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White House refuses to endorse the ‘Christchurch Call’ to block extremist content online

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in Australia, California, Canada, censorship, Facebook, France, freedom of speech, Google, hate crime, hate speech, New Zealand, Social Media, Software, TC, Terrorism, Twitter, United Kingdom, United States, White House, world wide web | 0 comments

The United States will not join other nations in endorsing the “Christchurch Call” — a global statement that commits governments and private companies to actions that would curb the distribution of violent and extremist content online.

“While the United States is not currently in a position to join the endorsement, we continue to support the overall goals reflected in the Call. We will continue to engage governments, industry, and civil society to counter terrorist content on the Internet,” the statement from the White House reads.

The “Christchurch Call” is a non-binding statement drafted by foreign ministers from New Zealand and France meant to push internet platforms to take stronger measures against the distribution of violent and extremist content. The initiative originated as an attempt to respond to the March killings of 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchruch and the subsequent spread of the video recording of the massacre and statements from the killer online.

By signing the pledge, companies agree to improve their moderation processes and share more information about the work they’re doing to prevent terrorist content from going viral. Meanwhile, government signatories are agreeing to provide more guidance through legislation that would ban toxic content from social networks.

Already, Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook and Alphabet — the parent company of Google — have signed on to the pledge, along with the governments of France, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The “Christchurch Call” is consistent with other steps that government agencies are taking to address how to manage the ways in which technology is tearing at the social fabric. Members of the Group of 7 are also meeting today to discuss broader regulatory measures designed to combat toxic combat, protect privacy and ensure better oversight of technology companies.

For its part, the White House seems more concerned about the potential risks to free speech that could stem from any actions taken to staunch the flow of extremist and violent content on technology platforms.

“We continue to be proactive in our efforts to counter terrorist content online while also continuing to respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” the statement reads.”Further, we maintain that the best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech, and thus we emphasize the importance of promoting credible, alternative narratives as the primary means by which we can defeat terrorist messaging.”

Signatories are already taking steps to make it harder for graphic violence or hate speech to proliferate on their platforms.

Last night, Facebook introduced a one-strike policy that would ban users who violate its live-streaming policies after one infraction.

The Christchurch killings are only the latest example of how white supremacist hate groups and terrorist organizations have used online propaganda to create an epidemic of violence at a global scale. Indeed, the alleged shooter in last month’s attack on a synagogue in Poway, Calif., referenced the writings of the Christchurch killer in an explanation for his attack, which he published online.

Critics are already taking shots at the White House for its inability to add the U.S. to a group of nations making a non-binding commitment to ensure that the global community can #BeBest online.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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The “splinternet” is already here

Posted by on Mar 13, 2019 in alibaba, Asia, Baidu, belgium, Brussels, censorship, chief executive officer, China, Column, corbis, Dragonfly, Eric Schmidt, eu commission, Facebook, firewall, Getty-Images, Google, great firewall, Information technology, Internet, internet access, Iran, Mark Zuckerberg, net neutrality, North Korea, online freedom, open Internet, photographer, russia, Saudi Arabia, search engines, South Korea, Sundar Pichai, Syria, Tencent, United Kingdom, United Nations, United States, Washington D.C., world wide web | 0 comments

There is no question that the arrival of a fragmented and divided internet is now upon us. The “splinternet,” where cyberspace is controlled and regulated by different countries is no longer just a concept, but now a dangerous reality. With the future of the “World Wide Web” at stake, governments and advocates in support of a free and open internet have an obligation to stem the tide of authoritarian regimes isolating the web to control information and their populations.

Both China and Russia have been rapidly increasing their internet oversight, leading to increased digital authoritarianism. Earlier this month Russia announced a plan to disconnect the entire country from the internet to simulate an all-out cyberwar. And, last month China issued two new censorship rules, identifying 100 new categories of banned content and implementing mandatory reviews of all content posted on short video platforms.

While China and Russia may be two of the biggest internet disruptors, they are by no means the only ones. Cuban, Iranian and even Turkish politicians have begun pushing “information sovereignty,” a euphemism for replacing services provided by western internet companies with their own more limited but easier to control products. And a 2017 study found that numerous countries, including Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen have engaged in “substantial politically motivated filtering.”

This digital control has also spread beyond authoritarian regimes. Increasingly, there are more attempts to keep foreign nationals off certain web properties.

For example, digital content available to U.K. citizens via the BBC’s iPlayer is becoming increasingly unavailable to Germans. South Korea filters, censors and blocks news agencies belonging to North Korea. Never have so many governments, authoritarian and democratic, actively blocked internet access to their own nationals.

The consequences of the splinternet and digital authoritarianism stretch far beyond the populations of these individual countries.

Back in 2016, U.S. trade officials accused China’s Great Firewall of creating what foreign internet executives defined as a trade barrier. Through controlling the rules of the internet, the Chinese government has nurtured a trio of domestic internet giants, known as BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent), who are all in lock step with the government’s ultra-strict regime.

The super-apps that these internet giants produce, such as WeChat, are built for censorship. The result? According to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, “the Chinese Firewall will lead to two distinct internets. The U.S. will dominate the western internet and China will dominate the internet for all of Asia.”

Surprisingly, U.S. companies are helping to facilitate this splinternet.

Google had spent decades attempting to break into the Chinese market but had difficulty coexisting with the Chinese government’s strict censorship and collection of data, so much so that in March 2010, Google chose to pull its search engines and other services out of China. However now, in 2019, Google has completely changed its tune.

Google has made censorship allowances through an entirely different Chinese internet platform called project Dragonfly . Dragonfly is a censored version of Google’s Western search platform, with the key difference being that it blocks results for sensitive public queries.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google Inc., sits before the start of a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Pichai backed privacy legislation and denied the company is politically biased, according to a transcript of testimony he plans to deliver. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “people have the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Drafted in 1948, this declaration reflects the sentiment felt following World War II, when people worked to prevent authoritarian propaganda and censorship from ever taking hold the way it once did. And, while these words were written over 70 years ago, well before the age of the internet, this declaration challenges the very concept of the splinternet and the undemocratic digital boundaries we see developing today.

As the web becomes more splintered and information more controlled across the globe, we risk the deterioration of democratic systems, the corruption of free markets and further cyber misinformation campaigns. We must act now to save a free and open internet from censorship and international maneuvering before history is bound to repeat itself.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – MAY 22: An Avaaz activist attends an anti-Facebook demonstration with cardboard cutouts of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, on which is written “Fix Fakebook”, in front of the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarter on May 22, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. Avaaz.org is an international non-governmental cybermilitating organization, founded in 2007. Presenting itself as a “supranational democratic movement,” it says it empowers citizens around the world to mobilize on various international issues, such as human rights, corruption or poverty. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Ultimate Solution

Similar to the UDHR drafted in 1948, in 2016, the United Nations declared “online freedom” to be a fundamental human right that must be protected. While not legally binding, the motion passed with consensus, and therefore the UN was provided limited power to endorse an open internet (OI) system. Through selectively applying pressure on governments who are not compliant, the UN can now enforce digital human rights standards.

The first step would be to implement a transparent monitoring system which ensures that the full resources of the internet, and ability to operate on it, are easily accessible to all citizens. Countries such as North Korea, China, Iran and Syria, who block websites and filter email plus social media communication, would be encouraged to improve through the imposition of incentives and consequences.

All countries would be ranked on their achievement of multiple positive factors including open standards, lack of censorship, and low barriers to internet entry. A three tier open internet ranking system would divide all nations into Free, Partly Free or Not Free. The ultimate goal would be to have all countries gradually migrate towards the Free category, allowing all citizens full information across the WWW, equally free and open without constraints.

The second step would be for the UN to align itself much more closely with the largest western internet companies. Together they could jointly assemble detailed reports on each government’s efforts towards censorship creep and government overreach. The global tech companies are keenly aware of which specific countries are applying pressure for censorship and the restriction of digital speech. Together, the UN and global tech firms would prove strong adversaries, protecting the citizens of the world. Every individual in every country deserves to know what is truly happening in the world.

The Free countries with an open internet, zero undue regulation or censorship would have a clear path to tremendous economic prosperity. Countries who remain in the Not Free tier, attempting to impose their self-serving political and social values would find themselves completely isolated, visibly violating digital human rights law.

This is not a hollow threat. A completely closed off splinternet will inevitably lead a country to isolation, low growth rates, and stagnation.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Tor pulls in record donations as it lessens reliance on US government grants

Posted by on Jan 11, 2019 in android, brave, Brendan Eich, carnegie mellon, censorship, censorshit, DuckDuckGo, Edward Snowden, Federal Bureau of Investigation, firefox, Mozilla, TC, tor, U.S. government, United States | 0 comments

Tor, the open-source initiative that provides a more secure way to access the internet, is continuing to diversify its funding away from its long-standing reliance on U.S. government grants.

The Tor Foundation — the organization behind the service which stands for “The Onion Router” — announced this week that it brought in a record $460,000 from individual donors in 2018. In addition, recently released financial information shows it raised a record $4.13 million from all sources in 2017 thanks to a growth in non-U.S. government donors.

The individual donation push represents an increase on the $400,000 it raised in 2017. A large part of that is down to Tor ally Mozilla, which once again pledged to match donations in the closing months of the year, while an anonymous individual matched all new backers who pledged up to $20,000.

Overall, the foundation said that it attracted donations from 115 countries worldwide in 2018, which reflects its importance outside of the U.S.

The record donation haul comes weeks after the Tor Foundation quietly revealed its latest financials — for 2017 — which show it has lessened its dependence on U.S. government sources. That’s been a key goal for some time, particularly after allegations that the FBI paid Carnegie Mellon researchers to help crack Tor, which served as a major motivation for the introduction of fundraising drives in 2015.

Back in 2015, U.S. government sources accounted for 80-90 percent of its financial backing, but that fell to just over 50 percent in 2017. The addition of a Swedish government agency, which provided $600,000, helped on that front, as well as corporate donations from Mozilla ($520,000) and DuckDuckGo ($25,000), more than $400,000 from a range of private foundations, and, of course, those donations from individuals.

Tor is best known for being used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden but, with governments across the world cracking down on the internet, it is a resource that’s increasingly necessary if we are to guard the world’s right to a free internet.

Tor has certainly been busy making its technology more accessible over the last year.

It launched its first official mobile browser for Android in September, and the same month it released TorBrowser 8.0, its most usable browser yet, which is based on Firefox’s 2017 Quantum structure. It has also worked closely with Mozilla to bring Tor into Firefox itself as it has already done with Brave, a browser firm led by former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich.

Beyond the browser and the Tor network itself, which is designed to minimize the potential for network surveillance, the organization also develops a range of other projects. More than two million people are estimated to use Tor, according to data from the organization.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Dozens at Facebook Unite to Challenge Its ‘Intolerant’ Liberal Culture

Posted by on Aug 28, 2018 in censorship, Computers and the Internet, Discrimination, Facebook Inc, News and News Media, Silicon Valley (Calif), Social Media, United States Politics and Government, Workplace Environment, Zuckerberg, Mark E | 0 comments

In a rare sign of internal dissent, more than 100 employees have formed a group to agitate for better representation of conservative views.
Source: New York Times

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Anti-Vaccine Activists Have Taken Vaccine Science Hostage

Posted by on Aug 4, 2018 in censorship, Influenza, Medicine and Health, Research, Vaccination and Immunization | 0 comments

The fear that even the slightest controversial findings will be distorted is leading to self-censorship.
Source: New York Times

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Activists push back on Facebook’s decision to remove a DC protest event

Posted by on Aug 1, 2018 in 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections, activism, censorship, Facebook, Politics, Russian election interference, Social, Social Media, TC, United States, Virginia, Washington (DC) | 2 comments

A number of activists and organizers in the Washington, DC area are disputing Facebook’s decision to remove a counter-protest event for a rally organized by Jason Kessler, the white nationalist figure who planned the deadly 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Facebook removed the event, “No Unite the Right 2-DC,” after discovering that one account connected to the event exhibited what Facebook calls “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” The company defines this activity as “people or organizations creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing.”

The Facebook page at the center of the controversy was called “Resisters.” TechCrunch confirmed that the Resisters page was created by “bad actors,” as defined by the company, who coordinated fake accounts to deceive users. Facebook ultimately removed the No Unite the Right 2-DC event due to its known interaction and engagement with the Resisters page and maintains that Resisters was an illegitimate page from its inception.

As the company explained in its blog post:

The “Resisters” Page also created a Facebook Event for a protest on August 10 to 12 and enlisted support from real people… Inauthentic admins of the “Resisters” Page connected with admins from five legitimate Pages to co-host the event.

The company also observed that a known Internet Research Agency (IRA) account joined the counter-protest event as an admin, though it only served as an admin for seven minutes. (The IRA has been assessed by the U.S. intelligence community as a content farm likely funded by a close Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence.) On top of that, Facebook noted that an IRA account the company was aware of shared a Facebook event hosted by Resisters in 2017.

Here’s where things get even more tricky. The event that Facebook deleted had been taken over by a handful of real DC area activist groups. These groups, including Smash Racism DC, Black Lives Matter DC, Black Lives Matter Charlottesville and other local groups, worked together under the coalition name “Shut It Down DC” and their actions and plans were not inspired by the “No Unite the Right 2” event, they just happened to cross paths. (Since then, the coalition has recreated the Facebook event as “Hate Not Welcome: No Unite The Right 2.”)

TechCrunch spoke with a handful of DC-based organizers, including Andrew Batcher, a Washington, DC-based activist involved with Shut It Down DC, to clarify how the local coalition of organizers became connected to an event and an account deemed illegitimate by Facebook.

“It was grassroots organizing from a lot of different groups who were interested in this,” Batcher said. “A lot of groups went down to Charlottesville last year. Charlottesville is only two hours south of DC.”

He explains that the group’s impetus was Kessler’s own event, not a Facebook event that organizers stumbled onto.

“When we started organizing we talked about making a Facebook page and saw that this already existed,” Batcher said. “It happens pretty regularly in DC knowing how many major events take a place here.”

“We asked to be made co-hosts of the event and we put our stuff up on it basically,” Batcher said. That included video calls to action, photos and other content, including the event description. “Everything that was taken down was ours.”

Beyond creating the initial placeholder page, Batcher says that the Resisters page had “absolutely no involvement” in the event. “This is really outrageous for us,” Batcher said. “[It] makes it look like we’re Russian pawns. We know that we’re not, and we know that we’ve been doing this organizing.”

He and other activists on the left have expressed concerns that this depiction could undermine their efforts in the mainstream and even lead to conspiracy theories like Pizzagate that spill over into real life violence.

Facebook says that it reached out to the legitimate organizers of No Unite The Right 2-DC with the following message:

We haven’t been able to connect on the phone yet, but I did want to make sure you know that earlier today we removed a Facebook event that you are listed as a co-host of, “No Unite the Right 2 – DC”, because one the Pages that created the event, “Resisters”, has been removed from Facebook because [it] was created by someone establishing an inauthentic account that has been associated with coordinated inauthentic behavior.

I understand this may be surprising or frustrating. We are reaching out to make sure you have the relevant information and understand that this has nothing to do with you or your Page. Later today, we’ll begin providing information about the event deletion to the approximately 2,600 users who indicated their interest in the event, and the 600 plus users that said they’d attend. If you are interested in setting up another event, we would be happy to include details about it in our public communications.

According to Batcher, most of the event’s organizers with Shut It Down DC did not receive any correspondence and others received an email “two lines long,” which he provided.

The group is dismayed that Facebook went ahead and removed the event before making contact with more of its organizers. In interviews with TechCrunch, he and other organizers expressed a deep distrust of Facebook and a desire to see more evidence from the company that supports its recent actions. One organizer connected to the DC groups expressed concern that Facebook might be flagging activists working together using VPNs for suspicious coordinated activity. When asked about that concern, Facebook explained that VPN use and common privacy measures would not be sufficient, by Facebook’s standards, to cause an account or page to be removed.

“If there was an account that did something bad, get rid of that account. It doesn’t seem to me like it would have to spread to all of this legitimate organizing,” Batcher said. “What we would like is a public apology and them letting people know that we are real people doing real organizing.” He added that Facebook did not show consideration for the potential damage to the people who organized the event together in real life.

That distrust is reflected on both sides of the political spectrum. Concerns that Facebook is censoring content made by right-wing figures have bubbled up in congressional hearings and been floated among many users on the right, though there is little evidence supporting recent claims. On the left, the company has a checkered history of sometimes unwitting censorship in incidents that have affected everyone from Black Lives Matter supporters to parts of the LGBTQ community. In some of those cases, Facebook users were abusing the platform’s reporting tools for targeted harassment, but the company was slow to address concerns or to change its policy.

more 2018 US Midterm Election coverage

Facebook has also dragged its feet in confronting openly abusive, racist content on its platform and recently faced criticism for internal policies that allow white nationalism while forbidding white supremacism, drawing what is widely considered to be an artificial distinction between the two. These woes don’t just affect Facebook, but the platform does appear to be a perfect storm for anyone acting in bad faith.

While the counter-protest organizers have since created a new Facebook event and intend to continue their efforts, the situation is a fairly unsettling cautionary tale of a rising form of manipulation on the world’s biggest social platform. Recent revelations and those from 2017 show that a new breed of “blended” social media influence campaign — fake accounts leveraging the efforts of real, regular people — proves particularly insidious.

So-called “bad actors” are infiltrating legitimate causes, creating chaos and throwing everything into question. Even when these efforts are exposed, it’s a winning formula for anyone seeking to sow further discord and doubt in the U.S. political landscape. For everyone else, the odds aren’t looking good.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Wikipedia goes dark in Spanish, Italian ahead of key EU vote on copyright

Posted by on Jul 4, 2018 in censorship, copyright reform, Creative-Commons, EFF, Europe, European Commission, european parliament, European Union, Freedom of Expression, Media, open Internet, Open Rights Group, Social, social networks, Wikimedia, YouTube | 0 comments

Wikipedia’s Italian and Spanish language versions have temporarily shut off access to their respective versions of the free online encyclopedia in Europe to protest against controversial components of a copyright reform package ahead of a key vote in the EU parliament tomorrow.

The protest follows a vote by the EU parliament’s legal affairs committee last month which backed the reforms — including the two most controversial elements: Article 13, which makes platforms directly liable for copyright infringements by their users — pushing them towards pre-filtering all content uploads, with all the associated potential chilling effects for free expression; and Article 11, which targets news aggregator business models by creating a neighboring right for snippets of journalistic content — aka ‘the link tax’, as critics dub it.

Visitors to Wikipedia in many parts of the EU (and further afield) are met with a banner which urges them to defend the open Internet against the controversial proposal by calling their MEP to voice their opposition to a measure critics describe as ‘censorship machines’, warning it will “weaken the values, culture and ecosystem on which Wikipedia is based”.

Clicking on a button to ‘call your MEP’ links through to anti-Article 13 campaign website, saveyourinternet.eu, where users can search for the phone number of their MEP and/or send an email to protest against the measure. The initiative is backed by a large coalition of digital and civil rights groups  — including the EFF, the Open Rights Group, and the Center for Democracy & Technology.

In a longer letter to visitors explaining its action, the Spanish Wikipedia community writes that: “If the proposal were approved in its current version, actions such as sharing a news item on social networks or accessing it through a search engine would become more complicated on the Internet; Wikipedia itself would be at risk.”

The Spanish language version of Wikipedia will remain dark throughout the EU parliament vote — which is due to take place at 10 o’clock (UTC) on July 5.

“We want to continue offering an open, free, collaborative and free work with verifiable content. We call on all members of the European Parliament to vote against the current text, to open it up for discussion and to consider the numerous proposals of the Wikimedia movement to protect access to knowledge; among them, the elimination of articles 11 and 13, the extension of the freedom of panorama to the whole EU and the preservation of the public domain,” it adds.

The Italian language version of Wikipedia went dark yesterday.

While the protest banners about the reform are appearing widely across Wikipedia, the decisions to block out encyclopedia content are less widespread — and are being taken by each local community of editors.

As you’d expect, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has been a very vocal critic of Article 13 — including lashing out at whoever was in control of the European Commission’s Twitter feed yesterday when they tried to suggest that online encyclopedias will not be affected by the proposal — by suggesting they would not be “considered” to be giving access to “large amounts of unauthorised protected content” by claiming most of their content would fall outside the scope of the law because it’s covered by Creative Commons licenses. (An interpretation of the proposed rules that anti-Article 13 campaigners dispute.)

And the commissioners drafting this portion of the directive do appear to have been mostly intending to regulate YouTube — which has been a target for record industry ire in recent years, over the relatively small royalties paid to artists vs streaming music services.

But critics argue this is a wrongheaded, sledgehammer-to-crack a nut approach to lawmaking — which will have the unintended consequence of damaging free expression and access to information online.

Wales shot back at the EC’s tweet — saying it’s “deeply inappropriate for the European Commission to be lobbying publicly and misleading the public in this way”.

A little later in the same Twitter thread, as more users had joined the argument, he added: “The Wikipedia community is not so narrow minded as to let the rest of the Internet suffer just because we are big enough that they try to throw us a bone. Justice matters.”

The EU parliament will vote as a whole tomorrow — when we’ll find out whether or not MEPs have been swayed by this latest #SaveYourInternet campaign.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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