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As Notre Dame Cathedral burned, a posting on Facebook circulated – a grainy video of what appeared to be a man in traditional Muslim garb up in the cathedral.
Fact-checkers worldwide jumped into action and pointed out the video and postings were fake and the posts never went viral.
But this week, the Sri Lanka government temporarily shut down Facebook and other sites to stop the spread of misinformation in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings in the country that killed more than 250 people. Last year, misinformation on Facebook was blamed for contributing to riots in the country.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others are increasingly being held responsible for the content on their sites as the world tries to grapple in real time with events as they unfold. From lawmakers to the public, there has been a rising cry for the sites to do more to combat misinformation particularly if it targets certain groups.
Shift in sense of responsibility
For years, some critics of social media companies, such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, have accused them of having done the minimum to monitor and stamp out misinformation on their platforms. After all, the internet platforms are generally not legally responsible for the content there, thanks to a 1996 U.S. federal law that says they are not publishers. This law has been held up as a key protection for free expression online.
And, that legal protection has been key to the internet firms’ explosive growth. But there is a growing consensus that companies are ethically responsible for misleading content, particularly if the content has an audience and is being used to target certain groups.
Tuning into dog whistles
At a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing on white supremacy and hate crimes, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, a Texas Democrat, questioned representatives from Facebook and Google about their policies.
“What have you done to ensure that all your folks out there globally know the dog whistles, know the keywords, the phrasing, the things that people respond to, so we can be more responsive and be proactive in blocking some of this language?” Garcia asked.
Each company takes a different approach.
Facebook, which perhaps has had the most public reckoning over fake news, won’t say it’s a media company. But it has taken partial responsibility about the content on its site, said Daniel Funke, a reporter at the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute.
The social networking giant uses a combination of technology and humans to address false posts and messages that appear to target groups. It is collaborating with outside fact-checkers to weed out objectionable content, and has hired thousands to grapple with content issues on its site.
Swamp of misinformation
Twitter has targeted bots, automatic accounts that spread falsehoods. But fake news often is born on Twitter and jumps to Facebook.
“They’ve done literally nothing to fight misinformation,” Funke said.
YouTube, owned by Google, has altered its algorithms to make it harder to find problematic videos, or embed code to make sure relevant factual content comes up higher in the search. YouTube is “such a swamp of misinformation just because there is so much there, and it lives on beyond the moment,” Funke said.
Other platforms of concern are Instagram and WhatsApp, both owned by Facebook.
Some say what the internet companies have done so far is not enough.
“To use a metaphor that’s often used in boxing, truth is against the ropes. It is getting pummeled,” said Sam Wineburg, an education professor at Stanford University.
What’s needed, he said, is for the companies to take full responsibility: “This is a mess we’ve created and we are going to devote resources that will lower the profits to shareholders, because it will require a deeper investment in our own company.”
Fact-checking and artificial intelligence
One of the fact-checking organizations that Facebook works with is FactCheck.org. It receives misinformation posts from Facebook and others. Its reporters check out the stories then report on their own site whether the information is true or false. That information goes back to Facebook as well.
Facebook is “then able to create a database now of bad actors, and they can start taking action against them,” said Eugene Kiely, director of FactCheck.org. Facebook has said it will make it harder to find posts by people or groups that continually post misinformation.
The groups will see less financial incentives, Kiely points out. “They’ll get less clicks and less advertising.”
Funke predicts companies will use technology to semi-automate fact-checking, making it better, faster and able to match the scale of misinformation.
That will cost money of course.
It also could slow the internet companies’ growth.
Does being more responsible mean making less money? Social media companies are likely to find out. (VOA)
In a step towards digitisation of the system, Delhi Transport Department will soon issue QR based Smart cards for driving licenses (DLs) and registration certificates (RCs).
As per a statement, the new driving licence will have an advanced microchip with features like Quick Response (QR) code and Near Field Communication (NFC). The new RC will have the owner's name printed on the front while the microchip and the QR code would be embedded at the back of the card.
The cards earlier had embedded chips, but chip reader machines were not available in the required quantity with both the Delhi Traffic Police and the Enforcement Wing of the Transport Department. Moreover, chips were designed and implemented by the states concerned, which resulted in difficulties in reading the chip and retrieving information, especially in case of defaulters.
"Now with the QR based smart card, this issue is resolved. This will enable unification in linking and validating one's information to smart cards with Sarathi and Vahan, the two web-based databases of all driving licenses and vehicle registrations," the release added.
The QR is also being implemented nationwide, the QR code reader is easily procurable and will do away with the requirement of any manual intervention altogether. The new cards will also allow two specific materials for their card manufacturing -- PolyVinyl Chloride or PVC, or PolyCarbonate which is slightly more expensive but more durable. (Card Size - 85.6mm x 54.02 mm; Thickness minimum 0.7 mm)
An October 2018 notification of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) had made changes to the Driving License and Registration Certificate. The new Smart card based DL and RC, will have chip based/ QR code based recognition system. At the same time, documents such as driving license or registration certificates in electronic formats on DigiLockers and mParivahan were also made valid in place of physical documents and treated at par with original documents.
The QR code also has an added advantage of acting as a safety feature on the smart card. The department will be able to retain records and penalties of the DL holder for up to 10 years on the VAHAN database as soon as a driver/ owner's Smart card is confiscated. The new DLs will also help the government in maintaining records of differently-abled drivers, any modifications made to the vehicles, emission standards and the person's declaration to donate organs. (IANS/JB)
Keywords: Delhi, Driving License, Registration License, Digitisation.
LONDON — A work by British street artist Banksy that sensationally shredded itself just after it sold at auction three years ago fetched almost 18.6 million pounds ($25.4 million) on Thursday — a record for the artist, and close to 20 times its pre-shredded price.
"Love is in the Bin" was offered by Sotheby's in London, with a presale estimate of 4 million pounds to 6 million pounds ($5.5 million to $8.2 million).
After a 10-minute bidding war involving nine bidders in the saleroom, online and by phone, it sold for three times the high estimate to an undisclosed buyer. The sale price of 18,582,000 pounds ($25,383,941) includes an auction-house fee known as a buyer's premium.
The piece consists of a half-shredded canvas in an ornate frame bearing a spray-painted image of a girl reaching for a heart-shaped red balloon.
When it last sold at Sotheby's in October 2018, the piece was known as "Girl With Balloon." Just as an anonymous female European buyer made the winning bid — for 1 million pounds ($1.4 million) — a hidden shredder embedded in the frame by Banksy whirred to life, leaving half the canvas hanging from the frame in strips.
Sotheby's received some criticism at the time for failing to spot the hidden shredder. But the 2018 buyer decided to go through with the purchase, a decision that was vindicated on Thursday as the work's price soared. Image source: voa
Sotheby's received some criticism at the time for failing to spot the hidden shredder. But the 2018 buyer decided to go through with the purchase, a decision that was vindicated on Thursday as the work's price soared.
The work quickly became one of Banksy's most famous, and Sotheby's sent it on tour to cities including New York and Hong Kong before Thursday's auction.
Auctioneer Oliver Barker joked that he was terrified to bring down the hammer to end Thursday's sale. There were jitters among Sotheby's staff to the last that Banksy had another surprise planned.
Alex Branczik, Sotheby's chairman of modern and contemporary art, called the shredding "one of the most ingenious moments of performance art this century."
Banksy, who has never confirmed his full identity, began his career spray-painting buildings in Bristol, England, and has become one of the world's best-known artists. His mischievous and often satirical images include two male police officers kissing, armed riot police with yellow smiley faces and a chimpanzee with a sign bearing the words, "Laugh now, but one day I'll be in charge."
Several of his works have sold for multiple millions at auction. In March, a Banksy mural honoring Britain's health workers, first painted on a hospital wall, sold for 16.8 million pounds ($23.2 million) at a Christie's auction, until Thursday a record for the artist.
"Girl With Balloon" was originally stenciled on a wall in east London and has been endlessly reproduced, becoming one of Banksy's best-known images. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Banksy, Artwork, Auction, Girl With Balloon, Sotheby
WASHINGTON — Suspected ransomware payments totaling $590 million were made in the first six months of this year, more than the $416 million reported for all of 2020, U.S. authorities said on Friday, as Washington put the cryptocurrency industry on alert about its role in combating ransomware attacks.
The U.S. Treasury Department said the average amount of reported ransomware transactions per month in 2021 was $102.3 million, with REvil/Sodinokibi, Conti, DarkSide, Avaddon, and Phobos the most prevalent ransomware strains reported.
President Joe Biden has made the government's cybersecurity response a top priority for the most senior levels of his administration following a series of attacks this year that threatened to destabilize U.S. energy and food supplies.
Avoiding U.S. sanctions
Seeking to stop the use of cryptocurrencies in the payment of ransomware demands, Treasury told members of the crypto community they are responsible for making sure they do not directly or indirectly help facilitate deals prohibited by U.S. sanctions.
Its new guidance said the industry plays an increasingly critical role in preventing those blacklisted from exploiting cryptocurrencies to evade sanctions.
The new guidance also advised cryptocurrency exchanges to use geolocation tools to block access from countries under U.S. sanctions. Image source: Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash
"Treasury is helping to stop ransomware attacks by making it difficult for criminals to profit from their crimes, but we need partners in the private sector to help prevent this illicit activity," Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.
The new guidance also advised cryptocurrency exchanges to use geolocation tools to block access from countries under U.S. sanctions.
Hackers use ransomware to take down systems that control everything from hospital billing to manufacturing. They stop only after receiving hefty payments, typically in cryptocurrency.
Large scale hacks
This year, gangs have hit numerous U.S. companies in large scale hacks. One such attack on pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline led to temporary fuel supply shortages on the U.S. East Coast. Hackers also targeted an Iowa-based agricultural company, sparking fears of disruptions to grain harvesting in the Midwest.
The Biden administration last month unveiled sanctions against cryptocurrency exchange Suex OTC, S.R.O. over its alleged role in enabling illegal payments from ransomware attacks, officials said, in the Treasury's first such move against a cryptocurrency exchange over ransomware activity. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Cryptocurrency, United States, Hacking, Ransomware