Social media

Social media round-up: March 2017

March has been another exceptionally busy and fascinating month on social media, making it quite challenging to distil it down into a manageable sized read.

First, I remind my readers to be mindful of the Australian Taxation Office and insurers watching their social media feeds, briefly revisit the issue of fake news and report on two Australian legal academics’ recommendation to criminalise the manipulation of algorithms for political purposes.

Second, I report on Facebook’s censors striking out at classic art yet again, an award-winning Australian artist getting a call from anti-terrorism police over posting a critique on Facebook, Pakistan’s attempt to co-opt Facebook into its crackdown on blasphemy, and YouTube unwittingly censoring gay content.

I follow with major brands’ shock at their Google ads popping up on YouTube next to anti-semitic, homophobic, and white supremacist content, a US judge stepping aside from a case after a Facebook ‘like’, the conclusion to the Queensland University of Technology’s Facebook racism row which had caused untold controversy since 2013, tales of more online abuse, harassment, and revenge porn, and the various responses around the world designed to deal with this ongoing issue on social media.

Next, I look at a major UK defamation case which ended up costing hundreds of thousands of pounds for controversial conservative columnist Katie Hopkins, an Australian case against anti-Islam and anti-halal campaigners which has settled, and so has a major privacy case against Facebook in the United States.

I ask the question whether Facebook was acting in good faith, or was the social network just downright spiteful when it reported the BBC to police after one of their journalists contacted them to bring to their attention sexualised images of children on the platform, and report on a fascinating development in the criminal case by Newsweek journalist Kurt Eichenwald over a GIF of a flashing strobe tweeted at him, causing him to suffer an epileptic seizure.

Finally, I check on the latest regulatory developments, including the Australian Association of National Advertisers putting the spotlight on social media influencers, and the latest on the tax affairs of Facebook, Google, and Apple.

See all previous issues of
Social Media Round-Up

Tweet of the month

Tweet of the month goes to Stephen King, noted American author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy, for a series of tweets he sent out in wake of the unsubstantiated allegations made by Donald Trump against former US president Barack Obama wiretapping him and his team leading up to last year’s election.

Stephen King went into author mode and creatively re-imagined what could have happened …

Chilling … and hilarious.

Culture and social media | Fake news | Free speech | Social media gone wrong | Crime (and punishment) | Regulatory issues

Culture and social media

Our culture has been re-shaped by social media over the past few years. Many share information on social media quite openly and, for some, privacy had become an alien concept.

However, there can be some unexpected consequences of our changing attitudes towards sharing private information.

When you share on social media, do you know who’s watching?

One of those unexpected consequences is the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) taking an interest in your social media feed.

It makes perfect sense for government agencies, such as the ATO, to avail themselves of information you make publicly available on social media, and use that information to verify your financial and other disclosures through data mining and matching.

If you had reported a low-income year, data matching may raise uncomfortable questions if your corresponding Facebook or Instagram feed is filled with spectacular images of exotic holidays, expensive clothes, cars, and jewellery, and haute-cuisine restaurants.

And it’s not just the ATO watching your social media feed. Insurers are also keeping tabs on claimants’ social media profiles in an effort to crack down on fraudulent insurance claims, reports the New York Law Journal.

The article reinforces my report in November last year which looked at paper published by QBE North America on the role of social media and big data in fighting insurance fraud, and a submission by lawyer John Cox, to a New South Wales parliamentary review of the workers compensation scheme, where he alleged social media surveillance by an insurer which, in his opinion, was skirting the law.

Fake news

Fake news continues to feature in the real news and public debates, although ‘fake news fatigue’ appears to be a growing phenomenon in its own right.

Facebook continues to combat fake news

Facebook is starting to roll out its foreshadowed response to fake news on the social network, and eagle-eyed observers have already spotted articles tagged as ‘disputed’ by third-party fact-checkers, accompanied by links to information designed to debunk the suspect pieces.

Australian legal academics call for making the manipulation of algorithms for political purposes a crime

Dan Jerker B Svantesson, Co-Director of the Centre for Commercial Law, and William van Caenegem, Professor of Law, at Bond University have called for the criminalisation of the manipulation of algorithms for political purposes, considering how vulnerable the general population is to such manipulations.

Recognising the dangers in regulating non-commercial speech, the academics suggest a narrow and specific offence by focusing on the method used to create and facilitate the content rather than the substance of the content, so the emphasis is not on the acceptability of the content but on the unacceptability of the secretive and invisible manipulation of the public.

A person commits an offence if the person does anything with the intention of dishonestly obtaining a political gain from algorithmic manipulation.

On its current wording, the proposed provision would fail to capture those who produce fake news solely for financial gain through advertising revenues earned from clicks on fake or exaggerated news stories. However, the general idea is certainly worthy of consideration if we are to get on top of the fake news phenomenon.

The twists and turns of ‘Pizzagate’

In January I detailed one of the most notorious fake news stories that arose during last year’s US presidential elections, ‘Pizzagate,’ which led to an actual shooting by an unstable conspiracy theorist at the family pizza restaurant that was the victim of the ridiculous and unsubstantiated child abuse allegations.

The man involved in that shooting plead guilty to two charges, assault with a dangerous weapon and interstate transport of a firearm, while one of the main instigators of this falsehood, the king of American conspiracy theorists Alex Jones, had now publicly apologised for spreading nonsense.

Sadly, some continue to refuse to accept that ‘Pizzagate’ is fake news.

Free speech

Facebook’s troubles with the art world continue

With Facebook’s banning of ‘Women Lovers’ by Australian artist Charles Blackman, the social network’s troubles with the art world continued this month.

Melbourne action house Mossgreen tried to use the image of the oil painting on Facebook to promote the upcoming auction of the works of the Australian artist, only to fall foul of Facebook’s censorship, with the social media network rejecting the ad because allegedly it violated its ‘ad guidelines by advertising adult products or services including toys, videos or sexualising enhancement products’.

Paul Sumner, CEO of Mossgreen, later described the experience as ‘living in the 1950s’.

Facebook has a long, and troubled, history with art.

High-profile past incidents included Gustave Courbet’s ‘L’Origine du Monde‘, Hans Holbein the Younger’s ‘Study of Right Hand of Erasmus’, and the historic Vietnam war photo featuring a 9-year-old Kim Phúc as she is running away from a napalm attack.
Each time Facebook’s overzealous censors strike, the social network tends to double down first. However, it usually ends up apologising for the overreach, promising it would never happen again … until it happens again.

Award winning artist gets call from anti-terror police

Facebook is not the only one struggling with the arts, and their often unconstrained expressions. Australia’s anti-terror squad swung into action when award-winning Australian artist, Gareth Ernst gave a strong, acerbic critique of Sydney’s ANZAC War Memorial.

According to the artist, a few days later he received a call from Australia’s anti-terror police and was questioned at some length about his comments, which were considered a potential ‘threat to a public structure,’ after someone lodged a complaint about it.

Let that be a warning to all budding art critics …

Pakistan’s blasphemy request leaves Facebook between a rock and a hard place

The Pakistani government announced that it had asked Interpol and Facebook to help it with the management of blasphemous content on the social networking site, a crackdown which has the endorsement of the country’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.

Sadly, in Pakistan blasphemy is a criminal offence punishable by death although, in the highly volatile nation, those accused of insulting Islam or the Prophet Mohammad are often subjected to lawless mob violence, including murder.

The Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency is in the midst of a crackdown on blasphemous materials on social media sites, threatening ‘swift punishment’ for those behind such content.

It remains to be seen how Facebook will manage this highly sensitive situation.

YouTube’s ‘restricted Mode’ runs into a rainbow

Restricted Mode‘ is an optional feature on YouTube that automatically filters certain content using community flagging, age-restrictions, and other signals to identify potentially inappropriate content. This feature is particularly popular with certain families wanting to ensure their children can’t access ‘inappropriate’ materials.

Someone recently noticed that ‘Restricted Mode’ automatically filters out all kinds of LGBTI content by default, even when there is nothing particularly objectionable in the material (sexually or otherwise) other than simply dealing with everyday LGBTI issues.

This caused concern in the LGBTI community, especially in respect of the ability of LGBTI youth to get access to much-needed support online.

Subsequently, YouTube noted that upon conducting a review of the issue it realised that some of the restrictions were erroneously applied, with LGBTI content having been wrongly classified on its system.

YouTube had issued an apology over the issue, announced a review of the wrongly classified LGBTI content, and started making them available again.

Singapore’s Amos Yee granted political asylum in the US

In January I reported on Singapore’s Amos Yee seeking political asylum in the US, after he was repeatedly imprisoned over his political comments posted to social media.

While the US Department of Homeland Security had opposed the asylum application, the judge hearing the matter granted asylum to Mr Yee.

Yee has met his burden of showing that he suffered past persecution on account of his political opinion and has a well-founded fear of future persecution in Singapore.

Social media gone wrong

When your Google ads pop up with a KKK video

The LGBTI content filtering issue wasn’t the only public relations disaster Google had to deal with this month, after reports emerged that corporate advertising was being served up with extremist content on YouTube, including anti-semitic, homophobic, and white supremacist videos.

Well-known brands such as Marks & Spencer, HSBC, The Guardian, and McDonald’s, and even the UK government, pulled their ads from YouTube once the serious problem came to light.

The concern was such, Google’s representative was summoned to the British Cabinet Office to explain itself and was ‘read the riot act‘.

Google promptly unveiled new tools for its advertising platform to give advertisers greater control.

… we recognize the need to have strict policies that define where Google ads should appear. The intention of these policies is to prohibit ads from appearing on pages or videos with hate speech, gory or offensive content.

We’ve heard from our advertisers and agencies loud and clear that we can provide simpler, more robust ways to stop their ads from showing against controversial content.

Philipp Schindler, Google’s Chief Business Officer, addressed the matter personally on Google’s Blog, apologising to brands unreservedly, and noting that ‘starting today, we’re taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive and derogatory content. This includes removing ads more effectively from content that is attacking or harassing people based on their race, religion, gender or similar categories.’

Despite Google’s best and most sincere efforts to resolve the crisis, the panic of the brands promptly spread across the Atlantic, to the United States, with big American brands, such as AT&T, Verizon, and Johnson & Johnson also suspending their advertising on YouTube until they are satisfied their ads are not served up with inappropriate content.

As of late last week, Google’s parent Alphabet lost $31 billion in value as a consequence of the scandal.

One could argue that it was only a question of time before the bigotry, hate, abuse, and harassment on social media would overflow, and catch up with the social media companies themselves in a substantial way. Perhaps, the potential financial losses will provide a stronger incentive for social media operators to focus more on the appalling behaviour of some of their users.

US judge steps aside from case after a Facebook ‘like’

Eaton County District Court Judge Julie O’Neill stood aside from a case involving alleged sexual assaults by former Michigan State University (MSU) doctor Larry Nassar, after she ‘liked’ a Facebook post from White Law PLLC, the firm representing at least 15 of the alleged victims who have filed a lawsuit against Mr Nassar and MSU.

Unfortunately for the judge, the matter was further complicated by the fact that the post in question dealt with a controversial evidentiary aspect of the case, detailing the assertion by White Law PLLC that Mr Nassar’s defense is weak, and that his lawyers ‘unsuccessfully’ spent ‘an enormous amount of time’ trying to find a medical expert to support Nassar’s defence that he was performing legitimate medical procedures.

Subsequently, Matt Newburg, one of Mr Nassar’s attorneys filed a motion over the matter, resulting in the case being assigned to another judge, highlighting the potential pitfalls of judicial officers’ social media presence.

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Facebook racism row comes to a final conclusion

I last reported on this controversial piece of litigation just last month.

However, now I can report on the conclusion of this unpleasant saga. Justice Dowsett of the Federal Court of Australia rejected Ms Prior’s appeal from the decision of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (FCCA), and ordered her to pay the legal costs of the appeal incurred by the respondents.

She now faces possible bankruptcy over the legal costs incurred by the respondents, plus her own costs, in the FCCA proceedings.

Social media abuse and harassment

First, a Scottish tale as Claire Heuchan felt forced to quit Twitter temporarily after she wrote an article for The Guardian in support of London’s muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, and drew a parallel between racism and nationalism.

There is an obvious overlap between nationalism and racism: both mentalities are defined by a politics of us and them. Equating racism with Scottish nationalism is a massive false equivalence, yet both perspectives are reliant on a clear distinction being made between those who belong and those who are rejected on the basis of difference.

Zeal for national identity invariably raises questions of who belongs and who is an outsider – even “civic-minded” Scottish nationalism needs a “them” to create a cohesive idea of “us”.

The feminist PhD student’s article caused outrage in certain circles and she suspected abusers were trying to find out where she lived. Ms Heuchan quit Twitter for a while as a precaution, but bravely returned later to face her haters.

At least she has J.K. Rowling in her corner, and she is a formidable ally …

In Australia, eSafetyWomen produced a video to help women stay in control when they are subjected to abuse online.

A hijab wearing woman photographed in London last week in the aftermath of the latest terrorism related incident was subjected to a torrent of Islamophobic social media abuse by hoards of ignorant punters, speculating about her attitude towards this latest criminal outrage that struck the UK.

I won’t reproduce the image here, because she now asked the media to stop circulating the photo in question.

The image of the woman, clearly in shock, texting on her phone, was used by many unscrupulous online trolls to maliciously paint her as uncaring, and disinterested in the carnage around her.

This incident shows that even if you are not on social media personally, or have done nothing objectionable, the trolls of the medium can still drag you down to their level and exploit you for their own questionable purposes whatever that may be, from bigotry to homophobia, racism, misogyny, sexism, and xenophobia, putting their unwitting victim on the back foot and, in this instance, forcing her to defend herself against baseless and unsubstantiated allegations, that can often still have serious consequences for the hapless individual concerned in their daily personal and professional lives.

The woman in question spoke to TellMAMA, a UK organisation devoted to recording and measuring anti-Muslim incidents, and asked them to help her get her message out to the public in response to the social media tsunami of hate directed at her.

I’m shocked and totally dismayed at how a picture of me is being circulated on social media. To those individuals who have interpreted and commented on what my thoughts were in that horrific and distressful moment, I would like to say not only have I been devastated by witnessing the aftermath of a shocking and numbing terror attack, I’ve also had to deal with the shock of finding my picture plastered all over social media by those who could not look beyond my attire, who draw conclusions based on hate and xenophobia.

My thoughts at that moment were one of sadness, fear, and concern. What the image does not show is that I had talked to other witnesses to try and find out what was happening, to see if I could be of any help, even though enough people were at the scene tending to the victims. I then decided to call my family to say that I was fine and was making my way home from work, assisting a lady along the way by helping her get to Waterloo station. My thoughts go out to all the victims and their families. I would like to thank Jamie Lorriman, the photographer who took the picture, for speaking to the media in my defence.

The trolls involved in this incident should be deeply ashamed of themselves, although sadly we know that the type of people involved in social media trolling are largely incapable of feeling shame, compassion, or empathy.

Meanwhile, Tinder had publicly banned a man for life after he racially abused an Asian woman.

And he wasn’t just banned, but publicly humiliated by Rosette Pambakian, Tinder’s VP of Communications and Brand, in an open letter on Tinder’s blog titled ‘In Commemoration of National Pig Day…

Hey Nick (and anyone who behaves like you),

We’re swiping you off the island.

Tinder has a zero-tolerance policy on disrespect. No racist rants. No sexist pigs. No trolling. No jerks who can’t get over their own inadequacies long enough to have a decent conversation with another person on Tinder.

I was personally offended by what you said. Your words to that woman were an assault, not only on her, but on all of us. Every day, we work to rid our ecosystem of bad actors like you. Why anyone would choose to go out into the world and spread hate I will never understand, but you do not have that choice on Tinder. Hate is not an option and we will continue to fight it wherever it rears its ugly head.

You have a lot to learn, Nick. I see that you studied global business, and that you joined your school’s programs for young entrepreneurs and technology management. Great choices. Because you’ll need to search far and wide to find an organization that will employ you now. Not sure if you’ve heard, but more and more women are becoming successful entrepreneurs and business leaders. Clearly, you haven’t been paying attention. Women’s voices are only getting louder. So let me say this loud and clear: you and your kind are not welcome in our world.

And we have the power to keep you out of it.

Rosette Pambakian
Vice President, Communications & Brand

The US military is also caught up in a scandal involving a secret Facebook page which allegedly featured naked pictures of female Marines, veterans, and other women, often accompanied by obscene comments.

The ‘Marines United’ page, which drew its members from active-duty and retired male Marines, Navy Corpsman, and British Royal Marines, was a serious betrayal of the trust of women serving in the armed forces. The page has now been taken down by Facebook.

In light of this latest scandal, General Robert B. Neller, the Commandant of the US Marine Corps has issued new social media guidelines for personnel posting unofficial materials on the internet.

Marines must never engage in commentary or publish content on social networking platforms or through other forms of communication that harm good order and discipline or that bring discredit upon themselves, their unit, or the Marine Corps. In other words, Marines should think twice before engaging in questionable online activities, and must avoid actions online that threaten the morale, operational readiness and security, or public standing of their units, or that compromise our core values. Such commentary and content includes that which is defamatory, threatening, harassing, or which discriminates based on a persons race, color, sex, gender, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or other protected criteria. This type of conduct may be punishable under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Online abuse is not the sole domain of troubled individuals. Insidious, politically motivated and state-sponsored players can also present a serious concern.

This was illustrated recently, following a diplomatic spat between The Netherlands, Germany, and Turkey, after nations in the European Union took exception to planned Turkish political rallies abroad, to promote the Turkish President’s upcoming referendum designed to cement his power.

Subsequently, a large number of Dutch and German Twitter accounts were hacked, and flooded with inappropriate and abusive hashtags accusing those nations behaving like ‘Nazis’.

Meanwhile, Google is testing a new AI tool called ‘Perspective,’ designed to analyse social media posts and identify harassing and insulting comments.

Created by Jigsaw, an innovation incubator set up by Alphabet to build ‘technology to tackle some of the toughest global security challenges facing the world today’, the tool is designed to monitor and analyse conversations in real-time, assigning comments a score based on how abusive they are.

The tool could assist moderators by flagging suspect comments for further review, or could conceivably be incorporated into social platforms to show users how abusive their posts are as they type, giving them the opportunity to reconsider posting it.

Google reportedly also called upon its 10,000 independent contractors, engaged to provide quality control for its platform, to flag ‘offensive or upsetting’ content relating to the Holocaust, in order to root out Holocaust denying content.

Just as Google was starting to test its new anti-harassment tool, and Twitter announced it would start using algorithms to identify abusive accounts, and allow users to automatically block other users who use the Twitter ‘egg profile image’, which had become synonymous with Twitter trolls and online abuse, Starbucks gave social media users a humorous moment with the release of its new Easter cups, resembling … the anonymous Twitter egg profile image.

The uncanny resemblance wasn’t lost on social media users and jokes were trending within hours of the release of the new cups …

In Norway, the public broadcaster NRK is also running a new experiment to reduce the number of abusive comments on its site, by giving its readers … a test!

The NRKbeta experiment requires would be commenters to answer three questions about an article before allowing them to comment on it, to ensure they actually read and comprehended the piece.

“Generally, we see that many read only the headline and a few lines before rushing into the comments section to participate in the debate.

By asking three questions from the text, we ensure that the discussion starts around a common knowledge base.”

If you are interested in the subject matter, a new five-part ABC TV documentary series in Australia, titled ‘Cyberhate with Tara Moss,’ aims to shed some light on the disturbing phenomenon of online bullying, abuse, and hate, and explore its causes and consequences.

Social media and defamation

UK food writer and social justice campaigner Jack Monroe won her libel case against controversial Mail Online columnist Katie Hopkins, over tweets in which Ms Hopkins implied that Ms Monroe was responsible for the vandalism of a war memorial to the women of WWII.

“Scrawled on any memorials recently? Vandalised the memory of those who fought for your freedom. Grandma got any more medals?”

It was alleged Ms Hopkins simply misidentified Ms Monroe for a fellow critic of anti-austerity measures, Laurie Penny, who earlier noted on Twitter that she didn’t have a problem with the vandalism as a form of protest.

Ms Monroe was subsequently subjected to death threats and social media abuse.

While Ms Hopkins later deleted the original tweet, she refused to apologise and correct the record, even though her error, the misidentification of Ms Monroe, was explicitly brought to her attention, and a corresponding apology was sought.

Instead, Ms Hopkins sent a follow-up tweet stating: ‘Can someone explain to me – in 10 words or less – the difference between irritant @PennyRed and social anthrax @MsJackMonroe’.

Mr Justice Warby of the High Court of the United Kingdom had found for Ms Monroe. In his judgment he referred to Ms Hopkins, decidedly unflatteringly, as a ‘rentagob,’ held that ‘I have no doubt that the natural and ordinary meaning conveyed by the First Tweet and the innuendo meaning conveyed by the Second Tweet were defamatory by the standards of the common law,’ and accepted that Ms Monroe had suffered ‘serious harm to her reputation’.

His Honour awarded Ms Monroe £24,000 in compensation, meanwhile Ms Hopkins is also on the hook for Ms Monroe’s legal bills estimated to top £300,000, and her own legal costs.

In the course of his judgment, Justice Warby made some further interesting comments about the well-established principles of libel in the context of social media:

34. These well-established rules are perhaps easier to apply in the case of print publications of long standing such as books, newspapers, or magazines, or static online publications, than in the more dynamic and interactive world of Twitter, where short bursts of pithily expressed information are the norm, and a single tweet rarely exists in isolation from others. A tweet that is said to be libellous may include a hyperlink. It may well need to be read as part of a series of tweets which the ordinary reader will have seen at the same time as the tweet that is complained of, or beforehand, and which form part of what Mr Price has called a “multi-dimensional conversation”.

35. The most significant lessons to be drawn from the authorities as applied to a case of this kind seem to be the rather obvious ones, that this is a conversational medium; so it would be wrong to engage in elaborate analysis of a 140 character tweet; that an impressionistic approach is much more fitting and appropriate to the medium; but that this impressionistic approach must take account of the whole tweet and the context in which the ordinary reasonable reader would read that tweet. That context includes (a) matters of ordinary general knowledge; and (b) matters that were put before that reader via Twitter.

While Ms Hopkins previously claimed that Twitter is like the ‘Wild West where anything goes,’ the judgment against her shows that’s not quite the case …

Closer to home, earlier this month Mr Mohamed El-Mouelhy settled his YouTube defamation case against the anti-Islam Q Society, and high-profile anti-halal campaigner Kirralie Smith, after a public apology to Mr El-Mouelhy.

In January I wrote about the two YouTube videos in which allegedly several defamatory imputations were made against Mr El-Mouelhy, including that he is un-Australian, seeks to mislead and deceive the public, pushes for sharia law to be introduced in Australia, promotes ‘a global push for Islamisation calculated to destroy Australian values of freedom and tolerance,’ and ‘reasonably suspected’ of financially supporting terrorism.

Social media and the workplace

The use of social media regularly comes back to haunt people in the employment context, yet there is no end to the examples of career-endingly inappropriate social media conduct.

This month a Texas teacher is facing an investigation after posting a series of anti-Islam tweets, such as ‘Embrace Islam and you embrace death.’

Twitter had suspended his account due to the nature of his tweets, which the social network considered to be in breach of its community standards.

It remains to be seen how the Houston Independent School District will handle the matter.

Social media and privacy

Facebook settled a class action pursuing the social network over allegations that it scanned users’ messages, and used that information to serve up advertising that matched users’ interests.

A Notice of Motion was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California seeking the court’s approval for agreed declaratory and injunctive relief, although the motion is silent on specific monetary compensation.

Among other things, the Notice of Motion states that:

Pursuant to the terms of the Settlement, Facebook has agreed to substantial changes that bring Facebook’s message processing practices in compliance with Class Counsel’s view of ECPA and CIPA’s requirements. Specifically, pursuant to the terms of the Settlement, Facebook has confirmed that the alleged unlawful conduct challenged in the operative Second Amended Complaint has ceased—namely, Facebook confirms that it no longer utilizes data from URLs within private messages to (1) generate recommendations to its users; (2) share user data with third parties or (3) increase “like” counter numbers on third party websites. In addition, Facebook has confirmed, as of the date of the Settlement, that it is not using any data from EntShares created from URL attachments sent by users in Facebook Messages in any public counters in the “link_stats” and Graph APIs. In addition, during the course of this litigation, Facebook made changes to its operative disclosures to its users, stating that it collects the “content and other information” that people provide when they “message or communicate with others,”—thereby further explaining the ways in which Facebook may use that content. Facebook has also agreed to display additional educational language on its United States website for Help Center materials concerning its processing of URLs shared within messages.

Crime (and punishment)

Was Facebook acting in good faith, or was it just downright spiteful when it reported the BBC to police after one of their journalists tried to bring sexualised images of children to their attention?

The BBC had an unpleasent encounter with Facebook when one of its journalists, investigating inappropriate materials on Facebook, discovered sexualised images of children on the social network and contacted Facebook to report the images, and ask for an interview to discuss the matter.

Facebook agreed to be interviewed on the condition the BBC provide examples of the materials it reported to Facebook, but the company failed to remove.

After the BBC journalist done what Facebook asked, the interview was cancelled and Facebook reported the BBC to the National Crime Agency.

Facebook later excused its actions by stating that ‘[i]t is against the law for anyone to distribute images of child exploitation. When the BBC sent us such images we followed our industry’s standard practice and reported them to Ceop [Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre],’ despite the fact that Facebook itself requested examples of the inappropriate materials the BBC wanted to discuss with the social network, and its own moderators had failed to take action on the images when previously reported.

It beggars belief that Facebook saw it fit to report a journalist to police who was trying to bring a serious issue to their attention.

The BBC later tested Facebook’s claim by reporting a further 100 inappropriate images to Facebook, with the company removing only 18 of those images, while also failing to remove reported convicted sex offenders from their platform.

When sending a GIF on Twitter may become a criminal act

In January I reported on Newsweek journalist Kurt Eichenwald filing a lawsuit against an anonymous Twitter troll over a GIF of a flashing strobe tweeted at him, causing him to suffer an epileptic seizure.

It is publicly known Mr Eichenwald suffers from epilepsy, and the GIF was accompanied with the message: ‘You deserve a seizure for your posts.’

In a significant development in the matter, the FBI arrested 29-year-old John Rayne Rivello at his home in Salisbury, Maryland, and charged him with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The charge carries a jail sentence of up to 10 years.

This prosecution could open a new frontier in dealing with serious cases of social media trolling that may result in bodily harm, or death.

Controversial European politician loses immunity from prosecution

The European Parliament voted to revoke the immunity of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen from prosecution in relation to an investigation in France, relating to the posting of three graphic images of Daesh violence on Twitter, allegedly in breach of French law.

The vote by European lawmakers means French prosecutors can advance their case against her, although this should make for interesting politics given she is a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections.

United Patriots Front (UPF) charged over video of mock beheading

Members of the right-wing, white supremacist UPF faced court in Victoria, charged over an alleged breach of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic), after they saw it fit to stage, and produce a video of, a mock beheading during a protest against a proposed mosque. The video was later posted online.

The three men will reappear in court in May.

Revenge porn leads to suspended jail time and a fine in New South Wales

Hapieng Lu was convicted of stalking and intimidating, publishing and indecent article, and using a carriage service to harass at the Downing Centre Local Court, after Mr Lu targeted his ex-girlfriend with threatening text messages, and posting images of her to the Chinese social media site Weibo.

She contacted Weibo, and reported the matter to the police, receiving further threats by text while she was giving her statement to the police.

Mr Lu was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence and good behaviour bond, and a $5,000 fine.

Facebook Live allegedly used to broadcast sexual assault … again

Since its launch, Facebook Live had featured in a number of unflattering contexts, from people live streaming a copyright protected program, to their own car accidents, and physical and sexual assaults.

It is now alleged that, in a new incident, 40 people watched the alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl by up to six men in Chicago, and none of those watching notified the authorities.

Chicago police learned of the incident only when the victim’s mother reported it. The video has since been removed from Facebook and police are investigating.

Twitter continues to target terrorist propaganda

Twitter continues its efforts to remove accounts used for the ‘promotion of terrorism.’ According to its latest transparency report, the social network had suspended 376,890 accounts in the second half of 2016. Let that number sink in. 376,890!

These latest suspensions bring the total number to 636,248 since August 2015, when Twitter stepped up its crackdown on extremism and terrorism.

Regulatory issues

Social media ‘influencers’ under the spotlight

Under the revised Code of Ethics and Clearly Distinguishable Advertising Best Practice Guideline issued by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), covering all social media platforms and users effective from 1 March 2017, social media influencers are required by the AANA to clearly label sponsored content.

2.7 Advertising or Marketing Communications shall be clearly distinguishable as such to the relevant audience.
AANA Code of Ethics

Admittedly, breaking the rules of the AANA won’t break the bank, as the association is self-regulating, and the Code and Guideline are voluntary.

The real danger lies in prosecution by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) which, as I reported in August last year, is also taking a stronger interest in the shenanigans that take place in social media marketing.

Although we are yet to see a prosecution involving a social media influencer, it may only be a question of time given the growing prevalence of their use by brands.


Over the past few years unresolved questions remained about the amount of tax being paid by large international social media and technology companies in a number of jurisdictions around the world.

Social media and technology companies have traditionally availed themselves of all usual legal avenues available to arrange their tax affairs in a manner that reduced their overall exposure to tax liability.

According to the Australian government, both Google and Facebook are now paying tax in Australia based on profits earned here, rather than shifting income to other jurisdictions with lower company tax rates.

It is estimated the changes will earn Australia an additional $2 billion in tax revenue this year alone.

The changes come in response to the proposed Diverted Profits Tax, to come into effect from 1 July 2017, which would impose a 40% tax on schemes by significant global entities where the principal purpose, or one of the principal purposes of the scheme, is to obtain an Australian tax benefit or to obtain both an Australian and foreign tax benefit.

Meanwhile a report out of New Zealand indicates Apple has not paid tax there for at least a decade, because its parent company is registered in Australia, so watch this space across the Tasmanian Sea …

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