Social media

Social media round-up: October 2016

October has been another jam-packed, pumped-up social media month.

This month I kick off with a few interesting stories that defy categories, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling on social media platforms to make public their proprietary algorithms, the move of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority from the stewardship of the United States government to an international body, LinkedIn’s Russian dramas, the 6th Annual Streamy Awards, a fake French Instagram profile aimed to raise awareness about alcoholism among young people, an excellent take by a psychologist on trolls, Twitter struggling to find a buyer and making a mess of the outfall, and The New York Times describing ‘cyber-bullying’ as the ‘latest celebrity diet.’

Then, I look at intellectual property and copyright, in particular my favourite Facebook copyright hoax making another comeback.

I continue with crime (and punishment) as South Australia criminalises ‘revenge porn’, a Maryland woman publicly strikes out at an unknown person attempting to blackmail her over hacked, nude pictures, the Supreme Court of the United States agrees to decide whether sex offenders can be banned from social media, US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis makes peace with Facebook and Kirkland & Ellis, the UK targets youth knife crime with a social media angle, a schoolgirl accused of attempted murder says she was upset by social media messages, a Florida court rules ‘can’t WAIT to shoot up my school’ tweet does not constitute a criminal threat, and Newtown Greens MP Jenny Leong’s Facebook abusers, serving NSW police officers, could be charged soon.

Next, I look at free speech issues, including Facebook temporarily suspending prominent Palestinian journalists, censoring a Le Monde article in France on mammograms as an accompanying picture showed a … breast, deleting a Swedish breast cancer awareness video by the Swedish Cancer Foundation, and finally admitting defeat and announcing changes to how it will enforce its community standards … or is there more to the proposed changes?

I also look beyond Facebook’s troubles, and report on the arrest of a Saudi teen over online videos, Singapore jailing a teen blogger, Ethiopia arresting prominent blogger Seyoum Teshome, Indonesia arresting a gay couple over a Facebook photo of the two men kissing, a Miami Beach man suing the Mayor for blocking him on Twitter and Facebook, and lawyers in California accused of using fake defendants to get quick agreements to injunctive reliefs for the removal of critical online reviews.

I reflect on defamation matters, one involving a sexual assault victim, and her family, being sued for defamation by the perpetrator, the other precipitated by a teenager’s super-mullet going viral and becoming an internet meme.

I follow with tales of abuse and harassment, including a US neighbourhood watch Facebook page going rouge, a US Republican political candidate getting into trouble over racist Facebook posts, a US high school suspending students over being members of a Facebook group calling for the execution of Jewish and black people, anti-Semitic abuse skyrocketing on Twitter, a college roommate feud going viral, an elderly Tasmanian driver subjected to abuse on Facebook after being rescued from floodwaters, the online abuse of sexual assault victims, and Facebook relaunching its Safety Center.

Then comes privacy, as the use of Geofeedia, and other social media surveillance tools, by US law enforcement agencies causes serious privacy concerns, especially as it is also revealed that half of the adult population of the US are now in police facial recognition databases, Yahoo secretly scanned customers’ emails for US intelligence services, Hamburg’s Privacy Commissioner draws a line when in comes to data sharing between Facebook and WhatsApp, Italy investigates the same, while Facebook and WhatsApp’s data sharing arrangement also comes under the privacy microscope across the rest of the European Union, together with Yahoo, Ireland’s Law Reform Commission publishes a report making 32 recommendations relating to digital communications and safety, including the criminalisation of revenge porn and the establishment of a Digital Safety Commissioner, Russia’s new anti-terrorism laws mean open season on social media accounts, and California’s Attorney General takes steps to help consumers report privacy violations.

I also discuss employment related issues, such as the firing of a US elementary school teacher’s aide over racist Facebook posts, and a 2013 Facebook post coming back to bite a Twitter hire.

In an interesting development Chinese authorities issued a new regulatory guide which provides that all social media activity can now be used as criminal evidence against defendants in courts, a Western Australian juror was dismissed over a Facebook post, a Queensland juror’s Instagram posts almost caused a mistrial in the Gable Tostee murder case, and a US federal judge permitted the service of a lawsuit via Twitter.

Finally, regulatory developments, with Malawi stepping closer to regulating social media content, Facebook facing new tax questions in the United Kingdom, and the tweet of the month goes to US Senator Elizabeth Warren.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel calls on social media platforms to make public their proprietary algorithms

Speaking at Medientage, an annual communications industry conference, Angela Merkel called on internet giants to be more transparent about how their algorithms work, in particular how they filter information, alleging that the social media giants potentially distort our perception, and narrow the breadth of information we are exposed to.

The German Chancellor warned of the social media echo chamber whereby social media users are often only exposed to information that tends confirm their own opinions.

Related story:
Facebook not letting dodgy conservative stories trend is the least of our problems (11 June 2016)

President Barack Obama’s former social media manager, Caleb Gardner gave a speech recently at Northwestern University which touched on the same subject.

More likely than not, you get your news from Facebook. 44% of US adults get news on the site, and 61% of millennials get their news from Facebook. If that doesn’t frighten you, you don’t know enough about Facebook’s algorithm. If you have a parent who’s a Trump supporter, they are seeing a completely different set of news items than you are.

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority moves from US stewardship to an international body

This month, the management of the internet’s ‘address book,’ the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), was handed over to a new international body, the Public Technical Identifiers (PTI), an affiliate of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Today, 1 October 2016, the contract between the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the United States Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), to perform the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions, has officially expired. This historic moment marks the transition of the coordination and management of the Internet’s unique identifiers to the private-sector, a process that has been committed to and underway since 1998.
Stewardship of IANA functions Transitions to global internet community as contract with U.S. government ends, ICANN, 1 October 2016

IANA is the body responsible for coordinating the key elements of the internet which ensure its smooth operation, such as allocating and maintaining the unique codes and numbering systems that are used in the technical standards (‘protocols’) that drive the internet, and controlling all country code top-level domains.

IANA is one of the internet’s oldest institutions, with its functions dating back to the 1970s.

ICANN, founded in 1998, is an international non-profit corporation that has responsibility for Internet Protocol (IP) address space allocation, protocol identifier assignment, generic (gTLD) and country code (ccTLD) Top-Level Domain name system management, and root server system management functions. PTI was incorporated by ICANN in August this year, created to take on the functions of IANA.

As a matter of legacy, which arose from the original development of the internet in the United States, IANA fell under the stewardship of the National Telecommunications and Information Association, a branch of the United States Department of Commerce.

The move brings to conclusion a long campaign designed to ensure that the management of the internet reflects that it now ‘belongs’ to the global community, and that it is seen to be independent from specific global powers.

LinkedIn’s Russian dramas

You may recall LinkedIn’s 2012 hacking disaster which exposed 117 million login details, including passwords.

The good news is that police in the Czech Republic arrested a Russian hacker this month believed to have been responsible for the hack.

On 21 October Moscow resident, 29-year-old Yevgeniy Nikulin was formally charged with multiple counts of computer-enabled fraud and identity theft in an indictment filed in San Francisco, in the District Court for the Northern District of California (U.S. v. Nikulin, 16-cr-00440), laying the groundwork for his extradition process.

Russia has been particularly upset by the arrest,
leaving many wondering whether Mr Nikulin is linked to Russia’s long-suspected state-sponsored, practically weaponised, hacking program.

Mr Nikulin is also linked to other significant hacking incidents, such as the 2012 hacking of Dropbox, and the 2013 hacking of the social platform of Formspring.

In what can only be described as a curious coincidence, Russia’s federal media regulator, Roskomnadzor, reportedly put LinkedIn on notice over an alleged breach of Russian data protection laws by failing to host the data of Russian members in Russia.

If the regulator takes the matter to its full conclusion, LinkedIn could be shut down in Russia.

The 6th Annual Streamy Awards Ceremony

The Streamys took place on 4 October at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles.

The Streamys recognise the best in online videos, and the creators behind them, and it’s the night of night for YouTube and video streaming celebrities.

The Awards include over 30 categories, such as ‘Entertainer of the Year’, ‘Show of the Year’, ‘Breakout Creator’, ‘Comedy’, ‘Drama’, ‘International’, ‘Non-Fiction’, ‘Fashion’, ‘Food’, and ‘News & Culture’, among many others.

The nominees at the Streamys have racked up over 62 billion, yes billion, views between them, so you should not take the online streaming industry or the Streamys lightly.

Fake French Instagram profile aimed to raise awareness about alcoholism among young people

At first glance, the Instagram profile of ‘Louise Delage‘ looks like your average young French woman enjoying life.

However, when you take a closer look you notice that almost every image posted features an alcoholic drink.

It has now been revealed that the account was created by BETC Paris for Addicte Aide, an organisation dedicated to supporting and helping addicts.

The innovative Instagram campaign was designed to highlight the issue of excessive alcohol consumption by young people.

An excellent take by a psychologist on trolls

Evita March, a psychology lecturer at Federation University Australia, wrote an excellent article this month for The Conversation on the psychology of trolls.

Ms March offers a useful general psychological profile for your average internet troll:

A 2014 study found that people with higher levels of sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism were more likely to engage in online trolling behaviour, with sadism being the strongest predictor.

In line with most learned professionals who examined the trolling phenomenon, Ms March arrives at the conclusion that the best way to deal with trolls is to ignore them:

…an easy way to deal with trolls: ignore them, rather than giving them the satisfaction of an angry reaction.

Individuals seeking a negative social reward may still engage in trolling. But if they don’t receive that negative social reward, then their motivation to engage in this behaviour will likely diminish.

So it appears that the classic internet adage really does hold true: don’t feed the trolls. Deny them the pleasure of an angry reaction, and they’ll probably leave you alone.

Twitter struggling to find a buyer

Twitter is not having the best run. Between stalled growth resulting in a shareholder class action, terrorism support lawsuits, censorship allegations, and going out of business rumours, it tried to put itself on the market, but it appears no one is really interested.

A board meeting Twitter planned to discuss a proposed sale with external advisers had been reportedly cancelled after lacklustre interest by companies that were hoped to bid for the social network. Google, Salesforce, and Disney, initially all rumoured to be interested, are not falling over each other, as expected by some within the company, to acquire Twitter.

Salesforce reportedly concluded that Twitter was not a good fit for its business, while Disney opted out over concerns that its family friendly image would be tarnished by the social media platform, infamous for rampant bullying, and anti-social behaviour, among other things.

For now, it seems it’s back to the drawing board for Twitter to create growth and engagement numbers that might awaken interest in the company again. Sadly, the only thing Twitter had on its drawing board was cutting 9% of its workforce and shuttering Vine.

Restructuring and Reduction in Force
This morning we announced a restructuring and reduction in force affecting approximately 9% of Twitter’s positions globally.

The New York Times describes ‘cyber-bullying’ as the ‘latest celebrity diet’

In an arguably scathing article The New York Times looked at examples of celebrities using cyber-bullying in their various public relations offensives.

The Kardashians endlessly air their dirty family laundry on Twitter, sledging each other, and others, including Taylor Swift. Amber Rose teased his ex about his sex life on Twitter. Selena Gomez scolded Justin Bieber on Instagram alleging he cheated on her. Azelia Banks had lost her mind more than once on Twitter at just about everyone from Zayn Malik, Sarah Palin, and Kendrick Lamar, to Australia’s own Iggy Azalea.

When celebrities, often emulated by impressionable teenagers, behave deplorably, what chance do anti-cyberbullying programs aimed at young people have to stop the practice?

Related stories:
Social media round-up: September 2016
Social media round-up: August 2016
Social media round-up: July 2016

Intellectual Property & Copyright | Crime (and punishment) | Free Speech | Defamation | Online Abuse | Privacy (and security) | Workplace | Evidence | Juries | Service | Regulatory Issues

Intellectual Property & Copyright

That old Facebook copyright hoax makes another comeback

Over the years, you may have seen some of your Facebook friends posting an odd copyright declaration on their timeline. The hoax first appeared as far back as 2012, and appears to make a comeback every couple of years.

It usually goes something like this:

The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of privacy can be punished by law (UCC 1-308- 1 1 308-103 and the Rome Statute).

NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. All members must post a note like this. If you prefer, you can copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once it will be tactically allowing the use of your photos, as well as the information contained in the profile status updates. DO NOT SHARE. Copy and paste.


I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, messages or posts, both past and future. By this statement, I give notice to Facebook it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of privacy can be punished by law (UCC 1-308- 1 1 308-103 and the Rome Statute).

NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. All members must post a note like this. If you prefer, you can copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once it will be tactically allowing the use of your photos, as well as the information contained in the profile status updates. DO NOT SHARE. You MUST copy and paste.

The declaration is all nonsense of course, and has no legal effect whatsoever.

If you are a Facebook user you own and control the content and information you post, as stated in Facebook’s Terms of Service:

2. Sharing Your Content and Information

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:

  1. For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.
  2. When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).
  3. When you use an application, the application may ask for your permission to access your content and information as well as content and information that others have shared with you. We require applications to respect your privacy, and your agreement with that application will control how the application can use, store, and transfer that content and information. (To learn more about Platform, including how you can control what information other people may share with applications, read our Data Policy and Platform Page.)
  4. When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).
  5. We always appreciate your feedback or other suggestions about Facebook, but you understand that we may use your feedback or suggestions without any obligation to compensate you for them (just as you have no obligation to offer them).

While Facebook has a broad license to use your images and posts, there is no transfer of copyright to Facebook, and the company does not ‘own’ your images in any way.

So please, do not annoy your Facebook friends, and do not share that meaningless and unnecessary copyright declaration.

Crime (and punishment)

South Australia criminalises ‘revenge porn’

Last month I reported on New South Wales announcing a consultation process on the proposal to criminalise ‘revenge porn’.

As NSW consults, South Australia implemented its Summary Offences (Filming and Sexting Offences) Amendment Bill 2015, which amended Part 5A of the Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA). The new provisions are designed to offer a legislative response to sexting among young people, and ‘revenge porn’.

The distribution of ‘invasive images’ is now punishable in South Australia by imprisonment for 2 years, or a $10,000 fine. If the victim is under 17 years old, the penalty doubles.

Among other things, the new South Australian provisions also make the threat to distribute invasive images an offence, and carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail, or a $5,000 fine, doubling again if the victim is under 17 years old.

Maryland woman publicly strikes out at an unknown person attempting to blackmail her over hacked naked pictures

The Google cloud account of Taruna Aswani, a 26-year-old woman living in Maryland, was hacked by an unknown person. Following the hack she received two emails demanding that she provide her blackmailer with further naked images of herself, or the compromising images illegally obtained from the cloud would be released to her friends, family, and colleagues.

Ms Aswani refused to cower to her cowardly cyber-attacker. She chose to report the matter to the police immediately, and publicly confronted her blackmailer on Facebook.

While she received overwhelming support online, there were also some dated victim-blaming attitudes on display. But let’s be clear about this: taking a nude picture of yourself is not illegal, however hacking someone’s cloud account, and then attempting to blackmail them, is illegal.

I do not care what people have to say. I am extremely proud of my daughter and I salute her courage in coming clean with this. I will support her every step of the way. The pictures she took were meant to be private. Nobody has the right to violate her privacy. The crime was not committed by my daughter in clicking those pictures, the crime was committed by the man who used them to harass her.
Divya Aswani, Ms Aswani’s mother

A police investigation into the hacking and attempted blackmail is underway, and Ms Aswani’s brave, uncompromising stand is a reminder to all of us to confront online harassers, and refuse to be intimidated or menaced by them.

The Supreme Court of the United States to decide whether sex offenders can be banned from social media

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) granted the petition for a writ of certiorari in the mater of Lester G. Packingham v. North Carolina.

The case arises from a 2008 legislation, §14-202.5, enacted in North Carolina that bans the use of social media by registered sex offenders.

The plaintiff, Lester Packingham, was convicted of a sexual offence six years earlier and was duly registered as a sex offender.

In 2010 a North Carolina police officer initiated a general investigation into whether registered sex offenders were using social media in breach of the law, and he found a Facebook profile belonging to Mr Packingham who was subsequently indicted for breaching the prohibition.

While there was no indication of any improper use of social media by Mr Packingham, the legislation is not concerned with the nature of use involved, and in 2012 he was found guilty, received a suspended sentence, and was placed on probation.

Mr Packingham appealed an the Court of Appeals vacated his conviction, finding the law under which he was convicted unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of North Carolina then reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals, leading to Mr Packigham’s appeal to SCOTUS.

This will be a particularly interesting case to follow.

US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis makes peace with Facebook and Kirkland & Ellis

Last month I wrote about US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis lambasting Kirkland & Ellis after the firm sent a young associate to the first hearing in the $1 billion action against Facebook by families of terror victims, alleging the social network facilitates terror groups by offering them a platform for recruitment and propaganda. Facebook also received a dressing down by the judge.

At the subsequent pre-motion conference Judge Nicholas Garaufis made peace with Kirkland & Ellis and Facebook, after Facebook despatched its Deputy General Counsel Paul Grewal, and Kirkland & Ellis itself was represented by no less than two partners, one of them Craig Primis, a famed senior partner of the firm.

Judge Garaufis apologised for the dressing down he dished out, which was criticised and considered unprofessional by many, while Mr Grewal reassured the judge that Facebook takes the issue of terrorists utilising the social network very seriously, dedicating an entire team to addressing the problem, that works around the clock.

Facebook will now seek the dismissal of the lawsuit at a hearing on 19 January next year. As expected, among other things, Facebook will argue that it is protected by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides a shield for online intermediaries from being held responsible for harms arising from third-party content.

The UK targets youth knife crime with a social media angle

Under the latest draft sentencing guidelines made available for consultation by the UK Sentencing Council in respect of bladed articles and offensive weapons, young people who carry knives and capture the humiliation of victims for social media, will potentially find themselves receiving more severe punishments because the social media aspect of such crimes will now be officially considered an ‘aggravating factor’:

Deliberate humiliation of victim, including but not limited to filming of the offence, deliberately committing the offence before a group of peers with the intent of causing additional distress or circulating details/photos/videos etc of the offence on social media or within peer groups

Schoolgirl accused of attempted murder says she was upset by social media messages

A young teenager who stands accused of attempting to murder her friend at school is believed to have done so because she thought the friend in question was responsible for setting up fake social media accounts in her name, and posting pictures of her online, resulting in the teenager receiving rude and suggestive messages from strangers. The victim denied involvement.

Subsequently, she lured her friend to a secluded area of the school ground where she stabbed her with a kitchen knife.

Florida court rules ‘can’t WAIT to shoot up my school’ tweet does not constitute a criminal threat

This US case is the perfect illustration of how legislation can lag behind technology, and the importance of legislatures, law enforcement, and law reform bodies working together to ensure that the law keeps up with a fast-paced technological society.

A Sarasota high school student is off the hook in Florida, after the 2nd District Court of Appel overturned his juvenile-deliquency ruling, holding that his violent tweets did not constitute a crime under current Florida laws.

However, the court did suggest that legislative amendments may be necessary to the State’s 1913 statute dealing with violent threats to cover social media and avoid such threats falling outside the narrow wording of the legislation.

With this popularity comes the unfortunate but inevitable problem that social media posts, like any other form of communication, can be used to make threats of violence. But many threats made on social media will fall outside the narrow language of [the law], which was originally written with pen-and-paper letters in mind.

Newtown Greens MP Jenny Leong’s Facebook abusers, serving NSW police officers, could be charged

Back in April I reported on racist, misogynistic abuse directed at the Greens member for Newtown, MP Jenny Leong, on Facebook, with a media investigation accusing serving police officers of being responsible.

“Wow Jenny. It was a clear mistake when your father spotted your mother across a crowded swamp and dragged her back to his hut to make you.”

“One condom could have prevented this from happening.”
Samples of the Facebook abuse that targeted MP Jenny Leong

The ensuing investigation by the Police Integrity Commissions reportedly will be resulting in recommendations that two Sydney police officers be subject to criminal charges over the sorry affair.

Free speech

Facebook temporarily suspends prominent Palestinian journalists

Nothing illustrates the high-wire balancing act Facebook is facing when it comes to free speech better than its attempts to negotiate the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

Last month I noted the announcement by Facebook about its cooperation with Israel to monitor posts that incite violence against the Jewish State and its people.

Reportedly, compliance with Israeli takedown requests had significantly increased recently from around 50% to 95%, as Israel is beginning to take a hard line with social media operators on online abuse, threats, and incitement.

However, the latest suspensions by Facebook had been widely criticised. The seven prominent Palestinian journalists, four from the Shehab News Agency and three from the Quds News Network, were suspended by the social network without warning or explanation.

The journalists in question are all associated with popular news outlets in occupied Palestinian territories.

Although the accounts were restored the following day, with an apology from Facebook, the affair had raised many questions and concerns.

The ongoing conflict leaves Facebook in a difficult position, treading a fine line between legitimate criticisms of the occupation and Israeli policies, and incitement to violence.

Facebook censors a Le Monde article on mammograms as an accompanying picture showed a breast

It seems we can no longer have a month without repeated Facebook censorship overreaches. Facebook also got into trouble in France after it removed a post by Le Monde.

The article in question was on the very important subject of mammograms, and was accompanied by an image of a woman undergoing the test, with a breast showing.

Facebook’s nipple police swung into action with utter disregard to the importance of the article, the fact that the image was non-sexual, very much in context, and dealing with a very serious health issue for women.

Le Monde was not impressed:

Facebook promptly apologised, after Le Monde made some noise, and the post was eventually restored.

Facebook deletes Swedish breast cancer awareness video by the Swedish Cancer Foundation

As if the Le Monde incident wasn’t bad enough, just a week later Facebook deleted a video posted by the Swedish Cancer Foundation which used animated figures of women with circle-shaped breast to illustrate how to check for suspicious lumps.

Cancerfonden appealed Facebook’s latest incredulous censorship decision, and the social network, predictably, soon apologised, saying the video was taken down because the images were flagged as ‘offensive.’ However, it beggars belief that anyone could have found the breast cancer awareness video offensive, let alone Facebook …

We’re very sorry, our team processes millions of advertising images each week, and in some instances we incorrectly prohibit ads.

This image does not violate our ad policies. We apologise for the error and have let the advertiser know we are approving their ads.

Facebook admits defeat, announces changes to how it will enforce its community standards … or is there more to the proposed changes?

After endless turmoil over censorship allegations, Facebook announced that it would change how it enforces its community standards to accommodate newsworthy items, and matters that are significant or in the public interest:

In the weeks ahead, we’re going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest — even if they might otherwise violate our standards. We will work with our community and partners to explore exactly how to do this, both through new tools and approaches to enforcement. Our intent is to allow more images and stories without posing safety risks or showing graphic images to minors and others who do not want to see them.
Input from community and partners on our Community Standards, Facebook (21 October 2016)

While this change of heart will no doubt be welcome by artists, news organisations, and countless others, one can’t help but notice that it comes as Facebook employees threaten to quit over what has been seen as a double standard when it comes to the enforcement of Community Standards.

Facebook employees have been pushing for the deletion of some of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s Facebook posts, arguing they are hate speech and in violation of Facebook’s Community Standards.

It has been reported that CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally intervened to ensure that posts are not deleted, leading to complaints of double standards by staff responsible for reviewing content.

Suddenly, Facebook had decided to consider content that violates its Community Standards, in a wider context, including political discourse, newsworthiness, and the public interest. Coincidence? Perhaps …

When we review reports of content that may violate our policies, we take context into consideration. That context can include the value of political discourse. Many people are voicing opinions about this particular content and it has become an important part of the conversation around who the next U.S. president will be. For those reasons, we are carefully reviewing each report and surrounding context relating to this content on a case by case basis.

A recent leak by former Facebook employees to Reuters also casts a shadow over the company’s enforcement of its policies, and its forthrightness and transparency, when it comes to recent episodes of censorship that caused public outrage.

In the context of the recent censorship of the iconic Vietnam war image of a naked 9-year-old Kim Phúc as she ran away from a napalm attack, the former employees told Reuters that the image has been specifically used in internal Facebook training sessions as an example of an image to be censored and removed, ‘because it depicted a naked child, in distress, photographed without her consent,’ regardless of its historic significance.

Facebook has often insisted that it is a technology company – not a media company – but an elite group of at least five senior executives regularly directs content policy and makes editorial judgment calls, particularly in high-profile controversies, eight current and former Facebook executives told Reuters.

Saudi teen arrested over online videos

The teenager known online as Abu Sin was arrested in Riyadh over a series of online video chats with Californian streaming-video star Christina Crockett, on the popular video-streaming platform YouNow.

Abu Sin stands accused of ‘unethical behaviour,’ and breaching Shariah Law and Saudi information technology law, after the public allegedly demanded he be held responsible for his online conduct. He now faces up to three years in prison.

Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East generally, has a long and unhappy history with both freedom of speech and social media.

Related stories:
Saudi Arabia warns about ‘inappropriate’ social media use
Saudi women rebel on Twitter

Singapore jails teen blogger

The world’s leading illiberal democracy, Singapore jailed 17-year-old Amos Yee for ‘wounding religious feelings.’ The country that’s ranked 74th on the 2015 Democracy Index, coming in at the tail end of countries classified as ‘flawed democracies,’ yet again highlighted the complexities of free speech in the city-state.

Mr Yee, a self-declared atheist, will spend six seeks in jail for posting videos and comments critical of both Christianity and Islam, after it was alleged his comments could ‘generate social unrest.’ He was also fined $2,000.

He has, on several occasions, deliberately elected to do harm by using offensive and insulting words and profane gestures to hurt the feelings of Christians and Muslims. His contemptuous and irreverent remarks have the tendency to generate social unrest and undermine the religious harmony in our society.
Principal District Judge Ong Hian Sun

This will be Mr Yee’s second time in jail over his online activities – he was sentenced for four weeks in jail back in 2015, but ended up spending almost double that time in prison after he allegedly repeatedly breached his bail conditions.

During his previous imprisonment, Amnesty International designated Mr Yee a prisoner of conscience.

Ethiopia arrests Seyoum Teshome

It has been a bad month for bloggers around the world.

In Ethiopia, university lecturer at Ambo University, prominent blogger, and political and social commentator, Seyoum Teshome was arrested by police earlier this month. His house was reportedly searched and his computer confiscated.

Mr Teshome’s arrest comes as in recent months thousands have taken to the streets to protest what is seen as widespread government abuses, with one protest recently resulting in the death of 55 people. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Ethiopia is the third worst African nation for jailing journalists.

Indonesia arrests gay couple over Facebook photo of the two men kissing

Indonesian police arrested a 22-year-old university student and his 24-year-old boyfriend after alleged complaints about a picture they posted to Facebook showing them kissing in bed.

While homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, yet, there is a growing backlash against the increasingly self-asserting LGBTI community in the Muslim-majority nation.

The men have been reportedly charged for the photo of the kiss under the country’s anti-pornography laws, and face time in jail if found guilty.

Facebook deleted the image on the request of Indonesian authorities.

Miami Beach man sues Mayor for blocking him on Twitter and Facebook

Grant Stern of Miami Beach reportedly filed a lawsuit against Mayor Philip Levine after the Mayor blocked him on both Twitter and Facebook over critical comments posted by Mr Stern.

Mr Stern, incensed by what he considers to be censorship, is now suing under Florida’s ‘Sunshine Law,’ effectively a State freedom of information legislation, to find out how many people have been blocked by the Mayor, after a public records request was rejected, arguing that the Mayor’s online presence is related to official business.

The case is similar to the lawsuit filed by the ACLU in Indiana back in July, after two women were blocked by their city’s Facebook page.

The city of Beech Grove initially responded by shutting down its Facebook pages, but later settled the matter by paying the women’s legal costs, and allowing them to post to the city’s Facebook pages again.

Lawyers accused of using fake defendants to remove critical online reviews

Two lawyers in California stand accused of using fake defendants to get quick consensual injunctive reliefs so critical online reviews could be blocked.

Related story:
Yelp says court order is a potential threat to our ability to leave critical reviews online

Consumer Opinion LLC, the operator of, a consumer complaints and review website, filed a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of California against multiple parties, including two lawyers, alleging unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practice, civil conspiracy, and an abuse of process.

Mark Lapham and Owen Mascott are accused of filing ‘sham lawsuits’ against defendants who were not in fact responsible for critical online reviews, in order to swiftly agree to consent judgments for injunctive reliefs, so an order could be provided to Google for the deindexing of internet pages containing the critical reviews.

At first blush, Defendants’ scam appears rather brilliant but incredibly unethical.

This will be an interesting case to watch …


Sexual assault victim and her family sued for defamation by the perpetrator

Our story begins at a party where Yee Xiong overindulged, and fell asleep drunk. When she awoke a few hours later she found herself pinned down and raped by Lang Her. Despite denials by Mr Her, there was solid DNA evidence incriminating him.

To further complicate the matter both Ms Xiong and Mr Her were studying at UC Davis at the time, and are members of the close-knit local Hmong community.

Mr Her was charged with rape, expelled from UC Davis, and two trials resulting in hung juries (the first 8-4 in favour of acquittal, the second 10-2 in favour of conviction) followed, in what had become a very public case.

After the second hung jury, a deal was reached with Mr Her pleading no contest to assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, a felony charge. He was subsequently sentenced to one year in jail, and registered as a sex offender.

Did you think I was going to stay quiet and let you get away with raping me? … You really are the coward and fool that you know you are. You’re pathetic, desperate, and a monster.
Statement, Yee Xiong

After the sentencing Mr Her’s sister slipped a piece of paper to Ms Xiong – it was a $4 million defamation suit against Ms Xiong and her siblings over comments they posted about the matter on social media.

Mr Her’s claim is based on Facebook posts made by Ms Xiong’s sister on the final day of the first trial.

The first post included a number of photos of Mr Her captioned with ‘Rapists destroy lives. Rapists hurt all of us, not just their victims.’

The second post was a single photo of Mr Her with the caption ‘We will not be silenced. We will fight for justice against Lang Her, who is a rapist.’ This latter post was shared by Ms Xiong, and her other two siblings.

While strictly speaking Mr Her was not convicted of rape, the defamation case faced serious difficulties because under Californian law there are strong free speech protections in place to further enhance the First Amendment, enabling courts to toss out frivolous defamation suits easier. The case had also made the headlines repeatedly, meaning it had firmly entered the public domain.

As anticipated, the suit was thrown out by the court. Yuba County Superior Court Judge Berrier granted the motion for dismissal, accepting the Facebook posts in question were protected by the First Amendment, and finding that Mr Her’s lawyers had failed to prove they had sufficient evidence to take the matter to trial.

When a super-mullet goes viral and becomes an internet meme

A young man from Western Sydney is suing the Daily Mail, Nationwide News, and the Australian Radio Network over their publication of an image of Ali Ziggi MossImani, which swiftly became a viral internet sensation, and an internet meme.

Mr MossImani was photographed dancing at an 18th birthday party sporting a hairstyle known as the ‘mullet’. A quite spectacular version of the mullet which attracted media attention, resulting in his image going viral on the internet, and becoming the subject of an internet meme.

A man’s hairstyle in which the hair is cut short at the front and sides and left long at the back.
Oxford Dictionaries

Mr MossImani is suing the publications involved for defamation, accusing them of exposing him to ridicule.

A preliminary decision by Judge Gibson in the District Court of New South Wales rejected some of the imputations alleged by Mr MossImani on the application of the defendants.

Judge Gibson also observed that nothing in the photograph in question demonstrates that Mr MossImani was posing for the picture and while it was taken by a professional photographer, that fact alone is insufficient to establish consent or permission to be photographed.

The judge further observed:

Whether the photographer was paid to take photographs or not, there is nothing in the language of the matter complained of to give rise to an imputation that the plaintiff “permitted” himself to be photographed in circumstances where he accordingly “justifiably” exposed himself to ridicule.

The matter will return to the court on 17 November for further directions.

Online abuse

US neighbourhood watch Facebook page goes rouge

The ‘Broadmoor Neighbors in Shreveport‘ Facebook page is under investigation by local police after messages posted to the page suggested that recent car beak-ins in the Los Angeles neighbourhood were a good reason to keep an eye out for young black men, and allegedly called for ‘vigilante justice,’ and even the use of firearms.

The group has over 2,600 members, and administrators had blocked at least one member, and deleted a number of posts which were considered abusive or inflammatory.

Another timely reminder that social media is a very public sphere, and comments made on social media fall within the scope of our laws, and the jurisdiction of the police.

US Republican political candidate gets into trouble over racist Facebook posts

A Kentucky GOP House of Representatives candidate has been asked by his own party to drop out of the race after he posted photos to Facebook depicting President Obama and the First Lady as … monkeys.

Dan Johnson, a supporter of presidential candidate Donald Trump, is also the bishop of the Heart of Fire Church in Louisville, an extremist, gun-toting evangelical church, which is also a … biker bar.

Although Facebook deleted the images, considering them a breach of its community standards, Mr Johnson is unrepentant, refusing to acknowledge what he did was racist, and made it clear he won’t quit.

The outcome of this stoush between a seemingly well-armed Mr Johnson and the Republican Party remains to be seen.

US high school suspends students over being members of a Facebook group calling for the execution of Jewish and black people

A Colorado high school was shocked to learn that at least 15 of its students were members of a white supremacist Facebook page, the ‘4th Reich’s Official Group Chat,’ calling for the killing of Jewish and black people. The group came to light after one of the students took his own life as a demonstration of his allegiance to the Nazi cause.

Five of the students have now been expelled by the school and the news sent shockwaves through the community.

Given the poisonous political climate in the United States, and the growth of the insidious Alt-Right movement, aligned with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, we are likely to see more such cases in coming weeks, and months.

Sadly, at least one of the expelled students thought that the matter was just a ‘bad joke’

Anti-Semitic abuse skyrockets on Twitter

In recent months there has been a significant increase in the anti-Semitic bullying of journalists on Twitter.

The Anti-Defamation League released a report this month which indicates that in the 12 months to July 2016, 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets were posted, with at least 19,000 directed at journalists.

The abhorrent abuse included being told to ‘get back in the oven,’ and other tasteless Holocaust references, including crudely photoshopping people’s faces on the bodies of concentration camp victims.

The most likely Twitter users to send such tweets, according to their profiles, are users who consider themselves conservative, people who are part of the so-called neo-Nazi Alt-Right movement, and supporters of the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

College roommate feud goes viral

Jessica and Nikki were paired up at Penn State during their freshman year. They didn’t like each other, and it didn’t go well.

It would appear that Nikki was sub-tweeting her displeasure with Jessica, initially unbeknown to her. When Jessica came across the tweets, she printed them out, taped them up in their dorm room, took a photo and posted it to Twitter:

The tweet that started it all has now been liked over 300,000 times, and retweeted over 100,000 times.

The Twitter feud promptly boiled over into real life and simultaneously continued to play out on Twitter.

As Nikki was more popular at the dorm, Jessica was harassed by her neighbours, and the campus police also got involved when Nikki returned fire accusing Jessica of smoking weed.

Jessica now plans on moving out.

Elderly Tasmanian driver subjected to abuse on Facebook after being rescued from floodwaters

An elderly Tasmanian driver has been subjected to a flood of abuse after he ignored warning signs, and drove into floodwaters in Tasmania, resulting in a rescue operation.

The gentleman involved drove past clear and visible road closure signs, only to find his car trapped with water levels rising. The passenger called for help and the pair was saved by a local resident.

After Tasmania Police posted a report on their Facebook page as a cautionary tale, the abuse flooded in fast. The Police has since appear to have removed the post from their page.

The online abuse of sexual assault complainants

The recent, very messy and unpleasant, case of British footballer Ched Evans, and his accuser, is a sad example how sexual assault complainants and victims are often further victimised on social media.

Ched Evans was accused of rape in 2011, and was convicted in 2012. Following his release in 2014, he had submitted fresh evidence to the Criminal Cases Review Commission for a review of his conviction, which has been described as calling ‘some men to throw discredit on [the woman’s] sexual reputation.’

Subsequently, the Commission referred the matter to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, quashed the conviction, and ordered a retrial at which Mr Evans was found not guilty.

In the course of the matter, the identity of the alleged victim was leaked on social media and she was the subject of sustained online abuse. However, the naming of victims, or alleged victims, of sexual offences is prohibited in the United Kingdom under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 (UK).

Similar prohibitions are in place in all Australian jurisdictions. For example, in NSW, section 578A of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) prohibits the publishing of ‘any matter which identifies the complainant in prescribed sexual offence proceedings or any matter which is likely to lead to the identification of the complainant,’ including on the internet. The penalty for an individual for breaching the provision is imprisonment for six months, or a fine of $5,500, or both.

Back in November 2012 nine people pled guilty, including one of Mr Evans’ cousins, to publishing materials that likely led members of the public to identify Mr Evans’ accuser, which led to the sustained online abuse of that person. At the time they all claimed that they did not know that naming a sexual assault complainant was a crime, but were ordered to pay a fine, the maximum penalty the offense attracts in the UK.

As the matter returned to the public’s attention with the retrial taking place, a blog had identified the accuser again, a matter that was referred to the Attorney General’s office by a furious Justice Davies. In turn, Solicitor General Robert Buckland QC had referred the matter to the police to investigate.

As anticipated, there has been a strong social media reaction to the not guilty verdict, leading to Mr Evans expressly disassociating himself from the online campaign against his accuser.

The main takeaway from all this for the general public, is to always be careful about what you put, or share, on social media, no matter how passionate you are about the matter, because ignorance of the law is not a defence for breaching it.

Facebook relaunches Safety Center

Earlier this month Facebook relaunched its Safety Center, designed to help users to take control of their experience on the platform, and feel safe.

The toolkit is now offered in over 50 languages, and Facebook partners with dozens of non-profit organisations to spread the word on how its close to 2 billion users worldwide can protect themselves from abusive and hurtful behaviours.

Privacy (and security)

The use of Geofeedia, and other social media surveillance tools, by US law enforcement agencies causes serious privacy concerns

Geofeedia is a social media intelligence platform that can monitor and collate social media posts across a range of social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, on mass, even interfacing them with facial recognition tools, and associate the resulting data with users, and geographic locations.

There are other similar tools on the market, such as Dataminr, MediaSonar, PATHAR, TransVoyant, and X1 Social Discovery. The Intercept reported earlier this year that many companies developing such tools are receiving funding from In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital arm.

Yes, the CIA has an (independent) venture capital firm – In-Q-Tel‘s mission is to ensure that the CIA and other US intelligence organisations have access to the latest information technology tools.

IQT identifies, adapts, and delivers innovative technology solutions to support the missions of the Central Intelligence Agency and broader U.S. Intelligence Community.

Meanwhile, social media surveillance tools appear to have been actively marketed to domestic law enforcement agencies for the monitoring of social networks.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently revealed that social media surveillance tools had been activated by police during recent civil protests in the United States for the purposes of identifying and arresting people participating in such events.

Geofeedia appears to have been used to monitor civil rights protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, and by police in San Jose California to monitor South Asian, Muslim, and Sikh protesters.

The police department in Fresno, California, was using MediaSonar to monitor hashtags such as ‘#BlackLivesMatter’, ‘#DontShoot’, ‘#ImUnarmed’, and ‘#PoliceBrutality,’ as part of their general surveillance methodology to identify ‘threats to public safety’. But these are not isolated cases, with the tools gaining popularity with law enforcement agencies.

The problem with such tools, and the secrecy surrounding their use, is that they can amplify racial, and other minority, profiling and abuse, unless safeguards are put in place, and their use is transparent.

The ACLU is now calling on social networks to refuse data access to developers of such surveillance tools, especially when it involves the monitoring of information about the political, religious, and social associations and views of users, and their racial background, and be transparent about their policies in respect of such tools.

Following the ACLU’s revelations, Instagram and Twitter suspended their existing commercial arrangements with Geofeedia for access to users’ public posts, and Facebook had cut Geofeedia’s access to its topic-based feed of public posts.

Geofeedia has in place clear policies and guidelines to prevent the inappropriate use of our software; these include protections related to free speech and ensuring that end-users do not seek to inappropriately identify individuals based on race, ethnicity, religious, sexual orientation or political beliefs, among other factors. That said, we understand, given the ever-changing nature of digital technology, that we must continue to work to build on these critical protections of civil rights.

Geofeedia will continue to engage with key civil liberty stakeholders, including the ACLU, and the law enforcement community to make sure that we do everything in our power to support the security of the American people and the protection of personal freedoms.
A commitment to freedom of speech and civil liberties, Geofeedia (11 October 2016)

Half of the adult population of the US are in police facial recognition databases, study shows

Just a couple of weeks after the ACLU’s revelations about police social media surveillance and the use of facial recognition technology, the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law released the results of their year-long investigation which found that police holds the image of over 117 million Americans in their databases.

More concerningly, the Center found that only few agencies implemented meaningful protections to prevent the misuse of the technology.

The Center acknowledges the important role facial recognition plays in law enforcement, especially when it comes to violent crime, however it sees serious inherent risks in the technology and calls for clear and sensible regulations for its use.

Yahoo secretly scanned customers’ emails for US intelligence services

Reuters revealed that Yahoo secretly built a custom software which it then used to scan all customers’ incoming emails, and proceeded to provide relevant information to the FBI and the NSA.

It is believed the covert surveillance affected hundreds of millions of emails, and was so secret Yahoo’s own security team was unaware of the project and initially thought the company was under a hacking attack.

The revelation comes as several former employees turned whistleblowers, and spoke to Reuters about the matter.

Apparently, Yahoo’s acquiescence to spying on customers led to the departure of Yahoo’s Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos in June last year.

Anonymous government sources later indicated that the scanning in question involved looking for emails containing a ‘digital signature’ believed to be tied to the communications of what has been referred to as a ‘state-sponsored terrorist organisation.’ Any emails received by a Yahoo customer containing the suspect digital signature were made available to the FBI. Regardless of the purpose of the surveillance, it is made unusual by the fact that it involved the scanning of all Yahoo accounts, rather than the accounts of specified users.

Technology companies such as Yahoo already scan data traffic passing through their servers for a range of items, such as child pornography, malware, and spam. Technologically, it is not overly difficult to modify those systems to search for other items.

It is unclear if similar demands were made on other internet companies, and how they may have responded.

Nevertheless, this case could represent serious problems for Facebook and the US government as they try to convince European regulators and courts that they misunderstand the powers and capabilities of US intelligence agencies when it comes to internet companies, and the obligations, and pressures, placed on them under US law to share customers’ data.

The revelation is also problematic for Yahoo, especially as it still deals with the outfall of a major security breach affecting over 500 million users, which it failed to disclose for over two years.

The matter also raised the concerns of the United Nation’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, who expressed concerns that the monitoring of digital communications by governments undermines online privacy.

Government monitoring of digital communications, when conducted as described in recent reports, could undermine the privacy that individuals depend on in order to seek, receive and impart information online.

Hamburg’s Privacy Commissioner issues administrative order against data sharing between Facebook and WhatsApp

Last month I reported on Facebook’s announcement that WhatsApp would start sharing some data with its parent company.

There was a mixed reaction to the announcement, with the UK Information Commissioner announcing it would monitor the implementation to ensure UK privacy regulations are not breached, and two Indian students challenging the WhatsApp privacy policy change in the Delhi High Court.

Now, Johannes Caspar, Der Hamburgische Beauftragte für Datenschutz und Informationsfreiheit (The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information) issued an administrative order prohibiting Facebook with immediate effect from collecting and storing data of German WhatsApp users, and ordering the deletion of all data that has already been forwarded by WhatsApp, protecting 35 million users.

After the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook two years ago, both parties have publicly assured that data will not be shared between them. The fact that this is now happening is not only a misleading of their users and the public, but also constitutes an infringement of national data protection law. Such an exchange is only admissible if both companies, the one that provides the data (WhatsApp) as well as the receiving company (Facebook) have established a legal basis for doing so. Facebook, however, neither has obtained an effective approval from the WhatsApp users, nor does a legal basis for the data reception exist. It is clear that Facebook must respect German data protection law after the ECJ confirmed in its ruling from July, that national data protection laws are applicable if a company processes data in connection with a national subsidiary. Facebook is doing this through its subsidiary in Hamburg, which is responsible for the operation of the marketing business in German- speaking regions.

Facebook plans to appeal against the administrative order, but will also work with the Hamburg Privacy Commissioner to address his concerns.

Italy’s privacy watchdog, the Italian Data Protection Authority (Garante per la protezione dei dati personali) is also investigating the changes to WhatsApp’s privacy policy.

The new privacy policy adopted by Facebook and WhatsApp raises serious concerns from the point of view of protection of personal data. The massive flow of data not only affects users of Facebook or WhatsApp, but also extends to those who are not signed up with either of those services, whose data is disclosed simply because they are in the contact list of a WhatsApp user.
Statement by Antonello Soro, Chairman of the Italian Data Protection Authority

Facebook and WhatsApp’s data sharing arrangement is also under the privacy microscope across the rest of the European Union, together with Yahoo

The Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, made up of representatives of the European Union’s national privacy watchdogs, also expressed serious concerns about the data sharing arrangements.

Given the popularity of the messaging service these changes may affect many citizens in all EU member states and have created great uncertainty among users and non-users of the service.

The Article 29 Working Party (WP29) has serious concerns regarding the manner in which the information relating to the updated Terms of Service and Privacy Policy was provided to users and consequently about the validity of the users’ consent. WP29 also questions the effectiveness of control mechanisms offered to users to exercise their rights and the effects that the data sharing will have on people that are not a user of any other service within the Facebook family of companies.

In its letter to WhatsApp, the Working Party also requested the immediate suspension of data transfers from WhatsApp to Facebook, until it can be satisfied that the appropriate legal protections of users are in place.

In order to avoid the possibility that the processing of personal data by WhatsApp or the Facebook family of companies is not compliant with EU legislation, WP29 urges Whatsapp not to proceed with the sharing of users’ data until the appropriate legal protections can be assured.

The Working Party also addressed Yahoo, including its massive 2014 data breach, and the company permitting US authorities to scan users’ emails.

… it is of the utmost importance that Yahoo devote significant resources to understand, communicate and address all aspects of this unprecedented data breach and notify the adverse effects to the data subjects using the services that your company provides. This must be carried out in a quick, comprehensive and easily understood manner so that Yahoo users across Europe will understand any action they need to take as a result of the breach. In particular, the WP29 is very much interested in the following information: the nature and content of the data concerned, the likely consequences of the breach, the number of people affected in each European country, the measures taken to notify the concerned data subjects and to mitigate the risks to the rights and freedoms of data subjects.

In addition, the WP29 was also informed that Yahoo has scanned customer emails for US intelligence purposes at the request of US intelligence agencies. According to reports, in 2015 Yahoo searched all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information requested by US intelligence officials.

The reports are concerning to WP29 and it will be important to understand the legal basis and justification for any such surveillance activity, including an explanation of how this is compatible with EU law and protection for EU citizens.

It would appear that WhatsApp, Facebook, and Yahoo will be busy providing responses to the serious privacy concerns of European regulators, so watch this space.

Ireland’s Law Reform Commission makes 32 recommendations relating to digital communications and safety

The Irish Law Reform Commission published its Report on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety.

The report also presents the draft Harmful Communications and Digital Safety Bill designed to implement its 32 recommendations for law reform.

Among other things, the report recommends the establishment of criminal offences to deal with the posting of intimate images (also known as ‘revenge porn’) online without consent, and the establishment of a Digital Safety Commissioner to promote positive digital citizenship and establish a statutory Code of Practice on Digital Safety.

Russia’s new anti-terrorism laws mean open season on social media accounts

The United States government is not the only one after your secrets.

Russia’s new anti-terrorism legislation, known as the ‘Yarovaya law,’ effectively gives the country’s security agencies the green light to hack social media accounts and messaging services, such as Messenger, Skype, and WhatsApp, raising serious concerns.

The new law also requires social media and communications companies to hand over encryption keys to assist the security agencies.

The law originally came about as a response to the Daesh terror threat, in particular the downing of the Russian passenger jet over Egypt last year. Irina Yarovaya is a Russian hawk from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, and she went to work introducing the wide-reaching legislation to increase the powers of security agencies. The legislation is so expansive, even usually submissive sections of Russian society were alarmed.

I have written about the misuse of Russian anti-extrimism laws in the past, and this latest law is just another step towards the erosion of the privacy of Russian citizens.

Perhaps Edward Snowden can do something about is while he is there, after all even he dubbed it the ‘Big Brother law.’

California’s Attorney General takes steps to help consumers report privacy violations

On the more helpful end of the spectrum when it comes to the protection of privacy, Kamala Harris, the Attorney General of California announced the release of an online form which will make it easier for consumers to report breaches of the California Online Privacy Protection Act (CalOPPA).

In the information age, companies doing business in California must take every step possible to be transparent with consumers and protect their privacy. As the devices we use each day become increasingly connected and more Americans live their lives online, it’s critical that we implement robust safeguards on what information is shared online and how. By harnessing the power of technology and public-private partnerships, California can continue to lead the nation on privacy protections and adapt as innovations emerge.

The new online tool will facilitate the ‘crowdsourcing’ of privacy violations, improving the California Department of Justice’s ability to identify and notify those in violation of CalOPPA.


US elementary school teacher’s aide fired over racist Facebook posts

Jane Wood Allen was fired from Chestatee Elementary School in Gainesville, Georgia after she allegedly compared First Lady Michelle Obama to a … gorilla, in various Facebook posts.

There is something quite poisonous in the political and social discourse in the United States of late which frequently results in the offensively racist comparison of members of the First Family, and people of colour generally, such as Leslie Jones recently, to primates, by certain sections of the community.

Ms Allen linked to an article naming Michelle Obama one of the most admired woman in the world, with the comment ‘I admire a gorilla more than I admire her (Wait, I forgot, she is a gorilla),’ and also saying separately about her that she was ‘the worst example of a First Lady ever! (Oh sorry, I meant gorilla not First Lady)!’

While Ms Allen appears to have deleted her Facebook presence since, helpful Facebook users preserved her social media legacy:

Ms Dean-Burren’s subsequent post offers us another timely reminder that social media never forgets, and even if you delete something it is likely to live on through screen captures and sharing.

Admittedly, Australians can’t afford to feel too smug about the increase of such incidents of blatant racism in the United States, as our Aboriginal people have been subjected to identical abuse in recent times, including the repeated, notorious racist online trolling of Adam Goodes.

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

2013 Facebook post comes back to bite a Twitter hire

In another brutal demonstration of social media posts of the past coming back to haunt the present, Gregory Gopman was fired by Twitter the day after an old Facebook post of his was brought to their attention.

Mr Gopman, co-founder of AngelHack, the world’s largest hacker community, was hired by Twitter to lead their virtual reality initiatives as a project manager.

You may also remember Mr Gopman finding some infamy back in 2013, after he described San Francisco’s homeless in less than flattering terms in a since deleted Facebook post:

Just got back to SF. I’ve traveled around the world and I gotta say there is nothing more grotesque than walking down market st in San Francisco. Why the heart of our city has to be overrun by crazy, homeless, drug dealers, dropouts, and trash I have no clue. Each time I pass it my love affair with SF dies a little.

The difference is in other cosmopolitan cities, the lower part of society keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realise it’s a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests. And that’s ok.

In downtown SF the degenerates gather like hyenas, spit, urinate, taunt you, sell drugs, get rowdy, they act like they own the center of the city. Like it’s their place of leisure… In actuality it’s the business district for one of the wealthiest cities in the USA. It a disgrace. I don’t even feel safe walking down the sidewalk without planning out my walking path.

You can preach compassion, equality, and be the biggest lover in the world, but there is an area of town for degenerates and an area of town for the working class. There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us. It’s a burden and a liability having them so close to us. Believe me, if they added the smallest iota of value I’d consider thinking different, but the crazy toothless lady who kicks everyone that gets too close to her cardboard box hasn’t made anyone’s life better in a while.

It will suffice to say that his opinion didn’t go down well at the time, and he was later forced to publicly apologise.

It seems Twitter may have missed the brouhaha at the time, or chose to overlook it when it hired Mr Gopman.

Unfortunately, TechCrunch didn’t forget and reported on Mr Gopman’s hiring by Twitter, together with a reminder of his 2013 indiscretion.

Twitter fired Mr Gopman the following day, reminding us again that what you post to social media, stays in the media … forever.


Chinese authorities issue new regulatory guide which provides that all social media activity can now be used as criminal evidence against defendants in courts

The ‘Regulation on collecting and using electronic data as evidence,’ provides that both private and public comments on social media sites may be used as criminal evidence against defendants charged with offences.

The new regulations are effective from 1 October 2016.

While this is not the first time Chinese authorities tighten regulations relating to online activities, especially when it comes to the collection of online information, the new regulations specifically name providers such as Weibo and WeChat’s Moments feature for the first time, indicating a more focused, detailed, and specific effort by law enforcement agencies.


Western Australian juror dismissed over a Facebook post

Jurors have been known to get into trouble from time-to-time over their use of social media.

Related stories:
California proposes to fine jurors
New York juror fined $1,000 over Facebook post
Scottish juror in contempt of court over social media research in case
Social media meets the law: March 2015

In the latest example, a Western Australian juror was dismissed from a murder trial after she posted a comment to Facebook about the defendants being ‘guilty’ even before the trial had begun.

At Perth District Court, guilty!

The defendants in question were in fact found guilty later, however this latest incident highlighted yet again the serious concerns social media presents to the criminal justice system.

Justice Hall was not amused when the matter was brought to his attention and the juror was hauled before the judge who described her actions as ‘inappropriate,’ and ‘foolish.’

Queensland juror’s Instagram posts almost caused a mistrial in the Gable Tostee murder case

Meanwhile in Queensland, a juror in the high-profile Gable Tostee murder trial identified herself as a juror in the case to her more than 2,000 Instagram followers, and offered commentary on her thoughts about the trial.

The verdict was delayed, as the defence argued for a mistrial. Judge Byrne dismissed the application holding that the matter did not interfere with Mr Tostee’s right to a fair trial, but scolded the juror.

It is an offence to reveal a jury’s deliberations, and a juror could face jail for breaching the law.

Given the increasing use of social media, and the lack of boundaries of many users, such occurrences  are likely only to increase in the future, and create an arguably serious issue when it comes to the administration of justice.

It remains to be seen whether there will be a legislative response to this growing problem, for example by taking steps to restrict the access of jurors to mobile phones, social media, and the internet generally.


US federal judge permits the service of a lawsuit via Twitter

Service via social media has been a reoccuring theme.

In August I reported on the growing New York trend to serve divorce proceedings via social media, and I noted that, especially as social media becomes ubiquitous, there is nothing unusual about the medium being used as such, provided the court rules allow it, and the judge can be persuaded to permit it.

In Australia, there also have been examples of service via social media being permitted by the courts, usually Facebook.

Judge Laurel Beeler, a California Magistrate Judge, granted a request for alternative service via Twitter, in a case involving the alleged funding of genocide in Iraq and Syria.

St. Francis of Assisi, a Californian non-profit organisation which assists refugees, is suing two Middle Eastern banks and Sunni cleric Sheikh Hajjaj bin Fahd al-Ajmi.

The Sheikh stands accused of financing terror, including organising Twitter campaigns to help fund Daesh’s ‘systematic murder and displacement of Assyrian Christians.’

Kuwait is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, and thus cannot be served through a Kuwaiti centralised authority, and the judge agreed that service via Twitter is ‘reasonably calculated to give notice and is not prohibited by international agreement.’

The lawyers for the plaintiff will now tweet the defendant at his Twitter account, with a link to the summons and complaint.

Regulatory Issues

Malawi steps closer to regulating social media content

Godfrey Itaye, the Director General of the Malawi Communications and Regulatory Authority (MACRA) is reportedly standing by for the Electronic Transaction Bill 2015 (ETA) to receive presidential assent.

The ETA is a far-reaching, and highly ambiguous law designed to provide for ‘liability of online intermediaries and online content editors,’ among other things.

According to the Act’s Memorandum, Part IV of the Act ‘sets limitations to freedom of online communications if it is pornographic, incites racial hatred, xenophobia or violence, has the effect of apologizing for crimes against humanity, and threatens public order and national security’.

While the intentions expressed are noble, the execution is broad, ambiguous, and wide open for abuse by the authorities, and expected to lead to a government crackdown on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts, and bloggers.

The law will require online publications and their editors to register so that they can be held responsible in cases of defamation or ‘character assassination,’ and will bring an end to the use of ‘zigoba’ (assumed names) online in Malawi.

No more hiding. Honeymoon is over for all abusers of the internet. The law is empowering service providers to disclose them.
Patricia Kaliati, Information Minister

Further, section 28 provides that online public communications may be restricted to protect public order and national security, while section 89 makes it an offence punishable by a fine of K2,000,000, and imprisonment for five years, to make ‘any request, suggestion or proposal which is obscene, lewd, lascivious or indecent.’

The words used for the restrictions and punishable activities are undefined, and the language troublingly subjective, and wide open for interpretation and abuse.

Facebook is facing new tax questions in the United Kingdom

Facebook’s 2015 annual report and financial statements show that the company generated an £11.32 million in tax credit last year in the UK, despite a global profit of £4.97 billion.

Given Facebook’s multiple tax problems around the world, and the growing focus on the tax affairs of multinational technology companies, this is yet another bad public relations focus for the social media company.

Tweet of the month

This month, tweet of the month goes to US Senator Elizabeth Warren for her response to a few highly questionable tweets sent by presidential hopeful Donald Trump at 3am (US EDT).

And for background, here are Mr Trump’s original tweets:

Read more ‘Social Media Round-Up

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