(Bloomberg) — The Biden administration told the US Supreme Court that social media companies in some cases can be held liable for promoting harmful speech, partially siding with a family seeking to sue Alphabet Inc.’s Google over a terrorist attack.
In a Supreme Court filing on Wednesday night, the Justice Department argued that social media websites should be held responsible for some of the ways their algorithms decide what content to put in front of users.
The case, likely to be argued early next year, revolves around the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old US citizen who was killed by ISIS in Paris in November 2015. Her family is arguing that YouTube, which Google owns, violated the Anti-Terrorism Act because its algorithms recommended ISIS-related content.
The Justice Department did not outright side with Gonzalez. Instead, the government argued that the family should get another crack before a federal appeals court that tossed out the complaint against Google. The government said social media companies shouldn’t be held liable simply for allowing content to be posted or for failing to remove it.
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The case could narrow the country’s interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the tech industry’s prized liability shield that protects social media platforms from being held liable for content generated by users.
“The statute does not bar claims based on YouTube’s alleged targeted recommendations of ISIS content,” wrote acting US Solicitor General Brian Fletcher.
A coalition of 26 states and Washington, D.C. also filed on behalf of Gonzalez in the case, arguing that courts have encouraged an overly broad interpretation of Section 230. They claimed the statute currently holds them back from enforcing state laws when criminals operate online.
Congress has long debated whether to reform Section 230, which was originally passed in 1996 before the modern internet came to dominate everyday life. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have argued that the sweeping immunity has enabled the social media companies to make editorial decisions affecting billions of people without consequences. But Congress has struggled to create and pass bipartisan legislation on the issue, leaving the question of online speech to the courts.
Most of the Supreme Court justices have not made any public statements about their views on Section 230 – except Justice Clarence Thomas, who last year said the court should consider treating social media companies like public utilities. That would enable the government to create a much more aggressive regulatory regime around companies like Meta Platforms Inc., Twitter Inc. and YouTube.
The Google v. Gonzalez case has already attracted attention from some senators on Capitol Hill. Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri submitted briefs in support of reforming Section 230, which has long faced the ire of conservatives hoping to punish the social media companies for allegedly censoring conservative content.
Google has argued that narrowing Section 230 could make it harder for them, and other social media platforms, to remove terrorist content.
“Through the years, YouTube has invested in technology, teams, and policies to identify and remove extremist content,” said Google spokesman José Castañeda. “We regularly work with law enforcement, other platforms, and civil society to share intelligence and best practices. Undercutting Section 230 would make it harder, not easier, to combat harmful content — making the internet less safe and less helpful for all of us.”
The Justice Department sided with Twitter and Google in a separate Supreme Court case involving social media this week. At issue in Twitter v. Mehier Taamneh is whether Twitter violated the Anti-Terrorism Act by failing to enforce policies against pro-terrorist content on its platform. Fletcher argued in a filing on Tuesday night that Taamneh’s family had failed to prove that Twitter was intentionally “aiding and abetting” terrorism.
The cases are Gonzalez v. Google, 21-1333 and Twitter v. Taamneh, 21-1496.
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Making a point: Hong Kong journalists regroup abroad – Al Jazeera English
When Hong Kong’s pro-democracy news outlets Apple Daily and Stand News were forced to close by authorities in 2021 under a sweeping Beijing-led crackdown on dissent, Jane Poon made herself a promise.
Poon, a Hong Konger who worked in the city’s media for nearly three decades before moving to Australia in 2017, promised to do whatever she could to keep the spirit of the defunct outlets alive.
After more than a year of planning, Poon’s vision became a reality in mid-January with the launch of The Points, a new online media outlet dedicated to covering news about Hong Kong and its growing diaspora.
Based entirely overseas, The Points, which publishes in Chinese, hopes to fill the gap left by the demise of most independent media in Hong Kong, where journalists now face the risk of arrest and imprisonment for coverage considered critical of Beijing.
The Points’s staff is made up of former employees of Hong Kong media, including Apply Daily and Stand News, who moved overseas amid the city’s crackdown on press freedom and other civil liberties.
With staff in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, the outlet hopes to be the first 24-hour news operation for Hong Kong that is based outside the city.
The Points’s recent coverage includes the Hong Kong Legislative Council’s unannounced decision to redact the names of legislators in transcripts of official proceedings, and a recent meeting between Hong Kong activists and Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Penny Wong.
“As some Hong Kong journalists disperse to other places, I think that although the Hong Kong media is in a difficult situation, it might also be a chance to turn a crisis into an opportunity,” Poon, who worked for Apple Daily’s parent company as the head of digital news for Next Magazine, told Al Jazeera.
“We could set up a media platform for the journalists in various places who may work together to cover stories across countries for the Hong Kong diaspora, and also cover stories which are not allowed to be published in Hong Kong anymore.”
Hong Kong, a British colony for more than 150 years before its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, was long regarded as one of Asia’s most vibrant and freewheeling media scenes until the imposition of a Beijing-drafted national security law in 2020.
Since then, most of the city’s pro-democracy media have been forced to shut down or decided to close out of fear of being targeted by authorities.
Jimmy Lai, the garment-factory owner turned media tycoon who founded Apple Daily, is facing up to life in prison in a sedition and foreign collusion trial scheduled to begin in September following repeated delays.
In November, six of Lai’s former employees, including Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief, pleaded guilty to conspiring to collude with foreign forces by advocating for sanctions against the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese governments.
Two former editors of Stand News, which closed in December 2021 after its offices were raided by national security police, are currently on trial for sedition.
Last year, Hong Kong’s global press freedom ranking plunged nearly 70 places to 148, according to Reporters Without Borders. The territory, which was promised a high degree of autonomy and civil liberties that do not exist in mainland China for at least 50 years after the handover, ranked 18th in 2002.
More than 1,500 journalists in Hong Kong have been put out of work in the crackdown, according to an analysis carried out by Bloomberg News last year, with many former media workers moving into other industries or migrating overseas.
At the same time, the growing Hong Kong diaspora — about 150,000 Hong Kongers have moved to the UK alone since the passage of the National Security Law – has created opportunities for new ways to report on Hong Kong.
The Points follows the launch of a number of other Hong Kong-focused outlets located abroad, including Flow HK, which is based in Taiwan, and Commons Hong Kong, which is based in the UK and Taiwan.
“There’s always a need for a vibrant, independent press. It’s hopeful to see resilient journalists inside and outside Hong Kong continue their excellent journalism,” Iris Hsu, China representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told Al Jazeera.
“If the overseas media outlets provide a safer platform for Hong Kong’s critical journalism that has been under attack for years, it would help preserve Hong Kong’s press freedom and slow the government’s deliberate erosion of checks and balances of power.”
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly insisted that the city’s press freedom remains intact. Hong Kong’s leader John Lee last year said there was no need to talk about defending press freedom because it “exists and we attach great importance to press freedom”.
Reaching across the divides
For now, The Points has a modest size and reach.
The outlet relies on six full-time journalists and freelancers, according to Poon, who said the website attracts about 3,000-4000 readers each day, although that number is growing fast.
Finn Lau, The Points’s executive director, said the outlet relies on a small pool of reader donations to pay its staff and is exploring other sources of revenue, which could include government grants or wealthy donors.
“Financial sustainability is one of the key issues, that’s why it took us around 15 months to prepare our media before launch,” Lau told Al Jazeera. “For the upcoming two years, our top priority must be to get the media [outlet] to be financially sustainable.”
Despite its links to Apple Daily, The Points is also keen to reach Hong Kong people from across the political spectrum and to avoid charges of political bias and sensationalism that critics levelled at the defunct tabloid, said Lau, a Hong Kong activist known for his opposition to Beijing.
“We don’t want to overly politicise our media outlet,” said Lau, who popularised a protest strategy of escalating violence known as “Lam Chau” during anti-government protests in 2019 and 2020.
“On the other hand, we don’t want to self-censor. So we are trying to find a dedicated balance between being a tabloid or being a so-called … intellectual newspaper.”
Apart from financial challenges, The Points has had trouble getting the word out on social media.
Soon after its launch, the outlet’s Twitter account was suspended without warning or explanation, Lau said.
Lau said the account had not violated Twitter’s terms of service, but it may have been targeted with vexatious complaints by pro-Beijing figures or fallen victim to the shortage of staff at the platform following Elon Musk’s takeover. The account has yet to be reinstated.
“We are very frustrated with Twitter and we are still considering what we should do with this platform,” he said.
Still, Lau has big ambitions for the media outlet.
“I am rather optimistic about the visibility of this project. Actually I am a pragmatic dreamer,” he said. “That’s why I believe it might take one or two years to stabilise.”
For Poon, the launch of The Points is about more than upholding press freedom. She hopes the outlet can help preserve Hong Kong’s distinct culture and values.
“We have our next generation. We have to look after our children,” she said.
“That’s why it’s important to have our own media, to tell our own stories. Then our history and everything can be given down to our next generation.”
'More uncertainty': Sask. journalists weigh in on changing print media landscape – CBC.ca
As large corporations make headlines showcasing an apparent decline in Canada’s newspaper industry, Kevin Weedmark and the Moosomin World-Spectator continue to thrive.
Weedmark purchased the southeast Saskatchewan weekly paper in 2002, with a circulation of 1,700. Today, that number sits around 5,000, bringing overall circulation to 43,000 when the publisher’s two additional regional papers are included.
“When I bought this newspaper, I didn’t think of it as a business-first. I thought of it as a community service-first,” Weedmark said Monday.
“There’s nothing magical about Moosomin, or what we’ve done here, that you couldn’t do anywhere. I mean, a proper newspaper that’s there to serve its community first is going to be successful.”
It’s a stark contract to the reality playing out for some major papers owned by Postmedia Network Corp.
The company announced last week it is laying off 11 per cent of its editorial staff, among other changes to printing presses, office spaces and publishing schedules.
Postmedia employs about 650 journalists across Canada, and also owns Saskatchewan’s two major urban daily newspapers: the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Regina Leader-Post.
It’s selling the historic StarPhoenix building and all remaining journalists will work from home. The papers’ printing press will also be moved from Saskatoon to Estevan, Sask., located around 200 kilometres southeast of Regina.
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Blue Sky50:02What does the future of newspapers in Saskatchewan look like?
Austin Davis, a journalist with the Regina Leader-Post since 2014, tweeted about the changes on Jan. 25.
“It’s more uncertainty for beleaguered, resilient newsrooms and hardworking reporters,” Davis wrote.
“I can’t and won’t defend these decisions. In nine years, I’ve seen dozens of colleagues take buyouts or leave due to burnout, stress and low pay. The survivors are expected to continue publishing the same standard of product. It is impossible.”
‘Maddening and frustrating’
Trish Elliott, a distinguished professor of investigative and community journalism at First Nations University of Canada and an executive member of J-Schools Canada, wrote an opinion editorial for CBC Saskatchewan published Monday and joined Blue Sky later that day to share her thoughts.
“It’s just madding and frustrating. The state of media concentration in Canada has been this like growing train wreck,” Elliott told CBC’s Heather Morrison.
“It seems like every 10 years we have a commission saying that the way media is owned here needs to be better regulated. But nothing ever happens.”
Elliott pointed to the fact her local newspaper in Saskatchewan is currently owned by a hedge fund in the U.S.
“We’re not being protected from foreign ownership, obviously, as the majority shareholders are in the U.S. for Postmedia. And again that is a regulatory failure,” she said.
Steve Nixon, the executive director of the Saskatchewan Newspapers Association, also pointed out the impact large corporations are having on the overall state of print media.
“Good journalism costs money,” Nixon said.
“The money that’s being used to pay journalists is being sucked out, mainly, by two major companies, neither of which are owned by a Canadian entity.”
Independent daily seeing success
Jason Kerr is the editor of the employee-owned and operated Prince Albert Daily Herald, one of Canada’s few independent daily newspapers.
In 2017, a group of employees reached a tentative deal to buy the paper from Star News Publishing Inc., preventing the paper from folding. The deal was completed on May 1, 2018, with the Prince Albert Herald beginning operation under FolioJumpline Publishing Inc.
“It’s definitely been a lot of work, but it’s been very rewarding and the community has responded by backing us,” Kerr said.
Kerr, who has worked at the paper since 2015, said being employee-owned and operated has allowed the paper to focus in on local stories and support community events.
Still, he noted the number of newspapers in northern Saskatchewan has been on a slow decline. He pointed to the end of the La Ronge Northerner, a weekly paper that closed after 41 years in 2015.
“It just left a huge gap, so there’s not a lot if you want to get your news from a print newspaper,” Kerr said, adding the north is often referred to as a “media desert.”
“A place where there’s just a ton of stuff happening, a ton of news, both good and bad, that’s going unreported because there aren’t enough reporters up there.”
The independent publishing company behind the Herald has looked to fill that void. It prints a monthly stand-alone newspaper called The Northern Advocate, which is distributed across northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Kerr said the other great thing about being an independent entity is having the choice to reinvest in the community and support local events.
“There’s really no discussion,” he said. “We just look at and go, ‘Yeah, this is something we want to support and we support it.'”
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