Social media

Social media round-up: July 2017

July has been an informative, entertaining, intriguing, and infuriating month in equal parts when it comes to social media.

Research by Global Web Index gave us an insight into why and how we use social media, we learned Facebook and Google are the preferred platforms for digital advertisers, Facebook took flight with its Aquila drone project, Peter Hartcher suggested that we may have already lost the internet to the ‘bad guys,’ and US-based Campaign for Integrity questioned the integrity of Google’s research spending, and in turn Google questioned the integrity of Campaign for Integrity.

Fake news remained in the headlines with new revelations about the Qatar diplomatic crisis, the Philippine president confirming the use of a social media troll army during the election campaign, and new evidence emerging of a Russian spy plot to undermine Emmanuel Macron during the French presidential campaign.

Free speech took further battering in China following the tragic and untimely death of imprisoned human rights champion and Nobel laureate Liu Xiabo giving Chinese censors a new lease on life, with not even Winnie-The-Pooh safe from the crackdown. China also banned virtual private networks, making it harder for people to access non-sanctioned information. Vietnam continued to jail its bloggers,  a mini-skirt sparked outrage in Saudi Arabia, and Donald Trump stands formally accused of violating the US Constitution by blocking people on his Twitter account.

Google’s French affair flared up again over privacy concerns as France’s Supreme Court for Administrative Justice, the Conseil d’État, passed an appeal by Google, over a privacy fine and directives issued by France’s data privacy regulator, Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés, to the Court of Justice of the European Union to decide. Meanwhile, Facebook had a privacy win in a California court case.

Bad behaviour was rampant on social media this month, with the US President Donald Trump himself leading the charge of the trolls. He wasn’t alone though, with actor James Wood described as ‘a smugly menacing public nuisance on social media’ over his latest random public attack on the parents of a non-gender conforming child. The social media ‘Blue Whale Challenge,’ linked to the deaths of a number of teenagers is starting to cause concerns, while a beauty blogger’s tone-deaf ‘chocolate challenge’ caused outrage because it effectively mimicked ‘blackface’.

This month a new social media ‘villain’ emerged from the Disney channel, in the form of actor Jake Paul who stood accused of terrorising his neighbourhood while filming his stunts for social media.

We also learned there is such a thing as ‘patriotic trolling,’ as Twitter continues to desperately roll out new tools designed to prevent trolling and create a safer social media environment, with varying levels of success, as it lost 2 million users in the last quarter.

Social media continued to feature in the workplace, with a former employee of the British Council challenging her firing after she posted comments critical of Prince George to Facebook, an American man fired by his employer after a video of him delivering a racist tirade at environmental protesters was posted online, an adjunct professor fired by a university operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after she refused to delete a private post from her Facebook account in support of the LGBT community, and the Angus Aitken, Bell Potter and ANZ saga involving alleged sexism and defamation coming to a conclusion closer to home.

This month I also admit I may have got it a little wrong on the growth of defamation cases arising from the use of social media.

Next I look at social media activities that enter the realm, or skirt around the edges, of criminal law, from teen blackmailers exploiting dating apps, to revenge porn and ‘creepshots,’ Facebook’s ongoing struggle with sex and other crimes being broadcast on Facebook Live, and a British aristocrat being jailed over racist social media threats.

I wrap up this month with a few regulatory tales, including Facebook facing the wrath of European competition regulators over its data collection practices, while standing firm in the US against the methods used by law enforcement agencies to access social media data, and plans in Australia to force social networks the decrypt online communications.

See all previous issues of ‘Social Media Round-Up

Tweet of the month

Tweet of the month is a tie between the New York Post and J.K. Rowling, with J.K. Rowling featuring for the fourth time in a year.

The lady is the indisputable queen of witty tweets.

This time the subject of her comment was the President of the United States, Donald Trump himself, in light of his recent tweets and public utterings.

Meanwhile, the New York Post tweeted out a copy of the cover of its 28 July edition, which speaks for itself …

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


Culture and social media

Why we use social media

Global Web Index ResearchResearch by Global Web Index, ‘The Social Media Trends to Watch in 2017,’ indicates that 42% of users are on social media to keep in touch with friends, such connections being the top reason for social media use. The research is based on over 70,000 internet users between the ages of 16 and 64.

Another key trend is the use of social media is news consumption, with 39% of users staying up to date with news and current events via social media, highlighting the importance of dealing with the fake news phenomenon and giving social media users the skills to be able to identify fake news, and differentiate between reputable news sources and fake news factories.

Interestingly, 39% of users also use social media simply to fill their spare time, while only 27% appears to use it to research or find products to buy, which is a potentially significant piece of the puzzle for digital advertisers.

Having said that, results released by Facebook and Google show no signs of the waning in the appetite for digital advertising, with the two social networks at the centre of digital spending, now taking 60% of all US digital marketing revenue, and over 50% worldwide.

Facebook takes flight

A few weeks after Facebook announced it is planning to start producing its own TV shows, its drone designed to provide global internet access successfully completed its second test flight.

The solar-powered Aquila drone has been designed to provide access to the 4 billion people currently off the grid. It has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, weighs under 500 kilograms, and will be airborne for up to 90 days at a time, flying at 60,000 feet at night and 90,000 feet during the day (well above commercial air traffic), beaming a signal to small towers and dishes on the surface which will convert the signal into Wi-Fi or LTE.

Have we lost the internet to the ‘bad guys’?

Political and international editor for The Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Hartcher is certainly of the view that we have, and it won’t be easy to get it back:

Trumpeted as a cornucopia of liberty and prosperity, it has evolved into a Pandora’s box of mischief and malice.

Hartcher traces the source of the problem we are facing to two fundamental flaws: its earliest technical designers putting connectivity before security, and its earliest civil adopters being guilty of wide-eyed naiveté.

Hartcher highlights that while the internet was ‘billed as a tool for the democratisation of free information and unfettered communication so powerful that dictatorships would prove defenceless against it,’ it failed to deliver that vision as demonstrated by the failure of the Arab Spring, and China using it as an ‘instrument of control.’

Oracle linked Campaign for Accountability accuses Google of spending big on academic research to influence public opinion and regulators

The US-based Campaign for Accountability issued a report this month claiming that Google had spent millions on academic research in an attempt to influence public opinion and policy makers.

The report titled ‘Google Academics Inc.‘, states that Google had poured millions of dollars into financing academic research, with the campaign group pointing to 329 research papers published between 2005 and 2007 on public policy matters it says were of interest to Google, and were in ‘some way’ funded by the company.

Google uses its immense wealth and power to attempt to influence policy makers at every level. At a minimum, regulators should be aware that the allegedly independent legal and academic work on which they rely has been brought to them by Google.
Daniel Stevens, Executive Director of Campaign for Accountability

Campaign for Accountability goes on to suggest that ‘Google-funded studies are published by a wide variety of sources, and often blur the line between academic research and paid advocacy.’

Google’s Director of Public Policy, Leslie Miller responded to the report by calling it ‘highly misleading’, because it ‘attributes to Google any work that was supported by any organization to which [Google] belong or have ever donated.’

The response also notes that Google is ‘proud to maintain strong relations with academics, universities and research institutes …’ and that where it provided financial support, it expects and requires ‘grantees to properly disclose [Google’s] funding.’

Ironically, Leslie Miller goes on to link Campaign for Accountability to Oracle, and notes that Oracle has been running a ‘well-documented lobbying campaign‘ against Google.

Fake news

And the plot thickens in the Qatar incident

Last month I referred to FBI sources implicating Russian hackers in the planting of the fake news item on the website of Qatar’s state news agency, which was then used to spark the crisis between Qatar and its neighbours.

At the time observers with understanding of the geopolitical intricacies involved suggested that the most likely culprit behind the Russian hackers was the United Arab Emirates, or Saudi Arabia.

This is some serious 007 action, for real …

Now Qatar has formally accused the UAE of being behind the hacking, and the planting of the fake news item. Naturally, the UAE promptly denied the allegations. Watch this space as this ‘fake news’ saga is likely to get more complicated.

Philippine president confirms using social media troll army

Last month I noted the report issued by the Oxford Internet Institute which found evidence of the systematic manipulation of public opinion using social media.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has now confirmed that he had spent over 10 million pesos on a troll army, engaged to support his presidential campaign last year.

An estimated 400 to 500 core people were used in the social media campaign to ‘amplify’ ideas during the highly populist campaign that made strong use of social media, with each people involved tapping their own social network.

The French President and the Russian hacker spies

Strong allegations have been swirling around about the attempted role of Russian hackers in the French presidential election for months.

Latest reports appear to confirm that Russian spies were using fake Facebook accounts to try to collect private information about Emmanuel Macron leading up to the election. Investigations reportedly confirmed that up to a dozen fake Facebook profiles were created, designed to conduct surveillance on Emmanuel Macron and people close to him by pretending to be ‘friends of friends’ of his associates, to mine the social network for insider information.

Free speech

China fears human rights champion Liu Xiabo even in death and … Winnie-the-Pooh

The tragic and untimely death of imprisoned Tiananmen Square hero, human rights champion, and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo sent shock waves around the world.

The immense power of the Chinese human rights giant was further illustrated by China’s reaction to his passing.

As people started to mourn him on social media, China’s pathetic, but highly effective, censorship operation swung into motion, banning the use of Liu Xiabo’s name, the abbreviation ‘RIP,’ the candle emoji, the word ‘Nobel,’ and the phrase ‘I have no enemies.’

I have no enemies‘ is the title of Liu Xiabo’s 2009 essay which he prepared to read at his trial on charges of ‘inciting subversion of state power,’ but was prevented from doing so.

Searches for these items on Weibo started returning China’s standard censorship indicator: ‘According to relevant laws and policies, the results you searched for cannot be displayed.’

Many Chinese citizens evaded this censorship by creating innovative new terms of protest, such as ‘Heaven is watching’ and ‘1955 – 2017,’and posting their messages on banned Western social media sites which they access via VPNs.

How strong can a state really be if it fears even the mention of a single dead man?

And it’s not just human rights champions who get the attention of China’s State-censorship apparatus. Winnie-the-Pooh is not safe either …

After some clever Chinese social media users recently used Winnie-the-Pooh’s image to subtly criticise President Xi Jinping, China’s censors swung into action with social media users suddenly reporting problems with posting references to A.A. Milne’s classic character.

And this is not the first time Winnie-the-Pooh had fallen afoul of China’s censors.

China to ban VPNs

Last month I reported on China banning live streaming, after regulation proved unsustainable.

This month news emerged that China had given notice to China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom to block access to all virtual private networks by February 2018. This latest directive follows the shutting down of China’s most popular VPN service, GreenVPN, after it received a regulatory notice.

China’s notorious online censorship driven millions to using VPNs to bypass China’s ‘Great Firewall,’ which prevents access to countless websites, including Facebook, Google, Instagram, and Twitter.

In response to pressure from China, Apple has already started removing VPN apps from its Chinese App Store.

The blocking of VPNs in China will have a signficant impact on the freedom of expression, and access to information.

Vietnam bloggers continue to challenge despite crackdown

Last month I reported on Vietnam jailing popular blogger and human rights activist ‘Mother Mushroom’ for 10 years.

Despite the increasing government crackdown on activists, they are not going away. In fact they are drawing strength from, and are emboldened by, their shared experiences of police harassment.

Nguyen Anh Tuan, a 27-year-old Vietnamese pro-democracy activist who continues his work despite police harassment, is a great example of this new trend.

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

In June I noted the assertion by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University in New York that Donald Trump blocking critics on Twitter could be a suppression of speech in a ‘designated public forum’ protected by the Constitution.

Now a group of blocked Twitter users filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York, arguing that the president’s Twitter account constitutes a ‘public forum,’ and seeking an injunction requiring Donald Trump to unblock their accounts and stop blocking others. The participants say their case is bolstered by a recent ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States in which the court unanimously struck down a North Carolina law prohibiting registered sex offenders accessing social media, with Justice Anthony Kennedy referring to social media as ‘the modern public square.’

The social media image of a miniskirt scandalises Saudi Arabia

Some cultures take very little effort to outrage. A woman in Saudi Arabia is risking serious prison time by posting a video of herself to Snapchat in a miniskirt and a crop top, walking around in a village just north of Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. The province is the birthplace of the country’s ultra conservative Wahhabi religious movement.

Saudi Arabia is one of the strictest Islamic nations, and when it comes to controlling women all aspects are covered, including how they dress in public.

Conservative sections of Saudi society responded to her brazen challenge to the oppressive status quo with howls of outrage, demanding respect for the laws:

Saudi Arabian authorities promptly tracked her down and arrested her over the ‘indecent dress’ incident.

Police in #Riyadh arrested a woman who appeared in indecent clothing in #Ashikar and referred her to the public prosecutor.
@alekgbariyatv

With more than half of the oppressive nation’s population under the age of 25, the country’s 31-year-old heir to the throne will have his work cut out for him as he promises greater freedoms to appease the younger population, while navigating strict gender segregation rules and other restrictions on women favoured by conservatives.

Perhaps it’s an encouraging sign that after a questioning that lasted a few hours the young woman was released without charge, with her case closed. The statement accompanying her release noted that the video was posted to social media without her knowledge.

Privacy

Google’s French affair Flares up again

The battle between France’s data privacy regulator, Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL), and Google has been ongoing for a couple of years now, since CNIL hit Google with a notice requiring it to remove certain search results from searches not just in the European Union, but worldwide, pursuant to the May 2014 decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD), Mario Costeja González (C-131-12), which effectively established in the European Union what is now known as the ‘right to be forgotten.’ The matter culminated in a €100,000 fine in March 2016.

Related stories:
Google’s French affair lingers (May 2016)
Google’s French affair becomes unforgettable (September 2015)

Last year Google took the final appeal available to it in France by taking the matter to the Supreme Court for Administrative Justice, the Conseil d’État.

In turn, Conseil d’État, the Council of State, has decided to pass the matter on to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Google continues to argue that a balance needs to be found between the right to privacy and freedom of speech, and that removals pursuant to the ‘right to be forgotten’ should not go beyond Europe’s borders into jurisdictions with different laws.

CNIL continues to hold the position that removals must be global to uphold the privacy rights of citizens of the European Union because most modern users of the internet can easily circumvent Google’s domestic domain where the delistings are currently actioned.

Facebook prevails in Californian privacy lawsuit

In Facebook Internet Tracking Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 12-md-02314, US District Judge Edward Davila dismissed a lawsuit against Facebook which alleged that the company violated federal and state privacy and wiretapping laws, for the second time.

At issue was Facebook’s ability to track Facebook users’ browsing activity even after logging out from the site, through Facebook’s ‘Like’ buttons that can be found on many other sites. The case was first rejected in October 2015.

The District Judge rejected the case again, holding that the complainants failed to establish that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy or that they had suffered any real economic harm or loss. The Judge also noted the plaintiffs could have taken relatively simple steps to ensure their own privacy in the circumstances if they so wished.

Social media gone wrong

Donald Trump and Twitter

The combination of Donald Trump and Twitter is the embodiment of what can go wrong when social media is used inappropriately.

Donald Trump had long used Twitter to viciously abuse foes and critics, and his social media bullying tactics are well documented. In light of her husband’s social media activities, it will be interesting to see Melania Trump’s promised anti-cyberbullying campaign unfold

Many of his tweets in the past have been considered to have ‘crossed a line,’ but he remains unrepentant and continues to employ social media in questionable ways, and with utter impunity.

Frankly, if the tweets he sends weren’t coming from the President of the United States, he would have been long suspended by the platform for breaching its rules, given his messages are regularly filled with insults, half-truths, and outright lies even.

Journalists are now chronicling Donald Trump’s deleted tweets to keep him accountable …

His latest Twitter attack on CNN caused further outrage, because it is being seen as inciting violence against the media and journalists, in an already volatile cultural, political, and social environment.

Perhaps the best and most sophisticated response came from our Tweet of the Month winner, J.K. Rowling, quoting George Washington …

Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump sees no issues with the manner in which he behaves on social media.

And he does use the medium with some frequency. A news alert by his favourite news network, CNN, revealed that in the first six months of his presidency he tweeted 991 times – that’s 165 tweets per month, or just over 5 tweets per day …

No one tell him though that his personal following of just over 34 million people (with only around half of them genuine according to Twitter Audit) at his @RealDonaldTrump account is far behind Barack Obama’s @BarackObama account which has over 92 million followers (with 90% of those followers real), because we just don’t know how Donald Trump might react.

Donald Trump is also under ‘attack’ by the ‘Banned Gradmas‘ of Instagram.

The Instagram account has been set up to bring attention to Donald Trump’s travel ban, by posting images of grandmothers who are prevented from visiting the United States under the new rules preventing citizens of six Muslim-majority countries to enter the US without a ‘credible claim of a bona fide’ or close relationship with a person or entity already in the US.

Under State Department guidelines grandparents fall into the excluded category.

This is Alison's mamani. Probably guilty of too much mach-o-boos.

A post shared by Banned Grandmas (@bannedgrandmas) on

Maman Saideh won't be in NYC for Asal's graduation from Columbia University – via @maya_1957

A post shared by Banned Grandmas (@bannedgrandmas) on

Yasmin's grandma is guilty of the wild belief that each meal must be accompanied by sherry and a cigarette

A post shared by Banned Grandmas (@bannedgrandmas) on

Actor James Wood ‘a smugly menacing public nuisance on social media’

As it turns out, Donald Trump is not the only B-grade celebrity misbehaving on social media. You may recall James Wood from such movies as Casino, Videodrome, Once Upon a Time in America, The Hard Way, Nixon, and Salvador.

As it turns out, he followed up his cinematic career by embarking on becoming a conservative internet troll, leading The Huffington Post to describe him as ‘a smugly menacing public nuisance on social media.’

The latest furore surrounding his social media adventures followed a Twitter post in which he savagely criticised the supportive parents of a young ‘non-gender conforming’ child.

It is not entirely clear why Mr Woods had taken upon himself to offer parenting ‘advice’ to people he does not know, and why he chose to do so using such highly questionable language.

But then, that’s exactly what internet trolls do …

Woods’ tweet solicited a number of high-profile responses, including from Neil Patrick Harris.

The Blue Whale Challenge – what is it, and is it killing kids?

The Blue Whale Challenge is a rumoured social media phenomenon that supposedly originated in Russia. The challenge allegedly consists of tasks assigned to players over a 50-day period, from mundane every day tasks to self-mutilation, with the final task calling upon the player to commit suicide …

The latest victim of the social media game is believed to be 15-year-old Isaiah Gonzalez from San Antonio, in the United States.

Young Isaiah was found hanging from the closet door of his bedroom with his phone still propped up, broadcasting his suicide. The family of Isaiah convinced his death is linked to the challenge based on images he sent to friends prior to his death.

Beauty blogger Vika Shapel’s ‘Chocolate Challenge’ goes down like a lead balloon

No, we are not talking about eating or drinking chocolate for better skin.

We are talking about putting brown-toned makeup on the face to make the skin appear darker … what?! … ooh?! … I see …

The clearly utterly culturally clueless YouTube beauty blogger Ms Shapel issued what she termed the ‘Chocolate Challenge’ on Instagram encouraging followers to experiment darker tones of makeup to turn a ‘pasty pale’ complexion into ‘deep chocolate skin tones.’

Yes, seriously.

She helpfully accompanied the Instagram call with an image of herself and a friend, with half of their faces painted dark brown (with the other half remaining their natural white skin colour).

As it turns out, Ms Shapel was apparently not aware of the American cultural taboo that’s ‘blackface’. The rest of the world does not suffer from the same cultural amnesia, and the backlash was practically immediate.

Although Ms Shapel apologised promptly after the issue was explained to her, she deactivated all of her social media accounts since in response to the intense backlash.

While Ms Shapel is originally from the Ukraine, she now lives in the United Sates, and it is hard to imagine that anyone living in the US, or arguably anywhere in the world, could not be aware of the troubled history of blackface.

A new villain for the social media age

Jake Paul, an actor on Disney’s hit Bizaardvark series, is the latest rising social media star, with over 8.5 million followers on both Instagram and YouTube.

But as far as his neighbours are concerned he is a villain. Who would have thought that filming all those prank videos would be annoying those who live around him?!

Residents of the street where he rents a large house have been liaising with police and city officials to review whether he meets code requirements, and are also considering filing a class action lawsuit to declare him a public nuisance.

Shortly after the story broke about his behaviour, Disney announced that Jake Paul was leaving the show.

We’ve mutually agreed that Jake Paul will leave his role on the Disney Channel series. On behalf of the production company, the cast and crew, we thank Jake for his good work on the TV series for the past 18 months and extend our best wishes to him.

Social media abuse and harassment

Last month I noted the critical business issue facing social media companies whereby people won’t join, or leave, social networks due to rampant abuse and harassment on social media.

This month we have been given a celebrity example of people ‘departing’ Twitter for just such reasons, when musician Ed Sheeran announced that he had stopped actively using the social network.

I go on it and there’s nothing but people saying mean things. Twitter’s a platform for that. One comment ruins your day. But that’s why I’ve come off it. The head-f**k for me has been trying to work out why people dislike me so much.

While he continues to allow his Instagram account to post to Twitter, he no longer actively uses his account.

We also learned this month that ‘patriotic trolling’ is apparently an offical thing now, with its own name and definition.

And no, patriotic trolling is not just for dictatorships, and failed or failing democracies anymore.

In some countries, the state itself incites such attacks, urging its supporters to exploit the virility and familiarity of social media to amplify government messages and take down dissenting voices. In other cases, the government’s role is more oblique; individual politicians and media personalities fuel online campaigns aimed to discredit critics, while the government leverages the incident for political gain.

The Guardian’s Carly Nyst identified the, bordering on the absurd, online trolling of Yassmin Abdel-Magied, engineer, writer and social advocate, as a recent Australian example of patriotic trolling, with members of the government playing their own subtle role, and the abuse then amplified by a troll army, in a manner reminiscent of documented attacks against journalists in China, Turkey, and other nations off, or in the process of falling off, the democratic horizon.

The emergence of patriotic trolls puts at risk human rights and values that are critical to the proper functioning of any democracy. Patriotic trolling attacks undermine the rights of individuals to freely impart and receive ideas, of journalists to report free from arbitrary influence, and of activists to live free from invasions of their privacy and personal safety.

Meanwhile, the social networks continue to roll out tools in their attempts to control and prevent abuse and harassment on their networks.

The latest tool by Twitter is designed to enable users to mute notification from unknown accounts – the main source of social media abuse and harassment. The further refined ‘Advanced Filter Settings‘ now allow users to mute all notifications from accounts they don’t follow, or doesn’t follow them, or has a default photo, among other various useful criteria.

Of course this tool doesn’t prevent trolls from posting their abusive messages, but users who take advantage of this filtering can now exist in blissful ignorance of those messages.

Twitter’s General Manager for Consumer Product and Engineering, Ed Ho formally reported on the effectiveness of its efforts to tackle trolls and abuse this month.

According to the report, Twitter takes action ten times more often now on abusive accounts than during the same time last year, and it has, among other things:

  • removed twice the amount of repeat offenders who create new accounts after being suspended;
  • achieved a 25% decline in abuse reports related to accounts that have been suspended; and
  • significantly reduced repeat offenders following suspension, with 65% not offending again).

While the percentage shifts look good, Twitter didn’t release actual numbers, so the full scale of the problem is not entirely clear.

Gizmodo provided a slightly deeper insight into the scale of Twitter’s problems, reporting earlier this month that ‘Twitter’s security team purged nearly 90,000 fake accounts after outside researchers discovered a massive botnet peddling links to fake “dating” and “romance” services.’

Research by a University of Southern California team also suggests that of Twitter’s 328 million monthly active users, as many as 49 million (9 to 15% of its active users) could be so-called bots, strategically set up to target specific groups and inflate digital metrics by using artificial retweets and mentions.

While some may argue that fake profiles and spam are a different issue from trolls and abuse, arguably fake profiles are one of the main tools used by troll armies swarming their innocent victims.

And the latest numbers are not in Twitter’s favour, with a reported 2 million users abandoning the platform in the last quarter.

Social media in the workplace

In August last year I reported on the case of Angela Gibbins, a manager at the British Council, after she posted a Facebook comment critical of Prince George.

Following an investigation into her comment by her employer she was dismissed, but she is now challenging her sacking before the Central London Employment Tribunal, arguing her comment was entirely appropriate, observational, and did not involve abusive or foul language of any kind.

She argues she was fired not because of her comment, but because she is a republican. She claims that it is overwhelmingly clear that a decision was made to fire her before any proper investigation took place.

She is seeking damages from the British Council, and is asking for her old job back, or a new role.

The case of an American man who was fired after his racist tirade posted to social media went viral, just came to my attention. John Pisone decided to confront a group of anti-fracking protesters while they were being filmed for a climate change documentary. Before long, his anger spread to the man behind the camera, calling cinematographer Tom Jefferson a ‘chimp,’ a ‘f**king n**ger,’ referred to his hair as a ‘mop on his head,’ and proceeded to make monkey noises at him.

Soon the viral video came to the attention of his employer, MMC Land Management, a land management company, which promptly fired him.

Today, we were disgusted to learn that one of MMC’s former employees used racial slurs and made racially charged comments during a peaceful protest in Mars, Pennsylvania, outside of work hours at a location with which we have no affiliation. We are sorry that this incident occurred. Whether at work or not, we do not condone hate speech – EVER. Inclusion and diversity are among MMC’s core values.

This case provides a timely reminder that is not just what you yourself post to social media can catch up with you. If you behave in an unacceptable manner, and that behaviour is captured and later posted to social media, it can have similarly devastating consequences.

Meanwhile an adjunct professor has been fired from Brigham Young University – Idaho, a university operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, after Ruthie Robertson refused to delete a private post from her Facebook account in support of the LGBT community, written to coincide with LGBT Pride Month. In the comment Ms Robertson offered a detailed analysis and criticism of the religious objections of her church to homosexuality.

In honor of LGBT Pride Month, I thought I would reveal some things in the name of authenticity.

I’m currently a member of the LDS Church. This organization has openly and forcefully opposed same-sex relationships and legalized same-sex marriage.

They pushed members in California to fight against Prop 8, and had a policy claiming that same-sex relationships were a sin and discouraged individuals from participating in them. In the past, the Church was a facilitator for adoptions. They ended this part of the organization to avoid having to deal with adoption requests from same-sex couples.

In November 2015, they took their stance further by labeling same-sex couples in the Church as apostates, meaning those found in these relationships would have a disciplinary hearing to determine their membership status; they can either end their engagements in this sinful life, or be excommunicated.

The policy also prevents their children from joining the Church until they are 18, with the condition that they disavow their parent’s life style. For an organization that places so much importance on the family unit, this policy sure seems to be attacking a form of that unit.

Most Christian faiths label homosexuality as a sin based on archaic writings. A few hateful verses in the Old Testament have led to hundreds of years of prejudice, hatred, violence, and pain.

If we’re going to follow the Old Testament, and use it to justify a hateful stance, there are several other things we need to start condemning and punishing. Leviticus 19:19 tells us we can’t wear clothing of two kinds of material… so, basically every clothing item ever has to be burned. The next time you see someone wearing clothes (which is always… so, you’re welcome for the opportunity to show your spiritual superiority), check the tag to see the materials it’s made from. If it’s more than one, tell them they should desire to walk around naked rather than wear clothing made of more than one material!

Women, in Leviticus 15, we learn that God purposely made us unclean. When we menstruate, we are unclean for those 7 days. Oh, and anyone or anything that touches us during that time is unclean as well. You aren’t allowed to go to church at that time because you’ll corrupt everything there with your blood flow. Oh, and you know how God also gave us the ability to grow a human inside of us? Well, after a woman has a child, she has a period of impurity and cannot be touched. If it’s a boy, she’s unclean for 40 days. If it’s a girl, she’s unclean for 80 days.

As a female, you also are not allowed to read from the scriptures (wait… how am I supposed to know about my impurity rituals then?! I need to know how to make myself pure after my period!..too bad). You also cannot preach in a church (can I use this excuse next time I’m asked to speak in church?)

None of this is archaic, sexist, or totally illogical at all though, right? God commanded these things, so we need to make sure we make these into policies as well!

What I’m trying convey is that we like to pick and choose from the scriptures, and if we choose to use the Old Testament as a defense for condemning homosexuality… there’s a whole lot more we need to be condemning as well. The Book of Mormon is supposed to be the keystone of the Church, right? It never once mentions homosexuality.

What is does mention is that God disposed the practice of polygamy, and the Nephites are brought to repentance for practicing it…. yet, Joseph Smith said God commanded him to practice it. We can’t keep picking and choosing what kind of God we worship, and we can’t keep picking and choosing which commandments of his are to be enforced or not.

This is my official announcement and declaration that I believe heterosexuality and homosexuality are both natural and neither is sinful.

I will never support the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” because that “sin” is part of who that person is. Homosexuality and transgenderism are not sins; if God made us, and those are part of who we are then God created that as well.

I realize that my views counter the current day policies of the LDS Church, but I hope that over time the Church will come to see the harm these policies have.

Church History shows that the Church has rescinded policies before that weren’t doctrinal, and that weren’t inspired by the Lord. I hope that this will someday apply to the stance on the LGBT community.

I will always and forever stand up for the equality of the LGBT community. Sexuality and gender are not binary, they are on a spectrum and that’s how we were made. Stand up for humanity, love people because of who they are… not despite who they are. Trump can break the tradition of June being LGBT pride month, but I’m still going to celebrate it.. this month and every month to follow. #LGBTPrideMonth

Closer to home, Angus Aitken, Bell Potter, and ANZ gripped the headlines for several months last year.

It all started with Michelle Jablko’s appointment by ANZ as its Chief Financial Officer, followed by a scathing note to investors about the appointment by Angus Aitken of Bell Potter, culminating in a single tweet by Paul Edwards, ANZ’s Head of Corporate Communications slamming the note as sexist.

Before long Mr Aitken departed from Bell Potter, and soon after he made allegations of defamation against ANZ, and Mr Edwards, and commenced proceedings in the Supreme Court of NSW for defamation, misleading and deceptive conduct, and intimidation.

Related stories:
Angus Aitken, Michelle Jablko, Paul Edwards and that tweet (May 2016)
Angus Aitken, Michelle Jablko, Paul Edwards and that tweet (June 2016)
The Angus Aitken Twitter saga enters the Supreme Court of NSW (July 2016)

A year on, news emerged this month that a confidential settlement has been reached in the matter, and Mr Edwards posted an apology to Twitter in which he states that ANZ withdraws the allegation that Mr Aitken is sexist.

Conversely, Mr Aitken issued a statement in which he apologised and withdrawn the allegation that Mr Edwards and the ANZ engaged intimidatory conduct.

I may have got it a little wrong on defamation?

Back in August 2015 I questioned whether social media defamation would become a major issue for the courts:

It would appear the courts are far from ‘struggling’ with a flood of social media defamation cases and, while some legislative changes may eventually be warranted by this new medium, existing laws have been applied by the courts to manage disputes arising from its use with minimal fuss.

‘Inquiries’ about social media defamation to a law firm, and a dozen or so cases over a few years before the courts worthy of media coverage are not a great cause for concern, and don’t necessarily lead to a forecast of a flood of new cases.

I noted before there is an argument for a timely review of defamation laws in Australia, especially in light of the recent Hockey and Fairfax battle, but there is certainly no law reform emergency.

Well, almost two years later the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW, Tom Bathurst, is warning about the worrying costs of an increasing number of defamation trials, many of which can be traced back to social media.

In an interview the Chief Justice gave to The Sydney Morning Herald to mark the 40th anniversary of his admission to the bar, he suggested that it may be time to refer defamation law to the Law Reform Commission for examination.

The Chief Justice noted that the courts are dealing with a rising tide of defamation cases caused by careless social media posts and other online behaviour, causing the costs of managing such cases to blow out.

The Chief Justice went on to suggest that the rise of social media defamation cases may justify law reform that would simplify defamation law in Australia.

Crime (and punishment)

Blackmail has no age limit

In May I looked at a troubling case of blackmail involving a gay dating App, and underage perpetrators. The 17-year-old ringleader was sentenced to six months in jail, with another young man given a suspended sentence.

Now, a 16-year-old, part of the gang of four who lured gay men to meet them using fake profiles pretending to be other adult men, then accusing their victims of paedophilia and demanding money from them, has been given a year to turn his life around by Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker in the Australian Capital Territory’s Children’s Court.

The Chief Magistrate characterised the actions of the boys as ‘homophobic’ and ‘hateful offending’, but handed the troubled young man a deferred sentence with strict reporting obligations, in the hope he can be rehabilitated.

Revenge porn and ‘creepshots’

I have been reporting on the troubling phenomenon of revenge porn extensively in recent times, given its prevalence on social media, law enforcement agencies’ and social networks’ ongoing struggle to deal with offenders, and legislators’ apparent lack of understanding of the seriousness of the problem.

Related stories:
Revenge porn (May 2017)
Revenge porn (April 2017)
Revenge porn leads to suspended jail time and a fine in New South Wales (March 2017)
Revenge porn (February 2017)
Revenge porn gets the attention of Australia’s Federal Government (November 2016)
South Australia criminalises ‘revenge porn’ (31 October 2016)
NSW Government announces plans to criminalise ‘revenge porn’ (26 September 2016)
Another online pornographic scandal (29 August 2016)
The ongoing fallout from the proliferation of revenge porn (25 July 2016)
Revenge porn continues to plague the internet (27 June 2016)
Revenge porn continues to be a serious issue (30 May 2016)
Privacy in New South Wales (23 March 2016)
Crime (and punishment) (28 February 2016)
Chrissy Chambers (22 September 2015)

The latest example of revenge porn comes from the United States, from a member of the Kardashian clan.

Robert Kardashian was suspended from Instagram after he posted explicit images of his ex-fiance, and mother of his infant daughter, to the social network without her consent. He then posted those images to Twitter.

Twitter responded by deleting them.

Posting non-consensual explicit images is not just a breach of the social media platforms’ terms of use, but it is also illegal in California.

The pair’s acrimonious relationship has been playing out in public for some time now, but Kardashian’s decision to post nude images of Blac Chyna is a long step over the line.

Arguably, the celebrity angle of this case makes it harder to impress upon impressionable young people that revenge porn is simply unacceptable, and potentially criminal, behaviour.

If you ever face being the victim of revenge porn, capture the images immediately by taking a screenshot, and copying the relevant social media links. This is an immediate, short-term strategy.

Your next immediate step is to report the images to the relevant social media platform. Each platform will have a process, and facility for reporting inappropriate posts, usually directly from the post itself through a drop-down menu:

Once you have done so, contact your local police about the matter, and also file a report with the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN), but keep in mind that the latter is not designed to take swift action.

Under 18s can also turn for help to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner for further assistance.

A growing number of jurisdictions have specific laws criminalising revenge porn, and even jurisdictions that are yet to act will often have existing laws that will enable law enforcement to take some form of action.

It is generally not a good idea to directly contact the person behind the posting of revenge porn, no matter how tempting it may be to do so.

Creepshots are not sexually explicit, but nevertheless are taken without consent and can cause immense feelings of invasion of privacy by victims. Although women in creepshots are often non-identifiable by the general public as their face is usually cropped out, the women involved will often recognise themselves when they come across the image.

Creepshot
A picture taken, generally of a woman, without her knowledge or consent. Creepshots are similar to upskirts, but are usually of the butts of women in yoga pants, or shots of women who happen to be showing a great amount of cleavage.
Urban Dictionary

Sadly, there are a growing number of websites and social media accounts devoted to creepshots. Unfortunately, creepshots are usually not illegal in Australia, because in public spaces there is no general prohibition on taking photographs or videos.

You can still report the social media accounts and websites involved, and ask that materials be taken down, or try to demonstrate that the image has been taken on a private property or in a circumstance where you had a reasonable expectation of privacy, or is harassing or offensive.

Facebook Live used to live stream yet another sexual assault

In Mississippi, two teens have been arrested over the sexual and physical abuse of a 23-year-old disabled woman, which they live streamed.

Related stories:
Facebook Live (May 2017)
Facebook Live continues to court disaster (April 2017)
Facebook Live allegedly used to broadcast sexual assault … again (March 2017)
Copyright fracas over boxing fight (February 2017)
The troubles of Facebook Live (January 2017)

At one point the stream was receiving over 48,000 views.

I can’t help but be disturbed by the incredible numbers of shares and views of this crude and despicable event.
Police Chief Leonard Papania, Gulfport, Mississippi

The men face charges of felony kidnapping and sexual assault.

In June Buzzfeed published an analysis which showed at least 45 instances of violence streamed via Facebook Live since its launch, from murders, to rapes, shootings, child abuse, torture, suicides, and attempted suicides.

British aristocrat jailed over racist threats on Facebook towards Gina Miller

In January I reported that a number of people were served with ‘cease and desist’ notices in the UK over their abusive online behaviour, towards Gina Miller, the woman behind the landmark BREXIT legal challenge.

Now, recently bankrupt British aristocrat, Viscount Rhodri Philipps, has been jailed for 12 weeks for sending malicious communications, involving racially aggravated threats, to her.

In a Facebook post, Viscount Philipps saw it fit to offer ‘£5,000 for the first person to “accidentally” run over this bloody troublesome first-generation immigrant.’

He now will be spending a short time in jail and will be required to pay £500 in compensation to Ms Miller.

Regulatory issues

Facebook’s turn to face regulatory troubles in Europe

Right on the heels of Google’s European 2.4 billion fine, now Facebook is facing the potential wrath of Europe’s competition regulators.

I reported in March last year that Germany’s federal competition authority, the Federal Cartel Office, Bundeskartellamt, was investigating Facebook over its data collection practices in conjunction with its dominant market position, exploring whether the company is using unlawful terms and conditions relating to the collection and use of consumer data in the context of its market dominance.

Reports indicate that the Bundeskartellamt is getting ready to report on the results of its investigations and comments made by lawyers familiar with the investigation are not good news for Facebook: ‘Whoever doesn’t agree to the data use, gets locked out of the social network community. The fear of social isolation is exploited to get access to the complete surfing activities of users.’

The President of the Bundeskartellamt also suggested that its Facebook case deals with ‘central questions ensuring competition in the digital world in the future.’

Facebook continues to take a stand on search warrants

In February I wrote in some detail about concerns expressed by social media companies when it comes to access to social media data by law enforcement agencies.

In particular, I reported on The Matter of 381 Search Warrants Directed to Facebook Inc., which involved search warrants issued in 2013 ordering Facebook to turn over all of the information contained in the Facebook accounts of 381 members, including private conversations and photos in a matter relating to investigation into disability fraud by police officers and other public employees. Only 62 of the 381 were charged with an offence. In July 2015 a New York appellate court held that Facebook has no legal standing to challenge the search warrants on behalf of its members, and a further appeal in the matter to the New York Court of Appeals had also failed.

Now Facebook had filed new proceedings, this time in Washington, D.C. over search warrants, and related gag orders which prevent the company from discussing those warrants, which arose from protests earlier this year at Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The precise nature of the investigations is not known beyond the fact that they involve felony charges, but Facebook argues that the gag order in question is in breach of the First Amendment.

Technology firms, including Apple, Google, and Microsoft, and the American Civil Liberties Union all stepped out in support of Facebook in this matter, filing amicus submissions of their own.

Australian government plans law forcing social media companies to decrypt online communications

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull suggested that the Australian government is planning to introduce legislation requiring social media companies to decrypt online messages when required by police and security agencies in the course of investigating terrorism and other criminal offences.

We cannot allow the internet to be used as a place for terrorists and child molesters and people who peddle child pornography, and drug traffickers to hide in the dark.

The new law is likely to be similar to the British Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which comprehensively details the electronic surveillance powers of British security agencies and the police.

Experts however believe that applications and services that automatically encrypt messages are so sophisticated that the companies themselves would be unable to decrypt them on demand, unless specific weaknesses are built into the system which could then be exploited by others.

Facebook, one of the intended targets of the proposed legislation responded immediately flagging its resistance to any weakening of decryption systems.

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