Cute Robots Invade Smithsonian Museum

Known as the largest education, and research complex in the world, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC is a collection of 19 museums that house more than 140 million unique items. It’s no wonder it’s been called “the nation’s attic.” But there’s a novel addition to the venerable complex — a smart new technology that interacts with visitors. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti introduces us to the Smithsonian’s newest resident.

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Cute Robots Invade the Smithsonian

Known as the largest education, and research complex in the world, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC is a collection of 19 museums that house more than 140 million unique items. It’s no wonder it’s been called “the nation’s attic.” But there’s a novel addition to the venerable complex — a smart new technology that interacts with visitors. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti introduces us to the Smithsonian’s newest resident.

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Twitter Suspended 58M Accounts in Last Quarter of ’17, AP Says

Twitter suspended at least 58 million user accounts in the final three months of 2017, according to data obtained by The Associated Press. The figure highlights the company’s newly aggressive stance against malicious or suspicious accounts in the wake of Russian disinformation efforts during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Last week, Twitter confirmed a Washington Post report that it had suspended 70 million accounts in May and June. The huge number of suspensions raises questions as to whether the crackdown could affect Twitter’s user growth and whether the company should have warned investors earlier. The company has been struggling with user growth compared with rivals like Instagram and Facebook.

The number of suspended accounts originated with Twitter’s “firehose,” a data stream it makes available to academics, companies and others willing to pay for it.

The new figure sheds light on Twitter’s attempt to improve “information quality” on its service, its term for countering fake accounts, bots, disinformation and other malicious occurrences. Such activity was rampant on Twitter and other social media networks during the 2016 campaign, much of it originating with the Internet Research Agency, a since-shuttered Russian “troll farm” implicated in election disruption efforts by the U.S. special counsel and congressional investigations.

Twitter declined to comment on the data. But its executives have said that efforts to clean up the platform are a priority, while acknowledging that its crackdown has affected and may continue to affect user numbers.

Twitter has 336 million monthly active users, which it defines as accounts that have logged in at least once during the previous 30 days. The suspensions do not appear to have made a large dent in this number. Twitter maintains that most of the suspended accounts had been dormant for at least a month, and thus weren’t included in its active user numbers.

Following the Post report, which caused Twitter’s stock to drop sharply, Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal took to Twitter to reassure investors that this number didn’t count in the company’s user metrics. “If we removed 70M accounts from our reported metrics, you would hear directly from us,” he tweeted last Monday.

Shares recovered somewhat after that tweet. The stock has largely been on an upswing lately, and more than doubled its value in the past year.

Twitter is taking other steps besides account deletions to combat misuse of its service, working to rein in hate and abuse even as it tries to stay true to its roots as a bastion of free expression. Last fall, it vowed to crack down on hate speech and sexual harassment, and CEO Jack Dorsey echoed the concerns of critics who said the company hadn’t done enough to curb such abuse.

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Egypt Targets Social Media With New Law

Egypt’s parliament has passed a law giving the state powers to block social media accounts and penalize journalists held to be publishing fake news.

Under the law passed on Monday social media accounts and blogs with more than 5,000 followers on sites such as Twitter and Facebook will be treated as media outlets, which makes them subject to prosecution for publishing false news or incitement to break the law.

The Supreme Council for the Administration of the Media, headed by an official appointed by President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, will supervise the law and take action against violations.

The bill prohibits the establishment of websites without obtaining a license from the Supreme Council and allows it to suspend or block existing websites, or impose fines on editors.

The law, which takes effect after it is ratified by Sissi, also states that journalists can only film in places that are not prohibited, but does not explain further.

Supporters of Sissi say the law is intended to safeguard freedom of expression and it was approved after consultations with judicial experts and journalists.

But critics say it will give legal basis to measures the government has been taking to crack down on dissent and extend its control over social media.

Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the vague wording of the law allows authorities to interpret violations and control the media.

“That power of interpretation has been a constant powerful legal and executive tool that was used to justify excessive aggressive and exceptional measures to go after journalists,” he told Reuters.

Hundreds of news sites and blogs have been blocked in recent months and around a dozen people have been arrested this year and charged with publishing false news, many of them journalists or prominent government critics.

 

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Twitter Suspends 2 Accounts in Mueller Indictments

Social networking site Twitter Saturday suspended two accounts linked to 12 Russian spies indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

On Friday, a federal grand jury charged the 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic computer networks in 2016 in the most detailed U.S. accusation yet that Moscow meddled in the election to help Republican Donald Trump.

Twitter said Saturday it had suspended the accounts @DCLeaks_ and @Guccifer_2 that were named in the indictment, which alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy involving sophisticated hacking and staged release of documents.

The indictment alleges that from around June 2016 the conspirators released tens of thousands of stolen emails and documents “using fictitious online personas, including ‘DCLeaks’ and ‘Guccifer 2.0.’”

In a statement Saturday, a Twitter spokesman said: “The accounts have been suspended for being connected to a network of accounts previously suspended for operating in violation of our rules.”

Twitter in recent months has purged suspicious user accounts in a bid to prevent the dissemination of fake news and “encourage healthy conversation,” the company said this month.

Friday’s indictment was the first by Mueller that directly charges the Russian government with meddling in the election. The Kremlin denies it interfered.

Speaking at a cybersecurity conference in Philadelphia on Saturday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the indictments proved that the United States “will not tolerate interference with our democratic processes and that there will be consequences for foreign meddling.”

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