On the morning of July 8, former President Donald J. Trump took to Truth Social, a social media platform he founded with people close to him, to claim that he had in fact won the 2020 presidential vote in Wisconsin, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Barely 8,000 people shared that missive on Truth Social, a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of responses his posts on Facebook and Twitter had regularly generated before those services suspended his megaphones after the deadly riot on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021.
And yet Mr. Trump’s baseless claim pulsed through the public consciousness anyway. It jumped from his app to other social media platforms — not to mention podcasts, talk radio or television.
Within 48 hours of Mr. Trump’s post, more than one million people saw his claim on at least dozen other media. It appeared on Facebook and Twitter, from which he has been banished, but also YouTube, Gab, Parler and Telegram, according to an analysis by The New York Times.
gone mainstream among Republican Party members, driving state and county officials to impose new restrictions on casting ballots, often based on mere conspiracy theories percolating in right-wing media.
Voters must now sift through not only an ever-growing torrent of lies and falsehoods about candidates and their policies, but also information on when and where to vote. Officials appointed or elected in the name of fighting voter fraud have put themselves in the position to refuse to certify outcomes that are not to their liking.
a primary battleground in today’s fight against disinformation. A report last month by NewsGuard, an organization that tracks the problem online, showed that nearly 20 percent of videos presented as search results on TikTok contained false or misleading information on topics such as school shootings and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
continued to amplify “election denialism” in ways that undermined trust in the democratic system.
Another challenge is the proliferation of alternative platforms for those falsehoods and even more extreme views.
new survey by the Pew Research Center found that 15 percent of prominent accounts on those seven platforms had previously been banished from others like Twitter and Facebook.
F.B.I. raid on Mar-a-Lago thrust his latest pronouncements into the eye of the political storm once again.
study of Truth Social by Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media monitoring group, examined how the platform had become a home for some of the most fringe conspiracy theories. Mr. Trump, who began posting on the platform in April, has increasingly amplified content from QAnon, the online conspiracy theory.
He has shared posts from QAnon accounts more than 130 times. QAnon believers promote a vast and complex conspiracy that centers on Mr. Trump as a leader battling a cabal of Democratic Party pedophiles. Echoes of such views reverberated through Republican election campaigns across the country during this year’s primaries.
Ms. Jankowicz, the disinformation expert, said the nation’s social and political divisions had churned the waves of disinformation.
The controversies over how best to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic deepened distrust of government and medical experts, especially among conservatives. Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 election led to, but did not end with, the Capitol Hill violence.
“They should have brought us together,” Ms. Jankowicz said, referring to the pandemic and the riots. “I thought perhaps they could be kind of this convening power, but they were not.”
TikTok has been under scrutiny since a social media company claimed the app was collection data from Americans and giving China access to U.S. info.
As far back as 2020, former President Donald Trump attempted to force the sale of the social media company TikTok to Oracle, claiming that the app was storing data collected on its American user base in China, and thus enabling the possible surveillance of U.S. citizens. That sale was eventually blocked, but it opened the door to a cycle in which, every few months, U.S. government entities attempt new investigations into TikTok’s data collection.
It begs the question — what exactly is novel about these data misuse accusations in 2022?
The newest cycle started in June, when Buzzfeed published leaked audio from 80 internal TikTok meetings which showed that U.S. data was “repeatedly” accessed from China. Around the same time, Republican FCC Chair Brendan Carr published a letter in which he claimed to have new evidence that TikTok “harvests swaths of sensitive data” that “are being accessed in Beijing.”
The conversation shifted from data storage or giving data away to the Chinese government, to data access.
“You can think about this as a Google drive, right? So you or most of us will have something on our Google Drives. And when we want to share photos with our loved ones, for example, we don’t actually send a USB drive to them. We just provide them with a link to our Google Drive folder and thereby they can access the photos from there,” said Ausma Bernotaite, a candidate at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University.
John Wihbey is an associate professor of Media Innovation at Northeastern University.
“I think there are some — there are some legitimate concerns that with some combination of otherwise private data, that the Chinese government could be building profiles about U.S. persons, and could be potentially tuning algorithms at various key points in the electoral cycles in the United States to try to influence voter behavior,” said Wihbey. “And we don’t yet know exactly how that data could be exploited.”
Related StoryA Second Judge Blocks U.S. Government’s Tik Tok Ban
The other important question at hand here is whether TikTok collects more intrusive data than other social media companies. Any American platform with bottom line based on using personal data to serve ads could be collecting similar data.
“U.S. social media platforms like Snapchat, then Facebook, now Meta, Instagram, Pinterest have been taking advantage of that surveillance capitalism, as we call it. Just really monetizing our attention,” said Bernotaite. “And now we have a different actor. So, it’s kind of like the devil we don’t know in a way, because we’ve not really had to deal with Tiktok’s corporate representatives for that long.”
Bernotaite noted that until we find ways to ensure data transparency from all social media companies, regardless of where they’re based, we’re never going to find out exactly if and whether data misuse is occurring. But that may be easier said than done. Wihbey told Newsy that much of this issue is driven by competition concerns, so we may not get to that point if the U.S. wants to ensure that its social media companies can stand alongside TikTok.
“The United States has almost entirely dominated this space of media, entertainment, social platforms. China has done very well to grow its own domestic market and has impressive companies there, but they really haven’t reached the rest of the world. So, this is their big winner in this early phase of an ongoing battle between the two countries over media and communications technologies,” said Wihbey.
TikTok’s design makes it a breeding ground for misinformation, the researchers found. They wrote that videos could easily be manipulated and republished on the platform and showcased alongside stolen or original content. Pseudonyms are common; parody and comedy videos are easily misinterpreted as fact; popularity affects the visibility of comments; and data about publication time and other details are not clearly displayed on the mobile app.
(The Shorenstein Center researchers noted, however, that TikTok is less vulnerable to so-called brigading, in which groups coordinate to make a post spread widely, than platforms like Twitter or Facebook.)
During the first quarter of 2022, more than 60 percent of videos with harmful misinformation were viewed by users before being removed, TikTok said. Last year, a group of behavioral scientists who had worked with TikTok said that an effort to attach warnings to posts with unsubstantiated content had reduced sharing by 24 percent but had limited views by only 5 percent.
Researchers said that misinformation would continue to thrive on TikTok as long as the platform refused to release data about the origins of its videos or share insight into its algorithms. Last month, TikTok said it would offer some access to a version of its application programming interface, or A.P.I., this year, but it would not say whether it would do so before the midterms.
Filippo Menczer, an informatics and computer science professor and the director of the Observatory on Social Media at Indiana University, said he had proposed research collaborations to TikTok and had been told, “Absolutely not.”
“At least with Facebook and Twitter, there is some level of transparency, but, in the case of TikTok, we have no clue,” he said. “Without resources, without being able to access data, we don’t know who gets suspended, what content gets taken down, whether they act on reports or what the criteria are. It’s completely opaque, and we cannot independently assess anything.”
In the weeks after President Donald J. Trump lost the 2020 election, the Fox Business host Lou Dobbs claimed to have “tremendous evidence” that voter fraud was to blame. That evidence never emerged but a new culprit in a supposed scheme to rig the election did: Dominion Voting Systems, a maker of election technology whose algorithms, Mr. Dobbs said, “were designed to be inaccurate.”
Maria Bartiromo, another host on the network, falsely stated that “Nancy Pelosi has an interest in this company.” Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News personality, speculated that “technical glitches” in Dominion’s software “could have affected thousands of absentee mail-in ballots.”
Those unfounded accusations are now among the dozens cited in Dominion’s defamation lawsuit against the Fox Corporation, which alleges that Fox repeatedly aired false, far-fetched and exaggerated allegations about Dominion and its purported role in a plot to steal votes from Mr. Trump.
civil and criminal investigations across the country into his business dealings and political activities. Here is a look at some notable cases:
The Trump Investigations
Jan. 6 investigations. In a series of public hearings, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack laid out a powerful account of Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. This evidence could allow federal prosecutors, who are conducting a parallel criminal investigation, to indict Mr. Trump.
The Trump Investigations
Georgia election interference case. Mr. Trump himself is under scrutiny in Georgia, where the district attorney of Fulton County has been investigating whether he and others criminally interfered with the 2020 election in the state. This case could pose the most immediate legal peril for the former president and his associates.
The case has caused palpable unease at the Fox News Channel, said several people there, who would speak only anonymously. Anchors and executives have been preparing for depositions and have been forced to hand over months of private emails and text messages to Dominion, which is hoping to prove that network employees knew that wild accusations of ballot rigging in the 2020 election were false. The hosts Steve Doocy, Dana Perino and Shepard Smith are among the current and former Fox personalities who either have been deposed or will be this month.
Dominion is trying to build a case that aims straight at the top of the Fox media empire and the Murdochs. In court filings and depositions, Dominion lawyers have laid out how they plan to show that senior Fox executives hatched a plan after the election to lure back viewers who had switched to rival hard-right networks, which were initially more sympathetic than Fox was to Mr. Trump’s voter-fraud claims.
Libel law doesn’t protect lies. But it does leave room for the media to cover newsworthy figures who tell them. And Fox is arguing, in part, that’s what shields it from liability. Asked about Dominion’s strategy to place the Murdochs front and center in the case, a Fox Corporation spokesman said it would be a “fruitless fishing expedition.” A spokeswoman for Fox News said it was “ridiculous” to claim, as Dominion does in the suit, that the network was chasing viewers from the far-right fringe.
Fox is expected to dispute Dominion’s estimated self-valuation of $1 billion and argue that $1.6 billion is an excessively high amount for damages, as it has in a similar defamation case filed by another voting machine company, Smartmatic.
A spokesman for Dominion declined to comment. In its initial complaint, the company’s lawyers wrote that “The truth matters,” adding, “Lies have consequences.”
denied a motion from Fox that would have excluded the parent Fox Corporation from the case — a much larger target than Fox News itself. That business encompasses the most profitable parts of the Murdoch American media portfolio and is run directly by Rupert Murdoch, 91, who serves as chairman, and his elder son, Lachlan, the chief executive.
Soon after, Fox replaced its outside legal team on the case and hired one of the country’s most prominent trial lawyers — a sign that executives believe that the chances the case is headed to trial have increased.
Dominion’s lawyers have focused some of their questioning in depositions on the decision-making hierarchy at Fox News, according to one person with direct knowledge of the case, showing a particular interest in what happened on election night inside the network in the hours after it projected Mr. Trump would lose Arizona. That call short-circuited the president’s plan to prematurely declare victory, enraging him and his loyalists and precipitating a temporary ratings crash for Fox.
These questions have had a singular focus, this person said: to place Lachlan Murdoch in the room when the decisions about election coverage were being made. This person added that while testimony so far suggests the younger Murdoch did not try to pressure anyone at Fox News to reverse the call — as Mr. Trump and his campaign aides demanded the network do — he did ask detailed questions about the process that Fox’s election analysts had used after the call became so contentious.
The case was settled in 2017.
But Fox has also been searching for evidence that could, in effect, prove the Dominion conspiracy theories weren’t really conspiracy theories. Behind the scenes, Fox’s lawyers have pursued documents that would support numerous unfounded claims about Dominion, including its supposed connections to Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan dictator who died in 2013, and software features that were ostensibly designed to make vote manipulation easier.
According to court filings, the words and phrases that Fox has asked Dominion to search for in internal communications going back more than a decade include “Chavez” and “Hugo,” along with “tampered,” “backdoor,” “stolen” and “Trump.”
Eric Munchel of Tennessee, in which he is brandishing a shotgun, with Mr. Trump on a television in the background. The television is tuned to Fox Business.
But the hurdle Dominion must clear is whether it can persuade a jury to believe that people at Fox knew they were spreading lies.
“Disseminating ‘The Big Lie’ isn’t enough,” said RonNell Andersen Jones, a law professor and First Amendment scholar at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law. “It has to be a knowing lie.”
An eight-year prison sentence would be the longest among hundreds of Capitol riot cases.
Federal prosecutors are recommending an eight-year prison sentence for an off-duty Virginia police officer who was convicted by a jury of storming the U.S. Capitol to obstruct Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.
Former Rocky Mount Police Sgt. Thomas Robertson used his law enforcement training to block police officers who were trying to protect the Capitol from a mob’s attack on Jan. 6, 2021, prosecutors said in a court filing Thursday supporting their sentencing recommendation.
“Instead of using his training and power to promote the public good, he attempted to overthrow the government,” they wrote.
An eight-year prison sentence would be the longest among hundreds of Capitol riot cases. The lengthiest so far is seven years and three months for Guy Reffitt, a Texas man who attacked the Capitol while armed with a holstered handgun.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper is scheduled to sentence Robertson next Thursday. Prosecutors also asked the judge to sentence Robertson to three years of supervised release after any prison term.
Robertson’s attorney, Mark Rollins, is seeking a sentence below a sentencing guidelines range of 27 to 33 months of imprisonment. Prosecutors estimate a sentencing guidelines range of 87 months to 108 months, but Cooper isn’t bound by any of those estimates or recommendations.
Robertson didn’t testify at his trial before a jury convicted him in April of all six counts in his indictment, including charges that he interfered with police officers at the Capitol and that he entered a restricted area with a dangerous weapon, a large wooden stick.
Robertson’s lawyers said the U.S. Army veteran was using the stick to help him walk because he has a limp from getting shot in the right thigh while working as a private contractor for the U.S. Defense Department in Afghanistan in 2011.
In their sentencing memo, prosecutors accused Robertson of lying about his military service. Robertson identified himself on his resume as a U.S. Army Ranger school graduate, but his official military records don’t support that claim, prosecutors said. They said Robertson also lied to a reporter about receiving a Purple Heart.
Robertson’s jury trial was the second for a Capitol riot case. Reffitt’s was the first. Jurors have unanimously convicted seven riot defendants of all charges in their respective indictments.
Robertson traveled to Washington, D.C., on the morning of Jan. 6 with co-worker Jacob Fracker and a third man, a neighbor. Fracker also was an off-duty Rocky Mount police officer. He was scheduled to be tried alongside Robertson before he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and agreed to cooperate with authorities.
Fracker testified at Robertson’s trial that he initially believed that he was merely trespassing when he entered the Capitol building. But he ultimately pleaded guilty to conspiring with Robertson to obstruct Congress.
Robertson’s lawyers conceded that he broke the law when he entered the Capitol during the riot. They encouraged jurors to convict Robertson of misdemeanor offenses but acquit him of felony charges.
Jurors saw some of Robertson’s posts on social media before and after the Capitol riot. In a Facebook post on Nov. 7, 2020, Robertson said “being disenfranchised by fraud is my hard line.”
“I’ve spent most of my adult life fighting a counter insurgency. (I’m) about to become part of one, and a very effective one,” he wrote.
In a letter addressed to the judge, Robertson said he takes full responsibility for his actions on Jan. 6 and “any poor decisions I made.” He blamed the vitriolic content of his social media posts on a mix of stress, alcohol abuse and “submersion in deep ‘rabbit holes’ of election conspiracy theory.”
“I sat around at night drinking too much and reacting to articles and sites given to me by Facebook” algorithms, he wrote.
The town fired Robertson and Fracker after the riot. Rocky Mount is about 25 miles south of Roanoke and has roughly 5,000 residents.
Robertson has been jailed since Cooper ruled last year that he violated the terms of his pretrial release by possessing firearms.
Roughly 850 people have been charged with federal crimes for their conduct on Jan. 6. Over 350 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanor offenses, and over 220 have been sentenced so far.
The more than 1.4 billion people living in China are constantly watched. They are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored, and their online chats are censored.
Now, even their future is under surveillance.
The latest generation of technology digs through the vast amounts of data collected on their daily activities to find patterns and aberrations, promising to predict crimes or protests before they happen. They target potential troublemakers in the eyes of the Chinese government — not only those with a criminal past but also vulnerable groups, including ethnic minorities, migrant workers and those with a history of mental illness.
They can warn the police if a victim of a fraud tries to travel to Beijing to petition the government for payment or a drug user makes too many calls to the same number. They can signal officers each time a person with a history of mental illness gets near a school.
automating systemic discrimination and political repression.
to quell ethnic unrest in the western region of Xinjiang and enforce some of the world’s most severe coronavirus lockdowns. The space for dissent, always limited, is rapidly disappearing.
“Big data should be used as an engine to power the innovative development of public security work and a new growth point for nurturing combat capabilities,” Mr. Xi said in 2019 at a national public security work meeting.
ChinaFile, an online magazine published by the Asia Society, which has systematically gathered years of records on government websites. Another set, describing software bought by the authorities in the port city of Tianjin to stop petitioners from going to neighboring Beijing, was provided by IPVM, a surveillance industry publication.
China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment faxed to its headquarters in Beijing and six local departments across the country.
The new approach to surveillance is partly based on data-driven policing software from the United States and Europe, technology that rights groups say has encoded racism into decisions like which neighborhoods are most heavily policed and which prisoners get parole. China takes it to the extreme, tapping nationwide reservoirs of data that allow the police to operate with opacity and impunity.
Megvii, an artificial intelligence start-up, told Chinese state media that the surveillance system could give the police a search engine for crime, analyzing huge amounts of video footage to intuit patterns and warn the authorities about suspicious behavior. He explained that if cameras detected a person spending too much time at a train station, the system could flag a possible pickpocket.
Hikvision, that aims to predict protests. The system collects data on legions of Chinese petitioners, a general term in China that describes people who try to file complaints about local officials with higher authorities.
It then scores petitioners on the likelihood that they will travel to Beijing. In the future, the data will be used to train machine-learning models, according to a procurement document.
Local officials want to prevent such trips to avoid political embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing. And the central government doesn’t want groups of disgruntled citizens gathering in the capital.
A Hikvision representative declined to comment on the system.
Under Mr. Xi, official efforts to control petitioners have grown increasingly invasive. Zekun Wang, a 32-year-old member of a group that for years sought redress over a real estate fraud, said the authorities in 2017 had intercepted fellow petitioners in Shanghai before they could even buy tickets to Beijing. He suspected that the authorities were watching their communications on the social media app WeChat.
The Hikvision system in Tianjin, which is run in cooperation with the police in nearby Beijing and Hebei Province, is more sophisticated.
The platform analyzes individuals’ likelihood to petition based on their social and family relationships, past trips and personal situations, according to the procurement document. It helps the police create a profile of each, with fields for officers to describe the temperament of the protester, including “paranoid,” “meticulous” and “short tempered.”
Many people who petition do so over government mishandling of a tragic accident or neglect in the case — all of which goes into the algorithm. “Increase a person’s early-warning risk level if they have low social status or went through a major tragedy,” reads the procurement document.
When the police in Zhouning, a rural county in Fujian Province, bought a new set of 439 cameras in 2018, they listed coordinates where each would go. Some hung above intersections and others near schools, according to a procurement document.
Nine were installed outside the homes of people with something in common: mental illness.
While some software tries to use data to uncover new threats, a more common type is based on the preconceived notions of the police. In over a hundred procurement documents reviewed by The Times, the surveillance targeted blacklists of “key persons.”
These people, according to some of the procurement documents, included those with mental illness, convicted criminals, fugitives, drug users, petitioners, suspected terrorists, political agitators and threats to social stability. Other systems targeted migrant workers, idle youths (teenagers without school or a job), ethnic minorities, foreigners and those infected with H.I.V.
The authorities decide who goes on the lists, and there is often no process to notify people when they do. Once individuals are in a database, they are rarely removed, said experts, who worried that the new technologies reinforce disparities within China, imposing surveillance on the least fortunate parts of its population.
In many cases the software goes further than simply targeting a population, allowing the authorities to set up digital tripwires that indicate a possible threat. In one Megvii presentation detailing a rival product by Yitu, the system’s interface allowed the police to devise their own early warnings.
With a simple fill-in-the-blank menu, the police can base alarms on specific parameters, including where a blacklisted person appears, when the person moves around, whether he or she meets with other blacklisted people and the frequency of certain activities. The police could set the system to send a warning each time two people with a history of drug use check into the same hotel or when four people with a history of protest enter the same park.
Yitu did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
In 2020 in the city of Nanning, the police bought software that could look for “more than three key people checking into the same or nearby hotels” and “a drug user calling a new out-of-town number frequently,” according to a bidding document. In Yangshuo, a tourist town famous for its otherworldly karst mountains, the authorities bought a system to alert them if a foreigner without a work permit spent too much time hanging around foreign-language schools or bars, an apparent effort to catch people overstaying their visas or working illegally.
In Shanghai, one party-run publication described how the authorities used software to identify those who exceeded normal water and electricity use. The system would send a “digital whistle” to the police when it found suspicious consumption patterns.
The tactic was likely designed to detect migrant workers, who often live together in close quarters to save money. In some places, the police consider them an elusive, and often impoverished, group who can bring crime into communities.
The automated alerts don’t result in the same level of police response. Often, the police give priority to warnings that point to political problems, like protests or other threats to social stability, said Suzanne E. Scoggins, a professor at Clark University who studies China’s policing.
At times, the police have stated outright the need to profile people. “Through the application of big data, we paint a picture of people and give them labels with different attributes,” Li Wei, a researcher at China’s national police university, said in a 2016 speech. “For those who receive one or more types of labels, we infer their identities and behavior, and then carry out targeted pre-emptive security measures.”
Toward Techno Totalitarianism
Mr. Zhang first started petitioning the government for compensation over the torture of his family during the Cultural Revolution. He has since petitioned over what he says is police targeting of his family.
As China has built out its techno-authoritarian tools, he has had to use spy movie tactics to circumvent surveillance that, he said, has become “high tech and Nazified.”
When he traveled to Beijing in January from his village in Shandong Province, he turned off his phone and paid for transportation in cash to minimize his digital footprint. He bought train tickets to the wrong destination to foil police tracking. He hired private drivers to get around checkpoints where his identification card would set off an alarm.
The system in Tianjin has a special feature for people like him who have “a certain awareness of anti-reconnaissance” and regularly change vehicles to evade detection, according to the police procurement document.
Whether or not he triggered the system, Mr. Zhang has noticed a change. Whenever he turns off his phone, he said, officers show up at his house to check that he hasn’t left on a new trip to Beijing.
Even if police systems cannot accurately predict behavior, the authorities may consider them successful because of the threat, said Noam Yuchtman, an economics professor at the London School of Economics who has studied the impact of surveillance in China.
“In a context where there isn’t real political accountability,” having a surveillance system that frequently sends police officers “can work pretty well” at discouraging unrest, he said.
Once the metrics are set and the warnings are triggered, police officers have little flexibility, centralizing control.They are evaluated for their responsiveness to automated alarms and effectiveness at preventing protests, according to experts and public police reports.
The technology has encoded power imbalances. Some bidding documents refer to a “red list” of people whom the surveillance system must ignore.
One national procurement document said the function was for “people who need privacy protection or V.I.P. protection.” Another, from Guangdong Province, got more specific, stipulating that the red list was for government officials.
Mr. Zhang expressed frustration at the ways technology had cut off those in political power from regular people.
“The authorities do not seriously solve problems but do whatever it takes to silence the people who raise the problems,” he said. “This is a big step backward for society.”
Mr. Zhang said that he still believed in the power of technology to do good, but that in the wrong hands it could be a “scourge and a shackle.”
“In the past if you left your home and took to the countryside, all roads led to Beijing,” he said. “Now, the entire country is a net.”
Isabelle Qian and Aaron Krolik contributed research and reporting. Production by Agnes Chang and Alexander Cardia.
Elon Musk is racing to secure funding for his $43 billion bid to buy Twitter.
Morgan Stanley, the investment bank working with Mr. Musk on the potential deal, has been calling banks and other potential investors to shore up financing for the offer, four people with knowledge of the situation said. Mr. Musk is first focused on raising debt and has not yet begun to seek equity financing for his bid, one of the people said.
Mr. Musk is evaluating various packages of debt, including more senior debt known as preferred debt and a loan against his shares of Tesla, the electric carmaker that he runs, two of the people said. Apollo Global Management, the private equity firm, is among the parties considering offering debt financing in a bid for Twitter. The equity he needs is likely to be sizable.
Mr. Musk is aiming to pull together a fully funded offer as soon as this week, one of the people said, though that timeline is far from certain. The people with knowledge of the discussions were not authorized to speak publicly because the details are confidential and in flux.
It is unclear if Mr. Musk’s efforts will be successful, but they go toward addressing a key question about his Twitter bid. Last week, Mr. Musk, the world’s wealthiest man, made an unsolicited offer for the social media company, saying that he wanted to take it private and that he wanted people to be able to speak more freely on the service. But his offer was regarded skeptically by Wall Street because he did not include details about how he would come up with the money for the deal.
poison pill.” A poison pill would effectively prevent Mr. Musk from owning more than 15 percent of Twitter’s shares. The 50-year-old had been building up a stake in the company and owns more than 9 percent of Twitter, making him at one point its single-biggest individual shareholder.
Read More on Elon Musk and His Twitter Bid
The billionaire’s offer could be worth more than $40 billion and have far-reaching consequences on the social media company.
Mr. Musk, whose net worth has been reported at $255 billion, did not respond to a request for comment. On Tuesday, in what appeared to be a veiled allusion to Twitter, he tweeted his thoughts about social networks and their policies.
funding secured,” propelling Tesla shares higher. He did not have financing prepared for such a deal. The Securities and Exchange Commission later filed a securities fraud lawsuit against him, accusing him of misleading investors. Mr. Musk paid a $20 million fine and agreed to step aside as Tesla’s chairman for three years.
Some investors are wary of getting involved in financing Mr. Musk’s Twitter bid, concerned about the risks of teaming up with the mercurial billionaire and a company as politically contentious as Twitter, one person with knowledge of the situation said. For banks, offering a loan against Tesla stock is also risky, given the stock’s volatility.
Mr. Musk has not publicly articulated his business plan for Twitter, though he has spoken about reversing Twitter’s moderation policies and providing additional transparency about how its algorithms work. He has made clear that profit is not his focus, potentially complicating efforts to invest with traditional Wall Street financiers.
“This is not a way to sort of make money,” Mr. Musk said in an interview at a TED conference last week. “My strong intuitive sense is that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important.”
Mr. Musk’s offer for Twitter stands at $54.20 a share. Several analysts have said the company’s board is likely to accept only an offer of $60 a share or more. Twitter’s stock rose above $70 a share last year when the company announced goals to double its revenue, though its stock has since fallen to around $45 as investors have questioned its ability to meet those targets.
join the company’s board. At the time, Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s chief executive, and other board members said they welcomed Mr. Musk as a director given his use of the platform. Mr. Musk has more than 82.5 million Twitter followers and tweets frequently.
Mr. Musk and Mr. Agrawal also share similar perspectives about how to decentralize Twitter so that users can gain more control over their social media feeds, a tactic that both men see as a way of promoting more free speech. That move would also reduce the burden on Twitter, which has faced questions about toxic content and misinformation, to decide what posts can stay up and what should be taken down.
But then Mr. Musk rejected the board seat and began the effort to take over the company.
Twitter, which has brought on advisers from Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, has also been weighing whether to invite bids from other potential buyers, two people close to the company said. At least one interested party, the private equity firm Thoma Bravo, has emerged, though it is unclear whether it will ultimately submit an offer.
Kate Conger, Mike Isaac and Jack Ewing contributed reporting.
Poison pills have been around for decades. The lawyer Martin Lipton, a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, invented the maneuver, also called a shareholder rights plan, in 1982. It was a way to shore up a company’s defenses against unwanted takeovers by so-called corporate raiders like Carl Icahn and T. Boone Pickens.
They have since become a part of the corporate tool kit in America. Netflix adopted a poison pill in 2012 to stop Mr. Icahn from buying up its shares. Papa John’s used one against the pizza chain’s founder and chairman, John Schnatter, in 2018.
Investors rarely try to get around a poison pill by buying shares beyond the threshold set by the company, according to securities experts. One said it would be “financially ruinous,” even for Mr. Musk.
But Mr. Musk, who is worth more than $250 billion and is the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, rarely abides by precedent. He announced his intention to acquire Twitter on Thursday, making public an unsolicited bid worth more than $40 billion. In an interview at a TED conference later that day, he took issue with Twitter’s moderation policies, which govern the content shared on the platform.
Twitter is the “de facto town square,” Mr. Musk said, adding that “it’s really important that people have the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law.” Twitter currently bans many types of content, including spam, threats of violence, the sharing of private information and coordinated disinformation campaigns.
Mr. Musk argued that taking Twitter private would allow more free speech to flow on the platform. “My strong intuitive sense is that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization,” he said during the TED interview. He also insisted that the algorithm Twitter uses to rank its content, deciding what hundreds of millions of users see on the service every day, should be public for users to audit.
Mr. Musk’s concerns are shared by many executives at Twitter, who have also pressed for more transparency about its algorithms. The company has published internal research about bias in its algorithms and funded an effort to create an open, transparent standard for social media services.
The Bluesky project would eventually allow for the creation of new curation algorithms, which would show different tweets at the top of users’ timelines than Twitter’s own algorithm. It would give users more choice about the kinds of content they saw, Mr. Dorsey said, and could allow Twitter to interoperate with other social media services.
Bluesky grabbed the attention of many technologists who were already working on decentralization. Soon small groups of them were meeting with Mr. Agrawal and Mr. Dorsey on Sundays to discuss the project, according to two participants who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meetings, while others traded ideas in an online chat room.
Some Bluesky participants proposed a single app that piped in all their social media feeds. Others wanted custom algorithms that could, for instance, block them from seeing spoilers about their favorite TV show. And some were focused on making their online identities portable, so that an account could be moved between social media companies the way a phone number can be moved from AT&T to Verizon.
“One of the things that Bluesky would offer is curation and filtering experiences that are independent of those offered by the social media proprietorships,” said Tim Bray, an internet software pioneer and a former vice president at Amazon who participated in some of the discussions.
Jay Graber, a cryptocurrency developer, was selected in August to lead the Bluesky organization. And in February, Ms. Graber announced that the project had officially registered as a public benefit corporation and was building a prototype.
The project caught the attention of engineers at Reddit, who had preliminary discussions with Twitter engineers about how their sites might someday interoperate, two people familiar with the conversations said, but the companies have not formally agreed to any plans to work together.
Some skeptics believe Twitter is jumping on the web3 bandwagon, joining a trendy movement in tech to shift many services, including social media, to so-called blockchain technology. But executives say that Twitter is catering to what an overwhelming number of users want, while following the decentralization mandate laid out by Mr. Dorsey before he departed as C.E.O. in November.
Two women have dominated Chinese social media during the Beijing Winter Olympics.
One is Eileen Gu, the 18-year-old skier born and raised in California who won a gold medal for China. The other is a mother of eight who was found chained around her neck to the wall of a doorless shack.
The Chinese internet is exploding with discussions about which of the two represents the real China. Many people are angry that the government-controlled algorithms glorify Ms. Gu, who fits into the narrative of the powerful and prosperous China, while censoring the chained woman, whose deplorable conditions defy that narrative.
The two women’s starkly different circumstances — celebrated vs. silenced — reflect the reality that to the Chinese state, everyone is a tool that serves a purpose until it does not.
Whether she wants it, Ms. Gu has become a powerful propaganda tool for Beijing to demonstrate its appeal to global talent and the benefits of being loyal to China. She represents the successful China that Beijing would like the world to admire.
“Does Eileen Gu’s success have anything to do with ordinary Chinese?” goes the headline of one viral article that was censored later.
“Can we remember these women while cheering for Eileen Gu?” asks another headline.
“To judge whether a society is civilized or not, we should not look at how successful the privileged are but how miserable the disadvantaged are,” the article said. “Ten thousand sports champions can’t wash away the humiliation of one enslaved woman, not to mention tens of thousands of them.”
The Chinese government doesn’t like where the debate is heading. The juxtaposition of the two women highlights that underneath the glamorous surface of one of the world’s largest economies lie jarring poverty and widespread abuse of women’s rights.
It defeats the purpose of recruiting star athletes like Ms. Gu: to showcase a powerful China with global appeal.
little pinks, posted a quote from a famous Chinese novel: “I love the country. But does the country love me?”
The story of the chained woman — whose name, according to the government, is Xiaohuamei (little flower plum) — has captivated the Chinese internet since a short video went viral in late January. In it, a middle-age woman with a dazed expression stood in the dark shack with a chain on her neck. Subsequent videos revealed that she had lost most of her teeth and seemed to be mentally disturbed.
conflicting statements in the following two weeks. In the latest statement on Thursday, the authorities reported that Xiaohuamei could be a victim of human trafficking and that her husband was under investigation for false imprisonment. The government had denied both earlier.
Chinese princess.” Ms. Peng accused a retired top Chinese leader of sexual assault in November, and her name remains strictly censored on the Chinese internet.
Because she avoids sensitive issues, Ms. Gu is hailed as the model athlete for the others of Chinese heritage to learn from. She’s also cited as evidence of the superiority of China’s governance model over that of the United States.
“It’s so great that the beautiful, talented Eileen Gu came back to compete for China and won,” wrote Hu Xijin, a former editor in chief of The Global Times who still writes for the Communist Party tabloid, “while the blind, disabled Chen Guangcheng went to the United States to ‘seek brightness.’” Mr. Chen is the blind human rights lawyer who was put under house arrests for years before moving to the United States in 2012.
Mr. Hu wrote that China welcomed more scientists, athletes and businesspeople. “Let China be the place to get things done,” he wrote.
Some social media users criticized Mr. Hu’s post, saying it revealed how the system thought of the disabled and the disadvantaged like Xiaohuamei.
“This is life in China,” the writer Murong Xuecun posted on Twitter. “On one side is a Winter Olympic champion who cannot be criticized. On the other side is the chained woman who is being censored. One has a bright future. The other has come to a dead end.”