If you're looking to follow news and advocacy about an anticipated Vermont legislature vote this week on legalizing marijuana, a search for the latest tweets that use the combined terms Vermont and marijuana will for many Twitter users
yield zero results.
Same goes for searches for tweets using the terms pot, weed or cannabis. The latest results for jackass and jerk , words generally printed without censorship by news outlets, also yield a
blank page with a message claiming: Nothing came up for that search, which is a little weird. Maybe check what you searched for and try again.
The omissions are examples of a new censorship syste introduced by Twitter, with users required
to opt out of a filter to see uncensored results.
Top results for restricted terms still appear, but results for the most recent posts and for photos, videos and news content tabs do not.
Social media giants Facebook, Google and Twitter will be forced to change their terms of service for EU users within a month, or face hefty fines from European authorities, an official said on Friday.
The move was initiated after politicians have
decided to blame their unpopularity on 'fake news' rather than their own incompetence and their failure to listen to the will of the people.
The EU Commission sent letters to the three companies in December, stating that some terms of service were
in breach of EU protection laws and urged them to do more to prevent fraud on their platforms. The EU has also urged social media companies to do more when it comes to assessing the suitability of user generated content.
The letters, seen by
Reuters, explained that the EU Commission also wanted clearer signposting for sponsored content, and that mandatory rights, such as cancelling a contract, could not be interfered with.
Germany said this week it is working on a new law that would
see social media sites face fines of up to $53 million if they failed to strengthen their efforts to remove material that the EU does not like. German censorship minister Heiko Mass said:
There must be as little space
for criminal incitement and slander on social networks as on the streets. Too few criminal comments are deleted and they are not erased quickly enough. The biggest problem is that networks do not take the complaints of their own users seriously
enough...it is now clear that we must increase the pressure on social networks.
Pakistani has threatened to ban social media networks if they failed to censor content considered insulting to Islam. The government's Fderal Investigation Agency (FIA) is also in talks with Interpol to identify supposedly blasphemous content.
The FIA has sent a formal request to Facebook but the company's management has yet to respond. Pakistan's interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan urged Facebook to comply:
I hope that the management of Facebook will respect the religious sentiments of 200 million Pakistanis and tens of millions of users of Facebook in Pakistan and will cooperate in that regard.
requests come after the Islamabad high court ordered the government to start an investigation into online blasphemy and threatened to ban social media networks if they failed to censor content deemed insulting to Islam, lawyers told AFP.
Earlier this week we explained how the tide is turning against the European Commission's
proposal for Internet platforms to adopt new compulsory copyright filters as part of its upcoming Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. As we explained, users and even the European Parliament's Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer
Protection (IMCO) have criticized the Commission's proposal, which could stifle online expression, hinder competition, and suppress legal uses of copyrighted content, like creating and sharing Internet memes .
Since then, a leaked
report has revealed that one of the European Parliament's most influential committees has also come out against the proposal . As
the IMCO committee's report had done, the report of the European
Parliament's Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee not only criticizes the upload filtering proposal (aka. Article 13, or the #censorshipmachine), but renders even harsher judgment on a separate proposal to require online news aggregators to pay copyright-like
licensing fees to the publishers they link to (aka. Article 11, or the link tax ). We'll take
these one at a time.
JURI Committee Scales Back the EU's Censorship Machine
The JURI committee would maintain the requirement for copyright holders to "take appropriate and proportionate
measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded with rightsholders for the use of their works." But the committee rejects the proposed requirement for automatic blocking or deletion of uploaded content, because it fails to take account of
the limitations and exceptions to copyright that Europe recognizes, such as the right of quotation. The committee writes in an Explanatory Statement:
The process cannot underestimate the effects of the identification
of user uploaded content which falls within an exception or limitation to copyright. To ensure the continued use of such exceptions and limitations, which are based on public interest concerns, communication between users and rightsholders also needs to
The committee also affirms that the agreements between rightsholders and platforms don't detract from the safe harbor protection for platforms that Europe's E-Commerce Directive already provides (which
is analogous to the DMCA safe harbor in the U.S.). This means that if user-uploaded content appears on a platform without a license from the copyright holder, the platform's only obligation is to remove that content on receipt of a request by the
We would have liked to see a stronger denunciation of the mandate for Internet platforms to enter into licensing agreements with copyright holders, and we maintain that the provision is better deleted altogether.
Nonetheless, the committee's report, if reflected in the final text, should rule out the worst-case scenario of platforms being required to automatically flag and censor copyright material as it is uploaded.Â
European Link Tax
Faces its Toughest Odds Ever
The leaked report goes further in its response to the link tax, recommending that it be dropped from the new copyright directive altogether. Given the failure of smaller scale link tax schemes in
Germany and Spain , this was the only sensible position for the committee to take. The Explanatory Statement to the report correctly distinguishes between two separate aspects of the use of news reporting online that the Commission's original proposal
Digitalisation makes it easier for content found in press publications to be copied or taken. Digitalisation also facilitates access to news and press by providing digital users a referencing or
indexing system that leads them to a wide range of news and press. Both processes need to be recognised as separate processes.
Instead of introducing new monopoly rights for publishers, the JURI committee suggests
simplifying the process by which publishers can take copyright infringement action in the names of the journalists whose work is appropriated. This would address the core problem of full news reports being republished without permission, but without
creating new rights over mere snippets of news that accompany links to their original sources. Far from being a problem, this use is actually beneficial for news organizations.
The JURI committee report is just a recommendation
for the amendment of the European Commission proposal, and it will still be some months before we learn whether these recommendations will be reflected in the final compromise text. Nonetheless, it is heartening to see the extreme proposals of the
Commission getting chiseled away by one of the Parliament's most influential committees.
The importance of this shouldn't be underestimated. Although the above proposals are limited to Europe at present, there is the very real
prospect that, if they succeed, they will pop up in the United States as well. In fact, U.S. content industry groups are already advocating for the adoption of an upload filtering proposal stateside. That's why it's vital not only for Europeans to speak
out against these dangerous proposals, but also for Internet users around the world to stand on guard, and to be ready to fight back.
Twitter is continuing its campaign to add controls and warnings to tweets.
It now presents a warning when users click on a profile that may include sensitive content . The warning greys out the profile's tweets, bio and profile picture,
but gives users the option to view the profile if they wish.
Twitter used to only mark individual tweets with a sensitivity warning, but has now expanded this to censor whole profiles unless users agree to view them.
The warning message
given with the greyed out profile says:
Caution: This profile may include sensitive content. You're seeing this warning because they tweet sensitive images or language. Do you still want to view it?
Twitter did not publicly announce the new feature, and tweeters with profiles being greyed out are not informed by Twitter.