“Those who demanded Facebook and other Silicon Valley giants censor political content—something they didn’t actually want to do—are finding that content that they themselves support and like end up being repressed,” noted The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald in response to Facebook’s announcement. “That’s what has happened to every censorship advocate in history.” (Photo: Legal Loop)
After Facebook announced on Thursday that it shut down and removed hundreds of pages and accounts that it vaguely accused of spreading “spam” and engaging in “inauthentic behavior,” some of the individuals and organizations caught up in the social media behemoth’s dragnet disputed accusations that they were violating the platform’s rules and raised alarm that Facebook is using its enormous power to silence independent political perspectives that run counter to the corporate media’s dominant narratives.
While it is reasonable to assume that some of the more than 800 total pages and accounts shut down by Facebook were engaged in overtly fraudulent behavior—such as the use of fake accounts and bots to generate ad revenue—numerous independent media outlets that cover a wide array of issues say they were swept up in the massive purge despite never using such tactics. Continue reading →
Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for a 29-year-old woman activist for crimes such as chanting slogans at a protest. Beheading a woman is unprecedented in the kingdom. Meanwhile, Facebook has sprung into action to protect Riyadh’s back by initiating a crackdown on hundreds of accounts posting anti-Saudi content.
Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for five activists with non-violent charges.
All of the activists belong to the kingdom’s historically oppressed Shia minority. One is a woman.
Facebook has coincidentally begun removing anti-Saudi accounts under the guise of fighting “Iranian interference.”
A private cybersecurity firm with ties to the US military tipped off Facebook to the accounts.
President Donald Trump is attempting to block a publisher from releasing a new “bombshell” book about his presidency. (Photo: Notions Capital/Flickr/cc)
President Donald Trump is attempting to block the release of a highly-anticipated “bombshell” book featuring interviews with members of his inner circle—including those who reportedly called him a “fucking idiot” and said “He’s not only crazy, he’s stupid“—by submitting a cease-and-desist letter to the book’s publisher.
In the letter to Henry Holt and Co., Trump attorney Charles J. Harder demands the publisher “immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release, or dissemination of the book,” including excerpts and summaries. Continue reading →
There are lots of good strategies for beating both corporate and government Internet censors and snoops. These range from alternatives to Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter — to direct subscriptions to authors and pubs — to setting up your own VPN. All are worth the effort.
While Google’s Information Age dominance has long been recognized to have some unsavory consequences, the massive technology corporation has, in recent months, taken to directly censoring content and traffic to a variety of independent media outlets across the political spectrum — essentially muting the voices of any site or author who does not toe the establishment line.
This new offensive has coincided with Google efforts to clamp down on “fake news” and “extremist” content, which – on its subsidiary, YouTube – led to the categorical blocking of videos portraying war crimes and other disturbing events of the Syrian conflict and Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Other independent media figures, such as Luke Rudowski and Carey Wedler, on the popular video streaming service, saw many of their videos demonetized. Continue reading →
As Facebook comes under fire for its alleged censorship and tracking of activists and protesters, a coalition of more than 70 groups and individuals has demanded the social media behemoth “clarify its policy on removing video and other content, especially human rights documentation, at the request of government actors.”
A letter (pdf)—whose signatories include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 350.org, Color of Change, and the Indigenous Environmental Network—sent Monday cites recent incidents including:
Claiming some of their videos had been barred from making money through the company’s ad services, YouTube hosts like Philip DeFranco spoke out against the policy, claiming over “a dozen of his videos had been flagged as inappropriate for advertising, including one dinged for ‘graphic content or excessive strong language.’“
Israel and Facebook will team up to delete content the country views as inciting violence, the Associated Pressreports Monday.
“The joint Facebook-Israel censorship efforts, needless to say, will be directed at Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians who oppose Israeli occupation,” Glenn Greenwald writes at The Intercept.
The development follows a meeting in Tel Aviv between two Israeli officials, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and a delegation of Facebook representatives. Continue reading →
The U.S. State Department has allocated tens of millions of dollars to promote internet freedom, primarily in the area of censorship circumvention. And just this month, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution declaring internet freedom a fundamental human right. The resolution condemns internet shutdowns by national governments, an act that has become increasingly common in variety of countries across the globe, including Turkey, Brazil, India and Uganda.
On the surface, this policy makes sense. The internet is an intuitive boon for democracy. It provides citizens around the world with greater freedom of expression, opportunities for civil society, education and political participation. And previous research, including our own, has been optimistic about the internet’s democratic potential.
However, this optimism is based on the assumption that citizens who gain internet access use it to expose themselves to new information, engage in political discussions, join social media groups that advocate for worthy causes and read news stories that change their outlook on the world.
And some do.
But others watch Netflix. They use the internet to post selfies to an intimate group of friends. They gain access to an infinite stream of music, movies and television shows. They spend hours playing video games.
However, our recent research shows that tuning out from politics and immersing oneself in online spectacle has political consequences for the health of democracy.
The power of distraction
Political use of the internet ranks very low globally, compared to other uses. Research has found that just 9 percent of internet users posted links to political news and only 10 percent posted their own thoughts about political or social issues. In contrast, almost three-quarters (72 percent) say they post about movies and music, and over half (54 percent) also say they post about sports online.
This inspired our study, which sought to show how the internet does not necessarily serve as democracy’s magical solution. Instead, its democratic potential is highly dependent on how citizens choose to use it.
The study was situated in two nondemocracies, Russia and Ukraine. The two share a common history, geography and culture. Both rank well above the global average of 48 percent of internet penetration. More than 70 percent of Russians and 60 percent of Ukrainians reportedly use the internet.
The results of our study revealed the internet’s double-edged sword. Citizens who used the internet for news and political information were more likely to express greater criticism about their country’s autocratic political institutions and leaders. As a consequence, they were more likely to demand greater democratic reforms.
But, when used differently, the internet can actually harm democratization efforts. Those who spent more of their online time engaging with entertainment content were more satisfied with living under autocratic conditions. These users were happy with the authoritarian elites who oversaw them and were uninspired by the prospects of greater freedom. In other words, online political use enhanced democratic attitudes, while online entertainment use entrenched authoritarian ones.
And it gets worse.
Tamping down political interest
It seems the world’s most shrewd authoritarian leaders have predicted these consequences. They have implemented policies that greatly restrict the internet’s political benefits while enabling a rich entertainment culture that carefully sidesteps political issues.
For example, since 2012, Russia has precipitously increased its censorship of political opposition websites and has recently engaged in consultations with Chinese censorship experts to curtail it even further. In China’s tightly controlled online environment, even entertainment content is carefully screened for subversive messages. Unsurprisingly, both Russia and China did not support the UNHRC human rights resolution guaranteeing citizens unfettered access to the internet.
However, censoring political content is only part of the authoritarian’s “online toolkit.” As we have discussed previously at The Conversation, authoritarian governments seek to create a “psychological firewall” that paints the internet as a scary world full of political threats. This rationale increases threat perceptions among the public. This, in turn, increases the public’s support for online political censorship. These threat perceptions also further motivate audiences to seek “safe” entertainment content rather than “risky” news and information.
When this approach proves unsuccessful, authoritarian regimes instead turn to even more overt scare tactics. Under President Erdogan, the Turkish government has created an aggressive program of legal, political and economic intimidation targeting not only journalists but also average citizens. As a consequence at least one-third of Turkish internet users are afraid to openly discuss politics online. This trend will likely only become worse as the Turkish government carries out its purge of political opponents in the wake of the failed coup.
Ensuring citizens have access to the internet is not sufficient to ensure democracy and human rights. In fact, internet access may negatively impact democracy if exploited for authoritarian gain.
The U.S. government, NGOs and other democracy advocates have invested a great deal of time and resources toward promoting internet access, fighting overt online censorship and creating circumvention technologies. Yet their success, at best, has been limited.
The reason is twofold. First, authoritarian governments have adapted their own strategies in response. Second, the “if we build it, they will come” philosophy underlying a great deal of internet freedom promotion doesn’t take into account basic human psychology in which entertainment choices are preferred over news and attitudes toward the internet determine its use, not the technology itself.
Allies in the internet freedom fight should realize that the locus of the fight has shifted. Greater efforts must be put toward tearing down “psychological firewalls,” building demand for internet freedom and influencing citizens to employ the internet’s democratic potential.
Doing so ensures that the democratic online toolkit is a match for the authoritarian one.
‘We’ve often wondered if Exxon actually hates our children because they so consistently stand in the way of safeguarding their future,’ campaigner said, ‘it turns out they apparently hate good journalism as well.’
U.S. Senator and White House hopeful Bernie Sanders on Tuesday slammed Exxon on social media, writing: “It’s absurd that massive corporations can legally intimidate journalists who dare question them.” (Photo: Minale Tattersfield/cc/flickr)
ExxonMobil has launched a full-throttled “bully” campaign against the graduate students who recently unmasked its scandalous climate change cover-up threatening to pull funds from the university that helped bring to light its dangerous and “most consequential” lies.
In a letter (pdf) addressed to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger and obtained by Politico, the oil giant’s vice president of Public and Government Affairs accuses a team of investigative journalism students of violating the school’s research policy by “suppressing” or “manipulating” information to produce “deliberately misleading reports” about ExxonMobil’s climate change research. Continue reading →
A USDA researcher says he was censored and punished for reporting on the harmful effects of pesticides like clothianidin. (Photo: jetsandzeppelins/flickr/cc)
A top scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) filed a whistleblower complaint Wednesday that accuses the agency of harassment and retaliation for his work showing harmful effects on monarch butterflies from a class of widely used insecticides know as neonicotinoids, or neonics.
The department reportedly imposed a 14-day suspension (pdf) on Dr. Jonathan Lundgren, a senior research entomologist at the USDA, for publishing an unapproved report manuscript in a science journal on the “non-target effects” of a widely used neonic strain and for travel violations ahead of a presentation on the results to a scientific panel. Continue reading →