Week in Review: December 17, 2015

by Muira McCammon

China: 2nd World Internet Conference Evokes Criticism from Free Speech Advocates 

The 2nd World Internet Conference, organized by the Chinese government, began on December 16, 2015; CEOs of Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu; executives of Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Huawei; and a number of other stakeholders in Internet governance are in attendance. Chinese President Xi Jinping was one of the first to speak at the conference. He told conference attendees that that they should "respect the right of individual countries to choose their own path to cyber development, model of cyber regulation and participate on the same footing." A number of netizens have criticized the conference's theme, “An Interconnected World Shared and Governed by All: Building a Community of Common Future in Cyberspace.” Meanwhile, Chinese media outlets have reported that eight heads of state and political officials are expected to attend, and they include the prime ministers of Russia, Pakistan, and Kazakhstan. However, no complete guest list has been released as of yet. Chinese officials have barred a team of New York Times journalists from reporting at the conference.

England: Transport for London Parody Website Taken Down, New One Created

On December 10, 2015, Tim Waters, the creator of a parody website that generated London Tube signs, received a letter from a lawyer representing the Transport for London (TfL), the City of London’s public transport authority; the letter threatened legal action if Waters refused to take the parody generator down. Over the years, the website had gained a number of fans, as it allowed them to make their own customized London Tube signs. One user generated a London Tube sign that contained the following message: "Donald Trump is not welcome on our trains."
Waters subsequently took his website down and posted an explanatory note on his personal blog. His parody received extensive international coverage from both American and British news outlets. It is still possible to see what the site looked like by using the Internet Archive, and on December 16, 2015, someone unaffiliated with Waters launched a new parody website.

Germany: Facebook, Google, and Twitter Agree to Revise Approach to Hate Speech 

After negotiating an agreement with the German government, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have agreed to remove hate speech from their platforms in the country 24 hours after it is first reported. "When the limits of free speech are trespassed, when it is about criminal expressions, sedition, incitement to carry out criminal offences that threaten people, such content has to be deleted from the net. And we agree that as a rule this should be possible within 24 hours," announced German Justice Minister Heiko Maas. At this juncture, it is unclear if Facebook, Google, and Twitter will delete content only in Germany and keep it visible to the rest of its users outside of the country. Another looming question is whether or not the same 24-hour rule will apply to posts originating from outside Germany. In a previous statement, Debbie Frost, a spokeswoman for Facebook, said, "We think the best solutions to dealing with people who make racist and xenophobic comments can be found when service providers, government and civil society all work together to address this common challenge.” This policy change comes after a tense exchange accidentally overheard between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, wherein Merkel criticized Facebook for not doing more in response to racist messages.

Thailand: Man Posted Sarcastic Message about the King's Dog, Faces Prison Sentence

A Thai worker, Thanakorn Siripaiboon, faces a total of 37 years in prison for posting several messages online that disparage Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej's dog. The dog in question, Tongdaeng (also known as Copper), is a household name. The Thai monarch published a book about her in 2002, which was subsequently adapted into an animated film in 2015. Thailand has a number of laws in place to restrict lèse majesté, an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign. It has been a crime to criticize the Thai monarchy since 1908. Officials also accuse Siripaiboon of “liking” a slanderous Facebook page about the king.

United States: Internet Tax Ban Under Consideration

The Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA), originally passed in 1998, bars the implementation of new taxes on Internet access. It was set to expire on December 11, 2015, but now, American technology experts anticipate that next week, Congressional officials will pass a piece of legislation that will make permanent the ban on state and local taxation of Internet access and on multiple or discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce.