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Donald Trump now wants to save ZTE and everyone’s confused

Chinese smartphone maker ZTE might have found a savior, and it’s the last person you’d expect.

President Donald Trump says he now wants to help save the beleaguered handset maker, tweeting Sunday that he wanted to give the company “a way to get back into business, fast.”

The president said he is working with Chinese President Xi Jinping and the U.S Commerce Department, which “has been instructed to get it done.”

While it’s not surprising that Trump would announce his support for such a move on Twitter, the fact that he’s so forcefully supporting ZTE in the first place raises eyebrows for a number of reasons.

A bit of background: ZTE is one of the largest smartphone makers in China, where the company employs 75,000, according to The New York Times. Unlike many other Chinese smartphone makers, ZTE’s Android phones are also popular in the U.S, thanks to low-cost phones and savvy marketing ploys (the company’s sponsored five NBA teams, including the Golden State Warriors). 

But the company’s run into problems in the U.S in recent years. American intelligence agencies have accused the firm of using its phones to spy on Americans. ZTE has denied the charges, but the accusation nevertheless led to some major carriers dropping the manufacturer (Chinese company Huawei has been hit with similar claims too). 

Adding to tensions, the company was slapped with a $1.2 billion fine last year after the U.S government discovered it was doing business with North Korea and Iran. The company paid the settlement, but was also supposed to sanction its executives over the issue. Those mandated reprimands never happened and it was this that triggered the Department of Commerce’s move last month to officially ban U.S exports to the company.

Since ZTE relies on components manufactured in America, the export ban was likely to have a devastating effect on the company.

Which brings us back to Trump. That he would be so supportive of a company which his own government fined for doing business with Iran is, well, confusing as hell.

The fact that he cited concern over losing Chinese jobs, also didn’t go over well, considering he repeatedly railed against U.S jobs being outsourced to China during his presidential campaign, 

The whole thing led many to speculate about whether or not Trump had another reason for his sudden about-face on ZTE.

In another tweet, posted later Sunday afternoon, Trump said “China and the United States are working well together on trade,” adding “be cool, it will all work out.”

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Trump points to national security in blocking Broadcom’s attempted Qualcomm takeover

Denied.
Denied.

Image: OLIVIER DOULIERY-POOL/GETTY IMAGES

Donald Trump just put his presidential foot down, and made serious waves in the world of tech in the process. 

However, instead of declaring his latest whim via Twitter, the 45th president of the United States turned Monday afternoon to something a little more official to drop the metaphorical bomb: a presidential order. Specifically, an order blocking the proposed acquisition of Qualcomm by Broadcom.

In the order, Trump insisted that the purchase might “impair the national security of the United States.”

Qualcomm is an American company that builds chips used in LTE networks. Broadcom is based in Singapore, and is in the process of moving its headquarters to the U.S.

“The Purchaser and Qualcomm shall immediately and permanently abandon the proposed takeover,” the order continues. 

Notably, the details of what Bloomberg describes as “a $117 billion hostile takeover” hadn’t been finalized yet, and following this order from Trump they may never be. 

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Anyone can use Facebook to boost a message. Even Russian agents.

There’s no longer any question at all: Russians meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, and they relied on social media tools we can all use.

Facebook and its photo-sharing site, Instagram, are mentioned dozens of times in the indictment handed down Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller. Twitter, YouTube, and PayPal are also mentioned at various points. 

Mueller, for those catching up, was appointed to investigate alleged foreign meddling in the 2016 U.S. election by the Justice Department in May 2017. The Friday indictment is only the latest development in the lengthy process of disentangling who interfered and how they did it.

The 37-page document lays out a sprawling story in which Russian actors worked to subvert the United States electoral process using many of the same social media platforms we all visit each day. They conducted their operations under the banner of the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-linked Russian “troll farm” which works online to influence thoughts and ideas.

The Russian influencers — that may be the most apt designation for the individuals named in Mueller’s indictment — used Facebook Groups, ad buys and paid ad boosters, and good, old-fashioned audience development tactics. All in the name of sowing chaos during a divisive election cycle. 

“Information warfare,” they called it. No one even tried to pretend it was something else. 

It was a bipartisan operation, focused in large part on sowing chaos throughout the U.S. electorate. Once Donald Trump entered the race, however, the emphasis shifted toward securing a win for the controversial wildcard candidate.

“They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump,” the indictment reads.

What’s striking is how organized everything was. The IRA operated like any other internet start-up, employing hundreds of people — some of whom were unaware of their employer’s true motivations — and maintaining a corporate hierarchy that broke teams out under different banners: graphics, data analysis, search engine optimization (SEO), finance, even IT.

“Information warfare,” they called it. No one even tried to pretend it was something else.

The election tampering started with “social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences.” The Russian influencers first pinpointed divisive social and political issues, and then posed as American activists in the creation of these groups.

By 2016, the IRA had gathered enough information and laid enough groundwork to begin an active campaign of interference. “Specialists were instructed to post content that focused on ‘politics in the USA’ and to ‘use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except [Bernie] Sanders and Trump — we support them).'”

That support later extended beyond Sanders and Trump to include other disruptive candidates. One section of the indictment points to an October 2016 Instagram post on the IRA-controlled “Blacktivist” account that read: “Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote.”

Stein, a third-party candidate, was viewed by many as a campaign spoiler whose presence in the race is part of the reason Clinton lost. The voting numbers in swing states where Trump won support that view.

All the while, bashing Clinton remained a focus. In an internal review of the IRA-created Facebook group “Secured Borders,” the company took issue with the “low number of posts dedicated to criticizing Hillary Clinton.” The group was told that, in future posts, “it is imperative to intensify criticizing Hillary Clinton.”

To be clear: These activities all made use Facebook’s most basic functions. Anyone with an account of their own can create a public or private group. Attracting members is as straightforward as finding the right packaging.

In this case, denigrating Clinton was the flashpoint used to attract pro-Trump voters, or even just anti-Hillary voters. Once the audience was there, IRA employees worked to feed them a steady diet of anti-Clinton propaganda.

The Russian influencers also leapt on existing social media bandwagons. Some of the materials produced by the IRA featured hashtags related to the election, including #Trump2016, #TrumpTrain, #MAGA, #IWontProtectHillary, and #Hillary4Prison. Hashtags allowed the IRA to reach an even wider audience, since there’s no audience development required; you just broadcast your message, and the audience that’s there already sees it.

A chilling picture starts to form as you read through Mueller’s indictment: These weren’t high-tech hackers and codebreaking experts employing skills that your average internet user lacks. They were merely tech- and social media-savvy individuals leaning on grassroots engagement strategies. 

Logan Paul does the same thing. So does Black Lives Matter. So does any business or public figure, really, that hinges some part of their existence on the internet. These tools have become democratized, but that means they can be exploited for nefarious purposes.

The way forward from here isn’t clear. Mueller’s indictment paints the most complete picture to date of Russian efforts to disrupt the 2016 election. The extent to which the IRA’s bad actors relied on everyday tools to complete their mission should be alarming to each and every American.

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Trump cites Facebook exec’s comments downplaying Russian ad influence on election


You’d be forgiven for missing Donald Trump’s multiple retweets of Facebook executive Rob Goldman over the weekend. Perhaps you were spending time with family, watching Black Panther or just attempting to forget politics for a moment by ignoring the manic flurry of social media updates from the leader of the free world.

But in amongst a deluge of tweets that blamed Democrats for failing to preserve DACA, called out the FBI over the recent school shooting in Florida on the FBI and affectionately referred to a member of congress as “Liddle’ Adam Schiff, the leakin’ monster of no control,” the President cited Facebook’s VP of Ads as evidence against claims that his campaign colluded with Russia.

“The Fake News Media never fails,” Trump tweeted over the weekend. “Hard to ignore this fact from the Vice President of Facebook Ads, Rob Goldman!”

Trump was citing Goldman’s own Twitter dump over the past week, responding to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recent indictment of 13 Russian citizens charged with interfering in the presidential election.

“Very excited to see the Mueller indictment today,” Goldman wrote. “We shared Russian ads with Congress, Mueller and the American people to help the public understand how the Russians abused our system.  Still, there are keys facts about the Russian actions  that are still not well understood.”

Of course, Mueller’s findings haven’t exactly exonerated Facebook in all this. The site, along with its subsidiary Instagram, were mentioned by name 41 times in the indictment.

Goldman’s Twitter storm acknowledges that the social media behemoth has certainly been a centerpiece of Russia’s misinformation campaign, but adds, “The majority of the Russian ad spend happened AFTER the election.  We shared that fact, but very few outlets have covered it because it doesn’t align with the main media narrative of Tump and the election.”

Trump spotted the opening and quickly cited it as evidence of the “fake news” campaign to link   his election to Russian meddling. While it’s understandable that he would seize upon this sort of statement from a Facebook executive in an on-going effort to put these investigations behind him, among other things, the tweets don’t address the impact that non-advertisement Facebook posts played in the election.

After all, Facebook previously told Congress that Russian-linked ads may have reached as many as 10 million users in the U.S., while the posts from Russian agents were believed to have reached as many as 126 million Americans.

Featured Image: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Leaked Wikileaks chats reveal it actually thought we’d be better off with the GOP in power

Julian knows best. Except when he clearly doesn't.
Julian knows best. Except when he clearly doesn’t.

Image: Carl Court/Getty Images

No one can know the future, but man did Julian Assange really not have a clue.

The founder and publisher of Wikileaks is a controversial figure, and a series of leaked private chats published by The Intercept demonstrate that his lightning-rod persona is not just for the public’s benefit. Those chats also reveal several truths about the man, including the nugget that he thought we’d be better off if the Republicans won the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

Which, well, yeah. About that

That questionable assumption comes out of a private Twitter group that included Assange and some of his top online supporters. According to The Intercept, the chat logs run from May 2015 to November 2017, and were sent to the publication by the same person who created the group. 

The Intercept got its hands on more than 11,000 messages, and chose to publish 16 pages of them online. A look through them gives us no top-secret bombshells, but does remind the reader that Assange is far from the master strategist. 

“We believe it would be much better for GOP to win,” the Wikileaks Twitter account — which The Intercept says is “widely understood” to be run by Assange — wrote. 

“Dems+Media+liberals woudl then form a block to reign in their worst qualities. With Hillary in charge, GOP will be pushing for her worst qualities., dems+media+neoliberals will be mute.”

The GOP, in the form of Donald Trump, did of course end up winning the election. And the Democrats, contrary to Assange’s stated expectations, haven’t really managed to reign in his worst qualities. Which, if he had been paying any attention to the Democrats during the Bush years, could not have come as much of a surprise. 

So restrained.

So restrained.

Image: Win McNamee /Getty Images

It seems that Assange was specifically concerned about what he assumed to be Clinton’s “greater freedom to start wars than the GOP,” writing that she “has the will to do so.” While far be it from us to call Clinton a dove, thinking the Republican party isn’t all about starting wars of choice is pretty goddamn rich. 

And Trump, while thankfully not kicking off a brand new war since taking office (though he does clearly enjoy bombing Middle Eastern countries), sure does like to threaten the start of global annihilation.

Of course, the questionable comments from Assange are not limited to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In the leaked discussion he manages to throw around some transphobia, a dash of suggested antisemitism, and for good measure, musings about whether or not Clinton might have a stroke

The excerpts of conversation are not exactly a fun read, to be clear. But they do help elucidate one key fact: Assange doesn’t exactly know what he’s talking about — a fact we will now be reminded of every time the obviously restrained by Democrats Trump threatens to start World War III.

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