World starts enacting laws to curb online hate speech
Governments worldwide are now busy framing effective laws to hold social networking websites responsible for searching and deleting defamatory content promptly or face massive financial penalties, which is quite a shift from the past when the focus was primarily on individuals posting or uploading controversial or provocative material on Internet.
“Cyber-bullying” and an increase in intimidating behavior on social media channels have led many states to enact laws that prohibit online harassment specifically. Pakistan, however, is still in an infancy stage in this context, allowing social media trolls to spread fake news, defame and bully people — sans any fear — and with absolute will in the name of “freedom of expression and speech.”
Germany takes the lead in making laws: On April 5, 2017, German government had announced that social networks that fail to remove defamatory “fake news,” hate speech and other illegal content would be fined up to 50 million euros. A key British newspaper “Independent” had stated: “Angela Merkel’s cabinet voted on the measures amid concerns over free speech, with campaigners, technology firms and journalists raising fears that tightened regulations could restrict expression. Heiko Maas, the German justice minister, vowed to push for similar rules Europe-wide, adding, “There should be just as little tolerance for criminal incitement on social networks as on the street. We owe it to the victims of hate crime to manage this better.”
The media outlet had added: “The bill strengthens Germany’s existing laws covering hate speech, slander, defamation, threats and incitement, adding to prison sentences already enforceable for Holocaust denial or inciting hatred against minorities. The new law would give social networks 24 hours to delete or block criminal content and seven days to deal with less clear-cut cases, with an obligation to report back to the person who filed the complaint about how it was handled. Failure to comply could see a company fined up to €50m, with its chief representative in Germany handed an additional penalty of €5m.”
European Union stands out when it comes to slapping fines on service providers: Launched on February 4, 2004, by Mark Zuckerberg along with fellow Harvard College roommates, the American online social networking service, Facebook, was fined 110 million euros (£94million) by the EU for misleading about its takeover of Whatsapp on May 17 this year.
With a 2016 Net Income of US$10.217 billion, Facebook has 18,770 staffers and has more than 1.94 billion monthly active users as of March 31, 2017. The “Guardian” had reported: “The European Commission said it had imposed a “proportionate” fine on the technology company to send a clear signal that all firms must comply with the EU competition rules. When Facebook took over the Whatsapp messaging service in 2014, it told the commission it would not be able to match user accounts on both platforms, but went on to do exactly that. The fine could have been more than twice the size, as competition authorities are able to fine rule-breaking companies 1 percent of annual turnover, which for Facebook was $276m in 2016. But the commission said it had taken into account the company’s cooperation during the inquiry.”
Twitter was fined £33,000 in Turkey for failing to remove terrorist propaganda: In December 2015, Turkey’s communications regulator had fined Twitter 150,000 liras (£33,000) for failing to remove “terrorist propaganda.” The BBC had reported: “It is the first time such a fine has been issued to the company. No details about the content in question were released by authorities, but the BBC understands the fine relates to material from a political protest account that is critical of the Turkish government. Twitter did not provide a comment. This is not the first time the micro-blogging site has run into problems with Turkish authorities. Both Facebook and Twitter were blocked in Turkey in April after a court order was issued prohibiting people from sharing images of a prosecutor being held at gunpoint. And in March last year, it was reported that the social network had been blocked in the country after then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to “wipe out Twitter” after allegations about his party were published on the site prior to local elections.”
China’s equivalent of Twitter fined $4,400 for spreading porn: In China, service provider Weibo (the country’s equivalent of Twitter) was fined 30,000 Yuan (US$4,400) on April 14, 2017 for spreading porn. Chinese media regulators had slapped the networking website with a fine and a formal warning for disseminating pornography.
The National Office against Pornographic and Illegal Publications said a number of unlicensed videos that “Weibo” had been circulating since February 2015 were pornographic. The office said the government is determined to crack down on such online material, and that popular platforms like “Weibo” should set an example in strengthening the management of content.
Launched in July 2006, Twitter had more than 319 million monthly active users at the end of 2016. On the day of the 2016 US presidential election, Twitter had proved to be the largest source of breaking news, with 40 million election-related tweets sent by 10 pm. With a 2016 Net Income of US $456 million, Twitter today has 3,898 staffers and has more than 25 offices around the world.
An exclusive research conducted by the “Jang Group and Geo Television Network” reveals that social media companies are now basically being asked by state authorities on the planet to decide what is controversial and what not.
As far as Facebook and Twitter, etc. are concerned, they are least amused over these new laws being enacted because they are apprehensive that once such regulations are enforced in true letter and spirit, their users may accuse the service providers of imposing censorship on their liberty. And amidst all this debate, global awareness is certainly creeping in rapidly. In August 2016, Twitter had suspended 235,000 accounts in the last six months for violation of its policies regarding the promotion of terrorism and violent threat, adding to 125,000 suspensions in the six months before that.
According to the “Guardian,” the company said that there was no one ‘magic algorithm’ for identifying terrorist content on the Internet. It quoted Twitter as saying: “But, we continue to utilize other forms of technology, like proprietary spam-fighting tools, to supplement reports from our users and help identify repeat account abuse. Daily suspensions are up 80 per cent since the previous year, with suspensions spiking after major terrorist attacks. Our response time for suspending reported accounts, the amount of time these accounts are on Twitter, and the number of followers they accumulate have all decreased dramatically.”
In March 2017, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), Johnson & Johnson and Verizon were seen pulling their ads from YouTube and other sites that run Google ads after it was revealed that some of their ads had appeared next to extremist videos on YouTube.
The move represented a significant escalation of a business problem for Google. AT&T and Verizon are among the world’s largest brand advertisers and their decisions to temporarily stop buying YouTube ads could cause other big US advertisers to follow the suit.
Even stars and eminent sportsmen have been punished for cybercrimes: “YouTube” gamer, Craig Douglas, was charged for providing gambling facilities without an operating license in February 2017.
Douglas had narrowly avoided a jail sentence. He and his business partner, Dylan Rigby, were fined a total of £265,000 ($331,220) for running an illegal gambling website linked to hit video game FIFA that was used by children, according to “CNBC.”
Both men were charged with being officers of a firm that provided facilities for gambling without an operating licence, as well as being charged for the advertising of unlawful gambling.
Star footballer fined for posting a referee’s mocked-up picture: In 2011, eminent Dutch footballer Ryan Babel became the first star to be punished for posting a message on Twitter after his team Liverpool was defeated by Manchester United.
Liverpool’s Dutch forward was fined £10,000. Babel had posted a mocked-up picture of Howard Webb wearing a Manchester United shirt on the social networking site, with the words
“And they call him one of the best referees. That’s a joke.” (Reference: The Sun)
English cricketer Stuart Broad fined for challenging an umpire on Twitter: In August 2016, leading English cricketer Stuart Broad was fined 20 percent of his match fee – around £2,000 – for questioning a decision on Twitter. People arrested globally for posting/uploading defamatory content online and the ones who had to pay heavy fines:
In neighbouring India, a ship-building professional, Chodankar, was booked for posting a comment against Premier Narendra Modi on Facebook in May 2014.
The police had filed an FIR against him under Sections 153 (A) and 295 (A) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 125 of the Representation of the People’s Act.
The police described Chodankar’s comment a part of a “larger game to promote communal and social disharmony in the state, but the Opposition parties in India saw it as an attempt to muzzle the criticism on Modi.
In November 2012, two young women were arrested in Mumbai on charges of “promoting enmity between classes” and “sending offensive messages through a communication service.”
After one of them had posted a message questioning why the city was shut down after Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s death, the other had ‘liked’ it on Facebook. Both of them were released on bail by a local court a day later. (Reference: The Hindu)
In 2012, a businessman, Ravi Srinivasin, was handcuffed for allegedly posting an offensive message about Congress leader and Union Finance Minister Chidambaram’s son Karti.
It was also in 2012 that two Air India staffers were arrested for their posts on Facebook. The duo had to spend 12 days in police custody. Mayank Sharma and Rao had been accused of allegedly sharing lewd jokes about politicians, for making derogatory comments against then prime minister Manmohan Singh and for insulting the national flag in their Facebook posts.
Both of them said they had just shared the information that was already available on Internet.
In April 2012, an Indian university professor Ambikesh Mahapatra, and his neighbour Subrata Sengupta were arrested for allegedly circulating a cartoon that lampooned West Bengal chief minister Mamta Banerjee. They were accused of emailing the cartoon based on a scene from Satyajit Ray’s popular movie “Sonar Kella.”
The cartoon, which was widely circulated on the internet, was based on a scene in the film in which a boy is duped by two criminals into believing that they caused someone to vanish.
In the cartoon, the vanishing man was a reference to former Railways Minister, Dinesh Trivedi, who was forced out of office by Mamta Banerjee.(References: NDTV, the Hindustan Times and The Hindu)
In March 2017, the “Guardian” had reported: “Social media companies including Twitter, Facebook and Google have come under pressure from MPs for failing to take tougher action to tackle hate speech online. During heated exchanges at the commons home affairs committee one Labour MP went as far as accusing internet company executives of “commercial prostitution” and demanding to know whether they had any shame.”
The British media house had held: “The social media companies defended their current monitoring arrangements but said they had to rely on their users on a “notify and take down” basis to tackle the problem of online hate. The tech companies’ sheer scale meant it was impossible for them to conduct proactive searches for such material although they were trying to develop technology, including artificial intelligence that could improve their response to the problem.”
In its October 20, 2014 edition, the “Guardian” had cited a “Thomson Reuters Foundation” research: “There has been a 23% rise in the number of reported defamation cases in the UK over the past year, up from 70 to 86, according to research by Thomson Reuters. The growth in the number of reported defamation cases is partly due to a sharp rise in claims brought over defamatory material published through social media and websites. In the last year alone the number of cases relating to new media, such as internet-only news services, social media, text messages and online review sites, has more than quadrupled, rising from six to 26.”
Some cases where people were arrested and convicted in the UK for causing online annoyance, inconvenience and needless anxiety:
In 2010, Paul Chambers was convicted under the Communications Act after tweeting a joke about blowing up Robin Hood Airport in Nottingham. His conviction was overturned after a two-year legal battle.
The British Communications Act 2003 defines illegal communication as “using public electronic communications network in order to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety.”
Breaking the law carries a six-month prison term or fine of up to £5,000.
In June 2014, a Facebook troll, Jake Newsome, was jailed for 6 weeks for posting offence Facebook message about killing of a teacher, Ann Maguire.
Just a month before, another Twitter abuser, Robert Riley, was jailed for eight weeks for posting abusive Twitter messages about the death of the same school teacher. (Reference: The BBC News)
In October 2012, Matthew Woods from Lancashire was jailed for three months for posting sexually explicit content about an abducted child, April Jones, who had gone missing during a family holiday in Portugal in 2007.
Woods was arrested for his own safety after about 50 people descended on his home. He pleaded guilty at Chorley magistrate’s court to sending by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive
Also in 2012, a British citizen, Azhar Ahmed, was sentenced to a community order and told to pay costs of £300 by magistrates for posting a Facebook message following the deaths of six British soldiers.
His Facebook message had said: “All soldiers should die and go to hell.”
In March 2012, a British student, Liam Stacey, was jailed for 56 days for posting offensive and racist comments on Twitter about the on-pitch collapse of a black footballer, Fabrice Muamba, who had suffered a heart attack.
In January 2014, a man and a woman were jailed for abusing a high-profile feminist campaigner over a social media website.
Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard the tweets that Isabella Sorley, 23, and John Nimmo, 25, posted to Caroline Perez on Twitter. (Reference: The Independent)
It is imperative to note that by June 2016, over 2,500 Londoners were arrested over the past five years for allegedly sending “offensive” messages via social media, official statistics had revealed.
A total of 625 arrests were made for alleged section 127 offences in 2010 – a number which had ballooned to 857 by 2015.
During the years 2010-2015, some 2,130 people were arrested between 2010 and 2015 for “sending by public communication network an offensive / indecent / obscene / menacing message / matter” – which is a criminal offence under section 127. Although arrests for the alleged offences were slowly declining until 2013, they peaked again in 2015.
United States: On March 31, 2017, a woman in North Carolina was ordered by a judge to pay $500,000 for a Facebook post falsely accusing an acquaintance of killing her son.
The “Telegraph” had stated: “Jacquelyn Hammond from Asheville wrote on Facebook, in 2015, of Davyne Dial: “I didn’t get drunk and kill my kid.” Ms Dial, general manager of a local radio station, had lost her son decades ago in a gun accident involving another little boy. She knew Hammond through their efforts, at one point, to gain control over the radio station, Ms Dial said.”
In January 2012, as the “Daily Mail” had reported, two British tourists were barred from entering America after joking on Twitter that they were going to ‘destroy America’ and ‘dig up Marilyn Monroe’.
Leigh Van Bryan, 26, was handcuffed and kept under armed guard in a cell with Mexican drug dealers for 12 hours after landing in Los Angeles with pal Emily Bunting.
The Department of Homeland Security flagged him as a potential threat when he posted an excited tweet to his pals about his forthcoming trip to Hollywood which read: ‘Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?’
Despite telling officials the term ‘destroy’ was British slang for ‘party’, they were held on suspicion of planning to ‘commit crimes’ and had their passports confiscated.
In April 2014, the “CNN” and the “Daily Mail” had reported that a teenager was arrested in Rotterdam after tweeting ‘joke’ Al Qaeda bomb threat to American Airlines.
The “Daily Mail” had maintained: “Twitter user @QueenDemetriax, who calls herself Sarah on the website, sent an apparently threatening tweet to American Airlines on Sunday morning and within minutes received a reply from the airline saying her IP address had been forwarded to the FBI. Dutch police have today confirmed they have arrested a 14-year-old over the incident, which saw the girl inundated with angry messages. Rotterdam Police tweeted: ‘Dutch girl (14) from Rotterdam arrested after American Airlines threat. Investigation continues.”
In March 2017, a Spanish court had sentenced a young woman to jail for posting jokes on Twitter about the 1973 assassination of a senior figure in the Franco dictatorship.
Spain’s top criminal court, the National Audience, found Cassandra Vera, 21, guilty of glorifying terrorism and humiliating victims of terrorism and handed her a one-year jail term. (Reference: The Guardian)
Earlier, in January 2017, a known Spanish singer was handed a prison sentence for posting jokes on Twitter about terrorism. He had posted jokes about the terrorist groups “ETA” and “Grapo” and had talked about the bombing the country’s monarch.(Reference: The Irish Times)
In January 2017, Turkey’s state-run “Anadolu news agency” had reported that between June 2016 and January 2017, the authorities had received complaints from informants of “terrorist propaganda” for 68,774 social media users on Facebook and Twitter.
Based on the informants’ complaints, 21,723 social media users were identified, and 3,681 of them were detained. A total of 1,734 social media users were put behind bars in the last six months, while 1,317 were released on probation.
In December 2016, the “Reuters” news agency had revealed: “Turkish authorities are investigating some 10,000 people on suspicion of using social media to support terrorism, the interior ministry said. Turkey, which faces security threats from Kurdish and leftist militants and Islamic State, has sacked or suspended more than 100,000 people following an attempted military coup in July 2016.”Australia:
A defamatory tweet that cost $105,000 in Australia had flashed headlines around the planet. In March 2014, according to the “Sydney Morning Herald,” A New South Wales school teacher made legal history after a former student was ordered to pay Australian $105,000 for defaming her on Twitter and Facebook.
The “Sydney Morning Herald” had reported: “In the first Twitter defamation battle in Australia to proceed to a full trial, District Court judge Michael Elkaim ruled that former Orange High School student Andrew Farley should pay compensatory and aggravated damages for making false allegations about music teacher Christine Mickle. Judge Elkaim said the comments had had a “devastating effect” on the popular teacher, who immediately took sick leave and only returned to work on a limited basis late last year. “When defamatory publications are made on social media it is common knowledge that they spread,” Judge Elkaim said in an unreported judgment in November.”