- Australia passed a law that would criminalize tech companies who don’t remove violent materials from their social and online platforms.
- The legislation was proposed as a direct response to the attacks in Christchurch, and was passed within a week.
- Tech companies and others are criticizing legislators for passing the law too quickly, and for unintended consequences and complications could arise.
What Does the Law Say?
Australian lawmakers passed legislation that will criminalize internet platforms that fail to remove violent content from their site.
The bill, passed Thursday, states that this new law will, “address significant gaps in Australia’s current criminal laws by ensuring that persons who are internet service providers, or who provide content or hosting services, take timely action in relation to abhorrent violent material that can be accessed using their services.”
The goal is to make sure social media and other sites with user-based content “cannot be exploited and weaponised by perpetrators of violence.”
The legislation was created as a response to the attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, which were partially live-streamed to Facebook, and viewed by thousands of people. Since then, Facebook has worked to remove 1.5 million versions of the video.
The attacks are mentioned in the bill, and Attorney General Christian Porter also opened his remarks on the bill by paying tribute to the victims.
“Together, we must act to ensure that perpetrators and their accomplices cannot leverage online platforms for the purposes of spreading their violent and extreme fanatical propaganda.” he added during his reading. “These platforms should not be weaponised for evil purposes.”
According to the bill, “violent content” ranges from anything containing images or audio of terrorist attacks, to murder or attempted murder, and torture, among other things.
Companies who don’t take down these kinds of materials from their sites could end up with penalty fines of up to 10% of the corporate body’s annual turnover. Individuals found responsible could land in jail for up to three years.
Criticism of the Law
The legislation was first introduced by Australia’s Prime Minister last week, and many are critical of both the content of the bill and the speed in which it was passed.
The Law Council of Australia released a statement saying the bill, “could have serious unintended consequences and should not be rushed through the parliament.”
The council’s president, Arthur Moses, also said it could lead to increased amounts of censorship. “As we know, laws formulated as a knee-jerk reaction to a tragic event do not necessarily equate to good legislation and can have myriad unintended consequences,” he said.
“Whistleblowers may no longer be able to deploy social media to shine a light on atrocities committed around the world because social media companies will be required to remove certain content for fear of being charged with a crime. It could also lead to censorship of the media, which would be unacceptable.”
Tech company leaders are also taking issue with the law. Sunita Bose, the managing director of the Digital Industry Group Inc., which is an advocacy group that represents companies like Facebook and Google, told the New York Times that a lot of work has to be done to find a solution to this problem.
“With the vast volumes of content uploaded to the internet every second,” Bose said, “this is a highly complex problem that requires discussion with the technology industry, legal experts, the media and civil society to get the solution right — that didn’t happen this week.”
See What Others Are Saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (Radio New Zealand)
Anti-LGBTQ+ Hungarian Politician Resigns After He Was Caught At a 25-Man Orgy
- József Szájer, a longtime ally of the right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister and a Member of the European Parliament, resigned Sunday after he was caught attending a 25-man orgy in Brussels.
- The event was raided after a noise complaint as Brussels is currently under a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.
- Szájer claimed diplomatic immunity after being detained and was issued a €250 fine.
- His attendance at a gay orgy contrasts his career as an adamantly anti-LGBTQ+ politician. In fact, he was instrumental in rewriting Hungary’s 2010 constitution to include provisions meant to stifle the possibility of gay marriage.
Long time anti-LGBTQ+ politician József Szájer resigned from the European Parliament Sunday after revelations that he attended a 25-man orgy in Brussels, which was raided by police.
The Saturday event violated Belgium’s stay-at-home orders, which prohibit inter-household gathers of more than four people in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Police were notified of the orgy after a neighbor called to file a noise complaint. The organizer of the party was unapologetic about hosting the party during the pandemic, telling HLN, “I always invite a few friends to my parties, who in turn bring some friends along, and then we make it fun together.”
“We talk a little, we have a drink – just like in a café. The only difference is that in the meantime we also have sex with each other. I don’t see what’s wrong with that,” he added.
József Szájer’s Great Escape
According to local media HLN, Szájer wasn’t even invited to the party but instead came as a guest’s friend. There are differing accounts about how he was aprehended at the party. A spokesperson for the local prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday, “A passer-by reported to the police that he had seen a man fleeing along the gutter; he was able to identify the man.”
“The man’s hands were bloody. It is possible that he may have been injured while fleeing. Narcotics were found in his backpack. The man was unable to produce any identity documents. He was escorted to his place of residence, where he identified himself as [Szájer József] by means of a diplomatic passport.”
After apprehending him, police detained Szájer and searched a bag he brought with him where they allegedly found ecstasy. Szájer denied the drugs were his and demanded a drug test, which the police declined to do.
On Tuesday, after reports of his attendance at the orgy became public, Szájer made a statement saying, “After the police asked for my identity — since I did not have ID on me — I declared that I was a MEP.”.
“The police continued the process and finally issued an official verbal warning and transported me home.
“I deeply regret violating the Covid restrictions, it was irresponsible on my part. I am ready to stand for the fine that occurs.”
That fine ended up being €250.
No Future Career
Szájer, as a member of Orban’s party, helped rewrite Hungary’s constitution in 2010. He once boasted on his blog in 2011 that he wrote the constitution on his iPad. That constitution included a provision that would “protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
In his statement Tuesday, Szájer asked that the matter be treated as “strictly personal” and added, “I ask everyone not to extend it to my homeland, or to my political community.”
His words gave light to the reason he originally resigned as a member of the European Parliament on Sunday, which at the time came as sudden and unexpected news.
His party hasn’t issued any statement regarding Szájer’s actions, and Szájer asked for forgiveness from his wife, child, and country. He added that he would be retiring from political life.
See What Others Are Saying: (Business Insider) (The Daily Beast) (The Guardian)
U.K Approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine
- The United Kingdom has become the first western country to approve a coronavirus vaccine after giving Pfizer’s vaccine the go-ahead.
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson said vaccinations will start next week. Health care workers and those in elderly care homes are expected to get priority.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin also ordered that doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine be given in the country next week, though many are still skeptical of Russia’s vaccine due to a lack of transparency and data.
- In the U.S., Moderna and Pfizer will likely get approval in the next few weeks, and Vice President Mike Pence has told states to get ready to distribute. The timing in the states is crucial as health officials are warning that the coronavirus threat to Americans is at a historic high.
U.K. Greenlights Pfizer
The United Kingdom became the first western country to greenlight a coronavirus vaccine Wednesday after approving one created by Pfizer and BioNTech.
Pfizer said its vaccine is 95% effective and has also begun the process of seeking Food and Drug Administration approval in the U.S. If all goes well, it should be authorized in the next two weeks. Across the pond, the review was done by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which said that the vaccine met its high standards.
“A dedicated team of MHRA scientists and clinicians carried out a rigorous, scientific and detailed review of all the available data and have concluded that the vaccine meets high standards of safety, quality and effectiveness,” the agency said in a statement.
“I’m really pleased to say that the UK is now one step closer to providing a safe and effective vaccine to help in the fight against COVID-19 – a virus that has affected each and every one of us in some way – and in helping to save lives,” MHRA’s Chief Executive Dr. June Raine added.
The U.K., like much of Europe, is recovering from a staggering increase of cases in the fall, which reached their peak sometime in November. The country has so far seen over 1.6 million cases and suffered 59,000 deaths.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the vaccine will be made available across the U.K. next week. Priority will likely go to staff and residents at elderly care homes, medical workers, and those above the age of 80. However, since the vaccine needs to be stored in extreme subzero temperatures, doses will likely be given out from hospitals first as those are among the few locations with the means to store them.
Russian Vaccine and Skepticism
The U.K. was not the only country making vaccine progress on Wednesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered doses of their Sputnik V vaccine to be distributed next week. Russia approved their vaccine before trials were completed, eventually claiming a 92% efficacy rate. While some health officials are optimistic about it, and countries like Brazil, Mexico, India, and Egypt have bought doses, others remain skeptical.
Critics often cite a lack of transparency between Russia and the public about their trials as well as a lack of data.
“The sample is too low to claim any percentage of efficacy,” Enrico Bucci, an Italian biologist told CBC News.
Others are concerned that Russia was aiming to win a vaccine race, putting speed ahead of everything else. John Moore, a vaccine researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College told Science Mag that the FDA would never approve a vaccine with the limited information of Sputnik V.
“Why is Russia doing this?” Moore asked. “It’s the international vaccine race. They want to be seen to be keeping up with their competitors in other countries. It’s clearly a rushed out announcement.”
“But it doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” he continued.
Others have also raised questions about why Putin himself has not taken the vaccine, especially considering his claims that his own daughter already has. Russian officials say the president cannot take an “uncertified” vaccine, but it is unclear what the difference between a certified vaccine and an approved vaccine is.
U.S. Vaccine Updates
The United States is also making strides towards approving a vaccine. On Monday, Moderna started the process of seeking FDA authorization with their vaccine, which touts a 94.1% efficacy rate. The FDA is set to meet to discuss Pfizer’s vaccine next week and Moderna’s the week after.
As the potential for a vaccine in the states inches closer, Vice President Mike Pence said that vaccine distribution could begin this month.
“We strongly believe the vaccine distribution process could begin as soon as the week of December 14,” he said while speaking to the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Monday. “With this morning’s news that Moderna is joining Pfizer in submitting an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), we continue to be on pace.”
As far as who will get it first in the U.S., the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 on Tuesday to recommend that healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities get vaccinated first.
The need for a vaccine has never been greater. Daily case reports are increasing significantly and the country is seeing spikes like never before. So far, there have been 13.7 million cases and 270,000 lives lost.
On Wednesday, multiple news outlets obtained reports the White House Coronavirus Task Force sent to states warning of a dire state.
“The COVID risk to all Americans is at a historic high,” the report said. “We are in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high COVID baseline and limited hospital capacity.”
“If state and local policies do not reflect the seriousness of the current situation, all public health officials must alert the state population directly,” it added.
On top of this, the report said that anyone over the age of 65 or anyone with significant health conditions should not enter any indoor spaces with unmasked people as it poses an “immediate risk to your health.” It also said that anyone under 40 who traveled for Thanksgiving should assume they became infected.
“Most likely, you will not have symptoms; however, you are dangerous to others and you must isolate away from anyone at increased risk,” the report warned.
See what others are saying: (BBC News) (The Independant) (CNN)
China Refuses to Apologize for Official’s Tweet Showing Fake Image of Australian Soldier
- Earlier this month, Australia released a report saying 25 Australian soldiers likely killed 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2009 and 2013.
- The report was praised in Australia for its transparency. In China, however, it was used as a prop to highlight the perceived hypocrisy of the West towards Human Rights.
- Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian tweeted out a posed image of an Australian soldier threatening to kill an Afghan child.
- The tweet caused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to angrily respond, asking Twitter to remove the image.
- China has refused to apologize for the tweet, marking the latest escalation in diplomatic tensions between the two countries
Tweets on the International Stage
China has refused to apologize for a tweet by a Chinese Foreign Ministry official that caused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ask Twitter to take down the post.
On November 29, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted out, “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable.”
That post also featured the staged image of an Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to an Afghan child, with the caption, “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!”
Zhao was referencing an internal report by the Australian Defence Force released earlier this month. The report investigated allegations of Australian war crimes and found found “credible information” that 25 Australian soldiers were involved in the murders of 30 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2009 and 2013.
Shortly after the tweet, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded and asked Twitter to intervene. Morrison described it as “disinformation” and “truly repugnant, deeply offensive, utterly outrageous.”
“The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes. It is a false image and terrible slur on our defense forces,” he added.
Chinese diplomats seem to be confused about why Spokesperson Zhao’s tweet got such a strong response from Australia. A different Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, responded to reporters questions about the incident and said, “The Australian side reacted so strongly to my colleague’s personal tweet.”
“Are they justifying the ruthless killing of innocent Afghan civilians by Australian soldiers but suggesting that it is unreasonable for anyone to condemn such a cold crime?” he continued.
The issue has highlighted differences in how the West and China see the same situation. The Australian war crimes report was met with indignation at the actions of certain soldiers, while also being praised as a new standard of transparency.
Meanwhile, in China, this report highlighted perceived hypocrisies in the West over human rights. The image Zhao tweeted out is actually from a Chinese Weibo user who has gained some fame this year for making art criticizes Western takes on democracy and human rights.
This situation is the latest in an ongoing series of diplomatic tit-for-tats between Australia and China. In April of this year, Australia tried to get E.U. support in investigating whether Beijing’s early response to the coronavirus led to it becoming a global pandemic. China responded with tariffs on Australian barley and this past Friday imposed duties on Australian wine.
These incidents actually reach out beyond just Australia and China. China uses the threat of cutting off or limiting trade on smaller nations to “win” international disputes. In the case of Australia, that’s a significant threat; 40% of everything Australia sells internationally goes to China.
The combat this, the U.S. has sought to make a loose-coalition of Western nations to jointly-retaliate when China tries to do this, although those efforts have yet to materialize.