The 6-hour Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Messenger and Oculus outage on Monday 4 October 2021 has been described as the largest global outage ever recorded, with 10.6 million reports worldwide. The outage drew significant coverage from CNN, the Independent and the Telegraph.
A second outage was experienced on the evening of 8 October 2021– see ITV News for commentary. Inforrm had a piece on the incident. TechCrunch analysed how rival social media platforms benefitted from a surge in users as a result of the outage.
Former footballer turned pundit Jermaine Jenas has urged the government to sanction social media companies that fail to stamp out racism and abuse on their platforms in a new Channel 4 documentary, Hunting the Football Trolls. Jenas says there has been no improvement in policing and banning racists, and accuses social media companies of being the biggest trolls of all.
The LSE Media Law Blog has an article on why OnlyFans, the social media platform that allows users to buy and sell original softcore or X-rated content, reversed its decision to restrict explicit content just days after announcing plans to clean up the medium.
Art, Music and Copyright
IP Kat has a piece on posthumous releases of unfinished works following the death of an artist prompted by musician Anderson Paak’s new tattoo. Paak’s latest ink reads “When I’m gone please don’t release any posthumous albums or songs with my name attached. Those were just demos and never intended to be heard by the public.”
Data Privacy and Data Protection
Google is to give 10,000 “high-risk” users free hardware security keys following the state-sponsored phishing campaign by a Russian intelligence agency that targeted more than 14,000 Gmail users. TechCrunch has more information here.
The streaming platform Twitch confirmed that a huge amount of internal data, including creator payouts, was published online after a data breach.
The Pegasus surveillance tool, a powerful software developed by the Israeli NSO Group, is no longer capable of targeting UK +44 numbers. The announcement follows a civil court ruling this week that held the ex-wife of the ruler of Dubai, Princess Haya, and her advisors, had been targeted with phone surveillance. The Guardian has more information here.
The European Parliament has voted to back a total ban on biometric mass surveillance, such as facial recognition technologies. MEPs said automated recognition of individuals in public spaces has huge implications for fundamental rights and freedoms like privacy, and citizens should only be monitored when suspected of a crime. TechCrunch has more information here.
Amazon has unveiled plans for its new domestic robot, Astro, which is capable of recognising its owners and filming intruders. The Financial Times considers the impact on privacy and surveillance of the new technology here.
Clearview AI has scraped more than 10 billion photographs from public social media accounts for its controversial new facial recognition tool.
Newspapers, Journalism and Regulation
The BBC has been accused of antisemitism for describing Alfred Dreyfus as a “notorious Jewish spy” in the publicity shot for the new BBC4 series, Paris Police 1900. Dreyfus was an innocent officer who was framed in the 1890s in one of the most famous examples of antisemitism and miscarriages of justice in French history. Slipped Disc has called the description “anti-Semitic and anti-history.”
Press Gazette has found that the BBC is increasingly withholding information when requested under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. There was also an article concerning the existential threat to Freedom of Information from policy makers.
IPSO has published one ruling since our last Round Up:
- 03308-21 Reed v Mail Online, 1 Accuracy (2021), 2 Privacy (2021), 4 Intrusion into grief or shock (2021), Breach – sanction: action as offered by publication
New Issued Cases
There were 6 new cases issued in the Media and Communications List between 4 and 11 October 2021: 4 data protection cases, 1 defamation case and 1 injunction application.
Last Week in the Courts
Judgement was given in following the Pre-Trial Review (PTR) for Wright v McCormack  EWHC 2671 (QB). The case concerns a reverse innuendo meaning plea, in which the Claimant (C) avers that the Defendant’s (D) Tweets allege that C fraudulently claimed to be the creator of Bitcoin, causing C to suffer reputational damage in the cryptocurrency community. The C’s application to amend the Particulars of Claim to correct minor errors was granted, as was their application to strike out reference to third-party publications relied on by the D in respect of serious harm and mitigation of damage. Applying the so-called “Dingle rule”, evidence of other publications harmful to the C’s reputation could not be relied on in respect of mitigation of damage or serious harm. The 5RB case summary can be found here.
In a judgment [pdf] given on 5 May 2021 but released last week along with other judgments in the case, Sir Andrew McFarlane has found that Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, hacked his ex-wife’s and her advisors’ phones during the London legal proceedings concerning the couple’s two children. The judgement described the hacking as a “total abuse of trust, and indeed an abuse of power, to a significant extent.” On 5 August 2021 the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal in the hacking case. The judgment can be found here [pdf]. The Guardian has more information here.
On 4 October 2021, Saini J heard an application in the case of Qatar Airways Group Q.S.C.S v Middle East News UK Limited and others  EWHC 2975 (QB). Judgement was reserved. A summary of the case history can be found here.
On 5 October 2021, Nicklin J heard the trial of a preliminary issue in the case of Vine v Belfield. Judgement was reserved.
On 6 and 7 October 2021, the Court of Appeal (Sharp P, Elisabeth Laing and Warby LJJ) heard the appeal in the case of Soriano v Forensic News (from the decision of Jay J on 15 January 2021,  EWHC 56 (QB)). The hearing was livestreamed. Judgement was reserved.
On 18 October 2021, the European Court of Human Rights, in collaboration with Japan and US consulate generals in Strasbourg, the René Cassin Foundation and Directorate General of Human Rights and Rule of Law of the Council of Europe, are hosting a hybrid symposium on Human Rights in the Digital Sphere. The programme can be accessed here, and the registration is available via this link.
On 21 October 2021, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression are holding an online event, “Courts and Global Norms on Freedom of Expression” (2.00 pm to 5.00pm, BST)
Media Law in Other Jurisdictions
The Australian government is considering a range of measures that would make social media companies more responsible for defamatory material published on their platforms. The Prime Minister, deputy Prime Minister, Attorney General and the Communications Minister have made statements this week to the effect that social media platforms are skirting their responsibilities.
The Tribune reports that the Court of Appeal has refused Omar Archer’s application for conditional leave to appeal a libel conviction to the Privy Council, after ruling that his proposed appeal did not raise a “genuinely disputable issue”.
In the case of Pineau v KMI Publishing and Events Ltd., 2021 BCSC 1952 Kirchner J assessed compensatory defamation damages in the sum of Can$60,000 in respect of allegations published on the internet.
Europe: Court of Human Rights
In the case of Sanchez v France  ECHR 724 the Fifth Section of the Court of Human Rights held that the conviction of a politician for failing to promptly delete unlawful comments published by third parties on the public wall of his Facebook account did not breach his Article 10 rights despite his apparent lack of knowledge that the comments existed. Inforrm published a summary here.
A new privacy bill is pending in Massachusetts would be the most revolutionary data-privacy legislation in the United States. The Massachusetts Information Privacy Act (MIPA) aims to regulate companies’ standard data practices, like the collection and use of browsing history to deliver targeted ads. The Bill would prohibit companies from selling or trading location data, require handwritten consent for the use of facial recognition tools and restrict workplace surveillance. The Boston Globe has more information on the proposed Bill here.
A third parent of a child murdered in the Sandy Hook school massacre has won a defamation case against US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who called the 2012 shooting fake.
Zambia Reports notes that social media vlogger Chitambala Mwewa has been sued by Davies Mwila of the Patriotic Front for slander and libel.
Research and Resources
- Lisa Austin, Andrea Slane, David Lie and Ian Goldberg, “Online Harms and Lawful Access: A Submission to the Government of Canada,” University of Toronto Faculty of Law; University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT); Ontario Tech University; University of Waterloo (2021)
- Jason Buhi and Dhillon Ramkhelawan, “Of Masks and Men: Protecting Freedom of Assembly During an Era of Mass Surveillance,” Barry University – Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law (2021)
- Dimitrios Kagiaros, “Reassessing the framework for the protection of civil servant whistleblowers in the European Court of Human Rights” Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights (NQHR Vol. 39 No. 3)
- Vagelis Papakonstantinou, “The Edps as a Unique Stakeholder in the European Data Protection Landscape, Fulfilling the Explicit and Non-Explicit Expectations,” Faculty of Law and Criminology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (2021)
- Mark Pearson and Susan Grantham, Social Media Risk and the Law – A Guide for Global Communicators (Routledge, September 2021)
- Katie Pentney, “Licenced to kill…discourse? Agents provocateurs and a purposive right to freedom of expression,” Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights (NQHR Vol. 39 No. 3)
Next Week in the Courts
On Monday 11 October 2021 Sir Andrew Nicol (Sitting as a Judge of the High Court) will hear an application in the case of Parkes v Hall.
Soriano v Forensic News, heard on 6 and 7 October 2021 (Sharp P, Elisabeth Laing and Warby LJ)
Vine v Belfield, heard on 5 October 2021 (Nicklin J)
Qatar Airways Group Q.S.C.S v Middle East News UK Limited and others heard on 4 October 2021 (Saini J)
Abramovich v HarperCollins and Roseneft v HarperCollins, heard 28 and 29 July 2021 (Tipples J).
Swan v Associated Newspapers, heard 15 July 2021 (Nicklin J)
Masarir v Kingdom of Saudi Arabia., heard 15 and 16 June 2021 (Julian Knowles J)
Riley v Murray, heard 10 to 12 May 2021 (Nicklin J)
Lloyd v Google, heard 28 and 29 April 2021 (UKSC)
Kumlin v Jonsson, heard 24 and 25 March 2021 (Julian Knowles J).
Miller v College of Policing and another, heard 9 and 10 March 2021 (Sharp P, Haddon-Cave and Simler LJJ)
Ansari v Amini, heard 10-11 November 2020 (Julian Knowles J)
This Round Up was compiled by Colette Allen who is the host of Newscast on Dr Thomas Bennett and Professor Paul Wragg’s The Media Law Podcast (@MediaLawPodcast).