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Revelations about Russian company buying politically divisive Facebook ads under false names spurs calls for investigations and regulation, while Facebook comes under fire for refusing to make the ads public on grounds of user privacy. Facebook’s own fact-checkers say their efforts to fight “fake news” are hampered by internal company secrecy. In Supreme Court case, Department of Justice files brief siding with baker who refused to make a cake for same-sex couple. University of Florida considers allowing speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer, and students at Columbia schedule a number of alt-right speakers this semester. -Dru Menaker, Chief Operating Officer


The most pressing threats and notable goings-on in free expression today


Did Facebook ads traced to a Russian company violate U.S. election law?
Russian-financed ads could have run afoul of election law if they were placed on Facebook or targeted at certain voters in coordination with a campaign—one of the central questions of the ongoing Russia probes. In that scenario, the ads would not have to explicitly advocate for a candidate to be illegal.

Under fire, Facebook refuses to disclose political ads bought by Russian trolls
Facebook said making the ads public would violate its strict privacy rules—even though it acknowledges that most, if not all, of the accounts in question were registered under fake names and nonexistent entities and have since been removed from Facebook’s platform.

Facebook’s Fact Checkers Raise Concerns About Company Withholding Information: Report
The company has declined to share internal data with fact-checkers in determining which stories are fake news stories which should come with a “disputed” tag. Facebook executives are citing “privacy concerns” for holding back raw data from “outsiders.”

Trump Administration Backs Baker Who Refused to Make Gay Wedding Cake
Acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall said baker Jack Phillips should be exempt from Colorado’s anti-discrimination law because making custom cakes is a form of free expression protected under the First Amendment. Phillips contends the law violated his constitutional rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.

University of Florida considers allowing speech by Richard Spencer in October
A statement from the university said, “UF supports the constitutional right to free speech, and our role as a public university includes legal obligations to allow a wide range of viewpoints to be expressed by external groups—even when they are contrary to the core values of our university.”

White nationalists to speak on campus at Republican student group’s invitation
In the past semester, right-wing speakers garnered moderate protests at Columbia—around a dozen students protested conservative social theorist Charles Murray in March … But on college campuses nationwide, such speakers have drawn massive protests in the past year.


Benjamin Netanyahu bars Al Jazeera journalist from Israeli free speech seminar
Walid Omary’s exclusion from the seminar “Limits of free expression: the dilemma between national security and freedom of the press—Al Jazeera as a case study” comes a month after the Israeli government announced it would close the organisation’s bureau in Jerusalem and revoke journalists’ press credentials.

New wave of leaders step into breach for jailed Hong Kong democracy activists
Activist Agnes Chow said the government was using the jail terms to scare people away from social movements. She states, “It is important for us to learn how to overcome fear in order to fight for our own basic human rights and freedom and democracy.”

Reporter gunned down outside home becomes 11th journalist killed in Mexico this year
Reporter Juan Carlos Hernandez Rios had recently published a story about peasants dispossessed of their land taking legal action against the local government body that took it. In its latest report on press freedom in Mexico, human rights organisation Article 19 reported that a journalist is attacked in the country every 15.7 hours.

Singapore decried for ‘harassment’ of anti-death penalty activists
Assemblies and processions for a cause in public places without a permit is a criminal offense in Singapore, and results in a S$10,000 fine and up to six months in jail. The Singapore government has said that the law is required to provide for the individual’s rights for political expression without compromising on “order and safety.”

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