Social media

Social media round-up: June 2017

June has been off the charts when it comes to bad behaviour on social media.

First, I report on the phenomenon of fake followers, Facebook hitting the two million users mark and thinking of producing its own TV shows, NSW parliamentarians receiving an extra allowance to manage the increasing workloads caused by social media communications with their constituents, Instagram opening an art gallery at Cannes, and Facebook’s continuing struggle with queer identities and vulnerable people when it comes to its ‘real name’ policy.

I follow with Vodafone taking steps to monitor where its digital ads are placed, Russian hackers popping up at the centre of a Middle Eastern political crisis, the University of Oxford finding evidence of social media being used to manipulate public opinion, and Twitter exploring if it could allow users to flag fake news.

Next, I look at free speech around the world, including the death sentence for a Pakistani man over blasphemy, Thailand sentencing a man to 35 years in jail for insulting its royalty, Myanmar charging a journalist with defaming the military, Vietnam jailing a popular blogger, Facebook running into issues around Tiananmen Square commemorations and Chechen independence, Twitter being accused of censorship in Venezuela, and whether Donald Trump violates the US Constitution when he blocks critics on Twitter?

A German court’s decision denying access to the Facebook account of a young woman by her parents following her death provides an insight into the intersection of privacy laws and social media.

Bad behaviour was rampant on social media this month, with Harvard being forced to rescind acceptances over offensive social media posts by prospective students, women coming under sustained attack by anti-feminist trolls on Facebook, and The Sydney Morning Herald publishing a number of investigative pieces exploring trolls, and the psyche of online abusers. Even LinkedIn featured this month, and yes it did involve an inappropriate image of a man’s private parts.

No wonder social media companies are working feverishly to try to address online abuse, and terrorist propaganda under pressure from both users sick of said abuse and harassment, and governments desperately trying to prevent acts of terrorism. Social networks are increasingly looking to exploit artificial intelligence tools, and cross-platform collaboration.

This month’s social media defamation tales come with hefty price tags. Pioneering Sydney surgeon Munjed Al Muderis was awarded $480,000 in the Supreme Court of NSW, Roland and Anna von Marburg of Albury benefited from a $180,000 settlement, and the Prime Minister of Israel was victorious with a $28,300 judgment over a Facebook post.

I wrap up this month with police raids in Germany over hateful social media posts, a young woman getting charged with second-degree manslaughter after a YouTube stunt gone wrong, a conclusion to the Canadian Equustek copyright case, and a range of regulatory issues, from Google’s €2.4 billion fine in the European Union, to the United States commencing the social media screening of visa applicants, and China banning live streaming.

See all previous issues of ‘Social Media Round-Up

Tweet of the month

Tweet of the month goes to J.K. Rowling once again. The lady is a veritable powerhouse of witty tweets.

Her latest tweet followed the news that the President of the United States had decided to pull America out of the Paris Agreement, an international effort to tackle climate change before it’s too late.

Subsequently, Vice President Mike Pence went on Donald Trump’s favourite facts provider Fox & Friends, on Fox News, to sell the policy change. Mike Pence of course is a gay-hating, science-denying, extremist evangelical dominionist, so science, or planning beyond the hotly anticipated rapture, are not his strong points.

Well, J.K. Rowling was having none of his nonsense …

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


Culture and social media

Social media and the fake follower phenomenon

Numbers matter on social media. The number of followers. The number of likes.

That’s why an entire industry developed for providing fake followers and likes.

Is it sad that people feel compelled to buy followers and likes? Yes.

Nevertheless, it happens.

The latest person caught out in the fake followers phenomenon is the President of the United States with around a third of his over 30 million Twitter followers fake accounts and bots.

Twitter Audit, a service that assesses the authenticity of followers, found that only 64% of Trump’s followers are real.

Facebook hits the two billion users mark

Facebook revealed this month that it had hit the historic 2 billion users mark.

The fact that 26% of Earth’s population is now on a single social media platform is further proof that social media is here to stay, and now it’s a matter of making it safe for everyone, rather than continue to question the existence and need for the medium.

Facebook to produce TV series and games

Given the size of its potential audience, Facebook’s cultural dominance is likely to be further entrenched by its proposal to start producing its own TV series and games.

Our goal is to make Facebook a place where people can come together around video, experiment with the kinds of shows you can build a community around – from sports to comedy to reality to gaming.

Members of Parliament in NSW given extra funding to manage social media

NSW MPs have been granted new allowances to cover the cost of the extra staff required to manage their social media presence as the public increasingly become accustomed to contacting their representatives via social media.

It would appear that politicians find public contact in the social media age unmanageable without professional help.

The increase in constituent numbers and innovations in technology and communication have increased the number of interactions a Member and his or her staff will have with electors and the wider community. Increasingly, communication with constituents is via email or social media, rather than the traditional form of written correspondence.

Communication via web-based technologies, desktop computers and mobile technologies (e.g., smartphones and tablet computers) creates a highly interactive platform in which the public expects real time communication. Members have detailed the impact that interactions via these communication platforms have had on their work load, in particular the workload of staff. This claim is supported when comparing the reported workload in 2013 and the current reported workload. While the volume of traditional communication with constituents (i.e. letters and newsletters) has remained mostly constant, the number of emails interactions has increased by approximately 100 per cent. In addition, most if not all, Members have social media accounts which were not widely reported in 2013. Some Members stated that to deal with the volume of work their staff regularly worked beyond the standard working hours and it also was not uncommon for employees to work through their lunch break and on weekends.
2017 Annual Report and Determination, Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal (31 May 2017)

Instagram sets up art gallery at Cannes

Cannes Lions is a magnet for leading creatives and communicators from around the world, and Instagram answered the call this year by building an art gallery: #WanderandWonder.

Facebook struggles with queer identities and artists

Facebook continues to face an interesting cultural and legal issue over its ‘real name’ policy, whereby users are required to register with their real name.

This can become an issue for transgender people, drag queens, and artists.

For example, when Caitlin Beach transitioned, she wanted to announce the news to her network on Facebook. However, Facebook flagged her profile after she changed her name on Facebook to reflect her transition. Facebook refused to permit her to use her new name without supporting legal documentation, which she did not yet have at the time.

Facebook has been trying to address the issue for some time now, but critics continue to point to cases which demonstrate that Facebook’s policy continues to cause issues for minorities and vulnerable persons.

Fake news

Vodafone is the next corporate paying closer attention to where its ads appear

Following the recent scandal whereby international corporations found their ads popping up next to fake news and hate speech, Vodafone has released a global policy on its digital advertising to ensure its placed in line with the company’s expectations.

Vodafone spends over half of its £750 million annual global advertising budget on digital ads, and its new policy indicates that it is not willing to rely on Google and Facebook’s much-touted automated technology. Instead, Vodafone is creating a list of pre-vetted, permitted locations for its ads which will be reviewed regularly to ensure it remains appropriate.

Related stories:
When your Google ads pop up with a KKK video – Part II (April 2017)
When your Google ads pop up with a KKK video (March 2017)

Is Russian fake news behind the diplomatic stoush of the decade?

A FBI investigation concluded that the source of a news item that partially sparked the latest Middle East diplomatic crisis had been Russian hackers, planting fake news.

One of the items cited by Saudi Arabia in its list of reasons for the Qatar economic blockade was a controversial article published by Qatar’s state news agency. However, evidence indicates that the story was planted by Russian hackers wracking, no doubt well-planned, geopolitical turmoil.

The fake story quoted Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, on a number of sensitive regional issues and Doha’s relationship with Donald Trump. Its publication is thought to have been a signficant contributing factor to tensions between neighbouring countries.

Some observed that the most likely culprit behind the Russian hackers was Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates itself, deliberately aiming to manufacture the crisis.

University of Oxford studies reveal social media is being exploited to manipulate public opinion

The case study series titled ‘Computational Propaganda Worldwide‘ conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute analysed qualitative, quantitative, and computational evidence collected between 2015 and 2017 from Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Poland, Taiwan, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States.

The team involved concluded that ‘social media are actively used as a tool for public opinion manipulation, though in diverse ways and on different topics.’

In authoritarian countries, social media platforms are a primary means of social control. This is especially true during political and security crises.

In democracies, social media are actively used for computational propaganda either through broad efforts at opinion manipulation or targeted experiments on particular segments of the public.

The researchers noted that they found in every country ‘civil society groups trying, but struggling, to protect themselves and respond to active misinformation campaigns.’

Twitter is looking at permitting users to flag fake news

The Washington Post reports that Twitter is exploring options for allowing users to identify and reports fake news. The project is still in an early phase, and part of its internal processes designed to address growing concerns about the widespread misuse of the platform.

Free speech

Pakistani man sentenced to death over blasphemy on Facebook

In a horrible story out of Pakistan, Taimoor Raza had been found guilty insulting Mohammad on Facebook, and sentenced to death by an … anti-terrorism court.

There is a high-profile blasphemy crackdown unfolding in Pakistan, and the latest victim of this war on free speech, human rights, and reason, could be destined to pay with his life.

He will be able to appeal against the death penalty at the Lahore High Court and then, if necessary, in Pakistan’s Supreme Court.

Thailand does it again

Thailand has featured regularly in the free speech section over their ongoing crackdown on critics of their monarchy.

Related stories:
Thailand (May 2017)
Thailand bans social media contact with outspoken critics (April 2017)
Thailand (January 2017)
Thailand indicts mom over one-word ‘royal insult’ (August 2016)

This month a Thai man was sentenced by a military court to an outrageous 70 years in jail, later reduced to 35 years after he ‘confessed,’ under the country’s lese-majeste law, over a Facebook post which insulted to the royal family.

Myanmar charges journalist with defamation

In Myanmar, Kyaw Min Swe, the Editor in Chief of The Voice, one of the country’s largest newspaper, stands accused of defaming the military by posting a link to a satirical article on Facebook.

He is being prosecuted under Myanmar’s controversial telecommunications law, known as ’66(d),’ which forbids the posting of false or defamatory information online. The law has been criticised as a tool designed to stifle press freedom. sadly he has been denied bail repeatedly and is being held in Yangon’s notorious Insein prison.

Sadly, defamation prosecutions have soared in Myanmar since Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy came to power, with social media satirists, activists, and journalists increasingly targeted.

Vietnam jails blogger

Vietnam has jailed Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as ‘Mother Mushroom’ (Mẹ Nấm) over her criticism of the country’s human right record and civilian deaths in police custody on Facebook (and in interviews with foreign news outlets).

After a one day trial ‘Mother Mushroom’ was sentenced to 10 years having been found guilty of ‘distorting government policies and defaming the regime.

Facebook’s Tiananmen Square dilemma

Let’s be honest, people either love or hate profile frames on Facebook. Some choose their sports teams, some go with social or political causes, while many wish they could un-friend those friends who use profile frames.

Personally, I love them … yes, I do!

Hong Kong’s Fung Ka Keung designed a profile frame recently to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy protestors by China’s military.

The frame contained a mix of messages in English and Chinese: ‘June 4 28th Anniversary’, ‘Vindicate June 4th’ and ‘End Dictatorial Rule’.

Facebook first rejected his design on the basis that it ‘belittles, threatens or attacks a particular person, legal entity, nationality, or group’?!

One has to spare a thought for poor Facebook reviewers as they perform the political equivalent of tightrope-walking in such matters, trying to navigate between free speech and not upsetting the Chinese leadership, especially as Facebook remains keen to reenter the Chinese market after having been blocked since 2009.

A few days later Facebook apologised and reversed its position on the issue as Hong Kong media outlets started to report of what they considered censorship.

Facebook deletes Chechnya activist

In another Facebook censorship blunder the social network deleted a group supporting Chechen independence, citing ‘terrorist activity or organized criminal activity,’ as the reason.

‘Independence for Chechnya!’ has been reinstated since after The Guardian newspaper questioned the decision, and in a now far too familiar turn of events Facebook then admitted that it had made an ‘error.’

Twitter accused of censorship by Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused Twitter of censorship after the social network suspended numerous Twitter accounts linked to the government, including TV and radio stations.

Twitter refused to comment on the suspension, but its policies allow for the suspension of accounts for abusive behaviour or spamming.

Does Donald Trump violate the US Constitution when blocking Twitter users?

And interesting question was raised recently in the US after critics of the US President noted that Donald Trump had blocked them on Twitter.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University in New York argues that the blocking suppresses speech in a ‘designated public forum’ protected by the Constitution. The Institute asserts that the ‘First Amendment bars the government from excluding individuals from a designated public forum because of their views.’

Though the architects of the Constitution surely didn’t contemplate presidential Twitter accounts, they understood that the President must not be allowed to banish views from public discourse simply because he finds them objectionable. Having opened this forum to all comers, the President can’t exclude people from it merely because he dislikes what they’re saying.
Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director of the Knight First Amendment Institute

Privacy

A German court rejected an application by the parents of a dead teenager to access her ‘memorialised’ Facebook account. The 15-year-old girl’s parents wanted to access her account to establish whether she had committed suicide due to bullying.

Facebook resisted the application on privacy grounds.

The Karlsruhe appeals court applied German telecommunications secrecy law which precludes heirs from viewing the communications of a deceased relative with a third party, and held that the contract existed between the girl and the social media company and that it ended with her death.

There were a number of curious circumstances in the case, including lack of information about who requested that her page be memorialised. Once a page has been memorialised photos and posts remain visible in accordance with the original privacy settings, and friends and family can post tributes, but it is no longer possible to log into the account.

The matter is now subject to further appeal.

Social media gone wrong

Harvard rescinds acceptances over offensive memes

A huge lesson was delivered by Harvard this week to prospective students of the prestigious institute of higher learning.

Harvard had rescinded admission offers to at least ten prospective students after the students posted sexually explicit, racially questionable, and anti-semitic memes to a Facebook sub-group that was set up for the Class of 2021.

It will suffice to say that Harvard deemed those students unworthy to walk it hallowed corridors …

The Admissions Committee was disappointed to learn that several students in a private group chat for the Class of 2021 were sending messages that contained offensive messages and graphics. As we understand you were among the members contributing such material to this chat, we are asking that you submit a statement to explain your contributions and actions for discussion with the Admissions Committee. It is unfortunate that I have to reach out about this situation.

Social media abuse and harassment

Women in particular didn’t fare well on social media this month in the continuation of a worrying trend of misogyny and sexism on social media, and online generally.

Comparing women to ‘harpooned whales’ on Facebook can never really end well, was a timely lesson learned at the University of Sydney’s troubled St Paul’s College.

The latest scandal claimed the scalp of the warden and chairman of the College, Ivan Head, which supposed to raise our future captains of industries and political leaders.

Jenny Noyes wrote an eye-opening report for The Sydney Morning Herald detailing the abuse women are subjected to online and on social media and the utter impotence of law enforcement agencies in Australia to deal with online and social media threats.

The day of the rope draws nearer with every f**king online whinge post you make.

The Sydney Morning Herald also published a fascinating investigation involving Ginger Norman interviewing a notorious troll who is part of an international network.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspects of the interview with the grown man are when he openly admits that they deliberately target people with autism and mental illnesses, and try to incite vulnerable people to self-harm …

Some people should kill themselves because they’re generally pieces of shit.
‘Mark’

These articles offer a candid and thoroughly frightening insight into the psyche of trolls.

A women only plumber business came under sustained trolling attack on its Facebook page recently by a group of anti-feminist men, who decided to flood the Facebook page of Tradettes with abusive comments and negative reviews.

A few days later a similar troll attack was directed at the Facebook page of a Brisbane bookstore, Avid Reader Bookshop and Cafe, over their online promotion of Clementine Ford’s upcoming book. Ms Ford is well-know, much-loved, unapologetic Australian feminist, author, and social commentator.

The bookshop responded by hilarious trolling of their trolls on their own Facebook page …

The Facebook page of the group behind these attacks was subsequently deleted by Facebook.

Female users of the dating App Tinder are also finding that rather than enjoying civilised dates with intelligent men deserving of their company, they are fighting off abuse and other intolerable online behaviours.

If a man approached me in a bar and started saying obscene, explicit things to me, it would be considered sexual harassment. No question.
Lauren Ingram, Journalist

Let us all remember, an online dating profile is not an invitation for sexist or misogynistic abuse.

It’s not often that we see the professional network LinkedIn mentioned when it comes to inappropriate behaviour, but a law suit filed in Los Angeles indicates that professional networks may not be entirely immune. A financial services industry professional recently filed the suit after a recruitment conversation ended in her receiving a picture of the genitals of a managing director at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, a unit of SunTrust Banks.

Ugh, I guess I screwed up 😦 bummer dude.

SunTrust is also investigating the matter, with a spokesman for the employer noting that ‘HR guidelines dictate that you don’t sexually harass people at work — and I considered LinkedIn a work environment.’

Public art can also cause quite a kerfuffle on social media. this month war broke out in Byron Bay over a piece of art, which had split opinions and brought out a lot of anger in some.

Byron’s Elysium 2481 project is designed to beautify one of the laneways of the coastal holiday paradise. As part of the project a giant, colourful mural was painted on a wall and the road’s surface, complemented by a light installation and metallic sculpture.

For a town known for peace and tranquility, some of the reactions were decidedly non-peaceful, nor tranquil.

It is no wonder social media operators are constantly trying to clean up their networks and address hate speech.

There are a number of pressure points for social media operators.

First, anecdotal evidence suggests that the growth of social media operators is being affected by people choosing not to join, or leave, due to unimpeded harassment and hate on social media networks. From a public relations perspective social networks, especially Facebook is facing a public that had become cynical about, and untrusting of, its efforts to effect change when it comes to online abuse.

Second, regulatory pressure has been increasing, especially in Europe where hate speech is illegal in many jurisdictions, and regulators are losing patience with social media companies when it comes to monitoring and filtering undesirable content, including terrorist propaganda. For example, the UK Prime Minister and French President are in agreement to pass new legislation to punish social media operators if they fail to remove terrorist propaganda.

Even the Australian Prime Minister had flagged that the Australian Government is prepared to crack down on social media giants over online terror propaganda.

As Google, Facebook is responding to these demands by developing an artificial intelligence tool to help it identify extremist content, in conjunction with its human moderators, and it continues to explore the concept of hate speech in an online global community.

Facebook’s AI efforts involve automated image matching, language comprehension, the targeting of terrorist clusters, monitoring recidivism, and cross-platform collaboration.

Unfortunately, there are also many missteps along the way in the fight against terrorism online, with Facebook’s latest being a doozy: accidentally exposing the identity of its moderators to suspected terrorists.

A bug in the software used by the moderators resulted in their personal profiles automatically appearing as notifications in the activity log of the Facebook groups, whose administrators were removed from the platform for breaching the terms of service. The personal details of Facebook moderators were then viewable to the remaining admins of the group.

The security lapse revealed by The Guardian (which is a timely illustration why we need a functioning news media and investigative journalism) affected more than 1,000 workers, with forcing at least one, an Iraqi-born Irish citizen into hiding. He is now suing Facebook.

Facebook acknowledged the serious breach and it has already addressed the technical issue which cause the exposure.

Meanwhile Kent Walker, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Google had published an op-ed in the Financial Times detailing how Google intends to fight terrorism on YouTube. The op-ed listed four specific steps, from devoting more specific engineering resources to the problem, to increasing the number of independent expert reviewers, taking a tougher stance on content in violation of YouTube’s policies, and bolster the implementation of Google’s ‘redirect method’ which uses Adwords and YouTube to debunk online ISIS recruiting messages.

Mr Walker also noted formal collaboration between social networks, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft to address the problem. That collaboration was confirmed by a joint communique issued by the social media giants.

Today, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube are announcing the formation of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, which will help us continue to make our hosted consumer services hostile to terrorists and violent extremists.

The spread of terrorism and violent extremism is a pressing global problem and a critical challenge for us all. We take these issues very seriously, and each of our companies have developed policies and removal practices that enable us to take a hard line against terrorist or violent extremist content on our hosted consumer services. We believe that by working together, sharing the best technological and operational elements of our individual efforts, we can have a greater impact on the threat of terrorist content online.

And it’s not just social media companies that suffer the trolls. Media companies are also struggling to control abuse in their online comment sections. Moderators are the usual response to address the issue, but with growing online presence and popularity of social interactions, moderators are overwhelmed trying to manage online comments, especially on articles that cause controversy.

The New York Times is now looking for help from Google’s artificial intelligence tool, Perspective, in its fight against abusive trolls. I first reported on Perspective, developed by Alphabet’s innovation incubator Jigsaw in March. The AI tool is designed to monitor and analyse conversations in real-time, assigning comments a score based on how abusive they are.

The New York Times hopes that by using Perspective they can open up more stories for public comments without overloading their moderators, by helping them quickly identify offensive comments.

Social media and defamation

In a spectacular slam dunk defamation case, pioneering Sydney surgeon Munjed Al Muderis was awarded $480,000 after a vicious online campaign by a former patient.

Mr Al Muderis is a former Iraqi refugee renowned for his advances in helping amputees walk again. He was also recently featured in an ad campaign by Holden promoting diversity.

His former patient Gerardo Mazzella, and his brother Rodney Duncan, were found to have defamed the surgeon.

Mr Al Muderis was characterised by Justice Rothman in his judgment as ‘the perfect plaintiff,’ after an online campaign of complaints over alleged numbness in Mr Mazella’s penis and scrotum after an operation by Mr Al Muderis.

Meanwhile, Roland and Anna von Marburg of Albury have received an unreserved apology and $180,000 from retired Wodonga obstetrician Pieter Mourik, after a defamation stoush involving comments made by Mr Mourik on the Rights to Privacy Albury Facebook page.

The page is designed to champion the rights of women to access fertility control free from intimidation and harassment, and to ensure their privacy.

Pro-lifers Roland and Anna von Marburg attended an anti-abortion vigil held outside Albury’s Englehardt Street termination clinic in 2014, after which Mr Mourik posted images and comments to the Facebook page critical of the couple.

The couple commenced defamation proceedings against Mr Mourik in the Supreme Court of Victoria over the matter, which has now been settled with the apology and monetary compensation.

In Israel, a journalist was ordered to pay Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, $28,300 over a Facebook post deemed ‘malicious and ugly, intended to humiliate and shame the plaintiffs’ by the judge.

Igal Sarna posted a note to Facebook in which he claimed that the Israeli First Lady kicked Mr Netanyahu out of the car in an official convoy over a heated argument.

Mr Sarna plans to appeal the verdict.

Crime (and punishment)

German police raid 36 people over social media post

Legislators and law enforcement officials had clearly had enough of social media users skirting the law, as evidenced by a police raid in Germany affecting 36 people accused of posting hateful social media messages.

Most of the raids concerned politically motivated right-wing incitement.

Germany has been at the forefront of trying to force social media operators to take responsibility for hate speech on their platforms. Social media operators accustomed to free speech protections in the United States had long struggled to adapt to the European legal framework, where in many jurisdiction hate and discriminatory speech is an offence. For example, section 130 of Germany’s Criminal Code criminalises ‘volksverhetzung’ or ‘incitement to hatred.’

Young woman charged with second-degree manslaughter after YouTube stunt goes wrong

Monalisa Perez was charged in Minnesota after she shot dead her boyfriend, and father of their three-year-old daughter who witnessed the tragedy, while filming a YouTube stunt.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Pedro Ruiz thought he would be protected by a book if Ms Perez fired a gun at him.

Copyright

The Canadian Equustek case ends in a loss for Google

I first reported on this case in September 2016 when the Supreme Court of Canada scheduled to hear a further appeal by Google in the matter.

The case started with a lawsuit by a small Canadian technology company, Equustek Solutions Inc., against US company Datalink Technologies Gateways Inc., and former employees who allegedly stole a company secret and went on to manufacture a competing product and selling it online. Equustek subsequently obtained an interlocutory injunction against Google in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, ordering Google to stop displaying certain affected websites in its search results worldwide.

The case is significant because it involves an injunction against Google requiring it to remove links from its search results globally, which are otherwise publicly and readily available online. The interlocutory injunction was upheld by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia and Google’s appeal headed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In January this year I also reported on human rights groups expressing concerns about the potential consequences of the case by giving nefarious operators an argument to suppress free expression by regulating internet content outside their borders.

Now in a 7-2 decision in Google Inc. v. Equustek Solutions Inc., 2017 SCC34 the Supreme Court of Canada rejected Google’s appeal and held that a Canadian court can grant an injunction preventing conduct anywhere in the world when it is necessary to ensure the injunction’s effectiveness.

Where it is necessary to ensure the injunction’s effectiveness, a court can grant an injunction enjoining conduct anywhere in the world. The problem in this case is occurring online and globally. The Internet has no borders — its natural habitat is global. The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates — globally.

The Supreme Court rejected Google’s argument that the right to freedom of expression should have prevented the order from being issued.

This is not an order to remove speech that, on its face, engages freedom of expression values, it is an order to de-index websites that are in violation of several court orders. We have not, to date, accepted that freedom of expression requires the facilitation of the unlawful sale of goods.

The court also rejected the argument that the global injunction violates international comity, unless ‘Google has evidence that complying with such an injunction would require it to violate the laws of another jurisdiction, including interfering with freedom of expression,’ in which case ‘it is always free to apply to the British Columbia courts to vary the interlocutory order accordingly.’

Google has not yet made such an application.

Regulatory issues

European Union hits Google with historic and record-breaking fine over anticompetitive conduct

Google has been fined €2.4 billion for favouring its own shopping service in search results by the European Union, sending shock waves through the offices of technology companies.

The European Commission has fined Google €2.42 billion for breaching EU antitrust rules. Google has abused its market dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to another Google product, its comparison shopping service.

The fine is the single biggest fine the European Commission has ever imposed on a company in an antitrust case, well exceeding the €1.06 billion fine handed to Intel in 2009.

Google now has 90 days to comply with the law or it would be subject to a daily penalty payment of up to 5% of the average daily worldwide turnover of Alphabet, Google’s parent, with any payment backdated to when the non-compliance started.

The United States begins to ask visa applicants for their social media profiles

It is highly possible I won’t be travelling to the United States any time soon, especially while Donald Trump remains president, after reports that visa applications to the United States had begun to ask for the social media identities of applicants.

The more thorough vetting of travellers’ social media has been brewing since June last year when US Customs and Border Protection entered a proposal into the US Federal Register, proposing to add a new question to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, the online application system used to pre-screen travellers before they are allowed to board an airplane or ship bound for the US, and Form I-94W, the arrival and departure form to be completed by travellers to the US from nations subject to the visa-waiver program under 8 CFR 217, including Australia, to collect social media accounts and screen names.

While initially the idea appeared to be that such information would be collected on a voluntary basis only, by February this year reports indicated that administration officials were discussing the requirement for all foreign visitors to disclose all websites and social media sites they use, and share their contacts from their mobile phones.

China bans live streaming

In November last year I reported on China’s efforts to regulate live streaming by requiring streaming services to monitor live stream and stop them, including if the live stream undermines national security, destabilises society, disturbs social order, infringes upon others’ rights and interests, or disseminates obscene content.

Clearly it was a practically impossible regulatory effort, considering the growth of live streaming in China, consequently the regulator now simply banned live streaming across the major online platforms, including Sina Weibo which has 340 million users.

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