US law changes necessary as well as social media platform responsibility to counter extremism

Yair Cohen talked with Al Jazeera earlier this month about the connection between online gaming message boards and terrorism, following the aftermath of the El Paso shooting. 

The terrorist posted a white nationalist manifesto on 8chan (shut down, for now) before sharing the post on social media platforms and then proceeded to kill 20 plus people in a supermarket. 

There is a strong connection between the gaming community and extremists and social media platforms need to do a better job of policing since their sites promote the amplification of the hate speech. 

Should sites like this even exist? Al Jazeera asked Yair Cohen

Yair: Whether sites like this should exist, depends very much on how far we are willing to stretch the right to free speech. Each society and country places its own limits and carries out its own balancing act. The US has The Communications Decency Act which provides discussion forum operators such as 8chan (and now there are others replacing 8chan, using the same format), immunity from prosecution in relation to third party posts.
The reality is that the immunity exists, regardless of the question whether the website is being monitored or not. To remove these sorts of websites from the internet, there will need to be a change in the law in the US.

Al Jazeera: How can they be better policed and should they be shut down? 

Yair Cohen: The US government has found a creative way of policing websites such as 8chan (and Discord). They started to put pressure on public companies such as Google and Bing to completely delist links to those sites from mainstream search results. However, internet users have found ways around this ban on Google by using images which are much more difficult to identify as harmful. They post these images, with content from 8chan on social media networks, such as Twitter, Instagram and Google Image libraries.

Al Jazeera: Do they play a significant role in instigating hate and causing scenarios such as mass shootings?

Yair Cohen: Yes. There is evidence that websites such as 8chan did are used as breeding grounds for young extremists. Ironically, because those websites have been effectively outlawed by the mainstream search engines, they become increasingly attractive to teenagers and to anyone else who feel the need to rebel. Previous mass shooters have acquired a status of heroes amongst some extremists, who follow the murderers’ vision and mode of operation.

On the day of the mass shooting, 8chan users were commentating about the massacre and calling the terrorist 'our guy' as well as congratulating him on the amount of people that he had killed. 

Al Jazeera: Does the overall acceptance of online shooting games also "normalise" shootings?

Yair Cohen: Indeed. There is clear evidence that in some instances, online gaming channels normalise extremist websites like 8chan did and now there are others. This is where gamers can move on particularly violent and offending conversations whilst avoiding the risk of being banned from certain gaming platforms.

Al Jazeera: What can be done about that?

Yair Cohen: Tighter control over social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, to be able to identify mass sharing of offending images. At the same time, there are increasing calls in the US for change in the law, which could find operators of discussion forums liable to posts by their users under certain circumstances. The US government are currently citing 'Freedom of Speech' issues as justification to refrain from joining an international initiative in reigning in extremist content on social media but Freedom of Speech does not exist if marginalised groups are being threatened, attacked and killed digitally and physically. 

Yair Cohen, Social Media Expert and Internet Law Lawyer, founder of Cohen Davis, is also the author of The Net is Closing: Birth of the e-police. It is a powerful debate about the future policing of the internet and is a fascinating insight into the internet and our society.


Yair Cohen Live on RT International Facebook privacy policy and your data

Facebook's new privacy feature 'Off-Facebook Activity', we are being told, is meant to allow users to turn off some or have all of their browsing; online shopping and other activities removed from their history from now onwards. 

Facebook collects data about its users' activities in order to gather information to target advertising to their users, of course, to profit through the sales of advertising and sales of data to third parties, including advertisers. 
Even with this new feature, after you have disconnected the apps and turned off your browsing, Facebook will continue to collect your data, without it being linked to your account, so Facebook will still benefit from your data which is collected outside your Facebook activities.The only difference is that it will not be allowed to use that particular data to target you with personalised ads.
If Facebook are so keen on 'giving people control over their data', it begs the questions of why the new tool will be hidden under one of the sub-menus, making it hard to access and also, why it will take 48 hours to implement, after you have requested to use the removal tool. 
It is also unclear how much detail Facebook is going to provide you about the nature of the data that is being passed on to it via the third party websites and apps.The information is expected to be very limited to the name of the website and the country of its origin.
It is astonishing how much information Facebook has about their users. You only to have to visit a site for a nanosecond or be redirected briefly to a site accidentally and those sites hold your data that is sent back to Facebook.
Working on this new feature over 12 months ago, Facebook referred to it as a 'clear history' tool, much like a web browser, where history can be deleted entirely. This new tool does not do that. It just severs identifying information. 
It seems that there is no way out of Facebook still benefiting from using your data, even if you are able to find the Off-Facebook feature under the sub-menu to use it.



Facebook launches reporting tool to clamp down on scam adverts in the UK

Facebook has created a reporting tool for scam adverts and donated £3m to Citizens Advice for an anti-scan project called Scams Action. 

The project was launched by Facebook after they agreed to treat the matter seriously after Martin Lewis, the consumer champion, dropped a lawsuit of defamation against them, for the many scam ads appearing on Facebook that were featuring his image with the endorsement that he was backing financial schemes and to click through on the fake ad. 

Scam adverts are often posted by fake companies that don't own, hold or dispatch what they are advertising and often use celebrity images to endorse false products like mobile phones, miracle medical breakthroughs, free trial offers, miracle face creams diet pills and 'get rich quick' bitcoin trading schemes.

As many Social Media platforms push advertising content and Facebook still does not allow users to deny advertising uploads of their personal data to Facebook, it has become easy for scammers to reach a broader audience. The UK faces an epidemic of online scam ads, yet there isn't a law or regulation to prevent them. Usually, these criminal scammers are based outside of the EU. 

Thousands of people have fallen victim to these ad scams and they have devastating effects on those that have been conned out of thousands of pounds and serious affects on their health if they have actually received the 'miracle new drug that replaces insulin'. 

The social media company's new scam ads reporting tool will involve a specially trained team investigating alerts raised by users, reviewing reports and taking down violating posts to clamp down on potentially misleading adverts. 

Citizens Advice project Scams Action (casa) will help those that have been impacted by scammers (it is estimated that 20,000 people are year are scammed) but also raise awareness of how to avoid scams, too. 

Many ad scams are obvious to lots of people but there are many that don't recognise them as scams and they are left vulnerable because when an advertisement appears on Facebook, they may feel that it is to be trusted; that Facebook would have vetted the company to protect its users, surely? Match that advert with a celebrity's face that is thought to be an opinion leader saying that they use the product or have invested in the company and now life is so wonderful and that is where the dangers lie. It is a ripe area for scammers and it is right that Facebook are doing something about protecting their users because it isn't just an issue with the ad scammers now. It is an issue for legitimate UK advertisers trying to get their brand message across. The ad scam issue dilutes trust.  

There are a few obvious things to look out for in spotting an ad scam:
  • The price is too good to be true - cheaper than it could be bought elsewhere
  • It's a too good to be true Miracle cream that gets rid of every wrinkle
  • Being asked to pay quickly and for any other personal information
  • The http address at the start of the URL should have an s at the end of http: https. This means that the website has a security certificate and that if you are paying by credit card, your card is encrypted. 
  • Check if there is an option of paying by Paypal which would give you added security. If there isn't an option, this should ring alarm bells. 
  • Spelling, grammar, poor images and no contact address on the page.

Facebook have also made updates in its Ad Preference menu to provide users with more information about businesses and third parties, including their email and phone numbers and other data. 

Yet, Facebook is still not letting their users deny advertiser uploads of their personal data to Facebook via Facebook itself. Users have to go through and contact each and every one individually and of course, how many people would do that? So, these users are still bombarded with all types of manipulative advertisements, which leaves them extremely vulnerable to ad scams. 

Social Media companies provide a vehicle to carry fake news and fake ads across the world. The reach is global and unquantifiable. It's collection of data has made it easy for these criminals that are creating these fake ads to manipulate the users on the social media platforms. 

Martin Lewis sued Facebook for defamation because his reputation was being ruined on their platform. 

Will the big tech giants understand the damage that their negligent behaviour can cause?

Global companies are the key to spreading better policing on the internet.

Online defamation refers to any untrue statement (and in this case an untrue endorsement) posted in an online context that causes or is likely to cause serious harm to someone's reputation or business. 


Choosing how to respond to an internet troll

Should you ever engage with an internet troll?

Okay, so you have written some thoughts about something that you believe in on an online forum, where you are amongst people that seem to share your views and support your beliefs and then, suddenly, Wham! Some anonymous user has come along and started calling you expletives and wishing you a 'not so nice' day.

The violence of the messages have shocked you; alarmed you and they feel threatening.

They are relentless. More negative comments come flying in.

They are writing abuse directly to you and they have an audience and suddenly, everyone can see all of these horrible messages. It has ignited an emotional response within you and you want to retaliate. It's hard not to.

When the posts are spiralling out of control and you are bombarded by ugly words written by someone that doesn't know you (or do they?), your whole day is clouded by this harassment from an internet troll.

What if you respond? 

Nobody should get away with writing things like that to someone else, right? You may feel much better after retaliating with something equally not so nice or suggestions that they go and seek out a therapist or find a new hobby.

That is all they wanted, though. Internet trolls are looking for acknowledgement. All they wanted was a response from you - negative or positive. They have your attention! What next, though? It may escalate even more out of control and it isn't just your day that has been affected, it is your every waking thoughts as suddenly, their words are even more personal and more threatening  and they are seriously distressing you. What if they are capable of doing what they are threatening? Is it the woman next door or some prankster halfway across the world? Not knowing who it is or what their motives are, is even more stressful.

If you don't engage with an internet troll, eventually and usually, they may get bored and move on to another target. In most occasions that is what happens but sometimes, in our experience, not responding has not been a deterrent for the online troll, whose motives only they know, and they have taken the online harassment to different levels.

So, should you ever engage with an internet troll?

Our Internet Law Experts believe that by not engaging and choosing not to respond but having the offensive posts and web pages removed and then tracking down the internet troll and making them accountable, is an extremely powerful way to respond.


Why your child is not safe on YouTube

Is Google responsible for YouTube users leaving abusing comments on children’s videos?

Google would like us all to believe that the use of YouTube by paedophiles is an unfortunate event which it has no control over and which it did not cause. The truth, however, very different.
For a start, not only that Google has known about this practice for some time, I would go as far as to suggest that by the way Google has conducted itself, it has willingly placed kids at substantial risks.
To fully understand Google's culpability, we need to understand Google's age restrictions policies in relation to YouTube and in relation to Google's mobile phone operating system Android, which accounts to about 80% of the of the new mobile phone sales and which is where most YouTube videos are being watched. So, starting with YouTube age restriction policy, and this is this is very important, Google’s officially says that Read more about child safety online


Is online abuse a criminal offence

Is online abuse a criminal offence in the UK Yair Cohen,

 UK social media lawyer, speaks to Jason Mohammad on BBC Wales: 

It appears you are in the public eye. Many people think it's perfectly fine to sit behind a smartphone or computer and send abuse. Well, the TV presenter [Katie Price] has simply had enough. She's calling on the UK government to adopt Harvey's Law, named after her son, Harvey Price, to make online abuse a specific criminal offense, creating a register of offenders. . Do you think online abuse should be made a criminal offense? And maybe you are put off from going online because of the abuse you could experience. I know a lot of people in the public eye who get it every single day.
 Jason Mohammad: Let's talk to Yair Cohen who's a social media lawyer from the Internet Law Center. Yair, good morning to you. Good to have you. How are you?
Yair Cohen: Hey, good morning. Excellent, excellent. Jason Mohammad: How does it stand at the moment?

Is there anybody stopping somebody sitting in their bedroom sending a lot of hateful abuse to somebody within the public eye? 

Yair Cohen: The law should be stopping them. We have got laws in place, the same laws that apply to offline activities also apply to online activities. I think that, over the years, people have been made to think that they are two different societies.
There is the online society and there's the offline society, whereas the online society is completely unregulated. You can do whatever you want. There are no consequences for your actions, whilst the offline society, you're pretty much heavily regulated.
 There is the police, there is the court, there is everything else. And what we are starting to see now is a bit of a shift in understanding that there aren't two societies.
People are the same people, and what is happening online affects that individual, and their families, and the children, and the parents offline as well.

So the laws are pretty much the same laws. We're talking about particularly the law of harassment. When one is being harassed online, the harassment is an ongoing thing. It is there 24/7. It is there all the time for everyone to see. It doesn't go away. It doesn't stop when you switch the computer off. So we will probably be looking at an offense of harassment being committed by people who just shout abuse at other people online.
Jason Mohammad: So, Yair, when you look at some of the newspapers, you see very often there are articles whereby members of Parliament, politicians, television presenters, sports stars are being abused on a daily basis. Therefore, it begs the question whether social media companies should be taking much more responsibility. Yair Cohen: The approach by government, especially during the Tony Blair era when the internet just started to become more widely available, was that free speech was king, which means the Crown Prosecution Service was giving instructions to the police not to even investigate offenses that are committed online that involve abuse and harassment. It was considered as something which might interfere with free speech, and it wasn't until very recently where members of Parliament started to receive abuse themselves, and experience the strength of the harassment, that suddenly there's been a shift in mindset, and police is starting now to investigate because they are told that they have to do that. Jason Mohammad:

You switched on your phone in the morning, and you were subject to some sort of abuse, what would you do? The first thing you'd have to do surely is go to the police?

Yair Cohen: It depends. It depends on the strength, it depends on the severity of it, but most people will go to the police. Unfortunately, the police is still not up to dealing with those sort of things, so the police will say, "Well, there's nothing we can do about it. It's happening online. Just go home," and it happens time and time again, and we sometimes have to send people four, five, six times back to the police station and say, "No, no, no. You've got to tell them that they've got to investigate." Yair Cohen: The alternative is to take out a civil injunction, because remember harassment is both a civil wrongdoing and a criminal wrongdoing. So even if police isn't doing anything, the individual can either take a private prosecution, so they themselves can go to the magistrate courts and start a case against their abuser, or they can go to a civil court and obtain a civil injunction, which, of course, is very expensive. Jason Mohammad: Yair, good to talk to you. Thank you very much indeed. That is Yair Cohen speaking to us