Facebook and Twitter have recently deleted thousands of posts, pages and accounts in response to demands from the Israeli ministry of justice, Quds Press reported on Wednesday.
“We succeeded to achieve our goals as around 70 per cent of our demands [to delete Facebook and Twitter content] were fulfilled,” Israeli Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked said, according to Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.
She also added: “We succeeded to delete incitement contents calling for death and violence across the internet.”
During a meeting she held to discuss “fighting incitement and shameful content on social media” three-days ago, Shaked reiterated Israel’s “cooperation with Facebook, Twitter and google regarding the violent electronic Palestinian incitement”.
Shaked claimed that when internet incitement decreased, the attacks on Israelis decreased.
“This proves that there is a direct relationship between internet incitement and violence in Israel,” she said.
A new agreement between the European Commission and four major U.S. companies—Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft—went into effect yesterday. The agreement will require companies to “review the majority of valid notifications for removal of hate speech in less than 24 hours and remove or disable access to such content,” as well as “educate and raise awareness” with their users about the companies’ guidelines.
The deal was made under the Commission’s “EU Internet Forum,” launched last year as a means to counter what EDRi calls “vaguely-defined ‘terrorist activity and hate speech online.’” While some members of civil society were able to participate in discussions, they were excluded from the negotiations that led to the agreement, says EDRi.
The agreement has been met with opposition by a number of groups, including EDRi (of which we’re a member), Access Now, and Index on Censorship, all of which have expressed concerns that the deal with stifle freedom of expression. The decision has also sparked debate on social media, with a wide variety of individuals and groups opposing the decision under the hashtag #IStandWithHateSpeech.
But you don’t have to stand with hate speech to stand against this decision. There are several reasons to oppose this Orwellian agreement. First, while Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allows states to limit freedom of expression under select circumstances, such limitations are intended to be the exception, and are permitted only to protect the following:
The rights or reputations of others,
public health, or
These limits must also meet a three-part test as defined by the ICCPR: be defined by law; have legitimate aim; and be truly necessary. While some of the speech that concerns the Commission may very well qualify as illegal under some countries’ laws, the method by which they’ve sought to limit it will surely have a chilling effect on free speech.
In addition, as EDRi points out, despite a lengthy negotiation between companies and the Commission, “hate speech” remains vaguely-defined. Companies have been tasked with taking the lead on determining what constitutes hate speech, with potentially disastrous results.
In fact, social media companies have an abysmal track record when it comes to regulating any kind of speech. As Onlinecensorship.org’s research shows, speech that is permitted by companies’ terms of service is often removed, with users given few paths to recourse. Users report experiencing bans from Facebook for 24 hours to up to 30 days if the company determines they’ve violated the Community Standards—which, in many cases, the user has not. Requiring companies to review complaints within 24 hours will almost surely result in the removal of speech that would be legal in Europe.
By taking decision-making outside of the democratic system and into backrooms, and granting corporations even greater control, the European Commission is ensuring a chill on online speech.
Hamas has slammed Twitter for closing several accounts linked to the Palestinian resistance movement, saying the company is biased in favor of the Israeli regime.
The Hamas military wing, Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said in a statement on Friday that its English- and Arabic-language accounts had been shut down for the third time in a fortnight.
Twitter is showing a “clear bias to the Israeli occupation where it should (adopt a) neutral position toward both sides,” the statement added.
It said that the closure comes while Twitter allows Israeli officials to encourage “racism, extremism and terrorism” on the social networking site.
Qassam also urged Twitter to reopen its accounts, saying one of those closed accounts had been followed by over 140,000 followers.
Twitter declined to comment, saying in a statement that the company does not comment on individual accounts citing “privacy and security reasons.”
Since its establishment in December 1987, Hamas has refused to recognize Israel and adopted resistance against the Israeli occupation, which it believes is the sole way of bringing about the liberation of occupied Palestinian territories. The movement says its goal is to liberate the entire Palestine.
The Palestinian resistance movement scored a landslide victory in Palestinian elections in 2006. Hamas has ruled the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, while Fatah has set up headquarters in the occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank.
Israel has waged three large-scale aerial and ground wars on Gaza in the past seven years. In its latest act of aggression in the summer of 2014, which lasted for 50 days, the regime killed about 2,200 Palestinians and inflicted heavy damage on Gaza’s infrastructure and economy. In that latest Israeli aggression, Twitter shut down most of Hamas’ accounts.
No Chinese Spring
BEIJING – Foreign companies will be banned from publishing online in China from March 10, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television said in a joint statement Friday.
“Sino-foreign joint ventures and foreign businesses shall not engage in online publishing services,” the regulations state.
The rules apply to “informative, ideological content text, pictures, maps, games, animation, audio and video digitizing books and other original works of literature, art, science and other fields.”
Joint projects are required to apply for special permission to carry out such activities from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, according to the new rules.
Domestic online media are required to inform the relevant authorities about their sources of funding, expenditure, personnel, domain name registration as well as being required to keep all servers and equipment in China.
Online outlets are prohibited from publishing information that may cause “harm to national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” “spread rumors, disturb social order or undermine social stability,” and harm “social morality or endanger national cultural tradition,” among others.
Foreign websites, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, and a number of Western publications remain inaccessible in China. Beijing has adopted a series of normative and ideological directives in recent years requiring national internet providers and media to closely monitor the quality of information disseminated online.
New Project Will Gather Users’ Stories of Censorship from Around the World
San Francisco – The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Visualizing Impact launched Onlinecensorship.org today, a new platform to document the who, what, and why of content takedowns on social media sites. The project, made possible by a 2014 Knight News Challenge award, will address how social media sites moderate user-generated content and how free expression is affected across the globe.
Controversies over content takedowns seem to bubble up every few weeks, with users complaining about censorship of political speech, nudity, LGBT content, and many other subjects. The passionate debate about these takedowns reveals a larger issue: social media sites have an enormous impact on the public sphere, but are ultimately privately owned companies. Each corporation has their own rules and systems of governance that control users’ content, while providing little transparency about how these decisions are made.
At Onlinecensorship.org, users themselves can report on content takedowns from Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, and YouTube. By cataloging and analyzing aggregated cases of social media censorship, Onlinecensorship.org seeks to unveil trends in content removals, provide insight into the types of content being taken down, and learn how these takedowns impact different communities of users.
“We want to know how social media companies enforce their terms of service. The data we collect will allow us to raise public awareness about the ways these companies are regulating speech,” said EFF Director for International Freedom of Expression and co-founder of Onlinecensorship.org Jillian C. York. “We hope that companies will respond to the data by improving their regulations and reporting mechanisms and processes—we need to hold Internet companies accountable for the ways in which they exercise power over people’s digital lives.”
York and Onlinecensorship.org co-founder Ramzi Jaber were inspired to action after a Facebook post in support of OneWorld’s “Freedom for Palestine” project disappeared from the band Coldplay’s page even though it had received nearly 7,000 largely supportive comments. It later became clear that Facebook took down the post after it was reported as “abusive” by several users.
“By collecting these reports, we’re not just looking for trends. We’re also looking for context, and to build an understanding of how the removal of content affects users’ lives. It’s important companies understand that, more often than not, the individuals and communities most impacted by online censorship are also the most vulnerable,” said Jaber. “Both a company’s terms of service and their enforcement mechanisms should take into account power imbalances that place already-marginalized communities at greater risk online.”
Onlinecensorship.org has other tools for social media users, including a guide to the often-complex appeals process to fight a content takedown. It will also host a collection of news reports on content moderation practices.
Jillian C. York
Director for International Freedom of Expression
Co-founder and co-director of Visualizing Impact
Ex-DHS Director Michael Chertoff: The Public Spying On Famous People With Their Smartphones Is A Bigger Issue Than NSA Spying
Former director of Homeland Security (and current profiteer off of any “security” scare) Michael Chertoff has penned quite an incredible op-ed for the Washington Post, in which he argues that the real threat to privacy today is not the NSA spying on everyone, but rather all you people out there in the public with your smartphones, taking photos and videos, and going to Twitter to post things you overheard more important people say. Seriously. It starts out by claiming this is a “less-debated threat”:
So it is striking that two recent news stories illustrate a less-debated threat to privacy that we as a society are inflicting on ourselves. Last week, a passenger on an Acela train decided to tweet in real time his summary of an overheard phone conversation by Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the CIA (and my current business partner). The same day, a photo was published of Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler at a summer party where he was surrounded by underage youths who apparently were drinking.
But he then goes on to argue that this kind of thing is more troubling than the NSA revelations, which Chertoff suggests is no big deal:
Of course, the delicious irony is obvious: In one case, the former NSA chief becomes a victim of eavesdropping. In the other, a politician critical of teen drinking fails to intervene when he is surrounded by it. But both stories carry a more troubling implication. The ubiquitousness of recording devices — coupled with the ability everyone has to broadcast indiscriminately through Twitter, YouTube and other online platforms — means that virtually every act or utterance outside one’s own home (or, in Gansler’s case, inside a private home) is subject to being massively publicized. And because these outlets bypass any editorial review, there is no assurance that what is disseminated has context or news value.
It would appear that Chertoff seems to believe that there should be no expectation of privacy for the things you actually do in private — generating metadata about who you call, where you go, what websites you visit, etc. But, stuff that you actually do in public should never be “broadcast” because it might embarrass famous people.
And, yes, it’s the famous people being embarrassed that seems to most concern Chertoff:
If a well-known person has an argument with a spouse or child at a restaurant, should it be broadcast? If a business personality expresses a political opinion at a private party, should that opinion (or a distortion of it) be passed on to the rest of the world? If a politician buys a book or a magazine at an airport, should a passerby inform everyone?
See? Think of those poor well-known people, having people telling others about what they do. What a shame! Incredibly, he argues that it’s this exposing of the public actions of famous people that creates real chilling effects — and not the NSA’s spying, which he calls “exaggerated.”
Are we creating an informant society, in which every overheard conversation, cellphone photograph or other record of personal behavior is transmitted not to police but to the world at large? Do we want to chill behavior and speech with the fear that an unpopular comment or embarrassing slip will call forth vituperative criticism and perhaps even adversely affect careers or reputations? Do we need to constantly monitor what we say or do in restaurants, at sporting events, on public sidewalks or even private parties?
I don’t know what clueless PR flack thought this was a good strategy, but the clear connotation is hard to miss: Look, we the powerful people get to spy on everyone, but the second you turn the tables and spy on us and the things we do in public, what a horrible shame! Something must be done!
The Bahrain Watch organization has revealed that the Manama regime uses fake Twitter accounts to track government critics online.
Since October 2012, the Bahraini regime has detained several citizens for posting anonymous tweets that refer to Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
An eight-month investigation showed that the Bahraini regime identifies those anonymous online critics by sending them malicious IP (Internet Protocol) spy links from a network of Twitter and Facebook accounts impersonating well-known opposition figures or other seemingly friendly individuals.
When a person clicks on an IP spy link, the report said, the security forces reveal the IP address of the internet connection they clicked from.
The regime can then force the internet service provider of the IP address to disclose the real name and street address of that internet connection’s subscriber.
According to the report, an examination of court records for five related cases shows that the Public Prosecution’s case centers on linking the IP address of the defendant to the offending anonymous Twitter account.
The prosecution, however, declined to disclose how the IP addresses were acquired, citing information obtained through “private methods that cannot be disclosed.”
The Bahraini regime apparently uses these accounts in secret, and may target their followers, friends, or contacts through private messages.
The report also lists over 120 other accounts that were also targeted in Twitter with IP spy links traceable to the government over the past two years.
Bahrain Watch lead researcher Bill Marczak said, “It is outrageous enough that individuals have been arrested and jailed for mere tweets criticizing the government.”
“That these individuals are being tracked down and convicted based on such weak digital evidence only makes matters worse.”
Bahrain Watch has urged political and social activists in Bahrain, and around the world, to be vigilant about impersonation accounts and malicious links.
“Given the government’s track record, it comes as no surprise that it would resort to such measures to stifle free speech,” Marczak stated.
“However, our hope is that this report will spread awareness of the methods that governments around the world use to trap digital activists.”
- Al-Khalifa regime blocks Al-Manar website in Bahrain (realisticbird.wordpress.com)
- Bahrain Declares War on the Opposition (lobelog.com)
Turkey said on Wednesday it had asked Twitter to set up a representative office inside the country, which could give it a tighter rein over the micro-blogging site it has accused of helping stir weeks of anti-government protests.
While mainstream Turkish media largely ignored the protests during the early days of the unrest, social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook emerged as the main outlets for Turks opposed to the government.
Transport and Communications Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters on Wednesday that without a corporate presence in the country, the Turkish government could not quickly reach Twitter officials with orders to take down content or with requests for user data.
“When information is requested, we want to see someone in Turkey who can provide this … there needs to be an interlocutor we can put our grievance to and who can correct an error if there is one,” he said.
“We have told all social media that … if you operate in Turkey you must comply with Turkish law,” Yildirim said.
Twitter declined to respond to the government request on Wednesday, but a person familiar with the company’s thinking said it had no current plans to open an office in that country.
Turkey successfully pressured Google Inc into opening an office there last October after blocking YouTube, a Google subsidiary, from Turkish Internet users for two years.
While Ankara had no problems with Facebook, which had been working with Turkish authorities for a while and had representatives inside Turkey, Yildirim said it had not seen a “positive approach” from Twitter after Turkey issued the “necessary warnings” to the site.
“Twitter will probably comply, too. Otherwise this is a situation that cannot be sustained,” he said, without elaborating, but he stressed the aim was not to limit social media.
An official at the ministry, who asked not to be named, said the government had asked Twitter to reveal the identities of users who posted messages deemed insulting to the government or prime minister, or that flouted people’s personal rights.
It was not immediately clear whether Twitter had responded.
Facebook said in a statement that it had not provided user data to Turkish authorities in response to government requests over the protests and said it was concerned about proposals Internet companies may have to provide data more frequently.
In the midst of some of the country’s worst political upheaval in years, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has described sites like Twitter as a “scourge,” although senior members of his party are regular users. He has said such websites were used to spread lies about the government with the aim of terrorizing society.
Police detained several dozen people suspected of inciting unrest on social media during the protests, according to local reports.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D. C., Twitter’s Chief Executive Dick Costolo said on Wednesday that he had been observing the developments in Turkey, but he emphasized that Twitter had played a hands-off role in the political debate.
“We don’t say, ‘Well, if you believe this, you can’t use our platform for that,'” Costolo said. “You can use our platform to say what you believe, and that’s what the people of Turkey … are using the platform for. The platform itself doesn’t have any perspective on these things.”
Turkey’s interior minister had previously said the government was working on new regulations that would target so-called “provocateurs” on social media but there have been few details on what the laws would entail.
One source with knowledge of the matter said the justice ministry had proposed a regulation whereby any Turk wishing to open a Twitter account would have to enter their national identification number, but this had been rejected by the transport ministry as being technically unfeasible.
Turkish users have increasingly turned to encryption software to thwart any ramp up in censorship of the Internet.
Last year, Twitter introduced a feature called “Country Withheld Content” that allows it to narrowly censor tweets considered illegal in a specific country, and it caused some concern among users.
Twitter implemented the feature for the first time in October in response to a request by German authorities, blocking messages in Germany by a right-wing group banned by police.
- Turkey announces plans ‘for gas’ and cyber security in face of Gezi protests (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Gulf Arab allies of the US have come under fire for introducing a series of draconian measures that limit Internet freedoms. The measures restrict content on social media sites, making “offending” posts punishable by extensive jail sentences.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain have tightened controls on Internet freedoms recently, targeting social media and phone applications alike in their communications crackdown.
Across the Gulf, dozens of journalists and social media users have been arrested since the beginning of the year for being in violation of the uncompromising national laws.
Punishments include deportation and lengthy prison sentences for crimes such as making derogatory comments about the government “in bad faith,” and offending religion and family values. In Saudi Arabia last month, top cleric Sheikh Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh warned citizens against using Twitter, stating that those who use social media sites “have lost this world and the afterlife.”
After threatening to ban messaging applications like Skype and WhatsApp, Saudi Arabia’s telecom regulator has chosen a new target: The web-based communication app Viber. The instant messaging application has been blocked since June 5.
“The Viber application has been suspended… and the [regulator] affirms it will take appropriate action against any other applications or services if they fail to comply with regulatory requirements and rules in force in the kingdom,” the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) said in a statement.
Viber allows its users to text, call and send photos and video messages worldwide using a 3G or Wifi connection, and boasts over 200 million subscribers worldwide.
In March, the CITC warned mobile providers in the Kingdom that if they could not find ways to monitor encrypted messaging and VOIP applications, then they would be blocked, according to local media. The commission then issued a statement saying that “it would take suitable measures against these apps and services,” in its push for greater control over the Internet.
The Saudi government has also begun arresting Twitter users for posts to their accounts. Local media reports that the government is looking into ending anonymity for Twitter users in the country by making users register their identification documents.
Despite its status as a regional media hub, the emirate state is considering a new cybercrime law that would widen government control over news websites and online commentaries.
If passed, the law would enable the government to punish websites or social media users for violating “the social principles or values,” or for publishing “news, photos, audio or visual recordings related to the sanctity of the private and familial life of persons, even if they were true, or infringes on others by libel or slander via the Internet or other information technology means,” Qatar News agency reported.
United Arab Emirates
At the end of 2012, the UAE passed a sweeping new cybercrime law: Anyone found guilty of criticizing the country’s rulers or institutions online may be jailed or deported. The law attracted widespread opposition, with legal consultants warning it is broad enough to penalize anyone caught posting allegedly offensive comments against the state.
This law has been used to jail citizens for Twitter posts over the past few months. In May, the UAE appeals court sentenced Abdullah Al-Hadidi to 10 months in jail for tweeting details of the trial of his father.
He was arrested on March 22 on charges of disseminating information on Twitter “in bad faith.” The court ruled that he wrote false details of a public hearing that, along with his father, involved 93 other people accused of plotting to seize power in the Gulf Arab state.
The government has arrested dozens of activists and at least six journalists in 2013 in the constitutional emirate, often described as the most liberal country in the region.
In March, Twitter user Hamed Al-Khaledi was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly insulting the ruler of the Gulf nation. Others have been accused of “threatening state security” or “offending religion.”
In April, a Kuwaiti court sentenced former parliamentarian and opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak to five years in prison for remarks deemed critical of the ruler of the state, which he made last year at a public rally.
Kuwait has been a member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 1996, which protects the right to freedom of expression, including peaceful criticism of public officials.
The Bahraini government has been trying to suppress an ongoing uprising by introducing stricter penalties. In April, the government passed a law making it illegal to insult the Gulf state’s King Hamad bin Issa al Khalifa, or its national symbols.
Recently, Bahraini blogger and activist Ali Abduleman was granted asylum in the UK after two years in hiding. Adbuleman claims he was persecuted by the government “for exercising the right to express his opinions” on his website. The Bahraini government claims he was tried for “inciting and encouraging continuous violent attacks against police officers” and conspired to spread “false and inflammatory rumors.”
In May, 62-year-old Bahraini protester Abdulla Sayegh was sentenced to three months in prison for hanging a national flag from his truck during a 2011 rally. The same month, six Twitter users were jailed for allegedly offensive comments about the country’s ruler deemed to be ‘abusing freedom of expression.’ According to prosecutors, they posted comments that undermined “the values and traditions of Bahrain’s society towards the king.”
One of the best-known human rights abuse cases in Bahrain is that of activist Nabeel Rajab, who was sentenced to three years in jail in August 2012 on charges of ‘participating in an illegal assembly’ and ‘calling for a march without prior notification.’ He openly criticized the country’s regime on RT for Julian Assange’s show The World Tomorrow.
The country has witnessed mass protests led by the kingdom’s majority Shiites against the minority Sunni-led government for two years. The Shiite demonstrators call for a transfer to a democratic system, and complain of discrimination in jobs and government. Their loyalty is in turn questioned by the ruling Al Khalifa monarchy, which has been in power for decades.
Twitter has released its second transparency report, which demonstrated a frightening increase in requests for user data by the US government and ignited serious concerns over privacy and free expression.
The list disclosed data requests from over 30 nations, and revealed that the US government was responsible for 815 of the 1,009 information requests in the second half of 2012 – just over 80 percent of all inquiries.
Twenty percent of all US requests were ‘under seal,’ meaning that users were not notified that their information was accessed.
The overall number of requests worldwide also steadily increased last year, rising from 849 in the January to June 2012 period to 1009 in the July to December 2012 period.
Twitter’s legal policy manager Jeremy Kessel blogged that, “it is vital for us (and other Internet services) to be transparent about government requests for user information.”
“These growing inquiries can have a serious chilling effect on free expression – and real privacy implications,” he wrote.
He went on to express hopes that the publication of the transparency data would be helpful in two ways – “to raise public awareness about these invasive requests,” and “to enable policy makers to make more informed decisions.”
The majority of US requests were subpoenas, which comprised 60 percent of government demands for information. Subpoenas usually seek user information such as email addresses affiliated with accounts and IP logs. A user’s whereabouts can generally be located by the IP address they are using.
Twitter complied with US government requests 69 percent of the time, according to the report.
Twitter released its transparency report on January 28, dubbed ‘Data Privacy Day.’ The US National Cyber Security alliance said it founded the day to “empower people to protect their privacy.”
According to Twitter’s report, several other governments made over 10 requests each for personal information, including Brazil, Canada, France, Japan and the UK. Japan ranked the second-highest on the list after the US; however, the US made 753 more demands for information than Japan.
Google released a statement marking the occasion, saying that the company “[doesn’t] want our services to be used in harmful ways,” and that it is “important that laws protect you against overly broad requests for your personal information.”
Earlier this month, France ruled that Twitter must disclose to authorities the identities of people writing anti-Semitic tweets using the hashtags #UnBonJuif [A Good Jew] and #UnJuifMort [A Dead Jew]. The social networking platform will be fined 1,000 euros a day until it complies.
The publication of the survey came shortly after Google published its own transparency report, which showed a similarly disturbing 25 percent rise in data requests from government authorities. The report also revealed that the US had made the most requests for private information to Google of any government: Over 8,438 in the second half of 2012.
UK-based rights group Privacy International later commented that “Google, Facebook and Twitter are highly vulnerable to government intrusion.”
“I am alarmed by the number of government requests and concerned that so many are done with merely a subpoena,” said John Simpson, a consumer advocate with the California-based group Consumer Watchdog. “A warrant should be required.”
- Twitter Transparency Report v2 (twitter.com)
- Twitter: Government user data requests have risen 20 percent (sott.net)