These days, many people see technology companies as indifferent to law, or at least interested in remaining under-regulated. When Mark Zuckerberg called on Congress to regulate how social media companies should handle challenges such as harmful content and data privacy, the request was unusual enough to make headlines. This real or perceived disinterest in legal regulation has troubled a host of people, including those worried about protecting privacy and freedom of expression.
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The rush to bring law and order to online spaces is well and truly on. Two important documents on the topic of online speech regulation have come out of Paris in the past week alone.
On April 22, Julia Angwin, an award-winning investigative journalist specializing in technology, was somewhat bizarrely fired as editor-in-chief from the fledgling media company she’d founded. The company, The Markup, was created in order to focus on data-driven journalism, and in solidarity five members of the seven-person editorial team resigned as well.
When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on March 30 that the internet could use more regulation of “harmful content,” maybe he should have been more specific. Less than a week after Zuckerberg’s statement, Australia’s Parliament passed the Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Act 2019, with no public or expert consultation.
The Charter of the United Nations begins by listing a number of lofty goals, including, “We the peoples of the United Nations [have] determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.” This echoes the more famous and similarly aspirational preamble to the U.S.
Over the past year, lawmakers from Brussels to Washington have discussed whether and how to regulate social media platforms. In Germany, a central question has been whether such platforms—which Germans call social network providers (SNPs)—should be held liable if they fail to delete or remove illegal content.
Most Americans were likely distracted with the looming midterm election on the evening of Nov. 5 when Facebook published a lengthy report assessing the effect of the company’s presence in Myanmar.
Before Saturday, Oct. 27, relatively few people were familiar with Gab, the fringe social network developed as an alternative to Twitter and Facebook. By the end of the day, however, media outlets from Reuters to CNN had issued “explainers” on Gab as a online haven for far-right extremism online.
Members of the Myanmar military have systematically used Facebook as a tool in the government’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, according to an incredible piece of reporting by the New York Times on Oct. 15. The Times writes that the military harnessed Facebook over a period of years to disseminate hate propaganda, false news and inflammatory posts.
On Thursday, Sept. 6, Twitter permanently banned the right-wing provocateur Alex Jones and his conspiracy theorist website Infowars from its platform. This was something of the final blow to Jones’s online presence: Facebook, Apple and Youtube, among others, blocked Jones from using their services in early August. Cut off from Twitter as well, he is now severely limited in his ability to spread his conspiracy theories to a mainstream audience.