One Free Press Coalition Spotlights Journalists Under Attack – March 2021

In May 2019, WIRED joined the One Free Press Coalition, a united group of preeminent editors and publishers using their global reach and social platforms to spotlight journalists under attack worldwide. Today, the coalition is issuing its 25th monthly “10 Most Urgent” list of journalists whose press freedoms are being suppressed or whose cases demand justice. This iteration focuses on women in anticipation of International Women’s Day observed March 8.

In an industry long dominated by men, more and more female journalists around the world are telling important stories and reporting the news for their communities. These brave journalists face a unique set of challenges and threats. More than 70 percent have experienced more than one type of harassment, threat, or attack in the course of their work, according to a 2018 report published by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) and online threat monitor Trollbusters. Given the social stigmas tied to gender-based violence, many women may choose not to report incidents or to leave the profession.

Six of the women on the list this month are behind bars, and 13 percent of all imprisoned journalists in 2020 were women. One of the journalists on the list this month was murdered in connection to her reporting, and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented 70 female journalists murdered since 1992. At least one of the cases on this list has faced some form of targeted online harassment, an issue endemic to the industry. In terms of beat, the journalists on this list cover a wide range of issues and stories, but politics remains one of the most dangerous for journalists globally, according to CPJ research.

1. Tal al-Mallohi (Syria)
Syrian journalist, currently held without charge, has spent more than ten years in total behind bars. She is detained on the orders of a security adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Asad.

2. Solafa Magdy (Egypt)
Imprisoned freelance journalist faces rapidly worsening health conditions, medical neglect and abuse in detention.

3. Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova (Belarus)
Independent journalist and camera operator each sentenced to two years in prison relating to coverage of anti-government protests.

4. Maria Elena Ferral Hernández (Mexico)
March 30 marks one year since two unidentified men on a motorcycle shot and killed newspaper correspondent following prior threats.

5. Pham Doan Trang (Vietnam)
Web reporter and magazine founder, held in pre-trial detention since October, awaits trial on anti-state charges after facing years of threats.

6. Frenchie Mae Cumpio (Philippines)
Web journalist and radio anchor, who covers alleged police and military abuses, has been detained one year and could face a prison sentence of 6-12 years.

7. Anastasia Mejía (Guatemala)
Indigenous journalist was arrested for broadcasting—and accused of participating in—a protest against a local official. Her home was raided on the same day, and she was held in pre-trial detention for over a month.

8. Ayşegül Doğan (Turkey)
Turkish journalist is currently free, pending appeal, but faces more than six years’ jail time for bogus terrorism charges.

9. Neha Dixit (India)
Freelance reporter recently endured an attempted break-in, stalking and months of threatening phone calls that included death threats and references to her journalism, as well as an ongoing defamation case.

10. Haze Fan (China)
Bloomberg News Beijing staff member was detained on suspicion of endangering national security.

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A Historic Union Vote Gets Underway at Amazon

It might be the most tracked shipment in Amazon history: 5,800 mail ballots are being sent out to the union-eligible workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, fulfillment center on Monday. In the coming weeks they’ll be used to decide the largest US union election at the 26-year-old company, the country’s second-largest employer. It’s an unlikely vote, coming from an unlikely site, but if the labor organizers win, the Bessemer warehouse, not yet a year old, will become the country’s first unionized Amazon facility and potentially a bellwether for the industry nationwide.

Alabama isn’t exactly known as a hotbed of labor organizing; it’s a right-to-work state with a union membership rate of 8 percent, nearly three points below the national average (itself near an all-time low). The Birmingham suburb of Bessemer, however, has a deep history of strong unions that haven’t been shy about striking. The Amazon facility sits atop land once owned by US Steel, a major employer in the region until the industry’s decline in the latter half of the 20th century. Workers at the mills there belonged to United Steelworkers, the largest industrial union in North America.

These days, the state is home to 12,000-plus poultry workers represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. When the pandemic hit, the RWDSU became a regular feature of local news reports about the safety protections it won for its workers. The group from Amazon who first contacted the RWDSU over the summer included workers who had been union members at previous jobs; some had friends and family in the RWDSU. “I truly believe that if we win,” says Joshua Brewer, an RWDSU organizer in Alabama who’s working on the Bessemer campaign, “it will be because grandparents and uncles and parents talked to these young folks who work out here and said, this helped me, and it’s a good thing.”

Employees at Amazon fulfillment centers are tasked with retrieving products from miles of shelves and quickly packing them into boxes that eventually make their way to customers’ doors. Part of the job stress, workers say, stems from the company’s highly automated tracking system. Cameras blanket the warehouses, and the company’s Time Off Task (TOT) system tracks every second workers aren’t picking, packing, and stowing to meet quotas, or “make rate.” Too much TOT is grounds for termination. Workers fear that if a family member falls ill or some bad lunch meat necessitates extra bathroom breaks, that could be it for their job. Human frailty seems “like a kink in their system,” says Brewer. Grievance procedures, which would allow workers due process and union representation in responding to discipline, rank high on workers’ list of demands, as do more frequent, scheduled rest periods.

Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty contends that “Amazon already offers what unions are requesting for employees: industry-leading pay, comprehensive benefits from the first day on the job, opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern, and inclusive work environment. At Amazon, these benefits and opportunities come with the job, as does the ability to communicate directly with the leadership of the company.”

Although Amazon’s benefits and $15 minimum wage exceed industry averages, workers at fulfillment centers across the country have long bemoaned the relentless pace of work under the company’s ever-surveilling eye. A September Reveal investigation of Amazon warehouses uncovered a serious injury rate of 7.7 percent in 2019, nearly double the most-recent industry average. The physical toll can lead to high turnover. One 2020 study of California warehouses by the National Employment Law Project found the average turnover rate in counties with Amazon warehouses was 100.9 percent in 2017 (meaning more workers left than started), compared to just 38.1 percent in 2011, the year before Amazon dropped anchor in the state. Amazon calls the study misleading, saying its attrition rate is on par with industry average, although the company didn’t share specific numbers.

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Finally, an Interesting Proposal for Section 230 Reform

By the end of last year, there were few better symbols of bad-faith politics than Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law that gives online platforms legal immunity for user-generated content. After a fairly sleepy existence since its passage in 1996, Section 230 turned into an unlikely rallying cry for a subset of Republican politicians who disingenuously blamed it for letting social media platforms discriminate against conservatives. (In fact, the law has nothing to do with partisan balance, and if anything allows platforms to keep more right-wing content up than they otherwise would.) Down the home stretch of his reelection campaign, Donald Trump began dropping Section 230 references into his stump speeches. The whole thing culminated with a pair of depressing Senate hearings that, while nominally about Section 230, were little more than PR stunts designed for Ted Cruz to get clips of himself berating Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Senate Democrats didn’t quite cover themselves in glory either.

So it’s a bit of a surprise to see a legislative proposal on Section 230 that thoughtfully, if imperfectly, addresses some of the most glaring problems with the law. The SAFE TECH Act, a bill announced on Friday morning by Democratic senators Mark Warner, Mazie Hirono, and Amy Klobuchar, is an encouraging sign that members of Congress are paying attention to the smartest critiques of Section 230 and trying to craft appropriate solutions.

First, a brief refresher is in order. Section 230 was passed in 1996 in order to encourage interactive platforms on the nascent internet—message boards, at the time—to self-moderate. The first part of the law says that “interactive computer services” are not legally liable for user-generated content. The second part says that they are free to moderate that content without becoming liable for it. This solved the dilemma of a company putting itself at greater legal risk by being more proactive about monitoring harmful content.

In recent years, the law has occasioned quite a bit of debate. Section 230’s defenders credit it with enabling the rise of the modern internet. They argue that interactive websites would be unimaginable without it, crushed under the threat of lawsuits from anyone offended by a comment, post, or customer review. The law’s detractors counter that Section 230 lets companies like Facebook and YouTube, along with shadier bottom-dwellers, profit off of hosting harmful content without having to bear the costs of cleaning it up.

Some of the questions raised in this debate are difficult to answer. But some are pretty easy. That’s because judges have interpreted Section 230 immunity so broadly that it has led to legal outcomes that seem obviously perverse. Today, Section 230 protects gossip sites that actively encourage users to submit nasty rumors and even revenge porn, essentially legalizing a harassment-based business model. Until Congress recently intervened, it protected sites like Backpage, that were set up to facilitate prostitution. It lets companies off the hook even when they have been made aware that they are being used to inflict harm on people. In one now-notorious case, a man’s ex-boyfriend impersonated him on Grindr, the popular gay dating app, sending a stream of men to his home and work addresses looking for sex. Grindr ignored the victim’s pleas to do something about it. After the victim sued, a federal judge ruled that Section 230 protected Grindr from any responsibility.

The law is even applied to commercial transactions whose consequences are felt in the physical world. In 2012, a Wisconsin man murdered his wife and two of her coworkers using a gun he had bought from Armslist, a “firearms marketplace.” Because he was subject to a restraining order, he was legally prohibited from owning a gun. Armslist allowed him to get around that. The victim’s daughter sued, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court eventually ruled that Section 230 made Armslist immune, because the ad for the gun was posted by a user.

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One Free Press Coalition Spotlights Journalists Under Attack – February 2021

In May 2019, WIRED joined the One Free Press Coalition, a united group of preeminent editors and publishers using their global reach and social platforms to spotlight journalists under attack worldwide. Today, the coalition is issuing its 24th monthly “10 Most Urgent” list of journalists whose press freedoms are being suppressed or whose cases demand justice. This iteration focuses on elections and protests as a catalyst for violence against journalists.

Countries in which the number of jailed journalists rose significantly in 2020 include Belarus, where mass protests have ensued over the disputed re-election of the long-time president, and Ethiopia, where political unrest has degenerated into armed conflict. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) maintains safety advice for journalists covering elections as well as civil disorder.

Here’s February’s list, ranked in order of urgency:

1. Mohamad Mosaed (Iran)
Investigative reporter fleeing detention and fearing deportation.

In January, freelance economic journalist Mohamed Mosaed was detained by Turkish border police. He had fled Iran following a summons to begin serving his jail sentence in two days’ time. The sentence amounts to nearly five years in prison, a two-year ban on journalism activities, and a two-year ban on using all communications devices. Mosaed had been arrested in 2019 for posting on Twitter during an internet shutdown that authorities had implemented in response to anti-government protests. He was released, then arrested again in 2020 after he criticized the government’s lack of preparedness for responding to Covid-19 and parliamentary elections. His charges include “colluding against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system.” Turkish officials have assured his lawyer that he will not face deportation.

2. Kasirye Saif-Ilah Ashraf (Uganda)
Reporter assaulted by police twice while covering opposition political events.

Security officers assaulted at least 10 journalists covering opposition events leading up to the country’s presidential election in mid-January. Weeks after Kasirye Saif-Ilah Ashraf was hospitalized due to police holding his mouth open and pepper spraying him, police fired a projectile that hit the Ghetto Media reporter in the head and cracked his skull. Kasiyre remains hospitalized. Greater Masaka Regional Police Commander Enoch Abaine, accused of firing the projectile at Kasirye and at least one other journalist, claimed that no journalist had been intentionally targeted during the incident. He said that authorities are investigating allegations that journalists had been injured at the event.

3. Gulmire Imin (China)
Uighur journalist has served a decade of her life sentence.

Uighur journalist Gulmire Imin has spent more than 10 years behind bars, serving a life sentence on charges of separatism, leaking state secrets, and organizing an illegal demonstration. She was one of several administrators of Uighur-language web forums who were arrested after the July 2009 riots in Urumqi, in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Authorities accused Imin of being an organizer of demonstrations and of using the Uighur-language website to distribute information about the event. Imin was also accused of leaking state secrets by phone to her husband, who lives in Norway. China is the leading jailer of journalists, with 47 behind bars in 2020.

4. Ahmed Ismail Hassan (Bahrain)
Videographer killed by unknown suspects nine years ago.

March marks nine years since Ahmed Ismail Hassan, a Bahraini videographer, was shot after filming a pro-reform protest. Riot police dispersed the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets, then unknown assailants in a vehicle began firing live ammunition at the protesters. Hassan, 22, was shot and died at the hospital. His death was the third media fatality in Bahrain since the start of the uprising. The other two individuals died while in custody in 2011. Questions remain in all three cases.

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They Claimed the Covid Vaccine Made Them Sick—and Went Viral

The Facebook videos were short but unsettling. One, posted on the profile of Indiana resident Shawn Skelton, shows her shuddering on what looks like a hospital bed, an exhausted look on her face. In another, Skelton spends over a minute sticking her tongue out as it writhes oddly. Three other videos—all just a few seconds long—were posted by Louisiana-based Brant Griner, and feature his mother Angelia Gipson Desselle violently trembling and struggling to walk in a dimly-lit hospital room.

The videos all made the same claims: both Skelton and Desselle had been vaccinated for Covid-19 shortly before developing their tremors, and the vaccine, they alleged, was to blame. There is no evidence that this is the case. But, on Facebook, the truth rarely matters. For days, the videos spread unchecked, racking up millions of views and tens of thousands of comments. Devoid of context and, even now, challenging to factcheck, their spread is the latest salvo in the struggle to debunk vaccine disinformation and misinformation. To date, the videos have been shared by Facebook groups that push natural and alternative medicines, anti-vaxxers, 5G conspiracy theorists and by the far right.

According to CrowdTangle, an insights tool owned and operated by Facebook, Skelton’s first video, published on January 7, had been watched by over 4.4 million people by January 19. On Twitter, the video has been shared 10,300 times, raking in 1.4 million views, according to Lydia Morrish, a social media journalist at First Draft.

CrowdTangle data shows that one of Griner’s videos, first posted on January 10, was viewed more than 5.2 million times. Although some commenters were sceptical, most of the comments left under the videos were from people who seemed worried about the alleged effects of the vaccine; some extolled the benefits of faith healing, others shared big pharma conspiracy theories and hawked products that they said might help the women recover. One commenter expressed hope that doctors will find a cure for the vaccine.

As the videos took Facebook by storm they started to seep outwards, cropping up on WhatsApp groups and on the messaging app Telegram. Here, they bounced from channel to channel, ripping through far-right and QAnon-adjacent groups that have been burgeoning on the platform in the weeks following the Capitol Hill insurrection. One version of the Desselle video circulated on Telegram has been watched more than 100,000 times. Junk news and alternative outlets featured stories about both Skelton and Desselle, and the latter’s story was reported on in a segment on RT, a news network controlled by the Russian state.

The sheer shock value of the videos perhaps made their spread understandable, but also dangerous in the midst of a pandemic, and at the very outset of a public health campaign that is already grappling with unprecedented levels of vaccine hesitancy in some countries. Especially when few of the claims made in the videos can be verified.

Skelton, an employee of a care home in Oakland City, Indiana, claims to have received the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on January 4. The tremors, she says in a Facebook Live from January 13—where she contorts on a bench wearing a pink jumper—started three days later. Skelton did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The care home where she works did not reply to multiple emails enquiring whether Skelton had indeed received the vaccine.

Skelton herself published a picture of what appeared to be a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccination card on her Facebook profile on January 16. But the vaccine lot that she was administered according to the card does not appear to have been linked to any report of vaccine adverse reaction in Indiana, according to VAERS, the reporting system run by the CDC and the Food and Drugs Administration. In fact, all eight cases of adverse reactions to any Covid-19 vaccines reported in Indiana since the start of 2021 involved people over 60—Skelton, according to her vaccination card, is in her forties. Anyone can report adverse reactions to VAERS, including the vaccine recipients themselves, but doctors and practitioners are strongly encouraged to do so when they encounter what appears to be an adverse reaction.

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Palantir’s God’s-Eye View of Afghanistan

Standing in the C2 shelter at Siah Choy, in front of the video screens, the colleague spoke, “We’re getting ready to hit him now,” he said. “CAS is on the way.”

“That isn’t him,” Kevin said. “That is absolutely not him.”

Kevin was certain of this. “I thought, wow, that looks like him. But something just gave me a tickle that that wasn’t him. For a lot of different reasons. Number one, he’s not a worker. He’s a bad guy. Bad guys don’t tool around on tractors and play farmer. They are bad guys.” The tractor was a legitimate and expensive tractor, one only a farmer would have. “Why is he on a tractor?” Kevin asked himself. “Why is he talking to this old man in this field?”

The more Kevin looked at the man in the purple hat, the more he realized something was wrong. “I became confused. I said to myself, ‘Well, I mean, fuck, it looks like him, but I don’t think it is him.’”

Then he became very stressed out, he recalls. “Hands-down, I wanted the man in the purple hat dead. I still do to this day. But we’re talking about killing someone.” Metaphorically, he says, he had his finger on the button. “If that kills an innocent civilian? I don’t want that.”

Kevin ran out of the operations center, across the outpost and into the tactical operations center. “I told the S2 they had to call off the air strike. It’s not him,” Kevin told the battle captain.

The tactical operations center spun into action. One of the S2 intelligence officers confirmed that Brigade Headquarters, located a few miles north at Forward Operating Base Pasab, had already authorized the air strike. That close air support was on the way.

“I said, ‘I’m certain it’s not him.’” Kevin remembers. The battle captain said to him, “Well, you’ve got five minutes to figure that out and prove me wrong.” Kevin said that’s what he’d do.

Kevin ran back to the C2 shelter. “I [moved] the camera over to his actual bed-down location. He lived right across the river. I waited and waited. It felt like half an hour. It was probably more like a few minutes. Finally he came out. I recognized him right away.”

Kevin was looking at the man with the purple hat. The insurgent whose pattern of life he’d been tracking for hundreds of hours.

“He walked out of where he slept to go to the bathroom, wash his hands, stretch. I had visual positive identification on him.”

S2 called off the air strike.

“Had a computer done the algorithm on the guy on the tractor, as far as the computer was concerned, that was him. The insurgent in the purple hat,” Kevin says. “But because I had already been watching this guy for months, I knew that it wasn’t.” Humans are still the ultimate recognizers. “We humans have the ability to recognize faces. It’s part of our genetics. Of however many thousands of years of being a hunter-gatherer. Of being able to spot recognizable features. I knew his face. I doubted the computer. I was right.”

How was the farmer on the tractor misrecognized as the cell leader in the purple hat in the first place? After the air strike was called off, and the man was spared execution, the PGSS operators rolled back the videotape to review what had happened. To see what they could learn.

“It was his hat,” Kevin explains. “There’s a window of time, around dawn, as the sun comes up,” he explains, where colors are “read differently” by the imaging system than how it sees them during the day. In this window of time, the farmer’s hat was misidentified as purple, setting off a series of linkages that were based on information that was erroneous to begin with.

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Google’s Antitrust Cases: A Guide for the Perplexed

Do good things come in threes? Not if you’re Google. Heading into the holidays, the company finds itself facing a trio of antitrust cases brought by an overlapping network of state and federal enforcers. That’s a lot to keep track of. Let’s try to sort through some of the biggest questions.

Why are there all these separate cases against Google, instead of just one?

The simplest answer is that Google has a dominant position in multiple markets. This opens it up to different lines of attack that don’t all fit in the same lawsuit. Two of the cases focus on Google’s monopoly in search and search advertising; the third focuses on its control over what you might call non-search advertising.

OK, so what are the cases?

The US Department of Justice filed the first case in October, joined initially by eleven Republican state attorneys general. This is the narrowest of the three lawsuits. It claims that Google has used anti-competitive tactics to protect its monopoly over general search and prevent rival search engines from getting a foothold. Most notably, the complaint describes the lengths Google has gone to to make sure it’s the default search engine on browsers and smartphones—like paying Apple as much as $12 billion each year to make Google the default on Safari and iPhones. With its control over the search market secure, the suit says, Google can rake in more search advertising revenue, which in turn allows it to keep the payouts flowing. The DOJ argues that this amounts to an illegal scheme to maintain Google’s monopoly over search.

What does Google say about that?

In response to the DOJ’s suit, Google says that there’s nothing wrong with the arrangements it has struck, because it’s easy for users to change the default if they want. As the company’s chief counsel put it in a blog post, “people don’t use Google because they have to, they use it because they choose to.”

But why would Google spend billions of dollars each year to be the default if everyone would freely choose to use it anyway?

Great question!

OK, you said there were two cases about Google search. What’s the other one?

The second case about Google search, and the third to be filed overall, comes from a coalition of more than 30 states, led by the attorneys general of Colorado and Nebraska. It essentially makes the same argument as the DOJ lawsuit, plus a few more accusations. (In fact, the states have requested that their suit be combined with the DOJ’s.) The most important new piece is the allegation that Google has used its monopoly over general search—the activity commonly known as Googling—to discriminate against companies in what’s known as the vertical search business, like Yelp or Kayak. The idea is that Google wants people to begin all their searches on Google, rather than going straight to a vertical search site or app. The states argue that Google has accordingly made changes over the years to how search results appear in order to keep more traffic flowing to Google’s own properties rather than vertical search. That puts those vertical companies in a tight spot, since if users don’t easily find them through Google, they may not find them at all. This is illegal, the states claim, because the goal and effect is to entrench Google’s share of the search market, rather than to steer users to the best results.

What does Google say to that?

Google’s public response so far is simple: The changes it has made are simply about making Google search more useful and relevant to users. If that’s true, there’s nothing problematic about what the company has done. The case may ultimately turn on whether the antitrust enforcers can prove that Google had other goals in mind besides customer satisfaction.

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On Section 230, It’s Trump vs. Trump

I will confess, I did not expect to still be writing about Donald Trump’s losing war against Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in December. While there is some genuine desire for reform from both parties on Capitol Hill, Trump’s interest in the law has always seemed more instrumental. The president and his allies devoted a surprising amount of time and energy to the issue in the run-up to the election, in the midst of a pandemic, no less. I figured they must have perceived some hidden electoral advantage to criticizing the law that grants companies legal immunity for user-generated content.

In hindsight, I may have been giving the president too much credit for strategic thinking. It seems Trump really believes his own garbled propaganda about Section 230—namely, that the law unfairly allows platforms like Twitter to get away with labeling or suppressing his posts spreading lies about the election, among other offenses. (It does not. If anything, the law allows Twitter to host Trump’s tweets without fear of being sued over their content.) On Tuesday night, Trump announced that he would veto the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act, which provides hundreds of billions of dollars to fund the US armed forces, if it didn’t include a repeal of Section 230. I hardly need to tell you where he made the announcement: on Twitter, obviously. The next day, his press secretary insisted at a press conference that the president was serious.

Trump has targeted Section 230 before, but this is by far the most serious escalation. Past threats have been limited to “REPEAL SECTION 230” tweets and legally flimsy executive orders. Now, for the first time, Trump is demanding specific legislation from Congress, and threatening to use his very real veto power to get what he wants. All of which puts the Trump administration’s position on internet immunity on a collision course with another powerful political actor: the Trump administration.

You see, for all Trump’s stated opposition to Section 230, his administration’s own trade deal with Mexico and Canada—the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA—specifically includes a version of the same law. The deal, which took effect over the summer, prohibits the signatory countries from adopting any measures that would hold an interactive computer service liable for content created by others. The inclusion of this provision was seen as a huge win for Silicon Valley lobbyists. It’s easy to see why: Tech companies like being shielded from liability, and as they do more and more business outside the US, they want to make sure they’re protected from expensive litigation in other countries. (House Democrats belatedly and unsuccessfully tried to remove the provision last year.) Even now, despite Trump’s public assault, the US is pressing for the same sort of provision in the post-Brexit trade agreement it’s currently negotiating with the United Kingdom.

I know, I know. Knock me over with a feather, the Trump administration is behaving hypocritically. But the conflict actually raises an interesting legal question: Given our commitments under the USMCA, could Congress repeal or alter Section 230 even if it wanted to? Some observers have suggested that it can’t. “Big Tech has already solved this potential problem—in a way only they can love,” wrote David Dayen in the American Prospect in June. “Adding the Section 230-style provision into the USMCA created an enormous hurdle.”

But according to experts I spoke with, the hurdle may not be so enormous after all. Yes, under the new trade deal, the US has committed to preserving Section 230-type immunity. But unlike past trade deals, the USMCA doesn’t give companies or investors the ability to sue to enforce the provisions, outside of a small set of exceptions. That looks a lot like a right without a remedy.

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One Free Press Coalition Spotlights Journalists Under Attack – December 2020

In May 2019, WIRED joined the One Free Press Coalition, a united group of preeminent editors and publishers using their global reach and social platforms to spotlight journalists under attack worldwide. Today, the coalition is issuing its 22nd monthly “10 Most Urgent” list of press freedom abuses around the world. This iteration focuses on cases relating to Covid-19.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented 207 pandemic-related press freedom violations globally, including imprisonment, physical attacks, legal threats, and harassment. Thousands of individuals and groups have called on the UN to release jailed journalists amid the ongoing health crisis. At least two journalists, David Romero of Honduras and Mohamed Monir of Egypt, died after being infected with the virus while in government custody. Azimjon Askarov died in prison in Kyrgyzstan from what his family suspects was Covid-19, though he was denied a test.

Here’s December’s list, ranked in order of urgency:

1. Ahmet Altan (Turkey)

Senior journalist especially vulnerable to coronavirus in prison.

Ahmet Altan, 70, has spent more than 1,500 days behind bars and, according to his lawyer, is surrounded by three neighboring cells displaying Covid-19 positive signs. Former chief editor for the shuttered daily Taraf, Altan has been detained since September 2016. In 2018, a court sentenced Altan to life in prison, then in 2019 changed the term to 10.5 years. The retrial convicted him of “aiding a [terrorist] organization without being a member” during the failed attempted coup and sweeping purge in 2016.

2. Mahmoud Hussein Gomaa (Egypt)

Tactics prevent imprisoned Egyptian journalists from being released.

This December, Mohamed Hussein Gomaa will have spent four years behind bars—the longest pre-trial detention of any Egyptian journalist currently awaiting a hearing. Gomaa worked with Al-Jazeera, including contributing to a documentary about conscription in Egypt. Government officials arrested him in 2016 and called the material false with aims of “spreading chaos.” Gomaa was due to be released on probation in mid-2019, but his detention has been repeatedly extended. Fellow Egyptian journalist Mohamad Ibrahim is also enduring this “revolving door policy,” where new charges are brought to keep individuals in pre-trial detention, despite release orders from criminal court.

3. Mohammad Mosaed (Iran)

Tehran sentences journalist to prison to silence reporting on government.

Freelance journalist Mohammad Mosaed was arrested in 2019 because of a post on Twitter, then released in early 2020, only to be re-arrested in February and sentenced to nearly five years in prison. Mosaed has been charged with “colluding against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system” because of a tweet he released during Iran’s internet shutdown last year and his government criticism this year, including its lacking preparedness in responding to Covid-19. His sentence also carries a two-year ban on journalism activities and a two-year ban from using all communications devices.

4. Solafa Magdy (Egypt)

Journalist enduring medical neglect and inhumane prison conditions.

Freelance reporter Solafa Magdy has suffered deliberate medical neglect and inhumane prison conditions, heightening her risk of contracting Covid-19 like fellow Egyptian journalist Mohamed Monir, who died from the coronavirus this summer while in pre-trial detention. Magdy was arrested in November 2019 for her coverage of immigration and human rights in Cairo. The state prosecutor’s office has filed additional charges against Magdy for actions she allegedly committed while in pre-trial detention.

5. Zhang Zhan (China)

Independent journalist imprisoned for coronavirus reporting, now on hunger strike.

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Joe Biden Will Be the Next President. Now What?

We knew it might be an Election Day unlike any other. But after last Tuesday, it soon became evident that this year’s US presidential race would culminate in an election week. Millions of voters opted to mail their ballots this year, due in part to concerns about in-person voting during a global pandemic. This surge in mail-in ballots meant some states took longer than usual to count votes and determine whether Democratic nominee Joe Biden or incumbent Republican Donald Trump had won the state.

This Election Day purgatory, while not totally unexpected, left plenty of time and space for tensions to fester, for cable news anchors to swipe at maps of the Electoral College, for misinformation to seep from dark corners of the internet into our news feeds, and for the current President to, well, tweet.

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But now, the race has finally been called for Joe Biden. And with the most critical part of this election now in the rear view mirror (we hope), the big question is: What’s next? How will this affect the way our nation approaches future elections—and the future of election security? How will zteam Biden address the Covid-19 pandemic? What does a Biden administration mean for tech policy? And will we somehow find our way, as a society, out of the bog of misinformation that exists on internet platforms and that has contributed so much to the country’s divisions? On this week’s Get WIRED podcast, we talk to Gilad Edelman, Lily Hay Newman, and Emma Grey Ellis about why the polls were so wrong (again), how we know we can trust the election results, and why people keep spinning up online conspiracy theorists. Also: Election memes.

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