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EU Rules Facebook Can Be Forced to Remove Content Worldwide

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  • The EU’s highest court has ruled that if one EU-member country decides content posted on Facebook is illegal, Facebook can be forced to remove specific content worldwide.
  • Facebook and other critics argued the rule will violate freedom of expression laws in other countries because removing content that one country deems illegal might be protected as free speech in another country.
  • Some critics also claimed the rule will allow authoritarian leaders to justify censorship and stifling political dissent.

European Court of Justice Ruling

The European Union’s highest court ruled Thursday that Facebook can be ordered to remove specific content worldwide if one EU-member country finds it illegal.

In a statement, the European Court of Justice said that if the national court of one EU country decides a post on Facebook is illegal, Facebook will be required to remove all duplicates of that post: not just in that EU country, but everywhere in the world.

The ruling also says that in some cases, even posts that are similar to the post deemed illegal will also have to be removed.

The ECJ made the decision after Austrian politician Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek sued Facebook in Austrian courts demanding that the company remove a defamatory comment someone posted about her, as well as any “equivalent” comments disparaging her.

Reportedly, the post in question was made by a Facebook user why shared a link to a news article that called Glawischnig-Piesczek a “lousy traitor of the people,” a “corrupt oaf” and member of a “fascist party.”

Facebook at first had refused to remove the post, which in many countries would still be considered acceptable political speech. However, Austrian courts ruled that the post was intended to hurt her reputation, and the Austrian Supreme Court referred the case to the ECJ.

In the ECJ statement, the highest court did clarify that Facebook and other social media companies are not liable for illegal content posted on their platforms as long as they did not know it was illegal or removed it quickly.

Regardless, the ruling still comes as a massive blow and a huge change for Facebook and places much more responsibility on the tech giant to control its content.

Facebook’s Response

It should not come as a surprise that Facebook is not happy with the decision.

Before the high court’s decision, Facebook and others critical of the rule argued that allowing one country to force a platform to remove material globally limits free speech. Facebook also argued that the decision would most likely force them to use automated content filters. 

Some activists have claimed automated filters could cause legitimate posts to be taken down because the filters can not necessarily tell if a post is ironic or satirical or a meme⁠—a problem most grandparents also seem to have on Facebook.

Facebook condemned the ECJ ruling in a statement, where it argued that internet companies should not be responsible for monitoring and removing speech that might be illegal in one specific country.

“It undermines the long-standing principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country,” the statement said. “It also opens the door to obligations being imposed on internet companies to proactively monitor content and then interpret if it is ‘equivalent’ to content that has been found to be illegal.”

“In order to get this right national courts will have to set out very clear definitions on what ‘identical’ and ‘equivalent’ means in practice,” Facebook continued. “We hope the courts take a proportionate and measured approach, to avoid having a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”

Free Speech Debate

Facebook’s statement has also been echoed by some experts in the field, like Thomas Hughes, the executive director of the UK rights group Article 19, who told Reuters that the decision of one country to remove content illegal in its borders could lead to the removal of content that should be protected as free speech in another country.

“Compelling social media platforms like Facebook to automatically remove posts regardless of their context will infringe our right to free speech and restrict the information we see online,” Hughes said. 

“This would set a dangerous precedent where the courts of one country can control what internet users in another country can see. This could be open to abuse, particularly by regimes with weak human rights records.”

Touching on that point, Eline Chivot, an analyst at the Center for Data Innovation told the Financial Times that the ruling could open a “Pandora’s box” whereby the global removal of content deemed illegal in one country could give authoritarian governments and dictators more tools for censorship.

“Expanding content bans worldwide will undermine internet users’ right to access information and freedom of expression in other countries,” she said. “This precedent will embolden other countries, including those with little respect for free speech, to make similar demands.”

EU’s Role in Tech Company Regulation

Ben Wagner, the director of the Privacy and Sustainable Computing Lab at Vienna University, also argued that decision brings up concerns about restricting political speech.

“We’re talking about a politician who is being insulted in a political context, that’s very different than a normal citizen,” he told The New York Times. “There needs to be a greater scope for freedom of opinion and expression.”

The possibility of stifling political speech is a common debate regarding the regulation of content on social media.

On Wednesday, Singapore enacted a “fake news” law that will basically let the government decide what is and is not fake news on social media, leading many to believe the law is simply a tool to limit free speech and suppress political dissent.

Discussions about the regulation of political speech are especially pertinent right now.

Just last week, Facebook announced that posts by politicians will be exempt from the platform’s rules and that they will not remove or label posts by politicians, even if they are disparaging or contains false information.

Now it seems like that will change.

It is also interesting because it speaks to a broader issue of global enforcement for these kinds of rules. As many have pointed out, the EU has increasingly set the standard for tougher regulation of social media and tech companies.

But creating consistent standards for enforcement and oversight has been challenging, especially when attempting to enforce a rule globally. 

At the end of September, the ECJ decided to limit the reach of a privacy law called “the right to be forgotten,” which lets European citizens request that personal data be removed from Google’s search results. 

The ECJ decided that Google could not be required to remove the links globally, but just in EU-member states. 

Before that decision, Google also claimed the law could be abused by authoritarian governments trying to cover up human rights abuses.

Facebook, however, should not expect the court’s rule to change, as the ECJ court’s decision cannot be appealed.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (Forbes)

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Raiders Owner Says He Won’t Take Down Controversial “I Can Breathe” Tweet

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  • The Raiders football team ignited outrage Tuesday after posting a tweet that read “I can breathe,” which some criticized as tone-deaf.
  • The tweet was shared after the murder and manslaughter convictions of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on 46-year-old George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes last summer as Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe.
  • Despite understanding the vast negative reception of the post, Raiders owner Mark Davis said he would not remove it. “I thought it was something where we could all breathe again,” he said. “Justice was served. We still have a lot of work to do on social justice and police brutality. But today, justice was served.”
  • Similar remarks about Chauvin’s convictions serving as justice have launched heated debates, with many, including Sen. Bernie Sander (I-Vt.) and NBA player Lebron James, arguing that accountability was served but not justice.

“I Can Breathe” Tweet

Following the murder and manslaughter convictions of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin on Tuesday, the Las Vegas Raiders football team tweeted, “I can breathe.”

The message is a play on Floyd’s infamous “I can’t breathe” pleas, which he repeatedly cried out while Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nine and a half minutes last summer. Perhaps not-so-surprisingly, that tweet has since attracted condemnation from many who’ve denounced it as tone-deaf.

NBA player Lebron James expressed disbelief that such a statement was even published, saying, “This is real???? Nah man this ain’t it at all. The F^%K!!!!”

“It’s obvious what the raiders statement was going for,” one Twitter user wrote. “But ignorance is at the roots of racism, and you need to use your resources to combat your own ignorance.”

Others were less critical of the Raiders. For example, some argued that the tweet’s intentions were still pure, even if tone-deaf. Others cited Floyd’s brother, who made a similar statement of “Today, we are able to breathe again,” following Chauvin’s conviction. 

The Raiders weren’t the only entity to be accused of making a tone-deaf response Tuesday. Many also claimed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) basically thanked Floyd for being murdered after she said, “Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice.”

Raiders’ Owner Mark Davis Claims Responsibility for Tweet

Many initially described the “I can breathe” tweet as a fairly glaring blunder from the Raiders’ PR team; however, overnight, it was learned that the tweet was actually the brainchild of Raiders owner Mark Davis.

“I thought that said a lot,” Davis said in a phone interview with the Associated Press. “It said a lot about everything. I thought it was something where we could all breathe again. Justice was served. We still have a lot of work to do on social justice and police brutality. But today, justice was served.”

“I feel bad it was taken in a way it wasn’t meant to be done,” he added. “That can only be my fault for not explaining it.”

Davis also took a moment to apologize if the tweet offended anyone in Floyd’s family, but he added that he won’t take it down.

“It was taken negatively by 99 percent of the people,” he said. “That happens. That’s part of social media.”

Was Justice or Accountability Served on Tuesday?

The question of whether or not justice was actually served with Chauvin’s convictions has become a national debate over the past 24 hours. 

For example, actor Chris Evans tweeted “Justice” following the verdict. Likewise, singer Katy Perry said, “Rest in JUSTICE George Floyd.” 

Meanwhile, others such as Rep. Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) and Sen.Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took noticeably different stances. 

“That a family had to lose a son, brother and father; that a teenage girl had to film and post a murder, that millions across the country had to organize and march just for George Floyd to be seen and valued is not justice. And this verdict is not a substitute for policy change,” AOC said.

The jury’s verdict delivers accountability for Derek Chauvin, but not justice for George Floyd,” Sanders wrote on Twitter. “Real justice for him and too many others can only happen when we build a nation that fundamentally respects the human dignity of every person.” 

That’s a sentiment Lebron James echoed in a one-word, all-caps tweet reading, “ACCOUNTABILITY.”

See what others are saying: (ESPN) (New York Post) (Yahoo! Sports)

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Elon Musk Claims Autopilot Wasn’t On, But Feds Are Now Investigating a Driverless Tesla Crash

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  • Two federal agencies are investigating a driverless Tesla crash that killed two passengers and may have been the result of an unattended Autopilot feature. 
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Monday that Autopilot was not enabled and that the car’s owner had not even purchased Full-Self Driving; however, authorities have not confirmed this and have only said no one was in the driver’s seat when the car crashed. 
  • Local authorities said they plan to issue search warrants to obtain the car’s data and definitively conclude whether Autopilot was enabled.
  • The Washington Post projected that the ongoing federal investigations into the crash could lead to the potential government regulation of Autopilot features. 

Driverless Crash Kills Two

Federal agencies are investigating whether or not an Autopilot feature is to blame for a deadly Tesla crash that happened over the weekend.

That incident occurred around 11:30 Saturday night just outside Houston when a Model S ran off the road at a high speed and crashed into a tree, killing both men inside the car. 

According to local authorities, no one was behind the wheel; rather, they said one man was sitting in the rear of the car and the other was in the front passenger seat. 

Constable Mark Herman noted that the fire caused by the crash took 30,000 gallons of water and “four hours to put out.” Had the car not been an electric vehicle, Herman said the fire “would have taken a matter of minutes” to extinguish.

The aftermath of the blaze shows the car nearly completely destroyed, with only a husk remaining. 

As a result, some have raised concern about the batteries used in electric vehicles, because while generally safe, they can result in “thermal runaways” if the car crashes at a high speed. 

Did Autopilot Cause the Crash?

According to testimony from the men’s wives, just minutes before the crash, both men had been talking about going for a drive. Reportedly, they had also been discussing the car’s Autopilot feature. 

Consequently, while it hasn’t been definitively confirmed, there is a good amount of evidence to suggest they may have been using the feature at the time of the crash.

Still, many are unconvinced, including one person who tweeted, “This doesn’t make sense.” That person then cited a number of Autopilot’s safety features, including that seats are “weighted to make sure there is a driver, hands must be on steering wheel every 10 seconds or it disengages,” and that autopilot doesn’t go over speed limits.

Notably, in a direct reply to that person, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said, “Your research as a private individual is better than professionals… Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled & this car did not purchase [Full Self-Driving]. Moreover, standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have.”

That said, in replies to both comments, many users shared dozens of videos of people appearing to have Autopilot activated without anyone in the driver’s seat. 

Others claimed that Autopilot can be enabled without physcial lane lines and that it will go over the speed limit.

Duke University professor Missy Cummings also cited her research, which found that “in 30% of trials, [Tesla] vehicles drove autonomously for nearly 30 seconds on extreme curves that lacked even a single lane marking.” 

No matter the online discourse, local authorities said they plan to issue search warrants on the car’s data, which should tell them whether or not Autopilot was on.

As part of a federal response, both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety board have said they’re sending teams to investigate the crash. 

Notably, the NHTSA said last month that it’s investigating nearly two-dozen Tesla crashes involving either the confirmed or suspected use of Autopilot. 

As The Washington Post pointed out, this could be a sign that regulation is coming.

“At issue is whether Musk has over-sold the capability of his systems by using the name Autopilot or telling customers that ‘Full Self-Driving’ will be available this year,” the outlet said. 

To note, Tesla itself does warn drivers that they still need to pay attention and be ready to take control of their vehicles even when using Autopilot. Part of that means riding in the driver’s seat. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Verge) (Ars Technica)

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UK Now Considering Its Own Digital Currency as China Eases Tone on Bitcoin

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  • On Monday, the United Kingdom became the latest country to consider a central bank-backed digital currency.
  • While that currency isn’t technically a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin and would not remove existing physical cash from the economy, it would allow households to have accounts directly with the country’s central bank.
  • China, which is currently conducting trial runs of a central bank digital currency, called Bitcoin an “investment alternative” on Sunday — signaling a noticeable change in tone following the country’s previous crackdowns on the crypto market.
  • Though the People’s Bank of China said it will not ease its current crypto restrictions, industry insiders said they are nonetheless watching for any regulatory changes.

UK Considering Its Own Digital Currency

British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak instructed the Bank of England to look into potentially backing a digital currency Monday morning. 

According to Sunak, that central bank digital currency (CBDC)  — at least colloquially — might eventually be called “Britcoin.” 

As Reuters explained, such a currency “would potentially allow businesses and consumers to hold accounts directly with the bank and to sidestep others when making payments, upending the lenders’ role in the financial system.”

A British CBDC would not replace physical cash or existing bank accounts. It also wouldn’t technically be a cryptocurrency, though the concept of CBDCs is inspired by crypto.

The United Kingdom is just the latest country in Europe exploring a CBDC option. For example, Sweden has suggested that it could launch a digital currency by 2026, and the European Union has said it may integrate an electronic euro as soon as 2025. 

China Eases Tone on Bitcoin

It’s not just Europe. China may very well be on the cusp of launching its own digital currency. In fact, it’s already given away millions of that currency through trials being conducted in several cities.

That said, China’s end goal is currently a little different than Britain’s. Once live, China aims to have its CBDC replace some of the country’s cash.

On Sunday, China also indicated that it’s beginning to warm up to cryptocurrencies. Despite banning local crypto exchanges in 2017, among other actions, China’s central bank has now referred to Bitcoin as an “investment alternative.”

According to CNBC, industry insiders have taken note of the “progressive” nature of that comment and said they’re watching closely for any regulatory changes made by the bank; however, for now, the bank’s deputy governor said it plans to keep its current crypto restrictions in place. 

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (Associated Press) (CNBC)

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