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Government Needs to Set Rules to Limit Hate Speech Online, Says New America Panel

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WASHINGTON, June 5, 2019 – Further ratcheting up its call for government regulation of the technology industry, speakers at the New America’s Open Technology Institute called for government rules to limit hate speech online.

Doing so is necessary in order to solve the dichotomy of maintaining free speech while limiting hate speech online, said panelists at the think tank’s event entitled “Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet.”

United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye said that the most important question for the future of freedom of speech would be how to companies such as Facebook can increase transparency so that everyone will be able to see and understand their rules for speech on their social network.

Additionally, said Kaye, the United States government must take timely action in creating laws about hate speech and disinformation: If the U.S. doesn’t make those decisions quickly, Europe will make them instead.

Since it will be easiest for companies to universally adapt their terms of service to fit European laws, this will frame how Americans experience the platform as well – much as the European model of privacy law is already beginning to dominate, globally.

In addition to increasing transparency, New America CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter said that people besides Facebook employees should be involved in the decision-making process in the first place.

Simply increasing transparency is not enough; companies should also be conducting human rights impact assessments, said Rebecca MacKinnon, director of the Ranking Digital Rights program at New America.  She said Facebook already does this relating to government censorship, but it should also research the impacts of its terms of service, use of artificial intelligence, and targeted advertising.

The notion of “ranking digital rights” is about creating standards for internet, mobile, and telecommunications companies that incentivize them to protect user’s rights. The project by that name at New America released a Corporate Accountability Index in May scoring companies like Google and Facebook on metrics including governance, freedom of expression, and privacy.

These benchmarks have had a significant impact on policies and regulation, leading several companies to start paying more attention to human rights, said MacKinnon.

Kaye said that the best way to protect these rights is government regulation. He acknowledged that American culture traditionally resists this answer, but pointed out that increased regulation is the model being adopted and making progress on these issues across the world.

The huge volume of content being constantly created means that individual platforms will need to be the first responders to hate speech and disinformation, making some form of accountability mechanism essential.

However, Kaye cautioned that regulation can be “incredibly risky” in its potential to lead to repression of speech. The right balance should be found through “robust and symmetric public debate,” he said.

MacKinnon said that public discourse about the regulation of the internet is often dramatically oversimplified. For example, after an altered video of Nancy Pelosi spread across the internet, many said that an individual subject to such manipulation should be able to easily call for the take down such false information about themselves. But such a rule could also effectively ban any form of satire.

Kaye emphasized the need for real research around the impact of live streaming and video on incitement to violence, citing incidents such as the recent Christchurch attack.

Everything is a tradeoff, he said, pointing out other situations where streaming and video have been very positive tools.

(Photo from screenshot of event with New America CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter interviewing David Kaye.)

Reporter Em McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for the student newspaper. In addition to agency and freelance marketing experience, she has reported extensively on Section 230, big tech, and rural broadband access. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer programming skills to underprivileged children.

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Big Tech

Big Tech Must Unite Against Russian Invasion of Ukraine, Just as America and EU

The head of the Center for European Policy Analysis said America and EU need to agree on Big Tech.

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Photo of Alina Polyakova by Theadora Soter

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2022 — In the wake of Russia’s invasion on Ukraine on February 24, big tech companies are grappling with how to respond. And on Monday, many leading thinkers on the role of internet in society urged them to do more.

Technology companies in the Western world need to agree on an approach to handling misinformation regarding the invasion, said Alina Polyakova, CEO  of the Center for European Politics Analysis, speaking at the State of the Net conference here on Monday.

Polyakova’s plea came during a panel regarding the U.S. and EU relations at the annual Washington policy event that takes place during the week of the State of the Union address. She said that international tech giants were being forced to grapple with what role the might be able to play in response to the Russian invasion.

Platforms including Facebook, Google and Twitter have all significantly reduced Russian-backed ads. Meanwhile, YouTube, Meta’s Facebook and TikTok are blocking Russian media organizations, like RT and Sputnik, from using their platforms within the European Union.

But Polyakova said that tech giants shouldn’t be making these decisions without government help.

“If the United States and Europe are divided on the tech agenda front, then we’ll be divided on the values front. I think we need to start really pushing our governments to not leave companies fighting the large authoritarian states on their own,” she said.

Collective action by U.S. and EU, collective action by big tech

The implementation of aggressive sanctions, including banning many Russian banks from using the international payments system SWIFT on Saturday, demonstrated a united front, at least as Ukrainians began mounting their strong defense of their capital city Kyiv as Russian forces began attacks on the city on February 25 and Saturday.

Speaking on Monday, Polyakova said she was optimistic about the cooperation between the American and Europe, stating, “Hopefully the unity we’re seeing right now between Europe and the United States in response to Russia will be channeled into greater cooperation on this agenda as well.”

Still, the lack of a united front  by the big tech companies does create a disconnect, she said.

Twitter may flag a propaganda post from the Russian government, yet Facebook may not. That adds fuel to the fire of misinformation, Polyakova said: It hinders “our ability to counter disinformation across narratives on the online space.”

She urged general regulations of big tech. “We still don’t have just a basic, regulatory framework that will give companies some guidance on what they should or should not be doing,” she said.

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Europe

Openreach Partners With STL For Fiber Build

Openreach aims to get 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by later this decade.

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Screenshot of STL's Ankit Agarwal via YouTube

April 14, 2021 – STL, or Sterlite Technologies Limited, announced Wednesday a partnership with Openreach, the United Kingdom’s largest digital network business to expand its “Full Fiber” broadband network across the UK.

STL, a global network designer from India, will provide millions of kilometers of fiber to develop Openreach’s goal of 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by late 2020s.

“This collaboration with Openreach strengthens a 14-year-old technology and supply relationship between the two companies and further reinforces STL’s commitment to the UK market,” the company said in a statement.

Openreach will use STL’s Opticonn solution, a fiber and cable build that the company claims offers better performance and faster installation, according to the release statement. The company will also utilize STL’s new celesta ribbon cable that boasts a capacity of up to 6,912 fibers, the statement added.

“Our Full Fiber network build is going faster than ever. We need partners like STL on board to not only help sustain that momentum, but also to provide the skills and innovation to help us go even further,” Openreach’s Kevin Murphy said in a statement. “We know the network we’re building can deliver a host of social and economic benefits – from boosting UK productivity to enabling more home working and fewer commuting trips – but we’re also trying to make this one of the greenest network builds in the world.”

Ankit Agarwal, CEO of connectivity solutions business at STL, said, “our customized, 5G-ready optical solutions are ideally suited for Openreach’s future-proof network requirements and we believe they will enable next-gen digital experiences for homes and businesses across UK. This partnership will be a major step towards our mission of transforming billions of lives through digital networks,” he said in a statement.

Openreach’s network now reaches 4.5 million premises, offering gigabit-capable connection through a range of competing providers on the network, and the company is building at a rate of about 42 thousand new homes and businesses a week, according to the release.

The UK parliament has set a goal to get 85 percent of UK homes and businesses access to gigabit-speed broadband by 2025. They reported that as of September 2020, 27 percent of UK premises received that connection speed, and 95 percent have access to “superfast broadband” which the government defines as at least 30 megabits per second download speed.

Parliament acknowledged that although “superfast broadband is sufficient for most household needs today, the demand for data-intensive services such as online video streaming is increasing and can push the limits of a superfast broadband connection. The coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the need for widely available and reliable digital connectivity.”

STL is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Europe

Privacy and ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Laws Complicate Rules for Global Reporting

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Screenshot from the webinar

February 8, 2021 – When sharing content in any form, publishers need to understand the legality and impact of the content may have on foreigners, especially given the European Union’s privacy law, a panel of experts concluded at a Tuesday conference hosted by the American Bar Association.

The complexity of what is legal or illegal to publish has risen in light of continuing evolution in protecting peoples’ privacy rights.

Nowadays, some question whether the posting of mugshots in a newspaper might reveal personal bias, or promote a community of discrimination among its readers. Other news organizations have moved to take down archived stories of articles that might haunt the victims involved – otherwise known as the “right to be forgotten” – or even refrain from publishing minor crimes to protect privacy rights.

To further complicate the issue, what might be acceptable and perfectly legal to publish in one country may not be the same in another country, legal experts said at the ABA’s Communications Law Conference forum on February 2.

There are a few ways news organizations can accomplish this, said Lauren Fisher, chief legal officer at Vox Media.

When distributing content, news organizations can geoblock their audience  from sharing information widely that may run offside of foreign laws.

EU’s General Data Protection Regulation complicates global reporting

In comparing U.S. law with the EU’s stringent General Data Protection Regulation privacy law, Fisher said it would be best for a U.S. organization to have no physical or digital presence in the EU if it wants to avoid complying with GDPR requirements.

However, this is extremely difficult because the internet has no borders, and the dissemination of information online can hardly be contained.

The GDPR is crucial knowledge because it ensures U.S. companies are respecting trade agreements between the U.S. and the 27-country pact.

Relatively recently, U.S. companies have needed to ensure their audiences know precisely what is being done with the collected personal data. For example, GDPR-compliant websites now require users to transparently make clear that tracing cookies are being used. Other rules include explicit opt-in for data collection or tracking.

Difficult-to-square rules from country to country

And therein lies some of the complications: Publishing rules can vary significantly between countries.

For example, when trying to conform to EU rules, a newsroom in New York can be hamstrung by foreign privacy laws if an investigation it’s doing involves British citizens, said Randy L. Shapiro, global newsroom counsel for Bloomberg news. Reporters need to understand the legality of reporting such information, he said.

Similarly, publishing companies abroad must be aware of proper reporting rules. If a reporter from a global newspaper moves from the U.S. to the EU, their reporting practices may not be allowed through border security. This is so because it’s not just about foreign publishing issues — it’s also about domestic privacy concerns.

For example, in some jurisdictions sports athletes can sue if information about their drug test failure is leaked, on the grounds of invasion of privacy concerning medical records, said Mark Stephens, Partner at London-based

In other cases, said Gabriela Zanfir-Fortuna, senior counsel of the Future of Privacy Forum, it’s also about knowing which other countries are following GDPR rules.

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