Tag: Policy

Now Twitter’s quest to become a ‘safer’ place has a schedule

You no longer have to wonder when you'll see Twitter implement the new rules promised by its CEO and outlined in that leaked email. The social network has released a "Safety Calendar," which details when it will roll out a series of new rules to make the platform a safer place. As the internal email said, the company plans to crack down on hate and violence on its website: on November 3rd, it promises to start suspending accounts of "organizations that use violence to advance their cause."

Avatars and headers with hateful imagery and symbols will no longer be allowed and tweets that contain them will be placed behind a filter. Twitter says it will release examples of what it considers "hateful imagery" once the policy is finalized so there can be no doubts what kind of symbols aren't welcome anymore. In addition, Twitter will begin blocking people's ability to sign up with hateful names on November 22nd.

The platform's Safety Calendar also outlines when the rules it announced in the past will go live, including new measures to protect victims of non-consensual nudity and unwanted sexual advances. Further, Twitter will update its witness reporting procedure to take user relationships into account, so it can act faster if it's more likely that the reporter truly has witnessed rule violations. We'll find out how the microblogging platform plans to enforce its new rules soon, as well: it will reveal the factors it considers when reviewing user reports on November 14th.

Source: Twitter

Fear of the US government led me to censor myself on Twitter

The day I've been dreading for months is drawing near. On October 18th, the Department of Homeland Security's modified system of records is scheduled to go into effect. The updated policy would affect all US immigrants, whether they are new, existing or permanent residents or even naturalized citizens, and how they are identified by the government. More accurately, it would allow the DHS, Border Patrol and other immigration authorities to collect social media handles as part of an individual's official record. As someone who's working in the US on a visa, I was immediately worried about how it would affect my standing.

The reason the DHS gave for the update is that it is beginning to conduct "more immigration actions in an electronic environment" and that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is adjudicating "more immigration benefits and requests for action in its USCIS Electronic Immigration System." Basically, people are increasingly applying online, and the changes would reduce the existing reliance on paper records. What the DHS wants to do is be able to officially identify you by your online persona in addition to existing attributes like your name, birthday and address. The update would also add an individual's "country of nationality; country of residence; the USCIS Online Account Number; social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results" to one's records.

A DHS spokesperson said in a statement, "This amendment does not represent a new policy." The notice published on September 18th was "an effort to be transparent (and) comply with existing regulations" and "due to updates in the electronic immigration system." Multiple requests for clarity on what would change for immigrants -- whether they would have to fill out new forms asking for their social media handles or what would happen for those with private profiles, were not answered.

I was raised in Singapore, where political criticism can get you sued (if interpreted as libel), arrested (if seen as inciting violence) or even jailed. At my first full-time job, as a marketing executive for a local oil and gas company, my boss told me not to speak in meetings -- playing dumb was always better than potentially making a mistake, he said. For most of my life, I learned to swallow my feelings. My mother's mantra was "Keep your opinions to yourself," and she sternly repeated it as we made our way to family gatherings and social functions.


When I first came to live in the US, in 2008, I was surprised by how liberally people expressed themselves. I learned that individuals' thoughts have value but also, more important, that we are entitled to them. The notion of freedom of speech was new to me, but as I observed the thriving arts and culture in American society, I understood what liberty was worth. Just as people grow and improve by accepting and learning from different opinions, so a country flourishes by embracing and encouraging open discourse.

I got used to the freedom to air my thoughts on any topic in public forums like Twitter and Instagram. I still refrain from saying anything that would make me look insensitive or give away too much personal information, though. Part of me also continues to fear the wrath of the Singapore government; I worry about what could happen to me when I return to visit family should I unwittingly say something too critical. But for the most part I feel carefree. My posts tend to be a mix of my own articles, random musings, funny videos or frustrating stories about poor customer service and bad PR.

Something changed a few months ago, after I first heard of the DHS' plans to incorporate social media into its visa application process. I started to second-guess myself. I avoided weighing in on topics that would show my political leanings. I dutifully wished my followers a happy Fourth of July, shared the results of the Super Bowl and retweeted posts honoring the fallen victims of 9/11. I sent these tweets mostly out of goodwill, but a small part of me felt it was better to look like I participate in American activities.

I started posting what I imagined a immigration officer would like to see, rather than show an unfiltered version of my thoughts. Truth is, Chinese New Year matters more to me than Fourth of July does, and I didn't really care if the Patriots won. I love America, and I love many of its festivities and people, but I can't change the fact that I grew up elsewhere. And honestly, I shouldn't have to.

I continued to tweet, trying mostly to stay on neutral topics. Occasionally, I let myself express anger at institutions or people, but I only feel safe ranting about issues that people agree on regardless of political views.

I don't want to let my fear get in the way of me expressing myself, but it already has.

But it's what people don't see that I found the most telling. I agonized over whether to soften a jokingly violent tweet about New York's subway system. I didn't want someone to come across those thoughts, assume I was serious, and decide I'm a dangerous individual. Who knows what an immigration officer might think? Eventually, I toned down the language and added qualifiers like "I guess" to make it clear I was merely musing.

There are times I've avoided posting altogether. I kept quiet during the white nationalist rally in Virginia and generally don't comment on things Donald Trump does. But things came to a head when I found myself holding back from sharing negative tweets about American gun laws and political gridlock after the Las Vegas shootings. As my feed filled up with statistics showing how the US and its (lack of) gun control policies have led to massive loss of lives, I longed to retweet and share. But I didn't. Instead, I vented in private messages to trusted friends. I felt like I was back in Singapore.

I'm torn. I don't want to let my fear get in the way of me expressing myself, but it already has.

Maybe I'm being paranoid. A DHS spokesperson said the agency already does "and continues to monitor publicly-available social media to protect the homeland." They might already know everything they need to about me from years of unfiltered tweeting. But when your job, life and future depend on how strangers in some government agency perceive you, wouldn't you be careful too? Yes, my profile is public and anyone can already access it and judge me. But it's one thing to allow random people online to decide if they like you -- it's almost debilitating when your beliefs or personality are used to officially determine if you can visit a country.

The good news is, based on the thousands of comments on the proposal's forum, an overwhelming majority of people are against the upcoming update. Many of them argue that the move would be a violation of the First and Fourth Amendments. Some even claim this is a slippery slope toward a Big Brother–like future with the government monitoring the social media of citizens and immigrants alike. It's still unclear exactly how the changes would affect us, or how they are new, given the vague responses from the USCIS and the DHS. At this point though, my social media is no longer an accurate representation of the person I actually am. It's some facade I've created for the powers that be. Which really makes monitoring it useless anyway.

Twitter suspends Rose McGowan’s account

Over the last week or so, rumors about movie executive Harvey Weinstein have turned into actual reports of sexual harassment and rape by The New York Times and The New Yorker. As a result of those public reports, he has been fired by the board of his own company, while many in Hollywood (and beyond) have come forward to talk more openly about incidents of sexual harassment and assault. One of the most notable voices has been that of actress Rose McGowan, who tweeted last year that her own assault has "been an open secret in Hollywood/Media & they shamed me while adulating my rapist." Tonight, Twitter temporarily pulled the plug on her account.

Since the news broke -- including a report by the NYT that he reached a settlement with her in 1997 -- she has pushed for The Weinstein Company to dissolve its board, saying that they knew about his settlements, and said that Ben Affleck lied when he denied knowing about Weinstein's history. Now, she posted a screenshot to Instagram showing that Twitter has suspended her account for 12 hours, citing unspecified posts that break its policy -- the same policy that has struggled to curtail Russian manipulation campaigns, white supremacists, ISIS and any number of bots for any number of reasons.

Many high profile bans have been for very specific reasons, but it's not immediately clear what triggered this action. Recently Twitter's CEO said "We're putting significant effort into increasing our transparency as a company, and commit to meaningful and fast progress," but none of that is evident here. The company has justified other moves in favor of retaining tweets or accounts because they're "newsworthy" and lately, McGowan's posts more than fit that bill. Still, for unclear reasons, Twitter's stance has it positioned against a vulnerable voice instead of serving to amplify it and drive needed change. We will update this post if Twitter provides any explanation why.


A post shared by Rose McGowan (@rosemcgowan) on

Source: New York Times, Rose McGowan (Instagram)

Apple at odds with Indian regulators over anti-spam app

In a classic case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, Apple's refusal to approve the Indian government's anti-spam iPhone app is causing uproar on both sides. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has been pushing unsuccessfully to get its "Do Not Disturb" software included in the App Store, and Apple refuses to budge on the matter, claiming it violates the company's privacy policy.

The app allows people to share spam numbers with the agency, which passes the data on to carriers so that spammers can be blocked. Apple is having none of it, yet its own policy allows it to share user data with affiliates and strategic partners. Comparatively, the Do Not Disturb app demands much more limited data sharing.

There's no shortage of iPhones in India -- Apple shipped 2.5 million handsets last year, and a limited number are being assembled in Bangalore -- but the standoff has serious ramifications for Apple's plans to expand into the country, where half a billion smartphones will be sold by 2020. Apple wants to open retail stores and secure permission to import used handsets, as well as set up manufacturing facilities, for which it's submitted a substantial list of demands. With the factions at loggerheads, talks to facilitate these ambitions are proving fruitless.

As such, the regulator is currently putting together a consultative paper on privacy and personal data, and hopes to draw up proposed rules on the way networks use personal information. The process, due to finish in September, could eventually lead to new data legislation which could become part of the telecom licensing process.

As reported by Bloomberg, Ram Sewak Sharma, chairman of the Delhi-based telecom regulator, believes it's a "ridiculous situation", and that "no company can be allowed to be the guardian of a user's data." He added that, "The problem of who controls user data is getting acute and we have to plug the loose ends. This is not the regulator versus Apple, but Apple versus its own users."

Via: Bloomberg