October 21, 2019

The Islamic State has recently been trying to spread propaganda to young users on TikTok, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The popular video app has removed about two dozen accounts for posting ISIS propaganda videos, some of which feature "stars and hearts that stream across the screen in an apparent attempt to resonate with young people," the Journal writes. These findings come from Storyful, the social media intelligence agency. Some of the videos reportedly showed "corpses paraded through streets," with certain accounts reportedly having more than 1,000 followers.

ISIS has been known to spread propaganda on social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, but the Journal reports this TikTok effort looks to be "part of a new show of strength — and possible enlistment tool — as U.S. troops withdraw from Syria." TikTok allows users to post short-form videos, and roughly 30 percent of users are under 18, the Journal reports.

"The rhyme, beat, evocative lyrics and punchy delivery are especially appealing to youth," extremism expert Elisabeth Kendall told the Journal of the videos. "This catchy sing-along method for propagating ISIS ideology means it spreads quickly and sticks in the collective memory. It tends to be far more effective than sermons or theological debate and treatises."

A spokesperson for TikTok told the Journal, "We permanently ban any such accounts and associated devices as soon as identified, and we continuously develop ever-stronger controls to proactively detect suspicious activity." Read the full, disturbing report at The Wall Street Journal. Brendan Morrow

October 14, 2019

During a three-day conference held by the pro-Trump group American Priority last week, a video was shown depicting a fake President Trump gunning down, stabbing, and assaulting members of the media and political rivals, The New York Times reports.

The conference was held at Trump National Doral Miami, and the footage was recorded by an attendee, who passed it along to the Times through an intermediary. In the video, Trump's head is superimposed on the body of a man who enters the "Church of Fake News," where the faces of parishioners are covered up by media outlet logos and the heads of political opponents like Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The fake Trump shoots and stabs people in the head, lights them on fire, and knocks them down, the Times reports. Parts of the video appeared on YouTube last year, and the conference's organizer, Alex Phillips, told the Times the clip was played as part of an exhibit on memes. "Content was submitted by third parties and was not associated with or endorsed by the conference in any official capacity," he said. "American Priority rejects all political violence and aims to promote a healthy dialogue about the preservation of free speech. This matter is under review."

The conference was attended by Donald Trump Jr., former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). Sanders told the Times she didn't know anything about the video, and a person close to Trump Jr. said he also didn't see it. President Trump routinely calls the media the enemy of the people and describes any news that is even remotely critical as being fake; in 2017, he tweeted a video of a wrestler body slamming the CNN logo. Catherine Garcia

June 3, 2019

YouTube's algorithm has recommended videos of young, partially clothed kids to users who had previously watched sexual content, The New York Times reports.

Three researchers from Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society found that going through YouTube's recommendations for "sexually themed videos," such as videos of women talking about sex, led them to videos that "placed greater emphasis on youth" until eventually, "YouTube would suddenly begin recommending videos of young and partially clothed children," the Times reports.

"So a user who watches erotic videos might be recommended videos of women who become conspicuously younger, and then women who pose provocatively in children's clothes," the Times writes. "Eventually, some users might be presented with videos of girls as young as 5 or 6 wearing bathing suits, or getting dressed or doing a split."

The algorithm "curated" videos of kids by "at times plucking out the otherwise innocuous home movies of unwitting families," the report says, apparently "learning from users who sought out revealing or suggestive images of children." Some of these videos have racked up millions of views, with one parent saying she became "scared" after a video of her 10-year-old daughter playing in her backyard while wearing a bathing suit was viewed more than 400,000 times.

YouTube in a blog post on Monday said that "responsibility is our number one priority, and chief among our areas of focus is protecting minors and families." The site also said that it has updated its policies so that "younger minors" will not be permitted to live stream unless they are "clearly accompanied by an adult." When asked if it would turn off recommendations for videos featuring minors, YouTube told the Times that doing so would hurt creators but said it would continue to limit recommending videos that put children at risk.

Previously, YouTube disabled the comments on videos with minors following reports that pedophiles were sharing links to child pornography on the site. Brendan Morrow

June 21, 2018

Immigrant children being held in juvenile detention centers in Virginia say they were physically and verbally abused for years, an investigation by The Associated Press found Thursday.

Children as young as 14 have filed claims against the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Staunton, Virginia, alleging that they were abused after being taken to the facility for crossing the border illegally as unaccompanied minors. Officials accused them of being involved in gangs like MS-13, but AP reports that the children were detained in high-security and often brutal conditions without ever being convicted of any crime. The center has held around 30 children at a time, between ages 12 and 17, since 2007.

The lawsuit alleges that the children were often beaten while handcuffed, left naked in concrete cells in solitary confinement for days, and were shackled to chairs with cloth bags over their heads. A child development specialist who worked in the facility said the kids would often be bruised and even suffer broken bones, and developed severe psychological problems as a result of the abuse. Shenandoah officials denied all allegations of abuse or misconduct.

A 15-year-old from Mexico said he was handcuffed and put in a chair for punishment. "They took off all of my clothes and put me into a restraint chair, where they attached my hands and feet to the chair," he said. "They also put a strap across my chest. They left me naked and attached to that chair for two and a half days, including at night." He and other detainees recalled attempting suicide at several points during their time in Shenandoah. Read more at The Associated Press. Summer Meza

June 2, 2014

Prosecutors in Wisconsin say two 12-year-old girls lured their friend into the woods on Saturday to stab and kill her. The reason? They wanted to appease a mythological creature they read about on the internet.

One of the girls told a detective they wanted to become "proxies" of Slender Man, a "demon-like character" they discovered on a website, The Associated Press reports. After killing their friend, the girls planned to "run away to the demon's forest mansion," according to the criminal complaint. One of the girls said she sees Slender Man in her dreams, and believes he can read her mind. "It's extremely disturbing as a parent and as chief of police," Waukesha Police Chief Russell Jack said during a news conference.

The idea came to the girls last December, the AP reports, and they finally decided to set their plan into motion during a slumber party. The complaint says that they initially wanted to kill their friend at night "so they wouldn't have to look into her eyes," but put it off until the next day, when they played hide-and-seek in a park. They attacked the girl, stabbing her 19 times. One of the girls egged the other one on, telling her to "go ballistic, go crazy," the complaint said. The victim was able to crawl to a road where a bicyclist found her and summoned police. She was rushed to surgery, and is in stable condition.

On Monday, the girls were charged as adults with first-degree attempted homicide. They will return to court June 11 for a status conference. Catherine Garcia

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