Facebook hit with record €1.2 billion GDPR fine for transferring EU data to US

ARS Technica - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 09:36
The Facebook logo displayed on a smartphone screen.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | SOPA Images)

European and Irish regulators have ordered Facebook owner Meta to pay a fine of 1.2 billion euros for violating the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) with transfers of personal data to the United States. It's the largest GDPR fine ever.

Meta was also ordered to stop storing European Union user data in the US within six months, but it may ultimately not have to take that step if the EU and US agree on a new regulatory framework for international data transfers.

The infringement by Meta's subsidiary in Ireland "is very serious since it concerns transfers that are systematic, repetitive, and continuous," European Data Protection Board (EDPB) Chair Andrea Jelinek said in an announcement today. "Facebook has millions of users in Europe, so the volume of personal data transferred is massive. The unprecedented fine is a strong signal to organizations that serious infringements have far-reaching consequences."

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Categories: Tech News

RIP Gfycat, The First Site to Make GIFs Look Good

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 09:27

Gfycat, one of the first sites to offer video encoding for GIFs, is seemingly dead after its site’s security certificates expired.  

The website’s TLS certificate—a kind of digital certificate responsible for establishing an encrypted connection between websites or servers and browsers—expired on May 17, 2023, making the site unreachable to most people. Links to images respond with an error message from the browser.

Gfycat is owned by Snap, which did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment. 

Founded in 2015 by Richard Rabbat, Dan McEleney, and Jeff Harris, the user-generated content platform raised a $10 million seed round in 2016, and was once one of the most popular sites in the U.S. It had integrations with some of the biggest messaging platforms and services, including Reddit, Skype, Microsoft Outlook, and WordPress.

Gfycat was popular in large part because it supported HD clips, and preserved video quality when those clips were compressed. Users have been reporting problems with uploading for months, and unresponsive company support for a year or more, with questions as to whether anyone still works on the site who could resolve issues.

“At this point it's evident that the website will keep running until the domain expires or the servers collapse,” one user wrote on the r/gfycat subreddit three months ago, after experiencing broken features and lack of support response. “No one is taking care of it so just a matter of time.”

In 2019, Gfycat announced that it would permanently remove all content that was older than a year, uploaded without an account, or had less than 200 views. Archivists led by digital preservation group ArchiveTeam saved around 19.1 million affected uploads at the time. Days after the site’s security certificate expired in May, people in a subreddit dedicated to Gfycat started a campaign to save more content by using a browser-based workaround and save pages to the Internet Archive. 

In late 2019, Gfycat launched the image hosting platform Redgifs, which allows adult content, as an alternative for uploading explicit content no longer allowed on Gfycat.

Many of the people who used Imgur for porn migrated to Redgifs after Imgur announced it would purge all explicit content and anonymous accounts last month. 

In the last month, multiple sites have announced or enacted new bans on old content, including Imgur but also Twitter, which owner Elon Musk announced would purge inactive accounts, and most Google, which said last week that it would remove any account that sat inactive for two years from its service. It’s been a rough month for archivists and anyone interested in trying to preserve the history of the web, where nothing truly lasts forever.   

Categories: Tech News

Verified Twitter Accounts Spread AI-Generated Hoax of Pentagon Explosion

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 09:20

On Monday, dozens of verified accounts on Twitter with large followings spread misinformation about an explosion near the Pentagon, tweeting the news alongside what appears to be an AI-generated image.

Accounts such as @WarMonitors, @BloombergFeed, and RT posted an image of a large, gray smoke cloud appearing next to a white government building with a corresponding caption that stated there was an explosion near the Pentagon. Bellingcat journalist Nick Waters tweeted that there are a few signs that make it an AI image, including that the fence melds into the crowd barriers on the image and there are no other images or videos being posted on social media.

This image was quickly retweeted by many different accounts, some crediting “Twitter sources” as the original source. While some of the accounts that tweeted it out either apologized or deleted the image—@BloombergFeed was suspended—it continued to be shared by accounts that had blue checks thanks to Twitter's pay-to-play verification system. The stock market even briefly dipped due to the fake news.

Within an hour of it being circulated, government officials stepped in to clarify that the tweets were fake news. The Arlington Fire & EMS tweeted, “There is NO explosion or incident taking place at or near the Pentagon reservation, and there is no immediate danger or hazards to the public.”

The spreading of this fake news across accounts that have up to a million followers and blue checks raises more alarm bells on how Twitter’s current structure as a result of Elon Musks’s ownership can expedite a misinformation campaign. Verification checks were once a marker of authenticity, but under Musk's leadership, the blue checkmark now is merely a symbol that the account owner subscribes to Twitter Blue, which is Twitter’s premium plan.

This isn’t the first time that misinformation has spread from blue-check accounts since Musk took over the social media platform. In early May, several verified Twitter accounts falsely said that Russian military jets were being armed with nuclear payloads and aimed at Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

People have already been tricked to believe AI-generated images are real photographs as they become increasingly hyperrealistic. Images of the pope wearing a puffer jacket and Trump being arrested went viral, with many users believing both to be real events. Experts frequently warn users to be critical when seeing images online and are rallying for more regulation from social media companies, such as requiring people who post AI images to label them as generated.

Categories: Tech News

After an Anti-Vaccine Figure Dies Suddenly, Conspiracy Theories Abound

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 08:52

Dr. Rashid Buttar, an osteopathic physician who spent years promoting vaccine and COVID conspiracy theories and a well-known figure in the suspicion-tinged world of “medical freedom,” died at home of undisclosed causes on May 18, 2023, according to a statement attributed to his family and shared widely online. 

Since the news was shared by Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, another major anti-vaccine figure, by major conspiracist David Icke, and on the far-right site Gateway Pundit, among other places, Buttar’s unexpected death has been used by his fellow travelers in the anti-vaccination world to promote a variety of conspiracy theories, old and new. His death is being used, broadly, to re-stoke the very old and truly baseless claim that “holistic” doctors who oppose the mainstream medical establishment are being killed by mysterious forces. More specifically, Buttar himself recently claimed that he was “poisoned” after being interviewed on CNN in 2021. He also told fellow anti-vaccine figures that he suffered a stroke in February of this year, which he appeared to blame on vaccine “shedding”—something COVID vaccines do not and cannot do

Buttar was one of the so-called “Disinformation Dozen,” a designation created by the Center for Countering Digital Hate in 2021 for individuals it said were responsible for the widest spread of anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter. (While this was meant to shame social media sites for allowing the spread of such virulent misinformation, most members of the Disinformation Dozen took the designation as a badge of honor. For some, like Buttar, it arguably raised their public profile even further.) The news of his death prompted admiring tributes from other anti-vaccine and health freedom figures, as well as, often in the same breath, conspiracy theories about who was responsible for it. (Buttar’s family has not disclosed his cause of death publicly, and it’s unclear who would even speak on their behalf.)  

It’s become common for vaccine skeptics and medical conspiracy theorists to claim that anyone who dies unexpectedly was killed, in some form or fashion, by a COVID vaccine. (These claims have become so common that they spurred a viral and controversial documentary.) With Buttar, naturally, his friends and fellow travelers chose a slightly different track, since Buttar was of course not vaccinated. 

Sayer Ji, the founder of a well-known site called Green Med Info that often shares medical misinformation and vaccine suspicion, published a tribute to Buttar on Sunday, writing “he helped make this world a safer, better place for us all through his good works.” Ji then instantly claimed that “questions” surrounded Buttar’s death, writing: 

Due to rumors circulating and the many questions I have received as to the cause of his passing, I wish to share the last publicly recorded discussion we had, where Rashid wanted the world to know the details surrounding the sudden decline of his health.

For the record, Rashid reached out to me on Feb. 18th, and explained that only a few weeks before, he was in the ICU for 6 days, with a diagnosis of both stroke and myocarditis, with symptoms and biomarkers consistent with adverse effects from the mRNA jabs (which he did not have). As you will see in the video, he believed that he was experiencing the result of shedding (aka, "self-amplifying" properties) from the transgenic mRNA jabs.

Erin Elizabeth, another major player in the world of health conspiracy theorists, wrote on Twitter that Buttar had died “hours after” claiming that he was poisoned following a CNN interview. (She also remixed the claim for TikTok, where it has been viewed over 30,000 times.) The CNN interview took place in 2021, as part of a story about the Disinformation Dozen. 

Buttar was interviewed last week by Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, a religious and conspiratorial broadcaster who is a former host of the 700 Club’s Canada edition. In that interview, Buttar said, “I went through a very difficult personal health challenge” and said he was in the ICU, adding, “I had been poisoned with 200 times the amount of what’s in the vaccine.” He was, he said, “actually, intentionally poisoned,” and claimed that “part of it” was “right after that CNN interview.” 

Elizabeth then tweeted, “I will be adding our friend, colleague and one of the 12 of us who endured so much to the holistic doctor death list of mysterious deaths. Rest in peace Dr. Rashid Buttar.” 

It appears that Buttar had a litany of health issues in recent months. He previously aired a webinar in December 2022 saying that he was septic, had pneumonia, and had swelling in his legs, lungs and heart, but claimed he was “feeling better than I have in a long time” and rejected speculation from his followers that he was dying. He called himself “the most censored doctor on the planet,” and speculated that his travails were sent to him by God to help him spread his message. 

Besides his claims about vaccines, Buttar had a long and checkered career in promoting ineffective and dangerous treatments for a variety of illnesses, often through his medical practice, the grandiosely-titled Centers for Advanced Medicine. In 2009, he entered into a consent order with the North Carolina medical board over two separate sets of allegations. He was accused of treating cancer patients with a variety of useless treatments, including intravenous vitamins and chelation therapy; in its complaint, the medical board wrote that the costs for these treatments “at times ranged in the thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of dollars.” 

“Not only would Dr. Buttar order and have administered unproven and ineffectual therapies for Patients A, B and C in an attempt to drive up his billings, he would also order numerous tests and lab work for these patients that had no rational, medical relationship to the Patients' cancer diagnosis,” the complaint added. “Moreover, many tests and lab work that were ordered by Dr. Buttar were never adequately justified in the medical records of the patients, were never linked to the patients' diagnoses or clinical condition, and in some instances never interpreted.” According to the complaint, one patient wrote Buttar a check for $6,700 shortly before dying; when his widow canceled the check, reasoning that the treatments had been, in the words of the complaint, “useless,” Buttar referred the patient’s account to a collections agency. 

In a separate incident also cited by the medical board, Buttar was accused of diagnosing a child with autism with “heavy metal toxicity,” despite never having examined the child in person, and prescribing transdermal DMPS (dimercapto-propane sulphonate), a controversial and wholly ineffective autism “treatment.”

Medical board records show that Buttar was officially reprimanded, but his license to practice was not revoked, and was active up until he died. In 2021, records show, he was formally reprimanded again, in two more unrelated cases. In the first, he was accused of failing to adequately document the “supportive” treatment he was providing to a cancer patient. In the second, he was accused of “unprofessional conduct” relating to another patient, a minor child; the complaint alleged that Buttar and the child’s parent had “engaged in a personal relationship” while he was treating the child. Buttar also received at least one warning letter from the FDA concerning products he was formulating and marketing at the time. 

The announcement of his death attributed to Buttar’s family said that he was a retired major in the U.S. Army, and had served in the 5th Special Forces group and the 101st Airborne division; the announcement also said he is survived by three adult children. 

Categories: Tech News

U.S. Intelligence Building System to Track Mass Movement of People Around the World

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 08:45

The Pentagon’s intelligence branch is developing new tech to help it track the mass movement of people around the globe and flag “anomalies.” 

The project is called the Hidden Activity Signal and Trajectory Anomaly Characterization (HAYSTAC) program and it “aims to establish ‘normal’ movement models across times, locations, and populations and determine what makes an activity atypical,” according to a press release from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). 

HAYSTAC will be run by the DNI’s Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). It’s kind of like DARPA, the Pentagon’s blue-sky research department, but with a focus on intelligence projects. According to the agency, the project will analyze data from internet-connected devices and “smart city” sensors using AI. 

“An ever-increasing amount of geospatial data is created every day,” Jack Cooper, HAYSTAC’s program manager, said in a press release about the project. “With HAYSTAC, we have the opportunity to leverage machine learning and advances in artificial intelligence to understand mobility patterns with exceptional clarity. The more robustly we can model normal movements, the more sharply we can identify what is out of the ordinary and foresee a possible emergency.”

In a talk about HAYSTAC on the program’s website, Cooper explained it a little more. He gave the example of watching traffic patterns to help predict a terrorist attack. “When you’re going down the highway during rush hour you expect there to be lots of vehicles there because you’ve made that trip many times,” he said in the video. “When you’re going down the highway at rush hour and there’s nobody there, you have a sense of ‘this doesn’t make sense, this is anomalous.’ We can use this type of information to predict how things will likely go.”

Cooper also mentioned privacy, or rather a lack of it, as a motivation for thinking about human movement. “Today you might think that privacy means going to live off the grid in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “That’s just not realistic in today’s environment. Sensors are cheap. Everyobodys got one. There’s no such thing as living off the grid.” 

HAYSTAC’s landing page on IARPA’s website includes several proposals from companies looking to be part of the project as well as a March 22 briefing detailing existing Pentagon projects from defense contractor Assured Information Security (AIS) that HAYSTAC might be interested in.

In one project, AIS simulated a cyber attack with 104 individuals and watched the way they moved. “Devices included traditional desktop systems, laptops, tablets, and mobile platforms. Modalities included accelerometer and gyroscope, keystroke data, mouse data, touchscreen interactions, and other information,” the firm said. “The technology tracks users through biometric features, including keystroke biometrics, mouse movement behavior, and gait detection.”

In another project, called GANSpoofer, AIS used an AI model called a generative adversarial network (GAN) to make fake users that could defeat a biometric scanner. GANs have been used to create hyper realistic photos of people and animals that don’t exist. “We’ve shown that we can both detect the unique anomalies associated with an individual’s biometric behaviors and use this information to transform data into, not only realistic patterns at a population level, but patterns specific to that individual,” AIS said.

The defense contractor also claimed to have developed a learning model that could detect symptoms of a traumatic brain injury in a soldier just by watching how they moved their smartphone. According to its research, the placement of the phone in and around the body and the accelerometer and gyroscope data from the device could help it predict certain diseases and injuries with more than 90 percent of accuracy.

HAYSTAC will pursue these, and other similar projects, over the next four years. “As the HAYSTAC systems mature, they will be evaluated based on probability of detection and false alarm performance in creating relevant alerts, ultimately seeking to identify 80% of anomalous activity while generating normal activity that is only 10% detectable,” the press release said.

Categories: Tech News

Russian businesses want to party like it's 1959 with 6-day workweek

The Register - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 08:45
In Putin's Russia, the work does you

Russia's business tycoons have approached the country's ministry of labor suggesting it increases the working week to six days, says Kremlin-approved broadsheet Izvestia.…

Categories: Tech News

‘Bama Rush’ Is Not the Sorority Takedown You Expected

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 08:07

For the last two years, the summer’s most anticipated viewing experience hasn’t played out on prestige network TV or in theaters showing Hollywood blockbusters. It has lived on TikTok, via the University of Alabama’s prospective sorority pledges, through an international spectacle of outfit-of-the-day videos, get-ready-with-me’s, and trendy dances.

With Bama Rush, a VICE Studios production debuting May 23 on Max, documentary filmmaker Rachel Fleit wanted to use sorority recruitment and the women involved as a “lightning rod” to discuss a pivotal period in girl’s lives and how the pursuit of sorority life offers a glimpse into their struggles, their quest for community, and their navigation of the cultural forces surrounding beauty, class, race, and gender that have long shaped college and Greek life. 

Bama Rush is a dissection and critique of sororities and fraternities, in part, and puts the University of Alabama under the magnifying glass. But far more than a takedown, the documentary is focused on the lives of the young women involved. It follows the process of several teenage girls as they gain their acceptance to the university, prep for rush (some with professional coaches), and navigate the endeavor itself. 

Though the documentary emphasizes young womanhood, the fact that it discusses Bama Rush at all has made it subject to much controversy. Last August, word spread that HBO Max and VICE were pursuing the doc on campus, and women suspected of being involved were quickly pushed out of the rush process and banned from joining any sororities. Talking to the press was discouraged, and Fleit herself was subject to harassment. Nevertheless, the documentary continued, and the result is a poignant look at the journey of becoming who we are—as Fleit says, we all have “rushed” in our own way. 

VICE: How did Bama Rush become an interest of yours?
Rachel Fleit:
It was a confluence of events in 2018, right around #MeToo. I started thinking about what it would be like to make a documentary about Greek life during what we called “the age of consent.” I started some preliminary research, but then I got sidetracked by my first documentary, Introducing Selma Blair, and I put this idea on the shelf. After that documentary came out, I would just sort of bat the sorority idea around in meetings. When the Bama Rush TikTok viral sensation happened, VICE called me in September of 2021 and said, “Rachel, we know you want to do this. Do you want to go down to Alabama?” And I said, “Absolutely.” 

We went down there, and there were swirls and whirls of other people trying to do a project about Bama Rush, but I was very clear on what I wanted to do. I wanted to create a documentary that was grounded in this culture, this Greek system, and it would serve as this lightning rod to talk about what it means to be a young woman. We could talk about feminism, and we could talk about competition between women, body image, racism, sexism, classism, and sexual assault on campus or in general. There were all these big topics that I thought we could explore in the film by going into the Greek system. And we did.

“We could talk about feminism, and we could talk about competition between women, body image, racism, sexism, classism, and sexual assault on campus or in general.”

People initially seemed to fear that the documentary would dig deep into Greek life at the University of Alabama and the recruitment process, but the story seems far more focused on the lives of the individual girls you spoke to for the documentary. 
That was much more interesting to me. From 18 to 22, we really become ourselves. We’re finding ourselves and trying to figure out where we belong. With my work, I always think, “Let’s see what’s underneath the hood of a car.” And underneath the hood of this car, I quickly realized all these girls just want to belong. They want to make friends. They want to feel OK and comfortable in their skin. And it’s the same with me. And the same with most human beings living on this earth. So that’s what I was hoping for. When people watch this film, I hope they’ll say, “Yeah, I rushed too in my own way,” or, “I’m just like these girls. These beautiful, gorgeous girls in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and I are not that different.”

At what point in the filmmaking process did you decide to turn the camera on yourself and talk about your own experience?
Very early on. As a filmmaker and as a person, I want to know how you and I are similar. I want to know how we are the same. I physically look different than a lot of the young women I saw on TikTok—I didn’t see any young women on TikTok who had alopecia rushing the sorority system. And so I sensed that I’m so different from these young women. But then my filmmaker sense was to ask, “How are you similar?” 

As I listened to young women talk about their experiences over and over again and in my filmmaking process, I tried to identify and share a vulnerable part of myself with my subjects. I kept telling these young women at the University of Alabama my story of wearing a wig because it felt resonant. I told them about how college was a big time for me, how I felt apart from other girls, and how I started to feel part of them — I just kept talking about my story. My editor said one day in January of 2022, “I think you need to be in this.” I said, “No, I don’t want to be in this movie. I’m a director for a reason. I’m not in front of the camera.” I resisted it, honestly. But then it was like, you know what? I have so much empathy for these young women and what they’re going through, and if I stand shoulder to shoulder with them, then that might come across. 

I was aware of all of this social media pressure, especially when the rumors [about the documentary happening] started, and there was such a violent attack towards us, as though we were trying to ruin their sacred tradition. I got named in a New York Times article, my physical safety was threatened. They [people at the University of Alabama] were very angry. They made those T-shirts that say, “Fuck your documentary.” They were not playing. I was like, “No, I just want to make a movie about what it means to be a young woman right now. I come in peace.” In that process, I realized that if I am going to make an empathic, thoughtful, and compassionate film toward these young women, I need to throw myself into the fire. That’s the way that this is going to feel correct.

That made particular sense in the context of Bama Rush TikTok and how watching it became a personal experience for many. Even those who aren’t connected to Bama Rush have turned the camera on themselves on the app to explain their relationship with it.
Totally. Many of the commentators were alumni who were like, “OK, let me tell you, this is what my experience was like.” I wanted to push that even further and say that I wasn’t in Greek life, but I feel like I get it in my special way. I hope that when people watch this, even people who don’t identify as women can feel that they did something similar in their own way. 

What was the most surprising element for you in telling this story? 
The first shock was how similar I was to these young women. That was an early-on shock. I was disheartened that so many of the themes that I dealt with 20 years ago in college are still themes that these young women are facing, especially surrounding eating disorders. I was surprised that my story felt resonant in this film. And then I was surprised at how emotional the experience actually was. I was extremely impacted by the making of this film. I was extremely impacted by telling my story, and I had to figure out the perfect on-ramps for my story and the off-ramps because it’s a delicate balance. 

I don’t want to take away from the story of the young women at the University of Alabama, and I want to infuse my story into this to create a more powerful message. But I had to really look at my own story and figure out which parts of this belong in this film, and in talking about that, I shed some skin, I would say. It can feel heavy, and sometimes you gotta just let it go. I was profoundly exhausted by the end.

Did the experience change your perception of Greek life?
Yeah, it did. One of the things that I really wanted to do was go down to Tuscaloosa. I wanted to pull back the curtain on the TikToks and find out who the real young women are. And these young women were the ones that intimidated me as a college student or as a high school student because they just seemed so pretty. They had their hair done, their makeup done, their outfits on. I just didn’t fit into this beauty ideal. I feel very differently about myself now that I’m 42. I’ve had some time. But these beautiful, beautiful girls that I think fit into whatever we want to call the “beauty ideal” or the “beauty myth” are really struggling on the inside. They put a lot of pressure on themselves. 

My view has changed when I see a young woman doing an “Outfit of the Day” TikTok or just a young woman who fits the profile of the sorority sisters at the University of Alabama. There’s more there than I am seeing, and I’m forever changed by that. I also see that some things in the sorority system at the University of Alabama need improvement, and there are also a lot of good, cool, important things that happen in the sisterhood. This isn’t black and white. This is gray.

“There’s more there than I am seeing, and I’m forever changed by that.”

What are some of the good things about the sorority system?
A sense of community, a sense of belonging, friendship. When you go to a school with so many people, and it’s so big, and you come especially from out of state, and you don’t know anyone, you’re disoriented—it’s an instant community. And I think that despite some questionable practices, they promote excellence in academics and community service.

The documentary highlights how essential community is for these young women, especially those dealing with traumatic experiences. I was shocked, for example, by the discussion among the women about how many times they’d been roofied and how normalized this was. 
I think the movie is about young womanhood, but also on the converse of that is like this sort of low hum of toxic masculinity and the patriarchy and how that is influencing these young women. What is driving all of this emphasis toward a certain way of looking? Why are young women being sexually assaulted on this campus? When our subject talks about how the fraternity boys determine who the top-tier sorority is and it’s based on looks—thin, long hair, beautiful—what is that? Where does that come from? There’s competition between young women, but what are they competing for? They’re competing for a spot in this top-tier sorority, and the top-tier sorority is paired with the top-tier fraternity. And the idea, which is quite archaic but still exists, is that they’re going to pair off in some way and marry, have children, their children will go to the school and get into that top-tier house because of their legacy, and so on.

Why do you think that Greek life continues to be as popular as it is by upholding these traditions?
It’s this feeling of belonging and like you’re a part of something exclusive. This isn’t just the Greek system. That’s what I feel most passionately about—the Greek system isn’t the only place where the patriarchy has a low hum and women are competing against each other, and these sorts of archaic ideas still exist. That’s why this film is just a lightning rod. The sorority system is just a lightning rod for all these other systems. It feels archaic, but then if you think about the larger context of the world, it’s not that different.

Categories: Tech News

$270, 2,561-piece Lego Pac-Man arcade cabinet will eat ghosts, disposable income

ARS Technica - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 07:59

Lego's video game-themed sets for adults have focused mostly on home consoles and the Super Mario universe, but its newest set is turning its eyes to the arcade era. A new 2,561-piece Lego Icons set recreates the original Pac-Man arcade cabinet, complete with a hand crank on the side that makes Pac-Man, Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde move (along pre-determined paths) on its "screen."

The set will launch on June 4 for $270.

The Pac-Man set isn't a full recreation of the 1980 original—it looks more like a half-height bartop arcade cabinet rather than one that goes all the way to the floor—but the marquee, the controls, and the decals on the sides are all dead ringers for the old bright-yellow cabinet.

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Categories: Tech News

Google settles location tracking lawsuit for only $39.9M

The Register - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 07:45
Also, more OEM Android malware, Google's bug reports (mostly) ditch CVEs, and this week's critical vulns

in brief  Google has settled another location tracking lawsuit, yet again being fined a relative pittance.…

Categories: Tech News

‘Pay Your Writers:’ Students Heckle Warner Bros. CEO During Commencement Speech

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 07:28

Boston University graduates booed David Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, as he gave his commencement speech at the university’s graduation ceremony on Sunday. Zaslav gave a speech encouraging students to learn how to get along with “difficult people”—in response, the stadium filled with chants of “Pay your writers!” and “Shut up, Zaslav!”

This comes around three weeks into the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) strike, in which Hollywood writers are demanding livable wages, streaming residuals, guaranteed writer room sizes, and AI transparency production studios.

One viral clip on Twitter shows Zaslav in the middle of giving a speech about being nice to people. “If you want to be successful, you’re going to have to figure out how to get along with everyone,” Zaslav says. “And that includes difficult people.” 

He then falls silent, and students chant back at him, “Pay your writers!” The two waves of chants persist as Zaslav continues to try to give his speech, often successfully interrupting him. 

“Some people…some people will be looking for a fight,” he says. The video then cuts to show him giving a half-hearted thumbs up.

Zaslav graduated from Boston University’s law school in 1985, and was receiving an honorary degree at the ceremony. Instead of responding to the chants and the many students who turned their backs on him, he instead shared his tips and tricks for becoming one of Hollywood’s most powerful executives, encouraging students to “Show up” for the people and things that matter to them. His company, the media conglomerate Warner Bros. Discovery, is worth about $29.7 billion

A group of around 200 students also protested outside the stadium, with signs like “Protect Residuals Not CEOs,” and “F*!# Zaslav! Solidarity with the Writers,” BU Today reported. Boston University had also received backlash after announcing that Zaslav would speak at the ceremony—which it did one day after the WGA went on strike. A WGA East representative told Boston.com that inviting him was a “poor decision.”

Zaslav told the Hollywood Reporter that, “I am immensely supportive of writers and hope the strike is resolved soon and in a way that they feel recognizes their value.” 

Aside from all this, Zaslav has spent much of the last year mired in controversy as he tries to combine Discovery+ and HBO Max. Under Zaslav's tenure, various films and movies have been unceremoniously canceled or dropped off of the HBO Max streaming service. The company is also about to drop “HBO” from the name, a move that fans worry will ultimately result in a deprioritization of prestige HBO content.

Categories: Tech News

Parent discovers the cost of ignoring Roblox: £2,500 and heart palpitations

The Register - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 07:03
10-year-old hacks family iPad and goes on in-game bling shopping spree

As if you needed another reason to change the subject whenever your child brings up Roblox, a 10-year-old girl has managed to spend over £2,500 ($3,113) on the online game.…

Categories: Tech News

China bans Micron’s products from key infrastructure, citing security risk

ARS Technica - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 06:22
Micron logo and chip

Enlarge (credit: Future Publishing via Getty)

China said US chipmaker Micron Technology’s products posed “serious network security risks” as it banned operators of key infrastructure from buying them, in its first big measure against an American semiconductor group.

The Cyberspace Administration of China on Sunday announced that the company, which is the biggest US maker of memory chips, “posed significant security risks to China’s critical information infrastructure supply chain.” As a result, it ordered “critical national infrastructure operators” to stop purchasing products from Idaho-based Micron.

The move follows a seven-week investigation into Micron by the CAC, a probe that was widely seen as retaliation for US efforts to curb China’s access to critical technology. Last October, Washington introduced expansive chip export controls, and the Netherlands and Japan have since followed.

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HPE bags contracts to build HPC beasts for UK and Japan boffins

The Register - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 06:21
TSUBAME4.0 ordered for Tokyo Institute of Tech, and Isambard 3 to live in Bristol & Bath Science Park

HPE has tucked newly signed HPC contracts under its belt, including one to focus on AI-driven scientific discoveries for the Tokyo Institute of Technology and another for UK medical and scientific research that will be based on Nvidia's Grace "Superchip" processors.…

Categories: Tech News

Ars Frontiers is here: Come (virtually) hang out with the experts

ARS Technica - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 06:00

The Frontiers livestream. Your favorite Ars writers will appear inside of this magic box starting at 1:30 pm US Eastern Daylight Time!

It's Frontiers Day at Ars Technica! Between the hours of 13:30 and 17:00 (all times US Eastern Daylight, UTC-4:00), we'll be carrying our livestreamed discussion with a half-dozen expert-packed panels on topics that range from IT to health care to space innovation. Each session will last approximately 30 minutes, with the last 10 minutes reserved for questions and answers from the audience. If you want to weigh in, leave your questions as comments on the YouTube stream. (You can also leave questions in the comments of this article, but YouTube is the preferred place because the moderators gathering questions will be focusing their efforts there.)

Schedule and sessions

The event kicks off at 13:30 EDT, with a quick intro from Ars Editor-in-Chief Ken Fisher and me. Even though this is a virtual event, Ken and I will be at the Ars studio at the Condé Nast Manhattan office to act as hosts. Ken will welcome everyone in and say some opening remarks, and we'll roll from there directly into the sessions. Each session will also be bookended by a short recap by Ken and me.

Session 1: TikTok—banned or not, it's probably here to stay (13:30 EDT)

Ars senior policy reporter Ashley Belanger gets to be up first with an especially relevant topic: While Congress and various states are vowing action against TikTok, will "banning" the app (whatever "banning" actually means) really come to anything? What are the policy implications around this kind of regulation, and how did we get here? We'll feature EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry among the panel's guests, along with Columbia University's Ioana Literat and former White House lawyer and CPRI Executive Director Bryan Cunningham.

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All Hail La Sombrita, Los Angeles’s Sad Bus Shade and A Monument to Our Problems

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 06:00

Last week, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation held a press conference for something it is calling La Sombrita, a “low-cost infrastructure [sic] that can be quickly installed to improve the transit experience” for people taking the city’s buses. It appears to be a modified version of a metal bench, approximately 18 inches wide, that attaches to existing bus stop poles. The idea is it will provide shade during the day and a light at night for people waiting for the bus on sidewalks too narrow for a full bus shelter.

What you see here may be in the eye of the beholder. To those speaking at the press conference, La Sombrita is an innovative solution to adding shade and lighting to the approximately 6,000 bus stops with no shelter. To others, such as the many, many replies to the above LADOT tweets, it is a pathetic non-solution to the many indignities LA bus riders face.

La Sombrita is a descendant of the “sunshade blade” which was making the rounds in 2021 as LA did a kind of road tour of next generation bus stops and shelter amenities. Like La Sombrita, the blade is attached to existing street poles. Unlike La Sombrita, the sunshade blade could rotate and pivot to provide maximum shade at all hours. Also unlike La Sombrita, it was a solid piece of metal—its creators told Curbed that it was coated in a special paint so it wouldn’t overheat and become hot to the touch even in direct sun.

For their differences, La Sombrita and sunshade blade are both capitulations to a city bureaucracy that is simply not capable of serving its bus riders with dignity. It is tempting to make this about urban design and the six-lane West 3rd Street right behind La Sombrita that hogs some 75 feet of road space while bus riders are forced to choose between a seat or some shade because the sidewalk isn’t wide enough for both. But even if redesigning West 3rd Street and installing a real bus shelter was an option, that too would be a multi-year, contentious, drawn-out process rife with angry community meetings and vitriolic “feedback.” Rinse and repeat for all of the thousands of bus shelters and street redesigns they wished to build. Suddenly, La Sombrita doesn’t seem quite so ridiculous.

Which is why La Sombrita is a sign of so much more than how LA lets down its bus riders. It is something even non-bus-riders and non-Angelinos should see as a symbol of our failures. It is about American cities erecting vast, complex bureaucracies with insanely complicated rules and norms that make it difficult to build literally anything. As Curbed mentioned back in 2021, getting a bus shelter installed in Los Angeles is a 16-step bureaucratic minefield involving at least eight city departments and the approval of elected officials. All to build one bus shelter! 

Incidentally, this is one of the many reasons I’m skeptical of narratives that center the environmental review process as the reason America can’t build things anymore; even things that don’t require environmental reviews like bus shelters have become impossibly complicated to execute, so much so that cities often don’t even try. Instead, they begin by asking what they can build that won’t require going through that process. La Sombrita’s main attribute is that it can be installed on an existing pole within the city’s existing bureaucratic structure.

In other words, La Sombrita’s biggest selling point is that it doesn't change anything. Which is also its biggest issue. It’s hard to make things better without changing things. Fortunately for bus riders at the corner of West 3rd and Union, there’s a healthy, gorgeous tall palm tree about 100 feet from the bus stop that shades the entire sidewalk. It’s been there for decades.

Categories: Tech News

SpaceX launches tenth crewed mission, third fully commercial flight

ARS Technica - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 05:14
A Falcon 9 rocket launches the Axiom-2 mission on May 21, 2023.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launches the Axiom-2 mission on May 21, 2023. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX on Sunday evening launched a commercial mission to the International Space Station carrying four people, including former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson.

This "Axiom-2" mission was commanded by Whitson and carried a paying customer named John Shoffner, who served as pilot, as well as two Saudi Arabian mission specialists, Ali al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi. Shoffner and the government of Saudi Arabia procured the seats on Crew Dragon from Axiom, a Houston-based spaceflight company that brokered the mission to the space station. Whitson is an employee of Axiom.

The crew of four is flying the second fully private mission to the International Space Station and will spend about a week on board the orbiting laboratory before departing for Earth—weather permitting—on May 30.

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More UK councils caught by Capita's open AWS bucket blunder

The Register - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 05:13
As for March megabreach? M&S and Guinness maker Diageo warn pension members about data risks

The bad news train keeps rolling for Capita, with more local British councils surfacing to say their data was put on the line by an unsecured AWS bucket, and, separately, pension clients warning of possible data theft in March's mega breach.…

Categories: Tech News

Digital transformation expert on mass layoffs: I would have expected more from tech

The Register - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 04:01
It doesn't add up when IT is 'not really in a dire situation financially'

Interview  Digital business transformation expert and erstwhile COBOL programmer Kamales Lardi has spent a lot of time in the tech industry, including consulting with large corporates and SMEs who are going through a process of making cuts.…

Categories: Tech News

It feels like cheating: The Trek Domane+ SLR9 gravel bike, reviewed

ARS Technica - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 04:00
The Trek Domane+ SLR9 with eTap before an epic ride.

Enlarge / The Trek Domane+ SLR9 with eTap before an epic ride. (credit: Eric Bangeman)

One of the things I love most about working at Ars Technica is the lunchtime bike rides. My home in the northwest suburbs of Chicago lies two miles from the Des Plaines River Trail and about three miles from the North Branch Trail. When the weather cooperates, I'm generally furiously pedaling through the woods on my Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 gravel bike.

So when Trek offered me the chance to ride its top-of-the-line Domane+ SLR 9 e-bike, I jumped at the opportunity. Yes, the weather can be dodgy during seasonal transitions, but I'd be facing the changing temps and gusting winds astride a carbon-frame gravel bike with carbon wheels… and a 50 Nm electric motor paired with a 360 Wh battery in the downtube.

But even as I picked up the Domane+ from a local bike shop, one question kept popping up. Why would I want to ride an electric road bike?

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A Far Right Moms Group Is Targeting Students. These Women Are Fighting Back.

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 05/22/2023 - 04:00

Jen Cousins remembers the exact moment she decided she had to stop Moms for Liberty. At a school board meeting in Orange County, Florida in October 2021, Proud Boys member Jacob Engels stood up to speak with a copy of the book Gender Queer in his hand. 

Cousins, who had just given the same book to her gender non-binary 12-year-old child, watched as the meeting descended into chaos. During Engels’ speech to the board, the Proud Boy, an acolyte of Roger Stone and a well-known member of Florida’s far-right, read out an out-of-context segment of the book, which is about the author Maia Kobabe coming out as nonbinary in high school. Engels was kicked out of the meeting, but his stunt had the desired effect: The book was removed from school libraries in the district. 

Cousins knew where Engels had gotten the book from, because she’d watched when, as Engels prepared to stand in front of the meeting, member of the extremist “parental rights” group Moms for Liberty Alicia Farrant had handed it to him. 

After Gender Queer and other books were banned in Orange County, Cousins joined with Stephana Ferrell, a mom to two biracial children in the county, to create the Florida Freedom to Read Project to combat the banning of more than 1,100 books from Florida’s libraries, and the work of groups like Moms for Liberty, which has helped ban hundreds of pro-LGBTQ books from school libraries.

But the more Cousins pushed back against book bans, the more Farrant, who is now an Orange County School Board member, and Moms for Liberty, came after her. 

Over the next 10 months, the group led an online harassment campaign against Cousins. Members took pictures of her children and posted them on Facebook, including on one occasion when Cousins and her family attended a drag brunch in support of a survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Farrant did not reply to repeated requests for comment.

“I don’t know how they got access to my pictures, but they did. They posted them everywhere, constantly calling me a groomer and a pedophile. It just spiraled, it got pretty nasty,” Cousins told VICE News.

The harassment campaign against Cousins culminated in August 2022, when she spoke at a rally in support of trans rights in Orlando. “Look at Jen Cousins the pedophile, Jen Cousins the groomer, are you going to go home and read porn to your four year-old,” Engels, who was at the rally with other members of the Proud Boys, shouted as Cousins spoke, according to a video of the event Engels posted online.

“I don’t know how they got access to my pictures, but they did. They posted them everywhere, constantly calling me a groomer and a pedophile.”

“I have been targeted by this man at rallies, school board meetings, and online. I now fear for my life, and the lives of my four children,” Cousins wrote in a statement to the officer, according to a copy of the police report reviewed by VICE News. 

Engels’ targeting of Cousins, she believes, came as a result of the harassment campaign conducted by the Orange County chapter of Moms for Liberty.  

Moms for Liberty was founded in Florida by Tina Descovich, after she lost a school board re-election bid in a deeply red district in 2020. The group has grown rapidly and now boasts over 115,0000 members in 280 chapters across the country. Moms for Liberty has deep ties to the GOP establishment, and has notched some significant wins, like all its book bans, and helping get the “Don’t Say Gay” bill signed into law in Florida. They have also been instrumental in getting hundreds of candidates onto school boards, where they have quickly fired superintendents and other officials who are not aligned with their worldview. 

Their tactics are also extreme: A recent VICE News investigation uncovered a pattern of harassment by Moms for Liberty members, who used violent rhetoric and underhanded tactics to threaten, damage, and endanger people’s lives, as the group leads the charge on book banning and attacking students, parents, and staff who support LGBTQ rights. 

But now, hundreds of local groups across the country are taking a stand against book banning campaigns and efforts to insert pro-Christian curriculums into public schools. VICE News has spoken to dozens of activists across the country who are fighting back against what they see as the tyranny of Moms for Liberty. And at the national level, VICE News found several organizations that are trying to knit these grassroot groups together so that they can more effectively combat Moms for Liberty’s slick online presence and unified messaging. And despite facing threats and attacks, activists think their tactics are working.

And while Cousins admits Moms for Liberty are succeeding in many ways right now, the tide is beginning to turn as organizations gather against them. 

“I do think that they’re starting to feel the heat,” Cousins said.

In 2017, Taylor Lyons co-founded Chattanooga-based Moms for Social Justice in response to the election of former President Donald Trump. Lyons was concerned about the Trump administration’s attacks on transgender rights, and its choice of Betsy DeVos to lead the Department of Education, Lyons told VICE News. 

But what really sparked Lyons and her friends into action was the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. “Do we want to look at our kids 20 years from now and tell them that in this moment of great racial reckoning and social unrest and tell them that we did nothing?” Lyons wondered at the time. “We started an organization, thinking that we may not be the only parents who felt that way in our community, and we were right. It started with four moms in my living room, and we very quickly organically grew to around 3,000 active community members in and around our community.”

“Do we want to look at our kids 20 years from now and tell them that in this moment of great racial reckoning and social unrest and tell them that we did nothing?”

And it seemed to work, at least initially. “We were seeing our city pass safe ordinances for the LGBT community,” Lyons said. “We were hosting events like to teach parents how to support trans and queer youth, and they were heavily attended.”

Then Moms for Liberty came along in 2021, and showed up at school board meetings to protest mask mandates. Then they started calling for book bans that targeted LGBTQ authors and topics, and claimed that Lyon’s group were pedophiles and groomers aiming to sneak pornography into school libraries.

“It has really devolved from there to where it has become a situation that’s exhausting, it’s demoralizing, and sometimes it has been flat out scary,” Lyons told VICE News. “It was very clear from the onset that this was taking a very radicalized and ugly turn. The rhetoric that they were using from the onset was just so extreme that we were, quite frankly, shocked by it and not really prepared for it.”

Lyons also said that the Moms for Liberty members harassing people at meetings had never, to their knowledge, been actively involved in school life before. “The majority of Moms for Liberty members making outrageous comments at school board meetings don’t have children attending public schools,” added Lyons. “They’re making outrageous accusations about teachers and curriculum and things that are going on in the public schools and they’ve never darkened the doors.”

Across the country, Moms for Liberty have managed to activate parents who have never been involved in school policy before—or who might not even be parents of students in the district—but who are motivated to show up to school board meetings and push their far-right agenda. 

Moms for Liberty did not respond to a request for comment about their methodology or the growing number of groups both locally and nationally that have formed to fight back against their agenda.

Moms for Liberty have managed to activate parents who have never been involved in school policy, but who are motivated to show up to school board meetings and push their far-right agenda. 

“When you’re on a school board or local elected office you normally have frequent fliers who you see very often at school board meetings, parents that are really involved and so you just know them because they’re just hyper-involved in the schools in a positive way,” Christina Gagnier, founder of Our Schools USA, told VICE News, adding that in recent years, Moms for Liberty members began turning up out of the blue. “In our community, a group of parents emerged who other board members had no idea who they were, they were not parents that were immediately identified by our school-side administrators or others.”

Moms for Liberty established a chapter in Gagnier’s district in Chino Valley, California in March 2021, just months after the national group was officially incorporated in Florida. At the time, Gagnier was on the Chino Valley School Board, and like others who spoke out against Moms for Liberty, she became a target for their coordinated attacks. 

“I would get pretty vitriolic emails saying ‘I hope you die,’” Gagnier said. “I shared that I have an autoimmune disorder during one of our board meetings, so people started saying, ‘I hope you die from your disease. I hope you get more sick.’”

Gagnier was also followed home from school board meetings and it got to the point that her husband had to track her movements to know she was safe. “My husband would often watch the meetings and time from when I left the meeting to coming home,” Gagnier said, adding that someone even tried to break into her home. 

After Gagnier lost her re-election bid in 2022 to a Moms for Liberty-endorsed candidate, she realized that what was happening in her district was also happening across the country. Together with Kristi Hirst, a former teacher, she founded Our Schools USA, with the aim of becoming a national organization on a par with Moms for Liberty. “Our hypothesis was, there is not a group in the United States organizing to counter Moms for Liberty. And so we started talking to people and we quickly realized we were right.” 

Another national group opposing Moms for Liberty was also building across the country. Laura Leigh-Abby was inspired to create Defense of Democracy when she saw Moms for Liberty-endorsed candidates for school board in her district in New York state with signs that said “Christ is King” in April 2022. When she posted about it in a local moms group online, she was attacked by Moms for Liberty members who had just established a chapter in Dutchess County. So Leigh-Abby tried something different, putting up her own signs saying: “Teachers shouldn’t be preachers.” 

At the election in November, record numbers voted and Moms for Liberty candidates were defeated. “So we immediately realized, okay, grassroots does work and we can get people to fight this,” Leigh-Abby told VICE News.

Defense of Democracy, co-founded last year by Leigh-Abby and Karen Svoboda, now has chapters in 48 states. Just like Moms for Liberty, the group grew quickly. Within months, Defense of Democracy had chapters in more than a dozen states and over 2,000 members who were taking part in training and workshops designed to counter Moms for Liberty’s rhetoric.

Svoboda and Leigh-Abby have suffered a torrent of vicious attacks. They have been called groomers and pedophiles online and received threatening voicemails, during one of which someone threatened to put Svodoba in a wood chipper. “We’re absolutely in the crosshairs of some very scary and very violent people,” Svoboda said. 

But others are thrilled by their work. Svboda and Leigh-Abby have been inundated with requests from small grassroots, parents’ groups across the country who were in dire need of advice and guidance about how to combat what they were seeing at school board meetings. 

Their advice is somewhat simple: treat Moms for Liberty like a real threat to their community.

“We treat Moms for Liberty like the KKK,” Svoboda said. “If you knew that a KKK meeting was happening in a church down the street from your house, everyone would be alarmed, we would be picketing, we would be protesting, we’d have a petition. And that was exactly what we do.”

“We treat Moms for Liberty like the KKK. If you knew that a KKK meeting was happening in a church down the street from your house, everyone would be alarmed.”

When VICE News first spoke to Defense of Democracy in December 2022, they were struggling to combat Moms for Liberty and cope with the influx of new member requests. But when VICE News spoke to Svoboda again in April, she felt as if the tide had turned.

“We have them on the defense which feels so fucking good. We never thought we’d have that kind of effect,” Svoboda said. 

One of their victories was getting three Pennsylvania lawmakers to sign a letter critiquing the Marriott hotel chain for hosting Moms for Liberty’s second annual convention in Philadelphia next month.

“Hosting an organization with a track record of promoting discriminatory practices and divisive policies goes against the principles of inclusivity and respect that should be upheld by a reputable establishment like yours,” Sen. Nikil Saval, Rep. Mary Louise Isaacson, and Rep. Ben Waxman wrote in the letter addressed to management at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown hotel. Marriott did not respond to a request for comment on the event or the letter from the lawmakers.

But success has come at a cost. Svoboda’s son, who is a member of the Gender Sexuality Alliance at his high school, has been targeted by attacks from Moms for Liberty. A former New York State assemblyman wrote an article calling members of the club groomers and pedophiles, and  Moms for Liberty groups publicized the piece in Dutchess County, where Svoboda lives, and neighboring Orange County.

Liz Mikitarian, who was an educator for 30 years, is from Brevard County, the birthplace of Moms for Liberty. Mikitarian has remained active in school life, working on suicide prevention in schools and helping to fundraise for some social emotional learning (SEL) programming, a decades-old teaching practice to help students manage their emotions. In recent years, however, conservatives have baselessly connected SEL with critical race theory, making it a lightning rod in the war over what is taught in classrooms across the country.

“I was watching everything that Moms for Liberty were doing but when they started talking about social emotional learning, I’ve seen the benefit of that, I’ve seen the children and teens that have been saved, because the schools are trying to do something about mental health,” Mikitarian told VICE News. “And so that was what kind of pushed me to the brink to say ‘Okay, I gotta do something.’” 

In July 2022, Mikitarian started the Stop Moms for Liberty Facebook group. Her aim was not to build a nationwide network, but to tap into the existing, though disparate, network of grassroots groups that had organically formed in recent years to tackle Moms for Liberty locally. 

“There was no coordination either nationally, or statewide, where people could talk to each other, share ideas, share strategies, and that's why Stop Moms for Liberty was born. It was just a communication tool,” Mikitarian said.

The main Stop Moms for Liberty group now has over 7,000 members and there are 26 state or county-level subgroups which help organize on a local and regional level. 

Their efforts, Mikitarian believes, are paying off: “They seem to be in defensive mode more than they were before,” Mikitarian said. “They had no one refuting what they were saying, no one fighting back or pushing back—and now they do. At a national level they are trying to encourage their members to be respectful and be kind. It’s an orchestrated effort to save their image.”

Mikitarian has also become the focus of threats and attacks online including claims by Moms for Liberty members that she has created a “hate group.” Every day, she has to remove Moms for Liberty supporters who are trying to infiltrate the organization’s private Facebook group. 

“They had no one refuting what they were saying, no one fighting back or pushing back—and now they do.”

“As a founder of Stop Moms for Liberty I expected the attacks,” Mikitarian said, but when a cease and desist letter issued by lawyers on behalf of Moms for Liberty mentioned a family member’s name, it was a step too far. “Come after me but not my family,” Mikitarian wrote on her Facebook page after a Moms for Liberty group in Pennsylvania posted the letter on their page.

“The letter is a sham and they’re trying to take steps that they believe will intimidate us and scare us,” Mikitarian told VICE News. “They constantly throw out that they're coming after us legally and yet there’s nothing they can come after us for. We haven’t defamed them because we haven’t said anything we don't have proof for.”

The speed of Moms for Liberty’s growth, the resources it has available, and its deep ties to GOP donors and lawmakers has led critics to question its bona fides as a grassroots movement. 

The group has repeatedly said that it makes the majority of its money from selling t-shirts, but it has incorporated as a 501(c)4 non-profit which is a well-known vehicle for dark money groups. Moms for Liberty refused to say who has donated money to its cause. Critics have said that it’s an astroturf movement.

Conversely, the vast majority of the grassroots movements fighting Moms for Liberty claim to have virtually no money. 

“​​We have no budget, I can’t stress that enough. We have nothing. And we have been able to create this. We are grassroots,” Svoboda said, pointing out that she has been working 70 hour weeks for the last year without getting paid a single dollar for her work.

But one organization fighting Moms for Liberty is taking a leaf out of the Moms for Liberty playbook. Our Schools USA has been established as a 501(c)4 and will soon be setting up a Political Action Committee, in order to support their candidates in school board races across the country.

“We have got to play the game and that’s the game they’re playing,” Gagnier said, adding that if they named their donors those donors would immediately become targets for Moms for Liberty harassment.

But for most of the groups who are fighting back against Moms for Liberty, the fight is happening in classrooms and school board meetings in towns and cities around the country, where dozens or hundreds of small victories are building, activists hope, into a national movement. 

“When you feel like your child is in the crosshairs, that’s when you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and say: ‘Okay, what needs to get done,’” Svoboda said. “I wouldn’t be doing this if, in my heart, I didn’t believe there were more good people than bad in the world.”

Follow David Gilbert on Twitter.

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