Supreme Court to scrutinize US protections for social media

The lawsuit argued that such immunity should not apply when the company’s platform recommends certain content via algorithms that identify and display content most likely to interest users, based on how people use the service. (AFP/File)
The lawsuit argued that such immunity should not apply when the company’s platform recommends certain content via algorithms that identify and display content most likely to interest users, based on how people use the service. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 03 October 2022

Supreme Court to scrutinize US protections for social media

Supreme Court to scrutinize US protections for social media
  • The hearing could challenge federal protections for Internet and social media companies freeing them of responsibility for content posted by users

WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a challenge to federal protections for Internet and social media companies freeing them of responsibility for content posted by users in a case involving an American student fatally shot in a 2015 rampage by Islamist militants in Paris.
The justices took up an appeal by the parents and other relatives of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old woman from California who was studying in Paris, of a lower court’s ruling that cleared Google LLC-owned YouTube of wrongdoing in a lawsuit seeking monetary damages that the family brought under a US anti-terrorism law. Google and YouTube are part of Alphabet Inc. .
The Supreme Court also agreed to hear a separate appeal by Twitter Inc. of the lower court’s decision to revive a similar lawsuit against that company, though not on the basis of Section 230.
The lawsuit against Google accused it of materially supporting terrorism in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act, a federal law that allows Americans to recover damages related to “an act of international terrorism.” The lawsuit alleged that YouTube, through computer algorithms, recommended videos by the Islamic State militant group, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, to certain users.
The San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2021 dismissed the lawsuit in a ruling relying largely on another law, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
Section 230, enacted before the rise of today’s major social media companies, protects “interactive computer services” by ensuring they cannot be treated as the “publisher or speaker” of any information provided by other users.
The lawsuit argued that such immunity should not apply when the company’s platform recommends certain content via algorithms that identify and display content most likely to interest users, based on how people use the service.
Section 230 has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum. Democrats have faulted it for giving social media companies a pass for spreading hate speech and misinformation. Republicans painted it as a tool for censorship of voices on the right, especially after Twitter and other platforms banned then-President Donald Trump from after a mob of his supporters attacked the US Capitol in a deadly riot on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump as president unsuccessfully sought its repeal.
Gonzalez was among 130 people killed in Paris during the 2015 attacks that included suicide bombings and mass shootings. She was at a bistro called La Belle Equipe when militants fired on the crowd of diners.
The plaintiffs said that YouTube’s algorithm helped Islamic State spread its militant message by recommending to users the group’s videos including those aimed at recruiting jihadist fighters, and that the company’s “assistance” was a cause of the 2015 attacks.
Gonzalez’s family appealed the 9th Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court, noting that while algorithms may suggest benign dance videos to some, “other recommendations suggest that users look at materials inciting dangerous, criminal or self-destructive behavior.”
The family added that removing Section 230 protections would prompt websites to stop recommending harmful materials, while saying that allowing the immunity “denies redress to victims who could have shown that those recommendations had caused their injuries, or the deaths of their loved ones.”
In the case against Twitter, American family members of Nawras Alassaf, a Jordanian citizen who died in a nightclub mass shooting in 2017 in Istanbul also claimed by Islamic State, accused that social media company of violating the anti-terrorism law by failing to police the platform for Islamic State accounts or posts.
The 9th Circuit in the same ruling reversed a federal judge’s decision to throw out the case against Twitter, but did not assess Twitter’s claim of immunity under Section 230.


Twitter not safer under Elon Musk, says former head of trust and safety

Twitter not safer under Elon Musk, says former head of trust and safety
Updated 30 November 2022

Twitter not safer under Elon Musk, says former head of trust and safety

Twitter not safer under Elon Musk, says former head of trust and safety
  • Twitter under Musk began to stray from its adherence to written and publicly available policies toward content decisions made unilaterally by Musk, which Roth cited as a reason for his resignation

CALIFORNIA: Twitter's former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth on Tuesday said the social media company was not safer under new owner Elon Musk, warning in his first interview since resigning this month that the company no longer had enough staff for safety work.
Roth had tweeted after Musk's takeover that by some measures, Twitter safety had improved under the billionaire's ownership.
Asked in an interview at the Knight Foundation conference on Tuesday whether he still felt that way, Roth said: "No."
Roth was a Twitter veteran who helped steer the social media platform through several watershed decisions, including the move to permanently suspend its most famous user, former U.S. President Donald Trump, last year.
His departure further rattled advertisers, many of whom backed away from Twitter after Musk laid off half of the staff, including many involved with content moderation.
Before Musk assumed the helm at Twitter, about 2,200 people globally were focused on content moderation work, said Roth. He said he did not know the number after the acquisition because the corporate directory had been turned off.
Twitter under Musk began to stray from its adherence to written and publicly available policies toward content decisions made unilaterally by Musk, which Roth cited as a reason for his resignation.
"One of my limits was if Twitter starts being ruled by dictatorial edict rather than by policy ... there's no longer a need for me in my role, doing what I do," he said.
The revamp of the Twitter Blue premium subscription, which would allow users to pay for a verified checkmark on their account, launched despite warnings and advice from the trust and safety team, Roth said.
The launch was quickly beset by spammers impersonating major public companies such as Eli Lilly, Nestle and Lockheed Martin.
Roth also said Tuesday that Twitter erred in restricting the dissemination of a New York Post article that made claims about then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son shortly before the 2020 presidential election.
But he defended Twitter's decision to permanently suspend Trump for risk of further incitement of violence after the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
"We saw the clearest possible example of what it looked like for things to move from online to off," Roth said. "We saw people dead in the Capitol."
Musk tweeted on Nov. 19 that Trump's account would be reinstated after a slim majority voted in favor of the move in a surprise Twitter poll.

 


Twitter blue verified set to launch on Apple’s iOS app — Information

Smartphone with displayed Twitter app is seen placed on Apple logo in this illustration taken, November 29, 2022. (REUTERS)
Smartphone with displayed Twitter app is seen placed on Apple logo in this illustration taken, November 29, 2022. (REUTERS)
Updated 30 November 2022

Twitter blue verified set to launch on Apple’s iOS app — Information

Smartphone with displayed Twitter app is seen placed on Apple logo in this illustration taken, November 29, 2022. (REUTERS)

SAN FRANCISCO: Twitter Inc’s Blue verified service is scheduled to roll out on Friday, but only on Apple’s iOS mobile software, the Information reported on Tuesday, citing a person briefed on the plans.
As Twitter plans to launch the subscription offering via an update to Twitter’s iOS app, it needs Apple’s approval as part of the standard app review process, the report said, adding that the company would update its Android app later.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
This comes a day after new owner Elon Musk accused Apple of threatening to block the Twitter from its app store without saying why in a series of tweets that also said the iPhone maker had stopped advertising on the social media platform.
The billionaire CEO of Twitter and Tesla said Apple was pressuring Twitter over content moderation demands.

 


Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange

Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange
Updated 29 November 2022

Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange

Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange
  • Guardian, NYT, Le Monde, El País and Der Spiegel editors and publishers said the indictment threatens freedom of the press.

WASHINGTON: The United States should end its prosecution of Julian Assange, leading media outlets from the United States and Europe that had collaborated with the WikiLeaks founder said on Monday, citing press freedom concerns.
“This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press,” editors and publishers of the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País said in an open letter.
Assange is wanted by US authorities on 18 counts, including a spying charge, related to WikiLeaks’ release of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables. His supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimized because he exposed US wrongdoing, including in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Monday marked 12 years since those media outlets collaborated to release excerpts from over 250,000 documents obtained by Assange in the so-called “Cablegate” leak.
The material was leaked to WikiLeaks by the then-American soldier Chelsea Manning and revealed the inner workings of US diplomacy around the globe. The documents exposed “corruption, diplomatic scandals, and spy affairs on an international scale,” the letter said.
In August, a group of journalists and lawyers sued the CIA and its former director, Mike Pompeo, over allegations the intelligence agency spied on them when they visited Assange during his stay in Ecuador’s embassy in London.
Assange spent seven years in the embassy before being dragged out and jailed in 2019 for breaching bail conditions. He has remained in prison in London while his extradition case is decided. If extradited to the United States, he faces a sentence of up to 175 years in an American maximum security prison.
His legal team has appealed to the High Court in London to block his extradition in a legal battle that has dragged on for more than a decade.
“Publishing is not a crime,” the media outlets said in their letter on Monday.


Twitter owner Musk signals new ‘war’ against Apple

Twitter owner Musk signals new ‘war’ against Apple
Updated 29 November 2022

Twitter owner Musk signals new ‘war’ against Apple

Twitter owner Musk signals new ‘war’ against Apple
  • Musk on Monday also called Apple’s fee on transactions through its App Store a “secret 30 percent tax”

SAN FRANCISCO: Twitter owner Elon Musk on Monday opened fire against Apple over its tight control of what is allowed on the App Store, saying the iPhone maker has threatened to oust his recently acquired social media platform.
Musk also joined the chorus crying foul over a 30 percent fee Apple collects on transactions via its App Store — the sole gateway for applications to get onto its billion plus mobile devices.
A series of tweets fired off by Musk included a meme of a car with his first name on it veering onto a highway off-ramp labeled “Go to War,” instead of continuing onwards toward “Pay 30 percent.”
The billionaire CEO also tweeted that Apple has “threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why.”
Apple did not immediately reply to an AFP request for comment.
Both Apple and Google require social networking services on their app stores to have effective systems for moderating harmful or abusive content.
But since taking over Twitter last month, Musk has cut around half of Twitter’s workforce, including many employees tasked with fighting disinformation, while an unknown number of others have voluntarily quit.
He has also reinstated previously banned accounts, including that of former president Donald Trump.
Yoel Roth, the former head of trust and safety at Twitter who left after Musk took over, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that “failure to adhere to Apple’s and Google’s guidelines would be catastrophic,” and risk “expulsion from their app stores.”
Describing himself as a “free speech absolutist,” Musk believes that all content permitted by law should be allowed on Twitter, and on Monday described his actions as a “revolution against online censorship in America.”
He also tweeted that he planned to publish “Twitter Files on free speech suppression,” but without clarifying what data he had in mind to share with the public.
Though Musk says Twitter is seeing record high engagement with him at the helm, his approach has startled the company’s major moneymaker — advertisers.
In recent weeks, half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers have announced they are suspending or have otherwise “seemingly stopped advertising on Twitter,” an analysis conducted by nonprofit watchdog group Media Matters found.
Musk on Monday accused Apple of also having “mostly stopped advertising on Twitter.”
“Do they hate free speech in America?” he asked, before replying with a tweet tagging Apple CEO Tim Cook.
In the first three months of 2022, Apple was the top advertiser on Twitter, spending some $48 million on ads which accounted for more than 4 percent of the social media platform’s revenue, according to a Washington Post report citing an internal Twitter document.
Sarah Roberts, an information studies expert at University of California, Los Angeles, told AFP that “Musk didn’t understand that Twitter itself was a brand, had cachet.”
“Now companies don’t even want to be associated with it. It’s not even that they worry about the content. Twitter is a tainted brand, a brand non grata companies don’t want to be associated with,” she added.

Musk on Monday also called Apple’s fee on transactions through its App Store a “secret 30 percent tax.”
He shared a video released last year by Fortnite maker Epic Games that portrayed Apple as an oppressor in a mocking spin on a famous “1984” ad for Macintosh computers.
Apple has clashed in court with Epic, which has sought to break Apple’s grip on the App Store, accusing the iPhone maker of operating a monopoly in its shop for digital goods or services.
A federal judge last year ordered Apple to loosen control of its App Store payment options, but said Epic had failed to prove that antitrust violations had taken place.
Musk’s controversial moves at Twitter, along with the possibility he will need to sell more Tesla shares to keep the social media platform afloat, has taken shine off of the electric car company and its stock, according to Wedbush analyst Dan Ives.
“The Musk vs Apple new battle is not what investors want to see,” Ives said in a tweet.
“(Wall) Street wants less drama, not more as this Twitter situation remains the gift that keeps on giving for the Tesla bears with every day a new chapter.”

 


Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok

Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok
Updated 29 November 2022

Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok

Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok
  • American sports reporter Jenny Taft said, ‘I just had to go through a special gate in Qatar for ladies only. Um, I don’t feel that special,” while pulling a sarcastic and smug face
  • Lama Alhamawi explained that gender-segregated gates reflect respect for personal boundaries, and that journalists have a responsibility not to spread misinformation or biased rhetoric

LONDON: A Fox Sports reporter whose post on TikTok poked fun at gender-segregated entrances and security-searches at World Cup venues in Qatar deleted her video after being challenged by an Arab News reporter on Monday.

“I just had to go through a special gate in Qatar for ladies only. Um, I don’t feel that special,” Jenny Taft of Fox Sports said in the video while pulling a sarcastic and smug face.

Arab News reporter Lama Alhamawi took the opportunity to explain to Taft the reason for this and promptly put the American reporter firmly in her place.

“As a fellow reporter, as a fellow journalist that’s years younger than you, that’s traveled to different countries covering various topics around the world, I’m going to give you some advice,” Alhamawi said.

“As journalists, we have a responsibility to uphold. We have a responsibility to do our due diligence to fully understand and investigate a topic before spreading any information, misinformation or biased rhetoric, as you did in this video.

“Now, let’s talk about the special gate you talked about … It’s a matter of one word that perfectly explains the special gate: respect. It’s a matter of respecting someone’s boundaries, their beliefs, their religious beliefs. A woman does not want to be searched by men, a man does not want to be searched by a woman.

“It’s a matter of respecting someone’s religious beliefs and boundaries and making them feel comfortable as they’re entering this country. Now, you hinted at the idea that it was based on discrimination or sexism. But it’s far from that: It’s a level of respect. The best word to describe it is respect.

Alhamawi told Taft it is about providing a level of respect and not aimed at being discriminatory. 

“Now, judging by the way you conducted your video and executed it, that’s a word that’s foreign to you and something that you maybe don’t quite understand.”

Alhamawi garnered praise and support for calling out the veteran sports journalist.

“Absolutely spot on! I’m sick of seeing ignorant people judge,” one user wrote.

“Thank you Lama, for shedding light on this and for replying to it the best way possible,” said another.

Someone else wrote: “Beautifully said. Thank you for educating everyone with such grace.”

Following Alhamawai’s video and the barrage of supportive comments it attracted, Taft deleted her video.