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Trump Administration Sued Over Social Media Screening for Visa Applicants

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Visa applicants must disclose their social media user names, a rule that grew out of Trump’s vow of “extreme vetting” of foreign visitors. A new lawsuit objects.
Visa applicants from abroad have been compelled to disclose to American consular officials all social-media handles or user names they have used on major platforms, 12 of which are based in the United States.
Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — A pair of documentary film organizations sued the Trump administration on Thursday over its requirement that foreigners disclose their social media accounts — including pseudonymous ones — when they apply for visas.

The lawsuit, which raises novel issues about privacy and surveillance in the social-media era, challenged a rule the State Department put into effect this year. The requirement grew out of President Trump’s campaign promise of “extreme vetting” and his early executive orders that barred travel into the United States from several Muslim-majority nations.

In particular, the lawsuit argues, forcing people from authoritarian countries to disclose the pseudonyms they use to discuss politically sensitive matters could endanger them by creating a risk that the information gets back to their own governments. As a result, it said, they will be less likely either to express themselves on social media or to apply for visas.

“Many people use pseudonyms on social media so that they can speak anonymously about sensitive or controversial issues, and so that they can shield themselves or their families or associates from possible reprisals by state or private actors,” the plaintiffs wrote. “The registration requirement effectively conditions their eligibility for U.S. visas on their readiness to surrender their online anonymity.”

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The Trump administration announced the rule in 2018 and started enforcing it this year. The State Department changed its visa application forms to require applicants to disclose all identifiers they have used on any of 20 social media platforms for the past five years, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The rule covers about 14.7 million people who apply for a visa each year.

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The complaint, filed in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, challenged both the State Department, which administers visa applications, and the Department of Homeland Security, which it says uses visa application data for other purposes, including administering immigration law.

The Trump administration did not immediately comment on the lawsuit. But in a pair of postings, Twitter expressed opposition to the State Department rule, saying it chilled free speech.

The complaint maintains that administration officials improperly developed the rule — arguing that they failed to point to evidence that it would be effective and necessary — and that it violates the Constitution by chilling rights of free speech and association.

Visa applicants “must consider the risk that a U.S. official will misinterpret their speech on social media, impute others’ speech to them, or subject them to additional scrutiny or delayed processing because of the views they or their contacts have expressed,” the lawsuit said.

Demanding the data also creates the risk that authoritarian and other rights-abusing governments, “including some U.S. allies,” may use it to unmask anonymous dissidents, it said.

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“Those who use pseudonymous identifiers must take into account that they will have to relinquish their online anonymity to U.S. officials when they submit their visa applications, and they must also consider the risk that U.S. officials will disclose their social media identifiers to foreign governments, reveal the identifiers inadvertently, or fail to protect the identifiers from third parties who might access them unlawfully.”

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The lawsuit was jointly developed by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. They are representing the two documentary film organizations — Doc Society, based in Brooklyn, and the International Documentary Association, based in Los Angeles — that host conferences and workshops that bring foreign filmmakers and social activists to American soil.

While most of the people affected by the new rule are foreigners abroad, who generally do not have constitutional rights, the lawsuit noted that the requirement also covers people with substantial ties to the United States, including people already residing on domestic soil — like foreign students and foreigners with work permits — who renew their visas while abroad.

Since the change took effect, visa applicants from abroad have been compelled to disclose to American consular officials all social-media handles or user names they have used on major platforms, 12 of which are based in the United States: Facebook, Flickr, Google , Instagram, LinkedIn, Myspace, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine and YouTube.

The forms also ask about a Russian service, VK; a Belgian one, Twoo; a Latvian one, Ask.fm; and five Chinese sites: Douban, QQ, Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo and Youku.

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The forms do not require applicants to turn over their passwords to see nonpublic information. But the complaint stresses the risk created by forcing people to turn over pseudonymous accounts, citing partners of the plaintiffs who have used them to “conduct sensitive research for a film about Nazis online, including joining discussion groups and contacting members of known Nazis’ families” and a member from Syria who “uses pseudonymous accounts as a safety measure against political persecution.”

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The lawsuit said some partners and members of the plaintiffs are now self-censoring, including deleting old posts that criticized the Trump administration’s policies. Others “are no longer applying for U.S. visas — and are forgoing personal, educational, and professional opportunities” because they fear the consequences of disclosing their social media accounts.

“The government simply has no legitimate interest in collecting this kind of sensitive information on this immense scale, and the First Amendment doesn’t permit it to do so,” said Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight Institute.

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  1. Travelfess

    December 2, 2020 at 9:43 am

    I really love your website.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you create this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as I’m hoping to create my own blog and would love to find out where you got this from or just what the theme is called. Thanks!

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What do Meta’s New Safety Initiatives to Protect Women Really Mean for Women in India?

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Meta, formerly Facebook, announced a series of initiatives aimed at the protection of the women users on the company’s social media platforms. The initiatives include the launch of stopncii.org in India — a platform that aims to combat the spread of non-consensual intimate images (NCII) and Safety Hub for Women that will enable more women users to access information about resources that can help them make the most of their social media experience. Meta has also appointed the first Indian members in the company’s Global Women’s Safety Expert Advisors.

“Safety is really core to our mission at Facebook,” Karuna Nain, Director of Global Safety Policy at Meta Platforms told reporters on Thursday, while announcing the initiatives. She further elaborated that the social media behemoth works to keep the platforms safe in three segments — by implementing clear policies, building cutting edge tools and technology, and by working with organisations on the frontlines on the issues around the world.

How does stopncci.org work?

According to Meta, Stopncci.org empowers victims who are concerned about their intimate images being abused, and gives them control over such content.

“If someone threatens you, you can report it so that we can take action on that content,” Nain said. Stopncci.org has been developed in partnership with the UK Revenge Porn Helpline and 50 other organisations around the world. Stopncci.org has been built with feedback from victims, victim advocates, and privacy and safety advocates.

What is striking though, is that despite the large number of teen users on Facebook and Instagram, stopncci.org is not accessible for users under the age of 18. If you are under 18 and want to register a case, the platform displays a message saying, “We are sorry, but we cannot help with your case,” and leads the user to a list of NGOs that can be contacted for help.

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Also, at this point the Stop NCII platform is available only in English, and Nain said that it would take a few months more before the platform supports Indian languages. Given the widespread use of Facebook in a number of Indian languages, this will limit the scope of its impact, something that has been seen in the past with the company’s efforts to combat misinformation as well.

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A safety hub for women

Women’s Safety Hub is a part of Meta’s Safety Centre. The Women’s Safety Hub is a centralised resource where the company tries to capture all the information that women would need to be able to navigate the social media platforms in a safe and secure manner so that they’d be empowered to know what tools they have at their disposal.

The Women’s Safety Hub contains information including Meta’s policies around different issues, tools, and on-demand training. The hub is available in 12 Indian languages including Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Gujarati, and Assamese, among others.

Meta has a Women’s Safety Experts Group in place, who the company consults on an ongoing basis regarding their policies, product, and resources that they should be offering on the platforms.

Bishakha Datta, Executive Editor, Point of View — a Mumbai-based non-profit and Jyoti Vadehra, Head of Media & Communications, Centre for Social Research — a Delhi-based advocacy group for women — are the first Indian members in Meta’s Global Women’s Safety Expert Advisors.

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The group comprises 12 other non-profit leaders, activists, and academic experts from different parts of the world and consults Meta in the development of new policies, products and programs to better support women on its apps.

Would women be safer on Meta’s social media platforms now?

Nain said that Meta has invested over $13 billion (roughly Rs. 97,640 crore) in tools and technology to keep the platforms safe and give people security since 2016 and are on track to spend more than $5 billion (roughly Rs. 37,555 crore) on safety and security in 2021.

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“Our commitment to making our platform safe and secure isn’t just something that we talk about. We put real investment behind these efforts. We have around 40,000 people who work on these efforts across the company.”

When asked about the specific initiatives the money was spent on by Meta, Nain only said that the money is being spent on, “…people who work on this space, the technology that we are building, for example, the initiatives that we will announce today or that would come as part of this.”

What do you do if someone is threatening to share your intimate images?

  1. Go to https://stopncii.org/
  2. Click on the Create Your Case button
  3. Confirm if you are 18 years or older
  4. Provide details about the image including who is in the picture by clicking on the drop-down list.
  5. Select the image(s)/video(s) on your device that you would like to protect
  6. A unique “hash,” or a digital fingerprint is generated and shared with the participating companies (Facebook and Instagram)
  7. Create a Personal Identification Number (PIN) to use to check your case status
  8. Check the box consenting to your hashes being shared with the participating companies.
  9. Click Submit.

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WhatsApp Beta Testing Skin Tone Combinations for Couple Emojis on Android, Sticker Store on Desktop

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WhatsApp has started beta testing skin tone combinations for couple emojis on Android. The update comes a long time after the instant messaging app has allowed iOS users to pick their preferred skin tone combination for couple emojis on the iPhone. Separately, WhatsApp has reportedly started testing a new feature to let users explore the Sticker Store and find relevant stickers for their chats directly from the WhatsApp Web or desktop client. Stickers are already an intrinsic part of the messaging app and are gaining popularity among users.

As initially spotted by WhatsApp beta tracker WABetaInfo, WhatsApp has started rolling out skin tone combinations for couple emojis to select beta testers on Android. The change is a part of WhatsApp for Android beta version 2.21.24.11.

Gadgets 360 was able to independently confirm the rollout on the latest WhatsApp beta release, though it may take some time to reflect for all beta testing users.

If you are on the eligible beta version, you can look for skin tone combinations on the couple emojis by tapping one of them on the app.

WhatsApp was initially spotted testing skin tone combinations on WhatsApp for Android beta 2.21.22.8 that was released in October. Beta testers were, however, not able to see the change.

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On iPhone, WhatsApp has allowed changing skin tone for the preloaded couple emojis for some time. You can tap one of the emojis to pick your preferred skin tone.

The exact timeline on when we could see skin tone combinations for couple emojis has not yet been announced. Nevertheless, considering historical records, WhatsApp may bring them for regular users in the near coming future.

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WABetaInfo has additionally reported that WhatsApp is testing a new feature on its Web and desktop clients to explore its Sticker Store. It will appear once you tap the plus icon on the sticker tray, the website notes.

whatsapp web desktop sticker store image wabetainfo WhatsApp

WhatsApp has been spotted testing a new feature for desktop and Web users to explore Sticker Store

Photo Credit: WABetaInfo

The Sticker Store on WhatsApp Web and desktop will work similar to how you can explore different stickers on your mobile devices, though you cannot download a sticker pack from the store and can only pick a specific sticker from the available packs to send it in a chat.

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WABetaInfo reports that the feature is initially available to beta testers on WhatsApp Desktop version 2.2147.9, though it is planned to reach users through a public release soon.


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Clubhouse Adds Support for 13 New Languages Including Bengali and Marathi, Rolls Out ‘Topics’ Feature

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Clubhouse has rolled out support for 13 new languages on the social audio platform, bringing the total number of local languages to 26. Support for two more Indian languages – Bengali and Marathi – is now rolling out to users along with 11 other languages as part of the latest update. Clubhouse has also announced a new ‘Topics’ feature that users can pick from to show their interests on their profile. The platform pioneered audio social networking that has now been replicated by the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

Clubhouse announced via a blog post that it was adding support for 13 new languages – Arabic, Bengali, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Farsi/Persian, Hausa, Igbo, Marathi, Nepali, Somali, Thai, Turkish, and Yoruba. Users who want to use a localised version of Clubhouse should be able to switch to one of these languages. The Clubhouse app for iOS currently lists around 130 languages to choose from.

In November, Clubhouse had announced the rollout of support for 13 languages on the social audio service. That update brought support for French, German, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Malayalam, Portuguese (Brazilian), Spanish, Tamil, and Telugu. The latest update to the app brings the total number of Indian languages supported on Clubhouse to seven, with the addition of Bengali and Marathi.

The new ‘Topics’ feature announced by Clubhouse appears to be a rebranded ‘Interests’ feature and allows users to pick from thousands of topics, including cities, universities, sports, or even music genres. These will be featured on their profile, so followers can see what a user is interested in. Clubhouse says that users will be able to keep their favourite topics private by hiding them from their profiles.

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The ‘Topics’ feature will also appear on other sections of the app, including Topics pages, which will show users related rooms, clubs, and other users who are related to that topic. Similarly, rooms can also display Topics to explain to participants what the room is discussing, and creators will be able to add and change these even when a room is live. Clubhouse may soon begin testing the ability for users to create Topics of their own on the service, according to the company.

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