Free Speech

by Tim Cushing


Filed Under:
takedowns, terms of service, transparency

Companies:
twitter



Twitter Reports On Government Agencies Using 'Report Tweet' Function To Block Terrorism-Related Content

from the reporting-the-reporters dept

Twitter's latest Transparency Report contains a new section that shows some governments may be trying to use Twitter's own rules to achieve censorious goals. Legislators and misguided lawsuit plaintiffs have been complaining for years social media services don't do enough to curtail terrorists and terrorism-related content. This has been the subject of multiple lawsuits and multiple Congressional hearings.

However, governments can only do so much to pressure social media services into regulating content. If the government steps in to set the rules, then it crosses the line. The US government has, so far, been unwilling to act as a direct censor of content. Other governments have no qualms about censorship, but have found their efforts somewhat blunted by Facebook, Twitter, etc. being US-based companies, where compliance with foreign directives is a nicety, not a legal requirement. Of course, both companies have voluntarily acted as local censors in response to foreign laws and legal threats.

Fortunately for these governments, Twitter has a way to let them achieve their censorship goals without having to resort to legal threats or new legislation. The new way to control content lies in the site's terms of service, as the Twitter blog post points out.

For the latest reporting period (July - December 2016), this new section is limited to data about government reports to remove content in violation of Twitter’s terms of service (TOS) against the promotion of terrorism. This does not include any legal requests, regardless of whether they result in a TOS violation, which will continue to be published in our Removals Requests report.

For the last six months of 2016, Twitter received reports on nearly 6,000 accounts from a total of 716 reports by government agencies. The numbers aren't broken down any further than that, so there's no telling which governments are utilizing this reporting system most. All Twitter is reporting is that less than 2% of account suspensions are the result of government reports and that it's refused to act on 15% of government-reported accounts. Each account is counted only once, even if there are multiple reports or multiple tweets reported by government agencies.

So, does this government reporting qualify as censorship? It only would with Twitter's help. If Twitter is only removing legitimate requests for terrorism-related content, then government agencies are being treated no differently than any private citizen reporting similar content. If it's suspending accounts or removing tweets simply because the reporting government doesn't like what's being said (or who's saying it), then it's acting as a censorious extension of the reporting government.


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 3:49am

    One man's terrorist is anothers freedom fighter

    We can all agree seeing a prisoner getting beheaded in a propaganda view is terrorist content.

    We can all agree that depicting a leader as Gollum might be seen as terrorism by some, but not by many.

    The problem is there is no clear line, because it is a murky area. Terrorism is the first go-to used by repressive regimes, for actions that many would consider free speech (ignoring that isn't provided for in that countries laws).

    In the US, we have legislators who think showing an AG Corp. abusing animals & horrible practices that put the public at risk are terrorism.

    Terrorism is becoming far to common place of a word, applied to every bad thing that happens. It no longer has the same impact it once had because it is used first & often to cover a wide myriad of things. Terrorism is in the eye of the beholder, even if a majority of people would disagree.

    Being in the undesirable position of the final arbitrator just leaves Twitter stuck in having to take the blame for just trying to comply with all of the demands. Every decision will most likely offend someone as censorship, and given some governments massive online 'armies' how easily can Twitter just do what is demanded because of what appears to be massive outrage?

    Twitter can't really show their work on a separate page like the Lumen database. Showing the reported tweets & the decisions made, and who made the request would still give actual terrorist content a platform & be used to garner support with sympathetic people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 5:40am

      Re: One man's terrorist is anothers freedom fighter

      Don't be ridiculous. There's a very simple, clear, objective distinction to be made: legitimate freedom fighters fight against an oppressive regime, and attack government and military targets in the hopes of destabilizing their oppressors; terrorists attack civilians in the hopes of instilling terror in the populace.

      There's plenty of room for ambiguity in this world; please don't try to inject more where none exists.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2017 @ 8:31am

        Re: Re: One man's terrorist is anothers freedom fighter

        As far as my dictionary defines it, terrorism is the use of violence or intimidation, especially against civilians, to achieve political or military aims.

        I'd say there's plenty of ambiguity, especially as to why most of our lawmakers somehow don't make the cut; FUD seems to be a favorite tactic of everyone.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 7:38am

      Re: One man's terrorist is anothers freedom fighter

      _One man's terrorist is anothers freedom fighter We can all agree seeing a prisoner getting beheaded in a propaganda view is terrorist content.

      We can all agree that depicting a leader as Gollum might be seen as terrorism by some, but not by many.

      The problem is there is no clear line, because it is a murky area. Terrorism is the first go-to used by repressive regimes, for actions that many would consider free speech (ignoring that isn't provided for in that countries laws)._

      No - terrorism has a pretty clear definition.

      Terrorism means vilent actions, taken not because they achieve a direct result but because of the psychological impact it will have on the opponent.

      It is perfectly possible to be a terrorist AND a freedom fighter at the same time.

      When the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki it was terrorism - because the military value of those targets was less than that of targets that had already been hit just as hard by conventional means. However those actions had not provoked a Japanese surrender. However the terror effect of nuclear weapons produced that result.

      Since the US was engaged in a fight for freedom at the time the aircrew who dropped the bombs were simultaneously (objectively) freedom fighters AND terrorists.

      In the present case of course ISIS will tell you that their prophet said "I have been made victorious with terror". They would probably have more of a problem with being described as "freedom" fighters - since their creed is definitely nothing to do with freedom.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bergman (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 10:44am

        Re: Re: One man's terrorist is anothers freedom fighter

        A head of state/commander in chief is a legitimate military target -- whether your weapon of choice is a long rifle, a laser guided bomb or weaponized satire (he really DOES resemble Gollum).

        If you are using asymmetric warfare against legitimate military targets, then you are a freedom fighter no matter what the people you oppose call you.

        If you're attacking civilian targets to scare those civilians you didn't attack into doing something different, then it doesn't matter what you call yourself -- you're a terrorist.

        George Washington did both in his life. The US government routinely commits acts of terrorism -- the only difference between a drone strike on a wedding and the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center is that the drone operator lacks the courage to put his own life on the line for his convictions.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 4:09am

    Once you enter that slippery slope there's no stopping the descent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2017 @ 4:30am

    Considering that governments define any opposition to their rule as terrorism, this will be abused to try and stop protest movements from getting organized,

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    discordian_eris (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 5:03am

    They're All Terrorists

    According to the US governments definition I can't think of a single high level government official that is NOT engaged in terrorism against their own citizens. Section (B)(i) is especially problematic with regards to the Trump administration. If I'm reading this right, then many of his executive orders are instruments of terrorism, plain and simple. Hell, the recently withdrawn AHCA fits (B)i and (B)ii to a tee, and possibly (B)iii.

    Definitions that are hard coded into the law can be just as big a security breach as security keys hard coded in software. But potentially far more devastating. After all, you can't patch the law the second Tuesday of every month.

    18 Us Code s2331
    (5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—
    (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
    (B) appear to be intended—
    (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
    (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
    (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
    (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      The Wanderer (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 5:11am

      Re: They're All Terrorists

      Er... you can't think of a single high-level government official who is not engaged in "acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State"?

      For one random example, I don't remember any indication that FCC chair Ajit Pai is doing that - or that the Register of Copyrights is, or the Librarian of Congress. Or, for that matter, Rex Tillerson, the current Secretary of State.

      (If I'm reading the quoted text correctly, for something to qualify as "domestic terrorism", it has to satisfy all of A, B, and C; it just doesn't have to satisfy all of the possible options for B.)

      There are certainly terrorism definitions out there in the laws of various places which are overly broad and problematic, but this one seems relatively good at a glance to my eye.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        discordian_eris (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 6:24am

        Re: Re: They're All Terrorists

        I think the key word in the statute is the 'or' between bii and biii. It puts any of the three in play. I guess I should have stated that the way that Federal and State laws are interpreted by US Attorneys and the courts make almost literally everyone a criminal. See all of the coverage on this site about how the laws are misapplied, misinterpreted and misused.

        Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent by Harvey Silverglate and various other books show how the law makes it a matter of whether a particular US Attorney wants to see you in jail that determines your fate. My point is that, as written, anyone at a high level in the government routinely makes decisions that can be considered deleterious to human life. Even DeVos makes decisions of that scale. There really is no good definition of terrorist or terrorism beyond 'I know it when I see it'. And like the obscenity reference, it lends itself to mischief all too easily. A lot of it really boils down to perception, and as we have seen recently, perception can be easily manipulated. My worry is that some idiot in Congress or the White House will peg to this. Not necessarily Trump or Ryan or whomever. The definitions and precedents make it all too plausible for someone to use things like for purely political purposes. While this begs for some good old fashioned schadenfreude, this is just potent of a weapon for anyone to be allowed to have.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          The Wanderer (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 7:01am

          Re: Re: Re: They're All Terrorists

          Yes, B(i), B(ii), and B(iii) are linked by "or" - but A, B, and C are linked by "and".

          I'm aware of the "three felonies a day" thing, but very few of those felonies involve "acts dangerous to human life".

          You might be able to argue that some of the things which various high-level government officials are doing are dangerous to human life, but I think it would be much harder to support the claim that those same things are also violations of US criminal law.

          You might equally well be able to argue that some of the things which those officials are doing are violations of US criminal law, but I'd think it would be much harder to support the claim that those same things are dangerous to human life.

          Unless the official is doing one thing which both violates US criminal law and is dangerous to human life, that official does not meet clause A, and therefore does not qualify as a terrorist under this law. And I'm having a hard time thinking of possible examples of such things for most of the high-level officials I know by name in the current US government.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 7:26am

        Re: Re: They're All Terrorists

        No? Actively screwing US citizens into monopolistic and crappy broadband by doing the exact opposite people want is not that kind of terrorism considering how pervasive the internet is to our daily lives? Really?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          The Wanderer (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 8:07am

          Re: Re: Re: They're All Terrorists

          How is that both dangerous to human life and a violation of US criminal law?

          Please understand, I'm not saying it's not wrong, or that it necessarily isn't appropriate to call it terrorism. (That latter would be another conversation entirely.)

          The original comment appeared to be claiming that high-level US government officials are more-or-less all committing terrorism by the US government's own definition. All I'm saying is that the actions I see don't seem to qualify under the given definition.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 27 Mar 2017 @ 10:47am

      Re: They're All Terrorists

      By that statute, the US government became a terrorist organization the first time they made a military attack on a civilian function -- hitting a wedding with a drone strike, or taking out a US citizen and his children together because it's too much bother to go arrest him.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 27 Mar 2017 @ 6:00am

    I tried to use Twitter to get a bunch of people to come help me dump a bunch of tea into Boston Harbor in protest of taxes from the UK.

    Unfortunately, they removed my tweets and disabled my account.

    Bummer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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