Published: Mon, 16 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2017 16:29:00 -0500
Tue, 10 Jan 2017 08:05:00 -0500Like Craigslist before it, Backpage.com has shut down the "Adult" section of its classified-ad website, amid a seemingly endless stream of government pressure. In both cases, state and federal authorities have maintained that the mere presence of open forums for user-generated adult advertising creates a market for child sex-trafficking. Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and his associates have been subject to lawsuits, criminal charges, economic bullying, and Congressional hearings—the latest of which will take place today, January 10, before the U.S. Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations—in an attempt to thwart this supposed sex trade. But after proclaiming innocence and pushing back and for several years, Backpage will now—"as the direct result of unconstitutional government censorship," its lawyers said in a statement—comply with demands to end its adult-ad section. Last fall, former California Attorney General Kamala Harris tried to convict Ferrer and former Backpage.com heads Michael Lacey and James Larkin (founders of Village Voice media) of pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping. A judge threw out the charges, saying they were unconstitutional and violated federal law, which specifies—under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—that third-party publishers can't be held criminally liable for the content of user-generated posts. Section 230 doesn't just stop sites like Craigslist and Backpage from getting in trouble if someone posts a prostitution ad there but allows Reddit to exist without its CEO getting charged for every credible user threat, keeps Facebook from being shut down after some 20-year-old picks up a 17-year-old girl there, prevents Craigslist from being found guilty every time someone rips someone off over a used washer, and stops the feds from coming after Reason.com when the comments section contains unsavory content. But despite Section 230's alleged protections, government officials have again and again gone after Backpage for allowing adult ads, even though these ads do not directly reference illegal activity and any illegal activity that results from folks finding each other via Backpage takes place far outside of its owners or operators' purview. How should Backpage operators know whether a woman offering dominatrix services or a "full-body sensual massage" on the site is really offering dominatrix services or a full-body sensual massage, and not simply having sex for money? How can they know if the poster who says she's 18 is actually a few months shy of it? There's no way they can, and yet this lack of omnipotence and pre-cognition apparently won't do. As Backpage, and Craigslist before it, have shown, websites are more than welcome to offer open forums for user posts without government interference so long as none of the posts have anything to do with sexuality. Yet the moment "adult" work comes into play, all free-speech protections and anti-censorship agendas dissipate. Lawmakers, prosecutors, and the media who fellate them start saying things like, "If it saves only one child..." Shutting down Backpage won't save even one child, though, or one adult, or anybody. Backpage.com is a neutral publishing platform, albeit one that's become popular among sex workers ranging from strippers and erotic masseuses to people who offer sex for a fee. Without its adult section, sex workers of all ages will have to find some other way to advertise—perhaps simply by moving to a more discreet section of the site, as was done on Craigslist (anyone who thinks ridding Craigslist of its adult-services section actually thwarted commercial-sex advertising there should check out the site's "Casual Encounters" section now); perhaps by advertising elsewhere online (the internet is a vast place); or perhaps by returning to older client-gathering methods, like word-of-mouth or walking the streets. But what doesn't happen in all but the most fervent prohibitionist imaginations is that people whose livelihoods depend on prostitution or more legal forms of erotic work simply stop doing said wo[...]
Mon, 09 Jan 2017 10:56:00 -0500The two-year anniversary of the massacre at the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo passed quietly over the weekend. In contrast to last year, there were only a few relatively quiet remembrances for the 17 murdered artists, journalists, staffers, and policemen killed by Muslim extremists. Zineb El Rhazoui, one of Charlie Hedbo's journalists who was out of the country at the time of the attack, told France's Agence France-Presse (AFP) that she is leaving the magazine because it now lacks the "capacity to carry the torch of irreverence and absolute liberty." El Rhazoui added, "Freedom at any cost is what I loved about Charlie Hebdo, where I worked through great adversity," but she now believes the terrorists who murdered her colleagues accomplished what they wanted, as the magazine no longer publishes images of the Prophet Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo's current editor, Riss, tells AFP that "We've done our job. We have defended the right to caricature," but that "We get the impression that people have become even more intolerant of Charlie...If we did a front cover showing a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad now, who would defend us?" El Rhazoui counters that if she were in charge, she would continue publishing Muhammad images, telling AFP that "we cannot permit that our colleagues died for nothing." A Moroccan-French atheist, El Rhazoui has been described as "the most protected woman in France" due to her 24-hour police protection. She recently published a book called Destroy Islamic Fascism and last year told the New York Times Magazine: "It's totally crazy. I have done nothing against the law and have nothing to hide, yet I live with security while those who threaten us are free," El Rhazoui declares with an air of shock and anger that underscores the arbitrariness and brutality visited on a 34-year-old woman condemned to living on the run and mostly in the shadows. "And if you call them by their names you are Islamophobic and racist. I am racist? I can teach them a few things about Arab culture. I can show them how to discover its richness and the diversity of their culture. I believe this culture deserves universality because you can be Arab, Muslim and a free thinker." It is hard to fault Charlie Hebdo's current editorial leadership for being squeamish about publishing images of Muhammad. The magazine persisted in its mission of no-holds-barred militant secularism even after having been firebombed about three years before the 2015 massacre. Although the immediate reaction to the killing of journalists over cartoons was an international outpouring of support for free speech, very quickly Charlie Hebdo faced accusations that the organization was a racist "white power" publication, and later faced a boycott by 145 PEN America writers over an award presented to the magazine, as well as insinuations from everyone from Pope Francis to John Kerry to Garry Trudeau that the deliberately provocative journalists had somehow asked for their tragic fate. Charlie Hebdo, which marked the one-year anniversary of the massacre with a cover depicting a bearded "God" figure carrying a rifle, chose a drawing of a laughing man staring down the long barrel of a gun held by a jihadist for the second grim anniversary issue. The accompanying caption reads, "2017, at last, the light at the end of the tunnel."[...]
Fri, 06 Jan 2017 14:30:00 -0500
(image) Apple has removed the Chinese-language version of the New York Times mobile app from its App Store in China, saying it was complying with an order from the Chinese government, which in June imposed new rules cracking down on mobile apps that posed perceived threats to national security or social order, as The Washington Post reports.
The mobile app was developed last year with the help of GreatFire, a non-profit dedicated to combatting online censorship (the Great Firewall) in China. The group, based at greatfire.org, does not disclose its identity due to security concerns, but has an active Twitter presence. "We're defeating China's well-developed censorship apparatus, only to be thwarted by actions of a publicly listed American company," the group tweeted yesterday.
Apple insisted in a statement it had to remove the app. "For some time now the New York Times app has not been permitted to display content to most users in China and we have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations," the company said. "As a result, the app must be taken down off the China App Store."
GreatFire noted the Times app remained available on Android. Android users are also generally permitted to download apps from third-party sources (outside of the Google Play store) while Apple makes downloading apps outside of its store far more difficult. GreatFire also suggested that Apple's compliance was because of a Times exposé that was in the pipeline on Chinese subsidies to Foxconn, the company that runs the factory in China where Apple's iPhones are built. "Foxxconn story broke camel's back," the group tweeted. "Circle now complete. No question Apple's interests now 100% aligned with demands of Chinese authorities."
Ann Coulter tweeted that she was "really warming" to China after they put the banhammer down on the Times, a poor attempt at humor, especially given a pro-Trump social media ecosystem that doesn't just view much of the mainstream media as an adversary but as a cohort engaged in malpractice that may not deserve free press protections. Coulter is among the most prominent operators in that ecosystem but the shit rolls downhill, as you can see in the positive responses to her tweet. It goes all the way up, naturally. Trump has never appeared particularly enthusiastic about a free press, not before he ran, not while he was running, and not now and has, much like Hillary Clinton and other politicians, been pretty hostile to the idea, especially when it comes to criticisms of him.
Trump has not tweeted about China getting Apple to ban the Times app, nor about the Times reporting on China's subsidies, which seems up his alley for the foreign subsidies part and the things being made in China that are sold in the U.S. part—Trump's told Apple CEO Tim Cook he wants him to build iPhones in America.
Fri, 06 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500
(image) The chairman of Germany's Social Democratic Party has proposed fining Facebook 500,000 euros for each "fake" news story on the site. Thomas Opperman says Facebook should be required to set up a commission within Germany to which people could file complaints about false stories. But he denied that such a commission would be an "opinion police" or "truth commission."
Thu, 22 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500
(image) A New Jersey judge has ordered the Trentonian newspaper not to publish stories about a child custody case regarding a 5-year-old who brought drugs to school on at least two occasions. The judge issued the injunction after a reporter for the paper obtained court documents from the case. The New Jersey Attorney General's office has filed a motion to continue the injunction.
Tue, 20 Dec 2016 13:00:00 -0500
(image) The Turkish government appears to be blocking access to social media networks and messaging apps like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp in the aftermath of the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Turkey Block reports.
The monitoring network says it had detected "severe slowdowns affecting Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp for some, but not all, internet users in Turkey" between last night and this morning. As The Telegraph notes, it's not the first time the censor-happy government of Turkey has restricted access to social media following an incident.
The Turkish government had already recently banned the use of Tor and other virtual private networks, which allow internet users a measure of privacy, and, according to The USB Port, deployed sophisticated blocking tools to prevent the use of VPNs. "All these stringent measures could make Turkey's digital world resemble China's regulations," The USB Port's Angel Diaz writes.
The government of Turkey has been working to improve its ability to censor information on the internet for years, using any excuse, from mass arrests to attempted to coups, to crack down on internet use. After the coup earlier this year, the Turkish government dismissed the European Union's "red line" on freedom of the press, cracking down on opposition outlets and tightening its control over media.
The assassination of Andrey Karlov is far more likely to spur even more censorship in Turkey than it is to harm Russian-Turkish relations, despite the hot takes yesterday suggesting the latter was a real possibility. Leaders of Turkey and Russia both insisted they would not allow the assassination to sour relations. Instead, the Turkish government is already attempting to pin Karlov's assassination on Fetullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in exile in the United States, whom the Turkish government already blamed for the attempted coup earlier this year and against whose supporters it has already begun to crack down. Gulen has rejected both allegations.
Karlov's assassin, meanwhile, was identified as 22-year-old Mevlut Altinas, a riot cop from Ankara. A number of his family members have been arrested as the government begins its investigation into the assassination. Karlov often eschewed security measures, and had no security officers by his side at the event yesterday nor, reportedly, where there any on-duty police officers there.
Sat, 10 Dec 2016 08:20:00 -0500Some good news for folks who value free speech and sex-worker safety and frown on prosecutorial overreach: Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman has sided with the current and former heads of Backpage in their battle against California Attorney General (AG) Kamala Harris. The defendants had been charged with pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping for running Backpage.com, an online classified-ad site that Harris has called "the world's largest online brothel" due to its ample "adult" and "escort" ads. But as Bowman noted in a preliminary decision in November, federal law specifically prohibits online publishers and publishing-platforms from being held criminally liable for user-generated content, under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). "Congress did not wish to hold liable online publishers for the action of publishing third party speech," wrote Bowman at the time. "Congress has spoken on this matter and it is for Congress, not this court, to revisit." Judge Bowman seemed set to dismiss the charges in November, but the AG's office asked for more time to prove that defendants—current Backpage Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Carl Ferrer and former heads Michael Lacey and James Larkin—had not simply presided over a publishing platform but actually altered user-posted ads in order to disseminate them more widely or to conceal the illegal nature of their offerings. Harris' office subsequently submitted 74 pages of info and internal Backpage emails to make the state's case. These documents mostly centered on how Backpage handled the aggregation and publishing of Backpage.com content on two affiliated sites, Evil Empire and Big City. As Bowman summed it up: Prosecutors' "overall theory is that Backpage knew prostitution ads were placed on its main site and, in response, created two additional websites with the goal of encouraging that prostitution through increased ad placement." The state also contended that Backpage "manipulated" content in various ways—shortening headlines, cropping images—when it repackaged Backpage ads on the additional sites. But after considering the state's new evidence, Bowman concluded in a December 9 decision that "defendants have, at most, republished material that was created by a third party." The judge pointed out that California's declaration in support of the defendants' arrest warrant even stated that EvilEmpire.com ads were "essentially identical" to their Backpage.com counterparts. "This demonstrates republication, not content creation," and "republication is entitled to immunity under the CDA," wrote Bowman. The judge also blasted the state's assertion that removing possibly illegal content from user posts counted as criminally manipulating them: Assuming that the People's assertion is true; that the ad went from expressing intent to advertise prostitution to express a desire to 'date,' the People are essentially complaining that Backpage staff scrubbed the original ad, removing any hint of illegality. If this was the alleged content 'manipulation,' the content was modified from being illegal to legal. Surely the AG is not seeking to hold Defendants liable for posting a legal ad; this behavior is exactly the type of 'good Samaritan' behavior that the CDA encourages through the grant of immunity. Ultimately, the court "finds it difficult to see any illegal behavior outside of the reliance upon the content of speech created by others," wrote Bowman. "The whiff of illegality is detected only when considering the alleged content of the statements contained in the ads. ... Thus, the prosecution depends on consideration of speech provided by a third party." The court granted defendants demurrer seeking to have the charges against them dismissed, vacated further court dates, and exonerated bond for each defendant. In his conclusion, Bowman once again wrote in boldface type that "Congress has [...]
Tue, 06 Dec 2016 15:15:00 -0500Four major tech and social media companies—Twitter, YouTube, Google, and Facebook—are combining to censor the internet! But they're doing it for a good cause (and because of government pressure), they say. We're going to have to see what actually comes of it. The four companies announced that they're working together on a tool that will help them prevent imagery or content produced by terrorists from spreading online. Google in Europe explains: Starting today, we commit to the creation of a shared industry database of "hashes" — unique digital "fingerprints" — for violent terrorist imagery or terrorist recruitment videos or images that we have removed from our services. By sharing this information with each other, we may use the shared hashes to help identify potential terrorist content on our respective hosted consumer platforms. We hope this collaboration will lead to greater efficiency as we continue to enforce our policies to help curb the pressing global issue of terrorist content online. Our companies will begin sharing hashes of the most extreme and egregious terrorist images and videos we have removed from our services — content most likely to violate all of our respective companies' content policies. Participating companies can add hashes of terrorist images or videos that are identified on one of our platforms to the database. Other participating companies can then use those hashes to identify such content on their services, review against their respective policies and definitions, and remove matching content as appropriate. As we continue to collaborate and share best practices, each company will independently determine what image and video hashes to contribute to the shared database. No personally identifiable information will be shared, and matching content will not be automatically removed. Each company will continue to apply its own policies and definitions of terrorist content when deciding whether to remove content when a match to a shared hash is found. And each company will continue to apply its practice of transparency and review for any government requests, as well as retain its own appeal process for removal decisions and grievances. As part of this collaboration, we will all focus on how to involve additional companies in the future. To start with the obvious response: There's nothing inherently wrong or inappropriate about the companies working together and censoring violent content or declining to host it on their platforms. Ultimately, though, how this tool gets used is what matters. Once a tool can be used to censor, en masse, a violent photo from some terrorist of the Islamic State, that tool can be used to censor anything in similar broad strokes. Recall that Facebook recently had an odd little controversy when it temporarily censored a well-known, historically significant photo from the Vietnam War because it contained nudity. Leaders in European countries, where they don't have nearly the level of commitment to free speech when people say things that those in power deem to be bigotry or hate speech, are pushing social media platforms to engage in wider forms of censorship of content. As Andrea O'Sullivan noted earlier today, social media companies are beginning to embrace a "gatekeeper" mentality after previously marketing themselves as free-wheeling communication platforms. Will they resist the pressure to use this technology to censor other forms of content at the request of governments?[...]
Tue, 06 Dec 2016 08:30:00 -0500Reddit has suffered a rocky year, having weathered months of censorship concerns and subreddit shutdowns. Recent revelations that co-founder and current CEO Steve Huffman was surreptitiously editing Reddit posts critical of him have thrown the community into still more chaos. But Reddit is far from the only social network struggling with the tension between speech and sensitivity. Similar snafus at other services have been dominating recent headlines: there's "fake news" on Facebook, "hate speech" on Twitter, and the continued scourge of rude comment sections. Social-media platforms are finding it harder to mouth free speech platitudes (and enjoy the corresponding cultural benefits) while at the same time actively curating a sanitized media feed. Yet to not curate or censor is to be accused of aiding and abetting a parade of horribles ranging from online jihadis to the "alt-right." The so-called "Reddit Revolt" has pitted a coterie of left-leaning "social justice warriors" against a ragtag, right-leaning, and rambunctious crew who call themselves free-speech activists. Tensions between Reddit administrators and certain subreddits—most notably, the pro-Trump subreddit called r/The_Donald and a now-banned conspiracy theory subreddit called r/pizzagate that believes high-level world leaders operate and patronize international child-trafficking rings—have been high over the past year, as these communities' impolitic and often impolite content raised the hackles of the website's generally more liberal operators. Where Huffman, or u/spez as he is known on Reddit, really crossed a line with certain Redditors is when he admitted to amending user comments that were critical of him to appear like they were criticizing moderators of r/The_Donald instead. While some have been able to forgive Huffman's faux pas as an immature but benign troll against a community that constantly causes problems, others have decided to leave the platform all together in search of more censorship-averse websites. Of course, internet companies like Reddit and Twitter are private corporations that can run their businesses however they see fit. If that includes censorship, so be it. Users are free to seek or build a better alternative—as users of the still relatively-obscure Voat or Gab platforms have—or just stop using the service altogether. Yet a social network is only as valuable as, well, its network. If everyone you know insists on using a certain service, you're probably going to use that one, too. Even if you don't personally use a particular network, if enough people in a country or planet do use it, then its policies and priorities could have a major impact on your life. And then there's the value of "free speech" on a conceptual level. If you hold free speech to be an ideal worth fighting for, you will push platforms to protect it, even if it is costly or inconvenient. This is a conundrum that we didn't have to seriously deal with for a long time. In their early days, social-media platforms were "open" merely by virtue of their limited scale. Far fewer people used these websites, and the early adopters who did were largely internet-hardened veterans of forums and IRC channels who were not exactly allergic to a good flame war. For years, social media platforms touted this openness as a key cultural and design feature of their services. Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo famously characterized the microblogging platform as "the free speech wing of the free speech party." Mark Zuckerberg marketed Facebook as a "place where people across the world share their views and ideas." And of course Reddit has long positioned itself as a "free speech site with very few exceptions"—even when said speech was personally revolting to its operators. Only criminal acts, "doxing," IP violations, and perhaps targeted harassment were grounds for[...]
Fri, 02 Dec 2016 09:20:00 -0500
(image) Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was first published in 1884 and first banned in 1885 by authorities in Concord, Mass., who called it "trash and suitable only for the slums."
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was first published in 1960 and first pulled from shelves in 1966, when the Hanover, Va. school board, still struggling with the concept of racially integrated schools, objected to the use of rape as a plot device.
In 2016, both classics—long staples of school curriculuums—are one again too hot for youthful consumption, at least in one school Virginia school district.
Accomack County Public Schools have temporarily pulled both novels from their libraries in accordance with the school district's policy after a parent files a formal complaint using a "Request for Reconsideration of Learning Resources" form. In this case, one parent objected to both books' combined 250 uses of a racial slur, according to WTVR-TV.
Delmarva Daily Times reports Marie Rothstein-Williams, a white parent of a biracial high school student first raised objections to the books' presence in school libraries and classrooms at a school board meeting last month, saying:
I keep hearing 'This is a classic, this is a classic.' I understand this is a literature classic but at some point I feel the children will not or do not truly get the classic part, the literature part — which I'm not disputing this is great literature — but there is so much racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can't get past that.
WTVR also quotes Rothstein-Williams as saying, "Right now, we are a nation divided as it is." Another Accomack County parent reportedly worried that because the slur can be found at a book in their school, students will "feel that they are able to say that to anybody" and thus the books should be removed.
Once a formal complaint is lodged, the review process convenes as follows:
A review committee consisting of the principal, the library media specialist, the classroom teacher (if involved), a parent and/or student, and the complainant will convene. Materials cited in the complaint will be temporarily suspended for use pending determination by the committee.
No date has been set to begin the review. In the meantime, Accomack County students will not be subjected to reading two books containing language deliberately meant to provoke strong feelings in readers by challenging the racial oppression of their times, and thus unable to engage in the critical thinking great literature demands.
Tue, 29 Nov 2016 13:00:00 -0500We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to give you one more reason to donate to Reason's 2016 webathon: Our journalism is so incendiary that prisons are scared to distribute our magazines to their inmates, lest chaos erupt. I'll tell you about how things went down below, but in case you're already glazing over at webathon posts, let me give you the TL;DR: If you're on the outside, subscribe to savor your freedom to consume illicit dead tree reads about free minds and free markets, and donate because producing the kind of articles that gets wardens' panties in a bunch ain't cheap, but it's the Lord's work and you know it. As you may recall, in September a Florida prison censor impounded our latest issue, claiming that the magazine "presents a threat to the security, good order, or discipline of the correctional system or the safety of any person." More specifically: "it depicts of describes procedures for the construction or use of weapons, ammunitions, bombs, chemical agents, or incendiary devices" What was the fuss about? Oh, a little infographic on popular accessories for AR-15s. To be clear, designer Jason Keisling did not offer instructions for how to construct an AR-15 from ramen noodles and plastic sporks, nor strategy on how to use one to kill a warden; the piece offered some snack-sized tidbits about how the military firearm's many interchangeable accessories accounted for some of its popularity with civilians. But Reason just learned we're on the outs in Arizona as well. The irony is more delicious than a plate of mystery meat from the cafeteria, given the subject matter of the issue. That's right, it was our "How Not to Build a Jail" cover story about prison reform in D.C.—a thoughtful treatment of an issue that might be of rather signifcant interest to our incarcerated readers, natch—that caught the eye of clink censors this time. Here's the explanation we got from the Arizona Department of Corrections Office of Publication Review when we requested an appeal of the decision: DO 914.07 deems certain publication content contrary to ADC's penological interests to "assist with rehabilitation and treatment objectives, reduce sexual harassment and prevent a hostile work environment for inmates, staff, and volunteers . . .." See DO 914.07, § 1.1....The December 2016 contains Unauthorized Content pursuant to DO 914.07 §§ 1.2.3 and 1.2.7. Specifically, the cover page and pages 20-27 contain depictions of prison riots, among other descriptions concerning prison institutions and prison populations, that may be detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the institution. §1.2.3. Not to mention that the issue acknowledges the existence of DRUGS. Which are BAD, you guys. And no one in the pokey knows about marijuana already, so it's best if they don't read about legalization efforts in California, right? It could only give them ideas. Page 11 of the issue contains an article discussing marijuana, which is Unauthorized Content under § 1.2.7 as promoting drug paraphernalia. Accordingly, the issue was withheld and contrabanded by the complex, which is the first level of review. The authorties at Arizona's finest crowbar hotel conclude with a reminder that they have their eyes on us: Accordingly, any future issues of Reason addressed to an ADC inmate will be reviewed on an individual basis to ensure contents meet the standards and guidelines set forth in DO 914....This deliberative process is critical in order to facilitate ADC's penological interests in maintaining the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the prison system. We always appeal these bans and will continue to do so. Why not donate today support those efforts, as well as the kickass journalism that keeps getting Reason bounced from America's hoosegows?[...]
Wed, 23 Nov 2016 08:20:00 -0500Under a little-heralded new Alabama rule, it's illegal to publish the mugshots of people arrested for prostitution. Alabama law now stipulates that these mugshots are "not a public record and may not be published in any printed or electronic media or provided to any person" without special permission from a district judge. "We're trying to look at these women less as criminals and more as victims, and we don't want to see them be revictimized," said Rep. Jack Williams (R-Birmingham), who sponsored the legislation. I've railed many times against the journalistic practice of publishing the mugshots of people arrested for prostitution or solicitation of prostitution. Considering the stigma surrounding prostitution, I think any "public interest" served in seeing the faces of those merely arrested for this misdemeanor offense is generally outweighed by the long-term damage it could do—especially in the Internet era—to the the lives and reputations of these individuals. But the decision whether to publish prostitution mugshots, or any mugshots, should be matter of journalistic ethics, not government mandate. If Alabama lawmakers really believe that all people selling sex are victims, perhaps they should repeal laws that make selling sex a crime. But as long as prostitution is a crime in Alabama, there's no justifying a categorical ban on publishing prostitution-arrest mugshots. As Alabama Press Association lawyer Dennis Bailey said, "It's a very blatant form of prior restraint," which is unconstitutional. What's especially strange here is that law passed the state legislature in May and took effect August 1, but newspaper editors say they are just hearing about the measure now. This seems like a pretty big oversight on both the part of state officials and Alabama journalists, who covered the legislation that the mugshot-ban was part of but apparently failed to notice that particular part. Meanwhile, officials failed to specify what, if any, punishment could come from violating the ban. The main focus of the legislation, known as the Alabama Human Trafficking Safe-Harbor Act, was allowing law-enforcement to decline criminal charges for minors engaged in prostitution, and instead refer them to social services or state custody. Alabama police arrested three minors for prostitution in 2015, according to the Anniston Star, which reviewed statewide arrest data. "It's unclear whether any of the children were actually charged with the crime," the paper reported, "or whether police knew they were underage at the time of the arrest." Not charging juveniles for selling sex, whether on their own or under force or coercion, is certainly a positive step. But the legislation contains a lot of language that suggests, arrest or no arrest, these young people aren't simply being seen as victims. For instance: "Once the sexually exploited child is adjudicated, the juvenile court shall retain jurisdiction over the sexually exploited child and may enforce prior orders requiring payment of court-ordered monies." Beyond that, the "Safe Harbor Act" is packed with worrying components unrelated to minors, in addition to the mugshot ban. Most alarmingly, it allows adults arrested for prostitution to be held for up to 72 hours so law-enforcement can screen them for mental-health issues, financial status, living arrangements, and who knows what else, before deciding whether to bring charges or send them to a pre-trial diversion program. Here's the relevant passage: For the safety and well-being of a person arrested for the crime of prostitution under Division 2, Article 3, Chapter 12, Title 13A, Code of Alabama 1975, he or she may be held in custody for up to 72 hours. The person shall be brought before a court of competent jurisdiction as soon as possible[...]
Tue, 22 Nov 2016 04:00:00 -0500
(image) The superintendent of the Lincoln, Nebraska, school system has apologized after administrators told students not to fly the American flag on their vehicles. The students had flown the flags from holders they'd made in class in a joint program with Southeast Community College. Someone took the flag off a truck parked at the college and laid it in the bed of another truck. Administrators said they were afraid allowing the students to fly the flags might lead to a confrontation or property damage.
Thu, 17 Nov 2016 12:30:00 -0500When a rash of news stories and analysis suggested that Facebook has a "problem" with "fake news" from pretend media outlets and wondered if something needed to be done about it, I warned about the potential consequences. In short: If Facebook were to decide to start censoring the sharing of "fake news," there would be a scramble to define what "fake" was in a way that could lead to censorship of other content. It turns out the attempt to broaden the definition of "fake news" is already happening. In a way, describing Assistant Professor Melissa Zimdars' list of online outlets to be wary of as a list of "fake news" sites is itself a little misleading. But that is how the non-fake news outlets are describing her work. Zimdars, a communications professor at Merrimaack College in Massachusetts, put together a list of what she calls "False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical 'News' Sources.'" Only two of those modifiers suggest actual faked news—"false" and "satirical." The other two words are judgment calls that we make ourselves as readers. Nevertheless, reporting is describing Zimdars' work as a list of "fake news" sites. And there are now web browser extensions that create pop-ups to warn visitors when they're looking at stories from one of these sites. This one by Brian and Feldman at New York Magazine uses Zimdars' list as a foundation. But Zimdars' list is awful. It includes not just fake or parody sites; it includes sites with heavily ideological slants like Breitbart, LewRockwell.com, Liberty Unyielding, and Red State. These are not "fake news" sites. They are blogs that—much like Reason—have a mix of opinion and news content designed to advance a particular point of view. Red State has linked to pieces from Reason on multiple occasions, and years ago I wrote a guest commentary for Breitbart attempting to make a conservative case to support gay marriage recognition. So what happens if Facebook staff were to look at Zimdars' list and accept it and decide to censor the sharing of headlines from these sites? It's within Facebook's power and right to do so, but it would be a terrible decision on their end. They wouldn't just be preventing the spreading of factually incorrect, fabricated stories. They would be blocking a lot of opinionated analysis from sites on the basis of their ideologies. The company would face a backlash for such a decision that could impact their bottom line. Reporting on the alleged impact of fake news on the election is itself full of problems. BuzzFeed investigated how well the top "fake" election news stories performed on Facebook compared to the top "real" election news stories. The fake stories had more "engagement" on Facebook than stories from mainstream media outlets. There's basic problems with this comparison—engagement doesn't mean that people read the stories or even believed them (I know anecdotally that when a fake news story shows up in my feed, the "engagement" is often people pointing out that the story is fake). There's also a problem when you look at the top stories from mainstream media outlets—they tend toward ideologically supported opinion pieces as well. Tim Carney over at The Washington Examiner noted that two of the top three stories are essentially opinion pieces: Here's the top "Real News" stories: "Trump's history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one?" As the headline suggests, this is a liberal opinion piece, complaining that the media doesn't report enough on Trump's scandals. No. 2 is "Stop Pretending You Don't Know Why People Hate Hillary Clinton." This is a rambling screed claiming that people only dislike Clinton because she is a woman. So in an environment[...]
Wed, 16 Nov 2016 18:32:00 -0500It looked like the courts would once again save us from prosecutorial overreach aimed at web classified-ad site Backpage—and in so doing, reaffirm the protection under federal law and the First Amendment that's afforded third-party publishers of online content. On Wednesday morning, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman indicated that he would reject California's case against Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and two former site owners on charges of pimping, pimping a minor, and conspiracy. In a tentative ruling, Bowman agreed with the defense that the federal Communications Decency Act prohibits the charges aginst Ferrer and co-defendants Michael Lacey and James Larkin, who were all arrested in October. "Congress did not wish to hold liable online publishers for the action of publishing third party speech," he wrote. "Congress has spoken on this matter and it is for Congress, not this court, to revisit." The last sentence was bolded. Although Bowman could not issue a final ruling until after oral arguments, which were scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, he said that the final ruling come as early as that evening. And it did: Bowman now wants more info. According to Cheryl Miller of California legal newspaper The Recorder, the judge has now said he won't dismiss the pimping charges just yet and would like more briefings from both sides before deciding whether to make the tenative ruling final. The case against Ferrer and company was instigated by the California Department of Justice and led by state Attorney General Kamala Harris, who called Backpage "the world's top online brothel." Harris, a Democrat, just won a seat in the U.S. Senate. In October, former Backpage owners Lacey and Larkin accused her of bringing the charges against them as a pre-election publicity stunt. "Make no mistake; Kamala Harris has won all that she was looking to win when she had us arrested," the men alleged in a statement. "She issued her sanctimonious public statement, controlled her media cycle and got her 'perp walk' on the evening news. ... And if the polls are any indication, Harris will be warmly ensconced in the United States Senate by the time her blatant violations of the First Amendment and federal law are finally adjudicated. She won't pay. The taxpayers of California will." As I noted here then, Harris knew the charges she was bringing against Ferrer, Lacey, and Larkin were not permitted under federal law. In 2013, she petitioned Congress to change the law specifically so that she and other state attorneys general could prosecute Backpage owners. Which means her presence now in Congress doesn't bode well for Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act (CDA), the part that protects web publishers and platforms from criminal liability for user-generated content. For now, it looks uncertain whether Backpage—which has emerged victorious in several previous attempts by state prosecutors to go after it in unconstitutional ways—will be afforded the protections guaranteed under Section 230. "The importance of the protection afforded by the First Amendment was the motivating factor behind the creation of CDA," Bowman noted in his tentative ruling earlier today. While government has a legitimate interest in fighting sex trafficking, that interest "is not absolute," wrote Bowman, "and must be constrained by the interests and protections of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution." Bowman also pointed out in the tentative ruling that California criminal code defines pimping as living or deriving financial support from the earnings or proceeds of a person's prostitution, and "does not apply to an individual who provides a legitimate professional servi[...]