How Does Content Moderation Affect Human Rights? Commentary on the Case of Infowars

By Vivian Ng and Sabrina Rau

On 6 August 2018, Apple, Facebook and Spotify removed content from Alex Jones’s Infowars pages and accounts on their platforms, which were seen to be spreading conspiracy theories and hate speech. YouTube also terminated Alex Jones’s channel. These recent actions followed the takedown of four of Infowars’ YouTube videos earlier last month. While Twitter did not immediately take any action, they later suspended Alex Jones’s account for seven days on 15 August, citing violation of their rules on abusive behaviour and inciting violence. These companies have removed content or terminated these accounts on grounds that they violated the terms of service.

Much of the reporting has been critical of companies who are perceived to have not done enough, or acted quickly enough, to remove content from Alex Jones and Infowars. The attention seems to centre on whether such platforms have acted appropriately and adequately to combat misinformation and disinformation spread by entities like Infowars. For example, while Twitter has since taken action regarding Alex Jones’s account, it had been criticised for not suspending the separate Infowars Twitter account as well. Google and Apple have also been criticised for not removing the Infowars app on their app stores. These issues are important but commentary has been lacking on the broader significance of the current news around the actions platforms are taking regarding the content and accounts of Infowars and Alex Jones. More fundamentally, what role do companies have in content moderation, and how should that role be carried out? This post will look at the role that social media platforms play in the realisation of the right to freedom of expression in particular, and consider if and how content moderation by private companies that own and control such platforms can be compliant with human rights standards and norms.

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‘Doxing’ and White Nationalist’s Right to Privacy

By Ajay Sandhu & Daniel Marciniak

Introduction

The recent clash in Charlottesville, Virginia between rival protestors over a statue memorialising a general in the Confederate Army has raised long-debated questions about the extent to which members of hate groups – in this case white nationalists – can expect the protections of certain rights and freedoms. The most recognisable of these questions is “to what extent does the freedom of speech protect racist comments publicly stated by white nationalists?” This question has made its way to the US Supreme Court several times, including earlier this year when the justices denied the possibility of a “hate speech exception” to the first amendment. As white nationalists have found a safe haven in the freedom of speech and support from free speech advocates, anti-racist movements have found alternative methods of trying to silence expressions of racism.

In an era of social media, these alternative methods have included “doxing” which refers to the online collection and exposure of private and/or identifying information about white nationalists, often in an effort to critique racism, stigmatise white nationalists, and deter further expressions of white nationalism. As doxing requires the exposure of personal information online, new questions about the rights and freedoms of white nationalists has emerged; to what extent can members of hate groups expect their privacy to be respected? and what are the present and future consequences of denying white nationalists’ privacy? This blog expands on these questions by considering the potential impact of anti-racist doxing campaigns including the risky consequences of denying white nationalists’ their privacy. Continue reading

Recap of UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression’s Mission to Japan

By Sanae Fujita

The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye, conducted an official visit to Japan from 12 to19 April 2016. This blog presents a brief recap of the Rapporteur’s key findings relating to journalism in Japan, and notes allegations that the mission, and those assisting it, were subject to surveillance.  Continue reading

The Aftermath of Charleston: the Confederate Flag and a Right to Being Dixie?

In their response to the utterly premediated and brutal murder of nine African-Americans at prayer in Charleston, South Carolina gun lobby spokesmen repeated the formulaic mantra that the best way to avoid such catastrophes is not to restrict homicidal racists’ legal right to bear arms, but to ensure that their victims have unrestricted access to guns also: the Emmanuel Episcopal Church, after all, had the temerity to ban guns amongst the congregation. The massacre of the nine Christians in Charleston will not, I fear, serve as the catalyst for establishing some form of sanity within US gun culture and the constitutional protection it enjoys. It has, however, provoked a surprising and potentially highly significant campaign, which is singling out the confederate flag as a symbol of racism and hatred. People from across different political, racial and social groupings are openly calling upon the removal of the flag from various public sites; from outside the state capitol building of South Carolina to car registration plates across several Southern states. Items bearing the flag’s distinctive image have even been removed from the shelves of large retailers.  The confederate flag is being culturally and politically re-branded. Not everyone thinks that this is a good thing. Some even argue that the campaign to render the flag socially and culturally taboo amounts to a violation of their rights.

By Dr. Andrew Fagan, University of Essex.

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