When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on March 30 that the internet could use more regulation of “harmful content,” maybe he should have been more specific. Less than a week after Zuckerberg’s statement, Australia’s Parliament passed the Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Act 2019, with no public or expert consultation.
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The Charter of the United Nations begins by listing a number of lofty goals, including, “We the peoples of the United Nations [have] determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.” This echoes the more famous and similarly aspirational preamble to the U.S.
Over the past year, lawmakers from Brussels to Washington have discussed whether and how to regulate social media platforms. In Germany, a central question has been whether such platforms—which Germans call social network providers (SNPs)—should be held liable if they fail to delete or remove illegal content.
Most Americans were likely distracted with the looming midterm election on the evening of Nov. 5 when Facebook published a lengthy report assessing the effect of the company’s presence in Myanmar.
Before Saturday, Oct. 27, relatively few people were familiar with Gab, the fringe social network developed as an alternative to Twitter and Facebook. By the end of the day, however, media outlets from Reuters to CNN had issued “explainers” on Gab as a online haven for far-right extremism online.
Members of the Myanmar military have systematically used Facebook as a tool in the government’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, according to an incredible piece of reporting by the New York Times on Oct. 15. The Times writes that the military harnessed Facebook over a period of years to disseminate hate propaganda, false news and inflammatory posts.
On Thursday, Sept. 6, Twitter permanently banned the right-wing provocateur Alex Jones and his conspiracy theorist website Infowars from its platform. This was something of the final blow to Jones’s online presence: Facebook, Apple and Youtube, among others, blocked Jones from using their services in early August. Cut off from Twitter as well, he is now severely limited in his ability to spread his conspiracy theories to a mainstream audience.
Editor’s Note: Fighting terrorism online is one of those ideas that everyone agrees with in principle but disagrees on in practice. What should be regulated and who should do so are among the many areas of disagreement. Zann Isacson of Georgetown examines the different actors that might play a role, including Congress, technology companies and of course the executive branch, and assesses what each might bring to the table.
Opportunities to glimpse misinformation in action are fairly rare. But after the recent attack in Toronto, a journalist on Twitter unwittingly carried out a natural experiment that shows how quickly “fake news” can spread.
Editor’s Note: Although Internet comments have made great strides in trying to combat extremist content online, they have a long way to go. In particular, much of what jihadists use for propaganda is non-violent or otherwise doesn't neatly fit material that can easily be identified as terrorist-related and removed. Audrey Alexander and Helen Powell of George Washington University's Program on Extremism call for a more holistic approach that goes beyond image takedowns.