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A US Bill Would Ban Kids Under 13 From Joining Social Media

A US Bill Would Ban Kids Under 13 From Joining Social Media

While all the major Silicon Valley social media firms—from Instagram to TikTok—say they block children from using their apps, these senators say those efforts have failed. 

“It’s not working,” Schatz says.“There’s no free speech right to be jammed with an algorithm that makes you upset, and these algorithms are making us increasingly polarized and disparaging and depressed and angry at each other. And it’s bad enough that it’s happening to all of us adults, the least we can do is protect our kids.” 

While the measure’s sponsored by progressive Democrats and one of the most ardent conservatives in the Senate, lawmakers from across the ideological spectrum are equally skeptical of the proposal, showing the difficult road ahead for passing any new media measure, including those aimed at children. Many lawmakers are torn between protecting kids online and preserving the robust internet as we know it. Naturally, most senators are looking at their own families for guidance. 

“My grandkids have flip phones. They don’t have smartphones until they get older,” senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, says. Romney—who’s open to the idea, if initially dubious—says there’s not even uniformity in his own family on these issues. 

“I have five sons, so there are five different families and they do have different approaches,” Romney says. “And the youngest son is the one that’s most strict, and the oldest son didn’t really think of it as being such a big deal.”

For Smith, the Minnesota senator worried about her party coming across as Big Sister, there wasn’t even uniformity in her own household when her boys were fighting over the family’s first desktop computer ages ago. And her kids also proved to be (mini)hackers. 

“We were trying to figure out how to monitor their interactions with the computer, and we quickly figured out that, at least for them, it was hard to put hard and fast rules, because kids find a way,” Smith says. “And different parents have different rules for what they think is the right thing for their kids.”

While Smith is open to the new measure, she’s wary. “I tend to be, I guess, a little bit suspicious of hard and fast rules, because I’m not sure that they work and because I sort of think that parents and kids should have the freedom to decide what’s right for their family,” Smith says.

While Smith is a progressive Democrat, on this new measure, she’s currently aligned with senator Rand Paul, a Libertarian-leaning Kentucky Republican. “Parents exercise some oversight of what their kids view on the internet, what they view on television, all these things are important. I’m not sure I want the federal government [involved],” Paul says.

The new measure also has competition. Just last week senators Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, reintroduced their EARN IT Act—the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act. That measure would strip away the current Section 230 protections for any sites that publish online child sexual exploitation content. Section 230 remains a highly controversial law because it protects online businesses from liability for much of what its users post on their platforms. 

Trump’s Indictment Marks a Historic Reckoning

Trump’s Indictment Marks a Historic Reckoning

The literally unprecedented indictment against Donald Trump marks an outright dangerous—and politically fraught—moment for the United States and serves as a reminder of the unparalleled level of criminality and conspiracy that surrounded the 2016 election.

It’s easy to look back at the 2016 election as though its outcome was inevitable—that Hillary Clinton was too weak of a candidate, one whose years of high-priced speeches had made her lose touch with the working-class voters of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania; that “but her emails” and Jim Comey’s repeated, inappropriate, and misguided meddling in the election turned the tide. But the new indictment of Trump is an important historical corrective, a moment that makes clear how the US, as a country, must reckon with the fact that Trump’s surprise victory was aided by not one but two separate criminal conspiracies.

In the 2016 race’s final push, in an election that came down to incredibly narrow victories in just three states—10,704 voters in Michigan, 46,765 in Pennsylvania, and 22,177 in Wisconsin—and where Trump lost the overall popular vote by some 3 million votes, he was helped along by a massive and wide-ranging official Russian government operation. That effort was funded in part by oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is now behind the brutal combat of his Wagner Group mercenary army in Ukraine, which targeted US social media companies and activists on the ground. According to the US Department of Justice’s exhaustive report, in the second arm of the Russian operation, the military intelligence service GRU hacked top Democratic officials, leaked their emails, and shifted the national narrative around Clinton and other Democrats. (Not to mention that this gave rise to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory and, arguably, QAnon.) 

Then there was the separate criminal conspiracy that was the subject of today’s new indictment in New York: the plot in the final weeks of the 2016 election by Trump’s campaign, Trump family fixer Michael Cohen, and the National Enquirer to pay hush money to bury stories of two of the candidate’s affairs, including infamously one with porn star Stormy Daniels. 

While it may seem like news of such an affair would have ended up being a nothingburger amid the campaign’s final weeks, it’s worth remembering the specific context that Cohen and the Trump orbit faced in those finals hours of the campaign. They were performing a fraught and knife’s-edge balancing act to hold onto support from conservatives and evangelicals in the wake of the devastating Access Hollywood tape, a moment where vice presidential nominee Mike Pence seriously considered throwing in the towel himself. The follow-on of more non-family-values-friendly stories might well have begun an unrecoverable spiral. (It’s also worth remembering the still-suspicious interplay of these two threads: how, on a single Friday in October 2016, US intelligence leaders announced publicly for the first time that Russia was behind the election meddling, the Washington Post scooped the existence of the lewd Access Hollywood tape, and then, hours later, Wikileaks began dumping a fresh set of stolen emails from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.)

The new criminal case related to that second Stormy Daniels conspiracy, brought by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, also is a reminder of the historic mistake by the US Justice Department to not pursue its own charges against Trump in the same matter. This was a mind-boggling abdication of responsibility given that the Justice Department—in the midst of Donald Trump’s own presidency, no less!—prosecuted Cohen for the same conspiracy, naming Trump in the charges against Cohen as “Individual 1” and, according to a new book by Elie Honig, outlined in a draft indictment Trump’s personal direction and involvement in the case.

Senators Warn the Next US Bank Run Could Be Rigged

Senators Warn the Next US Bank Run Could Be Rigged

Idaho senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee—who also serves on the Intelligence Committee—says he’d be surprised if they didn’t mimic the digital pressure campaign that experts say caused the bank runs. “We see all kinds of input from foreign actors trying to do harm to the country, so it’s really an obvious avenue for somebody to try to do that,” Risch says.

Some experts think the threat is real. “The fear is not overblown,” Peter Warren Singer, strategist and senior fellow at New America, a Washington-based think tank, told WIRED via email. “Most cyber threat actors, whether criminals or states, don’t create new vulnerabilities, but notice and then take advantage of existing ones. And it is clear that both stock markets and social media are manipulatable. Add them together and you multiply the manipulation potential.” 

In the aftermath of the GameStop meme-driven rally—which was partly fueled by a desire to wipe out hedge funds shorting the stock—experts warned the same techniques could be used to target banks. In a paper for the Carnegie Endowment, published in November 2021, Claudia Biancotti, a director at the Bank of Italy, and Paolo Ciocca, an Italian finance regulator, warned that financial institutions were vulnerable to similar market manipulation.

“Finance-focused virtual communities are growing in size and potential economic and social impact, as demonstrated by the role played by online groups of retail traders in the GameStop case,” they wrote, “Such communities are highly exposed to manipulation, and may represent a prime target for state and nonstate actors conducting malicious information operations.”

The government’s response to the Silicon Valley Bank collapse—depositors’ money was quickly protected—shows banks can be hardened against this kind of event, says Cristián Bravo Roman—an expert on AI, banking, and contagion risk at Western Ontario University. “All the measures that were taken to restore trust in the banking system limit the ability of a hostile attacker,” he says.

Roman says federal officials now see, or at least should see, the real cyberthreat of mass digital hysteria clearly, and may strengthen provisions designed to protect smaller banks against runs. “It completely depends on what happens after this,” Roman says. “The truth is, the banking system is just as political as it is economic.”

Preventing the swell of online panic, whether real or fabricated, is far more complicated. Social media sites in the US can’t be easily compelled to remove content, and they are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which shields tech companies from liability for what others write on their platforms. While that provision is currently being challenged in the US Supreme Court, it’s unlikely lawmakers would want to limit what many see as free speech. 

“I don’t think that social media can be regulated to censor talk about a bank’s financial condition unless there is deliberate manipulation or misinformation, just as that might be in any other means of communicating,” says Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat.

“I don’t think we should offer a systemic response to a localized problem,” says North Dakota Republican senator Kevin Cramer—although he adds that he wants to hear “all the arguments.” 

“We need to be very cautious to not get in the way of speech,” Cramer says. “But when speech becomes designed specifically to short a market, for example, or to lead to an unnecessary run on the bank, we have to be reasonable about it.”

While some members of Congress  are using the run on Silicon Valley Bank to revive conversations about the regulation of social media platforms, other lawmakers are, once again, looking to tech companies themselves for solutions.“We need to be better at discovering and exposing bots. We need to understand the source,” says Senator Angus King, a Maine Independent. 

King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says Washington can’t solve all of Silicon Valley’s problems, especially when it comes to cleaning up bots. “That has to be them,” he says. “We can’t do that.”

The Twitter Whistleblower’s Testimony Has Senators Out for Blood

The Twitter Whistleblower’s Testimony Has Senators Out for Blood

Many of Silicon Valley’s fiercest watchdogs on Capitol Hill are now snarling. Yesterday’s arresting testimony by Twitter’s former security chief, Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, has lawmakers in both parties redoubling their efforts to rein in the tech titans.

Zatko’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee follows a detailed report he submitted to the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission late last month. His allegations, which were the central subject of yesterday’s hearing, range from claims of lax security protocols to negligent leadership—all of which Twitter denies.

Even as senators were left seething—guess they aren’t fans of Twitter’s 4,000 or so employees having easy access to their accounts and millions of others, as Zatko alleges—there’s also a sense of renewal in the air at the Capital.

“That was a fun one,” Republican senator Mike Lee told WIRED after the hearing.

The anger cloaked in elation is, in part, because many senators feel they now found the proverbial smoking gun.

“My guess is that this testimony today will trigger a lot of class actions,” Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana said after questioning the witness on Tuesday. “And it should.”

The Republican is referring to Zatko’s allegation that the social media platform lacks basic security measures, such as tracking which of the company’s hundreds of engineers are inside the platform making changes. This includes, according to Zatko, the potential mining of a United States senator’s own account.

“I’m assuming they have,” Kennedy said.

Hence the snarling. Like the rest of us, US senators are protective of their private data. And a growing consensus in Washington is that the FTC is ill-suited to take on social media giants who, according to Zatko, laugh off $150 million fines and all the demands the FTC places on bad tech actors.

“Maybe the thing to do is put it in the hands of private litigants,” Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri said. “Lawsuits are powerful things, so maybe it’s, we let the folks who are getting doxed and the folks who are getting hacked and whatever—we give them the power to go into court. Then you get discovery.”

While senators plan to ask Twitter officials to testify—likely with an assist from subpoenas—in response to the accusations from their former executive, they also don’t seem to be waiting. Senator Hawley is now trying to breathe new life into his out-of-the-box proposal to move the FTC’s tech portfolio to the Department of Justice, though he’s open to many reform ideas floating around Washington.

Hawley and outspoken senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina are renewing their calls to eradicate Section 230—the law, passed by Congress in the internet’s infancy, that protects online companies from certain kinds of litigation for content users publish on their platforms.

“You’ve got to license the people. Apparently, money doesn’t matter to them. Losing your ability to operate would matter,” Graham said. “So if you were licensed, then you have something you could lose.”

Graham has teamed up with Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in calling for the creation of a new federal regulatory body focused on tech companies. While the two agree the FTC is currently incapable of overseeing Silicon Valley, they disagree on Section 230, which Graham has wanted to be reformed for some time.

Queen Elizabeth II Has Died. Her Internet Legacy Will Live On

Queen Elizabeth II Has Died. Her Internet Legacy Will Live On

The death of Queen Elizabeth II was expected for years—and presaged by strong rumors on social media. It’s fitting for a woman of her global stature and recognition that the online conversation today has been dominated by discussions of the queen.

For a 96-year-old representing an institution that dates back centuries, the queen was more tech-savvy than many imagine. Defying stereotypes about women of her age, Elizabeth—through her handlers—was an enthusiastic adherent of technology. She sent her first email when visiting the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment in Malvern, England, in 1976 as part of the early development of Arpanet, the precursor to today’s global internet.

The queen’s username? HME2: Her Majesty, Elizabeth II. “All she had to do was press a couple of buttons,” Peter Kirstein, the man who helped set up the queen’s email account back then, told WIRED in 2012.

She wasn’t just an early adopter of email. In 1997, she launched the first version of the royal family’s website, years before some major UK newspapers decided to go online. Ten years later, she launched the family’s YouTube channel with a rare video of the first televised Christmas Broadcast in 1957. She also sent her first tweet in 2014, and she tapped on an iPad and embraced Zoom meetings as her health failed and Covid lockdowns curtailed many of her in-person public engagements.

“I think the queen has been extremely savvy on the internet,” said Sadie Quinlan, a pro-royal YouTuber who posts under the name Yankee Wally. (Quinlan has been criticized for her anti–Meghan Markle commentary videos.) “I think she knows what’s going on, and I know she knows it’s quite wild, and life continues on the internet more so than real life.”

But in recent years, the queen, whose motto through the royal family was “never complain, never explain,” became more than an early tech adopter. She became a meme, enthusiastically deployed by social media users looking to offer wry commentary on their peers. “The internet loves a little old lady being quirky,” says Idil Galip, who studies memes at the University of Edinburgh and operates the Meme Studies Research Network. That the queen had a love of corgis, at one point owning nine of them, also helped endear her to the online masses. “I think her love of animals has also been an important part of why she has been memefied,” says Galip. “The internet also loves corgis, and so does the queen.”

The endless, listless life of building openings and public events also gave the queen plenty of opportunities to become a meme. From her excitement at seeing cows as part of her 90th birthday celebrations in 2016 to cutting a simple cake with a ceremonial sword in 2021, she showed an ability to play to the masses. “I think many people also enjoy getting a peek behind the facade of royal aloofness and being like, ‘Oh she’s just like us,’” says Galip.