Twitter launches ‘Milk Tea Alliance’ emoji as movement grows

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Social media giant Twitter on Thursday launched an emoji for the Milk Tea Alliance, a global online pro-democracy movement that has united anti-Beijing campaigners in Hong Kong and Taiwan with protesters in Thailand, Myanmar and beyond.

Activists welcomed the announcement of the emoji – a white cup set against a background of three colours representing different shades of milk tea in Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan – for the first anniversary of the movement.

The Milk Tea Alliance sprang from a Twitter war that flared after Chinese nationalists accused a young Thai actor and his girlfriend of supporting democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwanese independence.

It is named after a shared passion for sweet tea drinks in the three places.

Use of the hashtag peaked again in February after the military coup in Myanmar, where protesters using the hashtag rallied regional support.

“We have seen more than 11 million Tweets featuring the #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag over the past year,” Twitter said in an announcement that pushed the hashtag to among the top trending in Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan on Thursday.

Previously, Twitter launched emojis for #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements.

The Twitter emoji showed global recognition and lent greater credibility to the youth movement, said prominent Thai activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, one of the alliance’s leading voices.

“It’s important as it shows the young people fighting for democracy that the world is with them and they’re making an impact,” Netiwit told Reuters. “It’s a sign that online activism can go much further.”

Twitter is blocked in China and its apparent endorsement of a movement with a strong current of opposition to Beijing was unlikely to hurt its business, said James Buchanan, a lecturer at Bangkok’s Mahidol University International College.

“Twitter has plenty to gain by appealing to young people in the Asian markets that are open to them,” he said.

YouTube Kids ‘a vapid wasteland’, say US lawmakers

A US government committee has described YouTube Kids as a “wasteland of vapid, consumerist content”.

In a letter to YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki, the US sub-committee on economic and consumer policy said the platform was full of “inappropriate… highly commercial content”.

Google launched YouTube Kids in 2015 as a safe place for children to view appropriate content.

YouTube said it had worked hard to provide “enriching content for kids”.

In a statement, a YouTube spokesperson said: “Over the last few years, we’ve worked hard to provide kids and families with protections and controls that enable them to view age-appropriate content. 

“We’ve made significant investments in the YouTube Kids app to make it safer, and to serve more educational and enriching content for kids, based on principles developed with experts and parents. 

“Additionally, on YouTube, we do not serve personalised ads alongside ‘made for kids’ content, and apply additional protections to ensure we’re recommending age-appropriate content for kids and families.”

‘Hidden marketing’

In 2019, Google agreed to pay $170m (£124m) in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission for collecting and selling children’s data without parental consent. YouTube committed to privacy protections for children and the removal of personalised ads.

According to the letter, some videos appeared to be “smuggling in hidden marketing and advertising with product placements by children’s influencers”.

The letter claimed that one research team, which it did not name, found only about 4% of videos had a high educational value. Much of the rest was low quality content such as toy unboxing and videos of people playing video games.

It also said that one mother had reported a video that contained advice on how to commit suicide. After the video was reported, the letter alleges YouTube failed to remove it for eight months.

The letter asked YouTube to supply a host of documents, including:

  • information about the top 200 channels and how much time on average children spent watching them
  • a detailed explanation of how paid ads are selected for display to children
  • an explanation of how the recommendation algorithm determines which videos to promote to children
  • number of videos removed because they were inappropriate from 2016 to 2020
  • number of channels or creators blocked during the same timeframe

TikTok: Teen saves boy after seeing crash on livestream

A teenager in the US state of New Hampshire helped save a boy more than 800 miles (1,290km) away, after he saw him crash a quad bike live on TikTok.

Caden Cotnoir, 13, was watching 12-year-old Trent Jarrett ride the four-wheeler in West Virginia. Trent crashed but the live feed continued.

Trapped under the bike, Trent started yelling out a phone number, which Caden called and alerted Trent’s family.

He was rescued within about 20 minutes, and had only minor cuts and bruises.

Caden has been praised for his quick thinking, and the pair met over Zoom on Monday.

“All of a sudden his phone goes kind of blank, you can see a little bit of light and you can just hear him yelling for help,” he told local news station WMUR-TV.

“It was pretty, like, sad to hear, he’s scared that he’s not going to make it out,” he added.

“I was yelling out my grandparents’ house phone number,” Trent said, as it was the only number he could remember.

“I couldn’t hardly breathe… I’d just like to thank him for everything that he’s done,” he added.

Caden’s stepdad, Matt Currier, is the local police chief.

“He did what he was supposed to do and got the right people and it worked out. It was an Easter miracle,” Mr Currier said.

Caden follows Trent on the social media app, TikTok, because of their shared interests in hunting, fishing and 4-wheeling, AP reports.

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Russia extends moves to slow down Twitter’s traffic until May 15

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s state communications regulator said on Monday it would extend its move to slow down Twitter until May 15, but that the U.S. social media company was deleting content banned in Russia at a faster rate than it had been.

Russia said on March 10 that it was slowing down the speed of Twitter in retaliation for what it described as a failure to remove banned content, threatening to block the U.S. platform outright if it did not comply with its deletion demands.

Russian court fines Twitter over failure to delete content

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court on Friday fined Twitter 3.2 million roubles ($42,011.29) over its failure to delete what the authorities said was banned content.

Moscow said last month it had slowed the speed of U.S.-based Twitter inside Russia and on March 16 threatened to ban the social media service outright in a month over content ranging from child pornography to drug abuse.

There was no immediate comment from Twitter. It said earlier that it was worried about the impact on free speech of the Russian action, and denied that it allowed its platform to be used to promote illegal behaviour as alleged by Russian authorities.

($1 = 76.1750 roubles)

Facebook denies fueling polarization, launches tools to control feed

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc will let users customize their feed and give them control over who can comment on their public posts, the social media giant said on Wednesday.

The company will also offer a Feed Filter Bar that would allow users to switch between algorithmic ranking of their feed or show content in the order it was posted.

The changes come as the world’s largest social network has been under fire for amplifying hate speech and misinformation globally across its platforms.

Users can manage the comments for any public post by choosing from options such as anyone who can view the post can comment or only people and pages they tag, Facebook said here in a blog post.

Separately, Nick Clegg, vice president of Global Affairs at Facebook, claimed in a Medium post on Wednesday that the company’s algorithms do not lead to polarization.

“The reality is, it’s not in Facebook’s interest — financially or reputationally — to continually turn up the temperature and push users towards ever more extreme content,” Clegg said.

He also noted that majority of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertising, and advertisers would not want their brands and products displayed right next to “extreme or hateful content.”

Google to contribute $29 million to new EU fund to fight fake news

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Alphabet unit Google will contribute 25 million euros ($29.3 million) to the newly set up European Media and Information Fund to combat fake news, the company said on Wednesday, amid criticism tech giants are not doing enough to debunk online disinformation.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. election last year spurred a massive spike in misinformation, with some blaming social media for not being more proactive in tackling the issue while regulators have indicated they may take action via heavy-handed restrictions.

The European Media and Information Fund, launched by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the European University Institute last week, aims to enlist researchers, fact-checkers, not-for-profits and other public interest-oriented bodies to help in the fight against fake news.

“While navigating the uncertainty and challenges of the last year, it has proven more important than ever for people to access accurate information, and sort facts from fiction,” Matt Brittin, head of Google’s EMEA Business & Operations, said in a blog post.

The fund has a duration of five years. The European Digital Media Observatory, which is a European Commission project set up last year and whose members include fact checkers and academic researchers, will evaluate and select the projects.

($1 = 0.8531 euros)

Wales election: Fears over ‘anonymous’ social media adverts

Voters could see political adverts on social media during the Senedd election campaign without knowing who is behind them.

Leaflets and print adverts must say who has produced and paid for them.

Campaigners said the Welsh government “missed an opportunity” to update election laws so the same rules applied to digital advertising for May’s vote.

The Welsh government said it wanted to work with other governments to create new regulations.

Mandatory digital imprints, which make clear who is responsible for the political adverts, will be introduced for Westminster general elections under plans outlined by the UK government.

That would mean voters could see who was trying to influence them and help watchdogs keep track of campaign spending.

Although ministers in Cardiff support the idea, it is too late for the Senedd to change the law before the election on 6 May.

Digital imprints are being made compulsory in Scotland, where devolved elections are happening on the same day.

Online advertising spending has risen sharply in British elections since 2010.

It is thought to have accounted for more than half of campaign spending at the 2019 general election and social media is predicted to be even more important now that Covid has restricted traditional canvassing.

Electoral Reform Society Cymru director Jess Blair said: “It’s a real missed opportunity that the Welsh government haven’t legislated around digital imprints for the Senedd elections this year.

“We’ve seen Scotland go ahead and do this for their elections. The legislation isn’t perfect but it’s a lot better than what we have in place in Wales.”

She said the Welsh government should not wait for UK government legislation

“You shouldn’t be waiting for the slowest person in the race,” she said.

“You should be trying to win that race and actually deliver better democracy and better transparency in our elections.”

Campaigners say the Welsh government has "missed an opportunity" to update election laws
image captionCampaigners say the Welsh government has “missed an opportunity” to update election laws

The Welsh government said it was “committed to fair and transparent elections and digital campaigning has become an increasingly significant portion of democratic engagement from political groups”.

A spokesman said it was not possible to legislate in time for May’s election, but “we will be working closely with the other administrations of the UK to ensure there will be a robust and transparent system in the future”.

The UK government said its legislation on digital imprints would “increase transparency” and “ensure greater scrutiny”.

Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith said it was a “complex” issue, adding: “We need to be mindful not to impose excessive regulation of free speech by individuals, nor force campaigners to publish their home addresses as part of the imprint requirement.”

The Electoral Commission previously said it was “disappointed” the rules were not changed in time for May’s Senedd election.

It has launched a campaign to help voters “think critically” about political advertising. 

Spokesman Craig Westwood said: “Political adverts are an important part of how voters find out about who are standing as candidates, and what they think about key issues, but we know that people are increasingly concerned about online adverts, if they can’t easily tell who is targeting them, and why.”

Facebook said it was “constantly working to increase ad transparency and election integrity” on its platforms.

“We do not allow political ads to run without a disclaimer providing more information about who is running them,” a spokesman said.

“This includes ensuring anyone running a political ad goes through a verification process to prove who they are and that they are based in the UK, and that ads carry a ‘paid for’ disclaimer if targeting people in the UK.”

Plaid Cymru said: “Plaid Cymru will support any move to make our elections more open and transparent and digital imprints would play a key role in upholding the integrity of our elections.”

The Welsh Conservatives said the party supported digital imprints.

Welsh Liberal Democrats leader, Jane Dodds, said the party supported “transparency and fairness” in digital campaigning.

She added: “We would also, however, urge platform-owners, such as Facebook and Twitter, to make available digital imprint tools to easier facilitate this process.”

By Daniel Davies
BBC Wales political correspondent