Social media

Social media round-up: July 2016

Here we go again … another month, another overload of social media news, which means this latest round-up is even bigger than my biggest update ever just last month.

I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat blog!

This month I kick off with the tale of an unsubstantiated Twitter copyright claim in the heat of Australia’s Federal election campaign, followed by the American Civil Liberties Union taking aim at the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the story of a US man who very unwisely threatened Senators and members of Congress on Twitter, Facebook’s ongoing troubles in Brazil and the planned encryption of Facebook’s Messenger service, the suspended prison sentence in Australia for an online racist abuser, a US criminal case that will likely test the boundary between free speech and online threats, the horrific murder of a female Pakistani social media star in a so-called ‘honour killing’ by her own brother, Kanye West’s apparent breach of California’s penal code as evidenced by social media posts, the conundrum whether Instagram’s recent most ‘liked’ photo is illegal, and insurance fraudsters caught out on social media by insurers.

Next I look at a First Amendment lawsuit by the ACLU in Indiana on behalf of two women blocked by their city on Facebook, arrests in Bahrain over the use of social media, warnings in Saudi Arabia over social media use, Ethiopia blocking social media sites to stop ‘cheating students’, and Israel’s vocal concerns about hate speech on Facebook which has been one-upped by a lawsuit filed by a group of Israelis and Americans seeking $1 billion in damages over the alleged ‘facilitation’ of deadly Palestinian militant attacks on their loved ones.

I revisit the Twitter defamation dispute between Angus Aitken and the ANZ, and follow with a look at online abuse, including the recent troubles of writer and social commentator Van Balham after a public clash with shock jock Steve Price, the appalling racial and misogynistic abuse of American comedienne and actress Leslie Jones and the subsequent outfall, a Ukrainian woman fighting back against the online shaming of rape victims, the expulsion of two senior students from Brighton Grammar, an Anglican school for boys in Melbourne, Victoria, after they set up an Instagram account that featured photos of young girls and invited people to vote for the ‘slut of the year,’ the Twitter hashtags circulating thousands of inappropriate photos of women, the story of a Mexican man who, according to social media, now ‘died’ in a number of different terrorist attacks, steps taken by Facebook to combat identity theft, and a fascinating new TV series titled ‘The internet ruined my life.’

Then comes the curious proposal by US Customs and Border Protection to ask travellers entering the US to declare their various social media accounts and screen names, a long overdue privacy victory for Facebook in Europe, a brief update on the latest development in the Schrems privacy case against Facebook in Ireland, a privacy victory for Microsoft at home, Google and Facebook waging war on Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, the ongoing fallout from the proliferation of revenge porn, and the Executive Chairman of Visy Industries and Pratt Industries, Anthony Pratt illustrating the potential consequences of unintended social media ‘associations’.

There is also a recent decision of Australia’s Fair Work Commission which briefly considered the Facebook posts of an employee, the firing of an American police officer and an Australian expat in Singapore over their respective Facebook posts, and the Australian Army investigating inappropriate social media postings.

Facebook’s tax issues across multiple continents, and Google’s European anti-trust problems are also worthy of a brief note.

Finally, I report on a KPMG publication on Australia’s top business executive tweeters.

Related stories:
Social media round-up: June 2016
Social media round-up: May 2016
Social media round-up: April 2016

Copyright | Crime (and punishment) | Free Speech | Defamation | Online Abuse | Privacy | Workplace | Competition and Tax Issues | Corporate Social Media


The Federal election campaign and an unsubstantiated copyright claim

Twitter has reportedly launched an investigation, and issued a ‘please explain’ to the Liberal Party of Victoria, after a false copyright claim was submitted to the social media network on 21 June under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, resulting in the suspension of a Twitter account which satirised Liberal candidate Kelly O’Dwyer.

The tweet offered as an example of the ‘copyright infringement’

The comedy account @Kelly_dnuSophie makes politically unflattering comparisons between Ms O’Dwyer and her friend, and controversial fellow Liberal candidate, Sophie Mirabella, which drew Ms O’Dwyer’s ire.

Although the account has been later restored, this may not be the last we hear of it, because the copyright complaint was accompanied by a signed statement from a ‘Jennifer Freind’, described as a ‘social media advisor to the Victorian Liberal Party’, to the effect that Ms O’Dwyer owned the copyright in the photos the complaint covered, including a declaration that:

… the information in this notification is accurate, and I state under penalty of perjury that I am authorised to act on behalf of the copyright owner.

As it turns out the declaration in question was in fact false, because Ms O’Dwyer does not own the copyright in any of the photos in question.

Filing a Copyright Notice or Counter-notice is Serious Business!

Please think twice before submitting a claim or counter-notice, especially if you are unsure whether you are the actual rights holder or authorized to act on a rights holder’s behalf. There are legal and financial consequences for fraudulent and/or bad faith submissions. Please be sure that you are the actual rights holder, or that you have a good faith belief that the material was removed in error, and that you understand the repercussions of submitting a false claim.
Copyright Policy (Twitter)

Twitter’s copyright policy includes a strong warning, and a reference to Lenz v. Universal, on the subject of filing a false or unsubstantiated copyright claim.

Related story:
The dancing baby, YouTube, Prince and Universal Music (17 September 2015)

Crime (and punishment)

The American Civil Liberties Union targets the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) is designed to give US law enforcement agencies a powerful tool for prosecuting cyber crime. The legislation outlaws doing anything ‘unauthorised’ with a computer, which means a person could be found guilty of a federal crime just for breaching a website’s terms and conditions to collect information.

The highly controversial persecution-like prosecution of Aaron Swartz, which ended in the young genius’ suicide, was conducted under the CFAA.

The ACLU had announced that it has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law on behalf of academic researchers in the District Court for the District of Columbia, arguing it ‘prohibits and chills academics, researchers, and journalists from testing for discrimination on the internet … [because it] makes it a crime to visit or access a website in a manner that violates that website’s terms of service, while robust audit testing and investigations to uncover online discrimination require violating common website terms of service.’

Being able to run socially beneficial studies like ours is at the heart of academic freedom.

We shouldn’t have to fear prosecution just because we’re doing our jobs.
Lead plaintiff, University of Michigan professor Christian Sandvig

Don’t threaten Senators and members of Congress on Twitter

I get it! Gun violence in the US is upsetting. But responding by threatening gun violence against Senators and members of Congress is certainly not the way to respond.

Local NBC affiliate reported that a federal judge has banned Kyler Schmitz of Alexandria, Virginia, from using Twitter after he posted graphic threats to Twitter.

Mr Schmitz is currently undergoing mental-health testing and treatment. Uber, Mr Scmitz’s employer, cut his access to its systems as soon as the company learned of the allegations.

The lesson here is pretty straightforward: death threats are never ‘humorous’ or ‘satirical’.

Brazil versus Facebook

I have been reporting on Facebook’s troubles in Brazil since its WhatsApp messaging service ran afoul of the courts over Facebook’s inability to hand over the messages of users who were being investigated for alleged drug trafficking. The disputes resulted in national service suspensions, and even the brief arrest of Facebook’s vice president for South America.

Relates stories:
Facebook’s troubles continue in Brazil (30 May 2016)
Brazil arrests Facebook vice president (23 March 2016)

In the latest escalation of the encryption wars between the Brazilian judiciary and Facebook, first the Federal Court in Londrina, Paraná, froze $6 million of Facebook’s assets over WhatsApp’s failure to comply with the court’s order to hand over the messages of alleged drug traffickers, despite the company repeatedly informing Brazilian courts of the fact that it cannot access its users’ messages.

Then, on 19 July, Rio de Janeiro Judge Daniela Barbosa ordered the nation’s telecommunications companies to block access to WhatsApp yet again because WhatsApp’s owner, Facebook, had shown ‘total disrespect for Brazilian laws.’

In a statement to Forbes, an exasperated WhatsApp noted yet again that ‘[a]s we’ve said in the past, we cannot share information we don’t have access to.’

This latest blocking order lasted a mere four hours, before it was thrown out by the President of Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court, noting the order was disproportionate and violated people’s fundamental freedom of expression.

Despite the troubles Facebook is facing with its encrypted WhatsApp service in Brazil, the company does not appear to be dissuaded from also introducing end-to-end encryption to its Messenger service. Some users already have been given the opportunity to opt in for encryption, although encrypted conversations can only be read on one device, which means that users who activate encryption won’t be able to switch between devices, such as an iPad, iPhone, or MacBook.

Coincidently, Facebook also announced this month that its Messenger service had past the 1 billion users mark – that’s almost one in seven of the world’s population …

Chris Nelson receives a suspended prison sentence

You may recall Chris Nelson, the Australian chiropractor and osteopath from the Central Coast of NSW, and his online racist tirade aimed at retiring Federal Labor Senator Nova Peris.

After initially blaming hackers for the online abuse, Mr Nelson pleaded guilty to the charge of using a carriage service to cause offence, under The Criminal Code.

Earlier this month he was handed an eight-month suspended jail sentence and placed on a two-year good behaviour bond in the Woy Woy Local Court, in a clear message to the community about the unacceptability of such comments online.

Subsequently, Mr Nelson sent a letter of formal apology to Ms Peris, which she graciously accepted:

Isiah Beavers, #BlackLivesMatter and the limits of social media commentary

In the Workplace section of this month’s social media round-up you will find the case of an American police officer who was recently fired because of treating comments he made on Facebook.

In the meantime, Isiah Beavers of South Bend, Indiana, was arrested on 9 July over his own Facebook comments in the context of the recent unrest surrounding the #BlackLivesMatter movement, charged with a federal crime for allegedly threatening to incite violence at a Black Lives Matter rally over the weekend

In one of the posts reported to police, the 26-year-old wrote that he planned to show up at the rally with a gun and bottles of gasoline, warning that he was ‘ready to riot.’

At a hearing before a District Court magistrate, Mr Beavers’ lawyer and mother argued that he never intended violence against anyone, and was merely expressing anger over the recent high-profile police shootings of young black men. His lawyer argued that there was no evidence that Mr Beavers actually had a gun or gasoline.

This will be an interesting test case because of the precedent set by the case of Mr Anthony Elonis, a.k.a. Tone Dougie in the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). In that case SCOTUS reversed the conviction and remanded the matter, noting that while the First Amendment will not protect ‘true threats,’ in the circumstances of the case the prosecutors must do more than prove that reasonable people would view the posts as threats, and prove the posts were intended to be a threat by Mr Elonis.

In the case of Mr Beavers the prosecutors will have to contend with that precedent, and show that he intended to make a threat. There are many ambiguities involved because while SCOTUS did not specify when a person’s state of mind crosses the line to an intentional threat, some justices argued that mere recklessness, or disregard for the fact that a statement would be interpreted as a threat, could be enough to prove guilt.

Qandeel Baloch strangled in Pakistan by her own brother

Rising Pakistani social media star Qandeel Baloch was murdered by her own brother in a so-called ‘honour killing’.

The culture in Pakistan is conservative and oppressive when it comes to the rights of women, among others, and online abuse aimed at women is rife.

Ms Baloch was challenging the status quo in the conservative nation by disregarding existing ‘social norms,’ and building a social media presence, posting ‘provocative’ pictures and videos.

In the last post on her Facebook page she defiantly stated ‘[a]s a women we must stand up for ourselves..As a women we must stand up for each other…As a women we must stand up for justice I believe I am a modern day feminist …’

She paid the ultimate price for challenging the conservative patriarchy, and daring to demand to be free.

It’s most unfortunate that such crimes are referred to as ‘honour killings,’ because there could never be ‘honour’ in such actions …

Did Kanye West breach California law relating to the recording of telephone conversations?

The answer to that question may eventually be provided by the courts.

You would have to live under a pop-culture rock not to be aware of the longstanding ‘Bad Blood‘ (yes, that’s a pun) between pop superstar Taylor Swift and self-declared demigod Kanye West, dating back to that spectacular ‘performance’ by West at the 2009 MTV Music Video Awards.

The pair have sparred pretty much ever since, and the situation escalated recently with the release of West’s latest single ‘Famous’ where he raps ‘I made that b*tch famous,’ in reference to Swift. Beyond that line being arguably factually incorrect, it is also offensive to women. West’s defence was that Swift had approved the lyrics in advance. Swift has always maintained that, although she did speak with West on the phone prior to the release of the song, she was not made aware of the ‘b*tch’ reference, so any tentative ‘approval’ she may have expressed during that call in respect of the lyrics, couldn’t possibly be seen as her acquiescing to that specific line, or word.

West, and his wife Kim Kardashian, responded to the growing controversy by releasing heavily edited excerpts of West’s phone call with Swift on Kardashian’s Snapchat account.

There are two problems with this release.

The first problem is a practical one, in that what has been released so far actually backs up Swift’s version of the call: there is no mention anywhere in the released excerpts of the disputed line in the song by West.

Second, under §632 of the ‘Invasion of Privacy’ Chapter of the Penal Code of California it is illegal to record a telephone conversation without the participants’ consent.

The punishment for a breach of §632 is a fine not exceeding $2,500, or imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year. Oops …

On the face of it, it appears that Swift did not consent to the recording of the phone call in question, so watch this space.

However, there is one lesson we can draw from this pop culture saga and social media faux pas already: if you are breaking the law, it is perhaps best not to post evidence of it to social media …

Related stories:
Don’t ‘tag’ yourself in Facebook riot pics … Actually, please do!
When Mum goes rouge

Is Instagram’s recent most ‘liked’ photo illegal?

In July, Instagram got is latest most-liked photo of all time … a picture of Selena Gomez enjoying a bottle of Coca-Cola.

View this post on Instagram

when your lyrics are on the bottle 😛 #ad

A post shared by Selena Gomez (@selenagomez) on

There is a minor glitch. Ms Gomez has been signed recently to Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke and a Song’ advertising campaign and the image looks very much like an ad for Coca-Cola – an undisclosed ad …

If so, the image would potentially be in breach of the unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce prohibitions of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which requires that all sponsored content, and endorsements that come about as a result of a connection between a brand and an endorser, be disclosed, including in social media posts.

You have a financial connection to the company that hired you and that relationship exists whether or not you are being paid for a particular [social media post]. If you are endorsing the [a brand, product or service] in your [social media posts], your audience has a right to know about your relationship.

You don’t necessarily have to use words to convey a positive message. If your audience thinks that what you say or otherwise communicate about a product reflects your opinions or beliefs about the product, and you have a relationship with the company marketing the product, it’s an endorsement subject to the FTC Act.
The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking (Federal Trade Commission)

While one could argue Ms Gomez’s relationship with Coca-Cola is public knowledge, reducing the likelihood of consumers being misled about her association with the brand, previous policy statements by the Federal Trade Commission had set the bar relatively low for proving deceptive conduct:

An interpretation may be reasonable even though it is not shared by a majority of consumers in the relevant class, or by particularly sophisticated consumers. A material practice that misleads a significant minority of reasonable consumers is deceptive. (emphasis added)
FTC Policy Statement on Deception (14 October 1983)

In Australia the relevant regulatory body is the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC). The ACCC administers the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) and The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) in Schedule 2 of that Act.

The ACL prohibits misleading or deceptive conduct and specific product misrepresentations including testimonials (sections 18 and 29).

18 Misleading or deceptive conduct
(1) A person must not, in trade or commerce, engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive.

29 False or misleading representations about goods or services
(1) A person must not, in trade or commerce, in connection with the supply or possible supply of goods or services or in connection with the promotion by any means of the supply or use of goods or services:

(f) make a false or misleading representation concerning:
(i) a testimonial by any person; or
(ii) a representation that purports to be such a testimonial;
relating to goods or services; or

Currently these are the only relevant provisions in Australia which would require so-called ‘social influencers’ to disclose rewards or commercial relationships in respect of their social media posts. However, a brand and the ‘social influencer’ would only be required to make such a disclosure if it would be misleading or deceptive or a misrepresentation not to disclose the rewards or commercial relationship.

The application of these laws to social media in Australia is yet to be tested.

People or businesses who promote products or services through influencer marketing practices or via testimonials should have a genuine connection to or with the product/service.
The ACCC quoted in ‘Cash for posts: the murky ethics of social media stardom‘ (The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 November 2015)

Insurance fraudsters caught out on social media

If you just made an insurance claim for neck and back pain following a car accident, it’s best if you don’t publicise your plan for running a half marathon a few weeks later, and post pictures of yourself hiking mountains, on social media …

Recently, a UK man found out the hard way that insurers are catching on, and they are increasingly incorporating the review of social media into their investigations.

William Owen was ordered to repay £9,213 by Liverpool County Court, after Aviva uncovered his social media activities while ‘suffering’ from whiplash:

The accident was of such a minor nature that it could not have resulted in the personal injuries claimed by Mr Owen … whilst the accident did result in personal injury, such injuries were in no way commensurate with the extent suggested.
Deputy District Judge Wasim Taskeen

Free speech

ACLU files First Amendment lawsuit in Indiana over blocked Facebook activity

The ACLU is also busy in Beech Grove, Indiana, where it filed a lawsuit on behalf of Kymberly Quick and Deborah Mays-Miller, residents of Beech Grove and members of the Beech Grove Crime Watch, against the city, after it deleted critical comments the women wrote in response to Facebook posts by the city and its police department. Later, Beech Grove blocked the women, preventing them from ‘liking’ or commenting on posts.

In Kymberly Quick and Deborah Mays-Miller v. City of Beech Grove, 1:16-cv-1706 the women are seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions to enjoin the city from stopping the women from posting on the Facebook pages in question, and costs.

Bahrain arrests for ‘posting instigative materials’

I spoke before of the troubling occurrences of the restriction of free speech around the world, which often ensnares the use of social media, especially in countries where democracy lacks, is poorly developed, or fading.

Related stories:
No jokes, we are Russians (and the Russian ‘information war’) (27 June 2016)
Iran cracks down on social media (30 May 2016)
Cambodia and Nigeria (23 March 2016)
The case of Turkey’s Sedef Kabas (3 November 2015)

The latest new of such restrictions is coming from the middle eastern kingdom and dictatorship of Bahrain, where an unknown number of people have been arrested for ‘posting instigative materials.’

Bahrain has experienced ongoing political, sectarian, and social upheaval since the 2011 Arab Spring, and the latest arrests have been explained by Bahrain’s Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security Directorate as affecting people who posted ‘instigative materials on social media in violation of the law’ that ‘comprised affronts to others.’

Saudi Arabia warns about ‘inappropriate’ social media use

The curiously named National Society for Human Rights of Saudi Arabia which, despite its name, appears to act more like a censorship enforcement regulator, warned the citizens of the kingdom in a series of tweets this month to be on their best behaviour when it comes to social media use:

A person who compromises the privacy of another person through the misuse of a mobile phone, a camera, or a similar device and defames or hurts them by means of information technology, shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than one year and/or a fine of not more than 500 thousand riyals.

The restrictive kingdom’s 2007 Anti-Cyber Crime Law (Royal Decree No. M/17 dated 8 Rabi1 1428) was enacted specifically to deal with its citizens increasing use of social media, and it is widely considered a repressive, rather than a protective legislation. The law effectively criminalises ‘producing something that harms public order, religious values, public morals, the sanctity of private life, or authoring, sending, or storing it via an information network.’

Ethiopia blocks social media sites to stop ‘cheating students’

In the meantime, Ethiopia blocked social media sites across the country for a few days until the conclusion of its national school examination.

The government claimed it was necessary to do so to prevent students cheating after the tests were postponed in May after the online leak of the national exam sheets causing great embarrassment to the government.

Israel concerned about hate speech on Facebook

Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan had publicly linked Facebook, and Mark Zuckerberg, to recent terrorist attacks. Mr Erdan alleged that the social network facilitates such violence by failing to remove posts inciting hatred and criminal activities:

Some of the victims’ blood is on Zuckerberg’s hands. Facebook has turned into a monster. The younger generation in the Palestinian Authority runs its entire discourse of incitement and lies and finally goes out to commit murderous acts on Facebook’s platform.

Facebook, and other social media operators, are coming under increasing pressure to combat hate speech online, and extremists promoting their agendas through social media.

Lawsuit against Facebook over the alleged facilitation of deadly Palestinian militant attacks on loved ones

One-upping the vocal concerns of Israel’s Public Security Minister, a group of people had filed a lawsuit against Facebook, Avni v Facebook, Inc., in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeking $1 billion in damages for the deaths of their loved ones in terrorist attacks.

The plaintiffs are relatives of four Israeli-US dual nationals, and one visiting American, who died in attacks in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank between 2014 and 2016. They accuse Facebook of helping Hamas militants operate by knowingly providing material support and resources to Hamas, and facilitating the terrorist group’s ability to communicate, recruit members, plan and carry out attacks, and strike fear in its enemies.

The lawsuit is similar to the proceedings commenced against Twitter, Facebook, and Google by Reynaldo Gonzalez, the father of Nohemi Gonzalez, an American exchange student who was one of the victims of the deadly Paris terror attacks on 13 November last year.


The Angus Aitken Twitter saga enters the Supreme Court of NSW

Paul Edwards tweetAs anticipated, Angus Aitken had commenced proceedings in the Supreme Court of NSW for defamation, misleading and deceptive conduct and intimidation, alleging that ANZ, its Head of Communications Paul Edwards, and its Chief Executive Shayne Elliott, waged a campaign against him to get him sacked from Bell Potter, and tarnish his reputation in the broking industry. Mr Aitken is seeking damages for economic loss, and aggravated damages. In the meantime Mr Edwards deleted the tweet in dispute – of course, once you post something to social media, it is unlikely to ever disappear completely, no matter what you do..

Related stories:
Angus Aitken, Michelle Jablko, Paul Edwards and that tweet (27 June 2016)
Angus Aitken, Michelle Jablko, Paul Edwards and that tweet (30 May 2016)

However, Bell Potter boss Colin Bell reportedly stated that Aitken’s characteristically frank views about ANZ’s incoming Chief Financial Officer was simply considered ‘the last straw’ by the broking firm.

It has been further suggested that Mr Aitken’s faith was sealed before Mr Elliott called Mr Bell later that night, or Mr Edwards sent out ‘the tweet’.

The Financial Review reports, admittedly sarcastically, that Mr Elliott maintains his late night call to Mr Bell had nothing to do with Mr Aitken and he did not direct Mr Edwards to send out that faithful tweet. Thankfully, journalistic sarcasm doesn’t qualify as evidence in court.

This will be certainly a classic case of ‘he said, he said, he said’ and, considering the people involved, I don’t envy the poor judge who will have to decide who makes a more credible witness …

Online abuse

Online abuse in conservative, religious societies

If you thought the online abuse and harassment of women is an entirely Western phenomenon, you are wrong.

Spare a thought for women who live in cultures and societies where women are oppressed and treated as second-class citizens to an extent practically unimaginable to those who grew up in Western democracies.

In such places the internet can offer an intellectual escape, but also harbours risks amplified by abhorrent religious and cultural practices.

Social media operators and law enforcement agencies continue to struggle with, and frequently fail, combating online harassment against women and other vulnerable groups at the best of times. Just ask Clementine Ford

Add to that mix the unique cultural, language, and religious barriers that exist in some parts of the world, and perhaps you will start to appreciate the severity of the situation.

An illustration of the problem was provided by an article in The New Yorker, which tells the story of a young woman in Pakistan. A country where in 2013 two young women were murdered because a video of them dancing in the rain went viral.

The article tells the story of a young female university student, harassed by a malicious criminal, claiming to have hacked her Facebook account, who then proceeded to digitally alter photos of her in an attempt to blackmail her.

When she refused and he started uploading altered pictures of her to Facebook, the nature of which endangered her safety, and life, in conservative Pakistan, the social media company was little help initially, claiming, as usual, that no community standards had been breached.

What happens offline is reflected online. A woman who dares to venture into a public space, including social media, is perceived as being out of control, or out of the protection of her father, brother, or husband, and therefore vulnerable. There is a very real threat the online persecution could be coupled with physical harassment.

The young woman spent months trying to convince Facebook there was an issue, without success, and in a final effort she wrote to Nighat Dad, a Pakistani lawyer who runs the Digital Rights Foundation, and provides support to women who are victims of online abuse and harassment. His involvement finally prompted action by Facebook, and the images were removed.

However, the saga illustrates the additional hurdles suffered by women online in conservative societies, where their very use of technology is seen as an affront by some, and their treatment online very much reflects the realities of their offline world.

Van Badham stands up for domestic violence victims – the internets don’t like it

Unfortunately Western democracies have little reason to gloat either. Misogyny and sexism are rife in the West, and we are reminded of this serious social issue almost daily.

Having Steve Price on the ABC’s Q&A was always a bad idea. Having him near any media is always a bad idea. Unfortunately, as a shock-jock, he represents the ‘old guard’ and social attitudes that do not comfortably coexist with a 21st century society.

The audience question that stated it all, Steve Price’s response and Van Badham’s ‘enough is enough’ moment

I’m not going to debate what he was trying to express, but will assert that the way he expressed it was pretty appalling in this day of age and as a media personality he should have known better. I’m not surprised that Van Badham was simply not having it.

Steve Price on The Project, refusing to accept he said anything wrong

Unfortunately, since she stood up to Steve Price on the broadcast, and subsequently refused to back down from highlighting the inappropriateness of his comments, she has been the subject of some merciless online trolling.

Please be warned, some strong language follows …

Thankfully she has also received the overwhelming support of the public.

The racial and misogynistic abuse of American comedienne and actress Leslie Jones

Leslie Jones is a much-loved comedienne, and a regular on legendary Saturday Night Live. Most recently she was cast in the remake of ‘Ghostbusters’, which has created a storm in misogynist circles outraged by the all-female cast, apparently completely missing the irony in their complaint in light of the original cast: all-male (and no one took issue with that casting decision).

Nevertheless, the misogynist and racist troll army took aim at Leslie Jones in a most appalling manner, reminiscent of the social media abuse directed at Adam Goodes in Australia in recent years.

Related stories:
Growing tired of our racism
The latest appallingly offensive Adam Goodes memes on Facebook

The ugliness of the social media attacks on Leslie Jones defy belief, and first I was hesitant to reproduce them. However Leslie Jones decided to bring attention to the matter herself and it would be difficult to truly appreciate the depravity of some of our fellow humans on social media without bringing their misogyny and racism into the spotlight.

Please be warned, some strong language and imagery to follow yet again …

First, Twitter appeared to have failed abysmally in putting an end to the torrent of abuse directed at Leslie Jones, despite the high-profile of the victim, which makes one wonder what hope the average Twitter user has when subjected to similar abuse?

Later Jack Dorsey contacted Leslie Jones personally, asking her to get in touch with him:

Subsequently Twitter also made a public statement on the matter:

“This type of abusive behavior is not permitted on Twitter, and we’ve taken action on many of the accounts reported to us by both Leslie and others. We rely on people to report this type of behavior to us but we are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to prevent this kind of abuse. We realize we still have a lot of work in front of us before Twitter is where it should be on how we handle these issues.

However, more was to come. Twitter released a further statement to the media:

People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Over the past 48 hours in particular, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of accounts violating these policies and have taken enforcement actions against these accounts, ranging from warnings that also require the deletion of Tweets violating our policies to permanent suspension.

We know many people believe we have not done enough to curb this type of behavior on Twitter. We agree. We are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to better allow us to identify and take faster action on abuse as it’s happening and prevent repeat offenders. We have been in the process of reviewing our hateful conduct policy to prohibit additional types of abusive behavior and allow more types of reporting, with the goal of reducing the burden on the person being targeted. We’ll provide more details on those changes in the coming weeks.

At the same time, the social media company sent a significant signal to users by permanently banning one of the most flagrant abuser of its Rules, notorious gay conservative pundit, Milo Yiannopoulos, who tweeted as ‘@Nero‘. Mr Yiannopoulos, a vocal member of America’s ‘alt-right’ movement, is the technology editor at conservative news site Breitbart, and he has been a significant driving force behind the insidious ‘GamerGate‘ movement, responsible for the online abuse, harassment, and hounding of scores of women. The alt-right movement made another splash recently with their anti-semitic Google Chrome extension which was eventually removed by Google.

Mr Yiannopoulos was seen as the person rallying and directing the abuse aimed at Leslie Jones on Twitter by the alt-right troll army, starting with his highly negative review of the ‘Ghostbusters’ remake at Breitbart.

Prior to his suspension Mr Yiannopoulos had over 338,000 followers on Twitter. Consequently, it’s unlikely that this is the last Twitter had heard of the matter, with his supporters already tweeting in support with #FreeMilo and #FreeNero, sending the hashtags trending. Mr Yiannopoulos also struck back at Twitter in an article at Breitbart:

With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives.

Twitter is holding me responsible for the actions of fans and trolls using the special pretzel logic of the left. Where are the Twitter police when Justin Bieber’s fans cut themselves on his behalf?

Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans. We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.

This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.

Fighting the online shaming of rape victims: #IAmNotAfraidToSpeak

Ukranian Anastasiya Melnychenko, fed up with yet another online discussion blaming a victim of rape for ‘provoking’ her attacker, started a very personal online campaign by posting an account of the series of sexual assaults she has suffered throughout her life on Facebook to encourage other women to share their experiences.

Her campaign opened the floodgates with hundreds of women in Ukraine and Russia now sharing their own experience of sexual violence, a subject that has been a cultural taboo for too long.

It’s not all smooth sailing for these brave women with some questioning, and even attacking, them for sharing their stories, such as a so-called ‘sex expert’ from the Moscow Institute of Psychoanalysis suggesting many of the stories could have been made up, and should not be shared online anyway as they could ‘arouse’ potential rapists.

And while we are on the subject of apologists for rapists, here is a recent Facebook post from my favourite unapologetic Australian feminist, Clementine Ford:

Brighton Grammar expels two senior students

The two Year 11 boys had set up a controversial Instagram account on 15 July which featured images of girls as young as 11, without their knowledge, and invited users to vote for ‘slut of the year.’ The boys’ social media ‘adventure’ quickly unravelled with a police investigation already on the way.

To its credit, Brighton Grammar suspended the boys as soon as the matter was brought to their attention, pending an investigation into the matter.

Both boys were expelled by the school only two days later.

Clearly we must continue to impress upon our boys that such behaviour on social media, or elsewhere, is not a matter of ‘boys will be boys,’ but potential criminal acts with serious consequences for the perpetrators and their victims alike.

The Twitter hashtags circulating thousands of inappropriate photos of women

The Guardian revealed that Brighton Grammar is not an isolated social media incident when it comes to the exploitation of the images of unsuspecting women.

According to their investigations ‘[t]housands of women have had intrusive photographs, taken of themselves without their knowledge, circulated on Twitter for years.’

The photos, taken in public spaces such as beaches and public transport, have been circulating on Twitter under two specific hashtags for years, with impunity.

Research conducted by Max Kelsen, a social media analytics company, shows that close to 35,000 posts and retweets have been posted to the two hashtags in the past six years, but there was an explosion of activity in April this year.

Users posting and retweeting on these hashtags are almost exclusively male, and the majority are aged 17 and under.

The man who, keeps on ‘dying’

If you have a keen eye, you would have noticed the image of young man on social media, who appears to have been incredibly unfortunate of late:

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And that’s just a few of the terrorist and other tragic events this young man appears to have been caught up in the past few months.

The Observers investigated the story and tracked down the man in the pictures, and those who keep posting his image to social media.

As it turns out, this is one of those ‘only on the internet’ stories. The posters are out for revenge after having been embroiled in a protracted legal dispute with the young man and, in the meantime, decided to ‘punish him’ online.

The Observers spoke to the young Mexican man who appears resigned to what’s happening:

My photo is everywhere because of someone who started it as a prank after a legal dispute. I never reported the people who did this to me because, in Mexico, nothing ever happens in these kind of cases.

Now, my photo has appeared in several stories that were widely shared on Twitter. I contacted several media outlets like the BBC and the New York Times and asked them to delete my photo but they never responded.

Identity theft

Faking identities has been another serious ongoing issue on social media. Identities are faked for a variety of reasons, from fraudulent activities, to online abuse.

I recently reported on two separate cases involving the appropriation of someone else’s identify on Facebook, both involving criminal activities.

Users have long complained that the current processes in place at social media companies to deal with the stealing of online identities are flawed and often fail to respond in a timely and substantive manner.

It would appear that Facebook is now taking notice of this increasingly significant problem and putting a new system in place, which will automatically notify Facebook users if a new account is created with a name that’s the same as, or very similar to, theirs.

Users will be requested to confirm whether or not it was them who created the account in question and, if not, the new account will disabled, and the creator’s IP address recorded. Facebook indicated this is only the first step in combating fake accounts, and facial-recognition technology will likely be deployed shortly to assist further.

The internet ruined my life

A new American TV series, now broadcast on SBS On Demand in Australia, looks at various high-profile social media incidents that have affected people’s lives in a negative way, from a social media hashtag campaign gone wrong, to a single flippant tweet resulting in a terrorism investigation, a restaurant coming under a calculated attack online, the story of a #GamerGate victim, so-called ‘sexting’ coming back to bite, Twitter meeting a questionable incident of ‘food hygiene,’ and what seemingly innocuous internet memes can do.

The show provides excellent real-life examples of the various unsavoury social media incidents that are part of our daily lives now, together with their potential consequences …


US Customs and Border Protection is after your social media

If you are planning a trip to the US, you may find it interesting that US Customs and Border Protection is proposing to ask for your social media accounts and screen names.

On 23 June, the agency entered a proposal into the US Federal Register, proposing to add a new question to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, the online application system used to pre-screen travellers before they are allowed to board an airplane or ship bound for the US, and Form I-94W, the arrival and departure form to be completed by travellers to the US from nations subject to the visa-waiver program under 8 CFR 217, including Australia, to collect social media accounts and screen names from such travellers:

Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.

While the provision of the information would be optional at this stage, if provided it will give US customs an unprecedented insight into your online life. If not provided, the lack of information may potentially set off alarm bells, and closer examination on arrival.

The proposal notes that:

Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.

The public has until 22 August to comment on the proposal before it will be formally considered for implementation.

US immigration and intelligence agencies are under increasing pressure to monitor social media as part of their investigative and screening processes, and would presumably deploy a specifically designed algorithm to scan relevant social media accounts for key words and phrases associated with ‘unfriendly activities’.

Facebook notches up a privacy victory in Europe

After losing countless European privacy battles, finally Facebook can claim a victory over Belgium’s Commission for the protection of privacy.

In November last year I reported on the court ruling requiring Facebook to stop tracking internet users who do not have accounts with the social network within 48 hours, or risk fines of up to €250,000 a day.

Facebook appealed that decision, and the Brussels Appeals Court dismissed the case on the grounds the Belgian privacy regulator has no jurisdiction over Facebook because it is headquartered in Ireland.

The decision marks a much needed victory for Facebook, and US social media companies generally, after repeated setbacks in Europe due to the strict enforcement of privacy principles.

However, the Belgian privacy regulator is now looking into the feasibility of a final appeal to the Belgian Court of Cassation which could overturn the appeal judgment.

Today’s decision means simply that Belgian citizens cannot obtain the protection of their privacy through the courts vis-a-vis foreign companies.
Willem Debeuckelaere, President of the Commission for the protection of privacy

The Court of Cassation had previously thrown out judgments of the Court of Appeal on matters dealing with jurisdiction over foreign companies.

The latest development in the Schrems privacy case against Facebook in Ireland

I have been reporting in some detail about the fascinating, and long-running, privacy saga between Facebook and European privacy campaigner Max Schrems.

Related stories:
Max Schrems’ privacy crusade (2 October 2015)
Maximillian Schrems v Data Protection Commissioner, Case C‑362/14 (3 November 2015)
The Schrems Facebook actions continue to reverberate (5 December 2015)
Digital privacy continues to evolve in Europe (27 January 2016)
The EU-US Privacy Shield (28 February 2016)
The amazing privacy adventures of Max Schrems continue (27 June 2016)

Last month I reported on the case heading back to the Irish High Court, and the US government requesting that it be allowed to make an amicus curiae submission in the matter. The Irish High Court has now ruled that the US may take part in the case:

The United States has a significant and bona fide interest in the outcome of these proceedings. At issue in the proceedings is the assessment, as a matter of EU law, of the applicant’s law governing the treatment of EU citizens’ data transfer to the US. The imposition of restrictions on the transfer of such data would have potentially considerable adverse effects on EU-US commerce and could affect US companies significantly. I am satisfied that the US meets the criteria for being joined as an amicus curiæ and that it can bring added value to the case which the parties may be unable to provide.
At 19(1) per Mr. Justice Brian J. McGovern in Data Protection Commissioner v Facebook Ireland Limited and Maximilliam Schrems [2016 No. 4899 P]

A privacy victory for Microsoft at home

Microsoft scored a significant court victory this month over the US Justice Department. The case arose from a warrant issued by a New York District Court judge in 2013 under section 2703 of the Stored Communications Act (SCA), demanding access to Microsoft’s Irish server as part of a criminal investigation into drugs. The company resisted the warrant.

The ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, In the Matter of a Warrant to Search a Certain E‐Mail Account Controlled and Maintained by Microsoft Corporation, Microsoft Corporation v. United States of America Docket No. 14‐2985, overturns a first instance decision which favoured the government.

The case is seen as a major test for global data privacy rights, and Microsoft was supported by web giants Amazon, Apple and Cisco, the Irish government, and data privacy groups.

There is also an interesting Australian connection to the case as the appeals court relied heavily in its judgment on the 2010 decision of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in Morrison v. National Australia Bank 561 U.S. 247, whereby the “longstanding principle of American law ‘that legislation of Congress, unless a contrary intent appears, is meant to apply only within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States'” applies in all cases before US courts.

The appeals court analysed the SAC and found no intention of an extraterritorial application. The Justice Department may still try to appeal the matter to SCOTUS, although the heavy reliance by the appeals court on a SCOTUS precedent makes the success of such an appeal less likely.

Google and Facebook wage war on Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act

The Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) is a controversial piece of legislation out of the State of Illinois, which prohibits the capture of a person’s biometric identifier or information without prior written consent.

The BIPA is problematic for social media companies such as Facebook and Google, because it effectively prohibits them from offering services that depend on facial recognition technology, such as Google Photos, Facebook Moments, and those suggestions about which friends to tag in a photo uploaded to social media, unless express written prior consent is obtained.

There was an attempt earlier this year by Illinois Senator Terry Link to amend the legislation by exempting the type of uses employed by companies such as Facebook and Google, but the amendment failed. The proposed changes would have redefined ‘scan’ to be limited to ‘data resulting from an in-person process whereby a part of the body is traversed by a detector or an electronic beam,’ conveniently excluding the scans of existing photographs.

The amendment would have halted a number of class action lawsuit unfolding based on the legislation, including one in California which argues that Facebook’s scanning and tagging feature is a use of biometric identifier prohibited by that law. It was widely believed that Facebook and Google were behind the proposed amendments.

Recently, In re Facebook Biometric Information Privacy Litigation, 3:15-cv-03747, in the District Court for the Northern District of California, on a motion by Facebook to dismiss the matter, the court permitted the lawsuit to go ahead under the Illinois law.

Judge Donato found that Facebook’s scanning and tagging feature qualified as a use of biometric identifier covered by the Illinois law, and refused Facebook’s application to decide the matter under California law, where companies don’t face such restrictions.

The Court accepts as true plaintiffs’ allegations that Facebook’s face recognition technology involves a scan of face geometry that was done without plaintiffs’ consent.

Facebook’s latest strategy to try to derail the proceedings is a submission based on the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Spokeo Inc., v. Robins, No. 13-1339.

Spokeo was a case in which Mr Robins alleged he suffered harm because Spokeo, a data broker, made incorrect information available about Mr Robins.

However, the Supreme Court held that the lower court failed to consider whether Mr Robins had suffered a ‘concrete’ harm, noting the complainant must show that he suffered ‘an invasion of a legally protected interest’ that is a ‘concrete and particularized’ harm, which was ‘actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.’ That case will now go back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for the court to take a closer look at whether Mr Robins had been harmed and, if so, how.

Facebook will now argue that a mere statutory violation of the plaintiffs’ rights under BIPA is not sufficient to maintain the case, without being able to show ‘concrete harm’ arising to them from the use of the relevant biometric information by Facebook.

Meanwhile, in two other cases against Google under the BIPA, Lindabeth Rivera v. Google Inc., 1-16-cv-02714 and Joseph Weiss v. Google Inc., 1-16-cv-02870, in the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Google is arguing that ‘interpreting BIPA to apply to photographs and information derived from photographs, as Plaintiffs propose, would render the statute unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3,’ which is a provision that prohibits states from interfering with interstate trade.

These cases are significant because they are among the first judicial tests of the boundaries of the commercial use of fast-evolving facial recognition technologies, with far-reaching privacy implications.

The ongoing fallout from the proliferation of revenge porn

The latest fallout from revenge porn is now engulfing one of Germany’s largest television station, RTL, after the station reproduced photographs of Emma Holten which were stolen from her email and Facebook accounts five years ago by an ex-boyfriend.

The hacking of Ms Holten’s accounts resulted in years of online abuse and RTL’s salacious ‘The 10 Sauciest Internet Stories’ dragged up the story and the intimate images yet again.

Reprehensible behaviour by a media organisation at a time when legislators, law enforcement agencies, individual victims, and support organisations are all working together to put an end to the use of revenge porn to intimidate and harass women online.

Reportedly, Ms Holten has engaged the services of the Munich-based law firm Noerr and is taking legal action against RTL for breaching her privacy, noting the unauthorised broadcasting of her intimate images to a large TV audience had been devastating, especially coming after years of her public fight against revenge porn.

Related stories:
Chrissy Chambers (22 September 2015)
Crime (and punishment) (28 February 2016)
Revenge porn continues to be a serious issue (30 May 2016)
Revenge porn continues to plague the internet (27 June 2016)

Anthony Pratt illustrates the potential consequences of unintended social media ‘associations’

Mr Pratt’s own Instagram account does not stand out – it’s a ‘safe’ account, the type you would expect from a high-profile businessman and billionaire: photos with world leaders and celebrities.

However, the Financial Review discovered something interesting. Mr Pratt was following a @shalana_j_hill, a lovely young lady from Dallas, Texas. Or, more precisely, Mr Pratt followed her until the paper drew public attention to the naughty pictures and curious hashtags the young lady was posting:

View this post on Instagram

Looking good , getting ready for 25,2017

A post shared by ShalanaWilhelmina (@viscountess_wilhelmina) on

This story highlights a less frequently discussed issue about social media: followers and followees, and the unfortunate and unintended perceived ‘associations’ such ‘social media relationships’ can create.

We all heard the saying ‘birds of a feather flock together,’ meaning that the company we keep reflects who we are. This applies equally to the new medium where we flock together – social media.

While you can’t be responsible for who follows you on social media if you have a public account, it is a good idea to keep an eye on your followers and block those who may not be a ‘good association’.

While we should all try not to be too judgmental or prudish, and adapt a ‘live and let live’ attitude, there can be valid circumstances in which you may not wish someone to follow you, especially if what they are posting is irresponsible, socially dubious, controversial, or too sexually charged. In such circumstances you are perfectly within your right to block them, to remove any potential assumption of association, or to avoid the newspaper headlines.

The potential assumption of association increases in respect of those people whom you choose to follow. Consequently, you should always:

  • check out people’s profiles, and previous posts, before you click ‘follow,’ or ‘friend’ them; and
  • continue monitoring their posts in the course of your ‘social media relationship.’

Depending on the size of your social network it can be quite a task to monitor everything posted by those you follow, but it’s advisable to put in a good effort to avoid the kind of experience Mr Pratt just had.

Mr Pratt arguably had done the right thing for himself by blocking the young lady, although in this case he had done so a little too late …


Mrs Robyn Vosper v Solibrooke Pty Ltd T/A Angie’s Cake Emporium [2016] FWC 1168

This was an interesting case out of the Australian Fair Work Commission, in which private Facebook posts by an employee, who was dismissed and subsequently offered some casual work which she refused, were considered by the Commissioner briefly. The messages in question note that she had been:

    • dismissed from her employment because the new owners had told her that they no longer want to have the part-time position and she was being forced to casual;
    • given her one weeks notice; and
    • offered casual employment but had decided to move on.

The Commissioner looked at these Facebook posts in the context of a letter of offer of casual employment which contained standard confidentiality provision not to ‘use or disclose confidential information relating to the business of the employer, including but not limited to client lists, trade secrets e.g. recipies, procedures, processes and pricing structures,’ and unsurprisingly held that:

There is nothing derogatory in these statements. There is no confidential business information in these statements. No reasonable person could believe that this information was either derogatory or confidential business information. An employee has a right to complain about their employment rights and their treatment at work. We do not live in a society where employees are prohibited from discussing their employment status or their treatment at work with others.

US police officer fired over threatening Facebook post

A police officer has been fired in Kansas after he threatened the five-year-old child of a complete stranger on Facebook in the wake of the shocking Dallas attack on police.

We’ll see how much her life matters soon.. better be careful leaving your info open where she can be found 🙂 Hold her close tonight it’ll be the last time

The threat came as a shock to the Texan mother, but to their credit the Overland Park Police Department had acted swiftly and transparently.

Australian fired in Singapore over ill-tempered Pokémon Go Facebook post

Sonny Truyen, the new Vice President of Digital Marketing at Singaporean property site, was upset by the fact Pokémon Go was not made available in the city-state, and chose to express his frustration in an ill-tempered Facebook post:

you can’t f**king catch pokemon in this piece of f**king sh*t country

Unsurprisingly, the good citizens of Singapore were not impressed by the foul-mouthed Australian expat, and an online campaign aimed at his employer soon demanded his dismissal.

The company had almost immediately apologised to the public, fired Mr Truyen, and called for calm.

The internet being the internet, conspiracy theories about the matter are of course already making the rounds …

The Australian Army investigating inappropriate social media postings

Disturbing revelation of inappropriate social media postings by soldiers at Brisbane’s Enoggera Barracks is being investigated by the Army.

I go to the gym a lot, it makes getting girls a lot easier. The last one I raped didn’t stand a chance
One of the inappropriate memes posted earlier this year

The misogynist and racist Facebook posts come at a time when the Australian Defence Force has worked tirelessly to eradicate inappropriate behaviour in our armed forces, highlighting the difficulties of the task ahead.

Competition and Tax Issues

Facebook faces tax issues on multiple continents

Perhaps Facebook’s tax troubles are not the most natural fit in this report, but they certainly highlight the rich tapestry of legal issues that surround social media companies.

Facebook is in trouble on home soil with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which is investigating whether the company undervalued the intellectual property rights it transferred to its Irish operations, in order to reduce its tax exposure in the US.

The IRS, dissatisfied with Facebook’s disclosures to date, is now seeking a court order in San Francisco, in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, to force Facebook to hand over internal corporate records relating to its offshore tax strategy relating to its intellectual property rights in U.S. v. Facebook Inc., 16-cv-03777:

Facebook’s tax return for 2010 reported royalty income that I learned came from transfers of intangible property to a controlled foreign corporation, Facebook Ireland Holdings Unlimited.

Facebook retained Ernst & Young (E&Y) to value these transfers for income tax purposes. In carrying out this assignment, E&Y selected different methodologies to value those intangibles, on the theory that the user base, online platform, and marketing intangibles could be reliably measured on a stand-alone basis.

Several [Facebook] employees indicated that the user base, online platform and marketing intangibles were interdependent and would it would be difficult to isolate one from the other. The information gathered suggested to the IRS examination team that the E&Y approach to valuing Facebook’s transferred intangibles on a stand-alone basis was problematic.

The IRS examination team’s preliminary positions suggested that the E&Y valuations of the transferred intangibles were understated by billions of dollars.

Meanwhile, in Australia, questions have been raised about the local revenue disclosure made by the company. According to Facebook, in 2015 it had generated $33.6 million in revenue.

Local advertising insiders reportedly have rejected Facebook’s disclosure :’If they only wrote $33 million in revenue I’ll dance nude in the city during peak hour.”

Such rumblings are likely to attract the attention of the Australian Taxation Office, especially given the heightened public interest in the tax avoidance and minimisation activities of multinational corporations.

These latest tax issues follow the recent undertaking by Facebook to overhaul its tax structure in the UK which would result in the company paying more tax there.

Google’s anti-trust problems in the European Union

Facebook is not the only social media company struggling with a range of regulators. Google, in addition to its endless privacy problems in Europe, is facing a new anti-trust investigation after the European Commission announced it has sent two new Statements of Objections to Google.

The Commission is further exploring Google’s comparison shopping and advertising-related practices, alleging they are in breach of EU rules. The Commission had reached a preliminary conclusion to the effect that Google is abusing its dominant position in the market by ‘systematically favouring its comparison shopping service in its search result pages,’ and by ‘artificially restricting the possibility of third party websites to display search advertisement from Google’s competitors.’

Google has come up with many innovative products that have made a difference to our lives. But that doesn’t give Google the right to deny other companies the chance to compete and innovate. Today, we have further strengthened our case that Google has unduly favoured its own comparison shopping service in its general search result pages. It means consumers may not see the most relevant results to their search queries. We have also raised concerns that Google has hindered competition by limiting the ability of its competitors to place search adverts on third party websites, which stifles consumer choice and innovation.

Google now has the opportunity to respond to our concerns. I will consider their arguments carefully before deciding how to take both cases forward. But if our investigations conclude that Google has broken EU antitrust rules, the Commission has a duty to act to protect European consumers and fair competition on European markets.
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager

Corporate Social Media

Social media is a legitimate business tool, although it is still widely misunderstood, mistrusted and misused.

Many of Australia’s business leaders still grapple with the question: should I be active on social media? Whether it be failing to understand the commercial bene ts of the medium, a reluctance to be seen as self-promoting, or fear of the risks involved – there are barriers to overcome.
Tweeting from the top‘ (KPMG)

The KPMG report released this month, looked at the use of the medium by Australian business leaders. The report acknowledges the increasing role social media plays in corporate communications, and Australian executives who make good corporate use of the medium.

Australian corporate leaders operate in increasingly complex business environments, where every move is watched and the market is hungry for information. Social media has given these leaders a direct channel through which they can interact with their customers and stakeholders, while also creating important networks for themselves and their organisations.

The top executive named by the report is Andy Penn, the CEO of Telstra, who utilises Twitter to ‘clarify and promote important public affairs statements, as well as to manage and effectively respond to operational difficulties. He also uses Twitter to publicise Telstra’s positive contributions in the community.’

If you are still trying to convince your CEO, MD, or Partners to tweet, ‘Tweeting from the top’ by KPMG Australia might just be the tool you need to get them across the line …

Tweet of the month

Tweet(s) of the month have to go to Scotland … Donald Trump landed in Scotland to open his latest golf course just as the outcome of the BREXIT referendum was being revealed, and he sent his congratulations on an outcome he found pleasing.

*** Language warning! If you are easily offended by colourful language and phrases, please do not continue reading! ***

The Scotts weren’t having any of Mr Trump’s nonsense, and gave it to him in a manner only the Scotts could:

And it only went downhill from there …

Read more ‘Social Media Round-Up

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