US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order which removed some of the legal protections given to social media platforms, few days after his Twitter fact-checking row.
Speaking to newsmen while signing the order which gives regulators the power to pursue legal actions against firms such as Facebook and Twitter for the way they police content on their platforms, the US President said the move was to “defend free speech from one of the gravest dangers it has faced in American history”.
Trump said: “A small handful of social media monopolies controls a vast portion of all public and private communications in the United States.
“They’ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter, virtually any form of communication between private citizens and large public audiences.”
Under Section 230 of the US law, social networks are not generally held responsible for content posted by their users, but can engage in “good-Samaritan blocking” such as removing content that is obscene, harassing or violent.
The executive order however points out that this legal immunity does not apply if a social network edits content posted by its users, and calls for legislation from Congress to “remove or change” section 230. Mr Trump said Attorney General William Barr will “immediately” begin crafting a law for Congress to later vote on. It also says “deceptive” blocking of posts, including removing a post for reasons other than those described in a website’s terms of service, should not be offered immunity.
The executive order also calls for:
the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to spell out what type of content blocking will be considered deceptive, pretextual or inconsistent with a service provider’s terms and conditions a review of government advertising on social-media sites and whether those platforms impose viewpoint-based restrictions
the re-establishment of the White House “tech bias reporting tool” that lets citizens report unfair treatment by social networks
The order also accuses social media platforms of “invoking inconsistent, irrational, and groundless justifications to censor or otherwise punish Americans’ speech here at home.” It specifically cites Twitter for “selectively” applying warning labels to “certain tweets.” It also faults Google for helping the Chinese government surveil its citizens; Twitter for spreading Chinese propaganda; and Facebook for profiting from Chinese advertising.
In a long-shot legal bid, the order seeks to curtail the power of large social media platforms by reinterpreting a critical 1996 law that shields websites and tech companies from lawsuits.
Legal observers described the action as “political theater”, arguing that the order does not change existing federal law and will have no bearing on federal courts. They also argued that it be unconstitutional because it risks infringing on the First Amendment rights of private companies, and because it attempts to circumvent the two other branches of government.
Twitter has however described Trump’s order as “a politicized approach to a landmark law,” saying attempts to erode the decades-old legal immunity may “threaten the future of online speech and Internet freedoms.”
Google, which owns YouTube, said changing Section 230 would “hurt America’s economy and its global leadership on internet freedom.”
Google told BBC: “We have clear content policies and we enforce them without regard to political viewpoint. Our platforms have empowered a wide range of people and organizations from across the political spectrum, giving them a voice and new ways to reach their audiences.”
Facebook also pushed back at the executive order. The social media platform’s spokesperson, Andy Stone said in a statement;
“By exposing companies to potential liability for everything that billions of people around the world say, this would penalize companies that choose to allow controversial speech and encourage platforms to censor anything that might offend anyone.”
This is coming after the US President told his followers on Twitter to “stay tuned” after the social media platform applied a fact-check on two of his tweets, including one that claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud.
Offering its explanation for doing so, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey said the claim might “mislead people into thinking they don’t need to register to get a ballot.”
US Formally Withdraws From World Health Organisation
The Trump administration has formally withdrawn the United States from the World Health Organisation (WHO), breaking ties with the international health body as the country’s death toll from coronavirus surpassed 130,000.
The US notice of withdrawal, effective from July 6 2021, was formally submitted to the United Nations secretary-general, the depository for the WHO, on Monday, a senior administration official told The Telegraph of UK.
Bob Mendez, a Democratic senator for New Jersey, revealed Congress had been notified of the decision on Tuesday as he criticised the move, pointing out that the country was still “in the midst of a pandemic.”
“Congress received notification that POTUS (President of the United States) officially withdrew the US from the @WHO in the midst of a pandemic,” Senator Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote on Twitter.
The withdrawal follows through on a threat by Trump earlier this year and comes as the country continues to see tens of thousands of new coronavirus cases each day.
Ex-UK Politician Eric Joyce Pleads Guilty To Making Indecent Videos Of Children With His Phone
A former UK politician, Eric Joyce has pled guilty to making indecent videos of children using his phone.
The Former Labour MP, Eric Joyce, arrived at Ipswich Crown Court today Tuesday before he admitted the child sex offence.
Joyce, from Worlingworth, Suffolk, was arrested in November 2018 for allegedly containing child porn on his phome but was soon released and put under investigation.
Last month he was summoned to appear before magistrates last month in the UK after he was accused of making a video of the most serious sex offenders category on his phone between August 2013 and November 2018.
Joyce, 59, who was MP for Falkirk in Scotland between 2000 and 2012, has been ordered to sign the Sex Offenders Register.
Speaking today, Judge Emma Peters said that the single 51-second clip ‘depicts a number of children’.
She added: ‘Some are quite young, one is said to be 12 months old. clearly a category-A movie.’
Judge Peters told the court that Joyce claimed he accessed the video ‘via an email which he says was a spam email’.
She added: ‘At the time he was drinking heavily and he has now undergone work with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and a psychotherapist.’
Judge Peters added: ‘It’s going to be a question of whether it’s immediate or suspended. ‘You will be required to sign paperwork today acknowledging that you are immediately on the sex offenders register.’
She said the court ‘takes such incidents very seriously’ as they ‘fuel the abuse of children’.
After details of the charge emerged, a statement published on the Joyce’s website said: ‘I will make no comment from now until all legal processes are at a close. At that point, I will make a full statement.’
Soleimani: US Killing Of Iran’s Top General ‘Unlawful’, Says UN Expert
The US drone strike that killed Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani was “unlawful”, the United Nations expert on extrajudicial killings concluded in a report released Tuesday.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, concluded it was an “arbitrary killing” that violated the UN charter.
The US had provided no evidence that an imminent attack against US interest was being planned, she wrote.
The independent rights expert does not speak for the United Nations but reports her findings to it.
Her report on targeted killings through armed drones — around half of which deals with the Soleimani case — is to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva on Thursday.
The United States withdrew from the council in 2018.
US President Donald Trump ordered the killing of Soleimani in a January 3 drone strike near Baghdad international airport.
Soleimani, a national hero at home, was “the world’s top terrorist” and “should have been terminated long ago”, Trump said at the time.
Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the drone strike.
“In light of the evidence that the US has provided to date, the targeting of General Soleimani, and the deaths of those accompanying him, constitute an arbitrary killing for which, under IHRL (international human rights law), the US is responsible,” Callamard said in her report.
‘No evidence’ imminent attack planned
She said the strike violated the UN Charter, with “insufficient evidence provided of an ongoing or imminent attack,” she wrote.
“No evidence has been provided that General Soleimani specifically was planning an imminent attack against US interests, particularly in Iraq, for which immediate action was necessary and would have been justified,” Callamard said.
“No evidence has been provided that a drone strike in a third country was necessary or that the harm caused to that country was proportionate to the harm allegedly averted.
“Soleimani was in charge of Iran’s military strategy, and actions, in Syria and Iraq. But absent an actual imminent threat to life, the course of action taken by the US was unlawful.”
The killing of Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, provoked massive outpourings of grief in Iran.
Tehran retaliated by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq. While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain Al-Asad killed no US soldiers, dozens suffered brain trauma.
Callamard’s report addresses targeted killings through armed drones, in light of the proliferation in drone use and their expanding capability over the last five years.
It makes recommendations designed to regulate their use and enhance accountability.
Callamard said that while incidents like the killing of Soleimani and the September 2019 hit on Saudi Arabia’s oil processing facilities generated strong political reactions, “the vast majority of targeted killings by drones are subjected to little public scrutiny”.
Drone technologies and drone attacks were generating fundamental challenges to international legal standards, she added.
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