India Journalism

Musk’s Twitter Reinstates Hindu Nationalist Accounts That Disparage Muslims

That’s the headline on my latest story, out Wednesday. It begins:

Twitter Inc. under Elon Musk has reinstated several previously suspended Hindu nationalist accounts that were popular in India, one of its largest markets by users, with human-rights groups saying the move has spurred a resurgence of divisive religious material on the platform.

Some of the accounts that were suspended had been reported for posting hate speech aimed at religious minorities in India, according to groups that reported them. Upon their return in recent weeks, some have tweeted material denigrating Muslims and others.

The tweets include a debunked video that the person who posted it claimed showed a Muslim cleric spitting on rice before serving it to others, another calling Pakistani Muslims “rectums,” and a retweet of a user who called the Quran “the source of all evil.”

The Hindu-majority South Asian nation has deep social and religious divisions that have in the past erupted into fatal religious confrontations, sometimes connected to material spread online. Muslims make up about 14% of India’s population.

Twitter had 41 million users in India as of December, making it the company’s third-biggest market by users after the U.S. and Japan, according to eMarketer, a unit of data and research firm Insider Intelligence.

Twitter didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Google Faces Pressure in Hong Kong Over Search Results for National Anthem

That’s the headline on my latest story, out Tuesday. It begins:

HONG KONG—Google is under fire from officials and legislators in Hong Kong over a pro-democracy song that is showing up in search results for the national anthem, raising tensions between American tech giants and authorities as Beijing tries to spread patriotism in the city.

Two members of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing legislative council in recent days have joined the city’s chief secretary in criticizing the Alphabet Inc. unit for showing the song, “Glory to Hong Kong,” among its top results.

Hong Kong’s official anthem has been China’s “March of The Volunteers” since Beijing regained sovereignty over the former British colony 25 years ago. Antigovernment protesters in 2019 adopted “Glory to Hong Kong”—before the imposition of a national security law—and it has featured prominently on Google and YouTube since then.

That has led to confusion in recent weeks at sporting events when the protest anthem was played, angering local officials and triggering an investigation by the Hong Kong police’s organized crime bureau.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment, though the company has said its search results are determined by algorithms—not by human curation—and that results some might find objectionable can occur when search queries match text on webpages. The company says it only removes content that violates Google’s policies or specific legal obligations.

Last week, a third lawmaker staged a protest with several people at Google’s Hong Kong office. It was a rare show of anger against an American tech firm in a city where access to the internet—unlike in mainland China—has remained mostly unfettered. That is a key reason why global companies operate in the city.

Hong Kong’s No. 2 official, Chief Secretary Eric Chan Kwok-ki, told media outlets in recent weeks that the government was discussing the search results with Google and its video platform, YouTube.

“It’s about dignity and respect,” said one of the lawmakers, Duncan Chiu.

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Journalism Tech

Kanye West Suspended From Twitter After Swastika Tweet

That was the headline on my latest, a story out Friday with my colleague Sarah Needleman. It begins:

Twitter Inc. again suspended Kanye West’s account after the musician and designer posted a swastika in a tweet that the social-media platform’s owner, Elon Musk, said violated its rules.

Mr. West, who now legally goes by Ye and had recently returned from a previous Twitter suspension, on Thursday posted a picture of a swastika merged with the Star of David.

Asked on Twitter by a user to “fix Kanye please,” Mr. Musk replied: “I tried my best. Despite that, he again violated our rule against incitement to violence. Account will be suspended.”

Mr. West’s account then began displaying a message saying it was suspended, with no tweets visible.

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Journalism Tech

Twitter Becomes Stage for China Protests Despite Ban by Beijing

That was the headline on a story out Wednesday I wrote with my colleage Selina Cheng. It begins:

HONG KONG—Twitter is banned in China, but it is proving a critical platform for getting videos and images of protests occurring across the nation out to the rest of the world.

China’s robust internet censors have sprung into action to scrub domestic social media of photos and video streams showing demonstrations against harsh Covid restrictions, spurring citizens to circumvent the nation’s Great Firewall.

Twitter has been blocked in China since 2009, but people in the country are able to access it using virtual private networks, or VPNs, which disguise their locations. They can then send material via the platform’s messaging system to a handful of widely followed Twitter users, who in turn broadcast it globally.

One Twitter user who lives outside China and goes by the name of Li Laoshi, or Teacher Li, said he has been receiving more than a dozen messages per second with protest material at some points since public unrest erupted—the same number he used to get a day—so that he could repost them publicly.

“My daily routine is: wake up, post online, and feed my cat,” he said. The goal of the account, created in May 2020, is to record events that are subject to censorship in China, his profile states. It had more than 759,000 followers as of Wednesday, more than triple the number before protests began, according to social-media analytics site Social Blade.

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Facebook Parent Meta Announces Layoffs of 11,000 Staff

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Wednesday with my colleague Sam Schechner. It begins:

Meta Platforms Inc. said it would cut more than 11,000 workers, or 13% of staff, embarking on the company’s first broad restructuring as it copes with a slumping digital-ad market and plunging stock price.

The layoffs add to a wave of job cuts that are roiling Silicon Valley, where tech giants that added employees by the tens of thousands through the pandemic are now retrenching.

In a message to staff on Wednesday morning, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said the company, the parent of Facebook and Instagram, would cut staff across all of its businesses, with its recruiting and business teams disproportionately affected. The company is also tightening its belt by reducing its office space, moving to desk-sharing for some workers and extending a hiring freeze through the first quarter of 2023.

“This is a sad moment, and there’s no way around that,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote, adding that he had been wrong in assuming that an increase in online activity during the pandemic would continue. “I got this wrong and I take responsibility for that.”

Click through to read the rest.

My colleagues Jeff Horwitz and Salvador Rodriguez had the scoop Monday on the coming cuts.


In Hong Kong, Sanctioned Russian Tycoon’s Superyacht Sparks U.S.-China Spat

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Monday. It begins:

The anchoring in Hong Kong waters of a sanctioned Russian oligarch’s superyacht is ramping up tensions between Beijing and Washington, which warned against the financial center being used as a safe haven.

The 465-foot Nord, owned by steel magnate Alexey Mordashov, moored west of the Chinese territory’s Victoria Harbour last week after departing from the far-eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, according to website MarineTraffic.

Its presence has drawn onlookers in passing boats eager to snap photos of one the world’s biggest luxury vessels. Equipped with two helicopter pads, a cinema and swimming pool, it can be seen flying a Russian flag. It has also ignited a spat between U.S. and Chinese officials, already at loggerheads over Beijing’s crackdowns on freedoms in the former British colony.

“The possible use of Hong Kong as a safe haven by individuals evading sanctions from multiple jurisdictions further calls into question the transparency of the business environment,” a U.S. State Department spokesman said Saturday. “Hong Kong’s reputation as a financial center depends on adherence to international laws and standards.”

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India Journalism

Meta Officials Cite Security Concerns for Failing to Release Full India Hate-Speech Study

That’s the headline on my latest story, an exclusive out Wednesday. It begins:

Executives at Meta Platforms Inc. privately told rights groups that security concerns prevented them from releasing details of its investigation into hate speech on its services in India, according to audio recordings heard by The Wall Street Journal.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, in July released a four-page summary of a human-rights impact assessment on India, its biggest market by users, where it has faced accusations of failing to adequately police hate speech against religious minorities. The India summary was part of the company’s first global human-rights report. The 83-page global report offers detailed findings of some previous investigations; it included only general descriptions of its India assessment, which disappointed some rights advocates.

“This is not the report that the human-rights team at Meta wanted to publish, we wanted to be able to publish more,” Iain Levine, a Meta senior human-rights adviser, said during private online briefings with rights groups in late July after the summary was released, according to the recordings.

“A decision was made at the highest levels of the company based upon both internal and external advice that it was not possible to do so for security reasons,” he said.

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We Won a Loeb Award for our Facebook Files Series

🏆 I have some very cool news to share: Our WSJ Facebook Files team, led by the great Jeff Horwitz, won this year’s Loeb Award for beat reporting.

Here’s the full list of winners.

I’m so proud of our team.

Loeb Facebook Files team tweet

Jeff and I both studied business and economics journalism at Columbia, so this tweet was especially fun to see:

Columbia Journalism Loeb Tweet

That means in addition to the Loeb, our team has taken home a Polk Award, a SABEW, and an award from the Deadline Club.

I’m lucky to work with such phenomenal colleagues.



Our Facebook Files Series is a Loeb Awards Finalist

I’m proud to say that our Facebook Files series has been named a finalist for a 2022 Loeb Award in the beat reporting category.

You can read more about this year’s finalists here.

The winners will be announced on September 29 at an event in New York.

You may recall that in May we won a Deadline Club award.

And we took home a Polk Award and one from SABEW earlier this year.

This is the second straight year, as it happens, that my colleague Jeff Horwitz and I have been Loeb finalists.

Last year my he and I, along with our colleague Rajesh Roy, were international finalists for our coverage of hate speech and Facebook in India.


Journalism Tech

Amazon Sues Administrators of More Than 10,000 Facebook Groups Over Fake Reviews

That’s the headline on a story I wrote Tuesday. It begins: Inc. said it filed a lawsuit against the administrators of what it says are more than 10,000 Facebook groups used to coordinate fake reviews of Amazon products.

Those in charge of the Facebook groups solicit the reviews for items ranging from camera tripods to car stereos in exchange for free products or money, Amazon said in a statement.

The activity, which is against Amazon’s rules, occurs across Amazon’s stores in the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan, the company said. Such bogus reviews are typically used to boost products’ ratings and increase the likelihood customers buy them.

The lawsuit represents “proactive legal action targeting bad actors,” Amazon Vice President Dharmesh Mehta said.

My colleague Nicole Nguyen wrote last year about the problem of inauthentic reviews on Amazon.

And she has a new story out Wednesday, in the wake of Amazon’s suit, with tips on spotting fake reviews.