Twitter Bans Suspect Iran Account After Post Threatens Trump

Twitter said Friday it has permanently banned an account that some in Iran believe is linked to the office of the country’s supreme leader after a posting that seemed to threaten former President Donald Trump.In the image posted by the suspect account late Thursday, Trump is shown playing golf in the shadow of a giant drone, with the caption “Revenge is certain” written in Farsi.In response to a request for comment from The Associated Press, a Twitter spokesperson said the account was fake and violated the company’s “manipulation and spam policy,” without elaborating how it came to that conclusion.The tweet of the photo violated the company’s “abusive behavior policy,” Twitter’s spokesperson added.In Iran, the suspect account — @khamenei_site — is believed to be linked to the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei because its behavior mirrored that of other accounts identified in state-run media as tied to his office. It frequently posted excerpts from his speeches and other official content.In this case, the account carried the link to Khamenei’s website.Other accounts tied to Khamenei’s office that did not tweet the photo, including his main English language account, remained active. The photo had also been featured prominently on the supreme leader’s website and was retweeted by Khamenei’s main Farsi language account, @Khamenei-fa, which apparently deleted it after posting.Earlier this month, Facebook and Twitter banned Trump from their platforms for allegedly inciting the assault on the U.S. Capitol, an unprecedented step that underscored the immense power of tech giants in regulating speech on their platforms. Activists soon urged the companies to apply their policies equally to other political figures worldwide, in order to combat hate speech and content that encourages violence.The warning in the caption referenced Khamenei’s remarks last month ahead of the first anniversary of the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. In his speech, Khamenei did not call out Trump by name, but reiterated a vow for vengeance against those who ordered and executed the attack on Soleimani.”Revenge will certainly happen at the right time,” Khamenei had declared.Iran blocks social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, and censors others. While top officials have unfettered access to social media, Iran’s youth and tech-savvy citizens use proxy servers or other workarounds to bypass the controls.Soon after Trump’s ban from Twitter ignited calls to target tweets from other political leaders, the company took down a post by a different Khamenei-linked account that pushed a COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theory.Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran, had claimed that virus vaccines imported from the U.S. or Britain were “completely untrustworthy.”  

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Judge Says Amazon Won’t Have to Restore Parler Web Service

Amazon won’t be forced to immediately restore web service to Parler after a federal judge ruled Thursday against a plea to reinstate the fast-growing social media app, which is favored by followers of former President Donald Trump.U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle said she was not dismissing Parler’s “substantive underlying claims” against Amazon but said it had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction forcing it back online.Amazon kicked Parler off its web-hosting service on Jan. 11. In court filings, it said the suspension was a “last resort” to block Parler from harboring violent plans to disrupt the presidential transition.The Seattle tech giant said Parler had shown an “unwillingness and inability” to remove a slew of dangerous posts that called for the rape, torture and assassination of politicians, tech executives and many others.The social media app, a magnet for the far right, sued to get back online, arguing that Amazon had breached its contract and abused its market power. It said Trump was likely on the brink of joining the platform, following a wave of his followers who flocked to the app after Twitter and Facebook expelled Trump after the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.Rothstein said she rejected “any suggestion that the public interest favors requiring Amazon Web Services (AWS) to host the incendiary speech that the record shows some of Parler’s users have engaged in.” She also faulted Parler for providing “only faint and factually inaccurate speculation” about Amazon and Twitter colluding with one another to shut Parler down.Political motives?Parler CEO John Matze asserted in a court filing that Parler’s abrupt shutdown was motivated at least partly by “a desire to deny Trump a platform on any large social-media service.” Matze said Trump had contemplated joining the network as early as October under a pseudonym. The Trump administration last week declined to comment on whether he had planned to join.Amazon denied its move to pull the plug on Parler had anything to do with political animus. It claimed that Parler had breached its business agreement “by hosting content advocating violence and failing to timely take that content down.”Parler was formed in May 2018, according to Nevada business records, with what co-founder Rebekah Mercer, a prominent Trump backer and conservative donor, later described as the goal of creating “a neutral platform for free speech” away from “the tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords.”Amazon said the company signed up for its cloud computing services about a month later, thereby agreeing to its rules against dangerous content.Matze told the court that Parler has “no tolerance for inciting violence or lawbreaking” and has relied on volunteer “jurors” to flag problem posts and vote on whether they should be removed. More recently, he said the company informed Amazon it would soon begin using artificial intelligence to automatically pre-screen posts for inappropriate content, as bigger social media companies do.Amazon last week revealed a trove of incendiary and violent posts that it had reported to Parler over the past several weeks. They included explicit calls to harm high-profile political and business leaders and broader groups of people, such as schoolteachers and Black Lives Matter activists.Move to EpikGoogle and Apple were the first tech giants to take action against Parler in the days after the deadly Capitol riot. Both companies temporarily banned the smartphone app from their app stores. But people who had already downloaded the Parler app were still able to use it until AWS pulled the plug on the website.Parler has kept its website online by maintaining its internet registration through Epik, a U.S. company owned by libertarian businessman Rob Monster. Epik has previously hosted 8chan, an online message board known for trafficking in hate speech. Parler is currently hosted by DDoS-Guard, a company whose owners are based in Russia, public records show.DDoS-Guard did not respond to emails seeking comment on its business with Parler or on published reports that its customers have included Russian government agencies.Parler did not return requests for comment this week about its future plans. Though its website is back, it has not restored its app or social network. Matze has said it will be difficult to restore service because the site had been so dependent on Amazon engineering, and Amazon’s action has turned off other potential vendors.The case has offered a rare window into Amazon’s influence over the workings of the internet. Parler argued in its lawsuit that Amazon violated antitrust laws by colluding with Twitter, which also uses some Amazon cloud services, to quash the upstart social media app.Rothstein, who was appointed to the Seattle-based court by Democratic President Jimmy Carter, said Parler presented “dwindlingly slight” evidence of antitrust violations and no evidence that Amazon and Twitter “acted together intentionally — or even at all — in restraint of trade.” 

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Google Seals Content Payment Deal with French News Publishers

Google and a French publishers lobby said Thursday that they had agreed to a copyright framework for the U.S. tech giant to pay news publishers for content online, a first for Europe.The move paves the way for individual licensing agreements for French publications, some of which have seen revenues drop with the rise of the internet and declines in print circulation.The deal, which Google describes as a sustainable way to pay publishers, is likely to be closely watched by other platforms such as Facebook, a lawyer involved in the talks said.Facebook was not immediately reachable for comment.Alphabet-owned Google and the Alliance de la Presse D’information Générale (APIG) said in a statement that the framework included criteria such as the daily volume of publications, monthly internet traffic and “contribution to political and general information.”Google has so far only signed licensing agreements with a few publications in France, including national daily newspapers Le Monde and Le Figaro. These take into account the framework agreed with APIG, a Google spokesman said.Google News ShowcaseGoogle’s vehicle for paying news publishers, called Google News Showcase, is so far only available in Brazil and Germany.On Thursday, Reuters confirmed it had signed a deal with Google to be the first global news provider to Google News Showcase. Reuters is owned by news and information provider Thomson Reuters Corp.”Reuters is committed to developing new ways of providing access to trusted, high-quality and reliable global news coverage at a time when it’s never been more important,” Eric Danetz, Reuters global head of revenue, said in a statement.Google and APIG did not say how much money would be distributed to APIG’s members, who include most French national and local publishers. Details on how the remuneration would be calculated were not disclosed.The deal follows months of bargaining among Google, French publishers and news agencies over how to apply revamped EU copyright rules, which allow publishers to demand a fee from online platforms showing extracts of their news.Google, the world’s biggest search engine, initially fought against the idea of paying publishers for content, saying their websites benefited from the greater traffic it brought. 

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Facebook Oversight Panel to Review Suspension of Trump’s Accounts 

Facebook’s independent oversight board said Thursday that it had accepted the company’s request to review its decision to suspend the accounts of former President Donald Trump.The U.S. social media giant blocked Trump’s access to his Facebook and Instagram accounts after he was accused of inciting a deadly insurrection by his supporters January 6 at the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers were formally certifying Joe Biden’s presidential victory.When it made the decision, the company said the suspension would remain in effect at least until the end of Trump’s term on January 20 and possibly indefinitely.The board said a five-member panel would review the case in the coming days and report its findings to the full board.A majority of the members must approve a decision before it can be issued. The board must decide within 90 days, and Facebook is required to act on it within that period. The board’s decisions are nonbinding.Trump’s critics generally applauded Facebook’s decision, but many world leaders and free-speech proponents denounced it, maintaining it sets an alarming precedent against free speech.’Very confident’ decision was rightFacebook global affairs chief Nick Clegg told the Reuters news agency he remained convinced the company acted appropriately when it suspended Trump’s accounts.“I’m very confident that any reasonable person looking at the circumstances in which we took that decision and looking at our existing policies will agree,” Clegg said.But Clegg also said the board might consider wider principles and policies that could influence its decision.In addition to reviewing the decision to suspend Trump’s accounts, Clegg said he asked the board to recommend when political leaders can or should be prohibited from using the company’s platforms.Facebook created the oversight board after being criticized for its management of problematic content. The panel consists of 20 members, including a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a former prime minister, legal experts and rights advocates.Twitter, Trump’s favorite social media platform, has suspended the former president permanently.  

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Twitter Says It Locked Account of China’s US Embassy Over Xinjiang-Related Tweet

Twitter has locked the account of China’s U.S. embassy for a tweet that defended China’s policies in the Xinjiang region, which the U.S. social media platform said violated the firm’s policy against “dehumanization.” The Chinese Embassy account, @ChineseEmbinUS, posted a tweet this month that said that Uighur women were no longer “baby making machines,” citing a study reported by state-backed newspaper China Daily. The tweet was removed by Twitter and replaced by a label stating that it was no longer available. Although Twitter hides tweets that violate its policies, it requires account owners to manually delete such posts. The Chinese Embassy’s account has not posted any new tweets since January 9. Twitter’s suspension of the embassy’s account came a day after the Trump administration, in its final hours, accused China of committing genocide in Xinjiang, a finding endorsed by the incoming Biden administration. The Biden administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Twitter’s move. “We’ve taken action on the Tweet you referenced for violating our policy against dehumanization, where it states: We prohibit the dehumanization of a group of people based on their religion, caste, age, disability, serious disease, national origin, race, or ethnicity,” a Twitter spokesperson said on Thursday. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment. Twitter is blocked in China but is an increasingly favored platform by China’s diplomats and state media. China has repeatedly rejected accusations of abuse in its Xinjiang region, where a United Nations panel has said at least 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims had been detained in camps. Last year, a report by German researcher Adrian Zenz published by the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation think tank accused China of using forced sterilization, forced abortion and coercive family planning against minority Muslims. The Chinese foreign ministry said the allegations were groundless and false. Twitter’s move also follows the removal of the account of former U.S. President Donald Trump, which had 88 million followers, citing the risk of violence after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol this month. Twitter had locked Trump’s account, asking for deletion of some tweets, before restoring it and then removing it altogether after the former president violated the platform’s policies again.  

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Official US Government Social Media Accounts Switch to New Administration

When Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th U.S. president Wednesday, he inherited several social media accounts, including the @POTUS, @WhiteHouse, @FLOTUS and @VP Twitter accounts. 
 
Unlike after the last inauguration in 2017, when then-President Barack Obama’s followers were transferred to his successor Donald Trump, Biden inherited none of the @POTUS account’s existing 33 million followers. 
 
Biden’s current official Twitter account, @PresElectBiden became @POTUS, bringing with it all followers. 
 
President Biden’s first tweet shortly after he was sworn in Wednesday said, “There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face. That’s why today, I am heading to the Oval Office to get right to work delivering bold action and immediate relief for American families.” There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face. That’s why today, I am heading to the Oval Office to get right to work delivering bold action and immediate relief for American families.— President Biden (@POTUS) January 20, 2021 
Biden’s social media team has expressed concerns about how Twitter is handling the transition, calling the moves “absolutely, profoundly insufficient.” 
 
Twitter says the move will give users the choice of whether to follow the new president.  
 
Meanwhile, Trump’s @POTUS tweets will be archived by Twitter under the handle @POTUS45. His personal account will remain suspended without an official archive of the tweets, leaving some scholars concerned that there will be no official record of Trump’s tweets as president.  
 
Facebook and Instagram duplicated the current followers of the official White House Page for the new administration page. Official Trump administration pages will be archived. YouTube will perform a similar transfer of accounts. 

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Palestinian High-Tech Sector Takes Off

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, dozens of Palestinian high-tech startups are flourishing. Some are branches of international companies, others are all Palestinian. High-tech also offers new possibilities for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. Linda Gradstein reports for VOA from Jerusalem.
Camera: Ricki Rosen 
 

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Skirting the Water: An Electric Bike Opens Up New Horizons for Bikers

Take a ride on a new kind of bike — one that skirts across lakes and waterways – powered by an electric engine and a battery. Michelle Quinn got a ride.Camera: Michelle Quinn   
Producer: Rob Raffaele   

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Turkey Hits Twitter, Pinterest with Advertising Bans

Turkey imposed advertising bans Tuesday on Twitter, Periscope and Pinterest for not complying with a new law requiring social media companies to appoint a local representative to handle content removal orders.
 
The rules that went into effect in October have drawn criticism from human rights and media freedom groups who argue Turkey’s government is trying to stifle dissent.
 
The law calls for a local representative to respond to requests to remove content that violates privacy and personal rights within 48 hours.
 
Facebook said Monday it would appoint such an envoy, while highlighting in a statement the need for users to be able to freely express themselves.
 
Other companies have complied with the rules, including YouTube, TikTok, Dailymotion and VKontakte.
 
Any company that does not comply faces the possibility of having its bandwidth reduced, making it difficult for users to access the service.

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Parler Partially Reappears with Support from Russian Technology Firm

Parler, a social media website and app popular with the American far right, has partially returned online with the help of a Russian-owned technology company.Parler vanished from the internet when dropped by Amazon Inc.’s hosting arm and other partners for poor moderation after its users called for violence and posted videos glorifying the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.On Monday, Parler’s website was reachable again, though only with a message from its chief executive saying he was working to restore functionality.The internet protocol address it used is owned by DDos-Guard, which is controlled by two Russian men and provides services including protection from distributed denial of service attacks, infrastructure expert Ronald Guilmette told Reuters.If the website is fully restored, Parler users would be able to see and post comments. Most users prefer the app, however, which remains banned from the official Apple and Google stores.Parler CEO John Matze and representatives of DDoS-Guard did not reply to requests for comment.Last Wednesday, Matze told Reuters the company was in talks with multiple service providers but declined to elaborate.DDoS-Guard has worked with other racist, rightist and conspiracy sites that have been used by mass murderers to share messages, including 8kun. It has also supported Russian government sites.DDoS-Guard’s website lists an address in Scotland under the company name Cognitive Cloud LP, but that is owned by two men in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Guilmette said. One of them told the Guardian recently that he was not aware of all of the content the company facilitates.Parler critics said it was a potential security risk for it to depend on a Russian company, as well as an odd choice for a site popular with self-described patriots.Russian propaganda has stoked political divisions in the United States, supporting outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump and amplifying false narratives about election fraud but also protests against police brutality.Parler, which disclosed it has more than 12 million users, sued Amazon last Monday after the ecommerce giant and cloud services provider cut off service, citing poor moderation of calls to violence.

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Should Social Media Platforms Lose Legal Protection?

The decision by social media giants to police more content, along with banning U.S. President Donald Trump and some of his supporters from posting, is intensifying a debate in Europe over how to regulate platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.The hotly contested debate has mostly focused on whether governments should intervene to censor and curtail freedom of speech, or whether they should protect opinion from being blocked or scrubbed by the social media giants, however offensive the views. But a growing number of European leaders sees a third way to reduce fake news, hate speech, disinformation and poisonous personal attacks — by treating social media providers not as owners of neutral platforms connecting consumers with digital content creators but as publishers in their own right. This would help sidestep fears over state censorship of speech, they say.Amending laws to make them legally responsible, just as traditional newspapers and broadcasters are for the content they carry, would render the social media companies liable for defamation and slander lawsuits. By blocking content and banning some users, social media companies have unwittingly boosted the argument that they are content providers, as they are now in practice taking on a greater role as editors of opinion.British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a news conference in Downing Street on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, in London, Dec. 24, 2020.“I do think there’s a real debate now to be had about the status of the big internet companies and whether they should be identified as mere platforms or as publishers, because when you start editorializing, then you’re in a different world,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a parliamentary committee last week. Many European Union leaders have criticized social media companies for banishing Trump and his supporters from their platforms. Facebook has blocked or deleted content that uses the phrase, “Stop the Steal,” which refers to false claims of election fraud. Twitter says it has suspended more than 70,000 accounts of QAnon conspiracy theorists who believe Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles in government, business and the media.German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the media during a statement at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Nov. 9, 2020 on the results of the US elections.German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her concerns about the blocking and deleting, calling it a step too far.“The right to freedom of opinion is of fundamental importance,” her spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, told reporters.Some countries led by populist governments, such as Poland, are considering drafting legislation that would prohibit Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies from censoring opinions, fearing the social media giants will censor them.But political pressure is also mounting in other countries for the state to regulate speech and to police social media platforms.The idea that social media companies should be subject to similar regulation as newspapers and television and radio broadcasters is not new. Newspaper owners have long bristled at the social media platforms being treated differently under the law from traditional media. They have complained that Facebook and others are piggy backing off the content they produce, while reaping massive profits selling ads.FILE – The Facebook application is displayed on a mobile phone at a store in Chicago, July 30, 2019.Last year, Facebook pushed back on the idea of social media platforms being treated like traditional media, arguing in a report that they should be placed in a separate category halfway between newspapers and the telecommunications industry. The company agreed that new regulatory rules are needed but argued they should focus on the monitoring and removal of mechanisms that firms might put in place to block “harmful” posts, rather than restrictions on companies carrying specific types of speech or being liable for content. Johnson’s advocacy of treating social media giants like traditional media is being echoed in the United States, where Congress passed the Communications Decency Act in 1996. The measure largely allowed the companies to regulate themselves and shielded them from liability for much of the content posted on their platforms.Section 230 of the legislation stated: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Ironically, Section 230 has drawn the disapproval of both Trump and President-elect Joe Biden. Both have called for the section’s repeal, which would make social media legally responsible for what people post, rendering them vulnerable to lawsuits for defamation and slander. Last week, Biden told The New York Times he favored the internet’s biggest liability shield being “revoked, immediately.” 

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Europe’s Populists Fearful of Social Media Restrictions

Europe’s populist leaders are outraged by the decision of U.S. social-media giants to block U.S. President Donald Trump from posting on their sites. They fear Facebook, Twitter and other major social media companies could start banning them, too.  
 
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki condemned the internet giants Tuesday. “The censorship of freedom of speech, the domain of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, is returning today in the form of a new, commercial mechanism fighting against those who think differently,” he wrote on Facebook.
 
Poland’s ruling populist Law and Justice Party (PiS) already has introduced legislation aimed at limiting the power of social media giants to remove content or ban users.  
 
The draft law was proposed after Twitter started flagging as misleading content tweets by Trump and supporters disputing the U.S. election result. PiS lawmakers say there shouldn’t be any censorship by social media companies or curtailment of speech because debate is the essence of democracy.
 
Opposition critics say the proposed measure sits oddly with the ruling party’s efforts to muzzle the national media and to turn the public broadcaster into a propaganda vehicle. Those moves are currently being investigated by the European Union, which has accused the PiS government of rolling back democratic norms.
 
The Polish government also has vowed to bring foreign-owned media outlets in the country under Polish control, which critics fear means turning them into government propaganda outlets.  
 
Under the draft law, if content is removed, a social media company would have 24 hours to respond to a complaint from a user and any decision could be appealed to a newly created special court.
 
Populist leaders aren’t alone in denouncing the moves by social media giants. Across Europe there is unease regardless of political affiliation at censorship by social media giants and their expulsion of Trump, a response to last week’s bid to derail the certification of the U.S. election results by pro-Trump agitators storming the U.S. Capitol. Twitter cited violations of its civic integrity policies to block Trump.
 
Facebook is blocking and deleting content that uses the phrase “stop the steal,” which refers to false claims by Trump supporters of election fraud. And Twitter says it has suspended more than 70,000 accounts of adherents of the QAnon conspiracy, who believe Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles in government, business and the media.FILE – A figure representing hate speech on Facebook is seen featured during a carnival parade in Duesseldorf, Germany, Feb. 24, 2020.German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed her concerns about the actions of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, saying they are a step too far.  
 
“The right to freedom of opinion is of fundamental importance,” her spokesperson Steffen Seibert told reporters this week. But campaigns are mounting in Germany and in other European countries for social media giants to block hate speech, populist misinformation and fake news from their sites, regardless of authorship.  
 
Additionally, political pressure is mounting for a tightening of regulatory restrictions that some European governments have already introduced aimed at policing social media.  
 
When voicing concern about the social media blocking of Trump, Merkel’s spokesperson cited Germany’s Network Enforcement Act, which was approved in 2018 and requires social media platforms to remove potentially illegal material within 24 hours of being told to do so, or face fines of up to $60 million.  
 
Seibert said free speech should only be restricted in line “with the laws and within a framework defined by the legislature, not by the decision of the management of social media platforms.”  
 
But some German lawmakers want the law toughened and are also urging social media companies to be more forward-leaning in efforts to block what they see as dangerous speech. German Social Democrat lawmaker Helge Lindh told broadcaster Deutsche Welle that Germany is “not doing enough,” saying more restrictions are needed.  
 
The German parliament approved legislation last year that would ensure prosecution for those perpetrating hate or for inciting it online. Under the legislation, social media companies would have been obliged to report hate comments to the police and identify the online authors.
 
Final passage of the legislation was halted, though, because of objections raised by the country’s Constitutional Court, which ruled parts of the new legislation were in conflict with data protection laws. The court called for adjustments that are scheduled to be debated this month by German lawmakers.  
 
Populist politicians stand to lose more from the renewed focus on misinformation on the internet, whether the outcome from the new focus is more stringent state regulations or just social media giants being more restrictive in Europe.
 
Populists tend to be able to galvanize support using social media more than mainstream politicians and parties have managed, says Ralph Schroeder, an academic at the Oxford Internet Institute, part of Britain’s University of Oxford.  
 
“They stand to lose most along with other politicians, on the left and the right and beyond, that seek a politics that is anti-establishment and exclusionary toward outsiders,” he told VOA. “The reason is that social media gives them a means to express ideas that cannot be expressed in traditional news media or in traditional party affiliations.”
 

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