Social media

Social media round-up: April 2017

April has been a fascinating month on social media.

First, I report on Facebook’s latest attempts to combat revenge porn, fake news, and spam, while Twitter takes a stand for free speech in the United States, just as free speech takes a beating in Thailand and Uganda.

I follow with the ongoing saga of Google’s ‘adpocalypse,’ United Airlines’ public relations and social media nightmare, the price of a fake Yelp review, and Burger King’s innovative new TV ad which ruffled a few feathers.

Next, I look at cases of abuse and harassment from an arguably misguided University of Sydney tutor, to the Western Australian Police, a British judge, and American neo-Nazis, and check out the latest defamation case against Google working its way through the Supreme Court of Victoria.

I wonder what Facebook is going to do about Facebook Live, and report on what appears to be a thoughtless social media prank resulting in a tragic suicide and an arrest, a Spanish woman getting a suspended jail term over her tweets, Germany moving forward with a new law to fine social media operators if they fail to remove illegal content in a timely fashion, and a fascinating copyright case involving Instagram and a notorious appropriation artist.

Finally, I check on the latest regulatory developments, including Australia’s new ‘Google Tax,’ accusations of gender pay discrimination against Google, and the latest Russian attempt to ‘regulate’ social media.

See all previous issues of
Social Media Round-Up

Tweet of the month

Tweet of the month goes to Planned Parenthood, an American non-profit devoted to providing reproductive and other health care, such as clinical breast examinations, and cervical cancer screening.

The photo in question was taken at a meeting of the President of the United States with the so-called ‘Freedom Caucus’, a coalition of conservative politicians, to discuss the President’s proposed health care reforms, including the removal of cover for maternity, newborn, and pregnancy care.

The proposed reform was intended to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as ‘ObamaCare’. While the reform had failed, for now, we will always have this picture to remember it by, a picture which has been compared to notorious images from Saudi Arabia, where public relations images from a meeting of its Girls‘ Council, designed to encourage the public participation of women, and a Women’s Conference, discussing women’s role in society, consisted only of … men, with not a single woman in sight.

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

Culture and social media

Revenge porn

Revenge porn is a serious social issue. Over the years I reported on many stories involving the unauthorised disclosure of private images, and related criminal charges and convictions.

Given the proliferation of social media, the issue is unlikely to go away. This means that legislators, courts, law enforcement agencies, social media operators, and communities must work together to put an end to the insidious practice of jilted, hateful lovers, spurned suitors, and unstable strangers.

Facebook is stepping up by launching new tools that will make reporting easier, and use image-matching technology to prevent the repeated posting of reported images.

Facebook targets global spam ring

Facebook Security announced the social network purged a large number of accounts this month which formed part of a sophisticated global spam operation.

Fake news

Just when you thought the existence of fake news was becoming so obviously well known that its effects would start to diminish, and we could all move on to better and more constructive topics, a survey published by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, the United Kingdom’s largest teachers’ union, shows that 35% of the profession reported pupils referring to fake news or false information seen online as fact, among other disturbing data.

Parliamentary inquiry proposed into fake news in Australia

In Australia, politicians are taking no chances and proposing to hold a Senate inquiry into fake news.

Labor Senator Sam Dastyari appears to believe he has the numbers to set up an inquiry into fake news, so watch this space.

Ukraine continues to battle Putin’s fake news offensive

Meanwhile Ukraine continues to be targeted by Russia’s state-sponsored fake news operation and troll army.

Hybrid warfare is Russia’s modern interpretation of a Soviet military doctrine called “deep battle,” in which military operations extend beyond the front lines deep into an enemy country’s territory in order to hinder its ability to wage war.

And, some say, Russia is tapping into its hybrid warfare arsenal, now battle-tested in Ukraine, to wage a uniquely 21st century style of war against the United States and the European Union.

For its part, the U.S. is currently investigating whether Russia spread fake news and used cyberwarfare to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“Whether it is Ukraine, the EU, or the United States, Russia has the same playbook and goals,” Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, said. “It employs hybrid warfare—so-called fake news, computer hacking, cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, snap drills, direct military interventions, and so on and so forth—to undermine the Western democracies and break the transatlantic unity.”
How Putin uses fake news ar on Ukraine, Newsweek (3 April 2017)

eBay founder to invest $100 million in fighting fake news

Billionaire Pierre Omidyar committed $100 million over the next three years to stopping fake news and supporting quality investigative journalism.

The funding, which runs over the next three years, will focus on strengthening independent media and investigative journalism, tackling misinformation and hate speech, and enabling citizens to better engage with government on critical issues. The funding will support work across the globe.

Facebook shuts down 30,000 fake French accounts

Facebook continued its fight against fake news by shutting down 30,000 fake accounts in France in an attempt to prevent the deliberate spreading of misinformation leading up to the French presidential election. The action follows concerns in France that Russia is attempting to meddle in its elections.

Facebook is also actively working with fact-checkers and the French media to minimise the spread of fake news.

Google combats fake news

Google is also taking steps to combat fake news by displaying fact-checking labels in its search results to highlight information that has been vetted and show whether it is considered to be true or false.

First introduced to Google News in the UK and US last year, the feature will now be extended to its search results.

Free speech

Twitter makes a stand

Following Donald Trump’s presidential victory, and subsequent gags on a number of government agencies, dissenting federal employees had set up a number of Twitter accounts to keep the public informed and offer critical commentary on Donald Trump’s administration.

Subsequently, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) made a legal bid to force Twitter to hand over the details of the person behind one of those Twitter accounts, @ALT_uscis.

Twitter took a strong stand against the attempt to unmask the operator of the account in question and returned fire by suing CBP, and the Department of Homeland Security which oversees CBP.

Following the pushback by Twitter, CBP withdrew the administrative summons, preventing a potentially embarrassing court battle over the issue.

Now, the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that it has launched an internal review of the matter, to ascertain whether the summons authority has been misused by CBP in the circumstances, among other things.

Thailand bans social media contact with outspoken critics

Thailand had featured a few times in the free speech section of my updates.

They make a return this month after the military junta currently ruling the nation banned citizens from contacting or sharing social media posts from three well-known, outspoken critics of Thailand: historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Associate Professor at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, and Scottish journalist and former Reuters correspondent in Bangkok, Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

The critics in question have been deemed to be in violation of Thailand’s recently amended Computer Crime Act. When the amendments were passed last year it was feared it would become a tool of censorship, and a 300,000 strong petition unsuccessfully demanded its rejection by Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly at the time.

Uganda detains academic

After Stella Nyanzi, a longtime critic of Uganda’s president, referred to Yoweri Museveni as ‘a pair of buttocks,’ she was promptly arrested for cyber harassment and offensive communication, and later an attempt was made to force a psychiatric examination on her.

Social media gone wrong

When your Google ads pop up with a KKK video – Part II

Last month I reported on the commercial and public relations disaster Google was facing after corporate advertisers found their ads were being served up with extremist content on YouTube, including anti-semitic, homophobic, and white supremacist videos.

The scandal originated in the United Kingdom with well-known brands such as Marks & Spencer, HSBC, The Guardian, McDonald’s, and the UK government, pulling their ads from YouTube once the issue came to light.

Google tried to respond by promptly launching new tools, giving advertisers greater control over where their ads were appearing. Despite Google’s valiant efforts to diffuse the crisis, the boycott promptly spread to the Unites States. Australia soon followed with major corporations such as Holden, Telstra, Vodafone, Nestle, Bunnings, Foxtel, Caltex, and the Australian government pulling their ads from YouTube.

Soon Google’s nightmare was termed the ‘adpocalypse’.

Analysts estimated the cost of the scandal around $750 million.

Google continues to work on a solution, but their latest attempts to address advertisers’ concerns ended up alienating the creators behind the content YouTube relies on for its existence.

The artificial intelligence tool deployed by Google appears to be far less intelligent than anticipated and it is erroneously identifying materials as inappropriate, causing revenue to drop to high-profile YouTube content creators, and hurting independent media outlets.

WARNING: bad and incoherent language by PewDiePie, the No. 1 YouTube personality in the world, responding to Google’s attempts to deal with ‘adpocalypse’

Short of preventing the uploading and actively removing hate speech from YouTube, it is difficult to see how Google can get on top of this major social issue.

United Airlines vs its customers and social media

United Airlines experienced a fresh social media meltdown following the now infamous incident in which a doctor was violently dragged off a flight, because the flight was oversold and his seat was required by United for their own staff.

The subsequent, poorly drafted and utterly tone-deaf public statements, and an apparent complete lack of a coherent crisis management plan by United didn’t assist in any way, and made the social media lashing that followed potentially even worse.

The United fiasco is a timely reminder that social media is relentless, global, 24/7 medium, and any good crisis and communications policy must factor in social media as a significant component.

Of course this was not the airline’s first foray into a customer service nightmare, followed by a social media storm.

Who can forget the now legendary ‘United Breaks Guitars’ campaign, the airline ‘losing’ a child, and their more recent problem when United took issue with women wearing leggings (and more) …

On the face of it, United appeared utterly unprepared for, and completely incapable of, managing this latest crisis, despite its repeated experiences with difficult public relations situations in the past.

United had now become a revolving case study in how not to manage crises, including social media during a crisis.

United’s public relations and social media responses were yet again void of credible empathy, and lacked connection with both reality, and customer expectations.

The inexplicable failures of United’s executive, communications, and social media teams yet again only added fuel to the social media fire consuming the airline’s reputation.

This was not an event from which the airline could ever have emerged unscathed, but a solid public relations and social media execution could have helped to moderate the outfall, and guide the social media reaction into a less damaging space.

Fake Yelp review of competitor bites back

It may be tempting to leave a bad review for a competitor to try to help your father’s business, but a Massachusetts man learned an expensive lesson after a jury awarded $34,500 in damages against him over a Fake Yelp review, falsely accusing the competitor of theft.

While the father, and his jewellery store, were found not responsible for his actions, this case represents a clear warning to anyone who may be looking to find an advantage against a competitor by posting anonymous fake comments on review sites.

Innovative Burger King ad backfires

While this story is not strictly social media related, the Whopper ad which triggered people’s Google Home device is a fascinating example of the intersection of commerce, social media, and technology.

The 15 second TV spot ended with the line ‘OK Google, what is the Whopper Burger?’ triggering Google Home to recite the information from the Burger King’s Wikipedia page.

Pure genius, but very sneaky and intrusive.

In response, Google has reprogrammed its Google Home device to ignore the ad, but the genie is now out of the bottle …

Social media abuse and harassment

Jay Tharappel, a University of Sydney tutor, made a poor decision to defend his mentor, lecturer Tim Anderson, by attacking News Corp Australia journalist Kylar Loussikian online in an arguably inappropriate manner.

Mr Anderson and Mr Tharappel are known supporters and defenders of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and Mr Tharappel’s attack was sparked by a series of articles critical of Mr Anderson’s support for the Assad regime.

Mr Tharappel responded by a racially abusive social media message to Mr Loussikian, a national political reporter for News Corp.

Devastating intellectual critique by Kylar Loussikian, the traitorous scum who desperately wants a second Armenian genocide. How much did they pay you, traitor? I guess stabbing Syria in the back with that surname is the best way of telling the world that you’re for sale, right?

Mr Tharappel remains unrepentant while his comment is investigated by the university under its Code of Conduct.

In a now deleted Facebook post, the South East Metro District of the Western Australian Police described an arrested man as a ‘cerebrally challenged waste of skin’, and that was just the start of what appears like a creative writing class gone wrong as the post went on to describe the man as ‘a terrified piglet’.

Colourful language, especially from law enforcement, and certainly does not set a good example for respectful language and tone on social media.

Police later reportedly described the post as ‘over-exuberant’. I say!

The posting is particularly interesting in the context of the Facebook page’s terms of use which ask people not to post ‘messages that contain: anything that could be considered prejudicial, off-topic, inflammatory, repetitive, offensive, defamatory, discriminatory, denigrating or otherwise inappropriate’.

Of course this is not the first time the use of social media, in particular Facebook, by the police has been called into question. Notable previous incidents included a post by Western Australian Police following the arrest of a woman for stealing tampons valued at $6.75, and police officers in NSW using Facebook to anonymously troll a Member of Parliament.

I do wonder what chance the rest of us have to get social media right when even the police can’t get it right?

But wait, it gets worse!

A British Recorder who sat at the Canteburry Crown Court has been removed from judicial office by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office over posting anonymous abusive comments on a newspaper’s website in response to people criticising his decisions.

Mr Jason Dunn-Shaw is currently appealing his removal.

With examples such as these from the police and a judicial officer, what hope is there for messages designed to convince the public to conduct themselves in a civil manner on social media?

In the United States neo-Nazis are being held to account in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center against Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, accused of orchestrating ‘a harassment campaign that has relentlessly terrorised a Jewish woman and her family with anti-Semitic threats and messages’.

Tanya Gersh and her family were targeted after she had a dispute with Sherry Spencer, the mother of Richard Spencer a white supremacist leader who found international infamy for shouting ‘Hail Trump’ at a post-election gathering of white supremacists in Washington, and for a viral video showing him being punched by an anti-fascist protestor.

Since the troll storm was unleashed, Mrs Gersh and her family had received hundreds of abusive and threatening messages.

Social media and defamation

The latest social media defamation case to end up in court is working its way through the Supreme Court of Victoria.

In Defteros v Google Inc & Anor [2017] VSC 158, Mr George Defteros claimed damages against both Google Inc. and Google Australia Pty Ltd in relation to search results which show two web pages when Mr Defteros’ name is Googled, relating to criminal activities.

Google Australia Pty Ltd responded by an application for a summary dismissal of the case against it. Justice Dixon granted the application, leaving Google Inc. as the sole defendant moving forward.

Justice Dixon also ordered Mr Defteros to pay Google Australia’s costs of the summary dismissal application on an indemnity basis, because in February Mr Defteros had ‘unreasonably rejected’ an offer by Google Australia whereby it would have worn its own costs to date if Mr Defteros agreed to discontinue the proceedings against it.

Meanwhile, in Malta a man was required to pay €7,000 in damages to Transport Minister Joe Mizzi over a Facebook rant the court found to be libellous.

Crime (and punishment)

Facebook Live continues to court disaster

Facebook Live is a great concept, enabling people to share their experiences live with the public and their friends. Or, it would be a great concept if we lived in a perfect world.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, which means Facebook is playing catch up with inappropriate content, from car accidents to suicides, copyright violation, sexual assaults, and now a murder being broadcast live on Facebook Live …

Just two weeks after an arrest was made in the latest sexual assault which was streamed on Facebook, a man live streamed a murder. Yes, a murder!

The details are still somewhat unclear because Steve Stephens killed himself just a day later following a police chase. A day earlier Mr Stephens gunned down an apparently random victim and reportedly streamed it live on Facebook.

The victim, 74-year-old retiree Robert Godwin Sr was collecting cans.

The video of the murder remained online for about three hours before it was removed by Facebook. Mr Stephen’s Facebook page has also been shut down.

In response, Facebook launched an internal review into how it handles violent content and other inappropriate materials.

The speed with which Facebook responds certainly needs improvement, and their historical inconsistency in how they enforce their policies also needs urgent attention.

Fake suicide leads to real one

A 13-year-old girl is facing charges of the malicious use of telecommunications services after her young boyfriend killed himself when he was made believe she killed herself, in an online ‘prank’ gone horribly wrong – all in less than an hour.

Tysen Benz died in hospital a few days after he hung himself when he was led to believe through social media posts and text messages that her girlfriend committed suicide.

While she is being charged, there are others who failed to act when he posted on social media that he would kill himself.

This tragic case highlights yet again the potentially devastating consequences of people’s thoughtless actions on social media.

Spanish woman gets suspended jail sentence over tweets

In Spain, Cassandra Vera, a 21-year-old student, has been sentenced to one year in jail after she tweeted jokes about the 1973 ETA assassination of the Spanish Prime Minister who served during the Franco dictatorship.

Following a controversial trial, the Audiencia Nacional held the tweets glorified terrorism, and humiliated the victim of terrorism.

While her sentence has been suspended, her career is now in doubt, and controversy continues to reverberate over her conviction.

Germany moves forward with plans to hold social media operators responsible for illegal content

Social media operators have been struggling to resolve the gap between the practically everything goes free speech culture of the United States and the more measured approach taken in the European Union, with hate speech and related social media conduct being illegal in many of those jurisdictions.

Germany is now moving forward with proposed new laws that would see social media companies fined for failing to remove illegal content. The new law would fine social media companies up to €50 million if they fail to remove obviously illegal content within 24 hours of it being reported.


An interesting case is brewing over copyright in images posted to Instagram involving Richard Prince, a notorious ‘appropriation artist’.

Mr Prince was hit with two copyright infringement lawsuits in Southern District of New York following his 2015 ‘New Portraits‘ show, which consisted of appropriated images from other Instagram users.

Mr Prince is employing the defence of fair use to the lawsuits. The fair use defence is based on the idea that a work derived from a previously copyrighted work may be transformed to such an extent that the copyright in the original art work is no longer violated by the subsequent work.

His defence team is relying on a 2013 precedent from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, from another dispute involving Mr Prince, where he was found to have been protected by fair use. It will be interesting to see whether this time the court will find his additions to the Instagram images in question sufficient to qualify him for the defence.

However, there is another point of difference because in that previous case the person involved, Patrick Cariou, made no fine art prints of his work, and had not exhibited them as prints, while in the current circumstances the artist involved only sells his works as prints, and ‘has never licensed the copyrighted photograph or made it available for any commercial purpose other than for sale to fine art collectors,’ meaning the court could take a different view when considering the market impact leg of the relevant test for fair use.

Regulatory issues

The ‘Google Tax’ is here

Last month I did a brief follow-up on the saga of tax payments by multinational corporations, in particular the pending amendments to our laws designed to stop the practice of shifting profits overseas in order to reduce tax exposure in Australia.

The legislation creating the Diverted Profits Tax, dubbed the ‘Google Tax,’ has now been passed into law, enabling the Australian Tax Office to take a much harder line on profit shifting.

Although, as I reported last month, in anticipation of the new regulatory landscape, several social media operators, including Google, had already rearranged their tax affairs to comply.

Google accused of gender pay discrimination

Just as it is slowly getting on top of its global tax issues, now Google stands accused of gender pay discrimination in the United States.

The US Department of Labor says it has evidence of ‘systemic compensation disparities’ when it comes to the remuneration of female employees, which would be a violation of federal employment laws.

Google is denying the allegation, setting the scene for a showdown between the internet giant and the Department as the Department seeks compensation data from Google.

Move to require Russian social media users to register

New legislation introduced by Vitaly Milonov, noted Russian homophobe, moralistic crusader, and a member of the State Duma, would require all Russian social media users to register with their passports, and would create a government agency to ‘regulate’ social media.

The proposed law would also prevent users from registering for social media accounts under a fake identity.

While anonymity on social media can lead to anti-social behaviours, the requirement to use social media under a real name can have a chilling effect on free speech, especially under oppressive regimes, such as Russia.

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