Divisions over EU’s focus on tech groups to stop ‘fake news’

European Commissionner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel. (AFP)
Updated 13 March 2018
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Divisions over EU’s focus on tech groups to stop ‘fake news’

BRUSSELS: Divisions emerged Tuesday after experts commissioned by the EU Commission called on tech groups and social media firms to sign up to a voluntary code of conduct for tackling “fake news.”
Consumer groups and European legislators called for a tougher stance than the one set out by the experts on Monday, but the industry rejected using regulation to tackle the problem.
The report by the so-called High-Level Expert Group on Fake News and Disinformation, which includes a representative from AFP, said online platforms should be more transparent about the way news is shared.
Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for the digital single market and society, said the experts’ views would “help us put forward a number of options to better address the risks posed by disinformation spread online.”
Brussels will set out its first strategy outlines next month.
Tech firms like Facebook and Google have faced growing criticism for failing to tackle both “fake news” and hate speech.
The report said online firms should sign up to the code of conduct to “ensure transparency by explaining how algorithms select the news put forward.”
It said they should also work with European news outlets to “improve the visibility of reliable, trustworthy news.”
The fake news group also argued against the use of the term fake news — saying it should instead be referred to as “disinformation” as it sometimes blends fake information with fact.
The software and browser firm Mozilla on Tuesday rejected any regulation.
“We believe that the complex and multi-factor nature of the phenomenon — in terms of its causes and impact — make one-size-fits-all regulatory solutions inappropriate,” it said.
But Marietje Schaake, a leading liberal member of the European Parliament, said the expert report had a “major omission.”
“It does not fully address the key catalyst of the dissemination of disinformation, which are the in-transparent algorithms and the online advertising models that dominate most technology platforms,” Schaake said in a statement.
“These models inherently push sensational content on newsfeeds that is often false, inaccurate, or misleading.”
The European Consumer Organization (BEUC) agreed that the report did not tackle the “root causes” of the problem.
“Platforms such as Google or Facebook massively benefit from users reading and sharing fake news articles which contain advertisements. But this expert group choose to ignore this business model,” BEUC director general Monique Goyens said in a statement.
Gabriel told AFP in a interview last week that Europe must “redouble” its efforts to tackle the phenomenon in the run-up to elections, as fears grow about Russian meddling in votes across the continent.


Israel targets rights groups with bill to outlaw filming of soldiers

Israeli soldiers are under constant attack by Israel haters, says defense minister. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2018
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Israel targets rights groups with bill to outlaw filming of soldiers

  • Rights groups frequently film Israeli soldiers on duty in the occupied West Bank, documentation the organizations say is necessary to expose abuse by the military
  • A ministerial committee which oversees legislation voted to approve the bill on Sunday

JERUSALEM: Israel moved on Sunday to snap the lens shut on rights groups that film its troops’ interactions with Palestinians by introducing a bill that would make it a criminal offense.
Rights groups frequently film Israeli soldiers on duty in the occupied West Bank, documentation the organizations say is necessary to expose abuse by the military.
A video filmed by Israeli rights group B’Tselem in 2016 showing an Israeli soldier shoot dead an incapacitated Palestinian assailant drew international condemnation and led to the soldier’s conviction for manslaughter in a highly divisive trial.
The proposed law, formulated by the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, would make filming or publishing footage “with intent to harm the morale of Israel’s soldiers or its inhabitants” punishable by up to five years in prison.
The term would be raised to 10 years if the intention was to damage “national security.”
A ministerial committee which oversees legislation voted to approve the bill on Sunday. It will now go to parliament for a vote that could take place this week and if ratified, will be scrutinized and amended before three more parliamentary votes needed for it to pass into law.
Yisrael Beitenu leader and Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, praised the committee and said: “Israeli soldiers are under constant attack by Israel haters and supporters of terrorism who look constantly to degrade and sully them. We will put an end to this.”
A Palestinian official condemned the move.
“This decision aims to cover up crimes committed by Israeli soldiers against our people, and to free their hands to commit more crimes,” Deputy Palestinian Information Minister Fayez Abu Aitta told Reuters.
The phrasing of the bill stops short of a blanket ban, aiming instead at “anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian organizations” which spend “entire days near Israeli soldiers waiting breathlessly for actions that can be documented in a slanted and one-sided way so that soldiers can be smeared.”
Naming B’Tselem and several other rights groups, the bill says many of them are supported by organizations and governments with “a clear anti-Israel agenda” and that the videos are used to harm Israel and national security.
The ban would cover social networks as well as traditional media.
B’Tselem shrugged off the bill.
“If the occupation embarrasses the government, then the government should take action to end it. Documenting the reality of the occupation will continue regardless of such ridiculous legislation efforts,” the group’s spokesman, Amit Gilutz, said.
B’Tselem’s video of the shooting in the West Bank in 2016 led to Israeli soldier Elor Azaria being convicted of manslaughter. He was released in May after serving two-thirds of his 14-month term. Opinion polls after his arrest showed a majority of Israelis did not want a court-martial to take place.