YouTube Bans Firearms Demo Videos, Entering the Gun Control Debate ( 646

YouTube has quietly introduced tighter restrictions on videos involving weapons, becoming the latest battleground in the U.S. gun-control debate. "YouTube will ban videos that promote or link to websites selling firearms and accessories, including bump stocks, which allow a semi-automatic rifle to fire faster," reports Bloomberg. "Additionally, YouTube said it will prohibit videos with instructions on how to assemble firearms." From the report: "We routinely make updates and adjustments to our enforcement guidelines across all of our policies," a YouTube spokeswoman said in a statement. "While we've long prohibited the sale of firearms, we recently notified creators of updates we will be making around content promoting the sale or manufacture of firearms and their accessories." The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry lobbying group, called YouTube's new policy "worrisome." "We suspect it will be interpreted to block much more content than the stated goal of firearms and certain accessory sales," the foundation said in a statement. "We see the real potential for the blocking of educational content that serves instructional, skill-building and even safety purposes. Much like Facebook, YouTube now acts as a virtual public square. The exercise of what amounts to censorship, then, can legitimately be viewed as the stifling of commercial free speech."

The new YouTube policies will be enforced starting in April, but at least two video bloggers have already been affected. Spike's Tactical, a firearms company, said in a post on Facebook that it was suspended from YouTube due to "repeated or severe violations" of the video platform's guidelines.


Senate Passes Controversial Online Sex Trafficking Bill ( 162

The Senate today gave final approval to a bill aimed at cracking down on online sex trafficking, sending the measure to the White House where President Trump is expected to sign it into law. From a report: The legislation, called the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), but also referred to as SESTA, would cut into the broad protections websites have from legal liability for content posted by their users. Those protections are codified in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act from 1996, a law that many internet companies see as vital to protecting their platforms and that SESTA would amend to create an exception for sex trafficking.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the most outspoken critic of SESTA and one of the authors of the 1996 law, said that making exceptions to Section 230 will lead to small internet companies having to face an onslaught of frivolous lawsuits.
EFF expressed its disappointment, saying, "Today is a dark day for the Internet. Congress just passed the Internet censorship bill SESTA/FOSTA. SESTA/FOSTA will silence online speech by forcing Internet platforms to censor their users. As lobbyists and members of Congress applaud themselves for enacting a law ostensibly tackling the problem of trafficking, let's be clear: Congress just made trafficking victims less safe, not more. Sex trafficking experts have tried again and again to explain to Congress how SESTA/FOSTA will put trafficking victims in danger. Sex workers have spoken out too, explaining how online platforms have literally saved their lives. Why didn't Congress consult with the people their bill would most directly affect? [...] When platforms choose to err on the side of censorship, marginalized voices are censored disproportionately. SESTA/FOSTA will make the Internet a less inclusive place, something that hurts all of us. This might just be the beginning. Some of these groups behind SESTA / FOSTA seem to see the bill as a mere stepping stone to banning pornography from the Internet."

EU Wants To Require Platforms To Filter Uploaded Content (Including Code) ( 110

A new copyright proposal in the EU would require code-sharing platforms like GitHub and SourceForge to monitor all content that users upload for potential copyright infringement. "The proposal is aimed at music and videos on streaming platforms, based on a theory of a 'value gap' between the profits those platforms make from uploaded works and what copyright holders of some uploaded works receive," reports The GitHub Blog. "However, the way it's written captures many other types of content, including code."

Upload filters, also known as "censorship machines," are some of the most controversial elements of the copyright proposal, raising a number of concerns including: -Privacy: Upload filters are a form of surveillance, effectively a "general monitoring obligation" prohibited by EU law
-Free speech: Requiring platforms to monitor content contradicts intermediary liability protections in EU law and creates incentives to remove content
-Ineffectiveness: Content detection tools are flawed (generate false positives, don't fit all kinds of content) and overly burdensome, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that might not be able to afford them or the resulting litigation
Upload filters are especially concerning for software developers given that: -Software developers create copyrightable works -- their code -- and those who choose an open source license want to allow that code to be shared
-False positives (and negatives) are especially likely for software code because code often has many contributors and layers, often with different licensing for different components
-Requiring code-hosting platforms to scan and automatically remove content could drastically impact software developers when their dependencies are removed due to false positives
The EU Parliament continues to introduce new proposals for Article 13 but these issues remain. MEP Julia Reda explains further in a recent proposal from Parliament.

Encrypted Email Service ProtonMail is Being Blocked in Turkey ( 35

ProtonMail: We have confirmed that Internet service providers in Turkey have been blocking ProtonMail this week. Our support team first became aware of connectivity problems for Turkish ProtonMail users starting on Tuesday. After further investigation, we determined that was unreachable for both Vodafone Turkey mobile and fixed line users. Since then, we have also received some sporadic reports from users of other Turkish ISPs. At one point, the issue was prevalent in every single major city in Turkey. After investigating the issue along with members of the ProtonMail community in Turkey, we have confirmed this is a government-ordered block rather than a technical glitch. Internet censorship in Turkey tends to be fluid so the situation is constantly evolving. Sometimes ProtonMail is accessible, and sometimes it is unreachable. For the first time ever though, we have confirmed that ProtonMail was subject to a block, and could face further issues in the future. In the post, ProtonMail has also outlined ways to bypass the block.

Sri Lanka Blocks Facebook, Instagram To Prevent Spread of Hate Speech ( 123

Sri Lanka has blocked social media websites Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to avoid the spread of hate speech in the country, local media reported on Wednesday. From the report: Even though there is no official confirmation from the authorities, the Cabinet Spokesman Minister Rajitha Senaratne on Wednesday said the government has decided to block access to certain social media. Telecom Regulatory Commission (TRC) has started to monitor all social media platforms to curb hate speech related to communal riots escalated in Kandy district. Telecommunication service providers (ISPs) have also restricted internet access in Kandy district on the instructions of the TRC.

Twitter Asks For Help Fixing Its Toxicity Problem ( 155

Engadget: Twitter has come under a lot of fire in recent years for issues ranging from not doing enough to stop harassment on its platform to allowing foreign actors to sow political discord. In the past, the company has tweaked its tools, giving individuals more options when it comes to controlling what they're exposed to online, as well as updated its guidelines a handful of times. But today, Twitter announced it's trying out another route -- asking people outside of the company to propose ways that it can promote healthy, open and civil conversations online. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted today that the company isn't proud of how some have taken advantage of its service, specifically calling out troll armies, misinformation campaigns and bots. And he added that Twitter has been accused of apathy, censorship and political bias as it has attempted to fix its problems.

YouTube's New Moderators Mistakenly Pull Right-Wing Channels ( 277

In December, said it would assign more than 10,000 people to moderate content in an attempt to curb its child exploitation problem. Today, Bloomberg reports that those new moderators mistakenly removed several videos and some channels from right-wing, pro-gun video producers and outlets in the midst of a nationwide debate on gun control. From the report: Some YouTube channels recently complained about their accounts being pulled entirely. On Wednesday, the Outline highlighted accounts, including Titus Frost, that were banned from the video site. Frost tweeted on Wednesday that a survivor of the shooting, David Hogg, is an actor. Jerome Corsi of right-wing conspiracy website Infowars said on Tuesday that YouTube had taken down one of his videos and disabled his live stream. Shutting entire channels would have marked a sweeping policy change for YouTube, which typically only removes channels in extreme circumstances and focuses most disciplinary action on specific videos. But YouTube said some content was taken down by mistake. The site didn't address specific cases and it's unclear if it meant to take action on the accounts of Frost and Corsi. "As we work to hire rapidly and ramp up our policy enforcement teams throughout 2018, newer members may misapply some of our policies resulting in mistaken removals," a YouTube spokeswoman wrote in an email. "We're continuing to enforce our existing policies regarding harmful and dangerous content, they have not changed. We'll reinstate any videos that were removed in error."

China Bans Letter N From Internet as Xi Jinping Extends Grip on Power ( 196

Speaking of things the Chinese government has been censoring in the country, The Guardian reports: It is the 14th letter in the English alphabet and, in Scrabble, the springboard for more than 600 8-letter words. But for the Communist party of China it is also a subversive and intolerable character that was this week banished from the internet as Chinese censors battled to silence criticism of Xi Jinping's bid to set himself up as ruler for life. The contravening consonant was perhaps the most unusual victim of a crackdown targeting words, phrases and even solitary letters censors feared might be used to attack Beijing's controversial decision to abolish constitutional term limits for China's president. The Communist party has painted the move -- which experts say paves the way for Xi to become a dictator for life -- as an expression of overwhelming popular support for China's strongman leader. However, there has been widespread online push-back in China since it was announced on Sunday on the eve of an annual political congress in Beijing.

China Censors Social Media Responses To Proposal To Abolish Presidential Terms ( 163

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Negative social media reactions in China toward the government's interest in abolishing presidential term limits have sparked a crackdown on memes since Sunday evening. China's constitution currently restricts the president and vice-president to 10 years of leadership, meaning that President Xi Jinping would have been out of power by 2023. The Party's Central Committee proposed removing a phrase in the constitution that stated the two leaders would "serve no more than two consecutive terms," according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Authorities will vote on the proposal in March. Many took to social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo with Winnie the Pooh memes, as the animated bear resembles President Xi Jinping to some degree. Winnie the Pooh has been associated with Xi for years and this week, he donned a crown and sat on a throne, enjoying his honey pot. These memes and social media posts were then taken down, hours after the Committee's announcement, signaling that the public's reaction was more unfavorable than authorities predicted. An assortment of phrases have been filtered out by new censors, including "constitution amendment," "re-elected," "proclaim oneself as emperor," and "two term limit." The lag time between the censorship and the initial proposal indicates authorities expected the public to react less critically.

HBO's Fahrenheit 451 Trailer Teases Dystopian World Filled With Burning 'Chaos' ( 171

HBO has released the first trailer of its film adaptation of Ray Bradbury's best-selling 1953 dystopian tale, Fahrenheit 451, which depicts a time period where history is outlawed and "firemen" burn books. The Hollywood Reporter reports: In the Ramin Bahrani-directed film, Michael B. Jordan stars as Guy Montag, a fireman who comes to question his role in enforcing the state's censorship laws, and in so doing finds himself at odds with his "mentor," Beatty (Michael Shannon). "By the time you guys grow up, there won't be one book left," Jordan is shown telling a group of students. Throughout the trailer, a reel of destruction is shown as Beatty's voiceover warns that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." "We are not born equal, so we must be made equal by the fire," Beatty explains. Jordan will also serve as the film's executive producer. Sofia Boutella, Martin Donovan, Laura Harrier, Keir Dullea, Jane Moffat and Grace Lynn Kung also star.

Reddit Bans 'Deepfakes' AI Porn Communities ( 110

Reddit has banned the r/deepfakes subreddit that's devoted to making AI-powered porn using celebrities' faces, classifying it as a form of "involuntary pornography." Reddit follows several other platforms that have already banned deepfakes pornography, including Pornhub, which said yesterday that deepfakes imagery counted as nonconsensual pornography. The Verge reports: In a post today, Reddit announced an update to its rules on posting sexual imagery of a person without their consent. The new rule extends a ban on posting photos or video of people who are nude or engaged in sexual acts without the subject's permission, saying that this includes "depictions that have been faked" -- including the sophisticated face-swapped videos that have become especially popular on Reddit over the past month. "Do not post images or video of another person for the specific purpose of faking explicit content or soliciting 'lookalike' pornography."

This doesn't affect all AI-based face swapping enthusiasts on Reddit. The subreddit for FakeApp, a program that allows anyone to swap faces in videos, is still online. So is r/SFWdeepfakes, which is devoted to non-pornographic use of the technology. At least one small, specific subreddit devoted to simulated porn for an individual actor also seems to have slipped under the radar. But along with the central deepfakes hub, the main subreddit for posting not-safe-for-work deepfakes has gotten shut down, and so has the community r/YouTubefakes. The subreddit r/CelebFakes, which focused on non-AI-powered photoshopped pornographic images, was initially left online, but removed shortly after the announcement.
The site will rely on "first-party reports" to shut down future deepfakes material.

Facebook Users Cry 'Censorship' After Being Told Which Russian Troll Pages They Liked ( 487

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: As the FBI's investigation into Russian election interference reaches a fever pitch, Facebook rolled out a new News Feed alert Monday night. The bulletin told users who followed pages created by Russian trolls that those pages have been removed. And some of the affected users did not like this. A brief search revealed that numerous people believe that this is an act of censorship by Facebook. Some users argued that they should be allowed to decide what's "true, fake, or otherwise," a challenge that's bound to be a slippery slope in this era of algorithm-based confirmation bias. Others took on a more conspiratorial tone, claiming that Facebook failed to reveal which pages were removed (despite the alert containing a link listing the pages in question). Facebook first released the information in December, creating a help page that showed users if they liked or followed pages and accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency, Russia's notorious troll farm, but today's alert seems to have inspired newfound alarm. The fact that Facebook explicitly stated which pages were deleted seems to have done little to reduce the anger over the allegedly clandestine silencing.

A Single Line of Computer Code Put Thousands of Innocent Turks in Jail ( 180

Long-time Slashdot reader kbahey writes: Can a single pixel cost you your livelihood and/or freedom? Apparently, this has already happened in Turkey to thousands of people and their relatives. It all stems from the purge by president Edrogan following a failed coupe. The result is that many innocent people lost their jobs (and source of income), their freedom, their reputation, and more.

The details are frightening. The underlying technology is the use of 1x1 transparent pixels, as most web sites do, to track their visitors. This particular pixel was used by Bylock, a messaging app that the Turkish government deemed seditious, in their purge against Fethullah Gulen loyalists. Pre-dawn raids by police were conducted on those who have this pixel. The long legal proceedings caused a digital forensic expert to challenge those cases, because [the pixel using] the servers for Bylock was also being used by other applications for music streaming, and prayer times/direction of Mecca.

30,000 innocent people may have been swept up among the 150,000 Turks detained, arrested or forced from their jobs under state of emergency decrees since the summer of 2016. One 29-year-old high school teacher "wished the worst" for the revolutionaries accused of using Bylock, "until authorities said he was one of them."

The government eventually exonerated 11,480 of the wrongly accused, but some had already spent months in prison, and reportedly some even committed suicide.

How Millions of Iranians Are Evading Internet Censors ( 48

schwit1 quotes the Wall Street Journal: Authorities in Tehran have ratcheted up their policing of the internet in the past week and a half, part of an attempt to stamp out the most far-reaching protests in Iran since 2009. But the crackdown is driving millions of Iranians to tech tools that can help them evade censors, according to activists and developers of the tools. Some of the tools were attracting three or four times more unique users a day than they were before the internet crackdown, potentially weakening government efforts to control access to information online. "By the time they wake up, the government will have lost control of the internet," said Mehdi Yahyanejad, executive director of NetFreedom Pioneers, a California-based technology nonprofit that largely focuses on Iran and develops educational and freedom of information tools.
Wired calls it "the biggest protest movement in Iran since the 2009 Green Movement uprising," criticing tech companies which "continue to deny services to Iranians that could be crucial to free and open communications."

France's President Macron Wants To Block Websites During Elections To Fight 'Fake News' ( 299

French President Emmanuel Macron has a rather extreme approach to combat fake news: ban entire websites. In a speech to journalists on Wednesday, Macron said he planned to introduce new legislation to strictly regulate fake news during online political campaigns. Gizmodo reports: His proposal included a number of measures, most drastically "an emergency legal action" that could enable the government to either scrap "fake news" from a website or even block a website altogether. "If we want to protect liberal democracies, we must be strong and have clear rules," Macron said. "When fake news are spread, it will be possible to go to a judge... and if appropriate have content taken down, user accounts deleted and ultimately websites blocked."

Macron, himself a target of election interference, also outlined some less extreme measures in his speech yesterday. He proposed more rigid requirements around transparency, specifically in relation to online ads during elections. According to the Guardian, Macron said the legislation would force platforms to publicly identify who their advertisers are, as well as limit how much they can spend on ads over the course of an election campaign.


Toutiao, One of China's Most Popular News Apps, is Discovering the Risks Involved in Giving People Exactly What They Want Online ( 29

The New York Times reports: One of the world's most valuable start-ups got that way by using artificial intelligence to satisfy Chinese internet users' voracious appetite for news and entertainment. Every day, its smartphone app feeds 120 million people personalized streams of buzzy news stories, videos of dogs frolicking in snow, GIFs of traffic mishaps and listicles such as "The World's Ugliest Celebrities." Now the company is discovering the risks involved, under China's censorship regime, in giving the people exactly what they want. The makers of the popular news app Jinri Toutiao unveiled moves this week to allay rising concerns from the authorities (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source).

Last week, the Beijing bureau of China's top internet regulator accused Toutiao of "spreading pornographic and vulgar information" and "causing a negative impact on public opinion online," and ordered that updates to several popular sections of the app be halted for 24 hours. In response, the app's parent company, Beijing Bytedance Technology, took down or temporarily suspended the accounts of more than 1,100 bloggers that it said had been publishing "low-quality content" on the app. It also replaced Toutiao's "Society" section with a new section called "New Era," which is heavy on state media coverage of government decisions.


Germany Starts Enforcing Hate Speech Law ( 545

Germany is set to start enforcing a law that demands social media sites move quickly to remove hate speech, fake news and illegal material. From a report: Sites that do not remove "obviously illegal" posts could face fines of up to 50m euro ($60m). The law gives the networks 24 hours to act after they have been told about law-breaking material. Social networks and media sites with more than two million members will fall under the law's provisions. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube will be the law's main focus but it is also likely to be applied to Reddit, Tumblr and Russian social network VK. Other sites such as Vimeo and Flickr could also be caught up in its provisions.

Congo Shuts Down Internet Services 'Indefinitely' ( 88

On Saturday Engadget wrote: Authoritarian leaders are fond of severing communications in a bid to hold on to power, and that tradition sadly isn't going away. The Democratic Republic of Congo's government has ordered telecoms to cut internet and SMS access ahead of planned mass protests against President Joseph Kabila, whose administration has continuously delayed elections to replace him. Telecom minister Emery Okundji told Reuters that it was a response to "violence that is being prepared," but people aren't buying that argument. Officials had already banned demonstrations, and the country has history of cutting communications and blocking social network access in a bid to quash dissent.
And today in the wake of deadly protests, Congo announced that the internet shutdown will continue "indefinitely." The New York Times reports: At least eight people were killed and a dozen altar boys arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday after security forces cracked down on planned church protests against President Joseph Kabila's refusal to leave office before coming elections... Congolese security forces set up checkpoints across Kinshasa, and the government issued an order to shut down text messaging and internet services indefinitely across the country for what it called "reasons of state security."

Iran Cuts Internet Access and Threatens Telegram Following Mass Protests ( 156

Long-time Slashdot reader cold fjord writes: As seething discontent has boiled over in Iran leading to mass protests, protesters have taken to the streets and social media to register their discontent... The government has been closing schools and shutting down transportation.

Now, as mass protests in Iran go into their third day there are reports that internet access is being cut in cities with protests occurring. Social media has been a tool for documenting the protests and brutal crackdowns against them. Iran previously cut off internet access during the Green Movement protests following the 2009 elections. At the same time the Iranian government is cutting internet access they have called on Telegram, reportedly used by more than 40 million Iranians, to close the channels used by protesters. Telegram is now closing channels used by the protesters while Telegram itself may be shut down in Iran.


Facebook's Uneven Enforcement of Hate Speech Rules Allows Vile Posts To Stay Up ( 171

ProPublica has found inconsistent rulings on hate speech after analyzing more than 900 Facebook posts submitted to them as part of a crowd-sourced investigation into how the world's largest social network implements its hate-speech rules. "Based on this small fraction of Facebook posts, its content reviewers often make different calls on items with similar content, and don't always abide by the company's complex guidelines," reports ProPublica. "Even when they do follow the rules, racist or sexist language may survive scrutiny because it is not sufficiently derogatory or violent to meet Facebook's definition of hate speech." From the report: We asked Facebook to explain its decisions on a sample of 49 items, sent in by people who maintained that content reviewers had erred, mostly by leaving hate speech up, or in a few instances by deleting legitimate expression. In 22 cases, Facebook said its reviewers had made a mistake. In 19, it defended the rulings. In six cases, Facebook said the content did violate its rules but its reviewers had not actually judged it one way or the other because users had not flagged it correctly, or the author had deleted it. In the other two cases, it said it didn't have enough information to respond.

"We're sorry for the mistakes we have made -- they do not reflect the community we want to help build," Facebook Vice President Justin Osofsky said in a statement. "We must do better." He said Facebook will double the size of its safety and security team, which includes content reviewers and other employees, to 20,000 people in 2018, in an effort to enforce its rules better. He added that Facebook deletes about 66,000 posts reported as hate speech each week, but that not everything offensive qualifies as hate speech. "Our policies allow content that may be controversial and at times even distasteful, but it does not cross the line into hate speech," he said. "This may include criticism of public figures, religions, professions, and political ideologies."

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