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Social media groups under fire in France over Islamist killing – Financial Times

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Within hours of the assassination of a history teacher by an 18-year-old Islamist in France on Friday, fingers were pointed at social media platforms for having helped motivate the killer before he decapitated Samuel Paty and then for allowing him to gruesomely claim responsibility moments afterwards.

“Things began on social media and they ended on social media,” said Gabriel Attal, the French government spokesman. “We have to do better at bringing them under control.”

Paty’s fellow-teachers at the school in Conflans-Saint-Honorine near Paris expressed “deep concern about the impact of social media” in a joint statement on Tuesday. They called the speed and irreversibility of the messages broadcast “a real plague for the exercise of our profession”.

Marlène Schiappa, minister for citizenship, summoned representatives of social media groups, including Facebook-Instagram, Twitter, Google-YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat, to a meeting on “cyber-Islamism” on Tuesday and demanded they take responsibility for content on their platforms.

Big social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter were already under pressure in Europe, the US and Asia to curb the spread of fake news and hate speech and to stop turning a blind eye to the promotion of violence.

Last year, the platforms pledged to boost their moderation capabilities and introduced new hate speech policies, after a white supremacist killed 51 people in an attack on two mosques in New Zealand and livestreamed the footage via Facebook’s Live service.

More broadly, Facebook and YouTube have been criticised for helping extremist groups recruit, radicalise and organise — because their algorithms tend to push users towards provocative and eye-catching content. 

Locals gather at the College Bois d’Aulne following the murder of Samuel Paty © Siegfried Modola/Getty

Lately, concerns have centred on the rise on the platforms of armed militias in the US ahead of the presidential election, and of pro-Trump conspiracy group QAnon

Officials and politicians say the killing of Paty will inevitably accelerate legislation in France and the EU designed to hold social media platforms responsible for the sometimes inflammatory content posted by their users. 

Investigators are still trying to piece together the sequence of events that led to Abdoullakh Anzorov, a Chechen refugee, hacking off the head of a teacher who had shown pupils caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in a class about freedom of speech. 

But the fact that the murderer, who was shot dead by the police, came all the way from Evreux 80km to the west suggests that he learnt of Paty and Muslim complaints about him from videos posted on the internet. The videos were widely disseminated, with some pupils and parents at the school complaining they had been sent them multiple times. 

Brahim Chnina, the father of one of the pupils in the school, had posted three videos highly critical of Paty, demanding he be fired and calling on people to take action, and BFMTV reported that he had been in touch with the killer via WhatsApp in the days before the assassination.

At least one of the videos could still be seen on Mr Chnina’s Facebook account on Monday evening. Mr Chnina made one of them with the help of Abdelhakim Sefrioui, an Islamist militant already categorised as a security risk by French intelligence. Both men have been detained.

After he had killed Paty, Anzorov sent a Twitter post with a picture of the severed head on the street addressed to President Emmanuel Macron, “leader of the infidels”, and boasted of killing “one of your hell dogs who dared to denigrate Mohammed”. 

According to the newspaper Le Monde, Anzorov in recent weeks sent 400 tweets from that account, @Ttchetchene_270. The account had been notified in July to Pharos, a government site where the public can report lawbreaking or other concerns about the internet. 

Twitter declined to say when it had removed the account — it is no longer visible — and refused to make any other comment on the attack. However, the company has said that Twitter does not tolerate terrorism or terrorism content and that its teams act “proactively on this type of content and are in contact with law enforcement agencies in order to act as quickly as possible”. 

Facebook did not reply to requests for comment. 

French leaders from Mr Macron down immediately announced plans to tighten controls on social media after what Mr Attal called the “public lynching” of Paty over the internet. 

Gérald Darmanin, interior minister, said 80 investigations had been started since the attack into those who had sought to justify the murder or said the teacher “had it coming to him”.

Ironically, Mr Macron’s government had already finalised a law against internet hate in May, but its key clauses — including an obligation on social media networks to delete hateful content within 24 hours on pain of heavy fines, and a requirement for transparency — were struck down in June by the Constitutional Council on free-speech grounds.

Laetitia Avia, the member of parliament who drafted the law, described the killing of Paty as a tragedy which “reminds everyone that social media has been the terrain of dangerous content”. 

She told the Financial Times on Monday she was continuing to work on the issue both in France and in Brussels, where the European Commission is set to present its new digital services law in December. 

One problem, she noted, was that traditional media were counted in French law as publishers, while social media networks were treated as neutral “hosters”, even though they were really hybrids because their economic model meant they ranked and placed content to attract readers and viewers. Another problem was that apparently anodyne verbal violence was often a precursor to real violence. 

“We must now treat dangerous content as a priority,” she said.

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‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say – Saanich News

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The cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies like Netflix will go up under a taxation plan the government wants to put in place next year, experts said Tuesday.

Ottawa said in its fiscal update released Monday it will require multinationals to collect GST or HST on digital products and services, which it said would add up to $1.2 billion over five years.

Sometimes labelled a “Netflix tax,” the measure would also apply to other services such as Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video or the Spotify audio streaming service, as well as digital products such as software applications.

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales, so it’s only fair that foreign multinationals should do the same.

KPMG tax partner Joe Micallef said it’s likely Canadians will end up paying the taxes collected for the government by foreign multinationals.

“Right now, the way in which they’re delivering their services, they’re not responsible for the collection,” Micallef said.

“And so, effectively, it would mean that these charges would be appearing on (their) invoices.”

A regular monthly subscription for a streaming service that delivers video or music would be a simple calculation, with the tax rate applied to the purchase price.

But Micallef said it is be more difficult to estimate how much additional tax individual consumers, or businesses, will pay for other types of digital purchases, he said.

Something like gaming software might cost little or nothing itself, but offer the option for subsequent charges to add features that make the experience better.

“How many times? How many transactions? It adds up,” Micallef said.

Dwayne Winseck, a media industry researcher at Carleton University in Ottawa, also expects companies will add the price of the tax to the total sale price.

“I mean, this is really not a very substantial amount, when we’re talking about corporate finances,” said Winseck, who is a professor of journalism and communication.

He said that the term “Netflix tax” has become highly politicized and is often used as “code” for levelling the playing field between U.S.-based digital media companies and traditional Canadian broadcasters.

“And if the idea is to create a level playing field between those two services, then that by all means that makes great sense,” Winseck said.0

David Paddon, The Canadian Press

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‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say – Agassiz-Harrison Observer

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The cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies like Netflix will go up under a taxation plan the government wants to put in place next year, experts said Tuesday.

Ottawa said in its fiscal update released Monday it will require multinationals to collect GST or HST on digital products and services, which it said would add up to $1.2 billion over five years.

Sometimes labelled a “Netflix tax,” the measure would also apply to other services such as Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video or the Spotify audio streaming service, as well as digital products such as software applications.

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales, so it’s only fair that foreign multinationals should do the same.

KPMG tax partner Joe Micallef said it’s likely Canadians will end up paying the taxes collected for the government by foreign multinationals.

“Right now, the way in which they’re delivering their services, they’re not responsible for the collection,” Micallef said.

“And so, effectively, it would mean that these charges would be appearing on (their) invoices.”

A regular monthly subscription for a streaming service that delivers video or music would be a simple calculation, with the tax rate applied to the purchase price.

But Micallef said it is be more difficult to estimate how much additional tax individual consumers, or businesses, will pay for other types of digital purchases, he said.

Something like gaming software might cost little or nothing itself, but offer the option for subsequent charges to add features that make the experience better.

“How many times? How many transactions? It adds up,” Micallef said.

Dwayne Winseck, a media industry researcher at Carleton University in Ottawa, also expects companies will add the price of the tax to the total sale price.

“I mean, this is really not a very substantial amount, when we’re talking about corporate finances,” said Winseck, who is a professor of journalism and communication.

He said that the term “Netflix tax” has become highly politicized and is often used as “code” for levelling the playing field between U.S.-based digital media companies and traditional Canadian broadcasters.

“And if the idea is to create a level playing field between those two services, then that by all means that makes great sense,” Winseck said.0

David Paddon, The Canadian Press

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Tired Of The Social Media Rat Race, Journalists Move To Writing Substack Newsletters – NPR

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San Francisco-based Hamish McKenzie, Chris Best and Jairaj Sethi are the co-founders of email newsletter Substack, which seen its active writers more than double since the start of the pandemic.

Substack

Substack

As a tech journalist for the website The Verge, Casey Newton established himself as something of a Silicon Valley institution. Known for a mix of original reporting and gimlet-eyed analysis, his writing has become essential reading for those who want to better understand the industry.

This fall, he quit his steady job at The Verge to start an email newsletter with Substack, a San Francisco-based startup.

“All of a sudden this thing comes along where it’s like, imagine never having to ask your boss for a raise again. All you have to do is do good work and attract customers,” Newton said. “That just seems like a really fun game to play.”

Substack provided Newton a website and slick email tools. It offered him the added perks of a health-care subsidy and access to a legal defense fund. Newton does his own marketing.

“All I have to do is find a few thousand people who will pay me $10 a month or $100 a year and I’ll have one of the best jobs in journalism,” Newton said.

Newton joins legions of other journalists who have ditched staff gigs at established publications like Rolling Stone, The New Republic, New York Magazine, BuzzFeed and Vox to join what has been dubbed the “Substackerati.”

Substack co-founder Chris Best said journalists are flocking to the platform after becoming exhausted by the constant pressure of landing the next viral hit on Facebook or Twitter.

“The platforms we’re spending all our time on incentivize that stuff and make that stuff easy and give it fuel,” he said. “The way to fix that is to have a better business model where that’s not true.”

Social media ‘breaks everything,’ says Substack co-founder

Email newsletters are far from new. The format’s resurgence has been documented in past years. But Best said Substack is different for two reasons: It has developed a way for independent writers to make money — that is, as long as they convert readers into paid subscribers. And, unlike some of its competitors, Substack emphasizes the freedom it gives writers, letting them own their content and their subscription lists, so they can leave the platform at any time and take their subscribers with them.

In exchange, Substack pockets a 10% cut of a writer’s earnings from subscriptions. Credit-card processor Stripe takes another 3%. But the rest of what readers pay goes directly to the writer.

Best used to work at the messaging app Kik, which is where he met Jairaj Sethi and Hamish McKenzie. Together they founded Substack.

“You’re subscribing directly to a writer,” Best said. “And we’re providing the plumbing that makes that happen.”

Substack’s rise has been helped along by more than the proverbial plumbing pipes. Investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Y Combinator are making big bets that the company’s email-newsletter model will take flight, in part by placing inboxes above algorithm-driven news feeds.

“Craigslist killed the classifieds. Facebook and Google took over the advertising industry. And we now live in a world where social media has kind of grabbed all of our attention. And we’re stuck in this mode where everybody is sort of chasing engagement,” Best said. “That sort of breaks everything.”

His message hit home for Helena Fitzgerald, a New York freelance writer. She says her primary source of income now comes from writing her Substack newsletter “Griefbacon,” which offers a mix of paid-for and free posts, a common Substack strategy.

“The one-sentence pitch I have for it is that it’s like long, weird essays about love,” she said.

Her writing can be strange and messy, she said, and not as timely as it would have to be to grab attention on social media.

“It’s something you can’t really pitch to a site that’s looking to get a lot of clicks through an algorithm,” Fitzgerald said.

Recently she wrote an essay about her love for sitcom pizza deliveries. That might not have risen to the top of a Facebook news feed, but it resonated with her readers. And while she’d like to be able to afford an editor eventually, for now, without any bosses, anything goes.

“But that’s part of what’s appealing to me about Substack,” she said. “I can write things that I’m just throwing at the wall and see how people react to it.”

Passing fad or durable business model?

Call it a perfect storm: Combine frustration with social media algorithms, people hunkered down in the pandemic staring at their screens, and a media industry hammered by the economic downturn. By one estimate, nearly 30,000 media jobs have been cut in 2020.

Enter Substack. Even though it was founded in 2017, it reached new heights this year. The number of active writers doubled between March and June, and it has continued to grow rapidly since then, according to the company.

Substack now has more than 250,000 paying subscribers. Taken together, its top 10 publishers rake in some $7 million annually.

Influential voices on the right and left, historians, even an anonymous bankruptcy expert have found success on Substack. Yet paychecks aren’t guaranteed.

“The Substack model works really well for some people who already have prestige and a following. And it doesn’t work that well for everybody else,”said New York University Journalism Professor Meredith Broussard.

It’s too soon to tell whether Substack will last, or be another Internet fad, eventually tapering off into obscurity.

“We’ve seen the enthusiasm before. We’ve seen this hype cycle before,” she said. “If this is the time it happens, then I’m here for it. And if it’s not the time that it happens, there’s gonna be another thing around the corner.”

Some have suspicions about a venture capital-backed tech startup attempting to reinvent the news industry. While that is understandable to Newton — formerly of The Verge, now of Substack — he said providing a way for more journalism to happen in the world is a good thing. Perhaps, he said, cynicism should be set aside to give this one a chance.

“I’m not somebody who thinks that Substack is going to save journalism,” he said. “But do I think it can create a lot of sustainable journalism jobs? I do.”

With time, according to tech experts, Substack will likely be pulled into the “content moderation wars,” forced to confront what is allowed and what isn’t on their sites — the same thorny issues Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms have faced for months.

Like the dominant social networks, Substack considers itself a hands-off, neutral platform. Yet it recruits new writers with cash offers, provides legal support and distributes content both online and in email inboxes. When asked if the company could now or ever be considered an editorial publisher, co-founder Best had a quick response: “Certainly not.”

Broussard of NYU said one major challenge for Substack will be preserving civility on its platform while also maintaining breakneck growth.

“Substack is new and shiny now,” she said. “But it’s going to have a problem with becoming a cacophony once it passes a certain point in popularity.”

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