Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to gin up a scandal about Hunter Biden and his work in Ukraine already got President Donald Trump impeached. Now it could turn into a watershed moment for the debate over regulating social media companies.
When the New York Post published stories based on questionably sourced emailed purportedly found on Hunter’s laptop in a Delaware computer repair shop, Facebook and Twitter both reacted by throttling traffic to the stories. Twitter temporarily blocked links altogether.
That prompted a backlash from Republicans, who of course would like the story to gain widespread attention in the weeks before the election. That’s the hope even though the emails — even if completely accurate — don’t do anything to alter the reality that Hunter had nothing to with the firing of Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin or that Trump’s children have their own massive financial conflicts of interest.
Much of the debate has focused on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and, most recently, a Trump administration initiative to get the Federal Communications Commission to modify the law. As my colleague Sara Morrison explains, they can’t really do that. The Section 230 debate, however, has been awash in misunderstanding and misinformation, with lots of hectoring about an alleged (but fake) legal distinction between a “platform” and a “publisher.”
What the law actually says is that if I run a computer service and you use it to libel someone, then you are legally responsible for the libel but I am not. At one point in the early internet, there was concern that if a company edited or moderated its comments sections in any way, that would expose the company to legal liability for anything it failed to remove. Section 230 sought to encourage moderation (there’s no porn on Instagram, for example) by clarifying that this is not the case.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the House have been pushing for antitrust scrutiny of big tech companies, something Republicans have at least rhetorically backed from time to time.
But while there are antitrust issues in the technology world, the question posed by the Hunter Biden email story is not really a question of competition policy. Forcing Facebook to divest Instagram and WeChat, for example, would not really eliminate anyone’s concern about social networks being used to algorithmically supercharge misinformation or becoming a vector for foreign intelligence operations.
Nor would it alleviate conservatives’ concerns that tech companies run by mostly left-of-center coastal professionals will try to selectively censor conservative speech, or progressives’ concerns that algorithms are being rigged against them to placate congressional Republicans.
The argument, instead, is about how and whether social media companies should be regulated as critical communications infrastructure with important implications for the health of American democracy. And there’s precedent for regulation in that domain. The whole reason there is an FCC in the first place is because in past generations, Congress thought the communications industry — first telegraph and radio, then phones and television — needed its own regulatory framework.
But this classic era of communication regulation provides two distinct models for regulation with roughly opposite implications, and proponents of cracking down on Big Tech need to think harder about which it is they are asking for.
The unregulated newsstand
Beneath the hullaballoo about platforms and publishers and special regulations, the best way to think about the regulatory status of social media platforms is with an analog analogy: They are treated like newsstands.
- A newsstand carries many magazines but certainly not all magazines.
- The newsstand’s owners and managers decide for themselves which magazines they carry and which magazines receive more favorable placement on the racks.
- The placement decisions are made primarily on the basis of business considerations, rather than editorial ones, but there’s no governing framework; a newsstand doesn’t need to have a set standard or apply it fairly.
- If something libelous or otherwise illegal (for reasons of copyright, national security, privacy law, or whatever else) appears in an issue of a magazine that lands on a newsstand rack, the newsstands are not legally liable for that content.
These various features of the newsstand business are not just compatible with the principle of free speech, they are required by it — both in the narrow sense of freedom from government regulation and in the broader sense of promoting a healthy and diverse discourse. If you made newsstands legally liable for errors made by magazines, the newsstands would need to become incredibly conservative in what they sell (they, after all, can’t review the content of every article before placing the issues on the racks) and the discourse would suffer.
But if you deprived newsstands of the ability to decide for themselves which magazines to stock and which to promote, you’d be trampling on their freedom. Many people value the circulation and dissemination of articles they don’t always agree with but also would not want to own — or shop in — a store whose walls were full of neo-Nazi propaganda.
Trying to set a hard and fast universal rule about what stores should carry and what they shouldn’t would be censorship. Letting shops decide for themselves what they want to do is the opposite of censorship, and requiring them to carry everything would be absurd.
The specter of monopoly
To US Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, this may be fine for retail stores. But Facebook, as he tweeted on October 15, “is [a] lot like a supermarket … except there’s only ONE supermarket in town, and they decide who can and can’t shop. That’s what we call a monopoly.”
This is obviously not quite right. If you’re mad at Facebook, for example, you can tweet about it. If Twitter blocks a New York Post story, you can still read about it on the Post’s website or on any of dozens of other websites that choose to cover it. It’s not like being crushed under the heel of a true monopolist.
At the same time, Hawley is correct that Facebook’s decision-making isn’t on par with that of a neighborhood retailer or even a large retail chain. Facebook is simply a really, really big company — big enough that its decisions are a matter of public concern. In 2017 and 2018, for example, it tweaked its newsfeed algorithm to reduce the quantity and prominence of political news. As Slate’s Will Oremus reported at the time, this had a huge impact on the media business: “Traffic from Facebook plummeted a staggering 87 percent, from a January 2017 peak of 28 million to less than 4 million in May 2018. It’s down more than 55 percent in 2018 alone.”
When the Great Throttling happened, there were suspicions that certain conservative sites were receiving favorable treatment.
Those suspicions were confirmed in an October 16 Wall Street Journal story by Deepa Seetharaman and Emily Glazer, which revealed that Mark Zuckerberg personally approved a tweak-within-a-tweak to benefit the Daily Wire and other conservative publishers:
In late 2017, when Facebook tweaked its newsfeed algorithm to minimize the presence of political news, policy executives were concerned about the outsize impact of the changes on the right, including the Daily Wire, people familiar with the matter said. Engineers redesigned their intended changes so that left-leaning sites like Mother Jones were affected more than previously planned, the people said. Mr. Zuckerberg approved the plans.
Perhaps the most telling part of the story is the non-denial denial they received from a Facebook spokesperson, who said “we did not make changes with the intent of impacting individual publishers.”
The charge, of course, is not that they made the changes with the intent of impacting individual publishers. It’s that they made changes intended to reduce the prominence of political content, and then made changes to that change that were intended to minimize the impact on conservative publishers writ large.
Facebook doesn’t really deny that this happened, and it is a big enough deal that its decision to disproportionately distribute right-leaning content has a real impact on the world. Changing course would also have a real impact on the world. And even without Facebook being a monopoly, the decisions the company makes are obviously a big deal for American society and public policy thus might try to shape them. The United States has traditionally subjected communications technology to regulatory standards that go beyond market efficiency because they are seen as having particular social importance.
But the question for those who’d regulate social media is: What are they trying to achieve?
Social media as Ma Bell
If you go back to the “classic” era of American communication technology in the third quarter of the 20th century, you see two very different types of regulatory standards applied to two different technologies. There’s the model used to regulate telephone companies, most of all AT&T, and there’s the model used to regulate the big three broadcast television networks.
Both were cases of industries with sharply limited competition and great social importance that led to a widespread sense that you can’t just “leave it up to the market” the way you would with a newsstand.
Phone companies were (and, to the extent that they are operating as phone companies, still are) required to act as “dumb pipes.” They carry audio from one phone to another, no questions asked.
- You can curse on the phone, engage in lewd or pornographic talk, slander people, harass them, shout racial slurs, or otherwise do whatever you want and the phone company has zero liability for your actions.
- Not only can phone companies get away with letting you do that stuff on the phone, they are legally required to so do. The phone company does not listen in on calls or disfavor bad or undesirable transmissions.
- If a mafia boss orders a dozen murders via coded messages delivered over the phone, that’s not the phone company’s problem. The government can, with a warrant, bug his phone. And if they catch him, he goes to jail. But the phone company is fine.
- This extends beyond government regulation to the sphere of social convention. Journalists don’t write stories about how “extremist groups are using phone calls to recruit members and organize events.” It would be like blaming paper companies for letting extremists use paper to take notes.
The entire “net neutrality” debate is in large part about whether broadband internet service providers (which include classic phone companies like AT&T and Verizon as well as what you traditionally would have called cable companies like Comcast) should be required to act as dumb pipes.
Under FCC Chair Ajit Pai, net neutrality rules are not in place. Companies thus far have taken advantage of non-neutrality mainly to do things like tell you that you have gotten unlimited data and then throttle streaming video unless you pay extra. Or they will make special deals with particular services (Verizon has one with Disney right now, and T-Mobile with Netflix) to give you certain things at a discount. In debates on the issue, net neutrality proponents often told scare stories about ISPs censoring or throttling disfavored websites, and so far that hasn’t happened. But under the regulatory framework Republicans have created, it could.
Once upon a time, both Facebook and Twitter did more or less work as dumb pipes. You picked who you followed, and the services then displayed whatever the people you follow posted, in order. But that is no longer the case — algorithms on the services determine what you see — and turning social media into dumb pipes would have far-reaching implications.
E.J. Fagan, a political scientist at the University of Illinois Chicago, argues the federal government should incentive the dumb-pipe approach by changing the liability rule so that “when a platform makes decisions about what user-generated content a user sees,” the platform itself is legally responsible for the content, like a newspaper or magazine would be if they printed it.
That would, in effect, provide a massive financial incentive for social networks to return to the older, non-algorithmic means of displaying content. That, in turn, would make the networks far less engaging and far less lucrative — cutting Facebook down to size and hurting Twitter as well.
In this view, misinformation, hate speech, and whatever other content one might deem undesirable wouldn’t spread as far. Of course, misinformation did go viral before the age of the algorithm. Even before social media existed, there was a dense ecosystem of email forward nonsense. But the perverse dynamics whereby algorithms can supercharge the spread of erroneous or inflammatory material would be curbed. And by design, there would be no centralized authority in place to make sure that wholesome content prevails instead.
An alternate regulatory concept might take inspiration from the other major communications framework: broadcast television.
Social media as broadcast television
Television antennas can’t get a clear signal if more than one person is trying to broadcast on the same frequency in a given geographical area. Consequently, the existence of the television industry before the rise of cable was predicated on government-granted monopoly rights to the use of certain frequencies in certain areas.
This created a rationale for regulating the airwaves in a much more stringent way than the First Amendment would permit for print periodicals or movies where there’s no natural scarcity in the distribution channel.
And through a variety of formal and informal means, that regulatory framework led to the Big Three television networks making programming decisions that leaned overwhelmingly in the direction of being bland and inoffensive. There were no opinionated news shows, no edgy ideas, and most of the content was light-hearted entertainment that leaned heavily in the direction of vanilla inoffensiveness.
The notion of television as a potentially prestige or highbrow medium that could feature dark antiheroes or mass atrocities is entirely a product of the more modern landscape of audience fragmentation to cable and streaming services. In the Big Three era, lots of interesting video content was happening in movie theaters, and print publications carried the big debates about the issues of the day, but television was — by design — boring.
Economist and Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith sees the throttling of Hunter Biden news as a trend toward big technology platforms voluntarily taking up that mantle. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, he writes, “have grudgingly accepted that they are the CBS/NBC/ABC of the modern age, and have begun to act accordingly.”
Smith envisions this as a voluntary evolution. And the responsible blandness of the big three was itself largely a product of social norms and self-regulation by standards and practices departments rather than a set of formal rules. But there were regulations, too, such as the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, which prevailed from 1949 to 1987 and formally required political issues to be treated in an even-handed way. In practice, the formal and informal regulatory standards worked in tandem. Broadcast television networks and the owners of local TV affiliates recognized that their oligopolistic position in the economy was lucrative and not worth jeopardizing by tempting the regulators to adopt a more heavy-handed approach.
Eschewing certain kinds of content did mean leaving a bit of market share and engagement on the table, but that was a choice worth making. Free speech was protected in the sense that all ideas could flow freely in books, magazines, pamphlets, and elsewhere, but the single most efficient means of distributing information to a mass audience was pretty buttoned down. This philosophy had some real costs — it was the heyday of manufacturing consent and cultural conformism — but it also put a damper on extremist politics and ensured that elections didn’t turn on the caprice of network CEOs or the vagaries of algorithms.
Either regulatory future, or even both, is certainly possible for social media. But to get there, policymakers would need to be clearer and more consistent about what they’re asking for —and speak in terms of principles rather than just yelling about individual cases.
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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year
Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.
Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.
So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.
Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.
Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)
During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.
Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)
Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.
Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)
Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.
Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)
This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.
Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)
If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.
Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)
With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.
Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)
The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.
Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)
Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.
Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)
Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.
Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)
The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.
The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.
The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.
The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.
Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)
We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.
Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)
The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.
Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)
The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.
Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)
Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.
Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)
Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.
Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)
The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.
Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)
With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.
Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)
Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.
Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)
The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.
Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)
The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.
Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained
Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.
In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.
Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.
It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.
Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.
Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.
Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.
The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”
At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.
On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.
That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.
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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year
From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.
Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.
From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.
“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.
Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.
The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.
Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.
Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.
Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.
The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.
Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.
Calls for urgent reduction of violence
Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.
Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.
“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.
There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.
1/4 I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever. https://t.co/hVl4b032W6
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) October 27, 2020
A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.
But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.
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