Ant Middleton dropped by Channel 4 over ‘personal conduct’

Channel 4 has said it will not work with Ant Middleton again due to his “personal conduct”.

Last year, the SAS: Who Dares Wins star faced criticism over comments about the Black Lives Matter protests and coronavirus.

In a statement, the channel confirmed he “will not be taking part in future series of SAS: Who Dares Wins”.

After a number of discussions with him, “it has become clear that our views and values are not aligned”.

“We will not be working with him again,” Channel 4 added.

Ant Middleton
image captionThe former soldier faced a backlash for his comments about coronavirus and Black Lives Matter protests

The 40-year-old said on social media he had “decided it’s time to move on from SAS Who Dares Wins UK”.

He added: “Big respect to my fellow DS – it’s been a journey I’ll never forget. Thanks to everyone that took part and made the show what it is.”

“Really excited about the future and what’s coming this year.”

In June, he apologised after referring to Black Lives Matter protesters as “absolute scum” as he complained about the “extreme left” and “extreme right” taking to the streets.

Ant said he was “anti-racist and anti-violence” after deleting the tweet.

In March last year, he backtracked on comments he made about the coronavirus pandemic after he urged people to “carry on as normal”.

He told his social media followers to not “be a sheep” and said he did not believe Government advice to self-isolate applied to him because he is “strong and able”.

The former soldier later said he had been “a bit insensitive towards the magnitude, the scale, of the crisis that’s happening in the UK”.

SAS: Who Dares Wins sees civilians put through gruelling military training exercises to test their physical and mental strength.

Ant also presented the programme’s celebrity spin-off, which has featured famous faces including 1Xtra presenter Yasmin Evans, reality star Joey Essex and ex-footballer Wayne Bridge.

Bots hyped up GameStop on major social media platforms – Analysis finds

Bots on major social media platforms have been hyping up GameStop and other “meme” stocks, according to an analysis by Massachusetts-based cyber security company PiiQ Media, suggesting organized economic or foreign actors may have played a role in the Reddit-driven trading frenzy.

Shares in GameStop soared last month after Reddit users banded together to squeeze hedge funds that had bet against the video game retailer and other companies. Reddit Chief Executive Steve Huffman told Congress this month that bots, artificial or fake accounts with automated content, had not played a “significant role” in GameStop Reddit message traffic.

PiiQ Media’s analysis of Twitter Inc, Facebook Inc, Instagram and YouTube posts, however, found that bots used the platforms to push GameStop and other “meme” stocks, although it is unclear how influential they were in the overall saga.

A startup that focuses on social media risks, PiiQ said it examined patterns of keywords such as “Hold the Line” and GameStop’s stock symbol, “GME” across conversations and profiles prior to the Jan. 28 frenzy, through Feb. 18. For comparison, it also assessed posts on an unrelated set of stocks.

PiiQ said that it identified very similar daily “start and stop patterns” in the GameStop-related posts, with activity starting at the beginning of the trading day, followed by a large spike at the end of the trading day. Such patterns are indicative of bots, said Aaron Barr, co-founder and chief technology officer of PiiQ.

“We saw clear patterns of artificial behavior across the other four social media platforms. When you think of organic content, it’s variable in the day, variable day-to-day. It doesn’t have the exact same pattern every day for a month,” he said.

Based on its authenticity scoring system, PiiQ estimates there are tens of thousands of bot accounts hyping GameStop, the meme stocks, and Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency swept up in the frenzy. Thousands of fake accounts can be purchased for as little as $200, it said.

The company did not analyze Reddit data, but Barr said he would expect to see a similar pattern of activity on Reddit, indicating bot-like or coordinated management of conversations.

A representative for Reddit did not comment beyond Huffman’s testimony. Representatives for YouTube, Facebook and its Instagram subsidiary did not respond to requests for comment. The social media platforms generally try to weed out harmful bots, said Barr.

A spokesperson for Twitter said that “bots” had become a catch-all term that can often mischaracterize the nature of the account. The company notes bots can be used on its platform for creative or innovative purposes.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is probing the GameStop saga, and this month suspended trading in a handful of companies because some “social media accounts may be engaged in a coordinated attempt to artificially influence” their stocks.

In addition to traders, organized criminals may use social media to stoke asset prices, and undermining the integrity of U.S. markets is a known goal of hostile state actors, said Barr. But it is unclear how successful, if at all, these types of influence efforts are, he said.

“Measuring the effect of those campaigns is often illusive.”

China’s Weibo hires banks for Hong Kong secondary listing, sources say

(Reuters) – Chinese social media platform Weibo Corp has appointed Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and CLSA to work on its planned Hong Kong secondary listing in the final half of 2021, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The listing by China’s largest microblogging platform could raise up to $700 million, one of those people said, as the company joined a wave of Hong Kong share sales by U.S.-listed Chinese companies.

The Nasdaq-listed company, which has a market capitalisation of $13.2 billion and is backed by tech giant Alibaba, is considering selling about 5% of its enlarged share capital in Hong Kong to broaden the investor base, one of the sources said.

They asked not be named because the information has not been made public.

Weibo did not immediately respond to a request for comment and Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and CLSA declined to comment.

A Hong Kong listing adds Weibo to the Chinese companies whose shares are trading in New York that are seeking to return to exchanges closer to home against the backdrop of political tension between the United States and China.

Refinitiv data shows $34 billion in secondary listings in Hong Kong since Alibaba’s $12.9 billion float in late 2019. Last year, e-tailer JD.com raised $4.5 billion and games developer NetEase Inc raised $3.1 billion.

Other Chinese companies planning such listings include popular video site Bilibili, search engine giant Baidu Inc and online travel major Ctrip.

Weibo, which went public in 2014, has seen its shares gain 42% so far this year, outperforming the Nasdaq Golden Dragon China Index, which tracks Chinese firms listed on the U.S. exchange and has advanced 26% over the same period.

The Beijing-based company reported $417 million in advertising and marketing revenues, its core source of income, in the third quarter, flat year-on-year, following fierce competition from rivals, such as Bytedance, which runs popular short video app Douyin and online video firm Kuaishou.

WhatsApp to move ahead with privacy update despite backlash

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp said on Thursday it will go ahead with its controversial privacy policy update but will allow users to read it at “their own pace” and will also display a banner providing additional information.

In January, the messaging platform informed users it was preparing a new privacy policy, under which it could share limited user data with Facebook and its group firms.

It sparked a global outcry and sent users to rival apps Telegram and Signal, among others, prompting WhatsApp to delay the new policy launch to May and to clarify the update was focused on allowing users to message with businesses and would not affect personal conversations.

In India, the messaging app’s biggest user base, Facebook executives fielded questions from a parliamentary panel on the need for the changes, days after the country’s technology ministry asked the messaging platform to withdraw them.

In its latest blog bit.ly/3ufc9Eq, WhatsApp said it will start reminding users to review and accept updates to keep using the messaging platform.

“We’ve also included more information to try and address concerns we’re hearing,” it added.

WhatsApp’s announcement comes as parent Facebook moved to block all news content in Australia on Thursday, facing backlash from publishers and politicians, prompting a senior British lawmaker to label the move as an attempt to bully a democracy.

Facebook blocks Australian users from viewing or sharing news

Facebook has blocked Australian users from sharing or viewing news content on the platform, causing much alarm over public access to key information.

It comes in response to a proposed law which would make tech giants pay for news content on their platforms.

Australians on Thursday woke up to find that Facebook pages of all local and global news sites were unavailable.

Several government health and emergency pages were also blocked – something Facebook later asserted was a mistake.

Those outside of the country are also unable to read or access any Australian news publications on the platform.

The Australian government has strongly criticised the move, saying it demonstrated the “immense market power of these digital social giants”.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the ban on news information had a “huge community impact”. About 17 million Australians visit the social media site every month.

He said the government was committed to passing the law, and “we would like to see them [Facebook] in Australia.

“But I think their actions today were unnecessary and wrong,” he added.

Google and Facebook have fought the law because they say it doesn’t reflect how the internet works, and unfairly “penalises” their platforms.

However, in contrast to Facebook, Google has in recent days signed payment deals with three major Australian media outlets. 

Facebook’s action came just hours after Google agreed to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for content from news sites across its media empire.

Why is Facebook doing this?

Australian authorities had drawn up the laws to “level the playing field” between the tech giants and struggling publishers over profits. Of every A$100 (£56; $77) spent on digital advertising in Australian media these days, A$81 goes to Google and Facebook.

But Facebook said the law left it “facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia”.

“With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter,” it said in a blog post.

A woman looks at the Facebook logo on an iPad in this photo illustration taken June 3, 2018
image captionFacebook said it was making the change “with a heavy heart”

The law sought “to penalise Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for”, the company’s local managing director William Easton said.

Facebook said it helped Australian publishers earn about A$407m (£228m;$316m) last year through referrals, but for itself “the platform gain from news is minimal”.

Under the ban, Australian publishers are also restricted from sharing or posting any links on their Facebook pages. The national broadcaster, the ABC, and newspapers like The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian have millions of followers. 

What happened with the government sites?

Facebook’s change also denied Australians access to many key government agencies, including police and emergency services, health departments and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Queensland Health
image captionThe ban is also affecting official government pages

Other pages for charities, politicians, sports groups and other non-news organisations were also affected.

Facebook later released a statement which said these pages had been “inadvertently impacted” and would be reinstated, though it did not give a deadline.

A spokesperson said the company had “taken a broad definition” of the term “news content” in the law.

How have Australians responded?

The ban sparked an immediate backlash, with many Australians angry about their sudden loss of access to trusted and authoritative sources.

Several pointed out that Facebook was one crucial way that people received emergency updates about the pandemic and national disaster situations.

Others raised concerns about misinformation now freely circulating on the site.

“It feels obviously very restrictive in what Facebook is going to allow people to do in the future, not only in Australia but around the world,” Sydney man Peter Firth told the BBC.

Amelia Marshall said she could not believe the firm’s decision “in the middle of a pandemic”, adding: “I’ve made the long-overdue decision to permanently delete my Facebook account.” 

Human Rights Watch’ Australia director said Facebook was censoring the flow of information in the country – calling it a “dangerous turn of events”.

“Cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dead of the night is unconscionable,” said Elaine Pearson.

How is the government responding?

Australia’s conservative government is standing by the law – which passed the lower house of parliament on Wednesday. It has broad cross-party support and will be debated again in parliament on Thursday.

“We will legislate this code. We want the digital giants paying traditional news media businesses for generating original journalistic content,” said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg who added that “the eyes of the world are watching what’s happening here”.

He said he’d also had a discussion with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg which had been “constructive”.

But he pointed out that Facebook, like Google, had been negotiating pay deals with local organisations. This banning action had “come at an eleventh hour” and damaged the site’s reputation he said.

“What they’re effectively saying to Australians is: “You will not find content on our platform which comes from an organisation which employs professional journalists, which has editorial policies, which has fact-checking processes”.

Presentational grey line

Facebook wants to call the shots

Analysis box by James Clayton, North America technology reporter

Australia is not a big market for Facebook. And Facebook says news isn’t a big driver of revenue for the company. So why does it care so much about this law? 

This is far more about the principle. Other countries have been looking at what is happening in Australia. There’s speculation that Canada, even the EU could follow Australia’s lead – something Facebook wants to avoid. 

Facebook does already pay for some news. It’s entered into commercial deals with media companies in the UK, for example.

What Facebook wants to do, however, is call the shots. 

Its executives do not want governments to step in, telling them they have to pay for news – and even setting the price.

Facebook, then, has decided to show that there are consequences for governments if they want to take muscular action against Big Tech. 

But that could backfire spectacularly. That Facebook can essentially switch off Australian news on its platform is already being criticised as anti-democratic – even authoritarian – in some quarters.

YouTube: Voice of Wales channel accused of racism

A Welsh YouTube channel has been labelled “racist” and accused of expressing “foul” and “unacceptable” language and ideas.

Videos featuring the group have been removed by YouTube, with advertising prevented on others.

Voice of Wales said it gave a voice to people who were not represented by the mainstream media.

The channel began broadcasting on YouTube in July last year.

Several politicians and parties have slammed Voice of Wales’ activities, following an investigation by BBC Wales’ Newyddionprogramme.

Fronted by Dan Morgan and Stan Robinson, the Voice of Wales channel now has more than 5,000 subscribers and has registered more than 350,000 views.

Guests on the channel have included members of the Proud Boys group, a far-right organisation which is active in the United States and Canada.

The Proud Boys have been banned by Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and outlawed completely in Canada, where the government has deemed them a terrorist group.

They have also appeared in discussions with controversial characters such as Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson – both of whom have been permanently banned by Twitter for breaching hateful conduct guidelines.

Dan Morgan and Stan Robinson during a Voice of Wales broadcast with guest Katie Hopkins
image captionKatie Hopkins has featured as a guest on the Voice of Wales channel

Concerns have also been raised that prominent Welsh politicians have participated in discussions on the channel – including UKIP’s only Member of the Senedd Neil Hamilton and former Conservative election candidate Felix Aubel.

Voice of Wales has also been present at controversial protests – broadcasting apparently favourable coverage from outside Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium as activists aimed to disrupt players taking a knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as during clashes between police and demonstrators in Pembrokeshire opposing the housing of asylum seekers at a former military training base.

Dan Morgan and Stan Robinson at a protest outside Swansea City's Liberty Stadium
image captionVoice of Wales has attended protests, including outside Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium

Concern has also been expressed about the language used by Mr Morgan and Mr Robinson, who are both members of UKIP.

They include remarks by Mr Robinson, who said: “If I wanted to imbibe all things India I would get on a jet and go to India. I don’t want it on my doorstep.”

In another video, on seeing posters of black individuals in the window of the Arts Council of Wales building during a live broadcast, Mr Morgan said: “What is this building? You’re not going to believe this.

“It’s actually the Arts Council of Wales… Because we all know that’s what Wales is going to become… African Arts council of Wales. 

“Did it say that? No. But it should have.”

Dan Morgan outside the Arts Council of Wales
image captionConcern has been expressed about remarks by Dan Morgan broadcast outside the Arts Council of Wales

A county councillor also said he was subjected to harassment by Voice of Wales after he opposed its supporters’ presence at protests against housing asylum seekers at a former military training base in Pembrokeshire. 

This harassment included an allegation, which he said was totally false, that he shared a sexual video of an underage schoolgirl.

Despite freedom of speech being one of the cornerstones of democracy, the three main political parties in Wales have voiced concern about the language and ideas shared by Voice of Wales. 

‘They try and create splits in our society’

Nia Griffith
image captionShadow Secretary of State for Wales Nia Griffith said the group was “very dangerous”

Labour MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Nia Griffith, said the channel was “very dangerous” and provoked “hate and racism”.

“They try and create splits in our society. We must take it seriously and see if there’s a way of lessening their influence.” 

‘Completely unacceptable’

The Welsh Conservatives also rejected Voice of Wales’ activities, saying: “Robust political debate, including disagreement, is one thing, but the kind of language used on the YouTube channel by the members and supporters of this organisation is completely unacceptable to – thankfully – the vast majority of Britons and those of other nationalities living in a modern, dynamic, and diverse United Kingdom.

“People of all parties will reject the foul ideas and words used by members of this organisation, and anyone else who bases their prejudices and political ideology on where a person comes from, their nationality, ethnicity, or belief.”

Having described Voice of Wales as an “excellent truth-seeking news channel” in a Twitter post, Mr Aubel said he did not necessarily agree with all content they broadcasted, but said the men had a right to freedom of speech.

‘Baseless smears’

When asked to respond about their members’ involvement with Voice of Wales, UKIP said: “This looks to us like an attempt by the BBC to shut down competition in Wales by using baseless smears that we have all become accustomed to over the years such as ‘extremist’ to discredit other outlets.

“UKIP unambiguously stands with the majority of people in Wales who understand that mob-like movements such as Black Lives Matter serve only to cause further division and stoke racial tensions in our society. 

“We see nothing wrong with fans expressing their disgust at their sports team ‘taking the knee’ in support of a violent group.”

Adam Price
image captionPlaid Cymru leader Adam Price asks those enabling the group: “What are your politics but that of the extreme right wing?”

But Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price rejected their claims: “The mask is slipping.

“With UKIP and anyone else who are enabling this group. Anyone who is helping them and co-operating with them, we must ask them too – what are your politics but that of the extreme right wing?”

Voice of Wales said: “[We] have hosted politicians from across the political spectrum including the former advisor to the Mayor of London and Respect Party candidate, Lee Jasper (whose Twitter account is currently suspended for violation) and Katie Hopkins. 

“We also operate an open invitation to BLM, antifa, SWP [Socialist Worker Party], councillors, AMs and ministers we have named on our programmes.”

Denying allegations of racism, it said free speech included “the right to offend and, of course, to be offended”.

After being approached to respond to concerns about Voice of Wales by Newyddion, YouTube removed three videos completely and removed the ability to show adverts on a further six.

A spokesman said: “YouTube’s community guidelines prohibits hate speech and we remove flagged videos and comments that violate these policies.”

By Gwyn Loader

Iceland director sacked after Welsh language jibes

A supermarket chain’s PR chief has been sacked after comments about Wales, its language and the UK Celtic nations.

Keith Hann was dismissed by frozen food specialists Iceland “with immediate effect” after remarks on Twitter.

Further comments on a personal blog also emerged, describing the Welsh language as “incomprehensible” and “gibberish”.

An Iceland store in Wales
image captionThe supermarket chain has its headquarters in north Wales

Iceland is based in north Wales, and said the comments did not reflect their values.

An official at Iceland apologised for any upset or offence caused by the comments.

The BBC has attempted to contact Mr Hann to respond.

His latest controversial post on Twitter commented on the TV star Amanda Holden being accused of breaching lockdown rules by travelling to Cornwall.

“Your periodic reminder that the inhabitants of the UK’s Celtic fringe loath ALL visitors, in and out of lockdown,” he said.

His social media account was later made private, with his profile stating: “All views my own and usually joking”.

Tweet from Keith Hann
image captionKeith Hann’s original tweet responding to the Amanda Holden story has been deleted, along with his account on the social media platform

The account has since been deleted.

Further posts in a personal blog called Bloke in the North then emerged.

In one, dating back to 2009, he reflected: “I suppose as a last resort we could always move a couple of miles west so that I could legitimately call myself Bloke in the North (of Wales), with the (of Wales) being silent.

“The price for this, if we sent the baby to a state school, would be having part of his education conducted in gibberish. But I dare say that Welsh would prove no more incomprehensible and useless to him than trigonometry and algebra did to me in my day.”

In another, he referred to Welsh signage in supermarkets as “incomprehensible” and described it as “a dead language that sounds uncannily like someone with bad catarrh clearing his throat”.

Announcing Mr Hann’s departure, Iceland said in a statement: “Iceland has taken action in light of recent comments made by its director of corporate affairs, resulting in the dismissal of Mr Hann with immediate effect. 

The firm, whose headquarters are on Deeside in Flintshire, added: “We would like to reiterate that these comments in no way reflect the values or philosophy of our business. 

“We are a proud Welsh company, with a long history of investment in communities across Wales, and apologise for any upset or offence caused.”

Exclusive: How GameStop missed out on capitalizing on the Reddit rally

(Reuters) – GameStop Corp decided it could not seize on the Reddit-fueled rally in its shares to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stock because of regulatory restrictions, according to three people familiar the U.S. video game retailer’s internal deliberations.

The Grapevine, Texas-based company found itself at the epicenter of an unprecedented trading frenzy last month, as amateur investors organized on social media sites such as Reddit to bet against Wall Street hedge funds that had shorted its shares.

While many heavily shorted stocks, from movie theater operator AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc to headphone maker Koss Corp, also scored big rallies, “Gamestonk”, as it was nicknamed by many online, including Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk, became synonymous with the wave of trading speculation.

GameStop’s market value soared from $1.4 billion on Jan. 11 to a peak of $33.7 billion on Jan. 28. At that point, GameStop could have raised hundreds of millions of dollars through a stock sale to pay down its debt pile, which totaled $216 million net of cash as of the end of October, and fund its transformation into a digital gaming service, as sales at its mall-based stores dwindle.

Yet GameStop never sold shares, the sources said, despite being egged on by many Wall Street pundits to do so. While it could still sell shares in the coming weeks, the opportunity to raise hundreds of millions of dollars has now slipped as the rally in its shares reversed. It now has a market value of $3.6 billion.

GameStop examined the possibility of selling stock during the rally, the sources said. The company had already registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to sell $100 million worth of stock in December, an option it did not exercise, the sources added.

GameStop decided it was restricted under U.S. financial regulations from selling shares because it was in possession of significant information about its finances that was not yet available to the public, the sources said. The SEC requires companies to have released such information when conducting stock sales.

The information pertained to GameStop’s fiscal fourth quarter, which ended at the end of January. By the time its shares took off in the second half of January, company executives had already compiled data and had a clear picture of what the quarter would look like, the sources said.

GameStop could have gone ahead with a stock sale by releasing preliminary earnings. But such a move, carried out for the purposes of a stock sale, came with significant logistical hurdles and regulatory risk that the company was not willing to accept, one of the sources said. The SEC had said it would scrutinize how companies took advantage of the trading volatility to sell stock and had asked that they provide more information to investors about the potential risks.

A GameStop spokesman declined to comment. The SEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“They were two and a half months into their quarter when all this stuff took place. It’s so deep in the quarter that from a legal and corporate governance perspective they would likely be obligated to pre-announce some high-level financial information for the quarter. And that can’t be prepared in just a week,” said David Erickson, a finance lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who was previously co-head of global equity capital markets at Barclays Plc.

AMC, AMERICAN AIRLINES

Other companies in the midst of the Reddit frenzy whose financial quarters finished at the end of December and had already updated investors on their latest financial performance, were able to sell stock when their shares rallied at the end of January.

AMC, whose movie theater business has been hurt by the pandemic, raised roughly $1.2 billion through debt and equity deals after its shares rallied more than 700%.

American Airlines Group Inc, which has also suffered as demand for flights plummeted, pulled the trigger on a plan to sell more than $1 billion of stock last month after its shares rallied as much as 48%.

GameStop has lost market share to larger competitors, including Best Buy Co Inc and Amazon.com Inc, as consumers buy video games online or through big-box retailers.

Robert W. Baird & Co analysts wrote last month that the best outcome for GameStop shareholders would be for the company to close the majority of its physical stores and diversify into online businesses, including hosting tournaments and events.

One of GameStop’s largest shareholders, online pet store Chewy Inc co-founder Ryan Cohen, and two of his partners joined the company’s board in January. Last year, hedge funds Hestia Capital Partners and Permit Capital Enterprise Fund also won seats on the board.

India warns U.S. social media firms after row with Twitter

(Reuters) – India’s technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday warned U.S. social media firms to abide by the country’s laws, a day after a face-off between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration and Twitter over content regulation.

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad called out Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and WhatsApp by name and said they were welcome to operate in India, but only if they play by India’s rules.

“You will have to follow the Constitution of India, you will have to abide by the laws of India,” said Prasad.

India rebuked Twitter on Wednesday after the U.S. social media giant refused to fully comply with a government order to take down over 1,100 accounts and posts which New Delhi claims spread misinformation about the farmer protests against new agriculture reforms.

Twitter said it had not blocked all of the content because it believed the directives were not in line with Indian laws.

That prompted censure from India’s tech ministry and calls from politicians to urge their followers to join Twitter’s home-grown local rival, Koo.