Fake ‘supermoon’ video racks up 16M views on Facebook

A Facebook Live video purportedly showing a live view of a “supermoon” over Greece but which in fact was a still image with wind sounds added was viewed more than 16 million times over four hours on Wednesday, apparently going undetected by the company even as some commenters pointed out that something fishy was going on.

The stream featured a nine-year-old still picture of the moon over the Temple of Poseidon in the south of Greece. The image was overlaid with a current timestamp and the sound of wind was added in an attempt to make it seem live.

The stream appeared as the first video result in Facebook searches for “supermoon.”

The stream was posted on a Facebook page named “EBUZZ,” which despite posting only a handful of times since November 2016 has more than 250,000 followers.

The page appears to be run anonymously, and it does not offer a way to contact its administrators.

The video was removed from the platform by late Wednesday afternoon, but the EBUZZ page itself was still live as of Wednesday night. Facebook said the video was removed for violating the site’s policies. It did not say why the page itself was not removed.

CNN determined that the photo used was taken by Chris Kotsiopoulos, an amateur photographer. Kotsiopoulos said that he had seen instances where his photographs had been used without his permission before, but never in this way.

It’s unclear why the page would have faked a video in this way. The people who run it may have been looking to build up their follower base, which in turn could be used for other purposes, such as driving traffic to a website from which they make money.

While some viewers of the live stream appeared to fall for the video, commenting on how beautiful it was, other users were more skeptical.

“I’m curious how this is a ‘live’ feed when the same picture has been up for 3 hours with the moon in the same spot,” one wrote.

Many of the people counted in the 16 million views tally would likely not have seen enough of the stream to realize they were looking at a still image. Facebook counts a “video view” when a user watches a video for three seconds or more, including those times when people see the video for more than three seconds in their News Feed.

It’s not the first time a fake video of a high-profile event has racked up millions of views on Facebook.

In September, during Hurricane Irma, a video stream purportedly showing “shocking video” of the storm picked up more than 6 million views, though it actually contained video that was at least nine months old.

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Facebook to rank news outlets by trustworthiness

Facebook wants to make sure its users aren’t duped by stories from untrustworthy news publications. So it’s asking users which news publications they trust.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on Friday the social media network is using surveys to rate news organizations and assign them trust scores. It will use those scores, along with other factors, to decide how much to show a source in people’s news feeds.

“There’s too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world today,” Zuckerberg said in a post. “Social media enables people to spread information faster than ever before, and if we don’t specifically tackle these problems, then we end up amplifying them,” he said.

The company decided to use community input to rank news sources in an attempt to be as objective as possible, Zuckerberg said.

The surveys will ask a “diverse and representative” sample of Facebook users if they’ve heard of a news outlet and how much they trust it.

News outlets that score well can expect to see their stories to be more widely distributed on Facebook, while those with lower scores might see less activity. The new program won’t affect how much news people see in their feed, according to the company.

“The hard question we’ve struggled with is how to decide what news sources are broadly trusted in a world with so much division,” Zuckerberg said. “We could try to make that decision ourselves, but that’s not something we were comfortable with. We considered asking outside experts, which would take the decision out of our hands but would likely not solve the objectivity problem.”

The company said the move won’t impact publishers based on how big they are or their ideological leanings.

The scores won’t be made public and will be one of many factors the company will consider when weighing news feed placement. The new scoring system is only rolling out in the U.S. to start, but the company plans to eventually expand it globally.

Facebook says it is also increasing its focus on local news in 2018, and it adding a section specifically to read about events and stories nearby.

The changes come a week after Facebook announced it will show users posts from friends and family and fewer from brands and companies to increase “meaningful interactions” on the site.

The social network has long struggled with fake or misleading news on its platform. Facebook joined Twitter and Google in front of Congress late last year to answer tough questions on how the network was used to spread misinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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Twitter explains (again) why it won’t block Trump

To those calling for Twitter to take action against President Trump’s account, the company has a simple message: not a chance.

Twitter said Friday that blocking or censoring the accounts of world leaders runs contrary to the social network’s goal of fostering a “global, public conversation.”

“Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets, would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” Twitter said in a blog post. “It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.”

While Twitter did not mention Trump by name, the explanation of its policy comes after users called for the company to suspend or ban Trump’s account following his tweet Tuesday night taunting North Korea with nuclear war.

“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times,” Trump tweeted. “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

The comment ignited a wave of frustration and questions about Twitter’s responsibility to prevent any user, including its most powerful one, from using the platform to threaten nuclear annihilation.

One group projected the words “@Jack is complicit” at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters Tuesday night, directed at CEO Jack Dorsey.

Friday’s statement marks Twitter’s first response to this latest wave of criticism and the clearest explanation yet on how Twitter thinks about its most high-profile user.

Twitter has repeatedly said it takes “newsworthiness” into account when weighing whether to take action against an account that might otherwise violate its terms of service.

And the president is, by default, newsworthy.

“Our policy does [account for] newsworthiness as well, and that was requested by our policy team,” Dorsey said in one interview last April. “So we’re not taking something down that people should be able to report on and actually show that this is what the source said.”

Twitter used the same “newsworthiness” argument in September in response to calls to take down a tweet by Trump that North Korea’s foreign minister described as a declaration of war.

Some analysts, and some critics, have also suggested that blocking Trump would be bad for Twitter’s business.

In the statement Friday, Twitter appeared to push back at the notion that its policy to block or not block Trump, or any world leader, is motivated by its bottom line.

“No one person’s account drives Twitter’s growth, or influences these decisions,” the company said. “We work hard to remain unbiased with the public interest in mind.”

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UN experts urge Iran to respect protesters’ rights

UN human rights experts urged Iranian authorities to respect the rights of protesters and voiced concern over Tehran’s restriction of social messaging services in a joint statement issued Friday by the UN agency for human rights.

The statement by four Special Rapporteurs — expert advisers to the United Nations who work on a voluntary basis — comes eight days after anti-government protests first broke out in Iran.

At least 21 people were killed and 450 were arrested in the protests, many in clashes with security forces trying to quell the rallies.

The protests, the most powerful challenge to the regime in years, appeared to have fizzled Thursday, after a claim by Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari that the unrest was officially over. Mass pro-government rallies have taken their place in many Iranian cities.

“We are very disturbed by the way the authorities have responded to the protests,” the four Special Rapporteurs said in their statement, released by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“The government’s instruction to the Revolutionary Guards to hit hard against the protesters, and the judiciary’s threats of harsh punishment, are unacceptable.

“We urge the authorities to exercise restraint and respond proportionately in their efforts to control the protests, to limit the use of force to a strict minimum, and to fully respect the human rights of the protesters, including their rights to life, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

The UN experts said they shared the concerns of Iranian civil society groups for those arrested.

“We are also very concerned at reports that the Government has blocked the internet on mobile networks, and that social media services like Instagram and messaging services like Telegram have been shut down in an attempt to quell the protests,” they said.

“In some regions, internet access has been blocked altogether. Communication blackouts constitute a serious violation of fundamental rights.”

The experts added that the lack of measures to address the underlying causes of the unrest through non-violent means was “disturbing.”

The protests began just over a week ago over Iran’s stagnant economy and the rising cost of living and developed into a broader outcry against the government.

The United Nations Security Council will convene a meeting on the situation in Iran at 3 p.m. ET Friday. It is expected the session, which was requested by the United States, will begin with a briefing by a UN political official. Iran could also speak.

Fiery sermon

In Tehran, firebrand cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami delivered a fiery sermon for Friday prayers at the Grand Mosalla in which he accused the United States and Israel of fomenting protest.

“What occurs in our country these days, emanates from America’s pent-up feelings, since the oppressors have experienced one defeat after another, throughout the world,” he said.

He also promised the clergy’s support over the legitimate demands of poor and working-class citizens, saying the government should listen to them, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency.

The presence of Khatami, who often leads Friday prayers in turbulent times, signaled that the authorities are taking recent events across the country very seriously.

Numbers in attendance at the mosque, always busy and bustling on a Friday — Islam’s holy day — appeared even larger than usual, with the faithful overcrowding the space. A march began from outside the prayer hall once prayers ended.

State-run broadcaster IRINN reported that demonstrators from 40 different areas of greater Tehran province would march on Friday, in order “to protest the rioters and disrupters of public safety.”

Iranian state media broadcast wall-to-wall images of pro-government rallies in Tehran, Kerman and Tabriz on Friday.

It’s not yet clear whether anti-government protests will break out again Friday.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli claimed Thursday that no more than 42,000 people had taken part in the anti-government protests since Dec. 28, according to the semiofficial Iranian Student News Agency. That isn’t a high number of people, Fazli said, adding that protests are “normal occurrences and happen in all countries.”

On Wednesday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps pinned the number at 15,000.

CNN has not been able to verify either number.

US, Iran trade barbs

In a statement released late Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned other nations against trying to impede the Security Council’s discussion of what she called a “troubling and dangerous situation” in Iran.

“The world has witnessed the horrors that have taken place in Syria, that began with a murderous regime denying its people’s right to peacefully protest,” she said. “We must not let that happen in Iran. This is a matter of fundamental human rights for the Iranian people, but it is also a matter of international peace and security.”

Iranian and U.S. officials have traded barbs for the past week, and Tehran maintains that the United States and its allies orchestrated the unrest.

Tehran accused US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence of inciting Iranians to protest against the government through a series of tweets and described U.S. interference in Iranian issues as “grotesque.”

There is no evidence that Washington had any direct role in orchestrating the anti-government protests, beyond encouragement through social media and published remarks.

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Iran accuses US of ‘grotesque’ meddling through social media

The United States is tapping social media to incite protesters “to change their government,” thus tampering in Iranian affairs, the Islamic republic alleged in a Thursday letter to the United Nations. Tehran accused US President Donald Trump and Vice P…

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Twitter blocks far-right leader amid German hate speech law

Germany’s tough new social media law appears to be working: A far-right member of parliament had her Twitter account suspended shortly after posting an anti-Muslim message.

Under a law that took full effect in Germany on Monday, Twitter, Facebook and other social media companies can be fined as much as €50 million ($60 million) if they fail to remove hate speech and fake news posts quickly.

Companies now have 24 hours to remove posts that breach German law after they are flagged by users. The law came into force in October, but the government gave companies three months to adjust to the new rules.

In a tweet posted on New Year’s Eve, Beatrix von Storch accused police of appeasing “barbaric, gang-raping Muslim hordes of men” after they tweeted a New Year message in Arabic, as well as German, English and French.

Twitter temporarily suspended von Storch’s account following the post, saying it breached its rules on hate speech. Other members of her Alternative for Germany (AfD) party who tweeted similar messages in support also had their tweets deleted.

The AfD placed third in the country’s parliamentary election in September. The anti-immigration, anti-Muslim group is the first far-right party to enter the German parliament since 1961.

Von Storch said on Monday that Facebook had also “censored” her. She posted on Twitter a screen grab of a message she received from Facebook informing her that a post similar to her disputed tweet had been withheld in Germany because it was unlawful.

Police in Cologne have accused von Storch of inciting hatred. A spokeswoman for the police said Tuesday that a report on her posts has been passed to prosecutors, who are investigating. No charges have yet been filed.

Von Storch, who is deputy chairwoman of the AfD’s parliamentary group, claimed the “censorship” meant the end of the rule of law in Germany because Facebook had judged her before the legal process had run its course.

Facebook was not immediately available for comment.

— Nadine Schmidt and Judith Vonberg contributed to this report.

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