Tech Companies Struggle With How to Curtail Offensive Speech

Twitter users are blocking companies like Pepsi, Nike and Uber on Twitter to pressure the social media firm to permanently ban American broadcaster Alex Jones for what they say are his abusive tweets.

Meanwhile, Twitter reportedly is facing a shutdown in Pakistan because of a government request to block what it deems objectionable content.

The moves come as U.S. internet companies take a harder look at their policies that have promoted free expression around the world. The companies have a mostly hands-off policy when it comes to curtailing speech, except when it comes to inciting violence and pornography. But that largely permissive approach is getting a new look.

​Twitter and Alex Jones

Twitter recently slapped a seven-day ban on conservative American radio host Jones for violating its policy on abusive speech, when he appeared to call for violence against the media, something he denies.

On his show this week, Jones noted that Twitter had removed his videos.

“They took me down,” he said. “Because they will not let me have a voice.”

Earlier this month, Apple, Spotify, Facebook, YouTube and other social media limited Jones and his InfoWars media company from their sites. But InfoWars’ live-streaming app can still be found at Google and Apple’s app stores. The on-air personality has put forth conspiracy theories calling some U.S. mass shootings hoaxes.

WATCH: Tech Companies Struggle With How to Curtail Offensive Speech

No more hands off

Internet firms are moving away from the long-held position that they didn’t want to monitor expression on their sites too closely, Irina Raicu, director of the Internet Ethics Program at Santa Clara University, said.

“The companies are stuck in the middle and no longer trying to avoid responsibility in a way that I think they were even a few years ago when they were saying we are just neutral platforms,” Raicu said. “They are increasingly taking a more open role in determining what content moderation looks like.”

It’s not just in the U.S. where the internet companies are having to make hard decisions about speech. The firms are also grappling with extreme speech in other languages.

Comments on Facebook have been linked to violence in places like Myanmar and India. A recent article by the Reuters news agency reports that negative messages about Myanmar’s Rohingya minority group were throughout its site.

Some call on social media companies to do more to target and take down hate messages before they lead to violence.

“If Facebook is bent on removing abusive words and nudity, they should be focused on removing these words as well,” said Abhinay Korukonda, a student from Mumbai, India, who is studying at the University of California, Berkeley. “This comes under special kinds of abusive terms. They should take an action. They should definitely remove these.”

Objective standards

Ming Hsu studies decision-making at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. He is researching how to come up with objective standards for determining whether certain speech could lead to real-world dangers against people both in the U.S. and across the globe.

“We don’t have actionable standards for policymakers or for companies or even lay people to say, ‘This is crossing the boundaries, this is way past the boundaries and this is sort of OK,’” Hsu said.

Those calls are even harder when looking at speech in other languages and cultures, he added.

“We don’t really have any intuition for who’s right, who is wrong and who is being discriminated against,” Hsu said. “And that gets back to relying on common sense and how fragile that is.”

Tech companies are known for constantly tweaking their products and software. Now it seems they are taking the same approach with speech as they draw the line between free expression and reducing harm.

VOA’s Deana Mitchell contributed to this report.

Tech Companies Struggle With How to Curtail Offensive Speech

Twitter users are blocking companies like Pepsi, Nike and Uber on Twitter to pressure the social media firm to permanently ban American broadcaster Alex Jones for what they say are his abusive tweets.

Meanwhile, Twitter reportedly is facing a shutdown in Pakistan because of a government request to block what it deems objectionable content.

The moves come as U.S. internet companies take a harder look at their policies that have promoted free expression around the world. The companies have a mostly hands-off policy when it comes to curtailing speech, except when it comes to inciting violence and pornography. But that largely permissive approach is getting a new look.

​Twitter and Alex Jones

Twitter recently slapped a seven-day ban on conservative American radio host Jones for violating its policy on abusive speech, when he appeared to call for violence against the media, something he denies.

On his show this week, Jones noted that Twitter had removed his videos.

“They took me down,” he said. “Because they will not let me have a voice.”

Earlier this month, Apple, Spotify, Facebook, YouTube and other social media limited Jones and his InfoWars media company from their sites. But InfoWars’ live-streaming app can still be found at Google and Apple’s app stores. The on-air personality has put forth conspiracy theories calling some U.S. mass shootings hoaxes.

WATCH: Tech Companies Struggle With How to Curtail Offensive Speech

No more hands off

Internet firms are moving away from the long-held position that they didn’t want to monitor expression on their sites too closely, Irina Raicu, director of the Internet Ethics Program at Santa Clara University, said.

“The companies are stuck in the middle and no longer trying to avoid responsibility in a way that I think they were even a few years ago when they were saying we are just neutral platforms,” Raicu said. “They are increasingly taking a more open role in determining what content moderation looks like.”

It’s not just in the U.S. where the internet companies are having to make hard decisions about speech. The firms are also grappling with extreme speech in other languages.

Comments on Facebook have been linked to violence in places like Myanmar and India. A recent article by the Reuters news agency reports that negative messages about Myanmar’s Rohingya minority group were throughout its site.

Some call on social media companies to do more to target and take down hate messages before they lead to violence.

“If Facebook is bent on removing abusive words and nudity, they should be focused on removing these words as well,” said Abhinay Korukonda, a student from Mumbai, India, who is studying at the University of California, Berkeley. “This comes under special kinds of abusive terms. They should take an action. They should definitely remove these.”

Objective standards

Ming Hsu studies decision-making at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. He is researching how to come up with objective standards for determining whether certain speech could lead to real-world dangers against people both in the U.S. and across the globe.

“We don’t have actionable standards for policymakers or for companies or even lay people to say, ‘This is crossing the boundaries, this is way past the boundaries and this is sort of OK,’” Hsu said.

Those calls are even harder when looking at speech in other languages and cultures, he added.

“We don’t really have any intuition for who’s right, who is wrong and who is being discriminated against,” Hsu said. “And that gets back to relying on common sense and how fragile that is.”

Tech companies are known for constantly tweaking their products and software. Now it seems they are taking the same approach with speech as they draw the line between free expression and reducing harm.

VOA’s Deana Mitchell contributed to this report.

Report: US Made, Sold Bomb That Killed Yemeni Children 

According to a CNN report, munitions experts say a U.S.-made bomb was used by the Saudi-led coalition in a recent airstrike in Yemen that hit a busload of children in a marketplace, killing 51 people, including 40 children.

CNN said Friday that the experts identified the bomb used in the attack from images taken of a piece of shrapnel shortly after the deadly strike.

According to CNN, the numbers on the shrapnel indicated the explosive was a 227-kilogram, laser-guided MK 82 bomb manufactured by top U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

Seventy-nine people were also wounded in the strike, including 56 children.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition said earlier this month the airstrike targeted Houthi rebels in the market and conformed with international and humanitarian law.

U.S. President Barack Obama banned the sale of precision-guided weaponry to Saudi Arabia in 2016 after Saudi Arabia used a similar bomb in another deadly attack.

The Trump administration, however, overturned the ban last year.

Liz Throssel, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said after the August 9 airstrike that hit the bus that “any attack which directly targets civilians not directly taking part in hostilities or civilian objects amounts to a war crime.”

She said the perpetrators must be identified, brought to justice and held accountable no matter where, when, or by whom the violations or abuses were committed.

Report: US Made, Sold Bomb That Killed Yemeni Children 

According to a CNN report, munitions experts say a U.S.-made bomb was used by the Saudi-led coalition in a recent airstrike in Yemen that hit a busload of children in a marketplace, killing 51 people, including 40 children.

CNN said Friday that the experts identified the bomb used in the attack from images taken of a piece of shrapnel shortly after the deadly strike.

According to CNN, the numbers on the shrapnel indicated the explosive was a 227-kilogram, laser-guided MK 82 bomb manufactured by top U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

Seventy-nine people were also wounded in the strike, including 56 children.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition said earlier this month the airstrike targeted Houthi rebels in the market and conformed with international and humanitarian law.

U.S. President Barack Obama banned the sale of precision-guided weaponry to Saudi Arabia in 2016 after Saudi Arabia used a similar bomb in another deadly attack.

The Trump administration, however, overturned the ban last year.

Liz Throssel, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said after the August 9 airstrike that hit the bus that “any attack which directly targets civilians not directly taking part in hostilities or civilian objects amounts to a war crime.”

She said the perpetrators must be identified, brought to justice and held accountable no matter where, when, or by whom the violations or abuses were committed.

Mueller Recommends Short Sentence for Trump Campaign Aide

A former Trump campaign adviser should spend at least some time in prison for lying to the FBI during the Russia probe, prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller said in a court filing Friday that also revealed several new details about the early days of the investigation.

The prosecutors disclosed that George Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign during the 2016 presidential race, caused irreparable damage to the investigation because he lied repeatedly during a January 2017 interview.

Those lies, they said, resulted in the FBI missing an opportunity to properly question a professor Papadopoulos was in contact with during the campaign who told him that the Russians possessed “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of emails.

Professor slipped away

The filing by the special counsel’s office strongly suggests the FBI had contact with Professor Joseph Mifsud while he was in the U.S. during the early part of the investigation into Russian election interference and possible coordination with Trump associates.

According to prosecutors, the FBI located the professor in Washington about two weeks after Papadopoulos’ interview and Papadopoulos’ lies “substantially hindered investigators’ ability to effectively question” him. But it doesn’t specifically relate any details of an interview with the professor as it recounts what prosecutors say was a missed opportunity caused by Papadopoulos.

“The defendant’s lies undermined investigators’ ability to challenge the professor or potentially detain or arrest him while he was still in the United States,” Mueller’s team wrote, noting that the professor left the U.S. in February 2017 and has not returned since.

“Had the defendant told the FBI the truth when he was interviewed in January 2017, the FBI could have quickly taken numerous investigative steps to help determine, for example, how and where the professor obtained the information, why the professor provided the information to the defendant, and what the defendant did with the information after receiving it,” according to the court filing.

Difficult interviews

Prosecutors also detail a series of difficult interviews with Papadopoulos after he was arrested in July 2017, saying he didn’t provide “substantial assistance” to the investigation. Papadopoulos later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as part of a plea deal.

The filing recommends that Papadopoulos spend at least some time incarcerated and pay a nearly $10,000 fine. His recommended sentence under federal guidelines is zero to six months, but prosecutors note another defendant in the case spent 30 days in jail for lying to the FBI.

Papadopoulos has played a central role in the Russia investigation since its beginning as an FBI counterintelligence probe in July 2016. In fact, information the U.S. government received about Papadopoulos was what triggered the counterintelligence investigation in the first place. That probe was later take over by Mueller.

Economic Fears Grip Turkey

Turkey’s currency this month has suffered heavy falls triggered by U.S.-Turkish tensions over the ongoing detention of an American pastor. Washington’s threat to impose new economic sanctions sparked another steep currency drop Friday. Dorian Jones reports on the economic fall out for people in Istanbul.

Economic Fears Grip Turkey

Turkey’s currency this month has suffered heavy falls triggered by U.S.-Turkish tensions over the ongoing detention of an American pastor. Washington’s threat to impose new economic sanctions sparked another steep currency drop Friday. Dorian Jones reports on the economic fall out for people in Istanbul.

Tesla Stock Drops; Musk Under Fire

Tesla shares dropped nearly 9 percent in value Friday, amid reports of CEO and co-founder Elon Musk meeting with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Musk wrote on Twitter last week of his plans to take the company private for a price of $420 per share, writing that he had “funding secured.” On Monday, in a blog post, Musk admitted that was not true, as he was still waiting on a finalized deal with his investors, a Saudi Arabian foreign investment fund.

“I continue to have discussions with the Saudi fund, and I also am having discussions with a number of other investors, which is something that I always planned to do since I would like for Tesla to continue to have a broad investor base,” Musk wrote.

Since Musk’s original tweet, the company’s shares have dropped 12 percent overall, and reports of subpoenas being issued by the SEC have sent the company into turmoil.

In a New York Times interview Thursday, Musk said, “This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career.” The Times also reported that members of Tesla’s board are concerned with Musk’s drug use, notably his use of the sleep aid Ambien, which some believe have contributed to Musk’s controversial Twitter statements.

Last month, Musk came under fire for calling one of the cave divers who rescued 12 Thai soccer players and their coach a pedophile, citing no evidence. He later apologized for that remark.

Tesla Stock Drops; Musk Under Fire

Tesla shares dropped nearly 9 percent in value Friday, amid reports of CEO and co-founder Elon Musk meeting with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Musk wrote on Twitter last week of his plans to take the company private for a price of $420 per share, writing that he had “funding secured.” On Monday, in a blog post, Musk admitted that was not true, as he was still waiting on a finalized deal with his investors, a Saudi Arabian foreign investment fund.

“I continue to have discussions with the Saudi fund, and I also am having discussions with a number of other investors, which is something that I always planned to do since I would like for Tesla to continue to have a broad investor base,” Musk wrote.

Since Musk’s original tweet, the company’s shares have dropped 12 percent overall, and reports of subpoenas being issued by the SEC have sent the company into turmoil.

In a New York Times interview Thursday, Musk said, “This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career.” The Times also reported that members of Tesla’s board are concerned with Musk’s drug use, notably his use of the sleep aid Ambien, which some believe have contributed to Musk’s controversial Twitter statements.

Last month, Musk came under fire for calling one of the cave divers who rescued 12 Thai soccer players and their coach a pedophile, citing no evidence. He later apologized for that remark.