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Officials battle online misinformation along with wildfires

Inside Telecom Staff

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Officials battle online misinformation along with wildfires

SEATTLE (AP) — Emergency responders in the Pacific Northwest are fighting misinformation along with raging wildfires as people spread unsubstantiated social media posts blaming coordinated groups of arsonists from both the far left and far right for setting the blazes.

The FBI said Friday that it’s investigated several claims and found them to be untrue, while officials in Oregon and Washington state have turned to Facebook to knock down the competing narratives — some posts blamed far-left antifa activists and others claimed the far-right group the Proud Boys was responsible for the fires scorching wide swaths of the region.

“I am physically and emotionally exhausted. We’ve been working really hard to protect people’s lives and homes,” firefighter Matt Lowery wrote Thursday night on the Facebook page for the East Pierce Fire & Rescue union south of Seattle. “I also want to address an issue that keeps coming up, even from some of the public that we are talking to while working. It is hot, dry, and fire spreads quickly in those conditions. There is nothing to show its Antifa or Proud Boys setting fires. Wait for information.”

The Mason County Sheriff’s Office urged Washington residents to stop spreading rumors as isolated incidents of apparent arson led to widespread, unfounded claims that antifa agitators were conspiring to start fires along the West Coast. Antifa is short for anti-fascists, a range of far-left militant groups that oppose white supremacists.

“Though some agencies have made arrests related to arson recently, they appear to all be separate individuals, however as with many incidents, it will be an ongoing investigation in each jurisdiction,” the agency wrote Thursday night on Facebook.

While some arson arrests have been made, it’s not yet clear how all the scores of fires in Washington state and Oregon started. Officials say high winds and dry conditions have made them worse in a region with a cool, wet climate that’s historically protected it from intense fire activity. Both Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee have called the wildfires “unprecedented.”

The false claims come as left- and right-wing groups have clashed during protests in the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Portland, Oregon, where a caravan of President Donald Trump’s supporters drove pickup trucks through the liberal city last month. An antifa supporter shot and killed a member of a right-wing group and was fatally shot by Washington state authorities a week later.

The FBI said it worked with local authorities to investigate claims that extremists set wildfires and found them to be false.

“Conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control,” an FBI statement said. “Please help our entire community by only sharing validated information from official sources.”

Officials in Oregon also debunked claims this week of widespread arrests affiliated with the Proud Boys or antifa.

“Remember when we said to follow official sources only,” the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office posted Thursday. “Remember when we said rumors make this already difficult incident even harder? Rumors spread just like wildfire and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON.”

Medford, Oregon, police knocked down a fake graphic spreading online that used the department’s logo and a photo from an unrelated 2018 arrest to falsely claim five Proud Boys had been arrested for arson.

A social media post shared widely on Thursday featured a picture of a woman along with claims that she tried to start a fire near a high school in Springfield, Oregon. Springfield police told The Associated Press that they spoke to the woman Wednesday and that wasn’t true.

Another post claimed a landowner called police after arsonists threw Molotov cocktails on his land in Clackamas County and they got into a shootout. The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office told the AP that no such reports existed.

Freelance journalist Justin Yau tweeted Thursday that he was told to leave the small town of Molalla, Oregon, by an “armed group” that feared outsiders after seeing rumors of arson nearby.

Thousands of Twitter and Facebook users shared posts trying to link the fires to antifa activists, including from Paul Romero, a former Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Oregon.

Reached by phone, Romero blamed the surge in fires statewide on a coordinated “army of arsonists” but offered no evidence to support that claim.

The posts also are being shared by social media accounts associated with QAnon, a conspiracy theory centered on the baseless belief that Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the so-called deep state and a child sex trafficking ring.

Police are investigating a fire that originated in Ashland, Oregon, as a potential arson after finding human remains, Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler told reporters Wednesday.

However, Ashland Deputy Police Chief Art LeCours confirmed to the AP that the case has “no connection whatsoever to antifa.”

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t made any arrests and its investigation shows no evidence at this point of a coordinated effort, spokesman Mike Moran said.

“These investigations take time,” he said. “They’re intense. They’re fast moving. And so people ought to consider: ‘Does this even make sense?’ They should question anything they see in a social media setting.”

By ALI SWENSON Associated Press.

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Didi pushes back on IPO rumors

Daryn Kara Ali

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Famous Beijing-based giant Didi denied any allegations of plans to go private in a bid to satisfy the Chinese government amidst latest regulations concerning users’ data security.  

After the Wall Street Journal released a report discussing the possibility of Didi going private, the ride-hailing app’s shares increased by approximately 50 percent in Thursday’s pre-market trade. 

The company has been targeted by Beijing regulators ever since it made its U.S. market debut about a month ago, followed by several U.S. senators asking its financial markets regulator to launch an investigation concerning the company’s Chinese share listings. 

In a statement that came as a reaction to the report, Didi debunked any allegations of going private as it currently switching it focus to cybersecurity. 

“The rumors about the privatization of Didi are untrue, and the company is currently actively cooperating with cybersecurity reviews,” Didi said on Chinese social media platform Weibo.  

Two days after the Beijing-based firm began trading shares on New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the Beijing cyberspace supervisory authority ordered Chinese online stores to remove Didi from their app stores under the pretense that it is illegally collecting users’ personal data. 

The Chinese authorities’ move influenced the firm’s market value, leading to a sharp drop by around a third ever since Didi raised its initial public offering (IPO) to $4.4 billion a month ago. 

Since Didi’s released its IPO on NYSE at the end of June, the Chinese driver service broker’s shares fell drastically in value.  

On Thursday, Didi shares finished its U.S. trading day with a rise of 11.3 percent.  

Didi, alongside many Chinese Big Tech companies such as Alibaba and ByteDance have been under the Chinese government’s scrutiny regarding their behavior of monopolizing the market to their benefit.  

This led to some of the firms’ largest share prices slump in the U.S., Hong Kong, and mainland China’s trading market as China puts the industry under tough scrutiny. 

In parallel, Didi follows a comparable business model to its American competitor Ube. The Chinese app had already conquered Uber in a vicious price war in its home market. 

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Google is battling against a $1 billion legal claim

Rim Zrein

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$1 billion

Google is charging people for their digital purchases in its Play Store through an “unfair and excessive” manner, according to a new legal lawsuit filed against the tech giant. 

On behalf of 19.5 million Android phone users in the UK, the legal action is seeking up to $1 billion from Google. 

The lawsuit has been filed with the Competition Appeal Tribunal in London by former Citizens Advice digital policy manager Liz Coll, who’s claiming that the 30 percent cut Google takes from digital purchases on its app store is unjust. 

“Google created the Android app marketplace and controls it with a vice-like grip,” Coll said, explaining that Google has went against UK and European competition law. 

In response, Google defended its case by issuing a statement saying that “Android gives people more choice than any other mobile platform in deciding which apps and app stores they use, in fact most Android phones come preloaded with more than one app store.” 

“We compete vigorously and fairly for developers and consumers,” Google noted, mentioning that 97 percent of developers on Google Play don’t pay any service fee at all, which means their apps are free to consumers.  

“Less than 0.1 percent of developers are subject to a 30 percent service fee and only when they’re earning over one million dollars, that fee is comparable with our competitors and allows us to constantly reinvest in building a secure, thriving platform that benefits everyone who uses it,” Google highlighted. 

The trillion-dollar tech giant recently decreased its service charge to 15 percent for all app creators making less than $1 million, with only a small group of the most valuable app developers paying 30 percent. 

According to Google, the charge allows the company to “constantly reinvest in building a secure, thriving platform that benefits everyone who uses it.” 

The $1 billion lawsuit is the latest incident in an ongoing battle with both Apple and Google, as they’re currently under intense scrutiny following Epic Games’ legal action. 

Epic argued that the Play Store and Apple’s app store policies and management were against producing fruitful competition, as the American video game and software developer described the two tech giants as “monopolistic.” 

For the past years, major tech firms have been in hot water over anti-trust and monopoly charges. 

In 2020, ten U.S. states led by Texas, brought legal action against Google over its ad revenue practices, accusing Google with illegally collaborating with the popular social network Facebook. 

“As internal Google documents reveal, Google sought to kill competition and has done so through an array of exclusionary tactics, including an unlawful agreement with Facebook, its largest potential competitive threat,” the lawsuit stated. 

“This Goliath of a company is using its power to manipulate the market, destroy competition, and harm you, the consumer,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said regarding Google through a video released on Twitter. 

The key question many analysts have been asking is to what extent Google should be given the freedom to charge its services as it sees fit, no matter what the cost is to other developers. 

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Rick rolls past a billion views on YouTube

Rim Zrein

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Rick Rolls

When it comes to famous memes from the 2000s, millennials are just never going to give them up. 

Anyone who was active on the internet since 2009 surely stumbled upon Rick Astley’s music hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Almost 12 years later, and the music video has exceeded one billion views on YouTube on Wednesday. 

For the Generation Z who weren’t surfing the web at that time, the video itself started off as an internet meme under the name “Rick Roll,” which is the most famous prank in the internet’s history. 

The prank consisted of luring people to click on a hyperlink that claims to be one thing but turns out to be the red-haired iconic singer’s video “Never Gonna Give You Up.” 

The British singer cannot deny the impact the meme had on his music video. According to YouTube, on April Fool’s Day this year, the “Rick roll” generated 2.3 million views. 

Following Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” A-ha’s “Take on Me,” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Rick Astley’s song is the fourth in line to join the 80’s hits on YouTube. 

The 55-year-old singer celebrated the achievement on Twitter, saying in a video “So I’ve just been told that ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ has been streamed a billion times on YouTube. That is mind-blowing. The world is a wonderful and beautiful place, and I am very lucky.” 

To celebrate the huge milestone, 2,500 copies of the 7-inch blue vinyl of Astley’s popular song were released. Exclusively signed by the singer himself, the $17 vinyl completely sold out, according to Astley’s official website. 

In the past, the singer voiced his perspective on the “Rick roll” meme, saying that he’s completely fine with it. 

In a 2008 interview with the L.A. Times, the famous meme figure in every millennial’s childhood said “I think it’s just one of those odd things where something gets picked up and people run with it. That’s what’s brilliant about the internet.” 

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