The Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. It originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Juan Arellano, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Sam Kellogg, Weiping Li, Leila Nachawati, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.
The Association for Progressive Communications, a pioneer organization in the technology and human rights community, is facing ongoing harassment directed at “Take Back the Tech,” a campaign intended to increase conversations and awareness about gender-based harassment online.
Prominent themes in the attack included suggestions that the campaign is nothing more than a “bitching session” about gender disparity in technology industries; cartoons depicting leaders of the campaign and other prominent online feminists such as Anita Sarkeesian accepting money from powerful companies and the U.N.; and multiple comparisons between the campaign and Germany under Hitler.
The attack evidently was triggered by a report on “cyberviolence” against women released in late September by the United Nations. The report contained numerous inaccurate citations and omissions, supported dubiously sourced claims about links between violence and video games, and proposed censoring sex-related content online, such as pornography. The report immediately garnered criticism from gender and online rights advocates, arguing that it not only undermined the legitimacy of their work but also seemed to trigger yet another wave of misogynistic harassment against them. Prominent advocates like Sarkeesian and APC have worked actively with the U.N. on this issue, but had no role in writing the report.
The trolls involved in this attack should not be confused or conflated with more legitimate critiques about the potential censorship implications of seeking to diminish misogynistic speech online. Indeed, Take Back the Tech’s leaders have long debated the challenges that the issue poses for free speech. But they agree that when online harassment escalates to threats of real-life harm—examples range from Afghanistan to Brazil to the United States—it should be treated as a threat, not a simple exercise of free speech.
Facebook users arrested over political critiques, Mickey Mouse references
Two Lebanese Facebook users were arrested and detained on charges of sectarianism, libel, and defamation for posts they wrote on the social media site. Michel Douaihy spent nine days in jail for criticizing the punishment given to the cleric Ahmad Al-Assir. Mohammad Nazzal, a journalist for the newspaper Al-Akhbar, was convicted on similar charges but was sentenced to six months in prison.
A few days later, an Egyptian Facebook user was reportedly sentenced to three years in prison by a military court for drawing Mickey Mouse ears on President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and posting it on the popular networking site. The charge was allegedly the all-too-common “attempt to overthrow the regime.”
Myanmar activist on trial for mocking military wardrobe
Myanmar activist Chaw Sandi Tun is facing court proceedings for posting a digital photo collage that juxtaposed female political opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi with high-level military service personnel, all male, donning newly redesigned uniforms. By comparing the new military garb to Suu Kyi’s apparel (both were a similar shade of green), the post insinuated that military officers were dressing like women, which is considered an insult in Myanmar society. Military officials are seeking to prosecute Chaw under a vague provision of the country’s Electronic Transactions Law, which carries penalties of up to five years in prison for altering digital information in order to defame “any organization or any person.”
Peruvian news site briefly loses Facebook account over Fujimori coverage
The Facebook account of Peruvian news site La Republica was suspended on Oct. 11 after receiving a flood of abuse complaints, most of which concerned an article about legal investigations into the financial and political activities of family members of legislator and presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former president and convicted human rights violator Alberto Fujimori.* Although the page has since been reactivated, it left the staff of La Republica rattled. “Despite these acts of censorship, we are and will be strong advocates of freedom of expression and press freedom,” they wrote.
Apple News takes orders from Chinese government
Apple blocked access to Apple News for all users connected to Chinese telecom networks. Overseas users from countries that have access to Apple News will receive an error message when traveling to China, saying the app is not supported within the country. According to the New York Times, the move is likely an attempt by Apple to circumvent compliance with Chinese censorship rules, which would require the company to remove articles deemed sensitive by the government from the Apple News feed.
Australia’s controversial new data retention law debuts
On Oct. 13, a new data retention law came into effect in Australia, requiring telecoms and Internet service providers to store extensive records on users for up to two years. The law requires blanket retention of metadata from phone calls, SMS messages, emails, and Web browsing histories, but as privacy activists and even some opposition legislators have pointed out, the law is full of holes and should be relatively easy to circumnavigate for most users. Given Australia’s intelligence alliance with the United States, however, Australian netizens may soon opt to go the extra mile to protect their personal data from prying government eyes.
- “Report of the Special Rapporteur to the General Assembly on the Protection of Sources and Whistleblowers”—U.N. Special Rapporteur for Free Expression
- “Pay No Attention to the Server Behind the Proxy: Mapping FinFisher’s Continuing Proliferation”—Citizen Lab
- “Where Do Major Tech Companies Stand on Encryption?”—Electronic Frontier Foundation
Correction, Oct. 16, 2015: This post originally misstated that former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was dead. He is alive.