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Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo has been hit with class-action lawsuit seeking at least $1 billion in damages for his role in promoting cryptocurrency-related “non-fungible tokens,” or NFTs, issued by the beleaguered cryptocurrency exchange Binance.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in the Southern District of Florida Monday alleges that Ronaldo's promotion of Binance was “deceptive and unlawful.” Binance's partnership with high-profile figures like Ronaldo, the plaintiffs claim, led them into costly and unsafe investments.
“Evidence now reveals that Binance’s fraud was only able to reach such heights through the offer and sale of unregistered securities, with the willing help and assistance of some of the wealthiest, powerful and recognized organizations and celebrities across the globe—just like Defendant Ronaldo,” the suit reads.
Representatives for Ronaldo declined to comment Thursday. Binance, the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange, did not immediately return requests for statement from The Associated Press.
Ronaldo launched his inaugural NFT “CR7” collection with Binance in November of last year, ahead of the 2022 World Cup. The NFTs — which had starting prices ranging from the equivalent of about $77 to $10,000 — featured seven animated statues depicting Ronaldo from iconic moments in his life, from bicycle-kick goals to his childhood in Portugal.
Monday's suit says that the promotional efforts of Ronaldo's Binance partnership were “incredibly successful” — alleging a 500% increase in online searches using the keyword “Binance” after the soccer star's NFTs was announced. The collection's premium-level NFTs sold out within the first week, the suit claims.
The suit also alleges that Ronaldo should've disclosed how much Binance has paid him for the partnership. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission previously noted that federal law requires celebrities to publicly disclose how much they're getting paid to promote securities, including crypto assets.
NFTs are ordinary digital images with an attached version number that have been added to a cryptocurrency blockchain, a process designed to make them “unique” collectibles. NFTs enjoyed a brief boom, but have since largely collapsed in value as the crypto industry has been marred by scandals and market meltdowns.
Over the summer, Binance was accused of operating as an unregistered securities exchange and violating a slew of U.S. securities laws in a lawsuit from regulators. The crypto exchange agreed last week to pay a roughly $4 billion settlement and its founder Changpeng Zhao stepped down as CEO and pleaded guilty to a felony related to his failure to prevent money laundering on the platform.
This week's lawsuit against Ronaldo isn't the first time that a celebrity has faced litigation over crypto promotions. Last year, for example, a host of Hollywood and sports stars — including Larry David and Tom Brady — were named as defendants in a class-action suit against FTX, which was the second-largest crypto exchange before it collapsed in November 2022. The suit argued that the celebrities' status made them culpable for promoting FTX’s failed business model.
Ronaldo is one of the most recognizable and wealthiest athletes in the world. He leads his home country Portugal’s national team and has played for the Spanish team Real Madrid, the Italian club Juventus and Manchester United in England. He now plays for the Saudi Arabian professional team Al Nassr.
Ronaldo has continued to promote Binance on his official website and social media platforms. Most recently, on X (the platform formerly known as Twitter) Ronaldo reposted a Binance video and wrote that he was “Cooking something up” with the crypto exchange on Tuesday.
The Canadian economy shrank in the third quarter as higher rates weighed on consumer and business spending, but has so far managed to skirt a recession after a significant upward revision to second quarter GDP figures.
Statistics Canada released its gross domestic product report Thursday, which shows the economy contracted 1.1 per cent on an annualized basis.
The federal agency says a decrease in international exports and slower inventory accumulation by businesses were partially offset by increases in government spending and housing investment.
It also revised up its reading for real gross domestic product in the second quarter, noting the economy did not shrink, but rather grew 1.4 per cent on an annualized basis.
While the decline in the third quarter was offset by growth in the second quarter, economists reacting to the new data say the trend is clear: the economy is teetering.
"The big picture is that the Canadian economy is struggling to grow, yet managing to just keep its head above recession waters," wrote BMO chief economist Douglas Porter in a client note.
The federal agency says new housing construction in the third quarter increased for the first time since early 2022, led by apartment construction.
Bank of Canada interest rate hikes have been putting pressure on consumer and business spending as they both face higher borrowing costs.
Thursday’s report shows consumer spending continues to be flat for a second consecutive quarter.
Households are instead saving more as disposable income surpassed the rise in nominal spending.
The report says government transfers, namely the doubling of the GST rebate in the summer, propped up incomes as the labour market weakened.
Meanwhile, business capital investment fell by two per cent in the third quarter.
TD director of economics James Orlando noted there were one-off factors that affected the economy in the third quarter, such as the B.C. port strike and widespread wildfires.
"Some of the weakness that we got in summertime seems to be bouncing back a little," Orlando said.
Statistics Canada’s preliminary estimate for real GDP in October suggests the economy grew 0.2 per cent, following a 0.1 per cent increase in September.
The Bank of Canada has been striving to pull off a soft landing, meaning higher interest rates slow the economy just enough to bring down inflation but not to the point of a recession.
Orlando says Canada appears to be experiencing a soft landing right now as the country averts a sharper downturn.
"If you asked me two years ago, 'How would the Canadian economy respond, given we have high consumer debt loads, and the fact that the Bank of Canada raised interest rates from, like, zero to five per cent' ... most people thought we would've had a serious recession by now. And we haven't," Orlando said.
Canada's inflation rate has fallen from a high of 8.1 per cent in the summer of 2022 to 3.1 per cent in October.
The central bank is set to announce its next interest rate decision on Dec. 6, after choosing to hold its key rate steady at five per cent at its last two announcements.
Economists widely expect the Bank of Canada to remain on hold as inflation slows and the economy weakens.
"Today's mixed report reinforces the point that the Bank is done hiking rates, but doesn't really advance the cause for rate cuts, as the economy isn't showing signs of further deterioration early in Q4," Porter said.
TD Bank Group said it's cutting three per cent of staff and setting more money aside for souring loans as it reported fourth quarter results that reflect a deteriorating economic picture.
The bank said Thursday that the cuts, which amount to around 3,100 employees based on its third quarter employee total, will contribute to a $363-million restructuring charge this quarter, and a similar cost in the first half of next year.
"This is a part of a broader restructuring program to streamline, and deliver efficiencies for the bank and then help create capacity to invest in future growth," said chief financial officer Kelvin Tran in an interview.
Restructuring is expected to save $400 million pre-tax for its 2024 fiscal year, and $600 million a year after that, the bank said.
TD's cuts are a similar amount to what Scotiabank announced during the quarter, and what RBC guided in its third quarter results.
Tran said TD has already made some cuts and will continue to do so throughout next year, while it will also achieve some of the reductions through attrition and will work to redeploy staff where possible.
Along with severance and other personnel-related costs, the charges also cover it pulling back on its real estate footprint and asset impairments.
The charges, combined with increased provisions for bad loans, put pressure on earnings that worked out to $2.89 billion or $1.49 per diluted share for the quarter ended Oct. 31, down from a profit of $6.67 billion or $3.62 per diluted share a year earlier.
TD chief financial officer Kelvin Tran said it was a mixed quarter in a "challenging environment," as the bank also warned that it will be hard to meet its medium-term targets around earnings growth and return on equity.
"What we see for the following year, in 2024, is actually a quite complex environment, including continued normalizing of (provisions for credit loss)" said Tran.
"That's why we think it's gonna be challenging to meet that those targets."
The bank set aside $878 million in the quarter for bad loans, up $261 million from last year, and a little higher than what analysts were expecting.
The rise in provisions come as concerns increase on the potential for an economic slowdown or recession, and the strain on borrowers as waves of mortgage renewals are coming in the next few years at what could be much higher interest rates.
The bank remains confident in its portfolio, said Tran.
"For sure the higher rates are putting pressure on the consumer, but we feel that we are very well prepared for that."
Quarterly results also included $197 million in costs related to its acquisition of Cowen Inc.
On an adjusted basis, TD says it earned $1.83 per diluted share, down from an adjusted profit of $2.18 per diluted share a year ago.
Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of $1.90 per share, according to estimates compiled by financial markets data firm Refinitiv.
Results were further off the $1.92 that Scotia Capital Inc. had expected, said analyst Meny Grauman.
"The miss to our numbers was primarily driven by lower-than-expected total revenues (reflecting lower non-interest revenues), and higher credit losses and expenses, partially offset by lower-than-forecasted taxes."
The bank also raised its dividend as it said it would now pay a quarterly dividend of $1.02 per share, up from 96 cents.
TD said its Canadian personal and commercial banking segment earned $1.68 billion in its latest quarter, down from $1.69 billion in the same quarter last year, as higher provisions for credit losses and non-interest expenses were partially offset by revenue growth.
In the U.S., TD's retail business earned $1.28 billion in the most recent quarter, down from $1.54 billion a year earlier.
TD's wealth management and insurance business earned $501 million, down from $516 million a year ago, while its wholesale baking operations earned $17 million, down from $261 million in the same quarter last year.
All things Barbie, going pantless, humungo Stanley Cup bottles and pressure tipping. There's plenty from 2023 to leave behind come the new year.
Extreme weather hit historic heights. Fakeness took a huge turn with the rise of AI. The rudeness epidemic continued with the help of FaceTime. Here's a less than all-inclusive list of what we're over as we look ahead to 2024:
BARBIE, TAKE A HIKE
Barbiecore, aka all things hot pink and playful and hyper-feminine, has been around since the dawn of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino added some high-fashion oomph in 2022 with a buzzy Barbie pink collection. And there's Nicki Minaj, of course, and her army of fans dubbed the Barbz.
Then along came Barbenheimer and bam! July 2023 was nuts with the conflation of the films “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.” They shared an opening weekend. Big Barbie (and “Oppenheimer”) money was made. It was fun. We needed that feel-good frenzy.
Now, please, let's put Babs back in her box and hop on over to some other aesthetic and spot on the color wheel to get all crazy about. Enough with the high profile for our senior gal and her pink. Pink for breast cancer awareness is a whole other story. So is millennial pink, if that ever was an actual thing people generally cared about.
On to Gen Z yellow, people!
PANTYHOSE ARE NOT PANTS
Kendall Jenner. Hailey Bieber. Ariana Grande. Rihanna. Kim Kardashian. The list goes on of celebs who decided colored but still sheer pantyhose are pants.
They're not pants. They're not tights. They're not leggings. And they're definitely not naked dresses, which make some kind of sense on a red carpet or runway for a sheer, sexy vibe.
There are lots of other ways people go pantless, for sure. Bare legged. Leotarded, like the bedazzled Marc Jacobs number Jenner wore to the Met Gala. All just look like one forgot one's pants, leaving behind a tuxedo jacket or a long bulky sweater or ill-fitting sweatshirt.
Isn't this what assistants are for? To make sure one remembers one's pants?
WE'VE HAD IT WITH YOU, EXTREME WEATHER
“The dog days of summer are not just barking, they are biting. Climate breakdown has begun.”
So said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres of the summer of 2023 and its devastating outbreak of extreme weather.
Wicked ocean storms, wildfires, flooding and droughts. The planet suffered through them all. Earth experienced its hottest Northern Hemisphere summer ever measured. The world’s oceans were the hottest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization and the European climate service Copernicus.
We know this is a big ask, in a climate change sort of way, but extreme weather, be gone!
ENOUGH WITH THE PRESSURE TIPPING
At the height of the pandemic, and during the early throes of rebuilding our lives, we were happy to tip generously and often. That included an onslaught of new tip requests from a brave new world of workers armed with little screens that prompt for tips just before we pay. Because, as you remember, we were contactless.
The problem? It never went away. The pre-pay tip prompts are still there, in our faces.
The idea of tipping isn't new, of course. But the disgruntled took to social media in protest of the guilt trip for non-traditional tipping, when we're handed coffee and a muffin, say, or cruising through a drive-through.
The new normal doesn't look or feel anything like the tip jars of yore that were easily ignored.
Let's pay workers more to begin with and stop the pressure tipping.
THE FAKENESS OF IT ALL
Fake eyelashes the size of caterpillars persisted in 2023. Lab-grown diamonds made their way into the mainstream as cheaper alternatives to the real thing. Fake marriages hit the A-list, or at least those that secretly reached expiration dates years before the world found out (looking at you Will, Jada, Meryl and Don).
The relentless onslaught of fake news and disinformation continued in the lead-up to elections in 2024. Influencers and celebs rocked on with their “natural look” makeup tutorials that require a counter full of products. Kim Kardashian's fringe at the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards was, yes, fake.
THE STANLEY CUP CRAZE
Hydration is important. Reducing water bottle plastic is a worthy cause.
HOWEVER, there's a world of reusable water bottles out there, not just the ginormous and pricey Stanley Cup kind that earned cult status on TikTok and Instagram in 2023.
People wait in lines for these things. Some come as large as 40 ounces in a variety of colors at $40 a pop. Stans (apropos slang) put up unboxing videos. Starbucks, Target and other retailers have been selling out. And there's bling to be had: Name plates and straw tips fill the new TikTok shop, along with suspected fake Stanleys.
Stanley-related hashtags have been shared millions upon millions of times.
Who's behind it all? Social media marketing, of course. Thanks mom influencers. And score one for Stanley parent Pacific Market International. And while we're at it, score one for inventor William Stanley Jr.
He created the things in 1913 when, through his work on transformers, he hit on a welding technique to insulate his vacuum bottles with steel instead of glass.
Would he approve of all the virtue signaling, which is not unlike all the virtue signaling we had already experienced via Hydro Flasks and their VSCO Girls? Before that it was Nalgene.
It's likely Stanley would be ecstatic.
KEEP YOUR FACETIME TO YOURSELF
FaceTime is great. FaceTime is fun. FaceTime keeps us connected. The thing is, we like our FaceTimes. Not your FaceTimes.
FaceTiming in public (along with good ole speaker phone talk) reached cataclysmic proportions on the annoyance scale in 2023. On trains and buses, in streets, stores, doctors' offices. In public restrooms. Nowhere is spared. Sometimes, the camera's not remotely pointed at the phone user's face.
What's the deal? What's the point? Is it a, “I do it because I can” thing? What you do because you fat-finger all your texts or hang up a call with your face when the phone is, um, at your face? Don't know what Bluetooth is? Can't stand things in your ears or on your head?
Don't make us rue 2010, when Apple introduced FaceTime alongside the iPhone 4. Figure something out, unless there's a legit reason you can't use your phone all the other more considerate ways in public.
OVER IT RUNNERS-UP
Weed, of the marijuana variety, is ubiquitous. Weed stinks. Somebody please genetically alter a variety that smells better. Much appreciated.
Social media speak: “I was today years old.” “So let's get into it.” “Yas, bestie, it's giving.” Be original. You'll love it.
The comings and goings of Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce. Let them live unfettered by media drooling over their every move, presuming their romance lasts come 2024.
BRP Inc. saw its third-quarter profits tumble by half from a year earlier, as the recreational vehicle maker felt the squeeze of sluggish consumer spending.
The financial drop marked a sharp U-turn from the previous quarter, when earnings jumped 42 per cent year-over-year and optimism rode high atop near-record sales for the period.
“Consumer confidence declined since July," CEO José Boisjoli told analysts on a conference call Thursday, citing weaker demand for the Ski-Doo maker's products.
"In October, the decline happened in almost all markets, but especially international. And the trend is continuing in November."
Sea-Doos, three-wheeled motorcycles and pontoon boats all saw lower sales in the quarter ended Oct. 31. "Marine had a tough quarter in particular," Boisjoli said.
The consumer slowdown also pushed BRP to reduce its financial forecast. The company is now projecting normalized earnings per share in its fiscal 2024 year will drop six to eight per cent, instead of rising by up to seven per cent as previously predicted.
"Generally, we are expecting a softer industry," Boisjoli said. But he qualified that demand for premium products remains strong, including for its pricier three-wheeled and side-by-side vehicles.
BRP reported a profit of $63.1 million or 81 cents per diluted share for the quarter, down 55 per cent from $141.6 million or $1.76 per diluted share a year earlier.
Revenue for the quarter fell 10 per cent to 2.47 billion from $2.71 billion in the same quarter last year.
Normalized earnings per share for BRP's most recent quarter amounted to $3.06 per diluted share, a 16 per cent drop from $3.64 per diluted share the year before.
In its outlook, the company now says revenue for its 2024 financial year is expected to grow four to five per cent, compared with earlier expectations for growth of seven to 10 per cent.
A six-week United Auto Workers strike at Ford cut sales by about 100,000 vehicles and cost the company $1.7 billion in lost profits this year, the automaker said Thursday.
Additional labor costs from the four-year and eight-month agreement will total $8.8 billion by the end of the contract, translating to about $900 per vehicle by 2028, Chief Financial Officer John Lawler said in a company release. Ford will work to offset that cost through higher productivity and reducing expenses, Lawler said.
The Dearborn, Michigan, automaker re-issued full-year earnings guidance that was withdrawn during the strike, but it trimmed its expectations. The company now expects to earn $10 billion to $10.5 billion before taxes in 2023. That's down from $11 billion to $12 billion that it projected last summer.
Ford said the strike caused it to lose production of high-profit trucks and SUVs. UAW workers shut down the company's largest and most profitable factory in Louisville, Kentucky, which makes big SUVs and heavy-duty pickup trucks.
The company generated $4.9 billion in net income and $9.4 billion in pretax earnings during the first nine months of the year.
The announcement comes ahead of Lawler speaking to the Barclays Global Automotive and Mobility Technology Conference Thursday morning in New York.
The UAW strike began Sept. 15, targeting assembly plants and other facilities at Ford, General Motors and Jeep maker Stellantis. The strike ended at Ford on Oct. 25.
Lawler said the company is committed to its strategy of disciplined capital allocation to generate strong growth and profitability.
Shares of Ford rose 1.1% to $10.71 in trading before Thursday’s opening bell. They are down more than 20% in the past year.
Ford plans to release fourth-quarter and full-year financial results on Feb. 6.
Ford, as well as rivals General Motors and Jeep maker Stellantis, agreed to new contracts with the UAW that raise top assembly plant worker pay by about 33% by the time the deals expire in April of 2028. The new contracts also ended some lower tiers of wages, gave raises to temporary workers and shortened the time it takes for full-time workers to get to the top of the pay scale.
At the end of the contract top-scale assembly workers will make about $42 per hour, plus they’ll get annual profit-sharing checks.
UAW President Shawn Fain said during the strike that labor costs are only 4% to 5% of a vehicle’s costs, and that the companies were making billions and could afford to pay workers more.
CIBC reported its fourth-quarter profit rose compared with a year ago and raised its dividend.
The bank said Thursday it will now pay a quarterly dividend of 90 cents per share, up from 87 cents per share.
The increased payment to shareholders came as CIBC said it earned $1.48 billion or $1.53 per diluted share for the quarter ended Oct. 31 compared with a profit of nearly $1.19 billion or $1.26 per diluted share a year earlier.
Revenue totalled $5.84 billion for the quarter, up from nearly $5.39 billion a year earlier, while the bank's provision for credit losses amounted to $541 million, up from $436 million in the same quarter last year.
On an adjusted basis, CIBC said it earned $1.57 per diluted share in its latest quarter, up from an adjusted profit of $1.39 per diluted share a year earlier.
Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of $1.53 per share, based on estimates compiled by financial markets data firm Refinitiv.
"In a more fluid economic environment in 2023, our bank delivered a solid financial performance as we realized the benefits of our strategic investments and we continue to execute our client-focused strategy," CIBC chief executive Victor Dodig said in a statement.
"We enter the new fiscal year with a robust balance sheet and strong credit quality, foundational to our progress as we enable and simplify our bank, focus on driving growth in the mass affluent and private wealth segments, build on our strength in digital, and leverage our connected culture to grow our commercial and capital markets business."
CIBC said its Canadian personal and business banking division earned $635 million in its latest quarter, up from $471 million in the same quarter last year, while its Canadian commercial banking and wealth management business earned $490 million, up from $469 million.
The bank's U.S. commercial banking and wealth management business earned $50 million, down from $161 million in the same quarter last year.
CIBC's capital markets and direct financial services business earned $383 million, up from $378 million a year ago.
Royal Bank of Canada reported a fourth-quarter profit of $4.13 billion, up from $3.88 billion a year earlier, and raised its dividend.
The bank said Thursday it will now pay a quarterly dividend of $1.38 per share, up three cents from $1.35.
The increased payment to shareholders came as RBC reported its profit amounted to $2.90 per diluted share for the quarter ended Oct. 31, up from $2.74 per diluted share a year earlier.
Revenue totalled $13.03 billion in the bank's most recent quarter, up from $12.57 billion in the same quarter last year, while the bank's provision for credit losses jumped to $720 million, up from $381 million a year earlier.
On an adjusted basis, RBC earned $2.78 per diluted share in its latest quarter, unchanged from the same quarter last year.
Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of $2.62 per share, according to estimates compiled by financial markets data firm Refinitiv.
"Our strong balance sheet, prudent risk management and diversified business model continue to underpin our ability to deliver differentiated client experiences and advice across all our businesses," RBC chief executive Dave McKay said in a statement.
RBC said its personal and commercial banking business earned $2.09 billion in its latest quarter, down from $2.14 billion a year earlier, as it faced higher provisions for credit losses, severance costs and a higher effective tax rate.
The bank's wealth management earned $215 million, down from $822 million a year earlier, while its insurance business earned $289 million, up from $268 million in the same quarter last year.
RBC's capital markets business earned $987 million, up from $727 million a year ago.
The world wants more nuclear energy as a means to fight climate change and supply an ever-growing demand for electricity, part of a generational shift in thinking on atomic power, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said Thursday.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, made the comments in an interview with The Associated Press at the COP28 climate talks. He called the inclusion of nuclear power at the summit, where he said a major nuclear agreement was likely, showed just how far the formerly “taboo” subject had come decades after the disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
However, he acknowledged the challenge still posed for his agency in monitoring nuclear programs in countries, particularly in Iran after the collapse of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
“This used to be easier when this international consensus was there and so Iran could see that this was not about political pressure, but a widespread approach that was to see a Middle East, one of the — if not the most — volatile region in the world, not to add to the mix the possibility of a country getting nuclear weapons,” Grossi said.
Grossi said more countries getting nuclear weapons could create a “domino effect.”
“So it's a very, very complicated and potentially dangerous trend,” he said.
Grossi, who had just arrived in Dubai from Paris, said he spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron about the likely nuclear announcement that will include “a public commitment in favor of nuclear energy, which in a way that we have never seen before.” He said such an arrangement with the backing of world powers could see nuclear energy become attainable by more nations.
Nuclear power does not produce greenhouse gas emissions, a plus as the world works to reduce emissions. Still, nuclear is sharply opposed by many environmentalists because of its waste.
Macron is expected to speak Saturday at the COP — or Conference of Parties. The talks are taking place just across the Persian Gulf from Iran, whose President Ebrahim Raisi is also expected to attend.
In Iran since the collapse of the deal, the IAEA's access to the country's program has been restricted, to the point that inspectors haven't been inside its centrifuge manufacturing plant since February 2021.
Asked if it was possible centrifuges could have been diverted elsewhere by Iran outside of the IAEA's watch, Grossi said: "We don’t know — and our estimation is that production is continuing.”
Meanwhile, Iran has begun pulling permission from veteran IAEA inspectors, further hampering its ability to monitor Tehran's program as it now has enough enriched uranium to potential build several atomic bombs if it chose. Iran long has insisted its program is peaceful and U.S. intelligence agencies as recently as this year assessed Tehran is not actively taking steps to build a bomb.
“It's like, you know, they took Messi out of the team," the Argentine Grossi said, referring to his fellow countryman and soccer star Lionel Messi. “They took Cristiano Ronaldo out of the team and they say, ‘You still have a team,’ but yeah, but let's be fair and play fair.”
Iran's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding Grossi's remarks.
Grossi cautioned that the war in Ukraine continued to target that country's network of nuclear reactors.
However, safety fears over nuclear persist. Grossi noted the political pushback science can see in nuclear issues, particularly over Japan discharging treated and diluted wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.
China has banned Japanese fish imports over the discharges, which contain tritium at a level that the IAEA believes will have a negligible impact on the environment and human health.
“We stayed there and we have an independent monitoring," Grossi said. “I think we are gradually being successful" at convincing people.
Grossi renewed his calls for Israel to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and allow IAEA inspectors to sites like Dimona, which is at the heart of its undeclared atomic weapons program and is undergoing what appears to be its biggest construction project in decade.
He also called China, Russia and the United States' ramping up of nuclear weapons programs "a very disturbing trend” that raises the risk of further proliferation around the world.
“Quite clearly, and because of these renewed tensions in the international scene, we see countries increasing their arsenals, saying it publicly and of course. concomitantly, with these other countries that do not have nuclear weapons saying, 'Hey, why not us?” Grossi said.
Thousands of fake Facebook accounts shut down by Meta were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024 vote
Someone in China created thousands of fake social media accounts designed to appear to be from Americans and used them to spread polarizing political content in an apparent effort to divide the U.S. ahead of next year's elections, Meta said Thursday.
The network of nearly 4,800 fake accounts was attempting to build an audience when it was identified and eliminated by the tech company, which owns Facebook and Instagram. The accounts sported fake photos, names and locations as a way to appear like everyday American Facebook users weighing in on political issues.
Instead of spreading fake content as other networks have done, the accounts were used to reshare posts from X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that were created by politicians, news outlets and others. The interconnected accounts pulled content from both liberal and conservative sources, an indication that its goal was not to support one side or the other but to exaggerate partisan divisions and further inflame polarization.
The newly identified network shows how America's foreign adversaries exploit U.S.-based tech platforms to sow discord and distrust, and it hints at the serious threats posed by online disinformation next year, when national elections will occur in the U.S., India, Mexico, Ukraine, Pakistan, Taiwan and other nations.
“These networks still struggle to build audiences, but they're a warning," said Ben Nimmo, who leads investigations into inauthentic behavior on Meta's platforms. "Foreign threat actors are attempting to reach people across the internet ahead of next year's elections, and we need to remain alert."
Meta Platforms Inc., based in Menlo Park, California, did not publicly link the Chinese network to the Chinese government, but it did determine the network originated in that country. The content spread by the accounts broadly complements other Chinese government propaganda and disinformation that has sought to inflate partisan and ideological divisions within the U.S.
To appear more like normal Facebook accounts, the network would sometimes post about fashion or pets. Earlier this year, some of the accounts abruptly replaced their American-sounding user names and profile pictures with new ones suggesting they lived in India. The accounts then began spreading pro-Chinese content about Tibet and India, reflecting how fake networks can be redirected to focus on new targets.
Meta often points to its efforts to shut down fake social media networks as evidence of its commitment to protecting election integrity and democracy. But critics say the platform's focus on fake accounts distracts from its failure to address its responsibility for the misinformation already on its site that has contributed to polarization and distrust.
For instance, Meta will accept paid advertisements on its site to claim the U.S. election in 2020 was rigged or stolen, amplifying the lies of former President Donald Trump and other Republicans whose claims about election irregularities have been repeatedly debunked. Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence that the presidential election, which Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden, was tainted.
When asked about its ad policy, the company said it is focusing on future elections, not ones from the past, and will reject ads that cast unfounded doubt on upcoming contests.
And while Meta has announced a new artificial intelligence policy that will require political ads to bear a disclaimer if they contain AI-generated content, the company has allowed other altered videos that were created using more conventional programs to remain on its platform, including a digitally edited video of Biden that claims he is a pedophile.
“This is a company that cannot be taken seriously and that cannot be trusted," said Zamaan Qureshi, a policy adviser at the Real Facebook Oversight Board, an organization of civil rights leaders and tech experts who have been critical of Meta's approach to disinformation and hate speech. "Watch what Meta does, not what they say.”
Meta executives discussed the network's activities during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, the day after the tech giant announced its policies for the upcoming election year — most of which were put in place for prior elections.
But 2024 poses new challenges, according to experts who study the link between social media and disinformation. Not only will many large countries hold national elections, but the emergence of sophisticated AI programs means it's easier than ever to create lifelike audio and video that could mislead voters.
“Platforms still are not taking their role in the public sphere seriously,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a Syracuse University professor who studies digital media.
Stromer-Galley called Meta’s election plans “modest” but noted it stands in stark contrast to the “Wild West” of X. Since buying the X platform, then called Twitter, Elon Musk has eliminated teams focused on content moderation, welcomed back many users previously banned for hate speech and used the site to spread conspiracy theories.
Democrats and Republicans have called for laws addressing algorithmic recommendations, misinformation, deepfakes and hate speech, but there's little chance of any significant regulations passing ahead of the 2024 election. That means it will fall to the platforms to voluntarily police themselves.
Meta’s efforts to protect the election so far are “a horrible preview of what we can expect in 2024,” according to Kyle Morse, deputy executive director of the Tech Oversight Project, a nonprofit that supports new federal regulations for social media. “Congress and the administration need to act now to ensure that Meta, TikTok, Google, X, Rumble and other social media platforms are not actively aiding and abetting foreign and domestic actors who are openly undermining our democracy.”
Many of the fake accounts identified by Meta this week also had nearly identical accounts on X, where some of them regularly retweeted Musk's posts.
Those accounts remain active on X. A message seeking comment from the platform was not returned.
Meta also released a report Wednesday evaluating the risk that foreign adversaries including Iran, China and Russia would use social media to interfere in elections. The report noted that Russia's recent disinformation efforts have focused not on the U.S. but on its war against Ukraine, using state media propaganda and misinformation in an effort to undermine support for the invaded nation.
Nimmo, Meta's chief investigator, said turning opinion against Ukraine will likely be the focus of any disinformation Russia seeks to inject into America's political debate ahead of next year's election.
“This is important ahead of 2024," Nimmo said. “As the war continues, we should especially expect to see Russian attempts to target election-related debates and candidates that focus on support for Ukraine.”
ARC Resources Ltd. (TSX:ARX), a major natural gas producer in B.C., has inked a second agreement with Cheniere Energy (NYSE:LNG) in the U.S. to supply an additional 140,000 MMBtus per day of natural gas for Cheniere’s Sabine Pass LNG expansion.
As BIV News reported last year, two Alberta natural gas producers – ARC and Tourmaline Oil (TSX:TOU) –inked agreements with Cheniere to move natural gas produced in Alberta and B.C. to Louisiana via the North American pipeline system to supply Cheniere’s Sabine Pass LNG projects. Cheniere is expanding its Sabine Pass LNG terminal.
Tourmaline and ARC each signed agreements last year with Cheniere to supply the American company with 140,000 MMBtus (million British thermal units) per day of natural gas from Alberta and B.C.
Both companies are major producers in B.C.’s Montney formation in Northeastern B.C. ARC Resources is currently building a new $740 million natural gas processing plant in Northeastern B.C. -- the Attachie project.
ARC Resources announced today that it has signed a second 15-year agreement with Cheniere to provide an additional 140,000 MMBtus per day. The company confirmed some of the natural gas will come from its operations in B.C.
"Our transportation portfolio moves gas from both our B.C. and Alberta assets to markets in the United States and will include Cheniere in the future," the company said in a statement to BIV.
“This agreement will enable Cheniere to deliver increased quantities of Canadian natural gas to Europe, where energy security has never been more important," said Cheniere CEO Jack Fusco.
"With today's announcement, we are advancing the export of low-cost, low-emission Canadian natural gas to consuming markets in Europe," said ARC CEO Terry Anderson.
"We are pleased to further our long-term partnership with Cheniere and demonstrate the critical role Canadian energy has to play on the world stage. This marks ARC's second long-term LNG agreement linked to foreign indices and is an important milestone in the execution of our market diversification strategy."
The irreverent feminist website Jezebel is making a comeback less than a month after it was shut down.
Paste Magazine, a digital pop culture publication based in Atlanta, announced Wednesday that it was buying Jezebel.com from G/O Media, which closed it and laid off its staff earlier this month.
Jezebel’s “acquisition means that the critical information and content that Jezebel readers have come to rely on will live on,” Paste Founder and Editor-in-Chief Josh Jackson said in a prepared statement. “Jezebel’s unique voice and commitment to storytelling make it a perfect addition to our portfolio.”
G/0 Media said it was shutting down Jezebel after trying unsuccessfully for months to find a buyer for the site, which was first launched in 2007 by Gawker Media and swiftly gained an impassioned following with its combination of searing commentary on gender politics and edgy pop culture coverage.
Jackson told The Associated Press via email that Paste became interested in buying Jezebel the day after it shut down and moved quickly to secure the all-cash deal. He said the site will start publishing again as early as this week. He said Paste is searching for a new editor-in-chief and talking to other job candidates, prioritizing Jezebel's former staffers. The acquisition was first reported by The New York Times.
“It took us a day to realize we could be the ones to bring it back from the dead," Jackson said. "But it was important that we do a deal quickly and get the site back up and running so the devoted audience would still be there.”
Along with political issues like abortion, Jezebel became known for its takedowns of celebrity culture and the fashion industries that helped make subjects like “body shaming” and “rape culture” part of the national discourse. Like many other digital publications, however, Jezebel struggled in recent years to find a sustainable business model as digital advertising plummeted.
Jezebel became part of the G/0 Media portfolio in 2019. Tensions with the parent company's leadership preceded its shutdown, which Jezebel writers blamed on G/0 Media's failure to look for a revenue model more suitable to to the site's mission and audience.
G/0 Media, which also owns Gizmodo, Quartz, the Onion and the Root, said it closed Jezebel as part of a restructuring to cope with economic headwinds and a difficult digital advertising environment. G/0 Media CEO Jim Spanfeller also said it had become clear that the parent company’s “business model and the audiences we serve across our network did not align with Jezebel’s.” But he also said he had not given up on the idea that Jezebel would find a new home and relaunch.
“We have been working on the sale of Jezebel for months and are delighted that the site has found a new home,” Spanfeller said in a prepared statement.
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