In real life, Clinton “has a very biting, sharp sense of humor, or a very sharp, humorous way of making serious points,” says Philippe Reines, Clinton’s longtime aide, spokesman and debate-prep sparring partner. “Twitter allows us to say things that ordinarily would stay in your head, or in the room you’re in, and share it with the world.”

***

Today, Clinton’s staff is largely gone, and it’s safe to assume her Twitter voice is more reliably her own. “She has a very small office, and it’s mostly scheduling, correspondence—so there’s no ‘they,’” Reines tells me. Sometimes a staff member will have an idea for a tweet, he says, “but she’s not one of these absentee landlords on her Twitter account at all. And certainly nothing goes out without her, you know, putting her imprimatur on it.” Goff declined to comment for this story; another longtime Clinton spokesperson ghosted.

Clearly, there’s something real about the Clinton we see now, but the campaign DNA remains.

There’s the same dry sarcasm, as when she tweeted a clip of Trump talking about Ukraine to news reporters and commented, “Someone should inform the president that impeachable offenses committed on national television still count.” There’s a very non-boomery engagement with current pop culture. Over the summer, she had a brief exchange with pop singer Lizzo; last spring, she tweeted at Trump with a famous Mean Girls GIF in which Regina George asks, “Why are you so obsessed with me?” She wields hashtags like #tbt, which she artfully used to reference her time spent, as a young lawyer, on the Watergate impeachment inquiry. And she tweeted a fake letter from John F. Kennedy to Nikita Khrushchev, lifted from Jimmy Kimmel writers, that was obviously primed to spread like wildfire—much like the made-to-go-viral tools her campaign created, like a “Trump Yourself” filter that let users overlay Trump quotes on social media photos.

On the other hand, Clinton issues even more tweets that feel like official communications from an ongoing campaign. There are plenty of cheery, milquetoast tweets promoting Gutsy Women, the book she co-wrote with her daughter. Policy endorsements get threaded in, sometimes less artfully; after the World Series, she turned a congratulatory tweet for the Washington Nationals into an endorsement for Washington, D.C., statehood. Still pinned to the top of her feed is a line from her 2016 concession speech about the value of little girls.

Reines agrees with the notion that there’s nothing new about Clinton’s public persona—and that, over her decades of public life, as she’s taken on a broad range of public roles, people have always tried to search for hidden meaning in the same old communications. “Look, I started to work for her in 2002. I’ve gone through this ‘something’s changed’ routine,” he tells me. “I really think it’s in the ear of the beholder.”

So if she’s still maintaining the persona, and the presence, her staff built to run for president in 2016, what’s it all for this time? Clinton has publicly pushed back on the idea that she’ll run again. But there are clues scattered throughout her 2017 postelection memoir, What Happened. The book was mostly infused with a sense of mourning for a presidential administration that wasn’t to be and a place in history as the first female president. At one point, she shared a passage from her planned election night victory speech, in which she imagined meeting her mother as an 8-year-old and telling her that her future daughter would grow up to be president. It seemed clear that she saw her loss, not just as a shock or a thwarting of ambition, but as something closer to personal tragedy. It was an emotional defeat she could manage in part by retreating from public life: walking in the woods, spending time with her grandchildren, going to the theater.

Now, though, she has recovered and rebounded is and back on the public stage, through some combination of circumstance and calculation. She wrote a book about successful upstart women, with a massive book tour scheduled for the run-up to an election year—and a built-in reason to maintain a Twitter presence. And the fact that her book appearances coincide with the Trump impeachment drama makes her loyal fans cling even more fiercely to their alternate vision of 2016, the fact that she won the popular vote, the lingering “I-told-you-so” factor. She’s still a political player, but the campaign is different this time: It’s a bid to solidify her place in history. And without the grueling work of actually going out on the stump, she still gets to act like a candidate. Occasionally.





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Meet Zhao Lijian, The Chinese Diplomat Who Got Promoted For Trolling The US On Twitter


BEIJING — The most interesting diplomat in the world these days may well be Zhao Lijian, the combative, bombastic, frankly Trumpy voice of the People’s Republic of China on Twitter.

Zhao was in fine form this Thanksgiving weekend, offering an eight-part tweetstorm on American racism, tweeting at one point that the US was merely suffering from “replacement anxiety” at China’s unstoppable rise (he deleted that one), then mocking the US president:

Out of respect for President Trump, US & its people, on the occasion of thanksgiving day, I pay special thanks to US for squandering trillions of dollars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria…

China has long claimed that America is a thief crying “stop thief” when it comes to human rights (China releases an annual human rights report on the US). Now that whattaboutist argument is meeting the American political conversation where it lives — on Twitter.

American leaders and opinion-makers have long preferred to devote attention to smaller and easier problems (the Middle East, NATO, really anything!) than the rise of a massive strategic rival with a population of 1.4 billion. Zhao’s 55,000-and-counting tweets make that a little harder — as will what he’s been retweeting this morning: The Chinese Foreign Ministry just joined Twitter, over @mfa_china.

I’ve been following Zhao since he achieved a measure of global fame in July, when he responded to global condemnation of China’s internment of its Muslim citizens with a blunt attack on American racism.

The tweet provoked heated condemnation from the US political elite, including former national security adviser Susan Rice, and he deleted it — but then followed up with an article noting Washington’s racial segregation. It was a familiar kind of rhetoric, a standard Chinese strategy with echoes from another era: Like China, the Soviet Union regularly criticized — and covertly sought to exacerbate — American racism and racial conflict. And at a moment of profound internal division in the US, it’s an effective one, hitting directly at a raw nerve rather than engaging criticism of China.

It was also a dramatic departure from Chinese diplomatic speech, which is so notoriously regimented that foreign correspondents joke about how easy it would be to play bingo for certain words at Foreign Ministry press briefings. I’d never quite seen anything like it from the representative of the Chinese government. And so when I was in Beijing last month, I DM’d Zhao one morning, and he responded 15 minutes later to suggest we meet that afternoon at a Maan Coffee down the street from the Foreign Ministry. (Our great former Beijing correspondent, Megha Rajagopalan, later told me that she had spent many hours there being dressed down by ministry officials, including for her groundbreaking coverage of the detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang. The ministry declined to renew her visa in 2018.)

It is a particular modern delight to meet in real life the intense and combative people you follow on Twitter, and Zhao didn’t disappoint. In person, wearing a natty sweater and rimless glasses, he reminded me a bit of Ric Grenell, Donald Trump’s Trumpiest diplomat, the combative ambassador to Germany, whose internet aggression isn’t diminished in person; it’s just put in human context, in a way that both allows you to have a real conversation and get the sense that you’re not going to persuade him of much.

While a young colleague grabbed us cappuccinos, Zhao, who is 47, told me how he’d come to realize the power of social media in diplomacy — and that it was time to project a new Chinese “confidence, but not aggressiveness.” Born outside Beijing, he’d signed up for Twitter during a posting to Washington from 2009 to 2013. But he really began to understand its power in 2015, when he was posted to Islamabad as deputy chief of mission and tossed into a political and media culture given at times to the sorts of extreme claims and questionable connections to fact that have come into vogue in Washington.

Zhao was infuriated, in particular, by outlandish claims about the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, the multibillion-dollar version of China’s vast global investment program focused on a longtime close economic and political partner. Local politicians claimed that only Chinese workers were getting jobs — and even that those workers were actually convicts who had been sentenced to death. “Dirty lies” and the “joke of the year,” Zhao tweeted in response to these claims.

I shut up only those spreading lies without verifying, those missing no chance to malign CPEC. I got 22k questions on May 15.#asklijianzhao https://t.co/CarEUXjSem

Social media, he told an Islamabad audience last year, was “a weapon to counter these negative narratives.”

And he became what one local outlet called a “household name” in Pakistan with a popular Q&A under the hashtag #AskLijianZhao. He raised eyebrows in India. He also, as BuzzFeed News has reported, linked to a group that monitored Pakistan’s Uighurs, though he denied knowing of it.

Zhao told me he knew by then that he was an outlier by the standards of any diplomatic service — and certainly the low-profile style of China’s.

“People looked at me like I was a panda — like I was an alien from Mars,” he said.

After the spat last summer, Zhao left Pakistan, and some of his followers — I, at least — understood that he’d been recalled to Beijing for saying the quiet thing loud. In fact, he’d been promoted: He reemerged this fall as the deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Information Department and played a role in a shift toward public engagement that has brought the Chinese ambassador to the US, among others, to Twitter — though none troll as hard as Zhao.

“This is a time for Chinese diplomats to tell the true picture,” he said — and to engage on Twitter, a platform on which official Chinese voices have until now played a relatively small part in global arguments. That’s a product of the fact that most of Twitter’s global debates are held in English, and of course of the fact that Zhao’s government blocks the service.

“Somebody is slandering you every day — like Pompeo, like Pence,” he grumbled. To turn on Twitter is to see that “they are badmouthing China. They are talking about Hong Kong. They are saying the protesters in Hong Kong are freedom fighters. This is totally wrong!”

(Imagine how different Twitter would be with millions of pro-government mainland Chinese voices arguing the government’s case in English for “law and order” in Hong Kong.)

Zhao rejected my suggestion that there was a contradiction in adopting the tools of an open society to make the case for a closed one. And he said he doesn’t take that ability for granted.

“If the U.S. government is unhappy with my account, maybe one day they will make Twitter close down @zlj517.”

Then he grabbed my phone to show the source of pride he shares with many of his verified brethren, one truly viral tweet:

Why is Huawei making America tremble and go insane? Huawei’s new phone camera’s optical zoom is just insane.





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Behind Trump’s secret war-zone trip: A Mar-a-Lago escape, a twin Air Force One and a Twitter plan


For a president who at times seems to be at war with his own military leaders, it was a celebration of America’s troops that a small circle of aides planned carefully for weeks to prevent leaks that could scuttle the trip.

“It’s a long flight,” Trump joked after serving turkey in a cafeteria here on Thanksgiving night. “But we love it.”

Trump’s surprise three-and-a-half-hour stop marked his second visit to a combat zone and his first trip to Afghanistan, dropping into a dangerous region that cultivated the leaders of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Last year, after facing criticism for being in office nearly two years without visiting troops overseas, Trump had hinted for weeks that he would take a trip soon — “I’m going to a war zone,” he bristled when asked whether he was afraid to visit. No one was particularly surprised when an amateur British aircraft watcher tracked a Boeing VC-25A, one of the modified Boeing 747s that typically serves as Air Force One, flying over Europe.

This year, Trump said nothing publicly before leaving his family, including First Lady Melania Trump, at Mar-a-Lago for his secret visit to Afghanistan.

His staff ensured tweets would be sent from Trump’s Twitter account so Trump-watchers wouldn’t get suspicious that the normally Twitter-obsessed president wasn’t tweeting — like they did last year.

This time, 12 of the 13 journalists who traveled with Trump — representing news wires, print and broadcast outlets — were picked up on the roof of a public parking garage near Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington and not even told where they were traveling until just before they arrived in Afghanistan. Cell phones, hotspots and any other devices emitting a signal were confiscated from everyone traveling on Air Force One — yes, even the president himself.

Trump secretly slipped out of Mar-a-Lago earlier that evening and departed from an undisclosed airport on a flight a little after 7 p.m. Wednesday. The 13th journalist on the Afghanistan trip — a television correspondent — was aboard that flight and described it in a pool report as “bare-bones, except for four blue leather chairs and a moderately fancy port-a-potty that had been brought in for the occasion.”

Trump greeted the crew of that plane and even stayed in the cockpit for takeoff, the pool report said.

The presidential aircraft that Trump had flown to Florida a day earlier remained parked at Palm Beach International Airport, allowing travelers to see the modified blue-and-white 747 aircraft known around the globe as Air Force One.

That was a decoy. Secretly, a twin plane also used as Air Force One was hidden inside a cavernous hangar at Joint Base Andrews — instead of being lit up on the tarmac as usual — allowing the president to clandestinely hop on a flight without the public catching on. He departed just after 10 p.m. for the nonstop flight to Bagram Air Field, the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan.

Reporters traveling with the president learned their destination from White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham two hours before their arrival. A digital clock in Air Force One’s press cabin usually shows times in Washington, the plane’s location at the moment and its destination. The time for the destination was left blank until landing in Afghanistan.

“It’s a dangerous area and he wants to support the troops,” Grisham said of the president. “He and Mrs. Trump recognize that there’s a lot of people far away from their families during the holidays and we thought it’d be a nice surprise.”

Asked how the president was feeling, Grisham responded: “He’s good. He’s excited.”

Air Force One landed in the dark at 8:33 p.m. local time with the shades drawn and interior lights off for security reasons — just as it had taken off from the Washington area.

Two surveillance blimps could be seen overhead. It was quiet and dark except for a smattering of lights. The base smelled of burning wood and trash.

The president moved through the sprawling base in a 15-vehicle motorcade that included tan Toyotas with soldiers standing in the truck beds holding combat rifles. Trump was followed into each location by teams of heavily armed combat troops in fatigues, helmets and night-vision goggles.

Journalists were barred from reporting on the trip until just before their departure from Afghanistan, after briefly getting internet access on the base to file. For three hours, they watched the president — in a blue suit with a red striped tie — serve turkey in a cafeteria, pose for photos and deliver remarks in a hangar to 1,500 military personnel.

For once, Trump made no mention of the troubles he’s facing at home. He didn’t discuss House Democrats pushing to impeach him in the coming weeks for pressuring Ukraine to opening politically advantageous investigations against a potential 2020 opponent. He also didn’t mention his rift with military leaders, including a new one just days before this trip.

He entered to the song that greets Trump at every rally — “God Bless the USA” — and was greeted with loud cheers and chants of, “USA! USA!” About 50 troops in fatigues stood behind him on a makeshift stage with a helicopter parked stage left.

Trump heaped praise on the troops and bragged about his accomplishments, specifically praising the work to destroy the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

And he had a supporting actor on hand to praise the president as well — Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, who met with Trump on the base earlier as the president announced the resumption of peace negotiations with the Taliban.

Ghani, before a sea of troops, complimented the president for taking out leadership of the region’s major terrorist groups. “President Trump, people talk a lot about [Osama] bin Laden — but what you did to eliminate [Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi,” he said.

“Please thank your families for agreeing to miss you on this special occasion and for being here defending United States security and our freedom,” said the Afghan president, who learned of Trump’s trip just hours before his arrival. “We will never forget what 9/11 brought us and we will never permit the repetition of 9/11 again.”

Trump told the troops stationed at Bagram that the war in Afghanistan “will not be decided on the battlefield” but by the people of the region with a political solution.

“And we will continue to work tirelessly until the day when we can bring each and every one of you home and safe to your family — and that day is coming,” Trump said.

After a 13-hour journey, and a brief period on the ground, Trump also wistfully told the troops that his Thanksgiving meal had been cut short. “I sat down, I had a gorgeous piece of turkey and I was all set to go. And I had some mashed potatoes and I had a bite of mashed potatoes, and I never got to the turkey, because Gen. [Mark] Milley said come on over, sir, let’s take some pictures. I never got to my turkey. It’s the first time at Thanksgiving that I’ve never had anything called turkey.“

Soon after, Trump hopped back onto his plane for another long flight back to Mar-a-Lago, where he usually spends Thanksgiving Day.





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Twitter suspends man for hoping Star Wars character ‘dies painfully’


TORONTO —
Will Sloan didn’t care much for the new Star Wars character fans have dubbed “Baby Yoda.”

The tiny character appears on Disney+’s “The Mandalorian” show, and its cuddly appearance is saturating pop culture news.

But all of this hype irked Sloan, a Toronto-based podcaster, so he tweeted his displeasure and it led to him being flagged by Twitter for harassment.

Sloan got pushed over the edge by a Facebook tease for Esquire magazine’s Baby Yoda article, which reads: “The Mandalorian has made Baby Yoda an icon of purity — a rare moment where we cross the internet aisle to simply say, ‘This is good.’”

So out of frustration, last Thursday, Sloan jokingly tweeted at the magazine: “I actually hope he dies painfully.”

Within 15 or 20 minutes, he said Twitter sent him a notification claiming he violated its rules against abuse and harassment.

Sloan was informed he could still browse Twitter and send Direct Messages but wouldn’t be able to make or favourite tweets for the next seven days. In a phone interview, he told CTVNews.ca it was like being in “Twitter jail.”

Within days, his friend Jesse Hawken jokingly started the hashtag “FreeWillSloan” and tagged self-described free speech advocates to hear about how Sloan’s speech was being muzzled.

“Basically it was a joke … and I thought it was funny,” Sloan laughed. “This banning — it just seemed like the absolutely dumbest thing you could be banned for.”


THREATS ARE COMMON ON SITE: SLOAN

In an email to CTVNews.ca, Twitter Canada spokesperson Cam Gordon said, “we don’t comment on individual tweets or the status of individual accounts as a matter of privacy for users.”

After trying to appeal Twitter’s decision, Sloan settled for just reading the deluge of joke tweets supporting him. It was “weeks’ worth of laughs out of this ridiculousness,” he said.

Sloan also used his Twitter accounts for two podcasts he co-hosts to point out that he’d simply threatened a fictional character.

He also pointed out the site’s hypocrisy in flagging him but allowing U.S. President Donald Trump to regularly tweet threats of war against countries such as North Korea, as well as the platform failing to clamp down on sexist, racist threats against elected officials, female gamers or women in media.

“But apparently, the taboo is that you can’t make fun of puppets owned by Disney,” Sloan said.

As for the future, “I don’t plan to wish death on Yoda again,” he said. But as for other fictional characters, “like Twitter, I’ll take it (on) a case-by-case basis.”





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Ilhan Omar’s Republican opponent in Twitter ban over ‘hanging’ posts | US news


A campaign account for Danielle Stella, a pro-Trump Republican candidate for Congress, was banned from Twitter after it published a violent comment about the Democrat she hopes to unseat next year, Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar.

Stella’s campaign Twitter account, @2020MNCongress, featured at least two posts involving the idea of Omar being hanged, according to the Washington Times, which broke the story of her suspension.

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The tweets concerned an unsubstantiated allegation that Omar – one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress – shared sensitive information with Qatar, which then wound up with Iran.

A spokesperson for Omar previously told the Jerusalem Post of the claim: “Since the day she was elected, Saudi Arabian trolls and mouthpieces have targeted Omar with misinformation and conspiracy theories.”

An initial tweet from Stella’s campaign account reportedly said: “If it is proven [Omar] passed sensitive info to Iran, she should be tried for #treason and hanged.”

The Washington Times said the account “subsequently tweeted the link to an article that aggregated her remark, accompanied by a crude depiction of a stick figure hanging from gallows”.

The @2020MNCongress account cannot be viewed. Text on the page reads “account suspended” and “Twitter suspends accounts which violate the Twitter Rules”.

In a statement, Twitter told the Guardian: “The account was permanently suspended for repeated violations of the Twitter Rules.”

Stella said in a statement: “My suspension for advocating for the enforcement of federal code proves Twitter will always side with and fight to protect terrorists, traitors, pedophiles and rapists.”

The Guardian revealed that Stella has been arrested twice this year over accusations that she shoplifted some $2,300 in goods from Target and $40 in items from a grocery, Stella has maintained her innocence.

She has made claims about Omar before, claiming she broke the law by telling immigrants how to avoid authorities. Lawmakers who don’t “uphold the rule of law”, Stella said, should be kicked out of office.

A spokesperson for Omar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Since winning election to Congress last year, Omar has attracted rightwing attacks and fringe conspiracy theories as well as outright threats of violence. The congresswoman said this April she faced an increase in death threats after Trump accused her of downplaying September 11.

On 19 November, New York man Patrick Carlineo pleaded guilty in relation to calling Omar’s office and telling a staffer: “Why are you working for her, she’s a [expletive] terrorist. Somebody ought to put a bullet in her skull. Back in the day, our forefathers would have put a bullet in her [expletive].”

Omar, who came to the US as a Somali refugee, appealed for “compassion”.

“As someone who fled a war zone, I know how destabilizing acts of political violence can be,” she said in a letter to the judge. “That his threat of violence relied on hateful stereotypes about my faith only made it more dangerous … it was a threat against an entire religion, at a time of rising hate crime against religious minorities in our country.”

She added: “We must ask: who are we as a nation if we respond to acts of political retribution with retribution ourselves? The answer to hate is not more hate; it is compassion.”





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