CNN Shuts Down Access to Facebook Pages in Australia After Court Ruling Holding Media Outlets Liable for Commenters

“In response to Australian court decisions holding media companies legally liable for the comments by users, CNN has blocked access to some of its Facebook pages from users in that country.

This is an inevitable outcome of a bad decision and a reminder of why it’s important not to try to force government-mandated moderation policies onto massive social media platforms that will inevitably lead to either censorship or lack of access to information.”

Apple shut down a voting app in Russia. That should worry everyone.

“Apple and Google shut down a voting app meant to help opposition parties organize against the Kremlin in a parliamentary election in Russia that’s taking place over the weekend. The companies removed the app from their app stores on Friday after the Russian government accused them of interfering in the country’s internal affairs, a clear attempt by President Vladimir Putin to obstruct free elections and stay in power.

The Smart Voting app was designed to identify candidates most likely to beat members of the government-backed party, United Russia, as part of a broader strategy organized by supporters of the imprisoned Russian activist Alexei Navalny to bring together voters who oppose Putin. In a bid to clamp down on the opposition effort, the Russian government told Google and Apple that the app was illegal, and reportedly threatened to arrest employees of both companies in the country.

The move also comes amid a broader crackdown on Big Tech in Russia. Earlier this week, a Russian court fined Facebook and Twitter for not removing “illegal” content, and the country is reportedly blocking peoples’ access to Google Docs, which Navalny supporters had been using to share lists of preferred candidates.”

Australia’s Highest Court Holds Media Outlets Financially Liable for Trolls and Shitposters

“Australia’s highest court has upheld a controversial and potentially destructive ruling that media outlets are legally liable for defamatory statements posted by online commenters on Facebook, a decision that could result in massive amounts of online censorship out of fear of lawsuits.

The case revolves around a television program from 2016 on Australia’s ABC TV (no relation to America’s ABC network) about the mistreatment of youths in Australia’s jail system. Footage of Dylan Voller in a restraining chair was part of the coverage. When media outlets covered this program and posted links to the coverage on Facebook, users made comments about Voller, and this prompted Voller to sue the media outlets. The comments were defamatory, Voller claimed, and he argued that the media outlets themselves were responsible for publishing them.

The media outlets countered that, no, they were not the publishers of third-party comments on Facebook and were not responsible for what they said. The outlets have been appealing to the courts to toss out the lawsuits, and they’ve been losing.”

“The country’s top justices determined that media outlets in the country are, indeed, publishers of the comments that users post on Facebook under stories that they link.

The logic here is absolutely terrible and destructive. Facebook has control over the tools for managing comments on media pages. The media outlets themselves do not, and they can’t “turn off” commenting on their Facebook pages. They do have the power to delete comments after the fact or use filtering tools that target keywords (to stop people from making profane or obscene comments) and can block individual users from the page.

Using these tools to try to prevent defamatory comments requires constant monitoring of the media outlet’s Facebook page and would demand that moderators be so agile as to remove potentially defamatory content the moment it appears before anybody else could see it. Nevertheless, the justices concluded that this is enough control over the comments for media outlets to be considered publishers. Two of the justices were very blunt that simply participating on Facebook made Fairfax Media Publications a publisher of the comments”

“It is easy to assume, as these other justices apparently have, that such a decision could not possibly cause a disastrous amount of online censorship because media outlets should know when a controversial story might lead to defamatory comments. The judges actually note this in the ruling. They seem to think that this is only an issue with certain types of stories and that the appearance of defamatory comments can be predicted in advance.

This is complete rubbish, and anybody with any experience on social media already knows this. Trolls, scammers, and spammers range far and wide (that’s the point of them), and it’s incredibly naive to think that a story that has no controversial elements can’t end up with third parties posting defamatory nonsense under them.”

“it’s why Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, which generally protects websites and social media platforms (and you) from liability for comments published by others, is so important. It’s not just to protect media outlets from being held liable for comments from trolls. It’s to allow social media participation to even happen at all. Some large media outlets or companies might be able to afford around-the-clock moderation to attempt to catch problems. But even if they could, let’s be clear that they’re going to avoid as much risk as possible and delete any comment that has a whiff of controversy. Why would they allow it to stand if it could get them sued?

But smaller companies and outlets—and there’s no reason to think this ruling applies only to media outlets—will either have to hope Facebook gives them better tools to control who posts on their page or just not have social media presences at all.”

Using Facebook Actually Reduces Ethnic Tension, New Study Finds

“”People’s habits do incline somewhat toward their preferred political positions, but a study of Web browser, survey, and consumer data from 2004 to 2009 found that people’s media diets online were modestly divided by ideology but far more diverse than, for instance, the networks of people with whom they talked about politics in person,” wrote Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, in a review of the data for The Washington Post. “This finding of limited information polarization has been repeatedly replicated. Most recently, a new study found that mobile news consumption is even less segregated by ideology than desktop/laptop data used in previous research.”

Many people want to believe that social media, and Facebook in particular, makes everyone more racist, politically paranoid, addicted, and anxious. It’s a narrative that’s equally popular with very conservative Republicans (who somewhat bafflingly view Facebook as an enemy), progressive Democrats (who are ideologically predisposed to dislike large corporations), and the mainstream media (which views social media as a rival). But there is solid evidence undermining many of these claims, and it’s important to remember that taking away technology and shutting off conversations—even fraught and divisive conversations—often increases ignorance and prejudice.”

Both the Left and the Right Are Exaggerating the Threat Posed by Facebook

“Facebook is indeed a powerful and influential company, but these people all need a reality check. The social media site does not wield nearly as much power as actual governments. Facebook doesn’t drop bombs on its enemies or send troops to bust down their doors and kill them. Facebook can’t put people in jail, or confiscate their money, or forbid them from gathering in groups, or force children as young as three to wear masks while they play sports outside. The only thing Facebook can do is stop people from posting on Facebook.”

The Facebook Ban Hurt Trump in Surprising Ways

“Facebook always was hugely important to Trump in his political rise and reign. Twitter, which has booted him forever, tended to be more front and center — it was for Trump a rough, running focus group, and a real-time, utterly un-private diary. But if Twitter was the loudspeaker, Facebook was the less flashy but nonetheless critical organizing, advertising and fundraising infrastructure. Compared to Twitter’s noisy café, Facebook was the underground pipes. It’s hard to see how Trump would have become president without it.

“I understood early that Facebook was how Donald Trump was going to win,” Brad Parscale, the digital media director on Trump’s 2016 campaign who then started as his campaign manager in 2020, said in 2017. “Facebook was the method — it was the highway which his car drove on.”

“… large numbers of conservative voters, ability to broadcast all day, multiple times to the same audience, and the numbers were showing in the consumer side that people were spending more and more hours of their day consuming Facebook content,” he said in 2018. “Being able to show a message directly from President Trump talking… talking directly to camera was very important. I could get it right there not filtered by the media, not filtered by anyone. It was his face. It was the person you wanted to hear from talking directly to you.”

A New Yorker headline in March of 2020 referred to “Trump’s Facebook Juggernaut.”

“He arguably has the best fundraising list in Republican politics right now, which means he has the best email lists and text messaging lists, but there’s a half-life on that — because people change emails, change cell phone providers. So it’s important that he keeps filling that pipeline with new contacts, and that’s where Facebook comes in,” Wilson said, noting that polling he’s done suggests that 60 percent of voters log on to Facebook every day.”

A major battle over free speech on social media is playing out in India during the pandemic

“As the coronavirus pandemic rages in India, claiming thousands of lives, many Indians are turning to social media to demand that the government handle the public health crisis better. And now, the government is silencing these critics in its latest threat to the future of free speech on the internet in the world’s second-most populous country.

In recent weeks, the Indian government has requested that companies like Twitter take down content that it says contains misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic. But critics say that India’s political leadership under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is using the premise of misinformation to overreach and suppress criticism of the administration’s handling of the pandemic.”

“under the Modi administration of the past several years, the country has expanded its internet regulation laws, giving it more power to censor and surveil its citizens online. The government has several levers to pressure US-based tech companies into compliance: It could arrest Facebook and Twitter staff in India if their employers don’t follow orders. Even further, India could yank Twitter or Facebook off the local internet in India entirely, as it recently did with TikTok and several major Chinese apps in June. And the government resorted to effectively shutting down the internet in Kashmir in February 2020 when it wanted to quiet political dissent in the region.”

“Facebook confirmed that it temporarily blocked posts with a #ResignModi hashtag in India, but it later said it was a mistake because of content associated with the hashtag that violated its policies. Facebook has since restored access to the hashtag.

Facebook declined to comment on how many or what takedown requests it has received from the Indian government in recent weeks. A source familiar with the company said Facebook only took down a small portion of the total requests it received.”

“Recode reviewed the more than 50 tweets that Twitter blocked or deleted at the request of the Indian government in recent weeks. While some could be considered misleading — including one viral image showing devastation in India supposedly related to the pandemic which Indian fact-checker AltNews reported to be outdated — it wasn’t clear what was misleading about several other posts, which appeared to be straightforward news and political commentary.”

Everybody’s Wrong About the Facebook/Murdoch Standoff in Australia

“According to data from Australia collected over the past two decades, advertising revenue for newspapers has plunged 32 percent over that time, while circulation has remained largely the same. The overall advertising market has actually grown. Almost the entirety of the revenue loss for Australian newspapers has been the loss of classified advertising. It’s been almost completely eliminated in the Australian print media because the technological efficiencies of internet searches make online classified systems much for useful for consumers. There’s no reason for classified advertising in newspapers to exist any longer. Online is better. If you need proof, watch Saturday Night Live’s recent parody advertisement about the nearly pornographic fascination some people have with searching for houses on Zillow.

This is all about the historically common disruption that new technologies cause in the marketplace. Newspapers are no longer the best at serving up advertising to consumers, so that market went elsewhere. After engines were invented, horses stopped being the most efficient way to travel. After electricity was invented, candles stopped being the most efficient artificial source of light.

Newspapers and media outlets have no moral right to claim this money for themselves. The advertising industry money should go to where it’s most effective. But because media outlets have been unable to replace the lost advertising, they’ve resorted to lobbying the government with claims that preserving newspapers is pivotal to the survival of democracy, riding on the current populist criticism of the size of tech companies.”