Archive for the ‘US News’ Category

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Google logoGoogle News is limiting the reach of two Russian media outlets, RT and Sputnik, according to Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt.Schmidt said Google is de-ranking sites it claims have been spreading Russian state-sponsored propaganda. We’re trying to engineer the systems to prevent it.

However, Schmidt added that he isn’t in favor of censorship …BUT.. his company also has a responsibility to stop the misinformation.

In response of teh censorship, Sputnik quoted research psychologist Robert Epstein:

Google is deciding what people see, which is very dangerous since they are legally a tech company and do not adhere to any type of editorial standards our guidelines

What we’re talking about here is a means of mind control on a massive scale that there is no precedent for in human history, he said at the time. Research participants spent a much larger percentage of web browsing time visiting search results that were higher up. According to Epstein, biased Google results could have provided an extra 2.6 million votes in support of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race.

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PTC logoUS moralists of the Parents Television Council are calling on Hollywood to take gun violence seriously by evaluating and lowering its use on TV shows and in films. PTC President Tim Winter spouted:

We agree with Disney’s Bob Iger that gun violence should be taken seriously, and in that vein, we are calling on the entire entertainment industry to evaluate its own incessant, and ever-more-realistic daily rehearsals of gun violence — and graphic violence in general — on its TV shows and in its movies. Hollywood needs to take seriously its own role in contributing to normalizing violence. Mr. Iger and other industry leaders cannot claim their content does not have real-life impact when their very economic existence is based on advertising, the sole purpose of which is to change the behavior of each viewer.

We urge the entertainment industry to evaluate and ideally lower portrayals of violence and specifically, gun violence.

But before US campaign groups attempt to deflect people away from gun control, perhaps they could take a quick glance towards Europe. Europeans watch pretty much the same amount of violent Hollywood films and TV as American viewers. And yet suffer vastly less killing from gun rampages. A most cursory correlation of evidence suggestion that many lives are saved in Europe through our stringent gun control laws.

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Electronic Frontier Foundation EFF opposes the Senate’s Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act ( S. 1693 ) (“SESTA”), and its House counterpart the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act ( H.R. 1865 ), because they would open up liability for Internet intermediaries–the ISPs, web hosting companies, websites, and social media platforms that enable users to share and access content online–by amending Section 230’s immunity for user-generated content ( 47 U.S.C. § 230 ). While both bills have the laudable goal of curbing sex trafficking, including of minor children, they would greatly weaken Section 230’s protections for online free speech and innovation .

Proponents of SESTA and its House counterpart view Section 230 as a broken law that prevents victims of sex trafficking from seeking justice. But Section 230 is not broken. First, existing federal criminal law allows federal prosecutors to go after bad online platforms, like Backpage.com, that knowingly play a role in sex trafficking. Second, courts have allowed civil claims against online platforms–despite Section 230’s immunity–when a platform had a direct hand in creating the illegal user-generated content.

Thus, before Congress fundamentally changes Section 230, lawmakers should ask whether these bills are necessary to begin with.

Why Section 230 Matters

Section 230 is the part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that provides broad immunity to Internet intermediaries from liability for the content that their users create or post (i.e., user-generated content or third-party content).

Section 230 can be credited with creating today’s Internet–with its abundance of unique platforms and services that enable a vast array of user-generated content. Section 230 has provided the legal buffer online entrepreneurs need to experiment with news ways for users to connect online–and this is just as important for today’s popular platforms with billions of users as it is for startups.

Congress’ rationale for crafting Section 230 is just as applicable today as when the law was passed in 1996: if Internet intermediaries are not largely shielded from liability for content their users create or post–particularly given their huge numbers of users–existing companies risk being prosecuted or sued out of existence, and potential new companies may not even enter the marketplace for fear of being prosecuted or sued out of existence (or because venture capitalists fear this).

This massive legal exposure would dramatically change the Internet as we know it: it would not only thwart innovation in online platforms and services, but free speech as well. As companies fall or fail to be launched in the first place, the ability of all Internet users to speak online would be disrupted. For those companies that remain, they may act in ways that undermine the open Internet. They may act as gatekeepers by preventing whole accounts from being created in the first place and pre-screening content before it is even posted. Or they may over-censor already posted content, pursuant to very strict terms of service in order to avoid the possibility of any user-generated content on their platforms and services that could get them into criminal or civil hot water. Again, this would be a disaster for online free speech. The current proposals to gut Section 230 raise the exact same problems that Congress dealt with in 1996.

By guarding online platforms from being held legally responsible for what thousands or millions or even billions of users might say online, Section 230 has protected online free speech and innovation for more than 20 years.

But Congress did not create blanket immunity. Section 230 reflects a purposeful balance that permits Internet intermediaries to be on the hook for their users’ content in certain carefully considered circumstances, and the courts have expanded upon these rules.

Section 230 Does Not Bar Federal Prosecutors From Targeting Criminal Online Platforms

Section 230 has never provided immunity to Internet intermediaries for violations of federal criminal law –like the federal criminal sex trafficking statute ( 18 U.S.C. § 1591 ). In 2015, Congress passed the SAVE Act, which amended Section 1591 to expressly include “advertising” as a criminal action. Congress intended to go after websites that host ads knowing that such ads involve sex trafficking. If these companies violate federal criminal law, they can be criminally prosecuted in federal court alongside their users who are directly engaged in sex trafficking.

In a parallel context, a federal judge in the Silk Road case correctly ruled that Section 230 did not provide immunity against federal prosecution to the operator of a website that hosted other people’s ads for illegal drugs.

By contrast, Section 230 does provide immunity to Internet intermediaries from liability for user-generated content under state criminal law . Congress deliberately chose not to expose these companies to criminal prosecutions in 50 different states for content their users create or post. Congress fashioned this balance so that federal prosecutors could bring to justice culpable companies while still ensuring that free speech and innovation could thrive online.

However, SESTA and its House counterpart would expose Internet intermediaries to liability under state criminal sex trafficking statutes. Although EFF understands the desire of state attorneys general to have more tools at their disposal to combat sex trafficking, such an amendment to Section 230 would upend the carefully crafted policy balance Congress embodied in Section 230.

More fundamentally, it cannot be said that Section 230’s current approach to criminal law has failed. A Senate investigation earlier this year and a recent Washington Post article both uncovered information suggesting that Backpage.com not only knew that their users were posting sex trafficking ads to their website, but that the company also took affirmative steps to help those ads get posted. Additionally, it has been reported that a federal grand jury has been empaneled in Arizona to investigate Backpage.com. Congress should wait and see what comes of these developments before it exposes Internet intermediaries to additional criminal liability.

Civil Litigants Are Not Always Without a Remedy Against Internet Intermediaries

Section 230 provides immunity to Internet intermediaries from liability for user-generated content under civil law–whether federal or state civil law. Again, Congress made this deliberate policy choice to protect online free speech and innovation.

Congress recognized that exposing companies to civil liability would put the Internet at risk even more than criminal liability because: 1) the standard of proof in criminal cases is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” whereas in civil cases it is merely “preponderance of the evidence,” making the likelihood higher that a company will lose a civil case; and 2) criminal prosecutors as agents of the government tend to exercise more restraint in filing charges, whereas civil litigants often exercise less restraint in suing other private parties, making the likelihood higher that a company will be sued in the first place for third-party content.

However, Section 230’s immunity against civil claims is not absolute. The courts have interpreted this civil immunity as creating a presumption of civil immunity that plaintiffs can rebut if they have evidence that an Internet intermediary did not simply host illegal user-generated content, but also had a direct hand in creating the illegal content. In a seminal 2008 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Fair Housing Council v. Roommates.com held that a website that helped people find roommates violated fair housing laws by “inducing third parties to express illegal preferences.” The website had required users to answer profile questions related to personal characteristics that may not be used to discriminate in housing (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, and the presence of children in the home). Thus, the court held that the website lost Section 230 civil immunity because it was “directly involved with developing and enforcing a system that subjects subscribers to allegedly discriminatory housing practices.” Although EFF is concerned with some of the implications of the Roommates.com decision and its potential to chill online free speech and innovation, it is the law.

Thus, even without new legislation, victims of sex trafficking may bring civil cases against websites or other Internet intermediaries under the federal civil cause of action ( 18 U.S.C. § 1595 ), and overcome Section 230 civil immunity if they can show that the websites had a direct hand in creating ads for illegal sex. As mentioned above, a Senate investigation and a Washington Post article both strongly indicate that Backpage.com would not enjoy Section 230 civil immunity today.

SESTA and its House counterpart would expose Internet intermediaries to liability under federal and state civil sex trafficking laws. Removing Section 230’s rebuttable presumption of civil immunity would, as with the criminal amendments, disrupt the carefully crafted policy balance found in Section 230. Moreover, victims of sex trafficking can already bring civil suits against the pimps and “johns” who harmed them, as these cases against the direct perpetrators do not implicate Section 230.

Therefore, the bills’ amendments to Section 230 are not necessary–because Section 230 is not broken. Rather, Section 230 reflects a delicate policy balance that allows the most egregious online platforms to bear responsibility along with their users for illegal content, while generally preserving immunity so that free speech and innovation can thrive online.

By dramatically increasing the legal exposure of Internet intermediaries for user-generated content, the risk that these bills pose to the Internet as we know it is real. Visit our STOP SESTA campaign page and tell Congress to reject S. 1693 and H.R. 1865 !

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stop youtube banning bible US catholics have become an early victim of newly introduced censorship measure from YouTube presumably because their teaching is considered offensive due to politically incorrect attitudes towards gays and abortion. Catholic Online writes:

More media organizations are criticizing YouTube’s increasingly oppressive soft censorship policies which are now eliminating mainstream news reports from the video sharing network. Many content creators on YouTube are losing millions in revenue as the Google-owned firm reduces and cuts off payments in pursuit of profits and control.

YouTube is censoring content though various indirect means even if that content does not violate any terms of service. The Google-owned firm is removing content that it deems inappropriate or offensive, and is taking cues from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The result seems to be a broad labeling of content, and the suppression of even mainstream news. Many of Catholic Online’s bible readings have been caught up in YouTube’s web of suppression, despite containing no commentary or message other than the reading of the scriptures.

YouTube is not a government agency but a private platform, so it is free to ban or restrict content as it pleases them. Therefore, their policies, no matter how arbitrary, are not true censorship. However, the firm is practicing what some call soft censorship.

Soft censorship is any kind of activity that suppresses speech, particularly that which is true and accurate. It takes many forms. For example, broadcasting celebrity gossip in place of news is a form of soft censorship. Placing real news lower in search results, preventing content from being shared on social media, or depriving media outlets of ad revenue for reporting on certain topics, are all common forms of soft censorship.

For some unknown reason, Catholic Online has also been targeted by these policies. Saints videos and daily readings are the most common targets. None of this content can be considered objectionable by any means, and none of it infringes on YouTube’s terms and conditions. It is suspected that anti-Christian bigotry, such as that promoted by liberal extremist organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, are to blame.

The problem for content creators and media organizations is that there are few places for them to go. Most video viewing takes place on YouTube, and there are no video hosting sites as well known and widely used as YouTube. Other sites also restrict content and some don’t share revenues with content creators. This makes YouTube a monopoly; they are literally the only show in town.

The time has come for governments around the world to recognize that Facebook, Google, and YouTube control the public forum. If freedom of speech is to be protected, then these firms must be compelled to abide by free speech rules.

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doj logoThe U.S. Department of Justice has indicated it will end Operation Choke Point, the repressive program that discouraged banks from offering financial services to a range of companies it deemed objectionable.

Critics of the program that was initiated during the Obama administration said it was hurting legitimate businesses such. Adult entertainment companies were also affected.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd referred to the program as a misguided initiative in a August 16 letter to House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte. In the DOJ’s letter obtained by Politico, Boyd said, We share your view that law abiding businesses should not be targeted simply for operating in an industry that a particular administration might disfavor.

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dreamhost logoThe US internet company DreamHost is fighting government demands for it to hand over details of millions of activists.The Department of Justice (DoJ) wants all visitors’ IP addresses – some 1.3 million – to a website that helped organise a protest on the day of President Trump’s inauguration. In addition to the IP addresses, DreamHost said that the DoJ requested the contact information, email content and photos of thousands of visitors.

DreamHost is currently refusing to comply with the request and is due in court on 18th August,

In a blog post on the issue, DreamHost said that, like many other online service providers, it was regularly approached by law enforcement about customers who may be the subject of criminal investigations. But, it added, it took issue with this particular search warrant for being a highly untargeted demand.

Civil liberties group The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is helping DreamHost fight its case, said: No plausible explanation exists for a search warrant of this breadth, other than to cast a digital dragnet as broadly as possible.

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sony clean versionSony have been regularly ‘sanitizing’ their movies but cutting down the violence and strong language so as to make them suitable for children. These versions are targeted at airlines and daytime TV but earlier this month Sony decided to make these sanitised versions available to download at home, choosing 24 titles:

50 First Dates, Battle Of The Year, Big Daddy, Captain Phillips, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Easy A, Elysium, Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, Goosebumps, Grown Ups, Grown Ups 2Hancock, Inferno, Moneyball, Pixels, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2Step Brothers, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, White House Down

The censorship cuts are typically very extreme. For example, the clean version of Will Ferrell comedy Step Brothers – originally given an R rating for crude and sexual content according to Sony – has had 23 instances of violence taken out, 152 of bad language and 91 of sexual content.

The Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler romcom 50 First Dates had a PG13 for crude sexual humour and drug references. Its clean version has 10 violent moments taken out, 34 uses of bad language and 34 instances of sexual content.

Matt Damon sci-fi film Elysium , which also had an R rating for bloody violence, had 18 of those violent moments taken out, 63 uses of bad language and one instance of sexual content.

Horror comedy Goosebumps was a PG when it came out – so could be described as family-friendly already. But its clean version had four fewer incidences of violence, with five uses of bad language and five examples of nudity taken out too.

But now they’ve had to backtrack after filmmakers complained about the vandalisation of their works. After an outcry, the president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Man Jit Singh, said their directors were of paramount importance to us and they wanted to respect those relationships to the utmost:

We believed we had obtained approvals from the film-makers involved, for use of their previously supervised television versions as a value-added extra on sales of the full version. But if any of them are unhappy or have reconsidered, we will discontinue it for their films.

Seth Rogen was one of the first to react when news of Clean Version emerged. He pleaded, adding a swear word for emphasis, please don’t do this to our movies.

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) has said the hard-fought-for rights that protect a director’s work and vision are at the very heart of our craft and a thriving film industry.