Smartmatic, another election tech company, filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Mr. Murdoch’s Fox Corporation and named several Fox anchors, including Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs, as defendants.
In a 139-page complaint filed in Delaware Superior Court, Dominion’s legal team, led by the prominent defamation firm Clare Locke, portrayed Fox as an active player in spreading falsehoods that Dominion had manipulated vote counts and manipulated its machines to benefit Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the election.
Those claims were false, but they were relentlessly pushed by Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell, including during appearances on Fox News programs. In January, Dominion individually sued Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell for defamation.
“The truth matters,” Dominion’s lawyers write in the complaint. “Lies have consequences. Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process. If this case does not rise to the level of defamation by a broadcaster, then nothing does.”
Fox News did not immediately respond on Friday to a request for comment.
In February, Fox Corporation filed a motion to dismiss the Smartmatic lawsuit, arguing that the false claims of electoral fraud made on its channels were part of news coverage of a matter of significant public interest. “An attempt by a sitting president to challenge the result of an election is objectively newsworthy,” Fox’s legal team wrote in the motion.
After a failed initial public offering and the near implosion of its business in 2019, WeWork said Friday that it had agreed to a deal that would take the beleaguered co-working company onto the stock market.
Instead of a traditional I.P.O., WeWork is merging with BowX Acquisition, a special purpose acquisition company, in a type of deal that has become hugely popular in recent months.
WeWork leases office space and then effectively sublets it to its members. Its heady expansion was fueled by big investments from SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate that became WeWork’s largest shareholder and rescued the company in 2019 just as it was about to run out of cash.
WeWork said the deal with BowX gives it an equity value of $7.9 billion, far less than the $40 billion value that investors placed on the company in 2019. WeWork will receive $1.3 billion in cash from the deal, including $800 million from Insight Partners, Starwood Capital Group, BlackRock and other investors.
The pandemic emptied WeWork’s offices, and has raised questions about the level of demand for its office space after many people have gotten used to working from home. The company said Friday that memberships fell to 476,000 last year, from 619,000 in 2019.
WeWork says it has improved its cost structure.
“WeWork has spent the past year transforming the business and refocusing its core, while simultaneously managing and innovating through a historic downturn,” Sandeep Mathrani, WeWork’s chief executive, said in a statement Friday.
A company presentation released Friday said WeWork had a net loss of $3.8 billion last year, more or less the same as in 2019. The 2020 loss included a $1.4 billion impairment charge. Last year, WeWork’s operations consumed $857 million of cash, more than the $448 million they used up in 2019.
The path to a deal was cleared last month when Adam Neumann, a co-founder of WeWork, and SoftBank settled a legal dispute. WeWork had called off its I.P.O. in 2019 after investors balked at its losses and criticized its governance practices.
SoftBank has been eager to take WeWork public via a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, a route to Wall Street that has become increasingly popular in recent months. As of Wednesday, 295 SPACs had gone public in 2021, raising $93 billion and breaking last year’s record in a matter of months.
Personal income and spending dipped last month as the effects of stimulus checks faded following a big jump in January, but both are expected to rebound as another round of federal payments arrived in March.
The government reported on Friday that personal income fell 7.1 percent in February from the previous month, while consumption dropped by 1 percent. Powered by $600 checks to most Americans from a December relief bill, income in January leapt by 10.1 percent, while consumption rose by 3.4 percent, a figure revised Friday from the originally reported 2.4 percent.
Despite the drop last month, a big pickup is expected in March with the arrival of $1,400 payments to most Americans from the $1.9 trillion relief package signed into law this month.
In the months ahead, most economists expect consumers to return in greater numbers to stores, restaurants and other gathering places as vaccination efforts gather speed and consumers put the stimulus money and lockdown-accumulated savings to work.
“In February, households were waiting for the bigger stimulus check coming in March and there will be a surge in consumer spending, particularly on services,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh.
All of the drop in spending last month was for goods, Mr. Faucher noted, as consumers pulled back on buying big-ticket items like automobiles and appliances. Services should benefit in the coming months, he added, as people have more opportunities to go out and life increasingly returns to normal more than one year after the pandemic hit.
“Consumer spending will be very strong for the remainder of this year and into 2022,” Mr. Faucher added. “There’s a lot of money saved up.”
Economists have improved their forecasts for U.S. economic growth, with Bank of America foreseeing a 7 percent increase this year in gross domestic product.
Stocks rose on Friday, along with government bond yields, amid a bout of optimism about the economic recovery.
On Thursday, President Biden said he wanted the United States to administer 200 million vaccines by his 100th day in office, on April 30, a target the country is already on track to meet. The Federal Reserve vice chair, Richard Clarida, pushed back on concerns that the government’s spending plans would fuel higher sustained inflation.
In a victory for financial institutions, the central bank said that pandemic-era rules that restricted share buybacks and dividend payouts by banks would end midway through 2021 for most firms. On the economic front, gross domestic product data for the fourth quarter was also revised slightly higher on Thursday.
Stocks & Bonds
The S&P 500 index rose nearly half a percent in early trading, on track to end the week with a small gain. Bank stocks fared better than the broad market, with the KBW Bank index up about 1.5 percent.
The Stoxx 600 Europe rose 0.6 percent, set for a fourth consecutive week of gains.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose 4 basis points, or 0.04 percentage points, to 1.67 percent.
Personal income and spending in the United States dipped last month as the effects of stimulus checks faded following a big jump in January, but both are expected to rebound as another round of federal payments arrived in March.
Retail sales in Britain rose 2.1 percent in February, rebounding from a slump of 8.2 percent the month before, when the country entered a third national lockdown.
A survey of German business expectations rose to the highest level in nearly three years.
Oil prices rose with futures of Brent crude, the global benchmark, climbing 1.7 percent to $63 a barrel.
The National Labor Relations Board on Thursday upheld a 2019 ruling that Tesla had illegally fired a worker involved in union organizing and that the company’s chief executive, Elon Musk, had illegally threatened workers with the loss of stock options if they unionized.
The board ruled that the worker, Richard Ortiz, must be reinstated with back pay, and that Mr. Musk must delete his tweet. The company must also post a notice committing not to violate labor law in the future and announcing that it will undertake the mandated remedies.
Mr. Ortiz had been visibly involved in union organizing, including distributing leaflets in the parking lot of the company’s plant in Fremont, Calif., before he was fired in October 2017. The company said it fired him because he had posted screenshots of employees’ profiles in an internal platform to Facebook. An administrative law judge ruled that it was in retaliation for his organizing efforts.
The judge also found that the company had illegally issued a warning to another employee for taking the screenshots and sending them to Mr. Ortiz, a ruling that the board upheld on Thursday as well.
In May 2018, Mr. Musk posted his tweet, which included the clause, “why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?” Both the judge and the board deemed the post an unlawful attempt to coerce employees by threatening their compensation.
The board went further than the judge’s earlier ruling on some questions, finding that Tesla’s confidentiality agreement, which it required employees to sign, unlawfully prohibited them from speaking with the media about Tesla without authorization even if the material was public. The ruling on Thursday requires the company to amend its agreement.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
A one-of-a-kind digital collectible item created out of a New York Times technology column sold for more than $500,000 in an auction, the first such sale in the history of the newspaper.
An image of the column — titled “Buy This Column on the Blockchain!” — was turned into a nonfungible token, or NFT, and sold in a heated auction that brought in more than 30 bids on the NFT marketplace website Foundation.
The NFT, a unique bit of digital code that is stored on the Ethereum blockchain and refers to a 14 megabyte graphic of the column hosted on a decentralized file hosting service, cannot be duplicated or counterfeited, making it potentially valuable for collectors. Some NFTs have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent weeks, with one such sale — a collection of art by the digital artist Beeple — bringing in more than $69 million at auction.
Along with the token, the winner of the auction — should they choose to identify themselves — will receive additional perks including a voice message from Michael Barbaro, the host of “The Daily” podcast. All proceeds from the auction will be donated to the Neediest Cases Fund, a Times-affiliated charity.
The winner of the auction, an NFT collector who goes by the handle @3fmusic, placed a last-minute winning bid of 350 ether, a digital currency, which translates to roughly $560,000 at Wednesday’s exchange rates. A link on the user’s profile led to the website of a Dubai-based music studio.
@3fmusic could not be reached as of Wednesday afternoon. The user appeared to be an avid collector of NFT artwork. In addition to the Times token, their collection on Foundation also includes such works as “The result of 2020,” an image of a sad-looking Kermit the Frog, and “Mushy’s Midafternoon Nap,” an image of a cartoon toadstool sitting on a log.
Lawmakers grilled the leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter on Thursday about the connection between online disinformation and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
Here’s what you need to know.
Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, said that the site played a role in the storming of the Capitol, in what appeared to be the first public acknowledgment by a top social media executive of the influence of the platforms on the riot. When a Democratic lawmaker asked the executives to answer with a “yes” or a “no” whether the platforms bore some responsibility for the misinformation that had contributed to the riot, Mr. Dorsey said “yes.” Neither Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook nor Sundar Pichai of Google would answer the question directly.
As lawmakers on Thursday threatened to strip the liability protection encoded in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the chieftains of the biggest social networks couldn’t agree on how to fix the act, or if it even needs fixing. Mr. Zuckerberg urged Congress to take on “thoughtful reform” of Section 230. He said the law needed to be updated for the modern age. Mr. Pichai said while regulation has a role to play in “addressing harm and improving accountability,” he cautioned that recent proposals to change Section 230 would have unintended consequences.
Democratic lawmakers accused the chief executives of making money by allowing disinformation to run rampant online, reflecting their mounting frustration about the spread of extremism, conspiracy theories and falsehoods online in the aftermath of the riot at the Capitol.
Republican lawmakers came into the hearing steaming about the Capitol riot, but their animus was focused on the decisions by the platforms to ban right-wing figures, including former President Donald J. Trump, for inciting violence. The decisions to ban Mr. Trump, many of his associates and other conservatives, they said, amounted to liberal bias and censorship.
Yields on 10-year Treasury notes have risen sharply in recent weeks, a sign that traders are taking the inflation threat more seriously. And if the trend continues, it would put bond investors on a collision course with the Biden administration, which wants to spend trillions more on infrastructure, education and other programs.
The potential confrontation made some market veterans recall the events of the 1990s when yields on Treasury securities lurched higher as the Clinton administration considered plans to increase spending, Nelson D. Schwartz reports for The New York Times. As a result, officials soon turned to deficit reduction as a priority.
Ed Yardeni, an independent economist, coined the term bond vigilante in the 1980s to describe investors who sell bonds amid signs of fiscal deficits getting out of hand.
“They seem to mount up and form a posse every time inflation is making a comeback,” Mr. Yardeni said. “Clearly, they’re back in the U.S. So while it’s fine for the Fed to argue inflation will be transitory, the bond vigilantes won’t believe it till they see it.”
Yet, evidence of inflation remains elusive, and the bond vigilantes remain outliers. Even many economists at financial firms who expect faster growth as a result of the stimulus package are not ready to predict inflation’s return.
Even if inflation goes up slightly, the Fed’s target for inflation, set at 2 percent, is appropriate, said Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton economist who was an economic adviser to former President Bill Clinton and a former top Fed official.
“Bond traders are an excitable lot and they go to extremes,” he said. “If they are true to form, they will overreact.”
“I don’t think anyone wants a world where you can only say things that private companies judge to be true.” “Our mission is to organize the world’s information, and make it universally accessible and useful.” “We believe in free debate and conversation to find the truth. At the same time, we must balance that with our desire for our service not to be used to sow confusion, division or destruction.” “There are two faces to each of your platforms. Facebook has family and friends, neighborhood, but it is right next to the one where there is a white nationalist rally every day. YouTube is a place where people share quirky videos, but down the street, anti-vaxxers Covid deniers, QAnon supporters and Flat Earthers are sharing videos.” “You’ve failed to meaningfully change after your platform has played a role in fomenting insurrection, and abetting the spread of the virus and trampling American civil liberties. And while it may be true that some bad actors will shout ‘fire’ in the crowded theater by promoting harmful content, your platforms are handing them a megaphone to be heard in every theater across the country and the world. Your business model itself has become the problem.” “How is it possible for you not to at least admit that Facebook played a central role or a leading role in facilitating the recruitment, planning and execution of the attack on the Capitol?” “Chairman, my point is that I think that the responsibility here lies with the people who took the actions to break the law, and take and do the insurrection and secondarily, also the people who spread that content, including the president, but others as well.” “Your platform bears some responsibility for disseminating disinformation related to the election and the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement that led to the attack on the Capitol. Just a yes or no answer.” “Congressman, it’s a complex question. We —” “OK, we’ll move on. Mr Dorsey.” “Yes, but you also have to take into consideration a broader ecosystem. It’s not just the technology platforms we use.” “We’re all aware of big tech’s ever-increasing censorship of conservative voices and their commitment to serve the radical progressive agenda by influencing a generation of children — removing, shutting down or canceling any news, books and even now, toys, that aren’t considered woke.” “First of all, do you recognize that there is a real concern, that there’s an anti-conservative bias on Twitter’s behalf? And would you recognize that this has to stop if this is going to be, Twitter is going to be viewed by both sides as a place where everybody is going to get a fair treatment?” “We don’t write policy according to any particular political leaning. If we find any of it, we route it out.”
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers grilled the leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter on Thursday about the connection between online disinformation and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, causing Twitter’s chief executive to publicly admit for the first time that his product had played a role in the events that left five people dead.
When a Democratic lawmaker asked the executives to answer with a “yes” or a “no” whether the platforms bore some responsibility for the misinformation that had contributed to the riot, Jack Dorsey of Twitter said “yes.” Neither Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook nor Sundar Pichai of Google would answer the question directly.
The roughly five-hour hearing before a House committee marked the first time lawmakers directly questioned the chief executives regarding social media’s role in the January riot. The tech bosses were also peppered with questions about how their companies helped spread falsehoods around Covid-19 vaccines, enable racism and hurt children’s mental health.
It was also the first time the executives had testified since President Biden’s inauguration. Tough questioning from lawmakers signaled that scrutiny of Silicon Valley’s business practices would not let up, and could even intensify, with Democrats in the White House and leading both chambers of Congress.
tweeted a single question mark with a poll that had two options: “Yes” or “No.” When asked about his tweet by a lawmaker, he said “yes” was winning.
The January riot at the Capitol has made the issue of disinformation deeply personal for lawmakers. The riot was fueled by false claims from President Donald J. Trump and others that the election had been stolen, which were rampant on social media.
Some of the participants had connections to QAnon and other online conspiracy theories. And prosecutors have said that groups involved in the riot, including the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, coordinated some of their actions on social media.
ban Mr. Trump and his associates after the Jan. 6 riots. The bans hardened views by conservatives that the companies are left-leaning and are inclined to squelch conservative voices.
“We’re all aware of Big Tech’s ever-increasing censorship of conservative voices and their commitment to serve the radical progressive agenda,” said Representative Bob Latta of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the panel’s technology subcommittee.
The company leaders defended their businesses, saying they had invested heavily in hiring content moderators and in technology like artificial intelligence, used to identify and fight disinformation.
Mr. Zuckerberg argued against the notion that his company had a financial incentive to juice its users’ attention by driving them toward more extreme content. He said Facebook didn’t design “algorithms in order to just kind of try to tweak and optimize and get people to spend every last minute on our service.”
He added later in the hearing that elections disinformation was spread in messaging apps, where amplification and algorithms don’t aid in spread of false content. He also blamed television and other traditional media for spreading election lies.
The companies showed fissures in their view on regulations. Facebook has vocally supported internet regulations in a major advertising blitz on television and in newspapers. In the hearing, Mr. Zuckerberg suggested specific regulatory reforms to a key legal shield, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, that has helped Facebook and other Silicon Valley internet giants thrive.
The legal shield protects companies that host and moderate third-party content, and says companies like Google and Twitter are simply intermediaries of their user-generated content. Democrats have argued that with that protection, companies aren’t motivated to remove disinformation. Republicans accuse the companies of using the shield to moderate too much and to take down content that doesn’t represent their political viewpoints.
“I believe that Section 230 would benefit from thoughtful changes to make it work better for people,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in the statement.
He proposed that liability protection for companies be conditional on their ability to fight the spread of certain types of unlawful content. He said platforms should be required to demonstrate that they have systems in place for identifying unlawful content and removing it. Reforms, he said, should be different for smaller social networks, which wouldn’t have the same resources like Facebook to meet new requirements.
Mr. Pichai and Mr. Dorsey said they supported requirements of transparency in content moderation but fell short of agreeing with Mr. Zuckerberg’s other ideas. Mr. Dorsey said that it would be very difficult to distinguish a large platform from a smaller one.
Lawmakers did not appear to be won over.
“There’s a lot of smugness among you,” said Representative Bill Johnson, a Republican of Ohio. “There’s this air of untouchable-ness in your responses to many of the tough questions that you’re being asked.”
Kate Conger and Daisuke Wakabayashi contributed reporting.
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Sundar Pichai of Google are appearing at a hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee about how disinformation spreads across their platforms.
Democratic lawmakers accused the chief executives of allowing disinformation to run rampant online, reflecting their mounting frustration about the spread of extremism, conspiracy theories and falsehoods online in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
Their comments opened the first hearing since President Biden’s inauguration featuring Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter. They were a signal that scrutiny of Silicon Valley’s business practices will not let up, and may even intensify, with Democrats in the White House and leading both chambers of Congress.
The January riot made the issue of disinformation intensely personal for many lawmakers. Some participants have been linked to online conspiracies like QAnon, which the platforms have tried to stem in recent months.
“We fled as a mob desecrated the Capitol, the House floor and our democratic process,” said Representative Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat. “That attack and the movement that motivated it started and was nourished on your platforms.”
Lawmakers argued that the platforms also had enabled misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawmakers’ growing frustration comes as they consider whether to more tightly regulate the business models of the platforms. Some have proposed modifying a legal shield that protects websites from lawsuits over content posted by their users, arguing that it allows the companies to get away negligence in policing their products.
Representative Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois, said Thursday that the executives should take away that “self-regulation has come to the end of its road.”
Republican lawmakers came into the hearing steaming about the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, but their animus was focused on the decisions by the platforms to ban right-wing figures, including former President Donald J. Trump, for inciting violence.
The decisions to ban Mr. Trump, many of his associates and other conservatives, they said, amounted to liberal bias and censorship.
“We’re all aware of Big Tech’s ever-increasing censorship of conservative voices and their commitment to serve the radical progressive agenda,” said Bob Latta, the ranking Republican of the House’s communications and technology subcommittee.
After the Capitol riots, Mr. Trump and some of his top aides were temporarily or indefinitely banned on major social media sites.
Mr. Latta’s comments are expected to be echoed by many Republicans in the hearing. They say the platforms have become gatekeepers of information, and they accuse the companies of trying to suppress conservative views. The claims have been consistently refuted by academics.
Mr. Latta homed in on the legal shield known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and whether the big tech companies deserve the regulatory protection.
“Section 230 provides you with the liability protection for content moderation decisions made in good faith,” Mr. Latta said. But he said the companies have appeared to use their moderating powers to censor viewpoints that the companies disagree with. “I find that highly concerning.”
The chief executives of Facebook, Alphabet and Twitter are expected to face tough questions from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Democrats have focused on disinformation, especially in the wake of the Capitol riot. Republicans, meanwhile, have already questioned the companies about their decisions to remove conservative personalities and stories from their platforms.
New York Times reporters have covered many of the examples that could come up. Here are the facts to know about them:
How a Stabbing in Israel Echoes Through the Fight Over Online Speech
After his son was stabbed to death in Israel by a member of the militant group Hamas in 2016, Stuart Force decided that Facebook was partly to blame for the death, because the algorithms that power the social network helped spread Hamas’s content. He joined relatives of other terror victims in suing the company, arguing that its algorithms aided the crimes by regularly amplifying posts that encouraged terrorist attacks. Arguments about the algorithms’ power have reverberated in Washington.
What is Section 230? Legal Shield for Websites is Targeted by Lawmakers
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, has helped Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and countless other internet companies flourish. But Section 230’s liability protection also extends to fringe sites known for hosting hate speech, anti-Semitic content and racist tropes. As scrutiny of big technology companies has intensified in Washington over a wide variety of issues, including how they handle the spread of disinformation or police hate speech, Section 230 has faced new focus.
Facebook Dials Down the Politics for Users
After inflaming political discourse around the globe, Facebook is trying to turn down the temperature. The social network started changing its algorithm to reduce the political content in users’ news feeds. Facebook previewed the change earlier this year when Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, said the company was experimenting with ways to tamp down divisive political debates among users. “One of the top pieces of feedback we’re hearing from our community right now is that people don’t want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services,” he said.
From Voter Fraud to Vaccine Lies: Misinformation Peddlers Shift Gears
As the Electoral College affirmed Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s election, voter fraud misinformation subsided. But peddlers of online falsehoods ramped up lies about the Covid-19 vaccines. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican of Georgia, as well as far-right websites like ZeroHedge, have begun pushing false vaccine narratives, researchers said. Their efforts have been amplified by a robust network of anti-vaccination activists like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
In Pulling Trump’s Megaphone, Twitter and Facebook Show Where Power Now Lies
In the end, two billionaires from California did what legions of politicians, prosecutors and power brokers had tried and failed to do for years: They pulled the plug on President Trump. Journalists and historians will spend years unpacking the improvisational nature of the bans, and scrutinizing why they arrived just as Mr. Trump was losing his power, and Democrats were poised to take control of Congress and the White House. The bans have also turned up the heat on a free-speech debate that has been simmering for years.
In the fall of 2017, when Congress called on Google, Facebook and Twitter to testify about their role in Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election, the companies didn’t send their chief executives — as lawmakers had requested — and instead summoned their lawyers to face the fire.
During the hearings, the politicians complained that the general counsels were answering questions about whether the companies contributed to undermining the democratic process instead of “the top people who are actually making the decisions,” as Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, put it.
It was clear Capitol Hill wanted its pound of C.E.O. flesh and that hiding behind the lawyers was not going to work for long. That initial concern about how the chieftains of Silicon Valley would handle grilling from lawmakers is no longer a worry. After a slew of hearings in recent years, both virtual and in-person, the executives have had plenty of practice.
Since 2018, Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, has testified on three different occasions. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, has made four appearances, and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief, has testified six times.
And when the three men again face questioning on Thursday, they will do so now as seasoned veterans in the art of deflecting the most vicious attacks and then redirecting to their carefully practiced talking points.
In general, Mr. Pichai tends to disagree politely and quickly at the sharpest jabs from lawmakers — such as when Mr. Pichai was asked last year why Google steals content from honest businesses — but not harp on it. When a politician tries to pin him down on a specific issue, he often relies on a familiar delay tactic: My staff will get back to you.
Mr. Pichai is not a dynamic cult-of-personality tech leader like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, but his reserved demeanor and earnestness is well suited for the congressional spotlight.
Mr. Zuckerberg has also grown more comfortable with the hearings over time and more emphatic about what the company is doing to combat misinformation. At his first appearance in 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg was contrite and made promises to do better for failing to protect users’ data and prevent Russian interference in elections.
Since then, he has pushed the message that Facebook is a platform for good, while carefully laying out the steps that the company is taking to stamp out disinformation online.
As the sessions have gone virtual during the pandemic, Mr. Dorsey’s appearances, hunched over a laptop camera, carry a just-another-guy-on-Zoom vibe when compared to the softly lit neutral backdrops for the Google and Facebook chiefs.
Mr. Dorsey tends to remain extremely calm — almost zen-like — when pressed with aggressive questions and often engages on technical issues that rarely illicit a follow-up.
The chief executives of Google, Facebook and Twitter are testifying at the House on Thursday about how disinformation spreads across their platforms, an issue that the tech companies were scrutinized for during the presidential election and after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
The hearing, held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is the first time that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Sundar Pichai of Google are appearing before Congress during the Biden administration. President Biden has indicated that he is likely to be tough on the tech industry. That position, coupled with Democratic control of Congress, has raised liberal hopes that Washington will take steps to rein in Big Tech’s power and reach over the next few years.
The hearing is also be the first opportunity since the Jan. 6 Capitol riot for lawmakers to question the three men about the role their companies played in the event. The attack has made the issue of disinformation intensely personal for the lawmakers since those who participated in the riot have been linked to online conspiracy theories like QAnon.
Before the hearing, Democrats signaled in a memo that they were interested in questioning the executives about the Jan. 6 attacks, efforts by the right to undermine the results of the 2020 election and misinformation related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
October article in The New York Post about President Biden’s son Hunter.
Lawmakers have debated whether social media platforms’ business models encourage the spread of hate and disinformation by prioritizing content that will elicit user engagement, often by emphasizing salacious or divisive posts.
Some lawmakers will push for changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 law that shields the platforms from lawsuits over their users’ posts. Lawmakers are trying to strip the protections in cases where the companies’ algorithms amplified certain illegal content. Others believe that the spread of disinformation could be stemmed with stronger antitrust laws, since the platforms are by far the major outlets for communicating publicly online.
“By now it’s painfully clear that neither the market nor public pressure will stop social media companies from elevating disinformation and extremism, so we have no choice but to legislate, and now it’s a question of how best to do it,” said Representative Frank Pallone, the New Jersey Democrat who is chairman of the committee.
The tech executives are expected to play up their efforts to limit misinformation and redirect users to more reliable sources of information. They may also entertain the possibility of more regulation, in an effort to shape increasingly likely legislative changes rather than resist them outright.
The mysterious individual behind a new and rapidly growing online disinformation network targeting followers of QAnon, the far-right cult, can be revealed as a Berlin-based artist with a history of social media manipulation, a prominent anti-racism group claims.
Since Donald Trump left the White House, QAnon’s vast online community has been in a state of flux as it comes to terms with the reality that its conspiracy theories – such as the former US president being destined to defeat a cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles – amount to nothing.
That may explain why significant numbers have turned to a new far-right network, found mostly on the Telegram messaging app, that is growing quickly in the UK and globally and has amassed more than one million subscribers so far this year.
Called the Sabmyk Network, like QAnon it is a convoluted conspiracy theory that features fantastical elements and is headed by a mysterious messianic figure. Since its emergence there has been widespread speculation about who that figure might be. The person who first posted as “Q” has never been positively identified.
This week the British anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate will unmask Sabmyk’s leader, who it claims is 45-year-old German art dealer Sebastian Bieniek. It says Bieniek – who has not responded to questions from the Observer – has a history of creating online conspiracies and even wrote a book in 2011 called RealFake that detailed a campaign to deceptively promote his work.
But Hope Not Hate says the speed of Sabmyk’s growth serves as a warning of the opportunities for manipulation that exist on social media, particularly unregulated alt-tech platforms such as Telegram.
Gregory Davis of Hope Not Hate, which will publish its annual report into the far right on Monday, said: “His success in developing such a huge audience is a reminder that the QAnon template of anonymous online manipulation will continue to pose a threat in the years to come.”
Since 21 December last year, when Sabmyk was supposedly “awakened”, more than 136 channels in English, German, Japanese, Korean and Italian have sprung up, adding tens of thousands of followers on a daily basis.
Much of Sabmyk’s content is designed to appeal toQAnon followers; it features Covid mask scepticism, anti-vaccine conspiracies and false assertions that the 2020 US election was stolen from Trump.
Some is also designed to actively recruit Britons: one Sabmyk channel, the British Patriotic Party, uses the same branding as anti-Muslim group Britain First and posts about the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
Other channels are entitled London Post and Liverpool Times, as well as the Great Awakening UK, a reference to a well-known QAnon trope predicting a day of reckoning in which Trump would rise against his liberal enemies. Others include WWG1WGA, an acronym for the QAnon rallying call “where we go one, we go all.”
Among the clues used to identify Bieniek are posts saying that the messiah Sabmyk can be identified by specific marks on his body. One post claimed that Sabmyk would have “17 V-shaped scars” on his arm, the result of a “prophetic ceremony at the age of 24”.
Hope Not Hate has found a since-deleted section on Bieniek’s website recalling a 1999 art exhibit in which, aged 24, he cut V-shaped wounds into his arm for 16 days in a row.
Attempts to connect Sabmyk to Trump have been made, including a clip that splices together instances of the former president saying “17”, and a doctored image showing him with a Sabmyk pamphlet in his suit pocket.
Bieniek has created countless false identities, according to the Hope Not Hate investigation, to promote his career as an artist. The group also says his German Wikipedia page has been deleted at least four times, most recently in January.
A list of Bieniek’s accounts has been sent to platforms including Telegram with a call for them to be removed on the basis of “inauthentic and coordinated platform manipulation”. Telegram has been approached for comment.