Media Law Roundup: January 30th

Welcome to the Media Law Roundup, a survey of the week’s developing media news. 

American Flag Emojis Rain Down on Chinese Users of Messaging App

The WeChat messaging service attempted to celebrate Martin Luther King Day through the use of one of its emoji showers, which occur when certain words trigger a downpour of emojis from the top of the messaging screen. On January 19, 2015, using the words “civil rights” in WeChat messaging triggered a shower of tiny American flag emojis for not only American users but Chinese users as well. The Committee of the Communist Youth League responded negatively to the news,  questions WeChat’s intentions and stating that they had “also tried keywords like ‘National Day,’ ‘China,’ and ‘Five-Starred Red Flag,’ but nothing happens!” The group’s response went on to read, “Tencent’s WeChat group, what do you mean by this? My meaning is very clear, America can’t represent civil rights.” Tencent, the creators of WeChat, apologized in a Weibo blog post, stating that the presence of the American flag emoji showers was only meant for its American users, and that a technical glitch had allowed them to appear for Chinese users.


Social Media-Based Arrests in Ten Countries

On January, 25, 2015, Index Censorship posted a list of ten countries that have arrested citizens for comments posted on social media. The list includes the United States, which made the list for arresting a man who tweeted police movements to protesters. Several of the countries on the list, such as Turkey, have well-documented histories of internet censorship. Turkey arrested its former Miss Turkey for posting a poem that the government deemed critical of Turkish President Erdogan. The remaining countries on the list are as follows: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, France, Britain, China, Australia, India, and Guatemala.


Facebook Censors Mohammad Images

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a #JeSuisCharlie statement in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks that emphasized Facebook’s commitment to free speech. On January 26, 2015, however, the BBC reported that Facebook had complied with Turkish government requests to block pages that insulted Prophet Muhammad. Professor Alan Woodward, a security expert from Surrey University, said that, because Facebook has users from around the world, “They have to respect local traditions and customs. They are obliged to obey the laws of the country-the key is transparency.” In contrast, Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post’s Intersect blog finds Facebook’s behavior hypocritical. In her article on Facebook’s takedown compliance, she notes that Zuckerberg is dedicated to building a platform that honors free speech “…as long as what you say follows the censorship laws in your country, and as long as said country doesn’t ask [Facebook] to take it down.”


Turkey Threatens To Block Twitter

The Turkish government has been pressuring Twitter to block the account of the Turkish left-wing newspaper BirGun. BirGun  has been using its account to disseminate information that the government claims violates national security. The paper tweeted images of documents related to a military raid on trucks from the Turkish Intelligence Agency that were headed to Syria. According to the leaked documents, the military police found that the trucks contained weapons that were intended for Al Qaeda. The Turkish government has strenuously denied the accusations, saying instead that the trucks contained humanitarian aid for Turkmen in Syria. Twitter removed tweets from the BirGun account that had been listed in the government’s court order, but it has not blocked the newspaper’s account. Twitter spokesperson Nu Wexler said, “Out of the almost 60,000 tweets on the account, Twitter withheld access in Turkey to the small number of tweets that discussed the national security issue referenced in the order. We continue to work diligently to protect the rights of our users and preserve access for millions of Twitter users in Turkey.” Twitter was previously blocked in Turkey for two weeks during March, after reports of planned military operations in Syria were leaked.


Social Media Experts Track UK Jihadis

The United Kingdom has been using social media to monitor British citizens who have become members of ISIL. The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) uses Facebook and Twitter to track and gather information from and about jihadists, including the identities of various ISIL members. Such information allows the ICSR to “create or exploit dissent,” according to Shiraz Maher, a fellow at ICSR, who adds that, “before social media you would have needed to have recruited spies.” Professor Peter Neumann, who leads the center, claims that the center’s efforts are successful due to the limited pool of data from which it is able to draw. “The NSA collects everything but doesn’t often have the capacity to make sense of it. We have a much more limited amount of material, but we’re able to exploit that to maximum effect.” Despite its success, it is increasing difficult for ICSR to track jihadists as jihadists have become more careful as social media sites are cracking down on posts from known jihadists. “From both ends the information is getting a little bit narrower,” said Neumann.


Police Ask Waze to Remove Police Locator Feature

Police officers have asked the social navigation app Waze to remove a feature that allows users to note cop car positions. The cop-tracking feature allows users to warn each other of speed traps (cops waiting to catch drivers going above the speed limit), which is a protected form of speech. Bedford County, VA Sheriff Mike Brown has called Waze a “police stalker” app, arguing that the app threatens officer security. The ambush and murder of two cops as they sat in their patrol car was used as an example of the potential dangers of Waze, though proponents of the app have noted that this example is inapplicable, as the murderer in question had abandoned his phone prior to the killings. Additionally, the cop cars are pointed out in public space. Dave Maass of the Electronic Frontier Foundation considers the police criticism duplicitous. “Police for years have been arguing that what you do in the public space isn’t private. They’ve said they can have facial recognition, they can have automatic license plate readers, and that people have no expectation of privacy. But when the tables are turned, then that’s dangerous?”



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