Week in Review: June 29, 2016

by Patrick Drown

Ukrainian Writer Whose Novel Debuts on Facebook Has Work Translated to English Ukrainian writer Oleh Shynkarenko’s book Kaharlyk , about a dystopian Ukrainian society inspired by the Maidan square protests in 2014, is now available in English . The book got its start in a written space not usually known to be literary; Shynkarenko wrote snippets of his book to share on Facebook. Shynkarenko turned to Facebook after sharing his writing on a blog in 2010, but when he joked about hoping there were radicals that could kill the then-president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, he encountered trouble. The young writer was interrogated by security services and subsequently found his own blog to have been deleted. The newly translated story follows a protagonist experiencing the hardships of a Russian-controlled Ukrainian society. In this futuristic and oppressive society , the protagonist loses his memory because the Russian army uses his brain to control satellites. Shynkarenko hopes that his writing makes the reader reflect on the dangers of increased Russian influence in Ukraine. In Shynkarenko’s case, Index on Censorship editor Rachel Jolley shares that “Facebook was a freer space and less open to the vagaries of the authorities” than traditional blogging websites.

Social Media Platforms Get Serious About Censoring Terrorist Content After many social media platforms have received demands from the US government to disrupt how ISIS recruits from abroad, Google and Facebook are stepping up their game. Reuters reports that the two social media giants are making the removal of extremist videos from their websites automated. This follows an announcement that researchers at Dartmouth College have adjusted a new detection tool for these purposes. The technology used to automatically remove terrorist video content is the same technology used to protect against copyright infringement on the web, a process known as “hashing.”   The Week in Review explained this method last week, but as a reminder, the technology involves taking a long stream of data of arbitrary length and assigning it to a specific value of a fixed length, which is known as a hash. Similar files will be given the same hash, which allows computers to quickly and easily spot duplicates. It is not clear how extremist videos are identified to begin with - some videos with terrorist content are reported by users, but according to the MIT Technology Review it’s not known much human effort on the part of Google or Facebook is exerted to locate these videos. This is a big move in the direction of gutting the internet of terrorist related content, but politicians are hoping that tech companies can soon use user data to identify potential terrorists and potential threats.

Gun Control Advocates on Facebook Report a Florida Congressman’s Gun RaffleAfter years of being an unintentional marketplace for gun sales, in January Facebook banned the private sale of guns and ammunition. But Facebook is having trouble enforcing the ban. Florida Senator Greg Evers wrote a post on his Facebook page stating that he would raffle off an AR-15 to any Facebook user who had “liked” his page. Facebook decided to remove two posts related to the raffle because they promoted “graphic violence.” Facebook’s decision to delete Evers’ posts was supported by activists in the LGBT community who were outraged that the senator was raffling off the very same weapon that was used in the June 12th Orlando shooting. Facebook became aware of the gun raffle only because of reports made to Facebook by gun activists online. While Senator Greg Evans wasn’t selling a gun, his raffle and subsequent reporting by gun activists resemble the reality of how Facebook struggles to enforce its ban on gun sales. Facebook employees themselves rarely investigate the sale of guns and instead rely on reporting from Facebook users. Shortly after implementing its gun sale ban, Facebook rolled out a feature that makes it easier for users to report posts related to "the purchase or sale of drugs, guns or regulated products." According to Mother Jones, the ban has pushed many sellers and purchasers of guns to do their business on private Facebook groups, which are harder for normal Facebook users to report and has gun control advocates on Facebook questioning why the platform isn’t doing more itself to police its own backyard.

Insulting Tanzanian Presidents on WhatsApp Causes Legal Trouble for Citizen Tanzanian citizen Leonard Mulokozi was charged on June 22nd with writing on WhatsApp a message that insulted Tanzanian President John Magufuli. Originally in Swahili, the message reads : “Does it mean this Pombe Magufuli [Tanzania’s president] doesn't have advisers? Is he unadvisable? Or is he just a fool? He's real foolish, this fellow: he doesn't consider the applicable laws before opening his mouth…” Mulokozi is one of many Tanzanians who have encountered legal trouble after a large Cybercrime bill was passed in April 2015.  The Electronic and Postal Communications Act was written to address child pornography, cyberbullying, online impersonation, and publication of false publication, but opponents of the bill say that it has given the police too much power, such as the ability to demand data from online service providers. Mulokozi’s charge comes this month on the heels of the conviction of Isaac Emily , who insulted the Tanzanian President on Facebook and now faces three years in prison or a fine of five million shillings (US $2300).

Iranian Reformist Newspaper Stripped of Newspaper License The Iranian reformist newspaper Ghanoon no longer has its newspaper license following a legal complaint from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IGRC). The governmental security agency did not specify which of the newspaper’s reports had inspired the complaint. However, two recent articles published by the newspaper have angered Iranian officials. A June 11th article titled “A Doomed 24 Hours” describes the experience of an unnamed prisoner in Tehran’s Great Penitentiary, including only two hours of access to dirty water for drinking throughout the day. Back in January, an article titled “Why was the American Hostage Crying?” criticized the actions of the IRGC arrest of 10 US Navy sailors who on January 12, 2016 were captured in Iranian controlled waters. According Ghanoon’s website, its license was revoked to “prevent a crime” because the newspaper was accused of “publishing a falsehood with the intent to cause disruption in public opinion.” Ghanoon was temporarily shut down in 2014 due to its report about possible corruption charges against a former member of the IRGC after he was released on bail.