Republican state lawmakers are pushing for social media giants to face costly lawsuits for policing content on their websites, taking aim at a federal law that prevents internet companies from being sued for removing posts.
GOP politicians in roughly two dozen states have introduced bills that would allow for civil lawsuits against platforms for what they call the “censorship” of posts. Many protest the deletion of political and religious statements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Democrats, who also have called for greater scrutiny of big tech, are sponsoring the same measures in at least two states.
The federal liability shield has long been a target of former President Donald Trump and other Republicans, whose complaints about Silicon Valley stifling conservative viewpoints were amplified when the companies cracked down on misleading posts about the 2020 election.
Twitter and Facebook, which are often criticized for opaque policing policies, took the additional step of silencing Trump on their platforms after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Twitter has banned him, while a semi-independent panel is reviewing Facebook’s indefinite suspension of his account and considering whether to reinstate access.
Experts argue the legislative proposals are doomed to fail while the federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, is in place. They said state lawmakers are wading into unconstitutional territory by trying to interfere with the editorial policies of private companies.
Len Niehoff, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, described the idea as a “constitutional non-starter.”
“If an online platform wants to have a policy that it will delete certain kinds of tweets, delete certain kinds of users, forbid certain kinds of content, that is in the exercise of their right as a information distributer,” he said. “And the idea that you would create a cause of action that would allow people to sue when that happens is deeply problematic under the First Amendment.”
The bills vary slightly but many allow for civil lawsuits if a social media user is censored over posts having to do with politics or religion, with some proposals allowing for damages of $75,000 for each blocked post. They would apply to companies with millions of users and carve out exemptions for posts that call for violence, entice criminal acts or other similar conduct.
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The sponsor of Oklahoma’s version, Republican state Sen. Rob Standridge, said social media posts are being unjustly censored and that people should have a way to challenge the platforms’ actions given their powerful place in American discourse. His bill passed committee in late February on a 5-3 vote, with Democrats opposed.
“This just gives citizens recourse,” he said, adding that the companies “can’t abuse that immunity” given to them through federal law.
Part of a broad, 1996 federal law on telecoms, Section 230 generally exempts internet companies from being sued over what users post on their sites. The statute, which was meant to promote growth of the internet, exempts websites from being sued for removing content deemed to be “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable” as long as the companies are acting in “good faith.”
As the power of social media has grown, so has the prospect of government regulation. Several congressional hearings have been held on content moderation, sometimes with Silicon Valley CEOs called to testify. Republicans, and some Democrats, have argued that the companies should lose their liability shield or that Section 230 should be updated to make the companies meet certain criteria before receiving the legal protection.
Twitter and Facebook also have been hounded over what critics have described as sluggish, after-the-fact account suspensions or post takedowns, with liberals complaining they have given too much latitude to conservatives and hate groups.
Trump railed against Section 230 throughout his term in office, well before Twitter and Facebook blocked his access to their platforms after the assault on the Capitol. Last May, he signed a largely symbolic executive order that directed the executive branch to ask independent rule-making agencies whether new regulations could be placed on the companies.
“All of these tech monopolies are going to abuse their power and interfere in our elections, and it has to be stopped,” he told supporters at the Capitol hours before the riot.
Antigone Davis, global head of safety for Facebook, said these kinds of proposals would make it harder for the site to remove posts involving hate speech, sexualized photos of minors and other harmful content.
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“We will continue advocating for updated rules for the internet, including reforms to federal law that protect free expression while allowing platforms like ours to remove content that threatens the safety and security of people across the United States,” she said.
In a statement, Twitter said: “We enforce the Twitter rules judiciously and impartially for everyone on our service – regardless of ideology or political affiliation – and our policies help us to protect the diversity and health of the public conversation.”
Researchers have not found widespread evidence that social media companies are biased against conservative news, posts or materials.
In a February report, New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights called the accusations political disinformation spread by Republicans. The report recommended that social media sites give clear reasoning when they take action against material on their platforms.
“Greater transparency — such as that which Twitter and Facebook offered when they took action against President Trump in January — would help to defuse claims of political bias, while clarifying the boundaries of acceptable user conduct,” the report read.
While the federal law is in place, the state proposals mostly amount to political posturing, said Darrell West, vice president of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a public policy group.
“This is red meat for the base. It’s a way to show conservatives they don’t like being pushed around,” he said. “They’ve seen Trump get kicked off Facebook and Twitter, and so this is a way to tell Republican voters this is unfair and Republicans are fighting for them.”
Izaguirre reported from Lindenhurst, New York
© 2021 The Canadian Press
Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck pictured kissing as ‘Bennifer’ returns
Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have been pictured exchanging passionate kisses, apparently confirming weeks of fevered rumors that they have rekindled a romance that dominated celebrity media almost 20 years ago.
Paparazzi photos printed in the New York Post on Monday showed the two actors kissing while enjoying a meal with members of Lopez’s family at Malibu’s posh Nobu sushi restaurant west of Los Angeles on Sunday.
Representatives for Lopez, 51, declined to comment on Monday, while Affleck’s publicists did not return a request for comment.
Lopez and “Argo” director Affleck, dubbed “Bennifer,” became the most talked about couple in the celebrity world in the early 2000s in a romance marked by his-and-her luxury cars and a large 6.1-carat pink diamond engagement ring. They abruptly called off their wedding in 2003 and split up a few months later.
The pair have been pictured together several times in Los Angels and Miami in recent weeks, after Lopez and her former baseball player fiance Alex Rodriguez called off their engagement in mid-April after four years together. Monday’s photos were the first in which Lopez and Affleck were seen kissing this time around.
Celebrity outlet E! News quoted an unidentified source last week as saying Lopez was planning to move from Miami to Los Angeles to spend more time with Affleck, 48, and was looking for schools for her 13-year-old twins Max and Emme.
Max and Emme, along with the singer’s sister Lydia, were also photographed walking into the restaurant in Malibu on Sunday.
Lopez married Latin singer Marc Anthony, her third husband, just five months after her 2004 split with Affleck. Affleck went on to marry, and later was divorced from, actress Jennifer Garner.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
TikTok debuts new voice after Canadian actor sues
After noticing a new female voice narrating the videos on , users of TikTok were baffled as to why. It actually turns out that the Canadian actress behind the old voice filed a lawsuit against the platform for copyright violation as her voice was apparently being used without her permission.
Bev Standing, , is taking China-based ByteDance to court. TikTok’s parent company has since replaced her voice with a new one, with Standing reportedly finding out over email after a tip-off from a journalist. On the matter, Standing said: “They replaced me with another voice. I am so overwhelmed by this whole thing. I’m stumbling for words because I just don’t know what to say.”
TikTok is said to be considering a settlement for Standing outside of the courts, but nobody knows whether or not this is true. According to legal experts, the fact TikTok now has a new voice on the popular social media app suggests they acknowledge Standing’s case and potentially understand that she may have suffered as a result of the company’s actions.
Thanks to the emergence of the powerful smartphone devices of today, alongside taking high-quality images for Instagram, getting lost down YouTube wormholes, and , people are turning to relatively new platforms like TikTok. The service has 689 million monthly active users worldwide and is one of the most downloaded apps in Apple’s iOS App Store. This latest news could harm the platforms future, although many of its younger users potentially aren’t aware that this type of scenario is unfolding.
For Bev Standing, the ordeal is a testing one. She wasn’t informed of the voice change, there is no mention of it in TikTok’s newsroom online, and the development is news to her lawyer also.
This all comes after her case was filed in a New York State court in early May after the voice actor noticed a computer-generated version of her voice had been seen and listened to around the world since 2020. Speculation is rife as to how TikTok managed to obtain the recordings but Standing believes the company acquired them from a project she took part in for the Chinese government in 2018.
The Institute of Acoustics in China reportedly promised her that all of the material she would be recording would be used solely for translation, but they eventually fell into the hands of TikTok and have since been altered and then exposed to a global audience.
According to Pina D’Agostino, an associate professor with Osgoode Hall Law School at York University and an expert in copyright law, the fact that the hugely popular social media platform has now changed Standing’s voice could result in a positive outcome for the distraught voice actor. She said: “It’s a positive step in the way that they are mitigating their damages. And when you’re mitigating, you’re acknowledging that we did something wrong, and you’re trying to make things better.”
When assessing social media etiquette and how both companies and users should act, this type of news can only do more harm than good. Not only does it make the company look bad, but it could have an effect on revenues and, ultimately, TikTok’s reputation.
With a clear desire to move on and put this whole process behind her, Bev Standing is eager for the case to be resolved and get back to the daily work she loves and has been doing for a large part of her life. TikTok has until July 7 to respond to her claim.
Nigeria orders broadcasters not to use Twitter to gather information
Nigerian television and radio stations should not use Twitter to gather information and have to de-activate their accounts, the broadcast authority said following the move to suspend the U.S. social media giant in Africa’s most populous country.
Nigeria’s government on Friday said it had suspended Twitter’s activities, two days after the platform removed a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish secessionists. Nigerian telecoms firms have since blocked access to Twitter.
International diplomats responded with a joint statement in support of “free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria”.
Buhari, who was Nigeria’s military ruler in the 1980s, has previously been accused of cracking down on freedom of expression, though his government has denied such accusations.
Twitter has called its suspension “deeply concerning” and said it would work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on the platform to communicate and connect with the world.
The National Broadcasting Commission, in a statement dated June 6, told broadcasters to “suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately”.
“Broadcasting stations are hereby advised to de-install Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter as a source of information gathering,” it said in the statement, adding that “strict compliance is enjoined”.
The statement comes two days after the attorney general ordered the prosecution of those who break the rules on the ban.
The foreign minister on Monday held a closed door meeting in the capital, Abuja, with diplomats from the United States, Britain, Canada, the European Union and Ireland to discuss the ban.
It followed the statement by their diplomatic missions on Saturday in which they criticised the move.
“These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue…. as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said in their statement.
Nigeria’s information minister on Friday said the ban would be “indefinite” but, in a statement late on Sunday, referred to it as a “temporary suspension”.
The minister did not immediately respond to phone calls and text messages on Monday seeking comment on the altered language.
(Reporting by Camillus Eboh and Abraham Achirga in Abuja; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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