Facebook, other Internet censorship

This video from the USA says about itself:

US Activists Say Facebook Shut Down Their Pages

1 August 2018

Facebook on Tuesday announced its banning of eight pages, 17 profiles, and seven Instagram accounts.

It said it banned those with “inauthentic” political activity who “abused” the platform.

At least one of the pages deleted was run by a group of real Americans.

They said Facebook falsely accused them of “unwittingly” helping to plan a protest in Washington, DC.

“We are not bots. We are not influenced by any Russians. We are local organizers.” Andrew Batcher, a Shut It Down DC organizer.

The activists were planning a counter-protest to coincide with a planned neo-Nazi rally in Washington, DC.

“This was a shortsighted gambit to appease legislators, avoid regulatory action, and protect the wealth of Facebook shareholders.

Read more here.

By Andre Damon in the USA:

Facebook censorship targets the left

3 August 2018

One year ago, workers and young people throughout the world were horrified by a neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Nazis held torch-lit marches, chanting “Jews will not replace us”, gave the Nazi salute, flew flags with swastikas, and marched in Ku Klux Klan uniforms. One of the fascists rammed a car into a counter-demonstration, murdering one woman and injuring 35 others.

Earlier this year, the organizers of the August 12, 2017 Charlottesville rally, known as “Unite the Right”, announced a plan to hold another demonstration on its anniversary, this time in Washington D.C. In response, over a dozen left-wing organizations and dozens of prominent individuals, including whistleblower Chelsea Manning, called a counter-protest on the same day.

As part of a campaign to block what it called “divisive”, “violent,” and “extremist” activity, Facebook, working in conjunction with US intelligence agencies, announced Tuesday that it had blocked not the Nazi rally, but an event page for the demonstration protesting it.

Facebook justified its action by declaring that the counter-protest was set up by a group that showed signs of “inauthentic activity”, a claim that it backed up with neither details nor evidence.

The statements accompanying Facebook’s action make clear that the blocking of the counter-demonstration is a deliberate effort to repress and criminalize left-wing political views, setting a far-reaching and dangerous precedent.

Facebook’s blog post announcing the blocking of the event, together with 32 other accounts, cited an analysis by the Atlantic Council think-tank noting that all the accounts targeted by Facebook were left-wing, including accounts opposing police violence, attacks on immigrants, and the Trump administration’s promotion of fascist groups.

The Atlantic Council’s report said the pages shut down by Facebook targeted “the left of the political spectrum”, and “sought to promote divisions and set Americans against one another.”

The accounts promoted “protests against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. President Donald Trump’s tax plan” and “protests against Trump’s Muslim ban.”

Both Facebook’s post and the Atlantic Council report are filled with Orwellian and authoritarian language. Who is Facebook to determine what constitutes “inauthentic activity”, a term so broad as to be capable of including anything? And who gave Facebook the right to shut down pages that “promote divisions,” as if such divisions do not already exist, with no need of being “promoted,” in a society characterized by historically unparalleled levels of social inequality?

These themes were continued in a hearing by the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday featuring testimony from “security” companies and think-tanks closely aligned with the US intelligence agencies.

Renee DiResta is Director of Research at New Knowledge, a consultancy firm that claims to protect the reputations of businesses from what it calls “suspicious communities”,

DiResta said “malign narratives” have “existed for a very long time”, but in “today’s influence operations” the “propaganda is shared by our friends, often in the form of highly effective, shareable, immediately graspable memes.”

“Disinformation, misinformation, and social media hoaxes have evolved from a nuisance into high-stakes information war”, she said.

With reference to “fake” ads run ahead of the 2016 election, she noted that the accounts promoted statements “targeting the left”. aiming “to paint Secretary Clinton in a negative light as compared to candidates Jill Stein or Senator Bernie Sanders.”

She noted that such “Influence operations” are increasingly appealing to “ideological true believers” and “non-state extremists.” In other words, they are directed at people fed up with the capitalist system and looking for a socialist or left-wing alternative—the implication being that such conceptions are “extremist” and must be criminalized.

Another participant in the hearing, Graphika CEO John W. Kelly, said that “automated accounts” on the “extremes” of the political spectrum “produce as many as 25 to 30 times the number of messages per day” as “genuine political accounts across the mainstream.”

A definite narrative is being created, resurrecting American anti-Communism’s long tradition of labeling “outside agitators” as the source of “social disturbances.” Any political viewpoint critical of capitalism is to be labelled an “inauthentic influence operation” promoted by “extremists”, and therefore liable for suppression by the state and the technology monopolies.

In so doing, the factions of the state aligned with the Democratic Party and the intelligence agencies, who are locked in a bitter factional battle with Trump over issues related to foreign policy, find themselves in alliance with the White House against the emergence of left-wing political opposition. This has manifested itself, in this case, in an effort to target those protesting a fascist rally, and, by extension, the defense and legitimization of the fascists.

The moves to delegitimize and criminalize political opposition by all factions within the US political establishment must be understood in class terms. After decades of continuous upward redistribution of wealth, three people now control as much wealth as the bottom half of American society. Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, has a net worth of $143 billion.

This financial oligarchy, together with a broader periphery within the top 10 percent of income earners who have also been enriched by the boom in share values, see themselves besieged by an angry and hostile working class that is increasingly turning to socialist politics.

Amidst stagnating or declining real wages, endless cuts to health care and pensions and a string of major contracts expiring over the next several months, the stage is set for an eruption of militant labor struggles unlike anything seen since the sit-down strikes of the 1930s.

Under these conditions, the ruling elite sees the criminalization and suppression of independent political opposition as a vital necessity in the defense and expansion of its social privileges. The creation of an apparatus of mass censorship by Facebook, Google, and Twitter is a vital weapon in the hands of the ruling elite in this life-and-death class struggle.

But the eruption of workers’ struggles that the oligarchy so fears also provides the only basis for defending fundamental democratic rights. In their coming struggles, workers will take up the demand for the free and open Internet and freedom of speech as part of a mass movement, in the United States and internationally, to overturn the capitalist system and establish a socialist society.

Washington anti-nazi poster

By Christoph Vandreier in Germany:

Technology giants use Germany’s Network Enforcement Law to delete tens of thousands of comments

By Christoph Vandreier

3 August 2018

Six months after Germany’s Network Enforcement Law (Netz DG) came into force, it has become clear that under the pretext of combatting “fake news” and “hate comments”. the legal framework for the all-out censorship of the Internet has been established, as the World Socialist Web Site warned from the outset.

Last Friday, the three main social network operators presented their transparency reports, in which they must document the deleting of comments in connection with the Network Enforcement Law every six months. The reports confirm that Google, Facebook, and company have seized on the law to launch a massive assault on freedom of speech and erect a comprehensive regime of censorship.

Within the framework of Netz DG, Google’s video platform YouTube deleted or blocked 58,297 comments alone in the first half of 2018. The deletions resulted from 214,827 complaints, meaning they had a success rate of 27 percent. The largest number of complaints, a total of 75,829, concerned “hate speech or political extremism”; 24,804 deletions were carried out in this area, equating to a success rate for the complaints of 33 percent. On the social network Google+, fully 46 percent of comments about which complaints were made were deleted.

The figures for Facebook are somewhat lower, but nonetheless remain high. Twenty-one percent of the comments about which complaints were raised were deleted. The total of 1,704 complaints and 362 deleted comments is lower because Facebook relies heavily on its own deletion mechanisms and makes it very difficult for users to submit a complaint under Netz DG. The company recently acknowledged that it deletes a total of 15,000 comments per month in Germany. On Twitter, the 11 percent deletion rate from 264,000 complaints was somewhat lower.

However, all of these figures are high when one considers that it is relatively straightforward to submit a complaint to the social media operators. It can be done online and is usually completed within a few clicks. The fact that complaints generated in this way are resulting in comments being deleted at a rate of up to 46 percent shows that the companies are deleting content on a mass scale.

Most of the complaints reviewed by the three major operators are not examined for unlawful conduct. For example, YouTube considered only 28 percent of the complaints that resulted in the deletion of a comment in connection with the criminal offences set out in Netz DG. The remainder were deleted because they violated the internal community guidelines at YouTube.

The extremely low level of complaints to the Ministry of Justice about the failure of social media operators to delete comments shows that far more were deleted than lawfully required. The Justice Department initially anticipated that at least 25,000 people would file complaints with the government due to the failure of companies to delete comments in spite of complaints. By July 23, only 585 such complaints had ultimately been submitted.

The so-called “overblocking”—the blocking en masse of non-criminal content—is not merely a byproduct of Netz DG, but its essential purpose. The law compels operators of an Internet platform with more than 2 million members to delete or block “clearly illegal content within 24 hours of receipt of the complaint.” Cases where the issue is less clear have a deadline of seven days. If a company fails to comply, they face a fine of up to €50 million.

To guard against these fines, the companies prefer to delete content if in doubt. This is because there is no punishment for deleting comments which do not violate the law. In this way, the Internet giants are not merely being transformed into judges of content, but also encouraged by the state to delete as much as possible.

A review of the cases thus far in which comments have been deleted or blocked confirms that what is involved here is not the struggle against “hate comments” or “fake news”, but the massive restriction of free speech. Although the transparency reports give no details about the content of the deleted comments, several prominent cases have come to light in recent months.

They show that it is chiefly anti-fascist comments and those critical of the fascist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) that have fallen victim to censorship. Early this year, a comment by Sophie Passmann was blocked by Twitter on the basis of Netz DG. The satirist had been making fun of right-wing nationalism, writing, “As long as the tradition of watching Dinner for One on New Year’s Eve continues, the refugees are welcome to come here and destroy our culture.” Twitter deemed this to be unlawful.

Around the same time, the satirical magazine Titanic was blocked after mocking the AfD deputy leader Beatrix von Storch [anti-Semitic granddaughter of Adolf Hitler’s Finance Minister]. After Storch railed against “barbaric hordes of Muslim male rapists”, Titanic wrote, “Why do the German police actually use Arabic numbers? I won’t dial 110 if the barbaric hordes want to rape me!”

In February, YouTube censored an anti-AfD video after members of the far-right party complained about it. “For over two years, you’ve agitated against refugees on a daily basis from morning till night as if nothing else matters. This is just as pathetic as today’s politics”, stated the video in closing.

The censorship drive within the framework of Netz DG is part of a broader development. Due to growing opposition in the working class to its policies of anti-refugee xenophobia, war, and social attacks, the ruling elite is resorting ever more openly to censorship and repression. The major corporations are working hand-in-glove with the state apparatus to enforce this.

Since April 2017, Google, in close collaboration with the German government, has been censoring left-wing and progressive web sites, including the World Socialist Web Site in particular. Web sites are downgraded in search results by so-called “evaluators” if they do not conform to the desired opinion.

In May, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg explained to the European Parliament how closely his organisation collaborates with governments to eliminate oppositional content and to ensure that no undesirable content is spread during election campaigns. As is the case with Netz DG, these measures were portrayed as a struggle against “fake news”.

In the future, Facebook will work with “tens of thousands of independent fact checkers in every country and every language” and will use artificial intelligence to filter out “problematic content” and “false information”, he stated. “Our goal over the coming years is going to be developing the AI systems and hiring the staff necessary to be able to proactively review more of the content as it’s coming into the system,” added Zuckerberg. It is an “arms race”, but “significant progress” is being made, he said.

Facebook, banking and privacy: here.

UK Parliament “fake news” report demands sweeping internet censorship: here.

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