Welcome to the Media Law Roundup September 12, 2014 — a survey of the week’s developing media news.
The Fight for Net Neutrality
On Wednesday, September 10, major websites joined together in defense of net neutrality. Netflix, Reddit, and other major sites posted images of the “spinning wheel of death” on their pages to signify what the internet may look like if US Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler allows internet service providers to create internet fast lanes for users willing to pay a fee. The Internet Slowdown was met with skepticism regarding its efficacy, however, the Battle for the Net’s page reveals that more than two million people took part in the Internet Slowdown, resulting in a total of 777,364 comments filed to the FCC. Nearly five million comments have been filed since March 1.
Google Seven-City Tour on the Right to be Forgotten
Google has set up a seven-city tour to discuss how best to comply with the May 2014 European Court of Justice “right to be forgotten ruling.” The ruling states that people have the right to request that Google and similar search engines remove certain search results that individuals deem outdated, embarrassing, or damaging. Google argues that the ruling conflicts with the “right to information.” Some critics of the ruling have likened it to censorship, while others view the ruling as an opportunity to rid the internet of “blackmail material.” The tour’s council includes Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, the Spanish data protection regulator Jose-Luis Pinar, two academics, a former justice minister from Germany, United Nations official Frank La Rue, and Google representatives in general counsel David Drummond and Google chairman Eric Schmidt. The tour has already completed its stops in Madrid and Rome, and will continue on through Paris (September 25), Warsaw (September 30), Berlin (October 14), London (October 16), and Brussels (November 4).
Twitter’s policies regarding freedom of expression have come under intense scrutiny in the past month as the company faces decisions on how to handle certain content shared amongst its members. The images from the beheading of journalist James Foley were shared across the site until the Foley family requested that Twitter take them down. The same was done for doctored photos of the late comedian Robin Williams at the request of his family. The Wall Street Journal broke down the differences in policy amongst Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook and found that, while the other two sites say no to graphic violence, nudity, and hate speech by default, and offer a list of few exceptions, Twitter says yes to each of the above, with limited exceptions.
The Independence (Or Not) of Scotland
On September 18, Scotland will vote on a referendum that will determine whether the country secedes from the United Kingdom. The past week saw a significantly narrowed gap between pro-union and pro-independence respondents, causing UK politicians to rearrange their schedules to go to Scotland and advocate for the union. Though the vote is considered too close to call, pro-independence campaigns are dominating the media. A pro-union campaign video by No Thanks featuring a housewife who struggles to make a decision about where to cast her vote received scorn from both sides of the debate and prompted a slew of parody videos. The @YesScotland campaigns are also more active on Twitter, with 81,000 followers compared to 37,200 for the @UK_Together account for the Better Together campaign.
Google experienced its own security scrutiny earlier this week when a list of five million Gmail passwords was leaked on a Russian bitcoin site. Though this would typically be cause for concern, many of the leaked passwords appear to be outdated or not linked to the corresponding Gmail accounts at all. Mashable explains it in this way: if someone signed up on a website using their Gmail account and then entered their password, they may have shown up as paired on the leaked list, but may not be the password that’s actually linked to that Gmail account. Additionally, several of leak victims have noted that emails on the list are outdated. Those most at risk as a result of this leak are people who frequently reuse the same password across all accounts. Visit this site to check that your email address has not been compromised, and always remember to change passwords regularly.
On September 11, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, approved a bill that allows the Turkish telecommunication authority (TIB) to, without a court order, block access to webpages that it deems a threat to public order or national security, in addition to sites it believes will perpetuate crime. The new bill also allows data storage for up to two years, the information from which could conceivably be used to track individual users across the web. This news follows the 2014 Internet Governance Forum, which was hosted in Istanbul two weeks ago. As a host, Turkey faced criticism for its double standards regarding media policy. Annenberg-Oxford alumnus Yusuf Salman summarizes the law in this way: “In short, the government decided to shorten the process [of blocking websites] and declare anyone guilty by the world of the TIB’s director.”
Latvia harbors some concerns over the high volume of Russian propaganda coming over its airwaves. Russia has been utilizing its own media to attempt to sway public opinion in Latvia regarding the situation in Ukraine. Latvian foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics, has responded negatively to the propaganda, noting that the Latvian government will block whatever can be considered hate speech. Latvia previously blocked one Russian channel for three months after an announcer described Russia as “the only country in the world that can really turn the USA into radioactive ash.” Ainars Dimants, who heads the Electronic Mass Media Council that was responsible for blocking the channel, called this “a violation of our law regarding propaganda of war which is prohibited.”