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content blocking Archives - LINX

ECJ to rule on whether Facebook must actively seek out hate speech

By | Content Issues, News

The Austrian Supreme Court has asked the European Court of Justice to rule on whether Facebook should actively search for hate speech posted by users.  The original lawsuit against Facebook was filed by Eva Glawischnig, the former leader of the Austrian Green Party, in 2016, after Facebook refused to take down what she claimed were defamatory postings about her.

Last year, an Austrian appeals court ruled in favour of Glawischnig, ordering Facebook to remove the hate speech postings – both the original posts and any verbatim repostings of the same comments – not just in Austria but worldwide. The Austrian Supreme Court has asked the ECJ to look at two issues: 1. Whether Facebook needs to actively look for similar posts, instead of just reposts, and 2. Whether such content needs to be removed globally.

The case comes amidst concerted pressure in Europe for social media platforms to do more to tackle hate speech. A new hate speech law in Germany, known as the network enforcement act, requires companies to remove or block criminal content within 24 hours, or seven days for complex cases, of it being reported. The law has already attracted controversy, despite only being actively enforced since 1 January 2018, after Twitter deleted a post by the German justice minister, Heiko Maas, dating back to 2010 before he was appointed to the role, calling a fellow politician “an idiot”. Twitter has also deleted anti-Muslim and anti-migrant posts by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and blocked a satirical magazine’s account after it parodied the AfD’s anti-Muslim comments. The German Government has said that an evaluation will be carried out within six months to examine how well the new law is working.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has kept up the pressure on tech companies calling for them “to step up and speed up their efforts to tackle these threats quickly and comprehensively” and reiterating that it would “if necessary, propose legislation to complement the existing regulatory framework.”

UK Government publishes Internet Safety green paper

By | Content Issues, Malware and DOS attacks, News

The UK Government has announced proposals for a voluntary levy on Internet companies “to raise awareness and counter internet harms”. The government has said that the levy would target issues such as cyberbullying, online abuse and children being exposed to pornography on the Internet.

The levy is one of a series of measures proposed in the Internet Safety Green Paper, which is the result of a consultation launched in February. The other measures include:

·       A new social media code of practice to require more intervention by social media companies against allegedly bullying, intimidating or humiliating content

·       An annual Internet safety transparency report, to help government track how fast social media companies remove material that has been the subject of a complaint

·       Demands for tech and digital startups to “think safety first” – prioritising features to facilitate complaints content removal as functionality that must be into apps and products from the very start

All the measures will be voluntary although the government has not ruled out legislating if companies refuse to take part. In remarks that will be of concern to Internet companies, the Culture Secretary Karen Bradley hinted that the government could change the legal status of social media companies, to deem them publishers rather than platforms, which could mean even greater regulation of their users’ content.

“Legally they are mere conduits but we are looking at their role and their responsibilities and we are looking at what their status should be. They are not legally publishers at this stage but we are looking at these issues,” she said.

The consultation will close on 7 December, and the government expects to respond in early 2018.

UK prime minister calls on internet firms to remove extremist content within two hours

By | Content Issues, International, News

The UK prime minister, Theresa May, has told internet companies that they need to go “further and faster” in removing extremist content in a speech to the United Nations general assembly. The prime minister said that terrorist material is still available on the internet for “too long” after being posted and has challenged companies to find a way to remove it within two hours. The material in question can include links to videos glorifying terrorism and material encouraging converts to commit terrorist acts.

In her speech, May said:

“Terrorist groups are aware that links to their propaganda are being removed more quickly, and are placing a greater emphasis on disseminating content at speed in order to stay ahead.

Industry needs to go further and faster in automating the detection and removal of terrorist content online, and developing technological solutions that prevent it being uploaded in the first place.”

The UK, together with France and Italy, is demanding evidence of progress by the time of a meeting of G7 interior ministers in Rome on 20 October.

Russia and China move towards banning virtual private networks

By | Content Issues, News

Both Russia and China are in the process of banning virtual private networks (VPNs), a tool that creates a secure, encrypted connection between a computer and a server operated by a VPN service. They are used by many to access material and websites that have been blocked by a government.

China has started implementing rules regarding VPNs that were approved in January 2017 that would require all VPNs to apply for a licence from the Chinese government – this licence would require VPNs to block access to websites and other online material that the Chinese government does not approve of. Two VPN services – Green VPN and Haibei VPN – have already said they would be closing down services in mainland China after receiving “notice from regulatory departments.”

In Russia, the State Duma (the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia) unanimously adopted the first reading of new legislation that would ban the use of VPNs as well as online anonymiser web browsers such as the Tor browser if they do not block access to a list of websites prohibited by the Russian government.

The move by both countries come at a time when VPNs and encryption are under increased scrutiny from governments around the world. You can read more about the situation in Russia and China from The Register.

Max Hill QC criticises May’s approach to terrorism

By | News
Leading barrister condemns proposals by May to fine internet companies for not doing enough to remove terrorist content from platforms.
Max Hill QC, the terrorism legislation watchdog whose entire career has been summed up by The Times as “bringing terrorists to justice”, branded Theresa May’s proposals to fine internet companies if they do not do enough to remove terrorist content from their platforms as dictatorial and likened them to what takes place in China. He asked: “How do we measure ‘enough’? What is the appropriate sanction?” He went on to compare May’s proposals to the policies implemented in China: “We do not live in China, where the internet simply goes dark for millions when government so decides.”
The very strong comments were made at the Terrorism and Social Media conference in Swansea, Wales. Max Hill QC was appointed to be an independent reviewer of terrorism legislation by the Government in February 2017, a post Parliamentarians rely on heavily for advice on the proportionality of government legislation. The comments would have been per the norm had Max Hill QC been a privacy campaigner; given his central role in counter terrorism, the comments presage more significant challenges to government policy in the future.

Swiss court convicts man over Facebook ‘likes’

By | News
A Swiss court has convicted a man for his ‘likes’ on Facebook. The 45-year-old unnamed defendant was told by the court in Zurich that because he had a ‘liked’ a post written by someone else regarding Erwin Kessler, who heads the animal rights group Verein gegen Tierfabriken (VgT), he was responsible for the words it contained, which alleged that Keller is a racist and an anti-semite.

The posts arose from a debate on Facebook concerning whether animal rights groups should take part in a large street vegan festival in Switzerland, the Veganmania Schweiz. Some left posts on Keller accusing him of racism and anti-semitism, which the defendant then ‘liked’. Kessler brought a case against the unnamed defendant, claiming that because these Facebook ‘likes’ helped to spread the accusations even further, he should be convicted. The court agreed, with Judge Catherine Gerwig saying at the trial that in liking the Facebook posts they were “spreading a value judgement”.

This was despite Kessler being convicted for racial discrimination in 1998 for trying to prevent the uplifting of a ban on the Jewish practice shechita, a Jewish religious method of slaughtering animals for food in order to produce kosher meat. However, because no current proof was provided for Kessler being racist now, the case against him for his Facebook ‘likes’ still stands.

The man was fined 4,000 Swiss Francs.

Ex-GCHQ deputy director demands fines on social media firms that fail to remove “extremist” material

By | News

Brian Lord, the ex deputy director of intelligence and cyber operations at GCHQ, has suggested that social media companies should be fined if they fail to remove material deemed as extremist from their website. The calls parallel the legislation in Germany, the so-called Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz, which fine companies if they do not remove material from their website deemed extremist or untrue within 24 hours or seven days depending on how easily it can be categorised as being extremist or constituting false news.

Although Brian Lord acknowledged that “social media is here to stay”, he argues that they have a social responsibility as well to remove extremist material. Yet, it remains unclear what Lord considers to be “extremist” or how that will be judged. Furthermore, Lord is silent on the possibility of there being a slippery slope, with each definition of extremist content further encroaching on the ability to post material once considered reasonable.

EU ministers approve hate speech rules

By | News

European Union ministers have recently approved rules that would oblige companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove videos deemed as constituting “hate speech” or face fines. The move comes in an attempt to create a common legal standard across the European Union on how to deal with video content in place of the discrepancy in national laws currently.

Andrus Ansip, vice president for the digital single market, said: “We need to take into account new ways of watching videos, and find the right balance to encourage innovative services, promote European films, protect children and tackle hate speech in a better way”. In order to become law, the rules must be agreed between the Council of Ministers, the European Commission and the European Parliament. This approval therefore represents an important first step in the legislative process, rather than a conclusion. While the Council of Ministers is generally seen as more influential than the European Parliament, especially on crime and security matters, the Parliament is often seen as more protective of free speech interests and other such fundamental rights.