Social media

Social media round-up: August 2016

Welcome to my August round-up of social media news from around the world!

This month I start with copyright, including the protection and enforcement of intellectual property by the International Olympic Committee, a judgment requiring Cox Communications to pay a $25 million penalty to BMG over illegal music downloads by subscribers of the internet service provider, and the infamous ‘Dancing Baby’ case heading for the Supreme Court of the United States.

I continue with the sentencing in a high-profile Australian online abuse case that involved rape threats, Facebook and Twitter cooperating with Brazilian authorities in a terrorism investigation, a mother live-streaming her daughter’s corporal punishment, the killing of a US woman in shootout with police after she was allegedly encouraged by her social media followers to defy police, the acquittal of a man arrested for making fun of police on Facebook, a warning to expats to check local laws, the dismissal of a lawsuit against Twitter which claimed the social media platform was complicit in the deaths of two US contractors killed in Jordan by ISIS, Scotland Yard’s new ‘troll-hunting’ unit, the British pilot project targeting cyber crime, Instagram money-flipping, LinkedIn invoking the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to fight data scrapers, Truth in Advertising Inc. accusing the Kardashian clan of consistently breaching federal rules relating to paid-for social media posts, and the new guidelines for digital influencers issued by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network.

Next, I look at Facebook’s continuing struggle with its role as a media company, the ongoing battle between Facebook and clickbait, arrests in Turkey over social media posts praising the failed coup, the Twitter censorship of Turkish journalists, Thailand indicting a mom over a one-word ‘royal insult,’ and the temporary suspension of a Melbourne graffiti artist’s Instagram account.

I reflect on why you shouldn’t tweet out the personal phone number of the alleged mistress of your father, and the case of a 74-year-old man who was awarded $150,000 in the District Court of New South Wales over a defamatory Facebook post.

I follow with statistics released by the Australian Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner reflecting on its first year of operations, Russia’s ‘troll army’ returning to the news, a survey on online harassment by Rad Campaign, Craigconnects and Lincoln Strategies in the US, the Olympic ‘Mack attack’ that turned into a social media hate-fest on Mack Horton, the @Ireland Twitter account descending into a racist farce, Leslie Jones’ Twitter victory over racist trolls proving short-lived, Facebook shutting down ‘Blokes Advice,’ another scandal involving inappropriate images of schoolgirls, whether the lack of intimacy on social media drives these behaviours, the ‘yellowface’ Snapchat filter that caused outrage, and a new user control being rolled out by Twitter which may help reducing abuse.

Then comes the abrupt resignation of an American lawmaker after the alleged hacking of his social media accounts, Twitter awarding $10,080 to white-hat hacker for identifying a security flaw, a New Jersey woman suing police for publishing details of her arrest on social media, a European Member of Parliament swiping left on Tinder, and the Australian Privacy Commissioner’s final report on the Ashley Madison data breach.

I also discuss a British Council employee in strife over her social media comments about Prince George, the resignation of a Texan meteorologist after an ill-considered political Facebook post, what happens when your staff goes wild on a weekend away and someone pulls you into the scandal on social media, the Facebook resignation of Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel in India, a Queensland hairdresser finding a new home and job after noticing a Facebook post, and divorce by Facebook.

Finally, Facebook’s tax issues continue to cause trouble for the social media company, the European Union is considering stronger regulations for messaging apps, social media shenanigans aimed at an Australian bank after a major system failure warrant a mention, and the tweet of the month ends in a dead heat between J.K. Rowling and Dr Katherine Mack, a theoretical astrophysicist.

But first, a few of those ‘only on social media stories’ that don’t easily fit into any of the usual categories, but entertain and buffle in equal parts.

#SaveMarinaJoyce

The story of #SaveMarinaJoyce is a fascinating insight into social media culture.

Marina Joyce is a mildly succesful ‘celebrity’ fashion vlogger on YouTube. Recently she released her latest video which created a whirlpool of panic and conspiracy theories.

Some fans grew increasingly concerned because they convinced themselves there was something wrong with Ms Joyce, based on her behaviour in the video. Some believed they heard her say ‘help me,’ but as her mum later explained that was just her, out of the view of the camera, directing her to ‘stand like me,’ in a hushed voice.

In the meantime, people started analysing her earlier posts, and in another video found a ‘secret message’ in sign language allegedly imploring fans not to go to an event she was inviting them to.

The reason? Terrorism of course!

The whole thing got so far out of hand police paid a visit to her home to confirm she was alright. She was:

Another spectacular illustration of the ability of social media to completely go off the rails …

Is Twitter going out of business?! Spoiler: no, it’s not

Ironically, Twitter itself fought a social media spot fire over its alleged demise, after #SaveTwitter took off on the back of the rumour that the social media service would shut down in 2017. The rumour may have also contributed to a brief fluctuation in the value of Twitter shares on the day.

A spokesman for Twitter reiterated that there’s ‘absolutely no truth to the claims whatsoever.’

The report of my death was an exaggeration.*
Mark Twain (1835-1910)
* The popular expression is derived from a longer statement by the writer which appeared in the New York Journal of 2 June 1897.

Justin Bieber quits Instagram

Then, in the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi ‘I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.’ It did … Justin Bieber quit Instagram.

After his fans didn’t take kindly to his rumoured new girlfriend, he put them on notice about their behaviour. They were all warned! But, the fans failed to heed his warning and the Bieber subsequently quit Instagram.

Unsurprisingly, his ‘betrayed’ fans are now even angrier than before, and a Twitter-lynching of the boy wonder is unfolding by the keyboards of loving Beliebers, and random haters …

Are his Twitter and Facebook accounts next?! Oh, the unspeakable horror!

Will the Bieber be back on Instagram before long, or have the Beliebers gone too far this time?!

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

Copyright | Crime (and punishment) | Free Speech | Defamation | Online Abuse | Privacy (and security) | Workplace | Service | Regulatory Issues | Corporate Social Media


Copyright

The Olympics

The ferocious protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, and the rights of sponsors, by the International Olympic Committee is legendary.

It would be reasonable to think that the proliferation of social media would make the protection and enforcement of those rights more difficult. Reasonable, but wrong …

The IOC has embraced the use of digital platforms, including social media, to interact with and engage audiences, especially young people. At the same time, it has put in place a series of measures to protect its own IP rights and those of rights-holding broadcasters, from online piracy. One measure has been simply to offer abundant and freely available, high quality content across platforms around the world, reducing the incentive to access pirated clips.

However, the IOC also uses advanced anti-piracy technology to prevent, track and take action against the upload of unauthorized Olympic content, in cooperation with major video-sharing websites and the relevant authorities in Games host countries. These measures have substantially reduced piracy of footage from the Games in recent years.

While it remains to be seen whether the draconian enforcement, especially on social media, is helping the value of sponsorships, or damaging it, Social Times has already taken a dim view of the IOC’s efforts.

With headlines reporting the Opening Ceremony’s lackluster ratings, perhaps the 2016 Summer Olympic Games could benefit from more “buzz.”

Unfortunately, due to the International Olympic Committee’s Orwellian list of terms that only official Olympic sponsors can use, the United States Olympic Committee might be reducing the very social media conversations that would drive ratings.

Based on the social media restrictions, if non-sponsors use terms like “Road to Rio,” “Team USA” and “Go for the gold” in tweets or other social media conversations, the USOC will send them a cease-and-desist letter. If brands ignore the letter, then the organization says it will take legal action.
The Summer Olympics are not winning Gold on social media (Social Times, 11 August 2016)

This year the IOC has gone all out, and placed specific prohibitions on unauthorised Vines, live-streams, and even GIFs.

Additionally, the use of Olympic Material transformed into graphic animated formats such as animated GIFs (i.e. GIFV), GFY, WebM, or short video formats such as Vines and others, is expressly prohibited.
News access rules applicable for the broadcast of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, Rio de Janeiro, 5-21 August 2016 (International Olympic Committee, May 2015)

If anyone still had any doubts about the resolve of the IOC, Venezuelan tweeter Luigino Bracci Roa’s Twitter account suspension can serve as a case-study.

The free software activist claimed Twitter had suspended his account, @Lubrio, without prior warning after the IOC complained about videos he had posted, even though he insists the short clips are legal under local law.

A few days later the account was restored, sans Olympic videos. Where the videos used to be, now there is only a message from Twitter: ‘Video not displayed – This video has been removed in response to a report from the copyright holder.’

Happy Copyright Olympics!

BMG Rights Management (US) LLC et al. v. Cox Enterprises Inc. et al. Case No. 1:14-cv-01611

I recently noticed this groundbreaking, yet obscure, copyright infringement case out of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in the United States, in which BMG had triumphed against Virginia-based Cox Communications, one of the largest internet service providers (ISPs) in the world.

In a familiar argument, BMG sued Cox for contributory infringement, alleging Cox permitted its subscribers to illegally download music using file sharing services. Cox relied on the equally familiar defence under the ‘safe harbour’ provisions in section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, designed to protect ISPs from such claims provided they meet certain conditions.

In the course of the case damning internal emails revealed a calculated strategy by Cox to retain high-value subscribers who were repeat infringers, regardless of their conduct.

Subsequently, a Virginia federal jury found Cox guilty of willful direct, and contributory, copyright infringement and awarded BMG $25 million in damages.

Cox subsequently asked the judge to throw out the verdict and award, and either enter a judgment in its favour, or order a new trial, arguing there was no evidence to support the finding of contributory infringement, let alone direct infringement, or that it was aware its subscribers were illegally downloading music and movies.

On 8 August, Judge Liam O’Grady upheld the verdict in a decision that could have serious repercussions for ISPs across the United States, or at least for how they handle infringement notifications, and repeat offenders, which was recognised by the Judge:

In reaching this conclusion, the Court acknowledges that the application of traditional contributory infringement to large intermediaries like Cox magnifies the uncertainties in this area of the law and raises the specter of undesirable consequences that may follow.

This is unlikely to be the end of the litigation however, as Cox is expected to appeal.

The ‘Dancing Baby’ heads for the Supreme Court of the United States

In the meantime, the infamous YouTube ‘Dancing Baby’ case is headed for the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

Related stories:
The dancing baby, YouTube, Prince and Universal Music (17 September 2015)
Copyright (28 February 2016)

Although the ‘baby’ will soon turn 11 years old, the case is not running out of steam.

My last report on the dispute followed a significant victory by Stephanie Lenz, the mother of the Dancing Baby, the court having cleared the way for her case to go to trial, and holding copyright holders must consider the fair use provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) before sending takedown notices to online services, such as YouTube.

Universal Music promptly filed a petition for a rehearing of the matter, before the full court, while the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), who is acting for Ms Lenz, also filed a petition asking the court to decide whether the DMCA ‘intended to grant private parties the practical power to censor speech based on an unreasonable belief that a copyright has been infringed, as long as that belief is (like all beliefs) subjectively held.’

The court denied both petitions in March this year.

Now the EFF filed a fresh petition on behalf of Ms Lenz, this time asking SCOTUS to make sure copyright holders who make unreasonable infringement claims can be held accountable if in the process their claims result in lawful speech being silenced online. While the Appeals Court judgment held that copyright holders must consider fair use before issuing a takedown notice, it also subjected copyright holders to a purely subjective standard when it comes to the issuing of ‘false’ infringement notices. This means that as long as a copyright holder subjectively believes that the material in question infringed their copyright, the takedown notice can be excused no matter how unreasonable that belief is.

The EFF takes the position that the Appeals Court decision renders the safeguards in the DMCA designed to protect lawful speech from false allegations by copyright holders ‘all but meaningless.’

The petition calls on SCOTUS ‘to determine, once and for all, whether or not the DMCA includes meaningful protections for online fair uses – a vast and growing area of creativity and expression.’

I am taking bets on whether this litigation will end before the Dancing Baby becomes a teenager …

Crime (and punishment)

Zane Alchin gets lucky

Last month I reported on Chris Nelson being handed an eight-month suspended jail sentence, and a two-year good behaviour bond, over his online racist tirade aimed at retiring Federal Labor Senator Nova Peris.

In the meantime, we were awaiting the sentencing of Zane Alchin with bated breath, because the online behaviour that saw him charged was far more serious. Many anticipated that he would serve jail time for his social media posts, some of which were sexually explicit, and arguably threatened rape.

Related stories:
Harassment and threats (3 November 2015)
Crime (and punishment) – Australia (27 January 2016)
‘What law am I breaking? I’m not the one out of the f**cking kitchen’ (27 June 2016)

Mr Alchin must be the proverbial cat with nine lives, because he walked away from Newtown Local Court with a 12-month good behaviour bond.

Magistrate William Pierce did no accept that Mr Alchin’s comments threatened or incited rape, found his intention to be merely ‘offensive,’ and noted Mr Alchin had ‘learned [his] lesson, big time’ by being targeted with a torrent of abuse himself due to his actions, and said ‘the irony is, that he has become a far greater victim than the crime he was pleading guilty to.’

Poor Mr Alchin …

I would argue Mr Alchin got lucky, very lucky, and got off easy. But more significantly, I am deeply troubled by Magistrate Pierce’s comments and handling of the matter.

The Magistrate was met with audible disapproval from those present when he:

  • referred to Ms Olivia Melville’s Tinder profile containing a ‘somewhat inflammatory comment of a sexual nature anyway’;
  • described Mr Alchin’s behaviour akin to getting involved in a game of football where ‘you consent to a few bumps’;
  • asserted that the sexually explicit comments by Mr Alchin were ‘the equivalent of socking someone in the jaw with a right hook’; and
  • opined that Mr Alchin was the subject of a ‘vast overreaction.’

Mr Alchin reportedly made the ‘rock-on’ gesture as he left court, so perhaps he didn’t learn that big of a lesson after all …

Model and social media activist Chrissy Teigen was less than impressed by the outcome of the case.

Facebook and Brazilian authorities are finally getting along

I have reported extensively about the ongoing conflict between Brazilian law enforcement authorities and the judiciary, and Facebook over the social media company’s inability to comply with court orders requiring the disclosure of user data from its encrypted WhatsApp messaging service.

Relates stories:
Brazil versus Facebook (25 July 2016)
Facebook’s troubles continue in Brazil (30 May 2016)
Brazil arrests Facebook vice president (23 March 2016)

It was subsequently reported that, leading up to the Rio Olympic, Facebook (and Twitter) have cooperated with Brazilian authorities in a probe that led to the arrest of suspected Islamic militants.

Although the social media companies are staying quite on the matter, Judge Marcos Josegrei da Silva was reported to have revealed that the companies ‘began to provide data related to the content of conversations and data about where those conversations were posted.’

Providing Facebook and Twitter user content is of course a different proposition from providing  WhatsApp user content, because neither Facebook or Twitter are encrypted services.

Mother knows best?

A mother in Georgia chose a unique way to discipline her daughter for allegedly posting provocative pictures of herself online.

She administered corporal punishment and … live-streamed it on Facebook.

The police was promptly alerted to the live-stream. They managed to track down Ms Shanavia Miller, but elected not to press charges, and referred the matter to the state’s child welfare authorities instead.

Did her social media followers encourage a US woman to defy police orders, contributing to her death?

Korryn Gaines died in tragic circumstances in Randallstown, Marryland. Following a standoff with police, she died in a shootout with law enforcement officers, in which her 5-year-old son was also wounded.

Police alleged that social media followers of Ms Gaines encouraged her to defy police instructions to surrender peacefully, contributing to her death.

In recent months, social media had been utilised by citizens, and citizen journalists, to bring attention to the conduct of police officers. Ms Gaines was herself live streaming the confrontation on Facebook.

On this occasion, the Baltimore County Police Department submitted a request to Facebook for the suspension of Ms Gaines’ Facebook and Instagram accounts in the course of the standoff, with Facebook complying with the request, because of a number of comments left on her posts by others encouraging her to defy orders by police to surrender peacefully.

Sadly the entire episode that resulted in her death arose from a police attempt to serve an arrest warrant over her failure to appear in court on charges relating to a traffic stop earlier in the year and, what appears to have been, a deep-seated mistrust of the police by Ms Gaines.

Man arrested for making fun of police on Facebook acquitted

Anthony Novak thought it would be fun to set up a parody Facebook page for his local Parma Police Department, and mock them online. The page was only online for about a day.

The police didn’t get the joke, arrested Mr Novak, and charged him with a felony count of disrupting public services. Police and prosecutors argued the parody Facebook page led to public confusion and the distraction of 911 dispatchers who had to take calls from people confused by the page. However, at the trial dispatchers testified that the police department’s call centre received only 10 calls about the Facebook page in a 12 hour period after the page went online.

Earlier this month a jury acquitted Mr Novak, and the police department continues to be subjected to heavy criticism over charging him in the first place.

Expats, check your local laws!

The case of Australian man Scott Richards in Dubai is a timely reminder for expats to make sure they are familiar with the laws of their host country.

Mr Richards has been arrested for promoting the crowd-funding page of a US-based charity that raises money for Afghan children at the Chahari Qambar refugee camp outside Kabul.

Mr Richards’ posts on Facebook and other social media sites promoting the charity fell foul of strict local laws prohibiting the operation or promotion of any charity no registered in the United Arab Emirates.

Mr Richards is now stuck in Dubai’s notorious Al Muraqqabat prison, known for overcrowding and poor conditions. He has been denied bail on three separate occasion, he is yet to face formal charges, and his ordeal could last months.

Judge dismisses lawsuit against Twitter which alleged it offered a platform for ISIS to spread its propaganda, causing deaths

In June I reported on Fields v. Twitter Inc., Case 3:16-cv-00213, filed in the Northern District of California. The lawsuit by the wives of two contractors killed in Jordan in a terrorist attack last November claimed liability on part of Twitter.

As predicted, Twitter’s principal argument revolved around the so-called section 230 immunity offered under the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which provides a shield for online companies from being held responsible for harms arising from third-party content.

The section provides that ‘[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.’

The plaintiffs did not dispute that Twitter is an ‘interactive computer service,’ or that the offending content was ‘provided by another information content provider,’ but disputed Twitter’s defense that it should not be treated as a publisher or speaker.

In a judgment handed down by Judge William Orrick on 10 August, the Judge held that the plaintiffs failed to explain how Twitter’s mere provision of accounts to ISIS, a conduct that allegedly created liability even before the publication of any content, and would have supported liability even if ISIS had never issued a single tweet, caused the tragic November 2015 shooting.

As anticipated, Judge Orrick dismissed the matter, holding that ‘Twitter cannot be treated as a publisher or speaker of ISIS’s hateful rhetoric and is not liable under the facts alleged,’ but granted leave to the plaintiffs to amend their case.

Relevantly, Twitter announced recently that it suspended an additional 235,000(!) accounts for violating its policies relating to the promotion of terrorism in the six months since February, bringing their overall number of suspension to 360,000 since the middle of 2015.

Scotland Yard’s new ‘troll-hunting’ unit

In the UK, the Scotland Yard has allocated £1.7 million to set up a new unit dedicated to monitoring and targeting online hate crime.

The Online Hate Crime Hub follows the identification of the increasing role that online hate plays in targeting individuals and communities.

Social media provides hate crime perpetrators with a veil of anonymity, making it harder to bring them to justice and potentially impacting on a larger number of people. Those targeted can become isolated, living in fear of the online behaviour materialising in the real world. The police response to online hate crime is inconsistent, primarily because police officers are not equipped to tackle it. The purpose of this programme is to strengthen the police and community response to this growing crime type.

British pilot project to target cyber crime

Another new police project in the City of London will engage private law firms to pursue cyber criminals and fraudsters for profit.

Fraud is now the largest type of crime costing the UK an estimated £193 billion per year, and overwhelms the police and criminal justice system.

Under the project police will pass details of suspected cyber criminals and fraudsters to law firms, who will pursue them in civil courts to seize the money, seen as a more effective method of tackling these types of crimes.

Instagram money-flipping

Cyber fraud via social media is amply illustrated by a scam called ‘money-flipping.’ The scam usually starts with a social media message along the following lines: ‘Hey are you interested in making some extra cash?’

The aim of the scam is to convince the victim to send money, or disclose banking information, by promising to ‘flip’ their money and return a profit.

The crass, unsophisticated scam is transparent to most, but there are always a few unfortunate victims who due to gullibility, inexperience, recklessness, greed, or desperation fall victim to the scam.

Suffice it to say, the victims will never see their money again, and their banks often end up compensating them, and passing on the cost of the fraud to their insurer, and other customers.

ZeroFox, a social media security company, analysed two million messages sent on Instagram, and identified close to 5,000 attempted instances of the scam, created by close to 1,500 unique scammer accounts. ZeroFox also found that for every one scam removed, three new scams were created by cyber fraudsters, who were targeting 37 top financial institutions.

LinkedIn tackles data scrapers

LinkedIn has filed a complaint in the Northern District of California, LinkedIn Corporation v. Does 1 through 100 inclusive Case Number 5:16-cv-04463, against 100 unnamed persons under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), in an effort to put an end to data scrapers using bots to capture LinkedIn users’ data.

The lawsuit is a preliminary discovery type application designed to ascertain the identity of the scrapers.

LinkedIn surprised observers by asserting in its lawsuit that using bots to harvest users’ data from its site effectively amounts to hacking, and invoking the CFAA.

During periods of time since December 2015, and to this day, unknown persons and/or entities employing various automated software programs (often referred to as “bots”) have extracted and copied data from many LinkedIn pages. To access this information on LinkedIn’s site, the Doe Defendants circumvented several technical barriers employed by LinkedIn that prevent mass automated scraping, and have knowingly and intentionally violated various access and use restrictions in LinkedIn’s User Agreement, which they agreed to abide by in registering LinkedIn member accounts. In so doing, they have violated an array of federal and state laws, including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act … and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act …

It appears LinkedIn draws a distinction between ‘white’ scraping, such as search engines, like Google, indexing materials from its site, and ‘black’ scraping, that is scraping designed to circumvent the company’s technical barriers designed to prevent certain types of ‘mass automated scraping,’ although the scope of what LinkedIn considers ‘black’ scraping is not spelled out in the complaint.

Truth in Advertising Inc. versus the Kardashian clan

You may recall, last month I questioned whether Instagram’s most popular post to date, a picture of Selena Gomez enjoying a bottle of Coca-Cola, was in fact in breach of the unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce prohibitions of the US federal Trade Commission Act (TCA), 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.

Recently, Truth in Advertising Inc. (TIAI) sent a letter to the Kradashian clan, accusing them of repeated violations of those same federal rules in respect of a wide range of well-known brands.

TIAI is an independent, non-profit advertising watchdog which describes its mission ‘to be the go-to online resource dedicated to empowering consumers to protect themselves and one another against false advertising and deceptive marketing.’

It’s worth noting that TIAI has no legal enforcement powers and cannot initiate federal action against the Kardashians – that power lies with the federal regulator, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), under the TCA. But, TIAI is entitled to lodge a complaint with the FTC.

Nevertheless, the letter highlights the nebulous problem of celebrity social media endorsements, and the apparent lack of application and enforcement of the relevant federal rules by the regulator.

Whether the FTC would dare to take on the Kardashian clan, and demand they give up the endorsement moneys collected in violation of the rules, well that’s a whole new story yet to be revealed …

The International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network issues new guidelines for digital influencers

Relevantly to the Kardashian story, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recently announced the release of a range of new guidelines by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), dealing with online reviews and endorsements.

The ACCC encourages businesses to familiarise themselves with ICPEN’s online reviews guidelines. Consumers rely upon online reviews when make purchasing decisions and it is crucial that reviews are honest and represent the full spectrum of views.

Compliance with these guidelines will build consumer confidence in online reviews, and help review platforms, traders and digital influencers avoid regulatory action.
Delia Rickard, ACCC Deputy Chair

The ICPEN guidelines for digital influencers are not too dissimilar in tone from the guidelines issued by the ACCC back in December 2013: Online reviews – a guide for business & review platforms.

The 2013 ACCC guidelines noted in respect of ‘incentivised consumer reviews’ that the incentive should be prominently disclosed to users who may rely on such reviews.

The new ICPEN guidelines state:

Digital influencers should be guided by the following principles:
• disclose, clearly and prominently whether content had been paid for;
• be open about other commercial relationships that might be relevant to the content; and
• give genuine views on markets, businessses, goods and services.

Frankly, the guidelines reflect common sense and good business practices. As best practice, businesses that use digital influencers should review the disclosure practices of their influencers, and ensure they comply with the guidelines.

Any formal commercial arrangements with such influencers should require the influencers to comply with the relevant consumer protection laws and guidelines in the course of all their social media activities, and include indemnities, to the extent permitted by law, if the influencer is found in breach of any consumer protection laws.

Lapses in disclosure by influencers should not be tolerated, and there should be a strong, demonstrable history of enforcement of the applicable laws and guidelines in respect of your influencers.

Related stories:
Is Instagram’s recent most ‘liked’ photo illegal? (25 July 2016)
ASIC and corporate social media (28 February 2016)
Social media meets the law: March 2015 (21 March 2015)
‘Social media and the law’ – a self-indulgent book review (9 October 2014)
Google vs the ACCC (11 February 2013)

Businesses should be aware that the ACCC is actively monitoring the online space, and serious financial penalties may be handed down by the Courts for misleading or deceptive conduct which breaches the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth).

Free speech

Facebook continues to struggle with its media role

I have reported on a number of cases in the past where Facebook came under fire for deleting various posts, resulting in censorship allegations against the social media giant. As Facebook increasingly becomes a conduit for media organisations to deliver news, its community standards are tested more frequently where news stories appear to be in breach of those standards.

The latest example of this growing problem arose from a Four Corners special on ABC, dealing with the abuse of detainee children in the Northern Territory. As part of its news package ABC had posted a number of videos to Facebook, footage of children being abused in detention, which related to the story. Facebook later deleted one of these videos arguing it breached its community standard because it contained child nudity. The video involved CCTV footage of a young child being stripped naked by guards at Northern Territory youth detention centre.

There is absolutely no question about the footage being confronting viewing, but it is also news of significant importance. But Facebook didn’t see a significant current affairs story that would lead to a Royal Commission within days. Facebook saw only the momentarily nudity of a child and wasn’t interested in the fact that it was shown to condemn the action, to highlight the plight of children in detention, and the need for action.

This latest incident brings into doubt Facebook’s ability to be a trustworthy media player, as on some occasion news and current affairs deliver stories and visions that are inarguably disturbing, but essential to bring issues to the attention of public, spark action, and bring change.

Facebook steps up its war on clickbait

Facebook announced that it would step up its efforts to reduce clickbait in users’ news feed on the social network.

Clickbait
Content, especially that of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular web page.

To address the amount of clickbait appearing in Facebook feeds, Facebook is updating its algorithm to further reduce the appearance of such headlines. As the update kicks in you should notice fewer clickbait stories in your feed.

We’ve heard from people that they specifically want to see fewer stories with clickbait headlines or link titles. These are headlines that intentionally leave out crucial information, or mislead people, forcing people to click to find out the answer. For example: “When She Looked Under Her Couch Cushions And Saw THIS… I Was SHOCKED!”; “He Put Garlic In His Shoes Before Going To Bed And What Happens Next Is Hard To Believe”; or “The Dog Barked At The Deliveryman And His Reaction Was Priceless.”

We are focusing more effort on this, and are updating News Feed by using a system that identifies phrases that are commonly used in clickbait headlines. First, we categorized tens of thousands of headlines as clickbait by considering two key points: (1) if the headline withholds information required to understand what the content of the article is; and (2) if the headline exaggerates the article to create misleading expectations for the reader. For example, the headline “You’ll Never Believe Who Tripped and Fell on the Red Carpet…” withholds information required to understand the article (What happened? Who Tripped?) The headline “Apples Are Actually Bad For You?!” misleads the reader (apples are only bad for you if you eat too many every day). A team at Facebook reviewed thousands of headlines using these criteria, validating each other’s work to identify a large set of clickbait headlines.
News feed FYI: Further reducing clickbait in Feed (Facebook, 4 August 2016)

Arrests in Turkey over social media

Turkey’s relationship with free speech has been strained for years, and it ranks in a questionable 151st place on the 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has embarked on an offensive against Turkey’s media. Journalists are harassed, many have been accused of “insulting the president” and the Internet is systematically censored. The regional context – the war in Syria and Turkey’s offensive against the PKK Kurds – is exacerbating the pressure on the media, which are also accused of “terrorism.” The media and civil society are nonetheless resisting Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism.
Erdogan against the media (Reporters Sans Frontières)

The failed July coup attempt didn’t improve Turkey’s already poor ranking when it comes to freedom of expression.

Related story:
The case of Turkey’s Sedef Kabas (3 November 2015)

As a post-coup intellectual and political purge is unfolding, arrests have been made over social media posts considered supportive of the failed uprising.

At least two people have been arrested for ‘praising’ the failed July coup, and ‘insulting’ President Erdogan on social media.

Twitter censors Turkish journalists

The increasingly frosty political climate in Turkey appears to have dragged Twitter into a censorship row over the social media network’s decision to censor the accounts of journalists banned by Turkey.

Following post-coup orders issued by the courts, Twitter had started censoring journalists and media outlets in Turkey. Many of the censored accounts are verified, but Twitter has maintained silence over the issue.

Thailand indicts mom over one-word ‘royal insult’

In the meantime, the mother of a prominent Thai student activist, Patnaree Chankij was indicted in a Thai military court for defaming the royal family over writing ‘ja’ (yeah) in response to a private Facebook message by someone else that contained an alleged insult to the royal family.

After her arrest back in May by police the charge was initially dropped after a public outcry, but military prosecutors picked up the matter and proceeded with the indictment. If found guilty, she is facing 15 years in prison. The indictment has strong political dimensions having taken place just days before a critical referendum on the ruling military junta’s new constitution, which was successful.

Melbourne graffiti artist Lushsux’s Instagram account deleted, then restored

What is alleged to be a case of ‘politically motivated censorship,’ Instagram suspended, and when the news of the suspension went viral promptly restored, Melbourne graffiti artist Lushsux’s account, after he posted an image of his latest giant mural, an image of Hillary Clinton in a very, very, skimpy stars and stripes bathing suit. The original account has since been set to private.

Avert your eyes now if you are easily offended!

Hillary bathing suit

Stupid sexy Hillary

A post shared by lushsux (@lushsux) on

It’s not just Instagram who was having an issue with the image, Maribrynong Council was also unhappy with the artwork and wanted it gone.

First censorship on the Internet and now comes the censorship in the real world…

A post shared by Lushsux (@lushsux2) on

The artist complied … sort of:

Hilary covered

He also created a backup Instagram account where he exclaimed ‘censorship sucks.’

Repost and share this if you have been following my work and hate censorship

A post shared by Lushsux (@lushsux2) on

Some questioned whether the mural was any worse than advertising images of women that often appear on posters, and in bus stop displays.

Defamation

Kelly Osbourne’s angry tweets about her father’s alleged mistress come back to bite

You may have read stories about the high-profile breakdown of the marriage between Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne.

What you may have missed were Kelly Osbourne’s angry tweets when rumours of Mr Osbourne’s alleged infidelities started to circulate. Ms Osbourne has over 4 million Twitter followers.

Ms Osbourne’s target was Michelle Pugh, a celebrity hairstylist, who allegedly had a four-year affair with the legendary rocker. The series of angry tweets culminated in Ms Osbourne accusing Ms Pugh of ‘elder abuse,’ and tweeting out her telephone number in an undignified tweet:

Anyone looking for cheap chunky LOW-lights a blow out and a b**wjob call +1(323)928323
Kelly Osbourne (@KellyOsbourne) 23 May 2016

Ms Pugh is now suing Ms Osbourne over the cyber harassment and bullying she suffered, the subsequent harm and damage to her reputation, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, and the public disclosure of private information.

Ms Pugh’s lawsuit claims Ms Osbourne ‘harnessed her celebrity and notoriety to incite her followers as well as the media machine.’

The District Court of New South Wales awards $150,000 over defamatory Facebook post

In Rothe v Scott (No. 4) [2016] NSWDC 160, Judge Gibson awarded Mr Rothe $150,000 in damages, consisting of $100,000 in general damages and $50,000 in aggravated damages, over a public Facebook post falsely accusing Mr Rothe of housing paedophiles at his accommodation businesses:

Pedophile [sic] warning:- Nambucca has been used as a relocation for these monsters – blue dolphin – nirvana hotel and above the indian restaurant! One of them even tried to change his name and get a job at the local public school? People what the fark [sic] share this post please! Can’t believe this just another council decision without consent! Bus stops are right out the front of these hotels for our children?

Mr Rothe was a school teacher for the whole of his working life. During the last eight years of his teaching career he was the deputy principal of a Nambucca Heads public school. After his retirement in 2006 he continued to run two motels and holiday units he had owned in Nambucca prior to 1988, the Blue Dolphin and the Nirvana Village Motel. He was a highly respected member of the local community,

Following the publication of the Facebook post Mr Rothe was harassed repeatedly, and brutally bashed twice, eventually forcing him to move interstate.

The court found the defendant, Mr Scott, an ‘unimpressive witness,’ who alleged a ‘greater conspiracy between the plaintiff and persons in authority.’

The Facebook post was found by the court to be defamatory, the plaintiff sufficiently identifiable, and the allegations made in the post widely distributed in the Nambucca Heads area.

The defences of qualified privilege, honest opinion, and triviality were all dismissed, and on the triviality point the court made the following interesting observation in respect of publishing to social media:

The circumstances of publication of the matter complained of on a social media platform, couched in intemperate language, were certain to cause harm. The seriousness of the imputations and the vast reach of social media render any reliance upon this defence futile.

Online abuse

The Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner turns one

The Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner released its first report at the conclusion of the first year of its operations.

In its first year, the Office conducted 11,121 online content investigations, and helped to resolve 186 serious cyberbullying complaints involving children. Girls appear to be over-represented, with 71% of the serious cyberbullying incidents targeting them.

The Office also worked with global partners on removing 7,465 URLs that contained child sexual abuse materials.

Russia’s ‘troll army’ is back in the news

Russia’s troll army reemerged recently, promoting … Donald Trump, and attempting to cause chaos in suburban America, alleges freelance journalist Adrien Chen after his most recent research into the phenomenon.

Related story:
The Finn journalist and the wrath of Russia’s ‘troll army’ (27 June 2016)

In an exposé published in The New York Times Magazine Chen recounts a highly coordinated disinformation campaign that reported a serious chemical incident in Centerville, Louisiana, causing public panic and official concern, but which turned out to be completely fabricated on social media. And this was not the only highly sophisticated fabricated disinformation campaign to hit the United States recently. There were similar fake ‘stories’ of an Ebola outbreak in Atlanta, and the shooting of an unarmed black woman by police.

Chen believes all these stories can be traced back to ‘a shadowy organization in St. Petersburg, Russia, that spreads false information on the Internet.’

If the idea of an army of ‘state-sponsored’ cyber trolls doesn’t scare you, perhaps it should. Social media stories can go viral in minutes, and professionally fabricated false stories could wreak havoc on civil order, national security, and global markets before they can be proved to be a lie.

It is not an exaggeration to call this type of online behaviour a new form of warfare given the potentially serious consequences that can flow from false but credible reports of terrorist attacks, viral outbreaks, or civil disturbances.

More recently, Chen uncovered trolls connected to the St. Petersburg operation posting anti-Obama and pro-Trump messages to social media, which were then interlinked with sophisticated real-world operations, such as a large-scale ‘art-show’ in New York, designed to send a clear political message about the conflicts in Syria and the Ukraine that conforms with the Russian geo-political position.

The story takes a fascinating turn when it is revealed that throughout his investigations Chen himself was being ‘played’ and gradually set up by highly sophisticated Russian operators, so that he could be thoroughly discredited if and when he published his story.

A fascinating and thoroughly frightening tale that harks back to my strange personal experiences growing up under Soviet occupation in the 1970s and 80s …

US online harassment survey is a sobering read

If you think declaring one’s political allegiance publicly is a silly thing to do, you may have just been proved right by an online poll conducted in the US by the Rad Campaign, Craigconnects, and Lincoln Strategies. The online poll surveyed 1,017 Americans over the age of 18 about their experiences with online harassment.

Rantic survey
Source: Rantic
The second survey in this biannual series found that 30% of respondents reported harassment ‘for expressing political opinions,’ an increase from 16% in 2014. Harassment over professional character (30%), gender (27%), and race (26%) also feature unfortunately prominently, although perhaps not surprisingly given the current political climate.

The abuse appears to be worse for those who declare a more progressive, liberal political affiliation, and millennials, although when it comes to political harassment, the 55-64 age group is significantly overrepresented.

That’s a lot of abuse for little or no gain, especially if another US survey by social media marketing and public relations firm Rantic is anything to go by. Their survey of 10,000 people on Facebook, spread evenly across political affiliations, indicates that no one ever changes their view on an issue because of a Facebook post. But, wait for it, while the results show that you will not be changing anyone’s mind, it has also been revealed you will be judged by your friends on the basis of what you write on social media about politics, and there is a chance you may even be unfriended because of those posts.

On the flip side, a Harvard study published a few years ago showed that sharing personal opinions will make you happy, by activating the brain’s neurochemical reward system. So, you may be judged, and dumped, by friends, but will still likely be happy. This may also explain why some find social media so addictive.

The Olympic social media hate fest on Mack Horton

Criticising a fellow swimmer supported by 1.35 billion Chinese fans on the Olympic stage is arguably never a good idea, no matter how justified you may feel in your criticism.

Australia’s Mack Horton had faced an avalanche of social media abuse from Chinese sports fans after Mack noted he had ‘no time or respect for drug cheats’ in response to media questions after China’s Sun Yang was observed attempting to disrupt Mack’s training session in the pool by splashing him.

Cue the outrage from Chinese fans, who flooded Mack’s social media accounts with threats, and demands for an apology. Admittedly, it has been revealed that Sun Yang had been stripped of a national title and served a ‘secret’ 3-month suspension imposed by the China Swimming Association in 2014 over a positive test for the stimulant trimetazidine. As is often the case in such scenarios Sun Yang had a perfectly reasonable explanation.

Nevertheless, Mack was under attack on social media, Sun Yang’s fans were not happy, and be warned this involved some saucy language:

At one point, due to the language barrier, even Austria was briefly caught up in the melee:

Things got so bad that commenting was disabled on Mack’s Instagram account, and hundreds of thousands of abusive comments were also deleted from that platform.

"I come from a land down under" 🎧🇦🇺💃🏼 📸@dellyphotoninja Thanks for all of the love ❤️

A post shared by uoʇɹoɥ ʞɔɐɯ (@mackhorton) on

However on Twitter the abuse remains for all to see. Even a hapless British IT worker by the name of ‘Mark Horton’, who was mistaken by Chinese fans for Mack, got caught up in the social media frenzy and there was no convincing the misguided ‘lynch mob’ about the mistaken identity …

The @Ireland Twitter account descends into a racist farce

@Ireland is the latest social experiment that descended into a racist farce.

Like  Sweden, Ireland had the fantastic idea of letting average Irish citizens run the nation’s Twitter account for a week at a time. It’s a fantastic public relations concept and great for tourism, because it gives amazing, in-depth and varied perspectives of a nation from the heart.

It was going so well, until week 235 when some people just had to ruin it … with mindless racism.

Last week, Michelle Marie took over the running of the account. Michelle who is black, and a plus-size model, was almost immediately subjected to 8 hours of intense racial abuse, forcing her to take a break from Twitter. Please be warned, objectionable language follows:

https://twitter.com/VaroLanius/status/767764489592643584

Not the tourism ad, and public relations win, Ireland would have hoped for, although thousands of Irish people, and people from around the world, came to her aid and rebuffed the detractors.

Leslie Jones’ Twitter victory over racist trolls proves short-lived

Last month I reported on the racist ‘alt-right’ troll army which descended on Leslie Jones’ Twitter account with appalling abuse.

Jack Dorsey of Twitter personally intervened to protect her from the racist mob, and the incident led to the lifetime banning of ‘alt-right’ poster boy Milo Yiannopoulos from Twitter.

It would appear the racist mob just exacted their revenge on Leslie Jones, by apparently hacking her iCloud account, obtaining nude images of her, and copies of her passport and driver licence, and posting all of the above, together with further racist abuse, on her hacked website, which at the time of writing was still offline.

One can only hope the perpetrators of this latest criminal attack will be pursued with the full force of the law. Legislators, law enforcement agencies, and the judiciary must work together to send a clear, unambiguous message to the perpetrators of such crimes.

Facebook shuts down ‘Blokes Advice’

Domestic violence support groups have been advocating and petitioning for the removal of the ‘Blokes Advice’ group from Facebook for some time, on the basis that members of the group encouraged physical and sexual violence against women.

Initially, Facebook was hesitant to shut down the page with over 200,000 followers, but sustained, and increasing, community criticism eventually forced their hand.

However, as an illustration of the difficulties involved in policing and eradicating online abuse and harassment, ‘Blokes Advice’ is back up, running a new website off Facebook with 3,500 members already registered, and wondering what they have done wrong and why their right to ‘free speech’ had been curtailed.

Another online pornographic scandal

Given the great example set by the men of ‘Blokes Advice,’ is it any wonder we faced another scandal involving inappropriate images of schoolgirls this month?!

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) was investigating yet another pornographic website targeting Australian schoolgirls.

The site was designed for users to swap pictures of naked teenagers without their consent or knowledge.

Related stories:
Brighton Grammar expels two students (25 July 2016)
The Twitter hashtags circulating thousands of inappropriate photos of women (25 July 2016)

Reports indicated this latest site hosted over 2,000 images of girls from 71 schools across Australia. It appears the site has been active since December 2015.

Police reminded the public that child pornography is a very serious offence, even if those engaging in the distribution are underage themselves, and attracts a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail.

The website was swiftly shut down after the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner made contact with its registrar regarding an image of an underage girl. While I applaud their swift action, the fact is they can’t shut down the internet and, sadly, a reiteration of the site will probably be up and running again in no time.

A Tripple J survey in Australia indicated that 55% of 18 to 29-year-olds have sent a naked selfie. While doing so has now become an accepted social norm, it also offers a limitless supply of revenge porn materials for unscrupulous operators.

Related stories:
Chrissy Chambers (22 September 2015)
Crime (and punishment) (28 February 2016)
Privacy in New South Wales (23 March 2016)
Revenge porn continues to be a serious issue (30 May 2016)
Revenge porn continues to plague the internet (27 June 2016)
The ongoing fallout from the proliferation of revenge porn (25 July 2016)

We also have a serious problem with our propensity for victim-blaming when such images are used inappropriately, a propensity we must overcome and focus on the perpetrators instead.

Above all remember you haven’t done anything wrong – the person who shared your photo or video is in the wrong and they should feel ashamed and embarrassed … not you.

Sharing your photos or videos is a betrayal of trust and an act of abuse.
Revenge porn, Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner

Is the lack of intimacy on social media drives unsavoury behaviours?

Clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller recently spoke to News Breakfast on the ABC in the context of recent events involving young people, and suggested that social media had not only given people the means to share inappropriate material, but had also contributed to a breakdown in human interaction that made it more likely to happen.

Another dubious Snapchat filter causes upset

I presume many still remembers that ill-considered ‘Bob Marley’ Snapchat filter that unleashed accusations of ‘blackface’ and racism.

You think Snapchat would have learned from that experience and would never have considered releasing a filter that exaggerated user’s nose and teeth, and gave them closed, downward-slanting eyes.

I think you can see where this is going …

The resulting images mimicked racist caricatures of Asian people. From ‘blackface’ to ‘yellowface‘.

It won’t come as a huge surprise that Snapchat pulled the filter just a few days later.

Twitter rolls out its ‘Quality Filter’

Twitter’s ‘Quality Filter,’ an automated moderation tool which hides tweets that are abusive, threatening, or spam-like, has been available to verified users since last year, but it is now being rolled out to all users.

The filter is designed to improve the quality of tweets users see by using a variety of factors, from account origin to behaviour. The nature of the filter is such that it reduces the amount of abusive, harassing, ‘trollish’ tweets users who turn it on will see.

Turning it on filters lower-quality content, like duplicate Tweets or content that appears to be automated, from your notifications and other parts of your Twitter experience. It does not filter content from people you follow or accounts you’ve recently interacted with – and depending on your preferences, you can turn it on or off in your notifications settings.

Privacy (and security)

American lawmaker resigns abruptly after social media hack

An Illinois lawmaker had resigned abruptly after revelations his social media accounts have been hacked.

It is unclear what in particular prompted him to both resign from politics, and delete his social media accounts. Ron Sandack was an avid user of social media until his sudden departure from the medium.

This highly guarded incident is the latest illustration of the potential pitfalls of social media, no matter your station in life.

Twitter awards $10,080 to white-hat hacker for identifying major security flaw

An Indian white-hat hacker was rewarded by Twitter for identifying a security flaw in Vine, its video platform. This wasn’t the first weakness identified by ‘avicoder’, who already uncovered 15 other Twitter flaws.

The flaw allowed the hacking of Vine’s entire source code, enabling nefarious players to create a perfect copy of Vine which could have been used for phishing.

New Jersey woman sues police for publishing details of her arrest on social media

Ms Karen Gitelman is suing the Sparta Police Department for $500,000 after they posted details of her and her husband’s arrest on Facebook. The couple was charged with third-degree endangering the welfare of a child, two disorderly persons offenses, obstructing the administration of the law, and hosting an underage drinking party.

Ms Gitelman says that due to the police posting news of their arrests to Facebook they had suffered financial losses, and distress.

From time-to-time, police in Australia also utilises social media to publicise arrests, although generally they do so without naming the offenders. Nevertheless, social media can still prove to be a double-edged sword for law enforcement agencies and, if used inappropriately, can contribute to the erosion of public trust.

European Member of Parliament swipes left on Tinder

Tinder has joined a long line of technology companies accused of breaching European privacy rules.

Belgian member of the European Parliament Marc Tarabella is accusing Tinder of violating the European Union’s privacy laws, and called for an investigation by the European Commission.

“The conditions of use imposed by Tinder violate European law. Indeed, among those, the reuse of consumer data and photos, even after deactivation of an account, are a breach. In other words, when you register on this site, the company can do whatever it wants with your data: show it, distribute it to anyone, or even change it. The lack of transparency should not be the rule!

We therefore request the opening of an investigation and Tinder to act in compliance with the law and respects the rights of millions users. More broadly, we also ask the Commission to investigate all businesses which offer unfair terms in mobile applications and severely sanction those responsible. The European consumer must be able to choose what information they wish to share with third parties, but they are too often the victim of the lack of transparency orchestrated by unscrupulous companies” said Marc Tarabella in charge of the protection of the European Consumer.

The Australian Privacy Commissioner releases report on the Ashley Madison data breach

Last week, the Australian Privacy Commissioner (APC) released its final report on the Ashley Madison data breach last year.

The APC found that Ashley Madison fell short of complying with Australian privacy laws at the time of the breach, and provided a series of recommendations to ensure future compliance, including enhancing privacy safeguards, amending information retention practices, improving information accuracy, and increasing transparency.

On the back of the investigation Ashley Madison entered into a Compliance Agreement and an Enforceable Undertaking with APC in respect of the identified privacy shortcomings.

Another timely reminder to exercise caution when you hand over your personal details to online operators of any kind.

Workplace

British Council employee in strife over social media comments

Angela Gibbins, a manager at the British Council, responsible for promoting UK culture worldwide, was less than excited by a photo shoot designed to celebrate the third birthday of Prince George, and indulged in a Facebook rant, described by some in the UK media as vile, in which she referred to the young prince as the embodiment of ‘white privilege.’

White privilege. That cheeky grin is the (already locked-in) innate knowledge he’s Royal, rich, advantaged and will never know *any* difficulties or hardships in life. Let’s find photos of 3yo Syrian refugee children and see if the look alike, eh?

Ironically, the Council is a tax-payer funded organisation with a royal charter. Its patron is the Queen, and its vice-patron is Prince Charles.

The Council had already announced it commenced disciplinary procedures in relation to the matter:

British Council expects the highest standards of our staff and in accordance with our code of conduct we have started disciplinary procedures with the individual concerned.

This comment was made on a private social media account. It has absolutely no connection to the British Council and does not represent our views and values.

Texan meteorologist resigns after ill-considered Facebook post

With the hyper-partisan political climate in the United States, one needs to be particularly careful about social media postings.

Bob Goosmann was the Chief Meteorologist at a Forth Worth area TV station in Texas, and his Facebook feed was largely filled with uncontroversial weather reports. Until he saw the mothers of nine black children, who had passed away as a result of their interactions with police, speak at the Democratic National Convention.

This was a bridge to far for Mr Goosmann and he posted to Facebook what he thought about the matter:

As many of you have probably noticed, I’ve stayed away from politics on FB. The DNC parading the mothers of slain thugs around on their stage has me furious.

The post went promptly viral, creating a considerable social media backlash.

A few days later Mr Goosmann suddenly resigned, and in an email to DFW.com he noted that ‘[i]t was frustration that I believe the DNC Party will do anything, like using these mothers, to garner votes … Some have said the word ‘thug’ is a racial term. It means a violent person, as in a criminal. It does not mention color. Anyone can become a thug. If some want to make this statement out to be something else, I cannot control that.’

When your staff goes wild … on their own time

What happens if you behave questionably on your own time, but your behaviour is then squarely linked back to your employer on social media, causing the employer reputational damage?

Reportedly police were called to Mount Buller’s Reindeer Ski Resort when a group of overexuberant, allegedly highly intoxicated, guests caused a scene, ending in the guests allegedly threatening to ‘kick in the heads’ of the father and daughter management team.

Later in the day Ms Stephanie Sparrow (Steph Eisma) lambasted the alleged behaviour of the Michael Page employees on her Facebook page:

Below is the photo of the two men from “Michael Page Recruitment” who threatened to kick down my door and kick my head in early this morning.
Please share, so that this may reach Michael Page Recruitment.
To whom it may concern,
Over the weekend many of your employees came to enjoy Mt Buller and the hospitality of Reindeer Ski Club.
However what should have been a weekend to be enjoyed by everyone, quickly devolved into a chaotic scene, due to the extreme levels of intoxication by your 22 staff members.

I’m not sure what you expect of your employees when they head out on work trips and or how you hope they represent your company.
But the legacy left by Michael Page Recruitment at Reindeer Ski Club, it’s one of verbal abuse and alcohol-fuelled violence.

Michael Page responded to queries by Recruitment International noting that while the trip in question was not a company funded or sanctioned work trip, it would investigate the incident and take appropriate disciplinary action:

There have been recent allegations made about the behaviour of Michael Page staff who were on a weekend trip to a Mount Buller ski resort.

While this was not a company funded or sanctioned work trip, there were nonetheless Michael Page employees involved in the incident. Michael Page holds all its employees to the highest level of ethical behaviour, whether they are officially representing our company or not. We are extremely upset about the behaviour of some of our employees and make no excuses for their actions.

We have been in touch directly with the people who were affected by the behaviour of the individuals involved and offered our unreserved apologies. We are very disturbed by the allegations made.

We are undertaking a thorough investigation into the matter and will make sure that all the individuals involved are interviewed and the appropriate disciplinary action will be taken. Michael Page has an extremely strict code of conduct for our employees and we are extremely disappointed in the behaviour of the individuals involved in this incident. We are taking this extremely seriously and will do everything that we can to protect our company’s reputation.

Michael Page will be making no further comment.

The lesson here is that just because you are not posting embarrassing details of your out-of-control weekend away to social media, if your behaviour is subpar, someone else might just do it for you, and may even tag your employer …

It would appear, Michael Page may have some cultural issues to address internally.

Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel offers her resignation on Facebook in India

It’s one thing to be fired for unbecoming social media conduct, but what about resigning using social media?

That’s exactly what Anandiben Patel, the Chief Minister of the Western Indian state of Gujarat did, by posting a letter on her Facebook page to that effect.

That’s certainly one way to get attention, but it begs the question: is social media the right medium for a resignation? Ms Patel was certainly not the first person to do so. She joins and illustrious group of people from Chris Evans of Top Gear, to Nikesh Arora of SoftBank Corp., and … Justin Bieber.

Yes, that’s Justine Bieber’s second appearance in this month’s round-up. And no, I am not a Belieber … seriously, I am not!

Many argue that resigning via social media is unprofessional. And certainly, ideally it is not how you would announce your departure to your employer.

However, there are many circumstances in which a follow-up social media post, after a formal resignation, may be appropriate, provided it is done professionally and doesn’t leave your bridges burning.

Such a post can serve to explain your departure to the public, or bring your availability to the attention of potential new employers.

When Facebook gets you a new job, rather than getting you fired

Facebook it not all just sackings and resignations. Sometimes it can also be the source of a good-news story!

Blackall-Tambo Regional Council mayor Andrew Martin, in outback Queensland, turned to Facebook to attract a hairdresser to his town, after residents were forced to travel more than 100 kilometres to the nearest hairdresser.

The post came to the attention of Rockhampton hairdresser Tiffiany Kraatz, who lived in Blackall as a child. Within a few weeks she had relocated to the outback town with her husband and four children, and everyone lived happily ever after …

Service

Divorce by Facebook

I wrote about the alternative service of court documents via social media previously.

Reportedly, there has been a growing trend in the United States, at least in New York, to serve divorce proceedings on hard to locate spouses on social media since the 2015 landmark approval in Baidoo v. Blood-Dzraku 2015 NY Slip Op 25096 [48 Misc 3d 309].

Similarly, in Australia an application may be made to the courts for ‘alternative service,’ including service via social media, in circumstance where the person to be served is difficult to locate, or is avoiding to be served, but they’re active on social media. If there is sufficient evidence to satisfy the judge that the person in question has a social media account they regularly use, an order could be made to serve court documents via that social media service.

Regulatory issues

Facebook’s US tax troubles won’t fade away

In my July round-up I mentioned the investigation by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) into Facebook tax affairs.

The IRS has now delivered a notice of deficiency to Facebook for … wait for it … US $3 to 5 billion! Plus interest and penalties.

A California federal judge also delivered a blow by ordering Facebook to explain why it has failed to comply with numerous IRS summonses for further information.

Facebook will challenge the notice.

The European Union is considering stronger regulations for messaging apps

It would appear the regulatory nightmare never ends for technology companies, particularly in Europe.

It has been reported that the European Commission is considering the tightening of rules governing messaging apps, as part of a major telecommunications industry overhaul to be announced in September.

The changes could affect such popular messaging apps as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Skype, and would potentially bring their regulations in line with traditional telecommunications companies.

Traditional telecom companies have been calling for a levelling of the playing field for some time.

Corporate social media

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) came under social media fire from customers this month after its online and mobile services suffered a major 6-hour outage. The outage affected CBA’s CommBank mobile App, and its online banking portal, NetBank.

Irate customers sent hundreds of tweets to @CommBank, some hilarious, others resigned, and a few quite ‘unfriendly’ …

On Twitter the CBA was largely reactive, responding to complaints as they started flooding in with ‘copy and paste’ responses, rather than making an announcement about the issues as soon as they realised there was a problem. The first complaint on Twitter came in at 3.29pm, but there was no formal announcement from the CBA on Twitter until … 6.53pm!

On social media three and a half hours equate to about 200 years in real-time … A workaround was eventually offered on Twitter at 7.30pm:

The incident highlighted the serious problems our reliance on mobile and online technologies can cause if those systems fail for longer periods of time, and gives us reason to pause when we consider moving towards a ‘cashless’ society.

As for the overall quality and speed of CBA’s Twitter response, sadly it’s somewhere between a D- and an F.

The CBA announced the full restoration of its services at 9.22pm:

Tweet(s) of the month

This month, in the spirit of the Olympics, I declare a dead heat for Tweet of the month.

The first gold goes to J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame, and master of witty words, for her succinct and appropriately sarcastic tweet in response to a gentleman who pondered why, oh why, women and Jewish people simply not ignore misogyny and anti-Semitism directed at them on social media:

The other gold goes to Dr Katherine (Katie) Mack, DECRA Fellow, Astro Group, School of Physics at the University of Melbourne, a theoretical astrophysicist.

In fact, if Twitter was an Olympics sport, Katie Mack would have walked away with gold, and a world record in ‘burn’ after this Twitter exchange:

J.K. Rowling approved:

Read more ‘Social Media Round-Up

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