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Facebook pledges tough US election security efforts as critical memo surfaces

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Facebook officials on Tuesday said the company is using a range of techniques including artificial intelligence to counter Russian operatives or others who use deceptive tactics and false information to manipulate public opinion.

The officials told reporters in a telephone briefing they expected to find such efforts on the social network ahead of the U.S. mid-term elections in November, but declined to disclose whether they have already uncovered any such operations.

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Facebook has faced fierce criticism over how it handles political propaganda and misinformation since the 2016 U.S. election, which U.S. intelligence agencies say was influenced by the Russian government, in part through social media.

The controversy has not abated despite Facebook initiatives including a new tool that shows all political advertising that is running on the network and new fact-checking efforts to inform users about obvious falsehoods.

But the company reiterated on Tuesday that it will not take down postings simply because they are false. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg last week drew fire for citing Holocaust denials as an example of false statements that would not be removed if they were sincerely voiced.

Tuesday’s briefing, which included Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy, and Tessa Lyons, manager of Facebook’s core “news feed,” came just before the publication of an internal staff message from Facebook’s outgoing chief security officer that was sharply critical of many company practices.

The note by Alex Stamos, written in March after he said he was going to leave the company, urged colleagues to heed feedback about “creepy” features, collect less data and “deprioritize short-term growth and revenue” to restore trust. He also urged the company’s leaders to “pick sides when there are clear moral or humanitarian issues.”

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Stamos posted the note on an internal Facebook site but Reuters confirmed its authenticity. It was first disclosed by Buzzfeed News.

Stamos said the company needed to be more open in how it manages content on its network, which has become a major medium for political activity in many countries around the world. Tuesday’s media briefing was part of the company’s efforts in that direction.

Lyons said the company was making progress in smoothing its process for fact-checkers assigned to label false information. Once an article is labeled false, users are warned before they share it and subsequent distribution drops 80 percent, Lyons said.

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Posts from sites that often distribute false information are ranked lower in the calculations that determine what each user sees but are not entirely removed from view.

Gleicher said those seeking to deliberately promote misinformation often use fake accounts to amplify their content or run afoul of community standards, both of which are grounds for removing posts or entire pages.

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He said the company would use a type of artificial intelligence known as machine learning as part of its efforts to root out abuses.

Reporting by Joseph Menn; Editing by Greg Mitchell, Jonathan Weber and Neil Fullick


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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‘Humor saved my life’, says subversive ‘Hairspray’ director John Waters

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Big smile flashing and pencil-thin moustache quivering, subversive director John Waters laughs heartily as he looks back at an improbable 40-year career that made him a trash film icon.

"Humour saved me, saved my life," the 73-year-old sharp-dresser told AFP on the sidelines of the Thessaloniki Film Festival, where he was a guest of honour earlier this month.

From a homemade horror stage in his garage, Waters went on to tear down barriers with transgressive fare such as "Eat Your Makeup", "Mondo Trasho", "Multiple Maniacs" and the scatological classic "Pink Flamingos" in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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From 10 cents to $1.3 million: First Marvel comic sets auction record

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The first comic book produced by Marvel, the famed US publisher behind Spider-Man, X-Men and The Avengers, went under the hammer Thursday, fetching a record $1.26 million, Heritage Auctions said.

"This is a historic copy of a historic comic book," Ed Jaster, auction house senior vice president, said of the book, which was published in 1939 by Timely Comics, which later became Marvel.

"Without question, this is the granddaddy of all Marvel Comics, without which we would not have the characters and stories we enjoy in today's comics and feature films," Jaster added.

Under the direction of screenwriter Stan Lee, Marvel in the 1960s created superheroes which have become iconic today and whose cinema adaptations have conquered box offices worldwide.

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Hong Kong local elections to proceed as more protesters emerge from Polytechnic campus

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Police will be out in force at polling stations in Hong Kong this weekend as keenly contested local elections take place amid ongoing anti-government protests.

Hong Kong’s new police commissioner, Tang Ping-keung, told reporters Friday that officers would deal with any outbreak of violence immediately without hesitation.

Six masked protesters surrendered before dawn, bringing to about 30 the number that have come out in the past day from a university campus surrounded by police.

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