German Hate-Speech Law Forces Facebook to Engage in Censorship

Under the terms of a new German law, social networks like Facebook face fines of up to $57 million if they don’t delete illegal, racist or slanderous content within 24 hours. But free-speech advocates, including the Commission for Human Rights, say the law gives too much power to Facebook and other platforms to decide what constitutes hate speech.

“I am concerned with the lack of judicial oversight with respect to the responsibility placed upon private social networks to remove and delete content,” said David Kaye of the High Commission for Human Rights. “A prohibition on the dissemination of information based on vague and ambiguous criteria, such as ‘insult’ or ‘defamation,’ is incompatible” with the International Covenant on Civil Rights.”

The European Digital Rights group, made up of civil and human rights organizations, also protested the new law, saying “there is no indication of how a decision is to be made on what ‘violating content’ might be.” The group added that it is “easy to see how the fear of high fines will bring platforms to delete and block any content that appears to generate a risk of being punished under this new law.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists, meanwhile, said that the law is ostensibly aimed at combatting disinformation and hate speech, but the way it is going to be implemented “raises concerns about restrictions on free expression and the privatization of censorship.”

The Troubling Implications of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Google Ruling

This is a disturbing decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, as explained by my former colleague (and fellow Canadian) Jeff Roberts at Fortune. It follows some equally troubling decisions in Europe that have ordered Google to delete results worldwide because of the so-called “right to be forgotten.”

In a 7-2 decision, the court agreed a British Columbia judge had the power to issue an injunction forcing Google to scrub search results about pirated products not just in Canada, but everywhere else in the world too.Those siding with Google, including civil liberties groups, had warned that allowing the injunction would harm free speech, setting a precedent to let any judge anywhere order a global ban on what appears on search engines. The Canadian Supreme Court, however, downplayed this objection and called Google’s fears “theoretical.”

Source: Google Loses Supreme Court of Canada Case Over Search Results

Update: Daphne Keller published a smart piece on this issue at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society (which I found via Eugene Volokh). Here’s some of what she said:

Canada’s endorsement of cross-border content removal orders is deeply troubling. It speeds the day when we will see the same kinds of orders from countries with problematic human rights records and oppressive speech laws. And it increases any individual speaker’s vulnerability to laws and state actors elsewhere in the world. Content hosting and distribution are increasingly centralized in the hands of a few multinational companies – Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft with their web hosting services, etc. Those companies have local presence and vulnerability to formal jurisdiction and real world threats of arrest or asset seizure in scores of countries.

Source: Ominous: Canadian Court Orders Google to Remove Search Results Globally

It should be noted that Keller is associate general counsel at Google, and as such was involved in this particular case at the Court of Appeals stage. But her warning is still worth listening to. Another smart post on the topic comes from my friend Michael Geist, a Canadian law professor.

What happens if a Chinese court orders it to remove Taiwanese sites from the index? Or if an Iranian court orders it to remove gay and lesbian sites from the index? Since local content laws differ from country to country, there is a great likelihood of conflicts. That leaves two possible problematic outcomes: local courts deciding what others can access online or companies such as Google selectively deciding which rules they wish to follow.

Source: Global Internet Takedown Orders Come to Canada: Supreme Court Upholds International Removal of Google Search Results

The Age of Distributed Truth

Smart post from Eugene Wei about how information gets distributed now, and things that were commonly known in specific circles (like a certain VC’s reputation for sexual harassment) become more widely known.

We live in the age of distributed truth, and it’s an environment in which fake news can spread like mold when in viral form. But the same applies to the truth, and if there’s one lesson on how to do your part in an age of distributed truth, it’s to speak the truth and to support those who do. It may be exhausting work—is it really necessary to point out the emperor is buck naked?—but it’s the best we can do for now.

Source: The age of distributed truth — Remains of the Day

New York Times Copy Editors Tell the Ocean to Stop Advancing

Copy editors at the New York Times have written an open letter to executive editor Dean Baquet and managing editor Joe Kahn, protesting the downsizing of editing functions at the paper. The Times is planning to get rid of its central copy desk, and aims to reduce the number of editors by about 50%.

“Dear Dean and Joe,” the letter begins. “We have begun the humiliating process of justifying our continued presence at The New York Times. We take some solace in the fact that we have been assured repeatedly that copy editors are highly respected here. If that is true, we have a simple request. Cutting us down to 50 to 55 editors from more than 100, and expecting the same level of quality in the report, is dumbfoundingly unrealistic. Work with us on a new number.”

Source: New York Times copy desk to top editors: ‘You have turned your backs on us’ – Poynter

I have a huge amount of respect for copy editors, and editors of all types — the good ones are invaluable, and have saved me from more stupid errors than I care to enumerate. But the harsh fact is that the kind of structure newspapers used to have, in which four or five different editors touched every story, simply doesn’t make any sense any more.

When I worked at Fortune, one editor was responsible for assigning, copy editing and publishing. Obviously we still made mistakes, but not that much more than any other publication I don’t think. As touching and heartfelt as the New York Times editor’s letter is, there is no way to turn back the hands of time and make the newspaper business what it used to be.

Group Wants to use the Blockchain to Reinvent Journalism

This seems like an interesting — and also ambitious — project aimed at developing a kind of crowdsourced journalism infrastructure based on the crypto-currency Ethereum. Instead of a traditional advertising-based model, the group is proposing to monetize the project (known as Civil) using Ethereum “tokens” or virtual currency that could be exchanged in a variety of ways.

We propose a solution called Civil, an Ethereum-based decentralized platform that can be used to create “newsrooms” and “stations”?—?blockchain-based marketplaces where citizens and journalists form communities around a shared purpose and set of standards, financially support factual reporting and investigative work, and substantially limit misinformation through effective collaborative-editing methods. The net result is a self-sustaining global marketplace for journalism that is free from ads, fake news, a

Source: Civil: Self-Sustaining Journalism — Medium