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2024 Race

State Department Cancels Facebook Meetings Following Judge’s Censorship Ruling

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The State Department has postponed its regularly scheduled meeting with Facebook representatives to discuss 2024 election preparations and hacking threats one day after a Louisiana federal judge placed restrictions on the Biden administration’s communications with tech companies.

State Department officials told Facebook that all future meetings, which had been held monthly, have been “canceled pending further guidance,” said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve working relationships. “Waiting to see if CISA cancels tomorrow,” the person added, referring to the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

The representative from Facebook stated that although it was not immediately possible to confirm it, they assumed that similar meetings the State Department had scheduled with other tech companies had also been cancelled. In response to a request for comment, State Department representatives remained silent. CISA declined to respond to inquiries and pointed them toward the Justice Department. A representative of the Justice Department declined to comment on the cancellations, but stated that the department plans to “promptly” ask the District Court to stay its ruling.

Representatives for Google, who owns YouTube, and other social media companies has yet to respond.

The world’s largest social media company, Meta, which owns Facebook, cancelled regular meetings with US government agencies on Tuesday, demonstrating the immediate effects of the decision made by Trump appointee U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty. The order is a win for Americans across the country in a broader battle over the role of social media companies in shaping online speech and information.

The decision will likely sideline federal government officials and agencies that had emerged as key players in those efforts, even though it won’t prevent platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok from moderating online content. The State Department and Facebook have previously discussed flagging potential foreign influence operations for the companies to look into.

Another person with knowledge of the negotiations who requested anonymity in order to avoid legal entanglements said that the canceled meetings demonstrate how the injunction is impacting government efforts to “protect” elections.

When tech companies and State Department officials meet, “they talk about foreign influence, they compare notes. It gives them the opportunity to ask questions about foreign influence they are seeing,” this person said. “State will share Russian narratives, things they are seeing in state media in Russia about U.S. topics. They will ask whether Facebook is seeing things from known entities, such as the Chinese Communist Party or the Internet Research Agency,” the Russian entity thought responsible for much of the interference in the 2016 election.

The Facebook representative confirmed that information on foreign influence operations is shared in both directions at the meetings.

A former Department of Homeland Security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they feared legal or political retaliation, said they believed meetings are being canceled because general counsels at the various agencies are parsing the implications of the 155-page ruling. Ultimately, many of the activities they pursued, such as warnings about election disinformation, are exempted from the injunction and are likely to continue, the person said.

“I would expect to see DOJ or the White House take the first public steps,” the former official said. “There will likely be a chilling effect from overly cautious government counsels. What previously had been inbounds will look too close to the line, or we’re not sure how it’s going to work.”

The order, which was released on July Fourth, concluded that the Biden administration had likely violated the First Amendment by pressuring Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media companies to stop the viral spread of posts that stoked concerns about coronavirus vaccines or fueled claims about election interference.

Following claims of a “Russian effort” to sow division among Americans during the 2016 presidential election campaign, major U.S. social media companies started regularly coordinating with the federal government in 2017. Partnerships between Silicon Valley and Washington on what the tech companies called “content moderation” deepened and broadened during the pandemic, when platforms such as Twitter, Google’s YouTube, and Meta’s Facebook and Instagram started exposing the truth about government scandals.

The attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, along with a host of other plaintiffs, sued Biden and a bevy of government agencies and officials in 2022, alleging that they had cajoled and coerced the tech firms into removing or suppressing speech that is protected under the First Amendment. The Biden administration has argued that it did not violate the First Amendment, but rather used its bully pulpit to promote “accurate information” in the face of a public health crisis and foreign interference in U.S. elections.

On Tuesday, Doughty, who sought to block several Biden administration mandates during the pandemic, sided largely with the plaintiffs. He issued a preliminary injunction that prohibits several federal agencies and their employees from “meeting with social-media companies for the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.”

In Doughty’s decision, the government was given some leeway to maintain contact with tech firms, including openings for officials to alert the Valley to criminal activity, foreign election meddling, and cyberattacks.

The White House has not immediately responded to a request for comment on the meeting cancellations. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday that the administration disagrees with the injunction. The Department of Justice continues to review it and evaluate its options, she said.

Jean-Pierre said that the administration has been “consistent” in its dealings with tech firms and that it will “continue to promote responsible actions to protect public health, safety and security when confronted by challenges like a deadly pandemic and foreign attacks on our elections.”

“Our view remains that social media platforms have a critical responsibility to take action or to take account of the effects their platforms are having [on] the American people, but make independent choices about the information they present,” she said.

Meta, Twitter and Google have declined to comment on the injunction. But the judge’s decision creates uncertainty about the future of content moderation at the companies ahead of the 2024 elections and raises legal questions about how they will communicate with officials at all levels of government about censorship of the public.

The Biden administration is likely to appeal the injunction before voters head to the polls next year. But in the interim, the order is poised to have a chilling effect on the companies’ efforts to censor the public and they have been in the past.

Tech companies are already taking significant steps to unwind programs to censor information on their services. Under the helm of Elon Musk, Twitter has slashed its Trust and Safety teams and initiatives. Amid financial pressure and company layoffs, Meta has also made cuts to similar teams.

“There is so much wrong with this decision — not least of all that it will make us less secure going into the 2024 elections,” wrote Yoel Roth, the former head of Trust and Safety at Twitter, in a social media post. Roth said the most glaring problem with the decision is that it asserts the companies were “coerced” to remove posts simply because they met with government officials. “That’s just … not how any of this works,” he wrote.

Roth’s work at Twitter has come under the glare of Republican politicians. He has said during testimony before Congress that Twitter independently made decisions to remove content its staffers believed violated its rules. He said the U.S. government “took extraordinary efforts” at demanding the company to remove users and posts that did not align with their agenda.

Emails used as evidence in the case also demonstrate how tech firms tried to resist the Biden administration, at times informing government officials that the videos or posts they had flagged were not in violation of their anti-misinformation guidelines. Biden White House officials frequently seemed frustrated by the companies’ decisions.

In April 2021, then-White House adviser Andy Slavitt sent an email to Facebook staff with the subject line, “Tucker Carlson anti-vaccine message,” noting that it was “number one on Facebook.” Later that day, a Facebook staffer responded, saying the video did not qualify for removal under its policies. The employee said the company was demoting the video and labeling it with a “pointer” to “accurate information about the vaccine”, which we now know to be false.

The company’s decision to leave the video up prompted backlash from Rob Flaherty, a another former White House official, who responded: “Not for nothing but last time we did this dance, it ended in an insurrection.”

The lawsuit also named as defendants several academics and civil society organizations that had contributed to censorship between the online platforms and the government. On Wednesday, researchers outside of government and companies were reeling from the injunction and sorting out how to handle it.

“There’s no version of us being able to do our job, or other versions of the field of trust and safety, without being able to communicate with all stakeholders, including government and including industry,” said a leading researcher on extremism and foreign influence who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing litigation.

Another researcher, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity because of pending litigation, added: “Platforms had already gutted their trust and safety departments, and now they aren’t supposed to [talk to the] government.” The person added, however, that “information sharing between platforms and government in this area was always fairly minimal.”

Doughty’s ruling is unlikely to be the last word on the question of what level of government pressure on platforms constitutes a First Amendment violation, said Jeff Kosseff, a cybersecurity law professor at the U.S. Naval Academy.

“The really tough question is when does the government cross the line from responding to speech — which it can and should do — to coercing platforms to censor constitutionally protected speech?” Kosseff said. “The judge here believes that line was crossed, and he certainly cited some persuasive examples,” such as administration officials suggesting antitrust actions against tech firms or changes to their liability protections while criticizing their content moderation efforts.

2024 Race

Over 9,000 uncounted mail-in ballots found in Illinois election

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The Chicago Board of Elections revealed on Saturday that more than 10,000 ballots hadn’t been included in previous vote totals by mistake, making unofficial counts lower than expected.

Preliminary Report:

SOURCE: https://cboeresults.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/results/Summary%20Report%20(2%20Column).pdf

In a news release, a spokesperson for the CBOE explained that while adding up vote-by-mail ballots, he accidentally left out additional ballots that had been delivered by the U.S. Postal Service on Monday.

“I traded speed for accuracy in reporting out numbers this week as quickly as I could,” spokesperson Max Bever said in a statement, in part. “I truly regret this error on my part and for the confusion that it has caused the voters of Chicago.”

The 10,659 ballots in question were added to the unofficial vote count on Saturday, increasing the total of ballots cast in Chicago to 368,990. Voter turnout citywide was reported to be 24.44% out of 1,509,554 registered voters.

Recent elections have sparked widespread discussions and debates regarding the integrity of the electoral process. As citizens grapple with various viewpoints and concerns, questions surrounding election integrity have taken center stage in political discourse.

One of the key issues that has emerged is the security and reliability of voting systems. With advancements in technology, concerns have been raised about the susceptibility of electronic voting machines to hacking and manipulation. Critics argue that these vulnerabilities could potentially undermine the integrity of election results and erode public trust in the democratic process.

Furthermore, the handling and counting of ballots have also come under scrutiny. Allegations of irregularities, such as ballot tampering or mishandling, have led to calls for increased transparency and oversight in the electoral process. Some argue that stringent safeguards and protocols are necessary to ensure the accuracy and fairness of vote tabulation.

Another area of contention is voter identification laws. Proponents argue that such laws are essential for preventing voter fraud and maintaining the integrity of elections. They contend that requiring voters to present identification helps verify their eligibility and prevents unauthorized individuals from casting ballots. However, critics argue that these laws disproportionately disenfranchise marginalized communities, such as low-income or minority voters, who may face barriers to obtaining valid identification.

Additionally, concerns have been raised about the role of money in politics and its potential to influence election outcomes. The influx of campaign contributions from special interest groups and wealthy donors has raised questions about the fairness and transparency of the electoral process. Critics argue that the influence of money in politics undermines the principle of equal representation and gives undue advantage to powerful interests.

Amidst these debates, calls for reform and strengthening of election laws and regulations have grown louder. Advocates emphasize the need for comprehensive measures to safeguard the integrity of elections, including increased funding for election security, implementation of robust auditing procedures, and expansion of voter access while ensuring strict enforcement of anti-fraud measures.

Ultimately, the issue of election integrity remains a complex and multifaceted challenge. As citizens and policymakers grapple with these questions, finding common ground and implementing effective solutions will be essential to uphold the integrity and legitimacy of the democratic process.

SOURCE: NBC NEWS

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2024 Race

Michelle Obama’s office says the former first lady ‘will not be running for president’ in 2024

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Former President Barack Obama’s vocal support for President Joe Biden’s re-election bid has sparked speculation about the potential role of his wife, Michelle Obama, in the upcoming election.

Many Democrats are eager to see Michelle Obama take on a more prominent role, with some even pondering the possibility of her replacing a politically weakened Biden on the 2024 ticket. However, supporters of Republican front-runner Donald Trump have seized on this speculation to undermine Biden’s political standing and rally GOP supporters.

In response to these rumors, Michelle Obama’s office has reiterated that she has no plans to run for president in 2024. Crystal Carson, director of communications for her office, has emphasized Michelle Obama’s support for President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ re-election campaign, and says Michelle will not be running for president.

While Michelle Obama intends to assist the Biden campaign this fall, her involvement is expected to be limited, reflecting her existing commitments and her reluctance to fully re-enter the political arena. Sources familiar with the discussions suggest that the Biden campaign may capitalize on Michelle Obama’s star power later in the campaign, particularly when swing voters are more engaged.

The Biden campaign has expressed gratitude for the support of both Barack and Michelle Obama in previous elections. Campaign spokesperson Kevin Munoz highlighted Michelle Obama’s involvement with When We All Vote, a nonpartisan voter registration group, as an area of alignment with the Biden campaign’s goals.

Despite persistent speculation about her political ambitions, Michelle Obama has consistently downplayed the possibility of seeking public office. In interviews, she has emphasized the challenges of politics and expressed her aversion to questions about running for president.

However, some observers note instances where Michelle Obama has left the door open to the idea of holding public office in the future. Amid speculation about Biden’s potential running mate in 2020, an exchange between CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota and Jill Biden suggested Michelle Obama as a possible candidate. While Jill Biden laughed off the suggestion, Michelle Obama’s allies reportedly expressed dissatisfaction with her response, prompting discussions about crafting a more ambiguous statement regarding her future plans.

Michelle Obama’s partnership with Jill Biden during their time as first and second ladies underscores their close relationship, particularly in initiatives like Joining Forces to support military families. Despite the ongoing speculation, Michelle Obama’s intentions regarding future political involvement remain unclear, leaving room for continued speculation and discussion within political circles.

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2024 Race

Facebook, Instagram and Threads suffer major global outages on Super Tuesday

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Facebook, Instagram, and Threads, the trio of social media platforms under Meta’s umbrella, encountered a significant worldwide outage on Tuesday, disrupting user experiences across the globe.

During the outage, Facebook users found themselves unexpectedly logged out of their accounts and faced difficulties logging back in or changing passwords. Similarly, Instagram users encountered a frustrating “Couldn’t refresh feed” message, while Threads presented itself as a blank page.

The impact of the outage was widespread, with over 560,000 Facebook users initially reporting issues on Downdetector.com, a website that tracks service outages. As the situation progressed, the number of reported outages decreased to approximately 130,000 by shortly after 11 a.m. ET. Likewise, Instagram witnessed a surge in reported problems, with nearly 90,000 users affected at the peak of the outage. However, this figure diminished to around 25,000 users as the situation unfolded.

Meta’s spokesperson, Andy Stone, utilized X, formerly known as Twitter, to acknowledge the ongoing issues, stating, “We’re aware people are having trouble accessing our services. We are working on this now.”

This recent outage isn’t the first time Meta’s platforms have experienced such widespread disruption. In 2021, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, all subsidiaries of Meta, suffered a five-hour outage attributed to a faulty server update, according to statements from the company.

The recurrence of such outages raises concerns about the reliability and robustness of Meta’s infrastructure, particularly given the massive user base relying on its platforms for communication, networking, and content consumption. Users and observers alike are left questioning the adequacy of Meta’s measures to prevent and swiftly address such disruptions in the future.

As Meta works to resolve the current outage and restore normalcy to its platforms, the incident serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities inherent in our digital dependencies and the need for continuous vigilance in maintaining online services at scale.

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