Banning Alex Jones proves Twitter can’t be impartial

All efforts to save @RealAlexJones and @InfoWars from themselves have failed, and you can blame Jack Dorsey for that. Whether or not he intervened in applying a seven-day suspension for rulebreaking tweets (the company denies it) he’s successfully undermined the values Twitter claims to hold high.

A month ago, when YouTube and Facebook took action against the accounts, Dorsey said: “We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories.”

So how’d that work out? Twitter claims justification for the ban comes from tweets and videos posted yesterday targeting CNN reporter Oliver Darcy. Unfortunately, we won’t ignore the fact that this action occurred within 24 hours of its CEO being personally exposed to Jones’ outrage. If Twitter wants to show, as Jack told Congress yesterday, that “Impartiality is our guiding principle” then it’s difficult to imagine a more spectacular example of failure.

Losing his Twitter and Periscope accounts will not remove Alex Jones from the internet, as his websites and apps continue to be available. Among his supporters, whether Twitter banned him now at some point in the future or had done it years ago, it would probably have little impact on their response. Censorship! Bias! Authoritarianism! — the list of what it always will be when such decisions go against their chosen leaders. But there’s another group that can’t ignore the circumstances: everyone targeted by InfoWars.

For years, Jones and those aligned with his network have seen little, if any, pushback on their vitriol and bigotry — as it was directed at bereaved parents, or any other victim they could find on the “wrong” side of politics. Around 80,000 people activated a list blocking all Fortune 500 companies in protest of Twitter allowing InfoWars to use its megaphone, but that wasn’t enough either.

The inescapable truth, is, that once Twitter’s CEO got within reach of the conspiracy theorist, the violations — which Twitter had already admitted broke its rules — became a bannable offense. If only it had the same response when it was someone else at risk of being doxxed, assaulted or threatened by that very same crowd.

The sadly predictable ending to this mess gives little satisfaction to anyone, and tees up Twitter for another round of criticism at the hands of “conservative” politicians who want to increase government regulation. I don’t know how Dorsey will try to counter any charge that his personal experience with Jones outside the Senate building influenced this ban. But I do have ideas about how he could’ve avoided it in the first place, and what is necessary to make Twitter “freer and healthier for all to participate.”

Enforce your rules, even and especially when it may anger some of your powerful friends. Line up a few tough questions for people who argued against taking a moral standard on issues like white supremacy, or at least ask them to provide evidence that “martyrdom” is the inevitable outcome of ejecting an outspoken critic.

Twitter isn’t the town square Dorsey calls it, and it never was. As the actress Felicia Day tweeted “A coffee shop would be expected to throw out racist abusers and harassers for the benefit of their customers.” Social networks have the same responsibility, and an outsized level of potential positive impact — if they’re ever brave enough to take action.

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Fender's music instruction app now includes bass lessons

Shutterstock / Sergey Nivens

Fender has added bass lessons to its Fender Play platform, providing users with bite-sized exercises, a number of instructors to learn from and a slew of skills to master. Those working on developing their bass-playing abilities will have access to a concept glossary, can work from multiple camera angles including close-up finger placement shots and over-the-shoulder views, track their progress and choose which style they prefer — like funk, rock, R&B, blues or pop.

Fender Play also has options for those who want to learn the bass in context, offering songs with corresponding guitar lessons and instruction on how to lock in with the rhythm section. It includes hundreds of lessons organized in five levels, and skills include counting rhythm, slap bass, slides, walking bass, moveable patterns, playing with a pick, arpeggios and building basslines.

“Bass is an essential part of the music creation process and the backbone of any band,” Ethan Kaplan, general manager of Fender Digital, said in a statement. “In these new lessons, we place just as much emphasis on teaching skills and bass lines as we do showing players how to make music with other musicians.”

Fender Play costs $10 per month or $90 per year.

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Twitter bans Alex Jones and InfoWars permanently

Alex Jones can add Twitter to the ever-growing list of social media sites that he’s no longer welcome on. The micro-blogging platform announced on Thursday afternoon that Jones and his InfoWars channel have been “permanently suspended” due to “new reports of Tweets and videos posted yesterday that violate our abusive behavior policy.”

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Are Facebook and Twitter scared enough to work together?

The last time a bunch of social media execs testified before congress the hearings ended with US House Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) calling it a “dumb” and “stupid” sideshow. He said there were more important matters for Congress to be discussing the “content-filtering practices” of internet companies, and that Facebook, Twitter and Google can’t have user posts be regulated because of the First Amendment anyway. Still, members of the Senate and House are keen on finding ways for Silicon Valley giants to keep their services safe, particularly from foreign interference and other bad actors trying to create discord among Americans. But rather than get into a battle with Congress over potential federal regulation, which would likely cause some controversy, Facebook and Twitter seem willing to work together on solutions for these issues in order to avoid that path.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg touched on this in her opening statement for the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, saying, “We know we can’t stop interference by ourselves.” She said that since the 2016 US Presidential election, Facebook has been sharing information about threats with “a number” of tech companies, in hopes of fighting digital foreign attacks more effectively. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey echoed Sandberg’s statements, telling Congress Twitter doesn’t want to compete on solutions that can help keep sites safe, and that the company is willing to share “whatever” it finds with others — even if it’s a competitor. While this could be a smart move for both Facebook and Twitter, Sandberg said they still need to “do more to formalize the process.”

Social Media Hearing

But even if they do start sharing more information with each other about threats they’ve detected (including where the attackers are coming from or if there are certain patterns being used) Facebook and Twitter are still going to need help from the government to stop foreign interference. Be it from Russia or, as we saw recently, Iran. “We don’t have all the investigative tools that the government has,” Sandberg said, “and we can’t always attribute attacks or identify motives.”

Dorsey told the Senate Intel Committee that, along with tighter partnerships with other tech companies, it would be great for Twitter to have a consolidated point of contact at the government, so that his team can better understand the intent and motivation behind these types of attacks and not have to bounce between federal law agencies. “We’d love to see the trends they’re aware of,” he said. “That would inform us about how to act much faster.”

“We know we can’t stop interference by ourselves. We don’t have all the investigative tools that the government has, and we can’t always attribute attacks or identify motives.” — Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

Now, as buddy-buddy as Facebook and Twitter may seem, they know no one poses a bigger obstacle to the carte blanche with which they operate than the government. At the end of the day, they’re both corporations that need to protect their bottom line, and they know it’s better to work together than let an outsider write the rules they must abide by. If getting the government off their backs means they have to collaborate on solving security issues together, of course they’re going to take that opportunity. Otherwise they risk new federal regulations being imposed on them, and that’s the last thing either of them want. But, unless Twitter and Facebook actually figure out how to stop bad actors on their own (even if it’s with help from the government), that’s a road that seems inevitable.

“If the answer is regulation, let’s have a dialogue about what that looks like,” Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in his opening remarks yesterday. “If it requires information-sharing and government cooperation, let’s get it out there. Whatever the answer is, we have to do it collaboratively and we have to do it now.”

News: Social Media Hearing

Google is an another important player in all of this, and Congress would have also loved for it to be a part of the hearing. But instead of sending founder Larry Page or CEO Sundar Pichai, Google wanted to its top lawyer, which the Senate Intel Committee rejected. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), vice chairman of the committee, said no one other than those two would suffice. A spokesperson for the senator told Engadget that he doesn’t believe Google is taking these issues seriously and that it was making a “grave mistake” by not sending the same top brass as Facebook or Twitter. The committee wasn’t above trying to shame Google, either. It left an empty chair next to Dorsey and Sandberg with a “GOOGLE” name plate.

Facebook and Twitter are facing immense pressure from all sides of the government to solve these issues. And they’re going to have to start showing some results soon, whether they decide to work together or not. Otherwise both Democrats and Republicans are going to have no choice but to, finally, get serious about federal regulation.

Images: Tom Williams / Getty Images (Sheryl Sandberg); Jack Gruber / USA TODAY (Google)

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US charges North Korean man linked to Sony hack and WannaCry

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The US Treasury Department announced today that it has sanctioned one individual and one group connected to malicious cyber activities perpetuated by North Korea’s government. Park Jin Hyok, a computer programmer, was sanctioned today along with Korea Expo Joint Venture, an agency he allegedly worked for. The Treasury Department claims Hyok is part of a conspiracy responsible for the 2014 Sony Pictures hack, the 2016 Bangladesh Bank heist and last year’s WannaCry ransomware attack. The Department of Justice also confirmed to reporters that it has charged Hyok with extortion, wire fraud and hacking crimes, according to Motherboard.

“We will not allow North Korea to undermine global cybersecurity to advance its interests and generate illicit revenues in violation of our sanctions,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States is committed to holding the regime accountable for its cyberattacks and other crimes and destabilizing activities.”

WannaCry affected hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 150 countries last year and the Sony Pictures hack resulted in leaked films, scripts, employee information, internal emails and company passwords. It also led to the cancelled release of the film The Interview. In 2016, hackers breached the Bangladesh Bank’s servers and made off with $81 million.

The DOJ unsealed a criminal complaint against Hyok today that alleges he was involved in a number of other cyberattacks that targeted South Korean figures and Lockheed Martin.

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DOJ will reportedly charge North Korean operative for Sony hack

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The Justice Department will reportedly announce charges today against at least one North Korean operative connected to the 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures, the Washington Post reports. Officials told the publication that computer hacking charges would be brought against Pak Jin Hyok, who is said to have worked with North Korea’s military intelligence agency the Reconnaissance General Bureau. It’s the first time these types of charges have been brought against an operative of North Korea.

The hackers behind the attack on Sony Pictures leaked unreleased films and scripts, sensitive employee information, embarrassing internal emails and company passwords. They also sent threatening messages to the company, some of which led Sony to cancel the release of the film The Interview, which depicted the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The Reconnaissance General Bureau has also been linked to the WannaCry ransomware attack, which affected hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 150 countries last year. Pak Jin Hyok is allegedly connected to North Korea’s Lazarus Group, which has also been linked to WannaCry, the Sony hack and the 2016 Bangladesh Bank heist. The Washington Post also reports that the Treasury Department will announce sanctions today against North Korean individuals connected to the activities, though it’s unclear how many individuals will be included.

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How to watch EA's Jacksonville Tribute Livestream

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Today, EA will hold The Jacksonville Tribute Stream to remember Elijah Clayton and Taylor Robertson, the professional gamers who were killed in a shooting at a Madden 19 tournament. Since its purpose is to bring the community together to support everyone affected by the tragic incident last August 26th, the gaming giant is making the livestream as accessible as possible. You can choose to watch and follow the tribute later today, September 6th from 5PM to 6:30PM ET, on the game’s official Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Mixer accounts. If you have a cable provider that gives you access to ESPN’s streams, you can also go that route.

[Elijah “TrueBoy” Clayton (left) and Taylor “SpotMePlzzz” Robertson (right)]

The incident took place during a Madden qualifying tournament at the GLHF Game Bar in Jacksonville. A shooter opened fire, killing Clayton and Robertson, as well as injuring 10 other people. He later shot and killed himself.

The tribute stream will be hosted by some well-known personalities in the Madden community, but EA is hoping to “reach far beyond Madden and share in 90 minutes of doing what unites us all — playing video games.” The company has also set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for the injured victims and for the families of Clayton and Robertson on top of the $1 million it already donated. It has teamed up with the platform to ensure 100 percent of the donations will go directly to the recipients.

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Instagram offers parents a guide for children's social safety

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Using smartphones and other digital devices in a less obsessive, more mindful way has been a hot topic of conversation with consumers and tech companies alike. Instagram, probably one of the most addictive social networks around, recently launched a new feature to help users analyze how much time they spend on the network, and today the company has published a new guide specifically focused on helping parents help their kids use the service responsibly.

The guide is written primarily for parents who might not already be familiar with Instagram — but given how complicated managing social media accounts has become, almost anyone would benefit from a little refresher. Instagram focuses on three key things for parents to be aware of and manage: privacy, comments and time spent. Privacy is pretty straightforward — it focuses on who can see an account and interact with it when the account is public rather than private.

Instagram has dramatically revamped how much control users have over comments on their account over the past year, so the second section focuses on those many options. Currently, you can choose specific groups that can comment on posts, remove comments entirely, block specific people from viewing or leaving comments, report abusive comments and automatically filter comments that Instagram deems potentially offensive.

Finally, the time spent tools refer to Instagram’s recent controls to make you aware of just how long you spend using the app. It shows how much time you spend in the app on average, with specific details for the past week. From there, you can set reminders when you pass a certain pre-set time limit and mute notifications for different amounts of time. The next versions of Android and iOS will include more detailed and granular features for managing time spent in apps, but having at least a few options in Instagram itself is a start.

For the parents who don’t know Instagram or social media in general very well, there’s also a glossary that defines common terms like block, comment, feed, IGTV, stories and more. All this info is certainly useful, but it all comes along with the requirement that you actually talk to your kid about how they use social media — which, given how easily it can be abused, is a must these days.

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TP-Link's latest WiFi router is a gaming beast


TP-Link has unveiled its most powerful gaming router yet, and it’s jacked. The Archer C5400X features 1.8 GHz 64-bit quad-core CPU, three co-processors and 1 GB RAM to reach WiFi speeds up to 5400 Mbps over one 2.4 GHz (1000 Mbps) and two 5 GHz (2167 Mbps) bands. And it comes with three WiFi bands, eight Gigabit LAN ports and one Gigabit WAN port. In other words, it’s a superfast monster. Eye-watering specs aside, look at it. Look at those antennae. This isn’t a router you want to shove behind the TV. Get it at Amazon, Newegg, Fry’s Electronics and Micro Center for $400.

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Nielsen steps up its tracking of digital gaming and esports

Jessica Conditt / Engadget

Nielsen has acquired gaming industry intelligence firm SuperData Research to give its ability to track games and esports a boost. According to its announcement, the acquisition will allow it to keep a closer eye on digital gaming use, sales and audiences. It will also give the company a way to track spending on esports events, tickets, marketing and sponsorships. In other words, SuperData will beef up Nielsen’s capability to measure various metrics other than sales alone for an industry where those metrics matter. VentureBeat notes, though, that it doesn’t always have the most accurate figures.

It apparently gets its digital sales numbers by analyzing buyers’ behavior, unlike NDP, which gets its figures straight from publishers. Still, it examines the spending behavior of 160 million digital gamers around the world, so the purchase will still give Nielsen the edge it needs to be able to compete in the space. For us, it means we’ll see more numbers, figures, analytics and metrics for esports and digital games in the future.

SuperData co-founder Janelle Benjamin said in a statement:

“Gamers are the trailblazers for media consumption and have become more important than ever to the global entertainment landscape. SuperData and Nielsen’s combined capabilities will allow us to provide gold standard insights that are essential to the growth of the industry.”

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