Welcome to the Media Law Roundup October 10, 2014 — a survey of the week’s developing media news.
The Facebook Real Names Debate Continues:
Last month, Facebook began cracking down on users whose profiles displayed pseudonyms rather than the users’ real names. The policy’s intention was to eliminate names that include nicknames, offensive words, or symbols, but wound-up angering several groups of users who are using Facebook under assumed names. While refugees and people fleeing from abusive homes have been presented as users who would require pseudonyms, the loudest outcry has come from the LGBTQ community. The real name policy is “an issue of identity and inclusion.” Drag queens and transgenders may identify as a name other than that which appears official identification, and people who have yet to come out to their families and friends may wish to keep their real world and digital identities separate. Caitlin Dewey of the Washington post argues that the situation is a Catch-22: force the use of real names, and the LGBTQ community, along with several aforementioned others, are at risk. Allow pseudonyms, and users comfortably sheltered by anonymity will be almost impossible to hold to account. Facebook apologized to the LGBTQ community last week, and has promised to work with the drag community in order to find a workable solution.
Reporting on ISIL:
Reporting from inside Syria is increasingly more dangerous and difficult as journalists are denied entrance to the country or find themselves, should they gain access, being captured or killed. Agence France-Presse has stated that it will “no longer accept work from freelance journalists who travel to places where we ourselves would not venture.” The goal of this statement is to disincentives those who wish to report on Syria and to prevent them from “being used as a vehicle for hateful, ultra-violent propaganda.” Journalists who do find themselves in a position to report on Syria have been asked to comply with a new set of rules issued by ISIL itself. The eleven-point list starts by demanding that correspondents “swear allegiance to the Caliph…they are subjects of the Islamic State and, as subjects, they are obliged to swear loyalty to their imam.”
Rich Kids of Tehran:
The “Rich Kids of Tehran” Instagram account, which gained over ninety thousand followers in less than a month of activity, was abruptly shut down on Thursday, October 9 after being censored in Iran. The account garnered significant attention from a variety of media outlets, reaching 98,000 followers after sites such as Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post reported on it. “Rich Kids of Tehran” showcased young Iranians as they lounged in and around expensive y houses, pools, and restaurants. It was reported on Thursday morning that Iran had censored access to the Instagram account, likely because the photographs often showed young Iranians drinking alcohol and female subjects with their heads uncovered. Both of these actions are prohibited by law in Iran. An Iranian IT consultant working in London told the Times, “Many of [those Instagramming] have fathers who are untouchable. If they get in trouble, it will disappear.” The “Rich Kids of Tehran” Instagram account spawned a rival account, “Poor Kids of Tehran,” which criticized “Rich Kids” for highlighting the privileged lives of a few while so many in Iran (more than half in the year 2011) live in poverty. An administrator for “Rich Kids of Tehran” put out a disclaimer saying that the account’s only intention was “to show the world the good side of Iran. Every time Iran is mentioned on TV or news, they always talk negatively and we are trying to show the good side.” The page now reads that it has been “shut down due to the high amount of false publicity.”
Digital Freedom in the UK:
The head of the UK’s National Crime Agency called for the government to be granted greater surveillance powers in order to protect national security. Keith Bristow, director general of NCA, said that he was pushing for the public’s consent for new powers, stating: “If we seek to operate outside of what the public consent to, that, for me, by definition, is not policing by consent…the consent is expressed through legislation.” Bristow’s comments could be seen as a dig at the surveillance abuse disclosed by Edward Snowden. “The Snowden revelations have damaged public confidence in our ability […] to access and use data in an appropriate and proportionate way.” The call for increased powers came on the heels of controversy after it was revealed that the NCA used its current powers to discover a journalist’s source after a judge ruled that the UK Mail did not need to reveal the source. Incidents such as this one have led to inquiries on the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which has been criticized as outdated and having been abused.
Twitter Sues the US Government:
Twitter has become the most recent company to sue the US government for the right to disclose information on government surveillance requests to its users. The government previously reached settlements with companies such as Microsoft and Google after they argued that the First Amendment gave them the authority to reveal their own role in government surveillance. Twitter, however, has decided to take the matter to court in order to get an official ruling. “I think it’s pretty clear a judge will find this an unconstitutional restraint,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Nate Cardozo in reference to government restrictions on transparency reports. “I would be more than surprised if Twitter backed down.” While some, like Securonix chief marketing officer Sharon Vardi, are viewing Twitter’s move as a PR stunt, the director of the Open Technology Institute of the New America Foundation, Kevin Bankston, notes that if Twitter wins, nobody loses. “If they are not making a lot of requests, that helps reassure users of Twitter because users’ trust has been shaken by the NSA revelations. If it shows broad or expansive use of a specific authority, that could spur change in law by Congress.”
Russia and the Media War:
The Moscow Times spoke out against Russian propaganda in an October 6 article, which cited examples of news framing to argue that Russia hoped to use its news station RT to “prevent a coordinated and resolute response from the West” regarding its actions in Ukraine. This is just one of the manyarticles written regarding Russia’s fight to influence the media beyond their borders. A recent Harvard study shows that Russia may not have as much support from Russian speakers in Ukraine as is generally believed. The study found that Russian-speaking Ukrainians were largely supportive of protests against Russia and the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. The findings are in contrast to general assumptions that Ukrainian and English speakers were in favor to the protests while Russian speakers were opposed to them. Researchers found that Russian speakers in Russia were almost evenly divided between support and opposition, at least at the beginning of the conflict. One possible explanation, offered by Bruce Etling of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, is that internet use has influence. “People online are more educated, have greater resources–these people may be demographically more inclined to support greater Ukrainian connection with the West.”