Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Seeing Is Believing? Global Scramble to Tackle Deepfakes

Chatbots spouting falsehoods, face-swapping apps crafting porn videos, and cloned voices defrauding companies of millions — the scramble is on to rein in AI deepfakes that have become a misinformation super spreader.

Artificial Intelligence is redefining the proverb “seeing is believing,” with a deluge of images created out of thin air and people shown mouthing things they never said in real-looking deepfakes that have eroded online trust.

“Yikes. (Definitely) not me,” tweeted billionaire Elon Musk last year in one vivid example of a deepfake video that showed him promoting a cryptocurrency scam.

China recently adopted expansive rules to regulate deepfakes but most countries appear to be struggling to keep up with the fast-evolving technology amid concerns that regulation could stymie innovation or be misused to curtail free speech.

Experts warn that deepfake detectors are vastly outpaced by creators, who are hard to catch as they operate anonymously using AI-based software that was once touted as a specialized skill but is now widely available at low cost.

Facebook owner Meta last year said it took down a deepfake video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urging citizens to lay down their weapons and surrender to Russia.

And British campaigner Kate Isaacs, 30, said her “heart sank” when her face appeared in a deepfake porn video that unleashed a barrage of online abuse after an unknown user posted it on Twitter.

“I remember just feeling like this video was going to go everywhere — it was horrendous,” Isaacs, who campaigns against non-consensual porn, was quoted as saying by the BBC in October.

The following month, the British government voiced concern about deepfakes and warned of a popular website that “virtually strips women naked.”

‘Information apocalypse’

With no barriers to creating AI-synthesized text, audio and video, the potential for misuse in identity theft, financial fraud and tarnishing reputations has sparked global alarm.

The Eurasia group called the AI tools “weapons of mass disruption.”

“Technological advances in artificial intelligence will erode social trust, empower demagogues and authoritarians, and disrupt businesses and markets,” the group warned in a report.

“Advances in deepfakes, facial recognition, and voice synthesis software will render control over one’s likeness a relic of the past.”

This week AI startup ElevenLabs admitted that its voice cloning tool could be misused for “malicious purposes” after users posted a deepfake audio purporting to be actor Emma Watson reading Adolf Hitler’s biography “Mein Kampf.”

The growing volume of deepfakes may lead to what the European law enforcement agency Europol described as an “information apocalypse,” a scenario where many people are unable to distinguish fact from fiction.

“Experts fear this may lead to a situation where citizens no longer have a shared reality or could create societal confusion about which information sources are reliable,” Europol said in a report.

That was demonstrated last weekend when NFL player Damar Hamlin spoke to his fans in a video for the first time since he suffered a cardiac arrest during a match.

Hamlin thanked medical professionals responsible for his recovery, but many who believed conspiracy theories that the COVID-19 vaccine was behind his on-field collapse baselessly labeled his video a deepfake.

‘Super spreader’

China enforced new rules last month that will require businesses offering deepfake services to obtain the real identities of their users. They also require deepfake content to be appropriately tagged to avoid “any confusion.”

The rules came after the Chinese government warned that deepfakes present a “danger to national security and social stability.”

In the United States, where lawmakers have pushed for a task force to police deepfakes, digital rights activists caution against legislative overreach that could kill innovation or target legitimate content.

The European Union, meanwhile, is locked in heated discussions over its proposed “AI Act.”

The law, which the EU is racing to pass this year, will require users to disclose deepfakes but many fear the legislation could prove toothless if it does not cover creative or satirical content.

“How do you reinstate digital trust with transparency? That is the real question right now,” Jason Davis, a research professor at Syracuse University, told AFP.

“The [detection] tools are coming and they’re coming relatively quickly. But the technology is moving perhaps even quicker. So like cyber security, we will never solve this, we will only hope to keep up.”

Many are already struggling to comprehend advances such as ChatGPT, a chatbot created by the U.S.-based OpenAI that is capable of generating strikingly cogent texts on almost any topic.

In a study, media watchdog NewsGuard, which called it the “next great misinformation super spreader,” said most of the chatbot’s responses to prompts related to topics such as COVID-19 and school shootings were “eloquent, false and misleading.”

“The results confirm fears … about how the tool can be weaponized in the wrong hands,” NewsGuard said.

Science & Health

Breast Cancer Is Leading Cause of Cancer Deaths Among Women

As it marks World Cancer Day, the World Health Organization is calling for action to tackle breast cancer, the most common and leading cause of cancer deaths among women.


Every year, more than 2.3 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and nearly 700,000 die of the disease, which disproportionately affects women living in low- and middle-income countries.


WHO officials say women who live in poorer countries are far less likely to survive breast cancer than women in richer countries.   


“Breast cancer survival is 50 percent or less in many low- and middle-income countries, and greater than 90 percent for those able to receive the best care in high income countries,” says Bente Mikkelsen, director of the Noncommunicable Diseases Department at the WHO.


She says the odds are stacked against women who live in poor countries, noting many must sell their assets to pay for the treatment they need.   


She notes that women also are discouraged from seeking and receiving a timely diagnosis for their condition because of the stigma attached to breast cancer.   


“A woman subjected to racial and ethnic disparities will receive lower quality care and be forced to abandon treatment,” she says.


WHO data show more than 20 high income countries have successfully reduced breast cancer mortality by 40 percent since 1990. It finds five-year survival rates from breast cancer in North America and western Europe is better than 95 percent, compared to 66 percent in India and 40 percent in South Africa.


Mikkelsen says by closing the rich-poor inequity gap, some 2.5 million lives could be saved over the next two decades.


“Time is, unfortunately, not on our side. Breast cancer will be a larger public health threat for tomorrow, and the gap in care will continue to grow.  


She says that “by the year 2040, more than 3 million cases and 1 million deaths are predicted to occur each year worldwide. Approximately 75 percent of these deaths will occur in low- and middle-income countries.”


Coinciding with World Cancer Day, the WHO is launching a global breast cancer initiative to tackle the looming threat. The initiative contains a series of best practices for addressing this significant public health issue.


The strategy rests on three main pillars: early-detection programs so at least 60 percent of breast cancers are diagnosed and treated as an early-stage disease; starting treatment within three months of diagnosis; managing breast cancer to ensure at least 80 percent of patients complete their recommended treatment.


Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, says, “Countries with weaker health systems are least able to manage the increasing burden of breast cancer … so, it must be a priority for ministries of health and governments everywhere.


“We have the tools and the knowhow to prevent breast cancer and save lives,” he says.   


Benjamin Anderson, medical officer and lead of the WHO’s global breast cancer initiative, says one of the best ways to implement the initiative is through primary health care systems.   


“The patient pathway is the basis of the three pillars of the global cancer initiative framework. What we anticipate is that by using awareness, education in the public, combined with professional education, it sets us up for the diagnostic processes that must take place and the treatment that has to follow.”  


The World Health Organization warns failure to act now to address cancer in women, including breast cancer, will have serious intergenerational consequences.


It cites a study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that reported that because of “the estimated 4.4 million women who died from cancer in 2020, about 1 million children became maternal orphans in that year,” 25 percent of which was due to breast cancer.


Mikkelsen observes, “the children whose mothers die from cancer experience health and educational disadvantages throughout their lives.”


WHO officials acknowledge the cost of drugs to treat breast cancer could be a matter of life or death. It notes the price of certain oral drugs is less than $1, while others range from $9,000 to $10,000.


As many countries are unable to negotiate prices, they say the WHO is working to increase the availability and affordability of breast cancer medication.

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Spanish-born Fashion Designer Paco Rabanne Has Died at Age 88

Paco Rabanne, the Spanish-born designer known for perfumes sold worldwide and for metallic, space-age fashions, has died, the group that owns his fashion house announced Friday.     

“The House of Paco Rabanne wishes to honor our visionary designer and founder who passed away today at the age of 88. Among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century, his legacy will remain,” the statement from beauty and fashion company Puig said.   

Le Telegramme newspaper quoted the mayor of Vannes, David Robo, as saying that Rabanne died at his home in the Brittany region town of Portsall.   

Rabanne’s fashion house shows its collections in Paris and is scheduled to unveil the brand’s latest ready-to-wear designs during the upcoming Feb. 27-March 3 fashion week.   

Rabanne was known as a rebel designer in a career that blossomed with his collaboration with the family-owned Puig, a Spanish company that now also owns other design houses, including Nina Ricci, Jean Paul Gaultier, Caroline Herrera and Dries Van Noten. The company also owns the fragrance brands Byredo and Penhaligon’s.    

“Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women (to) clamor for dresses made of plastic and metal? Who but Paco Rabanne could imagine a fragrance called Calandre – the word means ‘automobile grill,’ you know – and turn it into an icon of modern femininity?” the group’s statement said.   

Calandre perfume was launched in 1969, the first product by Puig in Spain, France and the United States, according to the company.   

Born Francisco Rabaneda y Cuervo in 1934, the future designer fled the Spanish Basque country at age 5 during the Spanish Civil War and took the name of Paco Rabanne.     

He studied architecture at Paris’ Beaux Arts Academie before moving to couture, following in the steps of his mother, a couturier in Spain. He said she was jailed at one point for being dressed in a “scandalous” fashion.   

Rabanne sold accessories to well-known designers before launching his own collection.   

He titled the first collection presented under his own name “12 unwearable dresses in contemporary materials.” His innovative outfits were made of various kinds of metal, including his famous use of mail, the chain-like material associated with Medieval knights.   

Coco Chanel reportedly called Rabanne “the metallurgist of fashion.”   

“My colleagues tell me I am not a couturier but an artisan, and it’s true that I’m an artisan. … I work with my hands,” he said in an interview in the 1970s.   

In an interview given when he was 43, and now held in France’s National Audiovisual Institute, Rabanne explained his radical fashion philosophy: “I think fashion is prophetic. Fashion announces the future.” He added that women were harbingers of what lies on the horizon.   

“When hair balloons, regimes fall,” Rabanne said. “When hair is smooth, all is well.”   

The president of the Association of Fashion Designers of Spain, Modesto Lomba, said Rabanne “left an absolute mark on the passage of time. Let’s not forget that he was Spanish and that he triumphed inside and outside Spain.”

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Thai Entrepreneur Who Bought Miss Universe Contest Says Brains and Beauty Drive Entrants’ Dreams   

“Helloooo! Hello the Universe! Whoo!” shouted Jakkaphong “Anne” Jakrajutatip, the latest owner of the Miss Universe contest, from a stage filled with beauty queens.

Jakkaphong, a Thai media tycoon and trans rights activist, bought the parent company, Miss Universe Organization (MUO), last year. She is the first non-American and first transgender woman to own the 7-decade-old pageant, which drew contestants to New Orleans from 83 countries last month.

The competition, launched in 1952, was once co-owned by former U.S. President Donald Trump, who bought it in in 1996 from ITT Corp., then sold it in 2015 to WME/IMG, a talent agency and entertainment company, according to Variety.

In October, Jakkaphong expanded her business, JKN Global Group, headquartered in Samut Prakan, Thailand, by taking over the MUO offices in New York City when she bought the Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants for $20 million.

She’s cut a $12.2 million deal with organizers in El Salvador, which will host the Miss Universe competition in 2023 for the first time since 1975.

Jakkaphong saw the Miss Universe platform as a promising asset, one that will help her fulfill her goal of empowering women and promoting feminism by encouraging all women — transgender, married, pregnant, divorced — to enter the contest.

“I was born as a trans woman,” Jakkaphong told VOA’s Thai Service during an exclusive interview in New York last month.

“My life purpose here is to help other people to transform, to lead, to teach and to inspire people,” said the 43-year-old businesswoman educated in Australia who is a celebrity in Thailand. “I need to become the inspiration for a lot of people [like] ‘you don’t give up no matter what and nobody can bring you down once they see you are good.’ ”

Describing herself as having been born “without a golden spoon in my mouth,” Jakkaphong comes from a Thai Chinese upper-middle class family that ran a video rental store, which she inherited before starting her own foreign TV content import business. She founded JKN Global Group in 2013.

Jakkaphong advocates for transgender rights in Thailand through her Life Inspired for Thailand Foundation. Since 2019, the group has campaigned for a draft bill to address transgender rights, including recognizing legal gender title change for people who go through gender reassignment operations. The draft needs more signatures to move forward to the Thai parliament.

Although considered one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly Asian countries, Thailand’s laws do not grant equal rights to members of the LGBTQ+ community in title change and marriage.

Jakkaphong believes the Miss Universe pageant comes with enough influence that it may be able to help change the laws in Thailand and other countries that do not yet provide equal rights to LGBTQ+ people.

“I believe that politicians wishing to run as countries’ leaders will raise this [gender title change] issue and will make it happen for us… MUO is the platform that helps urge countries to look at this matter,” she said, adding that she will soon raise the issue with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

“The [Thai] government is occupied with so many things, and of course, we don’t even know [whether] we will have the same government or not. We will have the election coming up,” in May, said Jakkaphong. “But [gender title change] has to happen one day.”

Despite her belief that the pageant is a force for change, Jakkaphong said there’s no talk of politics on stage. “We talk about inspiration. We talk about the power of feminism and that is more important,” she said.

While Jakkaphong acknowledges that “many countries on the stage don’t get along with each other,” the contest is “about a dream of one woman. You cannot stop her dream no matter where she comes from. We cannot block anybody’s dreams, particularly young women’s.”

She sees those dreams as countering the notion that pageants impose rigid standards of beauty on contestants, standards that exclude rather than include, and objectify women.

Some 2.4 million people watched the Miss Universe 2022 final competition on January 14 on the U.S.-based, Spanish-language Telemundo network, according to This was the first year the streaming service Roku Channel broadcast the contest. It has yet to disclose viewing numbers.

Nielsen, the company that rates the popularity of American television shows, reported 2.7 million people watched the 2021 competition, a drop from 2019 when 3.8 million people watched the competition. In 2014, the last year of Trump’s involvement, 8.8 million people watched the contest, according to Nielsen.

On the final day of competition, January 14, Jakkaphong said, “We can elevate our women to feel strong enough, good enough, qualified enough, and never be objectified again,” before presenting the Transformational Leadership award to Thai entrant Anna Sueangam-iam, whose family collects garbage for recycling.

In New York Jakkaphong told VOA’s Thai Service that promoting inclusivity while recognizing beauty lets audiences “see the diversity… But the brain and the beauty must come together.”

Miss USA, R’Bonney Gabriel, who on January 14 won the first Miss Universe competition under Jakkaphong’s regime, is a fashion entrepreneur who designs a line of sustainable clothing.

Becoming an inspiration for others is central to the role of beauty queens, said Jakkaphong, adding that the Miss Universe pageant helps promote the message of “becoming the best version of oneself” and “becoming so beautifully confident that you would love to lift up the spirit of other human beings.”

Jakkaphong said the pageant under her ownership will continue to be different from its predecessors.

“This is the new paradigm of the beauty competition, which I don’t see as the beauty competition alone. It’s actually a female platform to raise awareness. Therefore, the whole world can listen to them.”

Science & Health

UN Weekly Roundup: Jan. 27-Feb. 3, 2023 

Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch. 

Two years since Myanmar military coup

The U.N. special rapporteur for Myanmar warned Tuesday that two years after its coup, Myanmar’s military will try to legitimize its hold on power through sham elections this year, and he urged the international community not to recognize or engage with the junta.

Humanitarians await ‘guidelines’ from Afghan Taliban on women aid workers

The U.N. humanitarian chief said Monday he is awaiting a list of guidelines from Taliban authorities to allow Afghan women to work in the humanitarian sector, following a decree last month that has restricted their work. Martin Griffiths said he also asked Taliban officials if they are not going to rescind their decree now, then they should extend exemptions to cover all aspects of humanitarian work.

Iran dismisses IAEA report

Iran’s atomic energy organization on Wednesday dismissed a report by the United Nations nuclear watchdog that said Tehran had made an undeclared change to uranium enriching equipment at its Fordow plant. The IAEA said its inspectors found a modification to an interconnection between two clusters of centrifuges that was substantially different than what Iran had declared.

Red Cross warns world dangerously unprepared for next pandemic

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned Monday in its World Disaster Report that the world is dangerously unprepared for the next pandemic, and this will have severe health, economic and social consequences for countries around the world.

In brief 

— The World Health Organization said Monday that COVID-19 continues to be a global health emergency. Following a meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on January 27, WHO Chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the pandemic is probably at a transition point that must be carefully navigated. The committee offered temporary recommendations including continuing vaccinations especially for high-risk groups. The health agency says as of January 29 there have been more than 753 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 6.8 million deaths globally.

— WHO also launched a new initiative Friday to reach the target of saving 2.5 million women’s lives from breast cancer by 2040. The campaign seeks to promote early detection, timely diagnosis and comprehensive management of breast cancer. WHO says there are more than 2.3 million cases of breast cancer annually, making it the most common cancer among adults. In 95% of countries, breast cancer is the first or second leading cause of female cancer deaths. Survival rates vary dramatically both between and within countries, with nearly 80% of deaths from both breast and cervical cancer occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Saturday is World Cancer Day.

— The Food and Agriculture Organization said Friday that global food commodity prices had dropped in January for the 10th consecutive month. The FAO Food Price Index averaged 131.2 points in January, 0.8% lower than in December and 17.9% below its peak in March 2022. The price indices for vegetable oils, dairy and sugar drove the January decline, while those for cereals and meat remained largely stable. Wheat prices were down by 2.5% as production in Australia and Russia outperformed expectations. The FAO said low domestic prices could result in a small cutback in wheat plantings in Russia, the world’s largest exporter, while the impact of the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine are estimated to reduce winter wheat area plantings by 40%. Record plantings are forecast in India.

— The U.N. said that an inter-agency aid convoy delivered five truckloads of medications, shelter materials, tool kits, hygiene items and solar lamps to the Zaporizhzhia region in the southeast Ukraine on Thursday. The supplies are headed for people in Huliaipole, where about 3,000 people remain close to the front line. Humanitarians say the community has been without electricity and water since March, as power stations were damaged by fighting and cannot be repaired because of the ongoing hostilities. This is the second convoy this week to reach frontline communities, after a convoy reached Donetsk region on January 31. U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths will brief the U.N. Security Council on the humanitarian situation on February 6.

What we are watching next week

On February 6, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will brief member states on his priorities for the year ahead. With the world facing conflicts, inflation and climate catastrophes, look for him to amplify his calls for unity and urgent action.

Science & Health

Have We Been Visited by Aliens? Depends on Whom You Ask

Logistics manager Nicholas Rehak was visiting his parent’s home in Baltimore County, Maryland, several years ago. He was standing on the back deck one night when he noticed a bluish white light.

“It was shaped in a damn near perfect oval and it started to rise,” Rehak told VOA. “I’m talking straight up vertical, no deviation. It sat there for nearly 30 seconds and then suddenly it vanished — like a lamp when someone pulls the plug. Just sudden darkness.”

Perhaps it was a drone. Rehak said that was his first thought.

“But I’ve never seen a drone take off perfectly vertical like that, from ground to sky without so much as a wobble,” he continued. “It was far too low to the ground to be a larger aircraft. So what was it? If I close my eyes, I can still see the light plain as day.”

For decades, Americans have reported sighting unidentified flying objects — commonly referred to as UFOs — zigging, zagging and hovering in the sky. Many were ridiculed for their assertions.

Now, however, the U.S. government is tracking and studying reports of what they refer to as unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP). More than 350 new cases have been reported to the government since March 2021, according to an unclassified document released last month by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. That number far exceeds what was reported over the 17 years prior, suggesting either a dramatic increase in sightings or a greater willingness to report them.

“It’s no longer embarrassing to talk about,” said Steve Mort, a New Orleans, Louisiana, resident. “I’ve always known true extraterrestrial UAPs exist — they’re likely our ancestors checking back in on us. The only thing I’m shocked by is that the government is officially confirming this.”

The January report, however, cautions against making such conclusions. While approximately half of the 366 reported UAP sightings remain unexplained, the ODNI wrote its “initial characterization does not mean positively resolved or unidentified.”

In other words, the U.S. government says it does not know what many of the mysterious objects are. And while the Department of Defense and NASA are taking steps to investigate UAPs, an impatient and imaginative American public is debating the mystery on its own.

Extraterrestrial life

Many in the scientific community say there is nothing particularly unusual about the steps the government is taking.

This includes American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“If there’s something in your night sky and you don’t know what it is, maybe it’s harmful, right?” Tyson said, speaking with VOA. “Well, investigating that potential harm is the entire mission statement of the military.”

“It’s nothing deeper than that,” he continued, “other than there are many people out there who wish it was something deeper despite having a lack of evidence to prove it.”

While there is a wide variety of opinions on whether extraterrestrial life has visited Earth, there appears to be a consensus that life likely exists beyond Earth.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in June 2021, 65% of Americans say they believe intelligent life exists on other planets.

“Each time we build a bigger telescope, we discover more and more galaxies in our ever-expanding universe,” said Robert Sheaffer, an author and investigator of UAPs. “Our universe is so unimaginably vast, it would be foolish to claim there are no other planets with life, or with intelligent civilizations.”

Differing conclusions

Americans as a whole appear divided on whether UAPs are extraterrestrial spacecraft visiting our planet. But the percentage who do believe in alien visitation has grown.

A YouGov survey last September found 34% of Americans believe UFOs are alien ships or alien life forms. An equal percentage said they didn’t know what accounts for UFOs while 32% believed they had a natural scientific explanation.

In a similar survey by Newsweek/Princeton in 1996, only 20% of Americans believed UFOs were evidence of extraterrestrial life while 51% said they could be explained by natural science.

Tyler Ogilvie, a musician from Syracuse, New York, said he recently spotted a mysterious spacecraft zooming overhead.

“I was legitimately convinced I was seeing something mystical or otherworldly,” he told VOA. “It was incredible … until a sobering Google search proved otherwise. It turned out I was looking at Elon Musk’s Starlink [a series of satellites launched by SpaceX to provide broader internet access].”

“But I think it’s a valuable experience,” Ogilvie added. “I learned how quickly the human mind can be convinced of something that it wants to believe is true. I want to believe it because I think it would make more sense out of our seemingly meaningless existence if we could put it into the perspective of the universe as a whole.”

Others agree.

“I think we don’t want to be alone,” Nicholas Rehak said.

“It gives me goosebumps to dream of what might be out there,” said Carl Fink, a software developer in New Orleans, “and contemplating the cosmos helps me consider the possibility of things I couldn’t previously imagine.”

Tyson said imagining life in other parts of the universe is part of a longer trend in human history.

“We used to think our planet was the center of the cosmos, but then through the help of Galileo and others we learned we orbit a sun,” the astrophysicist explained. “But at least everything in the universe orbited our sun … until we learned it didn’t. We’d go on to learn that other stars in the galaxy have their own planets, and that, in fact, there are hundreds of billions of other galaxies in our universe and we’re not at the center of anything.”

He added, “It’s good for our ego to understand that the universe literally doesn’t revolve around us and that we’re probably not the only life form out there.”

‘Where is the evidence?’

Are the UAPs being reported to the U.S. government in record numbers proof that alien life forms are finally reaching out?

Tyson is a skeptic.

“You’re telling me that a million humans are airborne at any given time — with cellphones that can take photos and capture video — and none of us have gotten clearer footage of these supposed alien spacecraft?” he said. “We have the technology to livestream these encounters, so where is the evidence? I know, I know. Everyone wants to meet the aliens, but for me — and I don’t want to stop anyone from investigating the lights in the sky, of course — there’s not enough evidence of visiting aliens to pique my interest.”

The Pentagon office responsible for tracking and studying sightings has preliminarily identified 163 of the recent reports as “balloon or balloon entities” while others have been attributed to weather events, birds, drones, or airborne debris such as plastic bags.

Still, 171 other reported sightings since March 2021 remain unexplained. Are they aliens? Foreign governments spying on America? Secret U.S. weapons tests?

“UAPs can be anything,” said Emily Songster, a music teacher in Asheville, North Carolina. “But imagining the possibility of life on other planets coming to visit us makes for a more fun and interesting world. I think that’s why many people look to aliens for answers and, personally, I’m glad we’re beginning to officially take these things seriously.”

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Musk Found Not Liable in Tesla Tweet Trial

Jurors on Friday cleared Elon Musk of liability for investors’ losses in a fraud trial over his 2018 tweets falsely claiming that he had funding in place to take Tesla private.

The tweets sent the Tesla share price on a rollercoaster ride, and Musk was sued by shareholders who said the tycoon acted recklessly in an effort to squeeze investors who had bet against the company.

Jurors deliberated for barely two hours before returning to the San Francisco courtroom to say they unanimously agreed that neither Musk nor the Tesla board perpetrated fraud with the tweets and in their aftermath.

“Thank goodness, the wisdom of the people has prevailed!” tweeted Musk, who had tried but failed to get the trial moved to Texas on the grounds jurors in California would be biased against him.

“I am deeply appreciative of the jury’s unanimous finding of innocence in the Tesla 420 take-private case.”

Attorney Nicholas Porritt, who represents Glen Littleton and other investors in Tesla, had argued in court that the case was about making sure the rich and powerful have to abide by the same stock market rules as everyone else.

“Elon Musk published tweets that were false with reckless disregard as to their truth,” Porritt told the panel of nine jurors during closing arguments.

Porritt pointed to expert testimony estimating that Musk’s claim about funding, which turned out not to be true, cost investors billions of dollars overall and that Musk and the Tesla board should be made to pay damages.

But Musk attorney Alex Spiro successfully countered that the billionaire may have erred on wording in a hasty tweet, but that he did not set out to deceive anyone.

Spiro also portrayed the mercurial entrepreneur, who now owns Twitter, as having had a troubled childhood and having come to the United States as a poor youth chasing dreams.

No joke

Musk testified during three days on the witness stand that his 2018 tweet about taking Tesla private at $420 a share was no joke and that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund was serious about helping him do it.

“To Elon Musk, if he believes it or even just thinks about it then it’s true no matter how objectively false or exaggerated it may be,” Porritt told jurors.

Tesla and its board were also to blame, because they let Musk use his Twitter account to post news about the company, Porritt argued.

The case revolved around a pair of tweets in which Musk said “funding secured” for a project to buy out the publicly traded electric automaker, then in a second tweet added that “investor support is confirmed.”

“He wrote two words ‘funding secured’ that were technically inaccurate,” Spiro said of Musk while addressing jurors.

“Whatever you think of him, this isn’t a bad tweeter trial, it’s a ‘did they prove this man committed fraud?’ trial.”

Musk did not intend to deceive anyone with the tweets and had the connections and wealth to take Tesla private, Spiro contended.

During the trial playing out in federal court in San Francisco, Spiro said that even though the tweets may have been a “reckless choice of words,” they were not fraud.

“I’m being accused of fraud; it’s outrageous,” Musk said while testifying in person.

Musk said he fired off the tweets at issue after learning of a Financial Times story about a Saudi Arabian investment fund wanting to acquire a stake in Tesla.

The trial came at a sensitive time for Musk, who has dominated the headlines for his chaotic takeover of Twitter where he has laid off more than half of the 7,500 employees and scaled down content moderation.