Week in Review: February 11, 2016

by Muira McCammon

India: Telecommunications Regulator Passes Net Neutrality Rules

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), passed the Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, which declares in part: “No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content." The full text is available here. As a result of the new regulations, the Indian government banned Free Basics, a Facebook program that offers free mobile access to certain websites. In an interview with Motherboard, Malavika Jayaram, the executive director of the Digital Asia Hub and a Fellow at the Berkman Center, made the following observation: “This is a victory for a broad movement that included policy experts as well as grassroots activists. But this is not the end of the fight, because it does not answer the larger question of how to connect India’s unconnected population to the entire internet, not just a select portion of it. That must be the focus moving forward.” In the aftermath of the decision, Facebook board member Marc Andreessen posted a series of tweets, calling TRAI's policy changes “morally wrong." He later wrote, “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?” and prompted a new series of debates online. In a previous townhall at the Indian Institute of Technology in October 2015, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained, “Our mission is to give everyone in the world the power to share what’s important to them and to connect every person in the world. And India is the world’s largest democracy. There are a billion people in India who do not have access to the Internet yet, and if we care about connecting everyone in the world, you can’t do that if there are so many people who don’t have access to basic connectivity." 

Saudi Arabia: European Parliament Members (MEPs) Inquire Into Raif Badawi's Status

Andrej Plenkovic, a Croatian Democratic Union politician, was one of the seven MEPs to visit Saudi Arabia on February 8, 2016. In an interview, he told reporters that they asked about the status and case of the jailed blogger, Raif Badawi, during a meeting with Bandar al-Aiban, president of the Saudi Human Rights Commission. He reported that the human rights commissioner told the MEPs "how the case was handled under the law of Saudi Arabia." In October 2015, the European Parliament awarded Badawi the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. His wife accepted the aware on his behalf in Strasbourg on December 16, 2015. At the time of writing, Badawi remains in jail. Many of his supporters came together in January to celebrate his 32nd birthday.

Twitter: Company Says There Is No "Magic Algorithm" For Identifying Terrorist Content, Shuts Down 125K Accounts

On February 5, 2016, the company announced that in the past six months, it had suspended more than 125,000 accounts tied to terrorist or extremist groups. In an online statement, Twitter added, "We also attended government-convened summits on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) hosted by the White House, the Australian Attorney-General's Department, the UK government, the French Prime Minister, the European Commission, and the United Nations." Danny Yadron of The Guardian reflected upon the challenges of monitoring extremist accounts: "The procedures require Twitter’s specialists to make tough calls on individual tweets and accounts, including to what degree a message is euphoric, controversial or extremist." Brett McGurk, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, tweeted, "Welcome moves by @twitter to shut down over 125k #ISIL related and #ISIL associated accounts." Concern lingers over the ways in which Twitter selects accounts to delete.

United States of America: Facebook Says "Ice Cream" Painting Is Too Suggestive

Facebook removed an image from the Philadelphia Museum of Art's page and notified the art museum that it had removed the post because it contained "excessive amounts of skin or suggestive content," Director of Communications Norman Keyes said. The controversial image was "Ice Cream," a 1964 painting by Belgian pop artist Evelyne Axell that shows a woman eating an ice cream cone. The Art Museum reposted the image on February 5 and asked its followers to discuss Facebook's decision to remove the original post. At the time of writing, "Ice Cream" has not been taken down a second time. A number of art specialists and free speech activists have taken the opportunity to decry Facebook's behavior. One blogger asked, "Is Facebook run by a bunch of prudish philistines?". The exhibition featuring the painting is titled "International Pop" and seeks to chronicle Pop's emergence as a worldwide social movement. “This exhibit is an ambitious effort to explore its emergence and impact far beyond the borders of the United States and Britain,” explained museum director and chief executive Timothy Rub.