Facebook Oversight Board Announces First Six Cases

Facebook’s oversight board has announced the first cases it’s going to examine to determine if it will overturn the social media giant’s decisions to delete content. Created in October, the board’s apparent role will be to assess cases of Facebook and Instagram users who say their content was wrongly removed. “As the Board cannot hear every appeal, we are prioritizing cases that have the potential to affect lots of users around the world, are of critical importance to public discourse or raise important questions about Facebook’s policies,” the board said in a statement accompanying the announcement Tuesday. Of the first six cases the board will review, three involve so-called hate speech, a nudity case, a “dangerous individuals” case and a case about potential misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. Reuters reports that since October, the board has received 20,000 cases for possible review. The COVID-19 case involved a post that was removed for “violence and incitement” because it was critical of France’s coronavirus strategy of “purportedly refusing authorization for use of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin against COVID-19 but authorizing promotional mail for remdesivir.” “Facebook removed it for violating its policy on Violence and Incitement, and in its referral indicated to the Oversight Board that this case presents an example of the challenges faced when addressing the risk of offline harm that can be caused by misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic,” the case synopsis says. Hate speech casesHate speech cases include a post by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, which said, “Muslims have a right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.” Facebook says it was hate speech, but the poster said it was posted to draw attention to Mahathir’s “horrible words.” Another alleged hate speech post is of “two well-known photos of a deceased child lying fully clothed on a beach at the water’s edge” accompanied by Burmese text asking why there has been “no retaliation against China for its treatment of Uighur Muslims, in contrast to the recent killings in France relating to cartoons,” according to the synopsis. The poster argued the content should not have been removed because it “meant to disagree with people who think the killer is right and to emphasize that human lives matter more than religious ideologies.” The third hate speech case involves the removal of content showing the destruction of churches in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. The poster said, “their intention was to demonstrate the destruction of cultural and religious monuments.” In a case Facebook says violated its nudity policy, a post about breast cancer prevention was removed for showing breasts. Another case is about the removal of an alleged quote attributed to Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, which the poster said made a point about current politics. The 20-member board will be divided into five-member panels to which the cases will be assigned, according to USA Today. The board said it is seeking public comment on the cases through December 8. Then, the board has 90 days to decide about each case.   

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Facebook, Google ‘Zones Without Human Rights’ in Vietnam, Amnesty Says

Facebook and Google are becoming “zones without human rights” in Vietnam, Amnesty International warned Tuesday, accusing the tech giants of helping to censor peaceful opposition and political freedom in the country. Amnesty warned that although they were “once the great hope for the rise of freedom of expression in the country, social media platforms are rapidly becoming areas without human rights.” Information Minister Nguyen Manh Hung said last month that tech companies were complying with demands to remove “bad news, propaganda against the party and the state” at a faster rate than ever before, according to state media. FILE – Vietnam’s then-acting Minister of Information and Communication Nguyen Manh Hung attends the World Economic Forum on ASEAN at the Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam, Sept. 12, 2018.The same article states that this year Facebook complied with 95% of government requests and YouTube, 90%. A Facebook spokesperson told AFP that the platform is working hard to defend freedom of expression around the world.  “Over the past few months, we have experienced additional pressure from the Vietnamese government to limit more content, however we will do our best to ensure that our services remain accessible, so that people can continue to express themselves,” he clarified. Google and the Vietnamese authorities did not respond to AFP’s requests. Communist Vietnam has long imprisoned its dissidents but has been criticized in recent years for targeting users of Facebook, a social network popular with activists in the country where independent media is banned. The social network admitted earlier this year that it was blocking content deemed illegal by the authorities, while its latest transparency report reveals an increase in six months of nearly 1,000% of content censored by order of the government. Amnesty International said in a report published Tuesday that it had collected the testimonies of 11 activists whose publications were banned by Facebook in Vietnam this year. The human rights organization also said that three other people have suffered similar censorship of their content on YouTube, owned by Google. One of them, Nguyen Van Trang, who fled an arrest warrant in Vietnam for his involvement in a pro-democracy group, said that Facebook had since May restricted the visibility of all its publications about Communist Party boss Nguyen Phu Trong and senior member Tran Quoc Vuong. Trang also said that some of his posts on controversial issues such as the land dispute have been made inaccessible by YouTube in Vietnam. Obstruction of ‘the progress of a nation’ “I am angry,” he told AFP. “For activists, these platforms play an important role in influencing people on progressive values like democracy, human rights, civil society.” “The compromise of Facebook and Google is not only to block information, but also to hamper the progress of a nation, where the inhabitants do not have many opportunities to participate in political activities,” he added. Vietnam is now the country that generates the most revenue for Facebook and Google in Southeast Asia, according to industry experts. More than 53 million people use Facebook in Vietnam, more than half of the population. The platform is also an important marketing tool for the local economy. 
 

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Solomon Islands Plans to Ban Facebook to Preserve ‘National Unity’

The government of the Solomon Islands has defended its plans to ban Facebook, insisting the move would preserve “national unity.” Ministers say the world’s largest social media platform has been “grossly abused.” But critics insist a ban is an attempt to shut down criticism of the government’s economic policies.Facebook helps connect the people of a tropical archipelago that stretches over more than 1,400 kilometers of the South Pacific.  
 
But the government believes the social media platform is being “grossly abused.” Officials in the capital, Honiara, are to discuss blocking Facebook with internet companies because of concerns about defamation and cyber bullying.
 
Authorities want to regulate users’ behavior to protect the community from “vile abusive language” online. Until new laws can be passed, there would be a temporary ban on Facebook.  
 
Minister of Communications Peter Shanel Agovaka told Radio New Zealand Pacific that tough regulations are needed.
 
“Coming with freedom of expression and freedom of the media is a lot of responsibility. You don’t just go out and say things out of the ordinary to your neighbors. It’s about using it wisely, communicate, share information and so on, and not to abuse people,” Agovaka said.
 
It is unclear, however, how a ban on Facebook would work.
 
Critics say the move would breach the constitutional rights of Solomon Islanders and attempt to shut down dissent. Opposition politicians call the proposals “pathetic,” while Amnesty International says any such ban would be a ‘brazen attack on human rights.”  
 
Facebook has said it was contacting authorities to discuss the plans.
 
Any ban would put the Pacific island nation alongside just four other countries where the social media platform is outlawed: China, Iran, North Korea and Syria.
 
The Solomon Islands is home to about 685,000 people. While the archipelago stretches across a vast area of ocean, its land mass is comparable to that of Albania.  
 
About 20% of the population has access to the internet.
 

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China Launches Lunar Probe  

China successfully launched an unmanned spacecraft to the moon Monday to land, gather soil and rock samples, and return them to Earth.  If successful, it will be the first mission by any nation to retrieve samples from the lunar surface since the 1970s, and the third nation, after the United States and Russia, to retrieve such samples. The Chang’e 5 probe, named after the ancient Chinese goddess of the moon, will seek to collect material that can help scientists understand more about the moon’s origins and formation.  U.S. space agency NASA says the mission’s goal is to land in a previously unvisited area of the moon known as Oceanus Procellarum and operate for one lunar day, which lasts 14 earth days, and return a 2-kilogram sample of lunar soil, possibly from as deep as 2 meters.  Matt Siegler, a research scientist at the Arizona-based Planetary Science Institute who is not part of the Chang’e 5 mission, told Reuters the area where the spacecraft is to land is 1 to 2 billion years old. “That is very young for the moon — most of our samples are 3.5 billion years old or more,” Siegler said in an email. “We want to find out what is special about these regions and why they remained warm longer than the rest of the moon,” Siegler added. The sample will travel to Earth in the return capsule and land in the Siziwang Banner grassland of the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia in China. During a brief government-organized visit to the launch center, reporters were taken to a place where they could see in the distance the Long March 5 rocket that carries the Chang’e 5 probe. The launch took place between 4:30 a.m. Beijing time Tuesday (2030 GMT Monday). The Reuters news service reports that China made its first lunar landing in 2013. In January 2019, the Chang’e 4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon, the first by any space probe. Within the next decade, China plans to establish a robotic base station to conduct unmanned exploration in the south polar region. 

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China Set to Launch Lunar Probe

China is scheduled to launch an unmanned spacecraft to the moon Monday to land, gather soil and rock samples, and return them to Earth.  
 
If successful, it will be the first mission by any nation to retrieve samples from the lunar surface since the 1970s, and the third nation, after the United States and Russia, to retrieve such samples.
 
The Chang’e 5 probe, named after the ancient Chinese goddess of the moon, will seek to collect material that can help scientists understand more about the moon’s origins and formation.  
 
 U.S. space agency NASA, says the mission’s goal is to land in a previously unvisited area of the moon known as Oceanus Procellarum and operate for one lunar day, which lasts 14 earth days, and return a 2-kilogram sample of lunar soil, possibly from as deep as 2 meters.  
 
The sample will travel to Earth in the return capsule and land in the Siziwang Banner grassland of the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia in China.
 
During a brief government-organized visit to the launch center, reporters were taken to a place where they could see, in the distance, the Long March 5 rocket that carries the Chang’e 5 probe. The launch is expected to take place between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. (2000-2100 GMT) on November 24.
 
The Reuters news service reports China made its first lunar landing in 2013. In January 2019, the Chang’e 4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon, the first by any space probe. Within the next decade, China plans to establish a robotic base station to conduct unmanned exploration in the south polar region.
 

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Vietnam Tells Facebook: Yield to Censors or We’ll Shut You Down, Source Says

Vietnam has threatened to shut down Facebook in the country if it does not bow to government pressure to censor more local political content on its platform, a senior official at the U.S. social media giant told Reuters.Facebook complied with a government request in April to significantly increase its censorship of “anti-state” posts for local users, but Vietnam asked the company again in August to step up its restrictions of critical posts, the official said.”We made an agreement in April. Facebook has upheld our end of the agreement, and we expected the government of Vietnam to do the same,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the subject.”They have come back to us and sought to get us to increase the volume of content that we’re restricting in Vietnam. We’ve told them no. That request came with some threats about what might happen if we didn’t.”The official said the threats included shutting down Facebook altogether in Vietnam, a major market for the social media company where it earns revenue of nearly $1 billion, according to two sources familiar with the numbers.Facebook has faced mounting pressure from governments over its content policies, including threats of new regulations and fines. But it has avoided a ban in all but the few places where it has never been allowed to operate, such as China.In Vietnam, despite sweeping economic reform and increasing openness to social change, the ruling Communist Party retains tight control of media and tolerates little opposition. The country ranks fifth from bottom in a global ranking of press freedom compiled by Reporters Without Borders.Vietnam’s foreign ministry said in response to questions from Reuters that Facebook should abide by local laws and cease “spreading information that violates traditional Vietnamese customs and infringes upon state interests.”A spokeswoman for Facebook said it had faced additional pressure from Vietnam to censor more content in recent months.In its biannual transparency report released on Friday, Facebook said it had restricted access to 834 items in Vietnam in the first six months of this year, following requests from the government of Vietnam to remove anti-state content.‘Clear responsibility’Facebook, which serves about 60 million users in Vietnam as the main platform for both e-commerce and expressions of political dissent is under constant government scrutiny.Reuters exclusively reported in April that Facebook’s local servers in Vietnam were taken offline early this year until it complied with the government’s demands.Facebook has long faced criticism from rights group for being too compliant with government censorship requests.”However, we will do everything we can to ensure that our services remain available so people can continue to express themselves,” the spokesperson said.Vietnam has tried to launch home-grown social media networks to compete with Facebook, but none has reached any meaningful level of popularity. The Facebook official said the company had not seen an exodus of Vietnamese users to the local platforms.The official said Facebook had been subject to a “14-month-long negative media campaign” in state-controlled Vietnamese press before arriving at the current impasse.Asked about Vietnam’s threat to shut down Facebook, rights group Amnesty International said the fact it had not yet been banned after defying the Vietnamese government’s threats showed that the company could do more to resist Hanoi’s demands.”Facebook has a clear responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate in the world and Vietnam is no exception,” Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for campaigns, said. “Facebook are prioritizing profits in Vietnam, and failing to respect human rights.”  

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