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.


Twitter warns global users their tweets violate Pakistani law

Updated 59 min 3 sec ago
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Twitter warns global users their tweets violate Pakistani law

  • Pakistan has previously threatened to block Twitter if the company did not remove content its government found offensive
  • Pakistan banned Facebook for hosting allegedly blasphemous content for two weeks in 2010 while YouTube was unavailable from 2012 to 2016 over an amateur film about the Prophet Muhammad that led to global riots

WASHINGTON: When Canadian columnist Anthony Furey received an email said to be from Twitter’s legal team telling him he may have broken a slew of Pakistani laws, his first instinct was to dismiss it as spam.
But after Googling the relevant sections of Pakistan’s penal code, the Toronto Sun op-ed editor was startled to learn he stood accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad — a crime punishable by death in the Islamic republic — and Twitter later confirmed the correspondence was genuine.
His perceived offense was to post cartoons of the prophet several years ago.
Furey and two prominent critics of extremism in Islam say they are “shocked” to have received notices by the social media giant this past week over alleged violations of Islamabad’s laws, despite having no apparent connection to the South Asian country.
They say the notices amount to an effort to stifle their voices — a charge Twitter denies, arguing the notices came about as a result of “valid requests from an authorized entity,” understood to mean Pakistan, helped users “to take measures to protect their interests,” and the process is not unique to any one country.
But Furey is the third prominent user in the space of days to publicly complain about receiving a message linked to Pakistan.
The other two are Saudi-Canadian activist Ensaf Haidar and Imam Mohammad Tawhidi, a progressive Muslim scholar from Australia who was born in Iran.
Both are outspoken critics of religious extremism and have accused the social media giant of helping to silence progressive ideas within Islam.
Furey, who detailed his experience in a column for his newspaper on Saturday, told AFP: “I’m somewhat alarmed that Twitter would even allow a country to make a complaint like this, as it almost validates their absurd blasphemy laws.”
The tweet in question was a collage of cartoons of Mohammad that he posted four years ago.
“Looking back, I remember I did it right after there had been an Daesh-inspired attack in retaliation over the cartoons,” Furey wrote in his column, adding he had not posted similar material before or since.
Tawhidi meanwhile was sent a similar notice flagging a tweet that called on Australian police to investigate extremism in mosques following a deadly knife attack in Melbourne in November.
The scholar attached the legal notice sent to him by Twitter informing him of possible violations of Pakistani law, and tweeted: “I am not from Pakistan nor am I a Pakistani citizen.
“Pakistan has no authority over what I say. Get out of here.”
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Twitter told AFP: “In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a valid requests from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.”
The spokesperson added: “We notify users so that they have the opportunity to review the legal request, and the option to take measures to protect their interests.”
Pakistan has previously threatened to block Twitter if the company did not remove content its government found offensive.
It banned Facebook for hosting allegedly blasphemous content for two weeks in 2010 while YouTube was unavailable from 2012 to 2016 over an amateur film about the Prophet Muhammad that led to global riots.
Furey told AFP that although he was taken aback by the notice, “I’m at least glad they brought it to my attention that the Pakistan government has their eye on me.”
But he added: “One troubling consequence to all of this is that even people in countries without these blasphemy laws may start to self-censor for fear of the reach foreign governments will have over them in the online world.”