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Twitter, Facebook Faces Heat From U.S. President Donald Trump

The president asserted that people were complaining about biased results from social media searches.

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Gmail product manager Paul Lambert said a company research scientist discovered the problem in January VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Google, Twitter and Facebook were “treading on very, very troubled territory” and warned them to “be careful.”

Trump made the comments just hours after igniting controversy with a series of early-morning tweets claiming Google search results are “rigged” to turn up news unfavorable to the president’s administration.

The president asserted that people were complaining about biased results from social media searches.

“We have literally thousands and thousands of complaints coming in,” the president said. “You just can’t do that.”

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Computers display the Google search engine at the Digitallife show at New York’s Jacob K. Javitz convention center. VOA

In response to a reporter’s question in the Oval Office, Trump singled out Google, Facebook and Twitter for criticism and said, “You can’t do that to people.”

“Google is really taking advantage of a lot of people,” the president said. “They better be careful.”

Google responded to Trump’s earlier criticism by saying its search engine is not used to promote any political agenda.

The company’s statement Tuesday said, “We never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment.” It also said its major goal was to give users “the most relevant answers in a matter of seconds.”

‘Hiding information’

In the early-morning tweets, Trump said Google was “suppressing” conservative voices and “hiding information” that would be more flattering to the president. He also said, “This is a very serious situation — will be addressed!”

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The logo for Twitter is displayed above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. VOA

Trump tweeted that a search for “Trump news” “shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media [sic]. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD.”

In addition, the president said 96 percent of those search results were from “National Left-Wing Media.” He did not cite a source for that statistic.

New York Times reporter Adam Satariano wrote Tuesday that Trump might have based his claims on comments that Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs made late Monday. Dobbs reported on comments by the conservative website PJ Media, which said it had conducted an “unscientific study” showing 96 percent of Google search results for the word “Trump” came from what it called “left-leaning sites.”

Questioned later in the day about the president’s allegations, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters, “We’re taking a look at it.”

U.S. Representative Ted Lieu, a California Democrat who is a frequent critic of the president, responded to Trump’s comments by tweeting, “House Judiciary Committee held two hearings on this issue … Private companies can do whatever they want with speech. What would be illegal is government regulating speech content or speech algorithms.”

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A portion of the PJ Media homepage. VOA

Zach Graves, head of policy at Lincoln Network, a think tank in Washington, said PJ Media had drawn flawed conclusions about Google in its unscientific study.

Results ‘not surprising’

“I think the mistake they make is not understanding how search engine algorithms typically work,” Graves told VOA on Tuesday. He said one of the ways the sites are ranked in search results is the number of other web pages that link to it — a measure of how well-used a site is and how many other sites trust its information.

“With that in mind,” Graves said, “it’s not surprising at all that these big popular media outlets” such as CNN, The New York Times and Fox News “are outranking more niche conservative platforms like Hot Air, the Blaze, and so on.”

Data from media analysis firm Alexa.com, a subsidiary of media giant Amazon, show that 303,995 other sites link to The New York Times — the term is “backlink” — while CNN has 210,373 backlinks and Fox News has 76,164. The conservative Wall Street Journal has 128,015 backlinks, while PJ Media itself has 3,807.

Also Read: U.S. President Trump Criticises Social Media Companies for Spreading Foreign Propaganda

“The interpretation is that there’s some kind of conspiracy, that Google’s coming in and manipulating these results for political reasons,” Graves said. “I think the correct interpretation is that this is a natural byproduct of the metrics that the algorithm uses.”

He added, however, that he thought Google would do itself a favor to be more transparent about its search algorithm and reach out to conservative groups to assuage their concerns about bias. (VOA)

Next Story

Islamic State Using Women, Children as Human Shields to Postpone Defeat

In the meantime, U.S. officials have been talking with other members of the coalition about increasing their help as U.S. troops prepare to leave.

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FILE - U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters sit atop a hill in the desert outside the village of Baghuz, Syria, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

Fighters and families with the Islamic State terror group are clinging to one last sliver of land next to the Euphrates River in Syria, using women, children and possible hostages as human shields in an effort to postpone defeat.

Human rights observers and officials with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces say IS followers have been pushed out of the eastern Syrian village of Baghuz and taken refuge in what they describe as a collection of tents. Various officials have described the size of the camps as covering less than one square kilometer.

But efforts by the SDF to deal a final defeat to the terror group’s self-declared caliphate have been slowed due to the presence of the civilians, and efforts to negotiate a surrender have also gone nowhere.

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President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House, Feb. 15, 2019. VOA

Speaking at the White House on Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump said, “We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate and that’ll be announced over the next 24 hours and many other things.”

In Munich, the top U.S. defense official offered a cautious assessment.

“We have eliminated the group’s hold on over 99 percent of the territory it once claimed as part of its so-called caliphate,” acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan said during a Friday news conference with his German counterpart at the Munich Security Conference.

“We have ensured ISIS no longer holds the innocent people of Syria or Iraq in their murderous, iron fist,” he said, using an acronym for the terror group. “We have destroyed its ability to mass forces, and we have eliminated most of its leadership and significantly diminished its resources.”

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FILE – Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan holds a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

‘Despicable and ghastly acts’

Coalition officials Thursday described SDF efforts in and around Baghuz as “clearance operations,” warning that IS fighters had become so desperate that they were shooting at their wives and children as they sought to flee.

“These utterly despicable and ghastly acts further illustrate their barbaric nature and desperation,” Operation Inherent Resolve Deputy Commander, British Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, said in a statement.

“The end of the physical caliphate is at hand,” he added.

Some IS followers appear to have given up.

Monitors with the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said about 240 IS fighters surrendered this past week. The U.S.-led coalition and an SDF commander contacted by VOA could not confirm the claim.

They said the SDF also evacuated about 700 people, mostly women and children, from the terror group’s refuge outside Baghuz on Thursday, taking them by cars and trucks to secured areas away from the front.

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FILE – Women and children fleeing from the last Islamic State group’s tiny pocket in Syria sit in the back of a truck near Baghuz, eastern Syria, Feb. 11, 2019. VOA

The SDF itself says over the past several weeks, tens of thousands of civilians have fled from IS.

But they say about 300 hardened IS fighters, many of them foreign, still remain, willing to fight to the death. And some SDF commanders say more civilians are being brought to the tent city, apparently from underground tunnels.

Observers late Thursday reported a resumption of shelling by the SDF and coalition forces, saying it appeared to be another attempt to convince the remaining IS holdouts to give up.

IS threat to remain

Still, even once the last pocket of IS-held territory is taken, U.S. and coalition officials warn the fight will not be over.

Top U.S. military officials have warned the terror group still has 20,000 to 30,000 followers, including fighters, spread across Syria and Iraq. And they worry about the ability of their Syrian partners, in particular, to keep IS in check once U.S. troops withdraw under plans announced by Trump.

The commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, Central Command Commander Gen. Joseph Votel, told CNN on Friday he disagreed with Trump’s decision to call for U.S. forces to leave.

 

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FILE – U.S. Gen. Joseph Votel, top U.S. commander in the Middle East, speaks to reporters during an unannounced visit to a military outpost in southern Syria, Oct. 22, 2018. VOA

“It would not have been my military advice at that particular time. … I would not have made that suggestion, frankly,” he said. “[The caliphate] still has leaders, still has fighters, it still has facilitators, it still has resources, so our continued military pressure is necessary to continue to go after that network.”

In the meantime, U.S. officials have been talking with other members of the coalition about increasing their help as U.S. troops prepare to leave. But so far, other coalition members, many of whom have no troops on the ground in Syria, have been unwilling to make any specific commitments.

ALSO READ: Soviet War in Afghanistan was No Less Than a ‘Hell’, Say Survivors

“I think there’s a tremendous desire to have a security arrangement or mechanism that doesn’t result in a security vacuum. What that is … is still being developed,” a senior defense official said Friday on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

“We’ve been pretty clear that this is going to be a deliberate withdrawal,” the official added. “There’s a timeline associated with that that’s conditions-based. We’ve said publicly on a number of occasions that it will be here in months, not weeks and not years.” (VOA)