- 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.
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)
Uber Forks Over $19 Million in Fine for Misleading Australian Riders
The penalty is just the latest in a string of lawsuits going back years.
Uber Gets Fined
Uber has agreed to pay a $19 million fine after being sued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for making false or misleading statements in its app.
The first offense stems from a company policy that allows users to cancel their ride at no cost up to five minutes after the driver has accepted the trip. Despite the terms, between at least December 2017 and September 2021, over two million Australians who wanted to cancel their ride were nevertheless warned that they may be charged a small fee for doing so.
Uber said in a statement that almost all of those users decided to cancel their trips despite the warnings.
The cancellation message has since been changed to: “You won’t be charged a cancellation fee.”
The second offense, occurring between June 2018 and August 2020, involved the company showing customers in Sydney inflated estimates of taxi fares on the app.
The commission said that Uber did not ensure the algorithm used to calculate the prices was accurate, leading to actual fares almost always being higher than estimated ones.
The taxi fare feature was removed in August 2020.
A Troubled Legal History
Uber has been sued for misleading its users or unfairly charging customers in the past.
In 2016, the company paid California-based prosecutors up to $25 million for misleading riders about the safety of its service.
An investigation at the time found that at least 25 of Uber’s approved drivers had serious criminal convictions including identity theft, burglary, child sex offenses and even one murder charge, despite background checks.
In 2017, the company also settled a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for $20 million after it misled drivers about how much money they could earn.
In November 2021, the Justice Department sued the company for allegedly charging disabled customers a wait-time fee even though they needed more time to get in the car, then refused to refund them.
Later the same month, a class-action lawsuit in New York alleged that Uber charged riders a final price higher than the upfront price listed when they ordered the ride.
See what others are saying: (ABC) (NASDAQ) (Los Angeles Times)
Report Finds That Instagram Promotes Pro-Eating Disorder Content to 20 Million Users, Including Children
According to the study, even users hoping to recover were given eating disorder content because they were “still in Instagram’s algorithmically curated bubble.”
Instagram Promotes Eating Disorder Content
Instagram promotes pro-eating disorder content to millions of its users, including children as young as nine-years-old, according to a Thursday report from the child advocacy non-profit group Fairplay.
The report, titled “Designing for Disorder: Instagram’s Pro-eating Disorder Bubble,” studied what it called an eating disorder “bubble,” which consisted of nearly 90,000 accounts that reached 20 million unique users. The average age of the bubble was 19, but researchers found users aged nine- and 10-years-old that followed three or more of these accounts. Roughly one-third of those in the bubble were underage.
According to Fairplay, Instagram’s parent company Meta derives $2 million in revenue a year from the bubble and another $228 million from those who follow it.
“In addition to being profitable, this bubble is also undeniably harmful,” the report said. “Algorithms are profiling children and teens to serve them images, memes and videos encouraging restrictive diets and extreme weight loss.”
“Meta’s pro-eating disorder bubble is not an isolated incident nor an awful accident,” it continued. “Rather it is an example of how, without appropriate checks and balances, Meta systematically puts profit ahead of young people’s safety and wellbeing.”
Researchers identified the bubble by first looking at 153 seed accounts with over 1,000 followers that posted content celebrating eating disorders. Some used phrases like “thinspiration” or other slang terms like “ana” and “mia” to refer to specific eating disorders. Others included an underweight body mass index in their bios.
Those seed accounts alone had roughly 2.3 million collective followers, 1.6 million of which were unique. Of those unique users, researchers looked at how many seed accounts each followed to determine that nearly 90,000 accounts were part of the eating disorder bubble. Those accounts totaled over 28 million followers, 20 million of which were unique.
These pages posted content ranging from memes and photos of extreme thinness to screenshots of progress on calorie counting apps. One user said they were on their third day of eating just 300 calories.
Others, including children under the age of 13, put their current weights and goal weights in their account bios. Some wrote that they “hate food” or were “starving for perfection.”
Content’s Impact on Children
Fairplay claimed that many of those in the bubble wanted to recover but were essentially trapped in Instagram’s algorithm.
“Many of the biographies of users in the bubble talk about wanting to or being in recovery, wanting to get ‘better’, to ‘heal’ or being aware of how unwell they were,” the report said. “However, these users are still in Instagram’s algorithmically curated bubble. They will still be feeding content from other accounts in the bubble, including the seed accounts, that normalizes, glamorizes or promotes eating disorders.”
The report also showcased the firsthand account of a 17-year-old eating disorder survivor and activist identified as Kelsey. Kelsey wrote that it was impossible to “imagine a time when the app didn’t have the sort of content that promotes disordered eating behavior.”
“I felt like my feed was always pushed towards this sort of content from the moment I opened my account,” Kelsey continued.
“That type of content at one point even got so normalized that prominent figures such as the Kardashians and other female and male influencers were openly promoting weight loss supplements and diet suppressors in order to help lose weight.”
Kelsey said Instagram delivered that content without any relevant searches, but posts about body positivity needed to be actively sought out.
The report concluded by arguing that there needs to be legislation that regulates platforms like Instagram by requiring them to prioritize user safety, particularly for children.
Meta and Instagram have long been accused of disregarding child safety. Last year, a whistleblower unveiled documents that revealed the company knew of the harm it posed to young people, specifically regarding body image. A Meta spokesperson told The Hill that they were unable to address the most recent allegations in Fairplay’s report.
“We’re not able to fully address this report because the authors declined to share it with us, but reports like this often misunderstand that completely removing content related to peoples’ journeys with or recovery from eating disorders can exacerbate difficult moments and cut people off from community,” the spokesperson said.
Etsy Sellers Strike Amid Increased Transaction Fees and Mandatory Offsite Advertising
“What began as an experiment in marketplace democracy has come to resemble a dictatorial relationship between a faceless tech empire and millions of exploited, majority-women craftspeople,” an Etsy seller wrote in a petition.
Thousands of Etsy Sellers Shut Down Shops
Roughly 15,000 Etsy sellers are closing up their online shops starting Monday in protest of several grievances they have with the platform, including a new fee increase.
Starting on Monday, transaction fees are getting boosted from 5% to 6.5% on the platform. CEO Josh Silverman sent a memo claiming that this hike will allow the company to “make significant investments in marketing, seller tools, and creating a world-class customer experience,” but sellers have been frustrated by the change.
“Etsy’s last fee increase was in July 2018. If this new one goes through, our basic fees to use the platform will have more than doubled in less than four years,” seller Kristi Cassidy wrote in a petition calling for a strike. As of Monday morning, over 50,000 Etsy sellers, customers, and employees had signed the petition.
“These basic fees do not include additional fees for Offsite ads – which started during the first wave of the pandemic,” Cassidy continued.
Offsite ads allow Etsy to advertise sellers’ products on other websites like Google. Sellers who make over $10,000 a year reportedly have no way of opting out of the program and Etsy takes at least 12% of sales generated through the promotions.
“Etsy fees are an unpredictable expense that can take more than 20% of each transaction,” Cassidy wrote. “We have no control over how these ads are administered, or how much of our money is spent.”
Etsy became a pandemic success story as online shopping rose amid lockdowns. Many turned to the platform to purchase masks and other goods, prompting its stock, sales, and number of sellers to rise.
“It’s really obnoxious to tell us sellers, ‘Hey, we made record profits last year and we’re gonna celebrate by raising your fees a whole bunch,’” Bella Stander, a maps and guidebooks publisher who sells on Etsy, told the Wall Street Journal.
What Etsy Sellers Are Demanding
Currently, there are over five million sellers on Etsy. Cassidy hopes that if enough of them unite, the company will have to respond.
“As individual crafters, makers and small businesspeople, we may be easy for a giant corporation like Etsy to take advantage of,” she wrote. “But as an organized front of people, determined to use our diverse skills and boundless creativity to win ourselves a fairer deal, Etsy won’t have such an easy time shoving us around.”
In the petition’s list of demands, it asks that Etsy cancel the transaction fee increase, allow sellers to opt out of offsite ads, and provide a transparent plan to crack down on resellers who take up space on the platform.
It also demanded that Etsy end its “Star Seller Program,” which impacts how sellers can interact with their buyers.
“Etsy was founded with a vision of ‘keeping commerce human’ by ‘democratizing access to entrepreneurship.’ As a result, people who have been marginalized in traditional retail economies — women, people of color, LGBTQ people, neurodivergent people, etc. — make up a significant proportion of Etsy’s sellers,” Cassidy wrote.
“But as Etsy has strayed further and further from its founding vision over the years, what began as an experiment in marketplace democracy has come to resemble a dictatorial relationship between a faceless tech empire and millions of exploited, majority-women craftspeople.”
In a statement to Yahoo Finance, an Etsy spokesperson claimed that sellers were the company’s “top priority.”
“We are always receptive to seller feedback and, in fact, the new fee structure will enable us to increase our investments in areas outlined in the petition, including marketing, customer support, and removing listings that don’t meet our policies,” the spokesperson said. “We are committed to providing great value for our 5.3 million sellers so they are able to grow their businesses while keeping Etsy a beloved, trusted, and thriving marketplace.”
The strike was a trending topic on Twitter Monday morning. Many sellers took to the social media site to pledge their support to the movement.
Many sellers are urging buyers to refrain from using the site for the remainder of the week, which is how long the protest is currently scheduled to last.