Facebook Will Pause Ads Promoting Weapons Accessories and Protective Equipment Until After Biden’s Inauguration

Illustration for article titled Facebook Will Pause Ads Promoting Weapons Accessories and Protective Equipment Until After Biden’s Inauguration

Illustration: Christophe Simon / AFP (Getty Images)

Facebook announced on Saturday that it was banning ads that promote weapons accessories and protective equipment until Jan. 22, after President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, “out of an abundance of caution.”

The company’s announcement came after a Buzzfeed News investigation found that Facebook was delivering ads for body armor, gun holsters, and other military equipment next to content promoting election misinformation and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. According to Buzzfeed, the ads were also shown to people who followed right-wing extremist pages or groups on Facebook. The company was alerted to this practice by its own employees in recent days but chose not to take action until now.

“This looks serious to me because it can be read as 1) us profiting off of the events 2) encouraging people to take some kind direction to the events,” a Facebook employee wrote on the company’s internal forum in relation to ads about military gear, per Buzzfeed. 

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In a blog post about its preparations ahead of Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, Facebook stated that it already banned ads for weapons, and that it would extend that prohibition to other products.

“We are banning ads that promote weapon accessories and protective equipment in the US at least through January 22, out of an abundance of caution,” the company said. “We already prohibit ads for weapons, ammunition and weapon enhancements like silencers. But we will now also prohibit ads for accessories such as gun safes, vests and gun holsters in the US.”

The ads prompted three U.S. senators to write a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting him to act immediately and create a policy permanently banning ads for products “designed for use in lethal tactical operations and armed combat.”

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The Buzzfeed report also elicited a response from the attorneys general of Washington, D.C., Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, who in a letter asked Will Castleberry, Facebook’s vice president for U.S. state policy and community engagement, to place a moratorium on ads for weapons accessories and armor until Jan. 22 or until a time when the heightened threat of extremist violence subsides.

The ban comes one day after Facebook blocked users from creating new events near the White House, the U.S. Capitol building, and any other state capitol building through Inauguration Day. The company said that it would also review the events related to the inauguration again and remove those that violated its policies, as well as continue to block non-U.S.-based accounts and pages from creating events in the U.S.

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Some restrictions also extended to certain people based in the U.S., Facebook said, who will be unable to create live videos, events, groups, or pages if they were found to be repeat violators of the company’s policies.

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Social media platforms played a central role in the riot at the Capitol, led by supporters of President Donald Trump, which resulted in the deaths of five people, including a Capitol police officer.

Days before the event, the president’s supported promoted it extensively on Facebook and Instagram, owned by Facebook, the Washington Post reported. In fact, more than 100,000 users used hashtags such as #StopTheSteal or #FightForTrump. They also gathered on so-called “free speech” platforms like Parler and the walkie-talkie app Zello, among others, to conspire to overthrow the election.

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Insurrectionists Reportedly Used Walkie-Talkie App Zello To Storm the Capitol

Illustration for article titled Insurrectionists Reportedly Used Walkie-Talkie App Zello To Storm the Capitol

Photo: Jon Cherry / Stringer (Getty Images)

Members of a violent and deadly mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 reportedly communicated with each other through the walkie-talkie app Zello — a company long criticized for its failure to moderate the far-right extremist content it sometimes hosts.

According to audio and chat logs reviewed by The Guardian, at least two individuals who stormed the Capitol used Zello to communicate with other militia members who appeared to be egging them on from offsite locations.

“We are in the main dome right now,” a female militia member can be heard saying at one point. “We are rocking it. They’re throwing grenades, they’re frickin’ shooting people with paintballs, but we’re in here.”

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“God bless and godspeed,” a male voice reportedly responds. “Keep going.”

“Jess, do your shit,” says another. “This is what we fucking lived up for. Everything we fucking trained for.”

The exchange reportedly occurred in a public Zello channel called “STOP THE STEAL J6” around 2:44 p.m. The user in question appears to be Jessica Watkins, a 38-year-old bartender from Ohio who recently told the Ohio Capital Journal that she had participated in the insurrection on behalf of both a local militia called the Ohio State Regular and the national Oath Keepers militia.

Zello, which claims to have 150 million users, said in a press release that it was with “deep sadness and anger” that its leadership team had discovered “evidence of Zello being misused by some individuals while storming the United States Capitol building last week.”

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In response to nearly 800 channels that were found to be hosting right-wing content, the app said that it had updated its terms of service and “extended the notion of abuse on the platform to include use by organizations whose principles or leaders specifically endorse or espouse violence.”

Zello also announced that it had deleted more than 2,000 channels associated with militias and other militarized social movements. In a chilling conclusion to its press release, the company said that it was “concerned that Zello could be misused by groups who have threatened to organize additional potentially violent protests and disrupt the U.S. Presidential Inauguration Festivities on January 20th.”

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As The Guardian points out, Zello likely has inherent broad appeal to militia groups, due to their frequent tendency to fetishize military-style radio communication and warlike modes of operation.

Facebook’s Ban On Political Ads Will Resume Following Georgia Senate Runoffs

Illustration for article titled Facebooks Ban On Political Ads Will Resume Following Georgia Senate Runoffs

Photo: Dan Kitwood / Staff (Getty Images)

After temporarily pausing its nationwide ban on political advertisements to allow campaign messages about the Georgia senate runoffs, Facebook abruptly reversed course on Tuesday, announcing in a blog post that the ban would resume following the election’s conclusion on Wednesday.

“Starting early January 6, 2021, we will no longer allow ads about the Georgia runoff elections on our platform in line with our existing nationwide social issues, electoral or political ads pause,” the company wrote in the blog post.Any ads about the Georgia runoff elections will be paused and advertisers will no longer be able to create new ads about social issues, elections, or politics.”

In the wake of rampant misinformation campaigns that had proliferated on the platform following the November 2020 general election, Facebook had announced plans to clamp down on electoral and political ads of all stripes — a move which drew swift condemnation from digital strategists on both sides of the aisle, particularly over the decision’s likely impact on their ability to fundraise ahead of the competitive Georgia runoff.

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Now, in light of the ban’s reinstatement, campaign strategists are once again worried — this time, about the obstacles the ban might pose in terms of getting the word out about a potential recount or “ballot curing” process, given the extreme likelihood of both events in what’s shaping up to be a real nail-biter of an election.

Although Google had initially instituted its own ban on political ads around the time that Facebook did, it lifted that ban entirely in mid-December of 2020. In the Tuesday blog post, Facebook warned political advertisers not to get their hopes up for another reversal anytime soon, saying that the ban is “part of our ongoing efforts to protect the integrity of the election and reduce opportunities for confusion or abuse.”

We will notify advertisers when the pause is lifted,” the blog post adds.

Car Service Nuro Cleared For Driverless Deliveries In California

Illustration for article titled Car Service Nuro Cleared For Driverless Deliveries In California

Photo: Nuro

Driverless delivery service Nuro has been cleared for California’s first Autonomous Vehicle Deployment Permit, meaning the company could soon launch a fleet of autonomous commercial vehicles on city streets around the state.

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Nuro was first given clearance to test fully driverless vehicles in California earlier this year, but the new permit means that the company will now become the first autonomous vehicle company allowed to charge for its commercial services. According to its website, Nuro specializes in transporting local goods “quickly, safely, and affordably,” and is designed to handle “errands of all kinds — from dinner to dry cleaning.”

In a Medium post, David Estrada, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer, said that the company will soon “announce our first deployment in California with an established partner.” While deliveries are set to begin with the company’s tiny fleet of autonomous Toyota Prius cars, Nuro also has custom electric R2 vehicles waiting in the wings.

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Issued by the California DMV, the permit will initially only allow Nuro vehicles to operate in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties — meaning that the autonomous vehicles will be able to make deliveries to the Nuro headquarters in Silicon Valley, but would not yet be permitted to make trips to nearby San Francisco or Oakland.

While the vehicles will be permitted on city streets at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour, the vehicles will only be allowed to drive in “fair weather conditions,” which would mean no penne alla vodka deliveries on a rainy night.

The announcement of the commercial vehicle permit comes as Nuro is trying to shore up its resources in the self-driving market: On the same day the clearance was announced, the company also said that it had acquired Ike, a startup aimed at commercializing self-driving trucks.

Apple Reportedly Aiming to Launch Self-Driving Cars By 2024

Illustration for article titled Apple Reportedly Aiming to Launch Self-Driving Cars By 2024

Photo: Eric Thayer / Stringer (Getty Images)

Apple Inc. is joining the self-driving car game.

According to Reuters, the iPhone maker is targeting 2024 as a potential goal date to enter the fray with a self-driving passenger vehicle, one which will potentially be powered by Apple’s proprietary battery technology.

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Known as Project Titan, Apple’s automotive plans seem to temporarily derail in 2014, when the company divested resources in order to pivot to more lucrative software projects. But since then, Apple has apparently boned up operations to the extent that plans are now well underway to produce a mass market consumer vehicle — a project that competitors like Waymo, which has thus far focused exclusively on driverless rideshare, have historically shied away from.

The supply chain challenges inherent to producing its first-ever vehicle will mean that even Apple, an electronics company with global reach, will have its work cut out for it. Still, “If there is one company on the planet that has the resources to do that, it’s probably Apple,” an unnamed Project Titan collaborator told Reuters. But at the same time, it’s not a cellphone,” the source added.

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The big selling point of the planned vehicle will likely be its battery, which is reportedly a unique “monocell” design of Apple’s own invention that would be capable of clearing out pouches and modules containing battery materials in order to create more space for active material inside the battery itself and give the car a longer range.

Sources who spoke to Reuters said that Apple is also investigating the technology for LFP, or lithium iron phosphate, as a potentially safer alternative to lithium-ion batteries that would also be less likely to overheat.

In manufacturing the potential future self-driving vehicles, sources say that Apple would most likely turn to third-party partners to help with assembly. The company was previously said to have initially entered into talks with Magna International Inc., but those plans have since fizzled, sources close to the project said.

New Google Antitrust Lawsuit Could Be Filed As Soon As Thursday

Illustration for article titled New Google Antitrust Lawsuit Could Be Filed As Soon As Thursday

Photo: David Paul Morris / Stringer (Getty Images)

A coalition of states is reportedly readying a new antitrust lawsuit against Google that will claim that the company changed its search infrastructure to the disadvantage of certain rivals that offer specialized search results.

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According to Politico, the complaint — led by Democratic Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser — could go live as soon as Thursday.

The new case will be distinct from a different antitrust suit filed against Google in October by the Justice Department and 11 Republican state attorneys general. In that lawsuit, Google is accused of drawing up exclusive contracts with companies like Apple, Mozilla and the manufacturers of Android-powered smartphones to come pre-loaded with Google as the default browser search engine.

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Companies with specialized search results that utilize what’s sometimes known as “vertical search,” including Amazon, Tripadvisor and Yelp, have long claimed that Google’s algorithm is tailored to prioritize its own products in search results. This means that competing companies must either accept lower traffic, or buy ads in order to compete with Google and appear high up in the search results.

Although investigators familiar with the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity did not say how many states had signed on to the petition, the initial investigation that was made public in September 2019 had signatories that included Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and every state except Alabama and California.

The states-led lawsuit is expected to be filed in the same Washington, D.C. federal court as the Justice Department case, which will make it easier to eventually consolidate the two.

The new lawsuit is set to come amid a flurry of antitrust litigation being prepared by the Justice Department that sets a number of Silicon Valley titans in the crosshairs. Just last week, the Federal Trade Commission and dozens of states filed a suit seeking to break up Facebook for using anticompetitive tactics in order to buy or neutralize its rivals and shore up its market dominance.

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