On Monday morning I met a group of activists who live under authoritarian regimes. The delegation was brought to San Francisco by the non-profit Human Rights Foundation as part of a fellowship focused on the relationship between activism and Silicon Valley. And the big question they had for me was: why do social networks continue to delete my messages?
The question surprised me. For every story in this newsletter about the wrong (and often temporary) removal of the post of an activist, there are three more about the consequences of a remaining post: a piece of viral disinformation, a terrorist recruitment video, a financial scam and soon. As I wrote in 2018, we are well into the “take it down” era of content moderation.
Sometimes the posts of the activists came down because their governments asked for it. Other times the messages came down due to too careful content moderation. Increasingly, the activists said, social networks pretended to be protected against government intervention rather than sorry. And when their posts and pages came down, they said, they had very little story. Facebook does not have a customer support hotline, let alone a court of law. (Yet. More about that below.)
The concerns of the activists were fresh in my mind when I read about the removal of Instagram accounts in Iran that supported Iranian General Qassem Soleiman, who was murdered by the United States last week. Like a strong antibiotic, it seems that the Instagram enforcement action has destroyed both the accounts of the ruling regime and the posts of everyday Iranians.
Facebook’s explanation? Penalties. here is Donie O’Sullivan and Artemis Moshtaghian in CNN:
As part of compliance with US law, the Facebook spokesperson said the company is deleting accounts that are being executed by or on behalf of sanctioned people and organizations.
It also removes messages that recommend the actions of sanctioned parties and individuals and try to help their actions, the spokesperson said, adding that Facebook has a redress process if users find that their messages have been erroneously deleted.
GoFundMe also deleted at least two fundraising campaigns for passengers on the Ukrainian flight that were knocked down by Iranian missiles, to recover them later, my colleague Colin Lecher reported to The edge. But Twitter, on the other hand, said it would leave messages as long as they followed the rules of the company.
The confusion is to be expected. Legal experts disagree on the extent to which sanctions require technology platforms to remove user posts, and the Iran issue in particular has been giving companies a coincidence for years. Here is Lecher The edge:
Although recent news has focused on Iran, it is hardly the first time technology companies have set up a diligent response to sanctions. Last year, GitHub restricted users in different countries under US sanctions.
Iran, which has been dealing with sanctions for years, has regularly had technology companies limited in the country in response to US policies. In 2018, Slack deactivated accounts all over the world that were tied to Iran, in a movement that stretched far beyond the country’s borders. Apple has taken several popular Iranian apps out of the store in 2017 due to US sanctions. At the time, Apple issued a statement that is still relevant: “This jurisdiction is complex and constantly changing.”
At the same time, people all over the world are waking up again with the fact that their speech is determined by actors who are not accountable to them. Instagram has users but no citizens. California executives will decide what can be said in Tehran.
There is of course much more freedom of expression on Instagram than in a country like Iran, where activism is brutally suppressed. But as the activists shared with me on Monday, the impact of social networks acting as quasi-states to reform the political speech in their countries is significant. And their struggle to appeal against unjustified content deletions is real.
The good news is that later this year, Facebook will launch its independent supervisory board: a Supreme Court for Content Management that allows users to appeal in cases such as activists and Iranian citizens. One of the rules of the administration is that the cases selected for assessment include at least one person from the region in which the case arose. That is not really a democratically elected representative – but hopefully it reinforces the responsibility of the board towards the users of Facebook.
There are still many questions about how the board will work in practice and whether it can serve as a model for quasi-judicial systems at other companies. But when I heard the activists’ stories today and read about the confusion about sanctions in Iran, it seemed to me that the administration cannot launch quickly enough.
Today in news that can influence the public perception of the major technological platforms.
⭐ Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell introduced a new bill that would give news organizations an exemption from antitrust laws. It would enable them to negotiate together to negotiate Google and Facebook about how their articles and photos are used online and what payments the newspapers receive from the technology companies. Cecilia Kang out The New York Times has the story:
Proponents of the legislation said it was not a magic pill for profitability. It would, they say, be beneficial for newspapers with a national reach – such as The Times and The Washington Post – more than small newspapers. For example, Facebook has never had articles from Mr. NeSmith’s newspaper chain in the “Today in” function, a collection of local news from the smallest newspapers in the country that can direct a lot of traffic to a news site.
“It starts with larger national publications, and then the question is how this seeps in,” said Otis A. Brumby III, the publisher of The Marietta Daily Journal in Georgia.
But the supporters say it could stop the financial losses at some newspapers or at least slow them down, giving them time to create a new business model for the internet.
Attorney General William Barr asked Apple to unlock two iPhones that the shooter used in the Pensacola shooting last month. The company already provided researchers with data on the shooter’s iCloud account, but refused to help them open the phones, which would undermine privacy-focused marketing. (Katie Benner / The New York Times)
A Microsoft tool to transcribe audio from Skype and Cortana, his voice assistant, ran for years “without security measures,” according to a former contractor. He says he has reviewed thousands of potentially sensitive recordings on his personal laptop from his home in Beijing during the two years he worked at the company. (Alex Hern / The Guardian)
Most cookie consent pop-ups seen by people in the EU are likely to violate regional privacy laws, a new study suggests. The pop-ups are supposed to get permission to follow people’s web activity. (Natasha Lomas / TechCrunch)
The Supreme Court of India said that unlimited internet closures violate the laws of the country on freedom of expression and expression. However, the order does not have an immediate effect on the continuous internet connection in Kashmir. The government still has a week to produce a restrictive order with the reasons for the closure. (Ivan Mehta / TNW)
India ordered an investigation into Amazon and Flipmart from Walmart about alleged anti-competitive practices. It is the latest setback for American e-commerce giants operating in the country. (Aditya Kalra and Aditi Shah / Reuters)
⭐ Facebook and Google are no longer the top destinations for students who want to acquire prestigious jobs after graduation. While some still see Big Tech as a way to earn a lot of money, others feel it is an ethical minefield. Emma Goldberg at The New York Times explains the trend:
According to a 2019, the proportion of Americans who believe that technology companies have a positive impact on society has fallen from 71 percent in 2015 to 50 percent in 2019. Pew Research Center survey.
During this year’s Golden Globes, Sacha Baron Cohen compared Mark Zuckerberg with the main character in “JoJo Rabbit”: a “naive, deceived child who spreads Nazi propaganda and has only imaginary friends.”
That these views are shared by undergraduates and graduate students – who are supposed to be imbued with a high-minded idealism – is no surprise. In August, the reporter April Glaser wrote about it campus techlash for Slate. She discovered that at Stanford, known for its competitive computer science program, some students said they were not interested in working for a large technology company, while others were striving to “push for change from the inside.”
Facebook shares reached a record high despite attacks from both sides of the aisle prior to this year’s presidential election. The company closed Thursday at $ 218.30, exceeded its previous high of $ 217.50 in July 2018 and valued the company at $ 622 billion. (Tim Bradshaw / The financial times)
Facebook’s Demand for the latest Oculus headset is high and the company has a VR sequel to Valve’s “Half Life” game series to be released in March. The news indicates that Facebook’s VR search is finally becoming real. (Dan Gallagher / Wall Street Journal)
Facebook’s redesigned look for desktops is already there for some users and will be widely available before spring. When you get a first peak, you will see a pop-up where you are invited to test “The New Facebook” when you sign up. (Ian Sherr / CNET)
Instagram new Boomerang effects added in an attempt to compete TapTok. Now slowMo, “Echo” blur and “Duo” fast rewind users can add special effects to their boomerangs, and shorten their length. This all reminds me of it one of my favorite tweets. (Josh Constine / TechCrunch)
AI-supported healthcare systems, such as those developed by Google, promise to combine people and machines to facilitate cancer diagnosis. But they can also exacerbate existing problems, such as conviction, overdiagnosis and over-treatment. (Christie Aschwanden / Wired)
On TapTok, teenagers use memes to cope with the possibility of World War II. The trend got a boost after the death of Soleimani, with people posting bleak jokes about getting a trip. Fun!! (Kalhan Rosenblatt / NBC)
TapTok can launch a managed feed to provide brands with a safer space to advertise. The decision comes when the Chinese company is confronted with new concerns about the amount of advertiser-friendly content on its platform.
Nine years later twitch’s launch, the content that gunners hardcore gamers the most is officially the most viewed: just talk. A new report of StreamElements shows that Twitch viewers watched ‘Just Chatting’ for 81 million hours in December (Cecilia D’Anastasio / Wired)
My favorite thing on Twitter is just ex-costars Adam Sandler and Kathy Bates who support each other when the Oscar nominations were announced.
I love you my Bobby Boucher !!! You are robbed !! But mommy loves you !!! I have learned a new city language word for you! You da GOAT !!
Not the one we eat at home, son. ❤️ https://t.co/2KDbfUjIXR
– Kathy Bates (@MsKathyBates) January 13, 2020
Better next time, Sandman. (Uncut gems is amazing.)
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