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Is India Setting a ‘Global Standard’ for Online Censorship of Social Media?

With 1.4 billion people, India is the second most-populous country in the world.

But a new article in the Washington Post alleges that India has “set a global standard for online censorship.” For years, a committee of executives from U.S. technology companies and Indian officials convened every two weeks in a government office to negotiate what could — and could not — be said on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. At the “69A meetings,” as the secretive gatherings were informally called, officials from India’s information, technology, security and intelligence agencies presented social media posts they wanted removed, citing threats to India’s sovereignty and national security, executives and officials who were present recalled. The tech representatives sometimes pushed back in the name of free speech…

But two years ago, these interactions took a fateful turn. Where officials had once asked for a handful of tweets to be removed at each meeting, they now insisted that entire accounts be taken down, and numbers were running in the hundreds. Executives who refused the government’s demands could now be jailed, their companies expelled from the Indian market. New regulations had been adopted that year to hold tech employees in India criminally liable for failing to comply with takedown requests, a provision that executives referred to as a “hostage provision.” After authorities dispatched anti-terrorism police to Twitter’s New Delhi office, Twitter whisked its top India executive out of the country, fearing his arrest, former company employees recounted.

Indian officials say they have accomplished something long overdue: strengthening national laws to bring disobedient foreign companies to heel… Digital and human rights advocates warn that India has perfected the use of regulations to stifle online dissent and already inspired governments in countries as varied as Nigeria and Myanmar to craft similar legal frameworks, at times with near-identical language. India’s success in taming internet companies has set off “regulatory contagion” across the world, according to Prateek Waghre, a policy director at India’s Internet Freedom Foundation…

Despite the huge size of China’s market, companies like Twitter and Facebook were forced to steer clear of the country because Beijing’s rules would have required them to spy on users. That left India as the largest potential growth market. Silicon Valley companies were already committed to doing business in India before the government began to tighten its regulations, and today say they have little choice but to obey if they want to remain there.
The Post spoke to Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the deputy technology minister in the BJP government who oversees many of the new regulations, who argued “The shift was really simple: We’ve defined the laws, defined the rules, and we have said there is zero tolerance to any noncompliance with the Indian law…

“You don’t like the law? Don’t operate in India,” Chandrasekhar added. “There is very little wiggle room.”

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Secrecy undermines trust in Google antitrust trial

Before a single witness could utter a word of testimony in the Google antitrust case on Tuesday, the public and the press were temporarily barred from the courtroom. It’s just another step in a long list of anti-transparency measures styming access to the case: documents and testimony have been repeatedly sealed; exhibits used in open court have been removed from the internet; and only those who can actually make it to the courtroom are permitted to listen to the testimony (when they’re allowed in at all, that is).

Despite these restrictions, reporters and courtwatchers have been doing their best to inform their audiences about the trial. But if the federal judge presiding over the case, Amit Mehta, doesn’t act soon to stop this tsunami of secrecy, people may be left mostly in the dark about the biggest antitrust lawsuit of the 21st century.

Behind this anti-transparency push are Google and other big tech companies arguing that letting people observe the case fully could reveal trade secrets or otherwise embarrass them by generating “clickbait.” There is some precedent for closing parts of trials or redacting court documents to avoid disclosing trade secrets. But not to save corporations from embarrassment.

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Internet shutdowns used to be rare. They’re increasingly becoming the norm in much of the world

An ongoing internet blackout in Indian-controlled Kashmir is now the longest ever in a democracy — at more than 135 days — according to Access Now, an advocacy group that tracks internet freedom. Only the autocratic governments of China and junta-era Myanmar have cut off access for longer… Kashmiris have been without internet access for so long that WhatsApp has reportedly begun deleting their accounts for inaction… India’s increased internet censorship has been greeted with delight in China, however, where state-run media pointed to it as an endorsement of Beijing’s own authoritarian approach. The People’s Daily said this week that India’s example showed “shutting down the internet in a state of emergency should be standard practice for sovereign countries….”

African states have also embraced the tactic, with Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Ethiopia all cutting off internet access in an attempt to rein in anti-government protests. This is in line with a general pattern of increased online censorship. It’s partly due to the spread of more sophisticated technology that makes it easier, and cheaper, to monitor and filter traffic online. It’s also influenced by a shifting perception of internet censorship, which once used to be seen as something of a losing battle. China’s Great Firewall, however, has proved beyond doubt that not only can the internet be controlled, but that doing so can help prop up the regime and prevent opposition movements from getting off the ground…

Shutdowns give police a freer hand to reign in unrest without the type of hyper-scrutiny on social media that has become common in highly-connected societies, and enable the government to ensure that its message is the only one heard on a particular topic. In 2018, there were 196 internet shutdowns globally — mainly in Asia, Africa and the Middle East — according to Access Now. In the first half of this year alone, there were 128, and 2019 looks to be the worst year on record. According to Freedom House, a Washington-based NGO, almost half of the world’s population lives in a country “where authorities disconnected internet or mobile networks, often for political reasons.”

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YouTube Gets Alleged Copyright Troll To Agree To Stop Trolling YouTubers

Alleged copyright troll Christopher Brady will no longer be able to issue false DMCA takedowns to other YouTubers, according to a lawsuit settlement filed today. The Verge reports:

Under the new agreement, Brady is banned from “submitting any notices of alleged copyright infringement to YouTube that misrepresent that material hosted on the YouTube service is infringing copyrights held or claimed to be held by Brady or anyone Brady claims to represent.” Brady agreed to pay $25,000 in damages as part of the settlement. He is also prohibited from “misrepresenting or masking their identities” when using Google products, including YouTube. “This settlement highlights the very real consequences for those that misuse our copyright system. We’ll continue our work to prevent abuse of our systems,” a YouTube spokesperson told The Verge.

“I, Christopher L. Brady, admit that I sent dozens of notices to YouTube falsely claiming that material uploaded by YouTube users infringed my copyrights,” he said in an apology, shared by YouTube with The Verge. “I apologize to the YouTube users that I directly impacted by my actions, to the YouTube community, and to YouTube itself.” YouTube claimed the investigation caused the company to “expend substantial sums on its investigation in an effort to detect and halt that behavior, and to ensure that its users do not suffer adverse consequences from it.” YouTube also said that the company may be “unable to detect and prevent similar misconduct in the future,” as a result of the various methods Brady took to cover up his identity.

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Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

“Facebook decides which killings we’re allowed to see”

Minutes after a police officer shot Philando Castile in Minnesota, United States, a live video was published on Facebook of the aftermath. Castile was captured in some harrowing detail and streamed to Facebook by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, using the live video tool on her smartphone. She narrates the footage with a contrasting mix of eerie calm and anguish. But the video was removed from Facebook due to, as company says, a “technical glitch.” The video has since been restored, but with a “Warning — Graphic Video,” disclaimer.

Now an article has come out commenting on how Facebook has become the “de-facto platform” for such “controversial” videos, and that there’s a pattern in these so called glitches–as they happen very often time after “questionable content” is streamed.

It has long been obvious to anyone paying attention that Facebook operates various nefarious controls over all aspects of how information is displayed and disseminated on their network, not just with advertising and the filter bubble:

“As Facebook continues to build out its Live video platform, the world’s most popular social network has become the de-facto choice for important, breaking, and controversial videos. Several times, Facebook has blocked political or newsworthy content only to later say that the removal was a “technical glitch” or an “error.” Nearly two-thirds of Americans get their news from social media, and two thirds of Facebook users say they use the site to get news. If Facebook is going to become the middleman that delivers the world’s most popular news events to the masses, technical glitches and erroneous content removals could be devastating to information dissemination efforts. More importantly, Facebook has become the self-appointed gatekeeper for what is acceptable content to show the public, which is an incredibly important and powerful position to be in. By censoring anything, Facebook has created the expectation that there are rules for using its platform (most would agree that some rules are necessary). But because the public relies on the website so much, Facebook’s rules and judgments have an outsized impact on public debate.”

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