As the technological realm becomes more pervasive, whom can we trust? Each week, Liberty Nation brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception.
Post-Terrorism Internet Censorship: US Says No
Liberty Nation recently reported on the measures taken by New Zealand and Sri Lanka to take control of social media in the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks. Ostensibly to prevent the spread of inflammatory material and misinformation that may lead to further violence, New Zealand and Australia blocked material related to the Christchurch shooting, while Sri Lanka instituted a temporary blanket ban on all social media communication after its own attack.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern worked with French President Emmanuel Macron to develop an international pledge, dubbed the Christchurch Call, for governments and tech companies to “eradicate terrorist and violent extremist content online.” On May 11, Ardern wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times to announce the proposal and call on nations worldwide to join her to “counter the drivers of terrorism and put in place specific measures to prevent the uploading of terrorist content.”
According to Ardern:
“New Zealand will present a call to action in the name of Christchurch, asking both nations and private corporations to make changes to prevent the posting of terrorist content online, to ensure its efficient and fast removal and to prevent the use of live-streaming as a tool for broadcasting terrorist attacks. We also hope to see more investment in research into technology that can help address these issues.”
A May 15 launch in Paris was attended by world leaders and numerous countries have already signed up to the program, including Canada, Australia, the U.K, India, Japan, and a smattering of other countries, mostly European. Major tech companies that signed up include Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft.
The Trump administration, however, declined to attend the summit or sign the agreement. “The United States stands with the international community in condemning terrorist and violent extremist content online in the strongest terms,” the White House said, but added that it is “not currently in a position to join the endorsement,” suggesting that the pledge may conflict with the First Amendment commitment to free speech.
The plan is non-specific in how its broad aims should actually be achieved, with each country and corporation free to take whatever measures they deem appropriate. Any steps taken will be reviewed in September during at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Macron said.
Facebook has already altered its video livestreaming policy so that any users who violate the site’s “most serious policies” will be banned from the live service for a period of time. In April, Australia rushed through the Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Act 2019, making it a criminal offense for individuals and social media providers to spread “abhorrent violent material” online. The law has been criticized for its extremely hasty passage through parliament, as well as ambiguous language and restriction of free expression – even the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights expressed concern.
Macron in the Middle
Macron seems to be positioning himself at the center of the social media censorship issue. As well as backing Ardern, the French president met with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently to discuss the potential regulation of social media over so-called dangerous content. The meeting comes at the same time a preliminary French report on “Creating a French framework to make social media platforms more accountable” has been released. Following a trend seen recently in multiple countries, the report advocates for the establishment of an independent regulator to take charge of online content.
“I’m encouraged and optimistic about the regulatory framework that will be put in place,” Zuckerberg told reporters at Facebook’s headquarters in Paris, “[I]n order for people to trust the internet overall and over time, there needs to be the right regulation put in place.” As reported by LN’s Onar Åm, he is not the only Facebook executive willing to support government intervention.
Trump Seeks Americans’ Internet Censorship Stories
It appears the White House may be gearing up for a campaign to promote freedom of speech on social media. On the very same day as the Paris meeting, the White House tweeted, “The Trump Administration is fighting for free speech online. No matter your views, if you suspect political bias has caused you to be censored or silenced online, we want to hear about it!” It posted a link to an online form where U.S. citizens and permanent residents can submit their personal information and allegations of internet censorship or bias.” The form opens with the statement:
“SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Yet too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear “violations” of user policies. No matter your views, if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you, share your story with President Trump.”
It would seem this is move is prompted in large part by the recent Facebook ban of content related to controversial figures including Alex Jones and Louis Farrakhan, the most recent incident in a series of similar bans and accusations of political censorship.
While some are supportive of the apparent effort to gather information on a free speech issue, others are calling the move a ploy to gather voter data, including contact information. In either case, the user agreement for the form gives the White House permission to publicly use and even edit submitted content, so it is not difficult to imagine that the stories collected are intended to be used as part of a planned campaign.
Owens Appeals to Trump for Assistance
Facebook does indeed continue to suppress opinions it deems false or disagreeable. Activist Candace Owens complained on May 17 that her account had been suspended for a week due to her political views. She requested that President Trump address the matter. Facebook later reinstated Owens’ account, using the usual line that the suspension had been a “mistake.” According to a Breitbart report, however, a Facebook source revealed that the site lists Owens as a “hate agent” who is set to be investigated, following the recent high-profile bans.
My @facebook page has been suspended for 7 days for posting that white supremacy is not a threat to black America, as much as father absence and & liberal policies that incentivize it, are.
I am censored for posting the poverty rates in fatherless homes. pic.twitter.com/Yh9DSW6DPk
— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) May 17, 2019
Is Trump going to be the knight in shining armor for free speech online – or is he about to make things worse? It was he, after all, who popularized the term “fake news” which is so often now used as an excuse to suppress unpopular opinions. If LN readers have felt marginalized on social media, reporting it to the White House is now an option – whether a good one or a bad one is yet unknown.
That’s all for this week’s edition of You’re Never Alone. Check back next Monday to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.
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