Author Archive for Erin Chan-Adams

Facebook Faces Backlash for Livestream Murder

Random acts of violence are truly devastating, but they are even worse when they’re livestream on Facebook and shared thousands of times for the world to see. Robert Godwin Sr., a 74-year-old male from Cleveland, Ohio, was murdered in cold blood on Easter Sunday by Steve Stephens, a 37-year-old Facebook user. Stephens reportedly walked up to Godwin and shot him while videotaping the murder. Stephens later posted the video, captioned “Easter day slaughter,” to his Facebook page. The video was shared several thousand times.

Godwin’s family is still trying to process the death, but his family feels the weight of his murder with each new “share” of the video.

FacebookFacebook’s Response

After being alerted to the gruesome video, Facebook removed it, but only after it had been on their social media platform for two hours. Facebook also removed Stephens’ personal page.

Facebook received harsh criticism for not removing the violent content quicker. Facebook’s Vice President of Global Operations conceded their response was much too slow. According to Facebook, they didn’t receive the first report about the video until an hour and 50 minutes after the incident. Less than 20 minutes after the video of the murder was uploaded, someone reported a separate five-minute Facebook Live video of Stephens confessing to the murder.

Facebook said it would be “reviewing [their] reporting flows to be sure people can report videos and other material that violates [their] standards as easily and quickly as possible.” Currently, Facebook doesn’t actively search for inappropriate content. Instead, it waits for someone to flag it as inappropriate before they act.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in February that the company was working on artificial intelligence to help detect video content, but it was very early in development.

How Can Facebook Regulate Violent Content?

Facebook has become the social media powerhouse of the 21st Century. What was once created just for college students to connect with their friends is now used by the masses. It continues to take risks to pave the way among its competitors (Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat). Facebook Live is its newest feature that allows users to post live videos.

As discussed, Facebook does not have the ability or manpower to actively search for inappropriate or violent content. This is not surprising considering at last count in March Facebook had over 2 billion users worldwide. Once they are notified of violent or inappropriate content, they act quickly to remove the content and deactivate the offending person’s personal page.

Can Facebook Be Liable?

In a word, no. Facebook has no ability to control other people’s actions or read the minds of their users. It could not have anticipated that Stephens would murder someone on Easter Sunday and post the video on Facebook.

But what if Stephens posted a Facebook Live video 24 hours before the murder, declaring, “I’m going to murder someone on Easter Sunday.” What then?

The answer is still “no,” but liability is a little more murky. Let’s say someone noticed the video two hours after it was posted and reported it to Facebook. If Facebook did nothing – did not suspend the account, remove the video, or contact authorities as to the possibility of a murder – then wouldn’t Facebook have a responsibility to act? No, there is no law requiring Facebook to report a potential crime. But they’d probably be have some fallout with the public.

Facebook Videos and The Future

Critics of Facebook suggest there should be laws to limit one’s ability to post videos. This is especially true since people have started to post all sorts of things, including videos moments before committing suicide. A recent teenage couple committed suicide days apart. The boyfriend posted his parting thoughts, clearly riddled with pain and anguish, before he said, “I’m trying to get out all the words before I go.”

Any limitation on Facebook users’ ability to post could be an infringement of free speech under the U.S. Constitution.

The problem is that technology is ever changing. Companies like Facebook and Instagram are paving the way in social media, but the laws have not quite caught up to their advancements.

Survivor Contestant Publicly “Outed” Highlights the Mistreatment of Transgender Community

The reality competition show Survivor has been running strong for seventeen years and is on its thirty-fourth season. But in all their seasons, never had they had a transgender contestant. And never has someone been “outed” on their show. Both happened recently.

Background

Survivor contestant Zeke Smith was outed by a fellow contestant as being transgender in an attempt to show that Zeke had the capability of being “deceptive”. Zeke’s tribemates/fellow contestants quickly came to his aid, arguing his transgender status had nothing to do with the game and was a personal aspect of his life. Although Survivor is just a reality TV show, it highlighted a genuine issue in today’s society – the misconception of transgender people and the discrimination they face.

Survivor ContestantWhat is Transgender?

A transgender person is a person whose internal sense of him or herself is different than the gender assigned at birth. It is different than one’s sexual orientation, or who a person is attracted to. In that regard, sexual orientation relates to whether a person is gay, lesbian, heterosexual, or bisexual. Just because a person is transgender does not also mean that he or she is gay or lesbian.

Approximately seven-hundred thousand people identify as transgender in the United States. A recent study showed that a staggering 41% of transgender people in the United States have attempted to commit suicide, compared with 4.6% of the general public.

Transgender Laws in the U.S.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have protections for transgender people, but their protections vary. For instance, Colorado, Illinois, and Minnesota ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and defines “sexual orientation” to include gender identity. A number of states protect transgender students from discrimination or harassment in public schools. Nevada bans discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations such as retail stores, restaurants, and hospitals.

Additionally, there are federal laws which protect transgender people against housing and employment discrimination. In 2012, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that discriminating against someone because that person is transgender is a Title VII violation. Similarly, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development finds discrimination against transgender tenants or home buyers illegal sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

Despite the laws in place to protect the transgender community, they still are bullied, fired from their jobs, passed up for raises, and discriminated against simply for being transgender.

Transgender Rights and the Bathroom

During his last term in office, President Obama issued a directive to all public schools in the country allowing transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity. The declaration was signed by the Justice and Education department officials and described what schools can do if any of their transgender students were discriminated against. While it did not carry the force of law, it did impose a threat for any school that did not abide by the law as they may face lawsuits or loss in federal aid.

Consistent with his hateful propaganda and lack of support for the LGBT community, President Trump rescinded the protections for these students that President Obama created.

Continued Discrimination

The transgender community is still sadly misunderstood. During March Madness, North Carolina (the eventual winners of the tournament) was scheduled to host championship games. They were stripped of the honor by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) because the state of North Carolina bans individuals from using public bathrooms that do not correspond with their biological sex. In other words, in North Carolina, transgender individuals cannot use the restroom of the gender they identify as, but as the gender they were born as. Eventually, the NCAA reversed course and scheduled championship games in North Carolina, but received harsh criticism for doing so.

The significance of Survivor highlighting a transgender player and the type of discrimination he faced shows that we are nowhere near inclusive civil rights for the transgender community. But at least it brought about discussion, which can hopefully lead to change.

Can Trump Be Sued for Inciting Violence at a Rally?

TrumpTrump is in hot water yet again, but this time, for something he said during one of his campaign rallies before elected into office.

On March 1, 2016, Trump held a campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky at the Kentucky International Convention Center. Three protestors were singled out during the campaign when Trump pointed to the protestors and instructed his supporters to “Get ‘em out of here,” which he repeated several times.  The three were then physically attacked. Trump then added, “Don’t hurt ‘em. If I say ‘go get ‘em,’ I get in trouble with the press.’” The protestors sustained personal injuries by being shoved and punched by Trump supporters. They sued Trump for incitement.

Trump’s lawyers filed a motion to have the case thrown out, arguing that what he said was protected free speech under the U.S. Constitution and that he wasn’t actually speaking to the crowd that night when he instructed them to “get ‘em out of here.” The Kentucky U.S. District Judge David J. Hale was unpersuaded and allowed the case to proceed.

What is Incitement?

In laymen terms, inciting violence means a person encourages, provokes or urges violence upon another. It requires somebody to actively urge violence against particular individuals.

The main question for incitement is whether the speech in question purposely and clearly directs others to commit an act of violence against another individual. The government can only punish speech if there is a “substantial likelihood of imminent illegal activity and if the speech is directed to causing imminent illegality.”

Incitement Analysis

To analyze what is incitement, we must first look to what it isn’t. Let’s take this scenario where three protestors interrupt one of Trump’s campaign rallies. Instead of directing the crowd to “get ‘em out of here,” he asks them, “Where’s the exit?” Would that be incitement?

In that scenario, no. While his intent may have been to encourage his supporters to find the exit and kick the protestors out, he would’ve simply asked a harmless question about the location of the exit. Since he wouldn’t have directed or urged them to act violently, incitement wouldn’t be found.

Let’s take the same scenario. What if Trump not only told his supporters to “get [the protestors] out of here,” but he said to a specific group of people in the crowd, “Kick [the protestors] in the stomach” and “Punch them in the face on the way out!” That would be a clear example of inciting violence. In this hypothetical, he would have told specific people in the crowd to act violently against the protestors.

Why the Judge Didn’t Dismiss the Case

Trump’s attorneys cited two main arguments for why the case should’ve been dismissed: Trump’s speech was protected free speech, and that he never directed the crowd to become violent. He argued that his insistence to “get ‘em out of here” was directed to his security guards. Judge Hale didn’t buy it.

Judge Hale looked at numerous Trump campaign speeches that were submitted into evidence by plaintiffs to demonstrate a pattern of Trump asking his audience to act violently.  Among the examples were pleas by Trump in a 2015 Alabama campaign rally that a protestor “maybe…should have been roughed up”  and a 2016 rally in Iowa when Trump instructed the crowd to “knock the crap out of” anyone getting ready to throw a tomato. In one rally in Michigan, he asked a protestor to be removed and urged the crowd not to hurt him, but then added, “If you do, I’ll defend you in court. Don’t worry about it.” This is our President, people.

Will Incitement be Found?

Procedurally, Judge Hale’s decision can be reversed on appeal. Trump’s attorneys would have to convince the appellate judge that Trump was not directing the speech at his campaign crowd. While that certainly may be true, Trump has teetered on the edge of encouraging violence at his rallies throughout his campaign. A judge could easily adopt Judge Hale’s thinking and reject Trump’s defense.

Whether incitement will ultimately be found would require a detailed analysis of the facts of this particular case. Either way, chances are this is not the last time we will see Trump in court for something he did or said during his presidency.

Trump Repeals Internet Privacy

For someone who ran for President on a platform promising to “Make America Great Again,” he sure has done a lot of things to make Americans feel like we’ve moved backward, not forward. Since January 20th, President Trump has turned away refugees, encouraged the defunding of Planned Parenthood, and acted personally and professionally sexist toward women. His new bill that he quietly signed into law repeals internet privacy rules passed last year by the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) under the Obama administration. It seems like another huge step backward.

TrumpWhat Did the Internet Privacy Law Do?

Adopted on October 27, 2016 and issued on November 2, 2016, the FCC established a rule that protected the privacy of customers of broadband and other telecommunication services. It also gave broadband customers more choices, transparency, and security over their personal data. The rule empowered users to decide how data was used and shared by broadband providers. In other words, it forced internet service providers (Comcast, Xfinity, AT&T, and Verizon, to name a few) to ask consumers before it collected certain personal information.

Why Is the Privacy Rule Important?

The rule has not gone into effect yet, and it won’t go into effect now that Trump has repealed it. However, the law was intended to require more transparency by internet service providers. Companies use data to target advertising. This is known as data mining, sometimes known as data or knowledge discovery. It is the process of analyzing data and summarizing it into useful information. The information is then sold from the internet service providers to specific companies that target their advertising to the consumer based on their data.

That was complicated, so let me give you an example. I’m a new mom and my internet service provider can ascertain this information through my search habits. Let’s say they sell that information to Babies R’ Us, Carter’s, and other baby stores, who then sends me coupons for various deals on car seats, baby toys, and diapers. My internet service provider just profited off of invading my privacy.

Why We Haven’t Heard about the Law

Trump has been acting like a bull in a china shop, signing controversial executive orders with big hoopla and making unfounded allegations about his predecessor President Obama. Why, then, have we heard very little about his decision to repeal the internet privacy law, especially when it has such a huge effect on the American people?

It seems that the Trump administration tries to sneak anything controversial or unpopular quietly into law. That way, there’s less backlash.

Should We Be Worried about Net Neutrality?

In 2014, the FCC released a plan that would have allowed internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to charge more depending on what the consumer uses. For instance, instead of providing things like Facebook and Youtube for free so long as you have internet access, big companies want to sell package deals that allow one access to Facebook and Youtube only if they use their company and buy a particular package. The proposal was met with so much resistance that it was shelved.

Net neutrality is the principle that treats all websites and services the same. Specifically, it prevents certain internet service providers from charging more for specific content. It prevents companies like Comcast from charging users for a package subscription to Netflix and Hulu.

People are concerned that Trump’s repeal is just one step away from the end of net neutrality, and they should be concerned. Trump is a well-known businessman. His failed Trumpcare attempted to create huge tax breaks for the super wealthy. He’s appointed cabinet members who primarily favor big business. It should come as no surprise that this President may attack net neutrality when he has consistently shown preferential treatment toward big business at the expense of “the little people.”

H.R. 861 and H.R. 899: the End of the EPA and the Dept of Education

On February 3, 2017, the House of Representatives presented H.R. 861. The bill proposes to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency by December 31, 2018. On February 8, the House of Representatives also presented bill H.R. 899, a bill that proposes to terminate the Department of Education by December 31, 2018.

H.R. 861 and H.R. 899Environmental Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) was proposed under President Nixon in 1970 and approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate. The goal of the EPA was to make “the 1970s a historic period when, by conscious choice, [we] transform our land into what we want it to become.” The EPA’s mission is simple: to protect human health and the environment.  It is run by an agency of the Federal Government which writes and enforces environmental regulations based on laws passed by Congress. The EPA also gives grants to state environmental programs, non-profits, and educational institutions with the underlying purpose of protecting human health and the environment.

EPA Most Notable Accomplishments

You’ve probably heard of the Clean Air Act, a federal law designed to control air pollution. The Act is one of the most comprehensive air quality laws in the world and is administered and enforced by the EPA.

The Energy Star Program was launched by the EPA in 1992. It’s a voluntary program that encourages energy efficiency among various products such as major appliances, office equipment, lighting, home electronics and more.

Most recently, the EPA has been involved in researching the effects of climate change. The topic is controversial because many members of the GOP refuse to believe climate change exists, including our own President.

Department of Education

The Department of Education was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and began operating in 1980. It is administered by the U.S. Secretary of Education. The current Secretary of Education is Betsy DeVos. The Department has approximately 4,400 employees and its annual budget was $68 billion in 2016.

It’s a common misnomer that the Department of Education establishes schools and colleges. It does not. Instead, the primary function is to “establish policy for, administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect data on U.S. schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights.” Its mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering education excellence and ensuring equal access.

Department of Education Notable Accomplishments

The Department of Education is responsible for gathering data to assess how well certain programs and grants are working. It also awards Pell grants federal financial aid through loans. With the rising cost of public education, more students than ever rely on financial aid to fund their education. An overwhelming majority of full-time undergraduate students at four-year colleges receive financial aid.

The Department also oversees and protects disadvantaged children from receiving sub-par education.

How to Pass the Bills

A bill becomes a law when it passes first through the House and then the Senate. A simple majority of the House (at least 218 votes) and the Senate (at least 51 votes) need to approve the bill for it to become law. Finally, the President must sign the bill into law, but the President can veto the bills and neither would become laws.

What Happens if the EPA and Department of Education Are Terminated?

All the advantages that the EPA and Department of Education provides would cease to exist. That means we would no longer fight climate change. It also means that financial aid would not be provided to students on a federal level. Students would have to rely on their individual states to help fund their education, which receives far less money. In turn, it will become harder for students to fund their education. And the disadvantaged youth of our nation will be left behind, with the wealthy receiving superior education and the struggling receiving sub-par education.