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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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Trump Also Expands Google Criticism to Include Facebook, Twitter. VOA
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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.”

dONALD tRUMP, google
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!”

TWitter
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)

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Advanced Technology Required To Tackle Online Sex Trade and Trafficking: Analysts

At least 40 million people are victims of modern slavery worldwide.

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Trafficking
People opposed to child sex trafficking rally in Washington. VOA

The online sale of sex slaves is going strong despite new U.S. laws to clamp down on the crime, data analysts said Wednesday, urging a wider use of technology to fight human trafficking.

In April, the United States passed legislation aimed at making it easier to prosecute social media platforms and websites that facilitate sex trafficking, days after a crackdown on classified ad giant Backpage.com.

The law resulted in an immediate and sharp drop in sex ads online but numbers have since picked up again, data presented at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference showed.

“The market has been destabilized and there are now new entrants that are willing to take the risk in order to make money,” Chris White, a researcher at tech giant Microsoft who gathered the data, told the event in London.

Google, Web summit, sexual misconduct, trafficking
Google employees fill Harry Bridges Plaza in front of the Ferry Building during a walkout, Nov. 1, 2018, in San Francisco. Hundreds of Google employees around the world briefly walked off the job in a protest against what they said is the tech company’s mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives. VOA

New players

Backpage.com, a massive advertising site primarily used to sell sex — which some analysts believe accounted for 80 percent of online sex trafficking in the United States — was shut down by federal authorities in April.

Days later, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which introduced stiff prison sentences and fines for website owners and operators found guilty of contributing to sex trafficking, was passed into law.

The combined action caused the number of online sex ads to fall 80 percent to about 20,000 a day nationwide, White said.

The number of ads has since risen to about 60,000 a day, as new websites filled the gap, he said.

In October — in response to a lawsuit accusing it of not doing enough to protect users from human traffickers — social media giant Facebook said it worked internally and externally to thwart such predators.

 

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This April 6, 2018, file photo shows a screenshot of Backpage.com on the day that federal authorities seized the classified site as part of a criminal case. VOA

 

Using technology to continuously monitor and analyze this kind of data is key to evaluating existing laws and designing new and more effective ones, White said.

“It really highlights what’s possible through policy,” added Valiant Richey, a former U.S. prosecutor who now fights human trafficking at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), echoing the calls for new methods.

Law enforcement agencies currently tackle slavery one case at a time, but the approach lacks as the crime is too widespread and authorities are short of resources, he said.

As a prosecutor in Seattle, Richey said his office would work on up to 80 cases a year, while online searches revealed more than 100 websites where sex was sold in the area, some carrying an average of 35,000 ads every month.

Also Read: Sexual Misconduct Cases Will Be Handled Better: Google

“We were fighting forest fire with a garden hose,” he said. “A case-based response to human trafficking will not on its own carry the day.”

At least 40 million people are victims of modern slavery worldwide — with nearly 25 million trapped in forced labor and about 15 million in forced marriages. (VOA)