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EU

EU Threatens Twitter And Facebook With Possible 'Hate Speech' Laws (gizmodo.com) 369

An anonymous reader quotes Gizmodo: On Sunday, the European Commission warned Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube and Microsoft that if the companies do not address their hate speech problems, the EU will enact legislation that will force them to do so. In May, those five companies voluntarily signed a code of conduct to fight illegal hate speech on their platforms within 24 hours... But on Sunday, the European Commission revealed that the companies were not complying with this code in a satisfactory manner.

"In practice the companies take longer and do not yet achieve this goal. They only reviewed 40 percent of the recorded cases in less than 24 hours," a Commission official told Reuters. The Commission's report found that YouTube responded to reports of harassment the fastest, and unsurprisingly, Twitter found itself in last place. "If Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft want to convince me and the ministers that the non-legislative approach can work, they will have to act quickly and make a strong effort in the coming months," Jourova told the Financial Times on Sunday.

United Kingdom

UK Health Secretary Urges Social Media Companies To Block Cyberbullying And Underaged Sexting (betanews.com) 71

Mark Wilson shares his article on Beta News: Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has made calls for technology companies and social media to do more to tackle the problems of cyberbullying, online intimidation and -- rather specifically -- under-18-year-olds texting sexually explicit images. Of course, he doesn't have the slightest idea about how to go about tackling these problems, but he has expressed his concern so that, in conjunction with passing this buck to tech companies, should be enough, right?
Hunt apparently believes there's already a technology which can identify sexually explicit photos, and that social media networks should now also develop algorithms to identify and block cyberbullying, an idea the Guardian called "sadly laughable."

"Is the blanket censorship of non-approved communications for all under 18s -- something that goes far further than even the Great Firewall of China -- really the kind of thing a government minister should be able to idly suggest in 2016?"
The Courts

It Will Soon Be Illegal To Punish US Customers Who Criticize Businesses Online (arstechnica.com) 90

An anonymous reader writes: Congress has passed a law protecting the right of U.S. consumers to post negative online reviews without fear of retaliation from companies. The bipartisan Consumer Review Fairness Act was passed by unanimous consent in the US Senate, a Senate Commerce Committee announcement said. The bill, introduced in 2014, was already approved by the House of Representatives and now awaits President Obama's signature.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act -- full text available here -- voids any provision in a form contract that prohibits or restricts customers from posting reviews about the goods, services, or conduct of the company providing the product or service. It also voids provisions that impose penalties or fees on customers for posting online reviews as well as those that require customers to give up the intellectual property rights related to such reviews.

Censorship

China Is Censoring People's Chats Without Them Even Knowing About It (qz.com) 76

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: A new study from The Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, reveals that censorship on WeChat occurs primarily in group chats rather than one-on-one chats between two people, and often in such a way where the sender of a text isn't even aware a piece of text has been scrubbed. The discoveries illuminates how China's government attempts to keep its citizens blind to the scope of its censorship regime. The researchers set out find the extent to which certain keywords got scrubbed from conversations between two or more users in WeChat. To do this, in June 2016 the team posed as a Chinese WeChat user and sent out 26,821 keywords containing terms that had been censored on other apps, including Tom-Skype (a made-for-China version of Skype) and YY (a live broadcast app). A corresponding Canadian user in the two-way chat would then report back to say whether or not the message had been received. The report states that out of the entire sample, only one term -- Falun Gong -- had been scrubbed. When they ran an identical test in August, even that text mysteriously passed without censorship. Yet when they tested group chats, they found multiple cases in which certain keywords triggered a removal. Specifically, while sensitive terms used in isolation were unlikely to trigger censorship (say "June 4th," a reference to the Tiananmen Square protests, brutally put down on June 4, 1989), it took effect when they were used in a full sentence or with other keywords. The researchers also discovered that when WeChat censored a message, the sender received no notice informing him that his text had not reached the intended recipient. The study also notes that "WeChat only censors content for users who bind their account to a mainland Chinese phone number when they first register to use the app." The censorship is still applied even if Chinese residents move to different countries or change phone numbers.
Social Networks

Facebook Developing AI To Flag Offensive Live Videos (reuters.com) 104

Facebook is working on automatically flagging offensive material in live video streams, building on a growing effort to use artificial intelligence to monitor content, said Joaquin Candela, the company's director of applied machine learning. Reuters added: The social media company has been embroiled in a number of content moderation controversies this year, from facing international outcry after removing an iconic Vietnam War photo due to nudity, to allowing the spread of fake news on its site. Facebook has historically relied mostly on users to report offensive posts, which are then checked by Facebook employees against company "community standards." Decisions on especially thorny content issues that might require policy changes are made by top executives at the company. Candela told reporters that Facebook increasingly was using artificial intelligence to find offensive material. It is "an algorithm that detects nudity, violence, or any of the things that are not according to our policies," he said.
Canada

The Internet Archive Is Building a Canadian Copy To Protect Itself From Trump (theverge.com) 590

The Internet Archive, a digital library nonprofit that preserves billions of webpages for the historical record, is building a backup archive in Canada after the election of Donald Trump. The Verge adds: Today, it began collecting donations for the Internet Archive of Canada, intended to create a copy of the archive outside the United States. "On November 9th in America, we woke up to a new administration promising radical change," writes founder Brewster Kahle. "It was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change. For us, it means keeping our cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible. It means preparing for a web that may face greater restrictions. It means serving patrons in a world in which government surveillance is not going away; indeed it looks like it will increase."
Censorship

Reddit CEO Admits To Editing User Comments Amid Pizzagate Malarkey (cnet.com) 254

Steve Huffman, CEO of Reddit, today admitted to editing several comments that criticized him on the site. He made the admission on Reddit, where he posts under the username Spez. CNET adds: Huffman got a lot of flak from members of the The_Donald, a subreddit for supporters of President-elect Donald Trump, after Reddit banned the Pizzagate subreddit. Pizzagate was dedicated to a debunked conspiracy theory linking Hillary Clinton to a paedophile ring. In response, he edited comments reading "fuck Spez" to instead be directed at moderators of the The_Donald subreddit. "I messed with the "fuck u/spez" comments, replacing "spez" with r/the_donald mods for about an hour. It's been a long week here trying to unwind the r/pizzagate stuff," he wrote. "As much as we try to maintain a good relationship with you all, it does get old getting called a pedophile constantly." Huffman added: "Our community team is pretty pissed at me, so I most assuredly won't do this again."
The Internet

UK Plans To Censor Online Videos Of 'Non-Conventional' Sex Acts (betanews.com) 135

Mark Wilson, writing for BetaNews: The UK government's relationship with the web is something of a checkered one. Keen to pander to the fear of concerned hand-wringers, we've seen torrent sites blocked and there are plans afoot to censor porn sites that do not implement 'effective' age checks. Now there is a chance that UK web users will be denied access to websites that portray "non-conventional sexual acts" in the latest act of censorship by the government. A bill currently being considered would apply the same restrictions to online pornography that currently apply offline. In what appears to be yet another example of the government failing to understand quite how the internet works -- and trying to bend offline laws to apply to online situations -- the plan is to block websites that display content that would not normally receive a classification if released on DVD.
Censorship

Facebook Said To Create Censorship Tool To Get Back Into China (theverge.com) 45

The New York Times is reporting (Warning: may be paywalled, alternate source) that Facebook has created a censorship tool to automatically suppress certain posts in specific geographic areas of China, according to three current and former Facebook employees. The tool was created in an effort for Facebook to "get into China, a market where the social network has been blocked." Business Insider notes that several Facebook employees have quit because of the tool: This software would give third parties, like internet service providers, the ability to monitor Facebook for popular stories, and suppress them at will. This tool is one of many that Facebook has experimented with to get back into China, where it's been blocked from users since 2009, says the report, and has never actually been used. Regardless, the fact that company leadership would even consider this approach has reportedly troubled some Facebook employees, seeing it as a betrayal of the social network's values around openness and transparency in the name of getting access to the vast market represented by China.
Censorship

EFF Report Finds 74% Of Censorship News Stories Are About Facebook (onlinecensorship.org) 75

An anonymous reader writes: OnlineCensorship.org just released a new report "to provide an objective, data-driven voice in the conversation around commercial content moderation." They're collecting media reports about censorship on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr and Google+, and have now analyzed 294 reports of content takedowns -- 74% of which pertained to Facebook. (Followed by Instagram with 16% and Twitter with 7%.) 47% of all the takedowns were nudity-related, while the next two most frequent reasons given were "real name" violations and "inappropriate content".

Noting "a more visible public debate" over content moderation, the report acknowledges that 4.7 billion Facebook posts are made every day. (It also reports the "consistent refrain" from services apologizing for issues -- that "our team processes millions of reports each week...") But the most bizarre incident they've identified was the tech blogger in India who was locked out of his Facebook account in October because he shared a photo of a cat in a business suit. "It might sound stupid but this just happened to me," he told Mashable India, which reports Facebook later apologized and said it had made a mistake.

Their report -- part of the EFF's collaboration with Visualizing Impact -- urges platforms to clarify their guidelines (as well as applicable laws), to explain the mechanisms being used to evaluate content and appeals, and to share those criteria when notifying users of take-downs. For example, in August Facebook inexplicably removed a 16-century sketch by Erasmus of Rotterdam detailing a right hand.
Social Networks

Twitter Suspends American Far-Right Activists' Accounts (theguardian.com) 978

Twitter has suspended the accounts of a number of American "alt-right" activists hours after announcing a renewed push to crack down on hate speech. From a report on The Guardian:Among the accounts removed were those of the self-described white-nationalist National Policy Institute, its magazine, Radix, and its head Richard Spencer, as well as other prominent alt-right figures including Pax Dickinson and Paul Town. Spencer, who according to anti-hate group SPLC "calls for 'peaceful ethnic cleansing' to halt the 'deconstruction' of European culture", decried the bans as "corporate Stalinism" to right-wing news outlet Daily Caller. "Twitter is trying to airbrush the alt right out of existence," Spencer said. "They're clearly afraid. They will fail!"
The Internet

Internet Freedom Wanes As Governments Target Messaging, Social Apps (npr.org) 60

Roughly two-thirds of the world's internet users live under regimes of government censorship, according to a report from Freedom House, a pro-democracy think tank. The report adds that internet freedom declined worldwide for a sixth consecutive year in 2016 with the governments increasingly crack down on social media services and messaging apps. From a report on NPR: "In a new development, the most routinely targeted tools this year were instant messaging and calling platforms, with restrictions often imposed during times of protests or due to national security concerns," the report says. WhatsApp emerged as the most-blocked app, facing restrictions in 12 of the 65 studied countries. The report's scope covers the experiences of some 88 percent of the world's Internet users. And of all 65 countries reviewed, Internet freedom in 34 -- more than half -- has been on a decline over the past year. Particular downturns were marked in Uganda, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ecuador and Libya. Facebook users were arrested in 27 countries, more than any other app or platform. And such arrests are spreading. Since June of last year, police in 38 countries have arrested people for what they said on social media -- surpassing even the 21 countries, where people were arrested for what they published on more traditional platforms like blogs and news sites. "Some supposed offenses were quite petty, illustrating both the sensitivity of some regimes and the broad discretion given to police and prosecutors under applicable laws," the report says.
Censorship

WikiLeaks Calls for Pardons From President Obama -- Or President Trump (wikileaks.org) 445

"President Obama has a political moment to pardon Manning & Snowden," WikiLeaks tweeted on Friday, adding "If not, he hands a Trump presidency the freedom to take his prize." And a new online petition is also calling for a pardon of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, saying Assange is "a hero and must be honoured as such," attracting over 10,000 supporters in just a few days. An anonymous reader writes: Monday WikiLeaks also announced, "irrespective of the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, the real victor is the U.S. public which is better informed as a result of our work." Addressing complaints that they specifically targeted Hillary Clinton's campaign, the group said "To date, we have not received information on Donald Trump's campaign, or Jill Stein's campaign, or Gary Johnson's campaign or any of the other candidates that fulfills our stated editorial criteria." But they also objected to the way their supporters were portrayed during the U.S. election, arguing that Trump and others "were painted with a broad, red brush. The Clinton campaign, when they were not spreading obvious untruths, pointed to unnamed sources or to speculative and vague statements from the intelligence community to suggest a nefarious allegiance with Russia. The campaign was unable to invoke evidence about our publications -- because none exists."
Thursday a WikiLeaks representative expressed surprise that, despite the end of the U.S. election, Julian Assange's internet connection in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London has not yet been restored.
Social Networks

Facebook on its Fake News Problem: 'There's So Much More We Need To Do' (theverge.com) 284

In the aftermath of election, news outlets are counting Facebook as one of the major reasons that drove Trump to victory. NYMag, for instance, had an essay Wednesday titled "Donald Trump Won Because of Facebook", in which it has documented several instances where lies were peddled as fact on Facebook's watch. The social juggernaut, which has over 1.6 billion people checking the website every month, has been spotted running fake stories on its platform numerous times over the past few months, something that President Barack Obama remarked about recently. This is critical because over 60 percent people in the United States consume their news on social media. When asked if Facebook had anything to say about its influence in Trump's victory, the company said:We take misinformation on Facebook very seriously. We value authentic communication, and hear consistently from those who use Facebook that they prefer not to see misinformation. In Newsfeed we use various signals based on community feedback to determine which posts are likely to contain inaccurate information, and reduce their distribution. In Trending we look at a variety of signals to help make sure the topics being shown are reflective of real-world events, and take additional steps to prevent false or misleading content from appearing. Despite these efforts we understand there's so much more we need to do, and that is why it's important that we keep improving our ability to detect misinformation. We're committed to continuing to work on this issue and improve the experiences on our platform.
China

China Adopts Controversial Cybersecurity Law; Experts Say It Will Hurt Businesses (techcrunch.com) 61

The Chinese government today passed new cybersecurity regulations that will put stringent new requirements on technology companies operating in the country. The proposed Cybersecurity Law comes with data localization, surveillance, and real-name requirements. From a TechCrunch report:The regulation would require instant messaging services and other internet companies to require users to register with their real names and personal information, and to censor content that is "prohibited." Real name policies restrict anonymity and can encourage self-censorship for online communication. The law also includes a requirement for data localization, which would force "critical information infrastructure operators" to store data within China's borders. According to Human Rights Watch, an advocacy organization that is opposing the legislation, the law does not include a clear definition of infrastructure operators, and many businesses could be lumped into the definition. "The law will effectively put China's Internet companies, and hundreds of millions of Internet users, under greater state control," said Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch's China director. HRW maintains that, while many of the regulations are not new, most were informal or only laid out in low-level law -- and implementing the measures on a broader level will lead to stricter enforcement.

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