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Twitter Transparency Report Shines a Light on Variety of Ways Governments Seek to Restrict Speech Online

Transparency isn’t an end in itself. Rather, it’s a crucial vehicle for understanding the forces that shape our online experiences. Twitter’s latest report breaks ground by publishing new data about the complex interactions that social media companies can have with governments who are seeking to restrict content online. In this post, we dig into the report and discuss what it reveals about the mounting pressure from governments that intermediaries face to censor user speech.

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German Proposal Threatens Censorship on Wide Array of Online Services

Anticipating federal elections in September, Germany’s Minister of Justice has proposed a new law aimed at limiting the spread of hate speech and “fake news” on social media sites. But the proposal, called the “Social Network Enforcement Bill” or “NetzDG,” goes far beyond a mere encouragement for social media platforms to respond quickly to hoaxes and disinformation campaigns and would create massive incentives for companies to censor a broad range of speech. CDT recommends that the German legislature reject this proposed measure. It clearly impinges on fundamental rights to free expression and due process.

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Takedown Collaboration by Private Companies Creates Troubling Precedent

Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube announced their intent to begin collaborating on the removal of terrorist propaganda across their services. CDT is deeply concerned that this joint project will create a precedent for cross-site censorship and will become a target for governments and private actors seeking to suppress speech across the web.

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Senate Inquiry into Backpage’s Content Moderation Practices Would Set Dangerous Precedent for Free Speech Online

CDT has long urged website operators to be transparent, fair, and consistent in developing and implementing their content policies. Companies have an obligation to respect the human rights of their users, and transparency about their content moderation activities is an integral part of that. But when the government attempts to engage in intense scrutiny of a website’s lawful decisions to host constitutionally protected speech, it creates a backdoor to censorship that threatens user speech across the internet.

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A Closer Look at the Legality of "Ethnic Affinity"

ProPublica recently published a story criticizing Facebook for providing “Ethnic Affinity” categories among the options available to advertisers targeting ads. In some contexts, it is illegal for the person making the offer to exclude people based on race. While the Fair Housing Act clearly establishes liability for the person who creates and posts the ad, a host of user-generated content like Facebook is likely protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Nevertheless, there are steps Facebook can take to limit the ability of its advertisers to break the law.

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Google Appeals French DPA’s Demand to Modify Search Results Worldwide

Today marked another salvo in the on-going battle over the “right to be forgotten”, with Google filing an appeal to the Conseil d’État of the fine levied by the French data protection authority against the company for failing to modify search results according to French law for searches conducted outside of France. CDT is glad to see Google push back against this expansive application of national law.

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EU’s “Right to Be Forgotten” Policy Sets Bad Precedent for Free Expression Worldwide

In the latest development in the debate over the “right to be forgotten” in Europe, Google has decided to begin suppressing links to URLs not only for searches on EU country-level domains, but also for searches conducted from within EU countries on their global .com site. CDT remains very critical of the reasoning behind the CJEU ruling in Google Spain v AEPD, Mario Costeja Gonzale.

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Bill Aimed at Turning Internet Companies into Government Informants Still an Awful Idea

Media reports indicate that Senator Dianne Feinstein is planning to reintroduce her proposal to require all Internet companies to report on their users directly to the US government if those companies become aware of apparent “terrorist activity” on their networks. This may sound familiar: Feinstein snuck this proposal into the Intelligence Authorization Act over the summer as Section 603. This is one idea that should not get an encore performance at the end of the year.

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Dart Must Stop “Suffocation” of Backpage

In a major First Amendment victory, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ordered Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to halt his campaign of coercion against companies that provide financial services to The court ordered Dart to “take no actions, formal or informal, to coerce or threaten credit card companies, processors, financial institutions, or other third parties with sanctions” in order to force a website off the Internet.

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