Friends of Canadian Broadcasting is calling on Parliament to restrain social media platforms from distributing harmful or hateful content by applying the same laws that publishers and broadcasters already face.
The lobby group’s executive director says courts should be penalizing social media platforms that knowingly spread harmful content.
Daniel Bernhard made the comments shortly after Friends of Canadian Broadcasting released a research paper that argues social media platforms aren’t passive or neutral when it comes to content distribution.
The report says platforms like Facebook and YouTube routinely exercise editorial control by promoting content that users have never asked to see or sometimes conceal content without consulting users.
The report says traditional publishers can be held partly liable under Canadian law for harmful content but the same standard hasn’t been applied to internet platforms.
Facebook didn’t immediately comment on the research paper or Bernhard’s remarks.
The report was released as members of Parliament return to Ottawa this week and the Trudeau government prepares to lay out its plans for the coming session.
Among other things, Bernhard said that social media tell regulators and advertisers that they have very detailed knowledge of what’s being posted on their platforms and exercise control over what is made available to the public.
“(Facebook CEO) Mark Zuckerberg has claimed under oath that Facebook takes down 99 per cent of terrorist content before a human user ever sees it (and) 89 per cent of hate speech supposedly comes down before a human ever sees it,” Bernhard said.
He said that means Facebook in particular, and social media in general, should have the same responsibility to abide by Canadian laws as conventional publishers and broadcasters.
“If a judge finds that the content is illegal and that a platform has amplified it, the platform should be held responsible. And not only that, but that the penalty should be commensurate to their revenue and size so it hurts accordingly,” Bernhard said.
David Paddon, The Canadian Press
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Social Media Restrictions Cannot Keep Up with Hidden Codes and Symbols – Scientific American
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On the same day that President Donald Trump announced his COVID-19 diagnosis, Twitter reminded users of its policy that “tweets that wish or hope for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against *anyone* are not allowed and will need to be removed.” The social media platform soon filled with posts accusing it of hypocrisy: threats targeting women and people of color have accumulated for years without removal, users said. But even as Twitter attempted to enforce its rules more stringently, thinly veiled posts slipped through the cracks.
By referencing schadenfreude, karma or the old adage “you reap what you sow” in reference to Trump’s illness, many Twitter users avoided explicitly violating the site’s abuse policy while leaving no doubt as to their intended sentiment. Scholars who study social media discourse say this incident reflects a broader phenomenon: Whenever online authorities (whether social media platforms or governments) attempt to restrict speech on the Internet, people will find creative ways to subvert the rules. These strategies can be used to spread abuse—or to preserve freedom of expression.
China’s government, for instance, prohibits social media posts referencing June 4, the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown that killed an unknown number of Chinese pro-democracy protesters and their sympathizers. In the early days of Chinese microblogging platform Sina Weibo, users sidestepped the ban by referring to “May 35” instead. “But eventually [the censors] caught up with that, and they banned that, too,” says Susan Herring, a linguist at Indiana University Bloomington who studies technology-mediated communication. “It’s a race to try to fool the censors…. The people are constantly coming up with creative new symbols.”
The use of symbolism to avoid censorship is as old as language itself. In the antebellum U.S., Harriet Tubman communicated with fugitives escaping slavery by singing songs with hidden meanings that their pursuers would not understand. When homosexuality was illegal in the 20th-century U.K., members of the gay subculture used a secret slang called Polari. Herring says the cycle of code making and code breaking “is a major driver of language change.” In French, for instance, slang words known as verlan are created by transposing the syllables of an existing word. Because many verlan terms originated as a secret code to discuss illicit behavior, the process was often repeated when a new form became too recognizable. In this way, femme (the standard word for “woman”) gave rise to meuf, which in turn became feumeu. Analogously, online coded symbols evolve as their previously secret meanings become well-known.
On the Internet, such symbols can manifest as words or visual motifs, including emoji, memes or other images. The specific form of a symbol ultimately matters less than the idea it represents, says Ryan Milner, who studies Internet culture at the College of Charleston. But he notes that visual symbols have proved particularly effective at evading censorship, thanks to their inherent ambiguity. And their power to spread rapidly online derives from their ability to establish an in-group and out-group. “As they get more esoteric, as they get more inside jokey, then there’s more and more of a signal that ‘if you get this, if you’re part of the joke—then you are one of us,’” Milner says, “and ‘if you don’t get it…, then you’re not one of us.”
Pepe the Frog exemplifies the capacity of memes to both foment hate and defy oppression. The meme began life as an innocent cartoon amphibian, but as it grew in popularity, users of the online message boards 4chan, 8chan and Reddit began making anti-Semitic and racist versions of it. By 2016 Pepe the Frog had gained such widespread use among white supremacists in the U.S. that the Anti-Defamation League declared it a hate symbol. In 2019, however, pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong—mostly unaware of Pepe’s associations with white supremacy—adopted the image to symbolize their movement. In both cases the meme’s coded meaning allowed it to spread uncensored, eventually garnering widespread recognition that elevated the public profile of the groups using it.
For many visual symbols, “there is this consistent push-pull” between recognizability and secrecy, Milner says. For groups aiming to persuade, “publicity is going to be good,” he adds. But for those seeking a clandestine “knowing wink,” too much attention can undercut a symbol’s effectiveness.
The latter fate befell the “grass mud horse,” a fictional alpacalike creature whose name in Mandarin is a pun for an obscene and insulting phrase that sounds similar if the spoken tones are minimally altered. The grass mud horse originated in 2009 as an icon of resistance to China’s Internet censorship. At first people using it had plausible deniability—they could claim they were merely sharing a funny picture of an animal, says Sulafa Zidani, a global media studies scholar at the University of Southern California. But as the meme’s popularity exploded, its underlying meaning became common knowledge, thus diluting its power. In 2014 digital media scholar An Xiao Mina noted that the grass mud horse had been included among Sina Weibo’s official emoji—effectively transforming it from a symbol of subversion to a general-purpose obscenity.
In the U.S., 2020 has seen many “ideological contestations” over the meanings of coded symbols and phrases, Milner says. The extremist antigovernment “boogaloo” movement hijacked Hawaiian shirts. Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory co-opted the phrase “save the children” from a legitimate antitrafficking campaign. The ambiguity of these symbols “absolutely” helps such groups evade censorship on social media, says Howard Graves, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Graves emphasizes that “context is crucial” when interpreting a symbol. For instance, in June fans of South Korean pop music flooded the hashtag #WhiteLivesMatter with memes and videos of K-pop stars to drown out racist posts using it. In October they repeated the tactic with the #ArmyForTrump.
Although coded language and symbols are nothing new, social media has transformed their impact on culture. “The ability to make a coordinated attempt … to claim a symbol as your own is something that you can do in a wide-scale way because of social media tools,” Milner says.
And whether or not those symbols incite violence or protest injustice, Zidani says, “we as individuals have a lot of power to amplify certain messages—and not amplify other messages.”
The Global Social Media Management Software Market is expected to grow by $ 1.31 bn during 2020-2024 progressing at a CAGR of 18% during the forecast period – GlobeNewswire
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US designates six more Chinese media outlets as foreign missions – Al Jazeera English
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States was designating the US operations of six more China-based media companies as foreign missions, a move he said was aimed at pushing back against communist propaganda.
Pompeo also told a State Department news conference that the US would launch a dialogue on China with the European Union on Friday and that on Sunday he would begin a trip to India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia.
He said he expected the meetings would include discussions about how “free nations can work together to thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party”.
The State Department named the newly designated publications as the Yicai Global, Jiefang Daily, the Xinmin Evening News, Social Sciences in China Press, the Beijing Review, and the Economic Daily. This means 15 Chinese media outlets have now been classified as foreign missions by US authorities.
The designation requires the outlets to inform the State Department of their personnel rosters and property holdings.
The move is the latest US step to curb Chinese activity in the United States in the run-up to the November 3 presidential election, in which President Donald Trump has made a tough approach to China a key theme of his campaign for a second term.
Pompeo said the decision was part of efforts to push back against “Chinese communist propaganda efforts” in the US.
“They are also substantially owned, or effectively controlled by a foreign government,” he said.
“We are not placing any restrictions on what these outlets can publish in the United States; we simply want to ensure that American people, consumers of information can differentiate between news written by a free press and propaganda distributed by the Chinese Communist Party itself. Not the same thing.”
China’s embassy did not comment immediately.
The editor-in-chief of the state-backed Global Times newspaper said in a tweet that the US had “gone too far” and that China would retaliate.
“As long as Chinese media outlets suffer actual harm, Beijing will definitely retaliate, and US media outlets’ operation in HK could be included in retaliation list,” Hu Xijin said.
The US has gone too far. The move will further poison working environment of media outlets in each other’s country. As long as Chinese media outlets suffer actual harm, Beijing will definitely retaliate, and US media outlets’ operation in HK could be included in retaliation list. pic.twitter.com/xTSDyRHpx6
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) October 21, 2020
As Trump, Pompeo and other officials have ramped up criticism of China for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the US government has also steadily increased pressure on Beijing’s interests in the US.
As well as the restrictions on state media, they have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials, companies and government agencies for their actions in Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.
Since the beginning of the year, the Trump administration has closed China’s consulate in Houston, indicted several Chinese citizens on espionage charges, imposed strict limits on the travel of Chinese diplomats, restricted the number of Chinese journalists allowed in the US and issued stern warnings to US academic and scientific institutions over the alleged influence of the Confucius Institutes that promote educational and cultural links.
The Confucius Institutes have also been required to register as official missions of a foreign government.
So far this year, the US has designated 15 Chinese media outlets as foreign missions. Before Wednesday, those included the Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network (CGTN), China Radio International, China Daily Distribution Corporation, Hai Tian Development USA, China Central Television, China News Service, the People’s Daily, and the Global Times newspaper.
In response, China expelled about a dozen US newspaper correspondents with the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.
Some media rights advocates, while accepting that Chinese outlets are beholden to the state, have voiced unease about the US measures, saying that they give Beijing a pretext to expel journalists who have done valuable investigative work on human rights and the origins of COVID-19.
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