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In India, Facebook and Twitter walk censorship tightrope with government

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When Facebook and Twitter sought to limit the extent to which their platforms could be used to spread disinformation related to last year’s presidential election, Amal Chandra, a 22-year-old university student in Kerala, India, applauded their efforts.

Now, Chandra, who studies political science at Pondicherry University, is wondering why the same companies are complying with demands by the Indian government to remove social media posts critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the U.S. presidential election, we saw a fair, neutral, objective position from the side of social media,” Chandra said in an interview. “So why can’t they do the same in India?”

In recent days, the social media giants removed about 100 posts in India following an emergency order by Modi’s government at a time when the prime minister, previously criticized for downplaying the severity of the pandemic, is faced with a surge of hundreds of thousands of positive coronavirus cases to which the government has been slow to respond.

Then, last Thursday, Facebook temporarily hid posts containing the hashtag #ResignModi. The company said it had done so by “mistake” and “not because the Indian government asked us to,” and said the posts were restored to the platform.

The government said the originally removed posts threatened public safety, undermined the government’s efforts to fight the pandemic, or sought to spread misleading information. Individuals who have used social media to seek medical help and supplies have also been persecuted, according to reports.

But those critical of Modi, who leads the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, say the order was designed to silence free speech and political dissent. Chandra, who describes himself as a center-left liberal, was disappointed when the companies complied with the order.

“In every country, they should be respectful of democracy and dissent and they should not succumb to the anti-democratic directions of the government,” he said. “We have a constitution which guarantees the right to free expression and reasonable criticism, so why should Twitter or Facebook succumb to the government’s pressure?”

[Social media algorithms threaten democracy, experts tell senators]

Beyond its explanation for the temporary removal of #ResignModi posts, Facebook declined to comment on the removal of posts at the government’s behest. In a statement, a spokesperson for Twitter said the removals from its platform were in accordance with Indian law.

“When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both the Twitter Rules and local law. If the content violates Twitter’s rules, the content will be removed from the service,” the spokesperson said. “If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only.”

Some advocates have slammed the companies for complying with the order, citing Facebook’s partnership with the Global Network Initiative, a coalition that seeks to limit online censorship by autocratic governments, and Twitter’s stated mission to “serve the public conversation.”

“Facebook, Twitter, and other technology companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, including right to free speech,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in an email interview. “Online censorship can have a debilitating effect on dissent. It is important for companies to protect the human rights of their users and not censor information in violation of international standards.”

Despite the Indian government’s order, the companies “should interpret and implement legal demands as narrowly as possible, to ensure the least possible restriction on expression, notify users, seek clarification or modification from authorities, and explore all legal options for challenge,” Ganguly said.

But the choice by social media companies facing government demands isn’t only a moral one but a business decision, too. India has more than 755 million internet users — second in the world only to China — making it an attractive market for U.S. companies. Modi’s use of the country’s digital regulation laws places the companies in an unenviable position.

“Even if you don’t agree, you will have to comply if you want to operate in India,” said Rohin Garg, associate policy counsel at the Internet Freedom Foundation, a New Delhi-based nonprofit organization. “Facebook is a large company. If they have to optimize between revenue and free speech, we know which way it’s going to go.”

Garg said that in theory, it is a good thing that international companies are subject to the laws in each jurisdiction where they operate.

“But because the government is able to bend the rules without including accountability or transparency measures in their legislation, they can take advantage of that and do what they want,” he said.

India’s current digital regulations, established in 2000, were amended by the Modi administration earlier this year amid massive protests by farmers. The regulations gave the government more power over large online companies, including the authority to demand the removal of content threatening to “the sovereignty and integrity of India.”

Around the same time, the government threatened to imprison India-based Twitter employees if the company did not block accounts related to the protests; Twitter did so, but left intact accounts belonging to officials, journalists and activists.

Critics of the regulations say they could deepen India’s democratic backsliding under Modi.

Garg says the ideal solution would include greater accountability and transparency for both the government and social media companies.

“So the private sector can’t do what it wants willy-nilly, and the government can’t do what it wants willy-nilly, which would sort of mutually enforce an equilibrium of, at least, relative integrity,” Garg said. “Right now we have neither in India.”

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What Do Facebook Ads Have To Do With The Uyghur Genocide?

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In recent months, several reports suggested a concerning link between Facebook ads and the Uyghur genocide. In March 2021, Epoch Times reported on “evidence linking Facebook ad revenue to Chinese companies profiting from that genocide.” They indicated that one of the companies “continues selling through Facebook hair it admitted was from Uyghurs. Similar companies ‘suggested’ by the social media platform appear also to be selling Uyghur hair. Since a woman’s long hair is highly valued in Uyghur culture, the hair products being sold are almost certainly a product of the ongoing persecution, and not donated or sold freely.” These allegations come months after, in August 2020, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) seized over 13 tons of human hair products from Xinjiang. 

In this photo illustration a Facebook logo seen displayed on...

In this photo illustration a Facebook logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration: … [+] Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook did not respond to these allegations that it profited from ads linked to Uyghur genocide. Yet it did not take long before Facebook became the centre of attention again, because of its links with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which stands accused of committing genocide against the Uyghurs.

In April 2021, the WSJ reported that “some Facebook staff are raising concerns on internal message boards and in other employee discussions that the company is being used as a conduit for state propaganda, highlighting sponsored posts from Chinese organizations that purport to show Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs thriving in China’s Xinjiang region, according to people familiar with the matter.” Reportedly, “a Facebook spokesman said that the ads taken out by Beijing pertaining to Xinjiang don’t violate current policies so long as the advertisers follow Facebook’s rules when purchasing them. He said the company is monitoring reports of the situation in Xinjiang ‘to help inform our approach and due diligence on this issue.’”

WSJ further reported that “Facebook hasn’t determined whether to act on the concerns, say people familiar with the matter. The company is watching how international organizations such as the United Nations respond to the situation in Xinjiang, one of the people said. The U.N. this week called on firms conducting Xinjiang-linked business to undertake “meaningful human rights due diligence” on their operations.”

Such responses to very serious allegations of benefiting from Uyghur genocide are highly inadequate. We are talking about atrocities targeting a religious group with methods including torture and abuse, rape and sexual violence, separation of children from their parents, forced sterilizations, forced abortions, forced labor and much more.

Waiting for the response from the U.N. cannot be seen as the right policy to address serious allegations of genocidal atrocities, especially considering stagnation at the U.N. and China’s powerful position there. While States and U.N. experts have been calling for action, and among others, for unfettered access to Xinjiang, this request has been ignored by the Chinese government. And so the vicious circle of impunity continues.

One would expect that Facebook would conduct a comprehensive review of the allegations and evidence in support. Ultimately, Facebook should make sure that they sever any ties with atrocities against the Uyghurs.

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Eutelsat Expands Use of Express Wi-Fi in Partnership With Facebook to Extend Wi-Fi Connectivity …

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PARIS–()–Regulatory News:

Eutelsat Communications (Paris:ETL) (Euronext Paris: ETL) is expanding its use of the Express Wi-Fi platform in partnership with Facebook to provide broadband services via satellite across several regions in Sub-Saharan Africa. With Express Wi-Fi, Eutelsat aims to connect thousands of people in rural and underserved communities spanning Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa, Cameroon, Ghana and Zimbabwe.

Express Wi-Fi is a platform developed by Facebook Connectivity that enables partners to build, grow and monetize their Wi-Fi businesses in a scalable way, while providing their customers with fast, affordable, and reliable internet access. Express Wi-Fi is used in more than 30 countries, including in multiple Asian, South American and African markets, helping millions of people connect over Wi-Fi.

Eutelsat and Facebook have previously conducted successful pilots in rural and underserved areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) enabling local businesses to offer affordable internet access to customers on a pre-paid basis. To date, Eutelsat’s use of the Express Wi-Fi platform has enabled access to affordable broadband for thousands of individuals across the DRC.

Philippe Baudrier, General Manager of Konnect Africa commented: “We are delighted to partner with Facebook in this ambitious scheme, aimed at getting more people online in the most underserved areas of sub-Saharan Africa. This initiative is the perfect example of the power of satellite connectivity to bridge the digital divide, with unmatched economic and social benefits. We are proud once again to leverage the unparalleled coverage of EUTELSAT KONNECT to satisfy this growing demand.”

“At Facebook, we’re committed to working with partners to help expand connectivity in Sub-Saharan Africa, which continues to be the region with the highest coverage gap,” said Fargani Tambeayuk, Head of Connectivity Policy for Sub-Saharan Africa, Facebook. “Connectivity is essential to ensuring access to jobs, education, healthcare and more. We’re proud to partner with Eutelsat to combine the power of the Express Wi-Fi platform and EUTELSAT KONNECT, with the goal of increasing satellite broadband coverage across rural and underserved areas of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

About Eutelsat Communications


Founded in 1977, Eutelsat Communications is one of the world’s leading satellite operators. With a global fleet of satellites and associated ground infrastructure, Eutelsat enables clients across Video, Data, Government, Fixed and Mobile Broadband markets to communicate effectively to their customers, irrespective of their location. Over 6,600 television channels operated by leading media groups are broadcast by Eutelsat to one billion viewers equipped for DTH reception or connected to terrestrial networks. Headquartered in Paris, with offices and teleports around the globe, Eutelsat assembles 1,000 men and women from 46 countries who are dedicated to delivering the highest quality of service.

For more about Eutelsat go to www.eutelsat.com

About Facebook Connectivity


Connectivity is at the heart of Facebook’s mission to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. Critical to this mission is high-quality internet access, which gives people a voice and creates opportunities to share knowledge that can strengthen local communities and global economies. Facebook Connectivity works closely with partners including mobile network operators, equipment manufacturers and more to develop programs and technologies—including Express WiFi, Magma and Terragraph—that increase the availability, affordability and awareness of high-quality internet access, bringing more people online to a faster internet. To learn more, visit: https://connectivity.fb.com

www.eutelsat.com – Follow us on Twitter @Eutelsat_SA

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Facebook Removes Ukraine’s ‘Fake’ Political ‘Influence-for-hire’ Network

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Reuters Photo

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Facebook attributed the network to individuals and entities including politician Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian lawmaker blacklisted by the United States.

  • Reuters
  • Last Updated:May 07, 2021, 14:04 IST
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Facebook Inc (FB.O) has taken down a network of hundreds of fake accounts and pages targeting people in Ukraine and linked to individuals previously sanctioned by the United States for efforts to interfere in U.S. elections, the company said on Thursday. Facebook said the network managed a long-running deceptive campaign across multiple social media platforms and other websites, posing as independent news outlets and promoting favourable content about Ukrainian politicians, including activity that was likely for hire. The company said it started its probe after a tip from the FBI.

Facebook attributed the activity to individuals and entities sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department including politician Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian lawmaker who was blacklisted by the U.S. government in September over accusations he tried to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election won by President Joe Biden. Facebook said it removed Derkach’s accounts in October 2020.

Derkach told Reuters he would comment on Facebook’s investigation on Friday.

Facebook also attributed the network to political consultants associated with Ukrainian politicians Oleh Kulinich and Volodymyr Groysman, Ukraine’s former prime minister. Kulinich did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Groysman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Facebook said that as well as promoting these politicians, the network also pushed positive material about actors across the political spectrum, likely as a paid service. It said the activity it investigated began around 2015, was solely focused on Ukraine and posted anti-Russia content.

“You can really think of these operators as would-be influence mercenaries, renting out inauthentic online support in Ukrainian political circles,” Ben Nimmo, Facebook’s global influence operations threat intelligence lead, said on a call with reporters.

Facebook’s investigation team said Ukraine, which has been among the top sources of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” that it removes from the site, is home to an increasing number of influence operations selling services.

Facebook said it removed 363 pages, which were followed by about 2.37 million accounts, and 477 accounts from this network for violating its rules. The network also spent about $496,000 in Facebook and Instagram ads, Facebook said.

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