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Twitter joins backlash against Australian plan to ID social media users

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Australia’s plan to force social media users to identify themselves could damage people, harm international relations, and even breach human rights obligations, according to participants in a media roundtable on Friday.

The Morrison government’s recent rush to identify users is based on the assumption that this would reduce online abuse. But according to Kara Hinesley, Twitter’s public policy director for Australia and New Zealand, there are few reasons to think it would work.

“The concerns around anonymity in this current debate have been over-simplified, and system design changes cannot solve social problems without actual social change,” Hinesley said.

“It’s not clear that anonymity is the primary driver of abusive and antisocial behaviour online. It’s even less clear that requiring government identification for social media would do anything to fix the situation.

“I want to emphasise — I cannot emphasise this enough — a tech solution cannot fix the social problem.”

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Twitter organised the roundtable in conjunction with Digital Rights Watch, whose executive director, Lucie Krahulcova, was even more critical.

Krahulcova is “incredibly frustrated” by this question of pursuing people when they’re anonymous online. It’s been her “extensive experience” that law enforcement isn’t particularly interested in pursuing people who libel, malign, harass, or commit similar crimes online.

“They’re not actually very excited about enforcing [existing laws] on behalf of women, people of colour, and historically I think there’s plenty of evidence of that in Australia,” Krahulcova said.

“When we are speaking now about an attack on anonymity, it is because white men are uncomfortable with the criticism they get online. And that’s not just politicians, it’s also certain reporters and kind of sports stars and stuff. It is precisely because this societal group of privilege is frustrated with criticism,” she said.

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“None of these people were upset when Yassmin Abdel-Magied was bullied basically off the internet for having a controversial opinion.”

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Anonymity is a ‘critical tool’ for individual protection

According to Hinesley, removing anonymity “could damage the people who rely on anonymity and pseudonymity online”, and those people are many.

She and other panellists listed groups such as journalists protecting whistleblowers and other sources; people exploring their sexuality or gender identity; ethnic or religious minorities exploring their heritage; people escaping domestic violence and other abuses; human rights defenders; dissidents; and artists.

“Anonymity can be a form of protection and a critical tool for people… Evidence is overwhelmingly pointing to anonymity bans being ineffective,” Hinesley said.

According to Dr Emily van der Nagel, a social researcher at Monash University, “using a real name is not as straightforward for a lot of people online”.

“Separating real names from social media profiles and usernames is an essential strategy for compartmentalising contexts, and for getting the most out of social media,” she said.

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Indeed, names even have the potential to signal which audience we’re communicating with. Think of the different dynamics of the full name, the nickname, the stage name, or even no name at all.

“We know that real name policies and mandatory identity verification, they don’t make the internet safer or kinder,” van der Nagel said.

“Instead, they damage attempts to contextualise our communication, forge the kinds of connections that matter on social media, and get in the way of us experiencing the kind of joy that’s possible in these spaces.”

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These issues are explored further in van der Nagel’s doctoral thesis, Social Media Pseudonymity: Affordances, Practices, Disruptions [PDF] and other academic writing.

Anonymity is part of the right to freedom of expression

Anonymity and pseudonymity are not only important, but they’re “guaranteed by human rights law”, according to law professor David Kaye, a former United Nations special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

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“There’s a history of more or less explicit recognition that freedom of expression includes the freedom to speak, to seek, receive, impart information and ideas anonymously,” he said.

This understanding is built on article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Australia is a signatory.

“Anonymous speech, certainly in the development of democratic societies, has been essential to public debate. It’s been essential to individual human development in repressive societies,” Kaye said.

“Undermining anonymity has rarely been shown to be necessary in the circumstances, and has often been shown to be a kind of interference based on illegitimate purposes, for example, a desire to find out who’s criticising you.”

Kaye believes that anonymity and the confidentiality of communications are currently under threat everywhere.

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“It’s under threat in democratic societies. It’s under threat in authoritarian ones. There tend to be different reasons for that threat, but it’s very much under threat,” he said.

“Australia’s proposals, I think, go beyond what we’ve seen in most rule of law-oriented societies.”

Australia is of course the only major democracy that lacks a bill of rights.

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As Krahulcova noted, Australia’s policies are already being “mentioned in paperwork” in Europe and in the US, and she worried about the potential repercussions.

“I worry that the approach that the Australian government is taking is actually just incredibly reckless. It’s not just bad policy. It’s reckless,” she said.

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“Australia needs to have a serious think about the system that it’s putting out into the world.”

Last month Twitter outlined its views on regulating social media in a position paper, Protecting The Open Internet: Regulatory principles for policy makers [PDF].

“The Open Internet is global, should be available to all, and should be built on open standards and the protection of human rights,” it said.

“Content moderation is more than just leave up or take down. Regulation should allow for a range of interventions, while setting clear definitions for categories of content.”

Regulations should also protect competition, choice, and innovation, rather than entrenching the existing platforms, Twitter said.

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Elon Musk Says He’ll Pay $11 Billion in Taxes in 2021 But Twitter Wants ‘Proof’

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Elon Musk took to Twitter to clarify once and for all that he will be paying a whopping $11 billion as taxes this year.

If the number of times Elon Musk could count when someone has asked him to pay the full taxes, he would be a very rich..wait, never mind. The Tesla boss is rich beyond any private individual has been in history, reports said.

Musk has increasingly been facing criticism from many politicians and many others who insist he has not been paying taxes as compared to the profits his companies have been making. On Sunday, the SpaceX CEO took to Twitter to share that he will be paying a whopping $11 billion as taxes.

For those wondering, I will pay over $11 billion in taxes this year— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 20, 2021

But some of the questions did not stop. One person tweeted how they needed to see Musk’s tax returns while yet another asked how much percentage was that of his total income.

A few were, however scathing of the government who thought they will add that amount to their pockets rather than using it for some proper development.

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Wow that’s enough to give each person in the world almost $2 million but instead the government will just stick it in their pockets— greg (@greg16676935420) December 20, 2021

Why not $200 billion? Asking for a Senator— litquidity (@litcapital) December 20, 2021

Earlier this week, Democratic US Senator Elizabeth Warren has tweeted to say that Musk should pay taxes and stop “freeloading off everyone else” after Time magazine named him its “person of the year”.

In response, Musk shot four tweets in which he said that the senator reminded him of a friend’s angry mom who yelled at everybody. He tweeted, ““And if you opened your eyes for 2 seconds, you would realize I will pay more taxes than any American in history this year.” “Don’t spend it all at once … oh wait you did already.”

He added further, “You remind me of when I was a kid and my friend’s angry Mom would just randomly yell at everyone for no reason.”

Musk responded by saying that he “will pay more taxes than any American in history this year”. This Twitter exchange left netizens divided as even though many supported Warren and agreed that Musk should pay more taxes, others felt that he was already doing enough.

Musk’s Tesla is worth about $1 trillion. Over the last few weeks, he has sold nearly $14 billion worth of Tesla shares.

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The Tesla boss has been pushing for his colonize Mars agenda for years now, and has made it very clear in some occasions that he would rather spend the money on putting humanity on the red planet, than pay his taxes. “My plan,” the SpaceX founder tweeted about his fortune, “is to use the money to get humanity to Mars and preserve the light of consciousness.”

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Twitter Admits Policy ‘Errors’ After Far-Right Abuse Its New Rules of Posting Pictures

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Twitter’s new picture permission policy was aimed at combating online abuse, but US activists and researchers said Friday that far-right backers have employed it to protect themselves from scrutiny and to harass opponents.

Even the social network admitted the rollout of the rules, which say anyone can ask Twitter to take down images of themselves posted without their consent, was marred by malicious reports and its teams’ own errors.

It was just the kind of trouble anti-racism advocates worried was coming after the policy was announced this week.

Their concerns were quickly validated, with anti-extremism researcher Kristofer Goldsmith tweeting a screenshot of a far-right call-to-action circulating on Telegram: “Due to the new privacy policy at Twitter, things now unexpectedly work more in our favor.”

“Anyone with a Twitter account should be reporting doxxing posts from the following accounts,” the message said, with a list of dozens of Twitter handles.

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Gwen Snyder, an organizer and researcher in Philadelphia, said her account was blocked this week after a report to Twitter about a series of 2019 photos she said showed a local political candidate at a march organized by extreme-right group Proud Boys.

Rather than go through an appeal with Twitter she opted to delete the images and alert others to what was happening.

“Twitter moving to eliminate (my) work from their platform is incredibly dangerous and is going to enable and embolden fascists,” she told AFP.

In announcing the privacy policy on Tuesday, Twitter noted that “sharing personal media, such as images or videos, can potentially violate a person’s privacy, and may lead to emotional or physical harm.”

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But the rules don’t apply to “public figures or individuals when media and accompanying Tweets are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.”

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By Friday, Twitter noted the roll out had been rough: “We became aware of a significant amount of coordinated and malicious reports, and unfortunately, our enforcement teams made several errors.”

“We’ve corrected those errors and are undergoing an internal review to make certain that this policy is used as intended,” the firm added.

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Jack Dorsey Post Twitter Is Chasing His Crypto, Fintech Dream

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At a packed Miami conference in June, Jack Dorsey, mused in front of thousands of attendees about where his real passion lay: “If I weren’t at Square or Twitter, I’d be working on Bitcoin.”

On Monday, Dorsey made good on one part of that, announcing he would leave Twitter for the second time, handing the CEO position to a 10-year veteran at the firm. The 45-year-old entrepreneur, who is often described as an enigma with varied interests from meditation to yoga to fashion design, plans to pursue his passion which include focusing on running Square and doing more philanthropic work, according to a source familiar with his plan.

Well before the surprise news, Dorsey had laid the groundwork for his next chapter, seeding both companies with cryptocurrency-related projects.

Underlying Dorsey’s broader vision is the principle of “decentralisation,” or the idea that technology and finance should not be concentrated among a handful of gatekeepers, as it is now, but should, instead, be steered by the hands of the many, either people or entities.

The concept has played out at Square, which has built a division devoted to working on projects and awarding grants with the aim of growing Bitcoin’s popularity globally. Bitcoin price in India stood at Rs. 44.52 lakh as of 12:50pm IST on December 1.

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Dorsey has been a longtime proponent of Bitcoin, and the appeal is that the cryptocurrency will allow for private and secure transactions with the value of Bitcoin unrelated to any government.

The idea has also underpinned new projects at Twitter, where Dorsey tapped a top lieutenant – and now the company’s new CEO Parag Agrawal – to oversee a team that is attempting to construct a decentralised social media protocol, which will allow different social platforms to connect with one another, similar to the way email providers operate.

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The project called Bluesky will aim to allow users control over the types of content they see online, removing the “burden” on companies like Twitter to enforce a global policy to fight abuse or misleading information, Dorsey said in 2019 when he announced Bluesky.

Bitcoin has also figured prominently at both of his companies. Square became one of the first public companies to own Bitcoin assets on its balance sheet, having invested $220 million (roughly Rs. 1,650 crore) in the cryptocurrency.

In August, Square created a new business unit called TBD to focus on Bitcoin. The company is also planning to build a hardware wallet for Bitcoin, a Bitcoin mining system, as well as a decentralised Bitcoin exchange.

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Twitter allows users to tip their favourite content creators with Bitcoin and has been testing integrations with non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a type of digital asset that allows people to collect unique digital art.

Analysts see the transition as a positive signal for Square, the fintech platform he co-founded in 2009. Square’s core Cash App, after a bull run in its share in 2020, has experienced slower growth in the most recent quarter. It is also trying to digest the $29 billion (roughly Rs. 2,17,240 crore) acquisition of Buy Now Pay Later provider Afterpay, its largest acquisition ever.

But these ambitions will not pay off until years from now, analysts cautioned.

“The blockchain platform they’re trying to develop is great but also fraught with technical challenges and difficult to scale for consumers. I think he’ll focus more on Square and crypto will be part of that,” said Christopher Brendler, an analyst at DA Davidson.

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© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Interested in cryptocurrency? We discuss all things crypto with WazirX CEO Nischal Shetty and WeekendInvesting founder Alok Jain on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

Cryptocurrency is an unregulated digital currency, not a legal tender and subject to market risks. The information provided in the article is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, trading advice or any other advice or recommendation of any sort offered or endorsed by NDTV. NDTV shall not be responsible for any loss arising from any investment based on any perceived recommendation, forecast or any other information contained in the article.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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