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  • Orlando shooting relatives sue social media giants

    Orlando rainbow flagsImage copyrightDANIEL MUNOZ/GETTY

    The families of three men who were killed in the Orlando nightclub massacre have filed a lawsuit against Facebook, Twitter and Google (YouTube) alleging that the firms provided "material support" to the so-called Islamic State.

    In their lawsuit, relatives of Juan Ramon Guerrero Tevin Crosby, Javier Jorge-Reyes and Juan Ramon Guerrrero, assert that the user-generated platforms aided in the radicalisation of gunman Omar Mateen.

    Mateen pledged allegiance to IS before he attacked Pulse, a gay nightclub in June - 49 people were killed, in what has been described as the worst mass shooting in recent US history.

    "Without Defendants Twitter, Facebook, and Google (YouTube), the explosive growth of ISIS over the last few years into the most feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible," the lawsuit, which was filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, states.

    A lawyer for the victims' families Keith Altman, of 1800 Law Firm, told BBC Trending: "The tech companies provide material support to ISIS in two regards. Number one they provide an infrastructure to conduct terrorist operations, and number two, in some cases they share ad revenue. The combination of those two things allow ISIS to flourish.

    "With respect to Orlando particularly, one of the stated intents of ISIS is to radicalise others in order to take action on their behalf, and that's exactly what happened."

    Pulse nightclubImage copyrightGERARDO MORA/GETTY IMAGES

    The Orlando lawsuit is likely to re-focus attention on the Communications Decency Act of 1996, a piece of legislation which is seen as having protected social media companies from similar legal action in the past.

    Section 230 of the act states: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." Critics argue that in effect the clause excuses social media sites like Facebook or YouTube from liability for what their users post on their platforms.

    According to USA Today, Section 230 was key to Twitter defeating legal actionbrought by families of two American contractors killed in a terror attack in Jordan.

    Although giant tech platforms have pledged to work together to identify and remove extremist content, the families of these Pulse victims believe stricter measures are vital.

    "I wish we could get some regulations put in place," Juan Guerrero, the father of one of the Orlando victims, told Fox News. "They have to do something to prevent these people from doing things like this."

    Facebook logoImage copyrightJONATHAN NACKSTRAND/GETTY IMAGESImage captionSocial media platforms have pledged to work together to identify and remove extremist content.

    Mr Altman told Trending that social media companies had it in their power to do more. "They censor as they see fit. They certainly do in terms of child pornography," he said.

    He added that if Facebook could develop an algorithm so that users see more material favourable to posts they interact with, then it should give the same level of attention to detail when it monitored posts related to terror groups. "I'm going to look at a post and they dish out an ad to me, why can't they look at the post at that time," Mr Altman said.

    This is not the only legal action of this kind in which Mr Altman is involved. He is also representing relatives of US student Nohemi Gonzalez - who was killed in the November 2015 Paris attacks - in their action against Twitter, Facebook and Google.

    "These cases are about behaviour modification. It's become obvious that these companies can not begin to conduct business as usual. Section 230 is a get of jail free card," Mr Altman said.

    Twitter declined a request for comment, but directed Trending to the company's blogs on curbing "the spread of terrorist content online".

    BBC Trending has also emailed Facebook and Google (YouTube) for comment.

    Blog by Megha Mohan

    Next story: Fact-checking The Donald

    Donald TrumpImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

    A leading US newspaper releases a web tool to help the public fact-check Donald Trump's tweets. READ MORE

    Read more »
  • EU data retention ruling goes against UK government

    Woman using a laptopImage copyrightPA

    The UK government says it is "disappointed" after the European Court of Justice said the "indiscriminate" collection of data was against EU law.

    EU judges said communications data could only be retained if it was used to fight serious crime.

    Its verdict came after a legal challenge to the UK government's surveillance legislation.

    The challenge was initially championed by Brexit Secretary David Davis, who was then a backbench Conservative MP.

    The Lib Dems said the ruling proved the government had "overstepped the mark" with its Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, branded the "snoopers' charter" by critics, which requires communications companies to retain data for 12 months.

    The ECJ has ruled that a "general and indiscriminate retention" of data is against EU law and can only be done under certain conditions and "solely for the purpose of fighting serious crime".

    Its ruling confirms a preliminary verdict in July. The case now returns to the UK Court of Appeal, which had referred the case to the ECJ for clarification.

    Mr Davis, who had long campaigned on civil liberties issues, left the case after Theresa May appointed him to her cabinet in July.

    Tom Watson, Labour's deputy leader, who is one of those bringing the case, said: "This ruling shows it's counter-productive to rush new laws through Parliament without a proper scrutiny."

    The Home Office said it would be putting forward "robust arguments" to the Court of Appeal.

    It added: "Given the importance of communications data to preventing and detecting crime, we will ensure plans are in place so that the police and other public authorities can continue to acquire such data in a way that is consistent with EU law and our obligation to protect the public."


    Investigatory Powers Act

    • Replaces the Regulation of Investigatory Power Act, which expires at the end of December
    • The government says it gives police and the intelligence agencies the tools to keep people safe and addressing "ongoing capability gaps"
    • But critics have dubbed it a "snoopers' charter", raising civil liberties concerns
    • Among the measures is the requirement for communications companies - like broadband or mobile phone providers - to hold a year's worth of communications data
    • Under existing law, agencies can already ask firms to start collecting this data - but they can't access historic information because companies don't keep it

    The government said it would not make any changes until the Court of Appeal had ruled on the legal challenge to the legislation.

    The term 'communications data' refers to details such as the time and date of a phone call being made or an email being sent - but not its contents.

    The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act expires at the end of December, and new legislation, the Investigatory Powers Act, is in place.

    Campaign group Liberty, which represented Mr Watson, said: "Today's judgment upholds the rights of ordinary British people not to have their personal lives spied on without good reason or an independent warrant.

    "The government must now make urgent changes to the Investigatory Powers Act to comply with this."

    Read more »
  • Syria conflict: Aleppo evacuations resume after 24-hour delay

    The final phase of the evacuation of rebel-held eastern districts of the Syrian city of Aleppo has restarted, after being stalled for a day.

    Syrian state TV broadcast pictures of buses leaving the rebel enclave and entering a government-controlled area.

    A UN official also told Reuters news agency that the evacuation had resumed.

    Activists said 60 buses were stuck in the rebel enclave overnight, forcing 3,000 people to wait in freezing weather with little to eat or drink.

    Reasons for the hold-up were not clear. But state media blamed rebels in neighbouring Idlib province, accusing them of preventing the simultaneous evacuation of two pro-government Shia towns there.

    After waiting more than a day, the first five buses in the convoy left the rebel enclave and crossed into government-held Ramousseh on Wednesday afternoon.

    By late in the evening, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the civil war, was reporting that all rebel fighters had left the eastern districts, putting the city under the full control of the Syrian government.

    However, representatives from the UN and the US state department told Reuters this was not yet confirmed.


    Aleppo: Before and after the battle

    Aleppo's Great Mosque on 6 Oct 2010 (top) and 17 Dec 2016 (below)Image captionThe fighting has left Aleppo's Great or Umayyad Mosque almost in ruins


    The official Sana news agency said the evacuation buses were heading to the countryside west of Aleppo under the supervision of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

    At the same time, four buses and two ambulances carrying wounded and sick people had been allowed to leave the two towns in Idlib besieged by rebel forces, Foah and Kefraya, it added.

    Sana also cited its sources as saying that 21 bus drivers had been freed after being "held by terrorists" while on their way to the towns on Tuesday evening.

    Syrian pro-government fighters stand in the snow in Aleppo (21 December 2016)Image copyrightAFPImage captionSnow fell in Aleppo on Wednesday as temperatures remained below freezing

    There was no immediate comment from rebel officials. However, the Syrian Observatory did report earlier that 21 buses had been unable to enter Foah and Kefraya.

    It is not clear how many civilians and rebel fighters are still inside the rebel enclave.

    Map

    The UN estimated last Thursday that there were 50,000 people there.

    On Tuesday, the ICRC said 25,000 people had been evacuated since the operation began a week ago, but the Syrian Observatory said the total was closer to 17,000.

    If this is the last convoy to leave Aleppo, Wednesday could be the day the whole of the city returns to government control, says the BBC's James Longman in Beirut.

    An injured Syrian arrives at a camp in Rashidin, Syria, after being evacuated from rebel-held Aleppo (20 December 2016)Image copyrightAPImage captionMost people from Aleppo are being transported to rebel-held Idlib province

    The Syrian army seems determined to clear the rebel enclave, he adds, and has been broadcasting announcements via loudspeaker, calling on the last fighters to leave before soldiers arrive.

    But a spokesman for the Fastaqim rebel group, Ward Furati, told the Associated Press they "won't leave until security of all the civilians has been fully guaranteed".

    Aleppo was once Syria's largest city, and its commercial and industrial hub before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011.

    Pro-government forces stand on top of a damaged tank in central Aleppo (13 December 2016)Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionAleppo was once Syria's largest city, and its commercial and industrial hub

    For much of the past four years it was divided roughly in two, with the government controlling the western half and rebels the east.

    Troops finally broke the deadlock this year with the help of Iranian-backed militias and Russian air strikes, reinstating a siege on the east in early September.

    After breaking through the rebels' defensive lines in mid-November, they quickly advanced and had seized all but 2.6 sq km (1 sq mile) by the time a ceasefire was brokered by Russia and Turkey, which backs the opposition to Mr Assad.

    Read more »
  • Why China's parents tackle bullies on their own

    Screenshot of CCTV report on bullying in Shenzhen December 2016Image copyrightCCTVImage captionThe clip showing the 12-year-old victim (right) being kicked to the ground was shown by national broadcaster CCTV

    A shocking video of a young boy being assaulted by his schoolmates is the latest in a slew of bullying incidents to spark outrage in China. While bullying is not unique to China, some parents feel the system leaves them with no choice but to take matters into their own hands.

    The BBC looks at how and why they do this.

    Parents shame bullies on social media

    Taking to social media is seen as the default mode for ensuring justice by crowdsourcing internet outrage, so putting pressure on authorities to act.

    This is exactly what one Beijing mother did last week when she took to messaging app WeChat with a powerful account about what happened to her 10-year-old son.

    She said her son was bullied over the course of a year, culminating in an incident where classmates threw faeces and rubbish at him. Eventually he was taken out of school and diagnosed with acute stress disorder.

    She added that the Zhongguancun Second Primary School, one of Beijing's best-known, had brushed her concerns off.

    "We are clearly the victims here, we only ask that the school handles this and apologises, why have we been treated this way?" she wrote.

    wECHAT GRABImage copyrightWECHAT GRAB

    But when her emotive post triggered an outpouring of empathy and anger online, it also prompted the school to hastily issue a public statement.

    It disputed her account, saying it did not believe the confrontation amounted to bullying.

    By then the mother had already made her point and conjured up the sympathy of millions, even state media.

    But it is also on social media that bullying becomes most visible. In 2015, China's internet watchdog banned websites from posting photos or video of bullying, but it is evidently still an issue.

    In one clip filmed in Sichuan last year, a girl was seen being stripped naked and beaten by schoolmates, while others show children being slapped, kicked and even beaten with steel pipes.

    Parents negotiate personal compensation

    The latest viral bullying video came from the southern city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province and was allegedly over a 12-year-old boy's refusal to pay "protection money" to a school gang.

    In the clip, the boy is seen talking to a group of teenagers and is then sent sprawling to the ground when one kicks him. Curled up on the floor, he is then kicked repeatedly.

    It drew universal condemnation and sent local officials scrambling to organise a mediation session.

    Screenshot of CCTV report on bullying in Shenzhen December 2016Image copyrightCCTVImage captionThe boy, seen here lying curled up on the ground, was beaten and kicked repeatedly

    The attackers' families eventually agreed to apologise and pay compensation for the victim's medical fees "and other losses", city officials said on Monday.

    Asking for money to resolve a bullying incident may be seen as unorthodox, but it is common and indeed encouraged in China, according to Beijing-based lawyer Zhang Yanfeng.

    "It's seen as the best way for everyone, and the most harmonious. If it really can't be resolved, then the parents would be advised to seek legal recourse," he said.

    So what are the obstacles they face?

    One reason compensation and social media shaming are preferred is because they are quicker and more efficient than pursuing criminal charges.

    Compensation, for instance, "takes just a few days compared to a few months or even years with the Chinese legal system", said Mr Zhang.

    Pupils do exercise in the classroom as heavy smog hits Hebei on 19 December 2016 in Handan, Hebei Province of China. Schools cancel outdoor activities as heavy smog hits Handan.Image copyrightVCG/GETTY IMAGESImage captionThere is mounting concern about bullying in Chinese primary and junior high schools

    But it is also hard for parents to seek legal redress in the most serious cases. Teenagers between 14 and 18 bear criminal responsibility only for the most serious of crimes, such as murder and rape.

    The law on protecting minors advises schools to "carry out anti-bullying education" and "ensure the safety of victims", but activists say it is too vague and carries no penalties - reflecting a failure to take bullying seriously within Chinese society and schools.

    The government has tried to grapple with the issue, including revising guidelines, but many parents and even state media are calling for tougher action.

    Only this week the Global Times said current regulations were "toothless" - there is no official data or analysis of bullying in Chinese schools.

    "There should be zero tolerance over school bullying of any kind, and the process... must start with children being given enough education from school authorities and parents, who shouldn't take bullying for granted just to save face," it said.

    Analysts say that by treating bullying as a series of individual incidents to be settled and forgotten rather than a systemic issue to be tackled, parents end up resorting to unorthodox means to protect their children.

    Reporting by the BBC's Tessa Wong

    Read more »
  • Multiple sclerosis drug 'a landmark'

    Patient with MSImage copyrightSPL

    A drug that alters the immune system has been described is "big news" and a "landmark" in treating multiple sclerosis, doctors and charities say.

    Trials, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggest the drug can slow damage to the brain in two forms of MS.

    Ocrelizumab is the first drug shown to work in the primary progressive form of the disease.

    The drug is being reviewed for use in the US and Europe.

    MS is caused by a rogue immune system mistaking part of the brain for a hostile invader and attacking it.

    It destroys the protective coating that wraps round nerves called the myelin sheath.

    The sheath also acts like wire insulation to help electrical signals travel down the nerve.

    Damage to the sheath prevents nerves from working correctly and means messages struggle to get from the brain to the body.

    This leads to symptoms like having difficulty walking, fatigue and blurred vision.

    The disease can either just get worse, known as primary progressive MS, or come in waves of disease and recovery, known as relapsing remitting MS.

    Both are incurable, although there are treatments for the second state.

    'Change treatment'

    Ocrelizumab kills a part of the immune system - called B cells - which are involved in the assault on the myelin sheath.

    In 732 patients with progressive MS, the percentage of patients that had deteriorated fell from 39% without treatment to 33% with ocrelizumab .

    Patients taking the drug also scored better on the time needed to walk 25 feet and had less brain loss detected on scans.

    In 1,656 patients with relapsing remitting, the relapse rate with ocrelizumab was half that of using another drug.

    Prof Gavin Giovannoni, from Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, was involved in the trials and said: "The results shown by these studies have the potential to change how we approach treating both relapsing and primary progressive MS."

    He told the BBC: "It's very significant because this is the first time a phase three trial has been positive in primary progressive MS."

    More than 100,000 people are diagnosed with MS in the UK, around one-in-five are progressive.

    Dr Aisling McMahon, the head of clinical trials at the MS Society, commented: "This is really big news for people with the primary progressive form of multiple sclerosis.

    "It's the first time a treatment has shown the potential to reduce disability progression for this type of MS, which offers a lot of hope for the future."

    The drug is being considered by the European Medicines Agency and the US Food and Drug Administration.

    But Prof Giovannoni warned that patients in the UK may be disappointed as it may be hard for the NHS to fund everyone getting a drug that is likely to be expenseive.

    He told the BBC: "I would expect a narrow group of people to be eligible."

    Dr Peter Calabresi, from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, added: "This is the first drug to show a significant effect in slowing disability progression in a phase three trial in primary progressive multiple sclerosis and therefore represents a landmark study in the field."

    But he warned doctors to "stay vigilant" because of the risk of side-effects.

    Weakening the immune system increases the risk of infection and of cancer emerging.

    Read more »
  • Uber halts California self-driving cars test

    Uber VolvoImage copyrightVOLVOImage captionUber had started to pick up passengers in specially-modified Volvo self-driving cars

    Ride-sharing firm Uber has suspended its test of self-driving cars in San Francisco after regulators revoked the registration of the vehicles.

    Passengers had recently been given the option of a booking a self-driving vehicle..

    But authorities had threatened legal action if Uber did not obtain a special permit to test the cars.

    Uber argues that because they came with a safety driver and are not fully autonomous, the permit was not needed.

    "We're now looking at where we can redeploy these cars, but remain 100% committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules," Uber said.

    San Francisco is Uber's second trial city for the new technology. In Pittsburgh, the company has been running its driverless trial since September and has not required special permits.

    Not yet fully autonomous

    Although the cars are promoted as "self-driving", they must constantly be monitored by an actual driver who can take control any time the software should fail.

    Uber says its technology is not sophisticated enough to have cars continuously drive by themselves - and therefore the permit demanded in San Francisco is not needed.

    UberImage copyrightUBERImage captionUber began using Ford cars to test its self-driving technologies in Pittsburgh earlier this year

    According to the regulators though, 20 other companies testing self-driving technology in California - including Google, Tesla and Ford - do so with the special permit which requires the firms to report any accidents to the authorities. This potentially undermines the company's reputation, as the reports are available to the public.

    Just before the city's Department of Motor Vehicles threatened Uber with legal action over the missing permit, a video of an Uber self-driving vehicle running a red light in San Francisco had been uploaded to YouTube.

    The trials are designed for the firm to identify flaws and glitches in the technology behind the autonomous driving.

    Read more »
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