An interesting article in Wired reports on a a recent Westminster eForum meeting when the British establishment got
together to discuss, porn, internet censorship and child protection.
A large portion of the article considers the issue that porn is not generally restricted just to 'porn websites'. It is widely available on more mainstream wesbites such as Google Images. Stephen Winyard, director and VP of ICM Registry and council
member of the digital policy alliance, argued that Twitter is in fact commercially benefiting from the proliferation of pornography on the network:
It's on Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, mobile apps - Skype is used hugely for adult content. But Twitter is the largest platform for promoting pornography in the world - and it takes money for it. They pay Twitter money to advertise adult content.
Another good good pint was that the Digital Censorship Bill going through parliament was targetting the prevention of children 'stumbling across' porn. Hence a bit of partial blockade of porn may somehow reduce this problem. However Adam Kinsley of Sky
pointed out that partial blockage may not be so effective in stopping kids actively looking for porn. He noted:
The Digital Economy Bill's exact objectives are a little uncertain, but we are trying to stop children stumbling on pornography -- but they are not 'stumbling', they are looking for it and Twitter is where they will [find] it. Whether what the government
is proposing will deal with that threat is unclear. Initially, it did not propose ISPs blocking content. When it comes to extremist sites, the Home Office asks social media platforms to take down content. The government does not ask us to block material
- it has never done that. So this is a big deal. It doesn't happen with the IWF; it doesn't happen with terrorist material, and it wasn't in the government's original proposal. Whether they got it right and how will we deal with these millions of sites,
We're not really achieving anything if only dealing with a few sites.
The Bill is incredibly complex, as it stands. David Austin, from the BBFC, pointed out that for it to implement the bill correctly, it needs to be effective, proportionate, respectful of privacy, accountable - and the
Tens of millions of adults that go online to see legal content must be able to continue to do so.
At the same time, he said:
There is no silver bullet, no one model, no one sector that can achieve all child protection goals.
Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said it would investigate the establishment's concerns about the
public being supposedly swayed by propaganda and untruths.
The inquiry will examine the sources of fake news, how it is spread and its impact on democracy. Damian Collins, the committee chairman, said the rise of propaganda and fabrications is:
A threat to democracy and undermines confidence in the media in general. Just as major tech companies have accepted they have a social responsibility to combat piracy online and the illegal sharing of content, they also need to help address the
spreading of fake news on social media platforms, he said.
Consumers should also be given new tools to help them assess the origin and likely veracity of news stories they read online.
The committee will be investigating these issues as well as looking into the sources of fake news, what motivates people to spread it and how it has been used around elections and other important political debates.
The MPs want to investigate whether the way advertising is bought, sold and placed online has encouraged the growth of fake news. They also want to address the responsibility of search engines and social media to stop spreading it.
New research suggests that online hoaxes and propaganda may have only had limited impact in the US presidential election, however. According to a study by two US economists, fake news which favoured Donald Trump was shared 30 million times in the three
months before the election, four times more than false stories favouring Hillary Clinton. But the authors said that only half of people who saw a false story believed it, and even the most widely circulated hoaxes were seen by only a fraction of voters.
As the internet censorship bill continues its progress through Parliament, news websites have been noted a few opinions and sound
A couple of weeks ago David Kaye, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, wrote to ministers to warm them that their proposals could breach international law . In his
letter, he said:
I am concerned that the age-verification provisions give the Government access to information of viewing habits and citizen data. Data provide to one part of government can be shared with other parts of government and private sector companies without a
person's knowledge and consent.
He also warned:
While I am cognizant of the need to protect children against harmful content. I am concerned that the provisions under the bill are not an effective way for achieving this objective as they fall short of the standards of international human rights law.
The age-verification requirement may easily be subject to abuse such as hacking, blackmail and other potential credit card fraud.
He also expressed concern at the bill's lack of privacy obligations and at a significant tightening control over the Internet in the UK.
Murray Perkins, a senior examiner with the BBFC, has indicated that the depiction of violent and criminal pornographic acts would be prohibited both online and off, in accordance with the way obscenity laws are interpreted by British prosecutors.
And the way British prosecutors interpret obscenity laws is very censorial indeed with many totally mainstream porn elements such as squirting and fisting being considered somehow obscene by these government censors.
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said in an earlier statement the legislation would lead to unprecedented censorship. He noted:
Once this administrative power to block websites is in place, it will invariably be used to censor other content.
Of course pro-censorship campaigners are delighted. Vicki Shotbolt, chief executive officer for Parent Zone, gloated about the end of people's freedom to access porn.
This isn't about reducing anyone's freedom to access porn. It is simply bringing the online world more in line with the offline.
A major fetish forum Fetlife has announced that censorship pressures have lead to the removal of 100's of groups and 1000's of fetishes from
John Baku of Fetlife posted (edited for brevity):
I apologize for the deletion of 100s of groups and 1,000s of fetishes without any warning, let alone sufficient notice. I apologize for not making this announcement earlier and leaving everyone in the dark, and most importantly, I
apologize for letting many of you down.
I wish we could have done things differently, but even upon reflection, I believe we did what we had to do to protect the community and FetLife with the information we had when we made each decision along the way.
Before making any decisions, we consulted with multiple parties. We consulted with the team, partners, financial institutions, the NCSF (National Coalition for Sexual Freedom), the FSC (Free Speech Coalition), lawyers, and anyone
else we thought might have insight for us.
So, why did we make the announcement? Everything falls under one of three categories: financial risk, legal risk, and community risk.
Let's first talk quickly about the financial risk and get it out of the way because I don't want it to detract from the high priority issues i.e. the legal and community risks. A merchant account is what allows us to process credit
cards on FetLife. The ads you see on FetLife covers the cost of approximately 1/2 the cost of our servers and bandwidth -- that's it. Hence, without a merchant account, FetLife runs at a loss every month -- and we are not talking a couple of dollars a
month, we are talking significant losses.
Last Tuesday we got a notice that one of our merchant accounts was shutting us down. One of the card companies contacted them directly and told the bank to stop processing for us. The bank asked for more information, but the only
thing they could get from the card company was that part of it had to do with blood, needles, and vampirism.
Three days later, we get another notice, this time from our other merchant account. They got a similar call from the same card company, and they were asked to close our account. This time they were told it was for Illegal or
Hence we can no longer process credit cards on FetLife and will most likely not be able to for a while.
The Legal Risk
There are numerous things at play here:
A highly publicized rape case in Australia involving a member of the community; An organization that participated in the anti-porn bill that wants to see sites like FetLife taken off the internet; Talk of reviving the obscenity task
force in the US; The Digital Economy bill in the UK that's being debated currently; BPjM in Germany; and We've been one of the most liberal, if not the most liberal, adult site on the web which makes us the perfect target; We can put our heads in the
sand, but that is both naive and irresponsible. All of the above have real legal risks attached to them with potentially equally real consequences. Maybe not to you directly but it does to FetLife, the team behind FetLife, and myself.
The Community Risk
The one thing that bonds us all together is our love for the kinky community. Without the kinky community, without sites like FetLife, many of us would not have a place to call home, a place in which we are accepted and understood,
and dare I say a place in which we feel free to be ourselves.
If we hope to win the war, if we want our society to be more accepting of us, then we can't give them a reason to vilify us. People always need someone to blame, and we need to stop making ourselves the easy target.
Both FetLife and the NCSF believe that the proposed changes will give us the opportunity to flourish as a community while better protecting ourselves from outside attack.
With the help of the NCSF, lawyers, partners, and merchant providers, we came up with the following pillars that will make up our guidelines:
Nothing non-consensual (abduction, rape, etc.)
Nothing that impairs consent (drugs, alcohol, etc.)
No permanent or lasting damage (snuff, lacerations, deep cutting, etc.)
No hate speech (Nazi roleplay, race play, etc.)
Nothing that falls under obscenity (incest, etc. )
We hope to be able to publish our new content guidelines shortly as well as implement changes to caretaking so that we don't ever find ourselves in a similar situation again.
French authorities ordered the blockage or removal of more than 2,700 websites in 2016, Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux announced. He said
that his government has requested blocks for 834 websites and that 1,929 more be pulled from search engines' results as part of the fight against child pornographic and terrorist content. He said:
To face an extremely serious terror threat, we've given ourselves unprecedented means to reinforce the efficacy of our actions.
Perhaps to obscure censorship details, Le Roux unhelpfully didn't detail any stats on what type of websites were blocked.
French authorities can block sites without a judge's order under a 2011 law that was brought into effect in after jihadist attacks killed 17 people at a satirical magazine and a kosher supermarket.
Virtual reality headset manufacturer Oculus have announced that all games made available on its Oculus Store must have an age
classification determined using tools from the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC). The company writes in a blog post:
We're committed to helping everyone on the Oculus platform make well-informed purchasing decisions. That's why we are now utilizing the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) to give people trusted and familiar ratings for all Oculus experiences.
Moving forward, all titles in the Oculus Store will need to show age and content ratings assigned through the IARC rating process. This change will make it easier for developers to get age and content ratings for your app from multiple territories
simultaneously. It also provides consumers a consistent set of familiar and trusted ratings that reflect their own cultural norms regarding content and age-appropriateness.
In order to give people consistent ratings no matter where they live, all titles in the Oculus Store must have IARC assigned ratings. New titles submitted to the store will receive an automatic prompt to obtain their rating through IARC by answering a
simple set of questions. IARC will provide a rating for each applicable region and rating authority at the conclusion of the questionnaire. The ratings will then be automatically applied to the title. Existing titles will need to complete the IARC rating
process no later than March 1, 2017 to avoid removal from the Oculus Store.
Last year, a coalition of over 70 social justice groups and individuals released a list of demands to
Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to address their concerns over Facebook's use of censorship in compliance with law enforcement.
Several organizations reported on activists whose facebook accounts were censored while covering the civilian uprisings in Charlotte, NC. Other incidents include the removal of live footage from anti Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the temporary
disabling of Palestinian journalists' accounts, and reports that Facebook sent data to help police track and surveil protesters in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD. , Reem Suleiman, campaigner at SumOfUs said:
We're still in the dark about how Facebook censors users and collaborates voluntarily with law enforcement. Facebook needs to come clean with the hundreds of thousands of people asking for transparency and public accountability.
Brandi Collins, Campaign Director for Color Of Change said:
Social media platforms like Facebook are a powerful tool for Black people to draw attention to injustices our community faces That's why we're so concerned that a powerful company like Facebook has been quick to silence Black voices by censoring
individual Facebook users at the request of law enforcement. We recognize Facebook is under pressure from law enforcement and the company has a responsibility to protect its users' freedom of expression. Unfortunately, each time we've tried to engage
Facebook around these issues, our suggestions have been dismissed or ignored. We will continue to publicly call for an overhaul of Facebook's current policies and practices until the company refuses to enable the censorship of Black communities.
Although the group is calling on Facebook to censor its own activists less, the coalition wrote to Facebook to ask for its opponents to be censored more:
At the same time, harassment and threats directed at activists based ont heir race, religion, and sexual orientation is thriving on Facebook. Many of thesea ctivists have reported such harassment and threats by users and pages on Facebook only to be told
that they don't violate Facebook's Community Standards. Similar experiences have been reported by Facebook users from a variety of communities, yet your recent response indicates you are adequately addressing the problem. We disagree.
Liberty is launching a landmark legal challenge to the extreme mass surveillance powers in the Government's new Investigatory Powers Act -- which lets the
state monitor everybody's web history and email, text and phone records, and hack computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale.
Liberty is seeking a High Court judicial review of the core bulk powers in the so-called Snoopers' Charter -- and calling on the public to help it take on the challenge by donating v
ia crowdfunding platform CrowdJustice
Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said:
Last year, this Government exploited fear and distraction to quietly create the most extreme surveillance regime of any democracy in history. Hundreds of thousands of people have since called for this Act's repeal because they see it for what it is -- an
unprecedented, unjustified assault on our freedom.
We hope anybody with an interest in defending our democracy, privacy, press freedom, fair trials, protest rights, free speech and the safety and cybersecurity of everyone in the UK will support this crowdfunded challenge, and make 2017 the year we
reclaim our rights.
The Investigatory Powers Act passed in an atmosphere of shambolic political opposition last year, despite the Government failing to provide any evidence that such indiscriminate powers were lawful or necessary to prevent or detect crime.
Liberty will seek to challenge the lawfulness of the following powers, which it believes breach the public's rights:
Bulk hacking -- the Act lets police and agencies access, control and alter electronic devices like computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale, regardless of whether their owners are suspected of involvement
in crime -- leaving them vulnerable to further attack by hackers.
Bulk interception -- the Act allows the state to read texts, online messages and emails and listen in on calls en masse, without requiring suspicion of criminal activity.
Bulk acquisition of everybody's communications data and internet history -- the Act forces communications companies and service providers to hand over records of everybody's emails, phone calls and texts and entire web
browsing history to state agencies to store, data-mine and profile at its will. This provides a goldmine of valuable personal information for criminal hackers and foreign spies.
Bulk personal datasets -- the Act lets agencies acquire and link vast databases held by the public or private sector. These contain details on religion, ethnic origin, sexuality, political leanings and health problems,
potentially on the entire population -- and are ripe for abuse and discrimination.
In a challenge to the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) by MP Tom Watson, represented by Liberty, the CJEU ruled the UK Government was breaking the law by indiscriminately collecting and accessing the nation's internet activity
and phone records.
DRIPA forced communications companies to store records of everybody's emails, texts, phone calls and internet communications and let hundreds of public bodies grant themselves access with no suspicion of serious crime or independent sign-off.
Judges ruled the regime breached British people's rights because it:
Allowed indiscriminate retention of all communications data.
Did not restrict access to the purpose of preventing and detecting precisely defined serious crime.
Let police and public bodies authorise their own access, instead of requiring prior authorisation by a court or independent body.
Did not require that people be notified after their data had been accessed.
Did not require that the data be kept within the European Union.
DRIPA expired at the end of 2016 -- but its powers are replicated and vastly expanded in the Investigatory Powers Act, with no effort to counter the lack of safeguards found unlawful in the case.
For weeks, the German and international public sphere has been bombarded with a campaign
against so-called fake news. Now Der Spiegel is reporting that the government now wants to establish a Defence Centre against Misinformation , a type of censorship and propaganda agency.
The Defence Centre will be set up in the Federal Press Office under Steffen Seibert. The new centre is supposed to strengthen the political power of defence of the population and force social networks such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to
censor content posted by users.
The acceptance of a post-factual age would amount to political capitulation, an internal paper quoted by Der Spiegel said. The paper insisted that authentic political communication remains crucial for the 21 century as well.
Accordingly, wide-reaching measures would have to be formulated to deal with the disinformation campaign, fake news and the manipulation of public opinion.
The World Socialist Web Site notes:
In reality the plans for an Orwellian Truth Ministry have nothing to do with concerns about false news reports. Instead, the established parties, the state media and private media corporations fear that they are losing their monopoly on public opinion.
The Internet has provided millions of people with the possibility, for the first time, of obtaining access to information that has not been selected and filtered by the official media. This has been behind the fear in the media and political parties.
The ruling class is reacting to growing social tensions and political discontent in the same way it has in the past: with police, prosecution and the suppression of free speech.
Maybe German politicians are just panicking about the unpopularity of their free-for-all immigration and refugee policy.
Last year the state of California passed a new law that banned sites that offer paid subscriptions, and allow people to post CVs and bios, from
publishing individuals' ages. The law came into effect on 1st January 2017, and it is now being challenged by IMDb who have not taken down celebrity birthdays.
The state of California introduced the new law as a politically correct move against age-discrimination. Perhaps they would have done better to frame the birthday ban more in terms of privacy protections, date of birth is quite a key piece of information
enabling identity fraud.
MDb believes that the law is a violation of the First Amendment and it says the state has chosen instead to chill free speech and to undermine access to factual information of public interest rather than trying to tackle age-discrimination in a
more meaningful way. IMDb has now filed a lawsuit against the Californian law.
A bill allowing Israeli courts to force social media companies to remove content defined as incitement has passed its first reading in parliament.
The Facebook bill sponsored by ministers Gilad Erdan and Ayelet Shaked would allow Israeli courts to immediately order content taken down if it is deemed to pose a public, personal or state security risk and constitutes a criminal offense.
Facebook adheres to its own removal policy when it comes to online content and freedom of speech issues and has generally not removed as much as state censors would like.
Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler of the Israel Democracy Institute has criticized the Facebook bill as too broad. She commented that the bill will not solve the problem and will hurt freedom of expression for all.
Facebook has once again drawn sharp criticism over its censorship policies after the social media giant reportedly blocked a photo
of the historic naked statue of the sea god Neptune that stands in the Piazza del Nuttuno in Bologna, Italy.
Local writer Elisa Barbari said she chose a photograph of the 16th century 3.2-metre high bronze Renaissance statue of the sea god holding a trident to illustrate her Facebook page titled, Stories, curiosities and views of Bologna.
However, Facebook reportedly objected to the nude image of the iconic statue. In a statement, the social media company told Barbari:
The use of the image was not approved because it violates Facebook's guidelines on advertising. It presents an image with content that is explicitly sexual and which shows to an excessive degree the body, concentrating unnecessarily on body parts.
Inevitably when sufficient bad press is generated by Facebook's ludicrous aversion to trivial nudity, the company admitted that it had again made a ghastly mistake and grovelled:
Our team processes millions of advertising images each week, and in some instances we incorrectly prohibit ads. This image does not violate our ad policies. We apologise for the error and have let the advertiser know we are approving their ad.