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Published: Mon, 29 May 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Mon, 29 May 2017 05:29:59 -0400


The European Union Wants to Censor Hate Speech on Social Media

Tue, 23 May 2017 17:30:00 -0400

(image) In America, civil libertarians frequently have to remind citizens that there's no "hate speech" exemption to the First Amendment. But our First Amendment doesn't fly in Europe, and now the European Union (EU) may be about to mandate censorship rules for social media.

EU ministers today approved a plan that will require social media platforms and online video hosts to block and remove videos that contain "hate speech, incitement to hatred and content justifying terrorism from their platforms," according to Reuters. For now at least, this just covers videos, not text, images, or livestreaming.

It's not entirely clear whether Facebook or YouTube will have to censor videos posted by platform users in the United States to remain in compliance with the law. We do know that EU countries like Germany are just itching to levy huge fines—tens of millions of euros—on social media companies that haven't been quick to suppress hate speech. That kind of pressure would certainly encourage a very broad censorship regime on the part of the companies.

The new rule has been in the works for a while—part of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, a set of commercial media regulations. In addition to ordering the censorship of content, the EU wants to dabble in cultural protectionism: The proposal approved today mandates that 30 percent of the content of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime be from member countries. The recommendation was originally 20 percent, but EU ministers jacked it up.

This will be the EU's first attempt to adopt this sort of platform censorship. If the European Parliament approves the regulations, don't be surprised to see more.

Ninth Circuit Should Strike Down Idaho's 'Ag-Gag' Appeal

Sat, 20 May 2017 08:00:00 -0400

Last week I attended oral arguments in Seattle in a case that could determine whether the government may grant special protections to agricultural producers that supersede the First Amendment rights of others. The case, Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Wasden, pits nonprofits such as the ALDF, ACLU, and several other concerned groups and individuals against the state of Idaho. The case centers on an Idaho law, passed in 2014, that prohibits "interference with agricultural production." The law was "draft[ed] and sponsor[ed]" by the Idaho Dairymen's Association after an undercover investigation by the group Mercy for Animals showed dairy cows being mistreated in the state. "Video shows dairy employees using a tractor and chain to drag a cow by its neck, and workers beating, kicking and jumping on cows," reads one piece that describes the video. Such awful examples aren't common. But they're not uncommon, either. In 2012, I highlighted an investigation in California by the group Compassion Over Killing that revealed horrific cases of animal abuse at a slaughterhouse in that state. The Idaho law—one of several such state laws around the country—is intended to prevent agricultural whistleblowers from sharing such evidence of animal abuse with the general public (hence the term "ag-gag laws"). The U.S. District Court ruled in 2015 that the Idaho law is an unconstitutional violation of free-speech and equal-protection rights. "Although the State may not agree with the message certain groups seek to convey about Idaho's agricultural production facilities, such as releasing secretly recorded videos of animal abuse to the Internet and calling for boycotts, it cannot deny such groups equal protection of the laws in their exercise of their right to free speech," the court held in overturning the law. "The Idaho Ag-Gag law represents a direct assault on food transparency and undercover journalism," attorney Justin Marceau, who argued the plaintiffs' case in the lower and appellate courts, told me this week. "The law criminalizes all persons who gain access through deceptions—including investigative journalists. It criminalizes recording at agricultural facilities—including the sort of whistleblowing that led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history." Based on my take from oral arguments—including the three-judge panel's comments and lines of questioning—I believe the Ninth Circuit is rightly hostile to many of the worst elements of the law. And while the court may wish to salvage some facets of the law, I suspect it won't be able to do so and will uphold the lower-court ruling. Others who've followed the case closely agree. "Based on the oral argument, the days of Idaho's ag-gag law appear to be numbered," said appellate attorney Mahesha Subbaraman, in an email to me this week. "The panel's questions demonstrate a significant appreciation of the speech interests at stake when it comes to food journalism and that Idaho's ag-gag law targets these interests based on content and viewpoint." Subbaraman wrote an excellent brief in support of the plaintiffs in the case that he filed on behalf of more than a dozen food-law scholars across the country, including me. In the brief, we argue that agricultural whistleblowers make a vital and unique contribution to the marketplace of ideas. "Idaho's ag-gag law.... ultimately denies consumers a marketplace of ideas in which they are free to weigh competing voices and decide for themselves the truth about food production," we told the Ninth Circuit. While the court didn't focus on the marketplace of ideas during oral arguments, I'm hopeful the court will address the value of information obtained by undercover animal-welfare investigators to the marketplace of ideas in their ruling. One thing the judges did note repeatedly during oral arguments is that Idaho, like every state, has existing laws that prohibit trespass, and that such laws can—and, in my opinion, should—be used to deter and punish trespassers. So what can be done about the dueling problems of ag[...]

Brickbat: Delete That Post!

Fri, 19 May 2017 05:00:00 -0400

(image) An Austrian court has ruled that Facebook must delete posts about Green Party leader Eva Glawischnig that party officials complained were insulting. The court ruled that merely blocking Austrian readers from seeing them was not sufficient. The court ruled that Facebook must also delete any re-postings of the original posts.

Brickbat: Make Yearbooks Great Again

Tue, 16 May 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Officials at North Carolina's Richmond Early College High School confiscated copies of the yearbook from those who had paid for them, claiming that some of the student quotes were "inappropriate." The only inappropriate quote cited by local media was "Build that wall."

Raging Bitch, Good Shit, and Flying Dog Beer's Fight for Free Speech

Wed, 10 May 2017 15:54:00 -0400

"I've lived my life as a pro free enterprise person," explains Flying Dog Brewery CEO Jim Caruso. "Not pro business. Pro free enterprise, pro consumer choice, artisanal manufacturing." A central player in America's craft beer revolution, Caruso is dedicated to creating something special both inside and outside the bottle. Famed artist Ralph Steadman, best known for his iconic illustrations for work by Hunter S. Thompson, creates all of Flying Dog's labels. It was Steadman who spontaneously wrote on his first commissioned label "good beer, no shit." And it was this label that kicked of Flying Dog's first -- but not last -- fight with government censors. Caruso sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie to talk about his run-ins with the state, why he is a libertarian, and the how his values keep him happy. "I'm a happy person. And I attribute that to living as an individual, taking self responsibility, self reliance, but connected to society. It's not a Lone Ranger sort of thing." Cameras by Meredith Bragg, Todd Krainin, and Mark McDaniel. Edited by Bragg. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: America is in the throes of a beer revolution. Today the United States has more breweries than colleges. But it wasn't always this way. It was only after Jimmy Carter rescinded the prohibition on home brewing that Americans began innovating and experimenting. Flying Dog Brewery CEO Jim Caruso was there during the early days. And while today Flying Dog has cemented it's place as a leader in the craft brewery movement - as well as an unlikely champion of first amendment rights - Caruso still remembers the challenges of being a pioneer. Jim Caruso: Nobody knew anything. There was nobody to turn to. So, bottles of beer exploding, we're selling out of the trunk of our car. All that sort of stuff in the start up industry. It wasn't taken very seriously. And today for example we have Flying Dog University, we want people to make good beer. We've made it through 27 years, we're happy to share that knowledge. Even today breweries are opening faster, the capacity is increasing faster than demand, people are really getting into it. The last two years, three breweries opened per day for the last two years, every day for the last two years. Nick Gillespie: Wow. Jim Caruso: More breweries opened in the last 90 days than existed in 1990. Nick Gillespie: And it's not just beer, I mean there's been an explosion in food and when you think about supermarkets like Whole Foods has really kind of changed the way people think about food or what the possibilities are. In all sorts of fields you see this, the rise of the artisanal of individualized, of niche products. What's driving that in your estimation? Jim Caruso: Yeah, s everal aspects of that. One is, certainly the artisanal nature, it's higher cost, it's lower production, it's scaling demand, not scaling supply. We're not pushing into the market, we're responding to consumer demands and offering this interesting portfolio of design and clothing and getting close to it. When you look at local, think global, buy local, what does that mean? It means different things to different people. One is hyper-connectivity. It's not just that we contribute to the local events, we are engaged on that market at many, many different levels. And that's important to know the people behind the business. To be able to believe in that business. The other is a quality aspect. There is a freshness aspect to it because you can offer a wider range of products without worrying that they're aging on the shelf more than I'd want it to. Jim Caruso: Caruso and the Flying Dog team are still dedicated to creating something special both inside and outside the bottle. Famed artist Ralph Steadman, best known for his iconic illustrations for work by Hunter S. Thompson[...]

The FCC Isn't Singling Out Stephen Colbert for his "Cock Holster" Crack at Trump...

Mon, 08 May 2017 16:20:00 -0400

As Elizabeth Nolan Brown showed in her thorough debunking of the widespread claim that congressional Republicans had passed legislation defining rape as a pre-existing condition no longer covered under federal health-care law, the American press is characterized by groupthink and agenda-setting. The speed with which the absolutely false statement about the American Healtch Care Act (AHCA) and rape showed up in all sorts of outlets is testament to media credulity, or maybe just plain old-fashioned media bias. Something similar has happened with one of the other big stories of last week. In an anti-Donald Trump monologue, The Late Show's Stephen Colbert said, among many other things: "You talk like a sign-language gorilla who got hit in the head. In fact, the only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin's cock holster." You can watch the whole monologue below (the cock-holster line, which was bleeped both during the broadcast and remains bleeped even at the Late Show's official YouTube feed, appears around 11.10 minutes). src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> In the wake of the comments, a "Fire Colbert" hashtag is making the rounds on Twitter, arguing that his comments are homophobic. Given Colbert's public support for marriage equality and his obvious comfort level not only with gays and lesbians but affectionately parodying them in shows such as Strangers with Candy (in which he played a closeted teacher who was having an affair with a male colleague) and "The Ambiguously Gay Duo," a Saturday Night Live animated series about superheroes who may or may not be gay, the attacks on Colbert are nothing more than right-wing concern trolling. Folks have also complained to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is charged with maintaining content regulation for broadcast radio and television programming (for a variety of reasons, the FCC doesn't have the same mandate for cable and internet content). By law, the FCC must investigate claims that networks have aired "indecent" material (like obscenity, indecency is an utterly made-up, extra-constitutional definition of supposedly illegal speech). The agency, which is headed up Ajit Pai, a vocal and principled opponent of Net Neutrality and government regulation of speech, is doing nothing out of the ordinary here. As Pai's chief of staff, Matthew Berry, tweeted on Saturday: Correct. — Matthew Berry (@matthewberryfcc) May 6, 2017 But like the "Republican reclassified rape as a pre-existing condition and dropped coverage of it" meme, the FCC's requaction is being taken as prima facie evidence that the Trump administration is cracking down on critics via the very administrative state that adviser Steve Bannon promised to deconstruct. From New York magazine (which published and then corrected one of the most breathless and incorrect early stories on the AHCA) comes this from the head of the Writers Guild of America (WGA): "As presidents of the Writers Guilds of America, East and West, we were appalled to read recent remarks by Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai," WGA East boss Michael Winship and WGA West chief Howard Rodman told Deadline. "He said the FCC would investigate a joke about Donald Trump by Writers Guild member Stephen Colbert, 'apply the law' and 'take appropriate action' if the joke were found to be 'obscene.'" "Pai's remarks are just the latest in a series of statements by the current administration indicating a willful disregard of the First Amendment. Colbert was poking fun at authority, a time-honored American tradition and an essential principle of democracy." Well, sure, whatevs. Except for the fact that the FCC is simply following its standard-operating procedure. So we arrive at a place where right-wingers are concern-trolling a liberal comedian as homophobic and where progr[...]

Surveillance and Wars on Whistleblowers Leading to Less Press Freedom

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 11:00:00 -0400

Reporters Without Borders, an organization analyzing and defending a free media worldwide, just released its 2017 rankings list and has determined that media freedom is on the decline. It has calculated that in almost two-thirds of the 180 countries in the index, press freedom has dropped over the previous year. While America is still extremely far from the kind of country that imprisons or kills people who engage in acts of journalism the government doesn't like, it dropped two ranks from 41 to 43. Yes, the election of President Donald Trump and his open display of contempt for critical media reporting of him plays a role. But the report is very clear that Trump is far from the originator of America's decline. He is taking advantage of a framework that has been developed by previous administrations, particularly President Barack Obama's pursuit of whistleblowers: US press freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment to the 1787 constitution, has encountered several major obstacles over the past few years, most recently with the election of President Donald Trump. He has declared the press an "enemy of the American people" in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, while attempting to block White House access to multiple media outlets in retaliation for critical reporting. Despite the bleak outlook under Trump, it bears repeating that his predecessor left behind a flimsy legacy for press freedom and access to information. Journalists continue to be arrested for covering various protests around the country, with several currently facing criminal charges. The Obama administration waged a war on whistleblowers who leaked information about its activities, leading to the prosecution of more leakers than any previous administration combined. To this day, American journalists are still not protected by a federal "shield law" guaranteeing their right to protect their sources and other confidential work-related information. And over the past few years, there has been an increase in prolonged searches of journalists and their devices at the US border, with some foreign journalists being prevented from any travel to the US after they covered sensitive topics such as Colombia's FARC or Kurdistan. The report notes how populist movements that favor "strongmen" type candidates and leaders use attacks on the credibility of the media to grant them "anti-system" credibility with voters in the United States and Europe. And already existing strongmen and autocratic leaders in other less free countries have brought the hammer down even harder on the press. But more specifically for Western countries, governments have used fears of terrorism and general "national security" goals as mechanisms to expand the use of surveillance against journalists themselves as yet another way of tracking down sources or individuals trying to anonymously pass along information: In Germany (ranked 16th in the 2017 Index), the Bundestag passed a law in October 2016 extending the mass surveillance powers of the Federal Intelligence Agency (BND) without making any exception for journalists. The grounds cited for the new law was the need to combat terrorism, harmonize legislation, and bring it into compliance with the constitution. The BND can now legally spy on all non-German and non-EU nationals, including journalists and lawyers. It turns out that this controversial and much criticized law has helped to legalize existing practices. A few months after its adoption, Germans learned that the BND had already spied on at least 50 journalists and news organizations for indefinite periods since 1999. It was also in late 2016 that the United Kingdom (down 2 places at 40th) adopted a new law extending the surveillance powers of the British intelligence agencies. Dubbed the "Snoopers' Charter," the Investigatory Powers Act put the UK in the unenviable position of having adopted "the most extreme surveilla[...]

Brickbat: Tough Crowd

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A Spanish court has sentenced Cassandra Vera to one year in jail for tweeting jokes about the 1973 assassination of prime minister Luis Carrero Blanco. The court said her jokes were "disrespectful" and did not form part of a "healthy humoristic environment."

The Bipartisan Urge to Suppress Dissent

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 00:15:00 -0400

The University of California at Berkeley's inhospitality to conservative speakers, the subject of a federal lawsuit filed on Monday, prompted a Twitter rebuke from President Trump a few months ago. Yet his administration seems determined to demonstrate that suppression of opposing views is a bipartisan impulse. Berkeley College Republicans (BCR), which invited conservative commentator Ann Coulter to speak on campus this Thursday evening, and Young America's Foundation (YAF), which underwrote her visit, argue that Berkeley's vague, unwritten policy regarding "high-profile speakers" unconstitutionally discriminates against unpopular viewpoints. As a result of that policy, which was adopted after violent protests prompted the university to shut down a February 1 appearance by former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos, Berkeley canceled Coulter's speech, then offered to reschedule it for next Tuesday afternoon, in the middle of the "dead week" between classes and exams. BCR says it felt compelled to cancel an April 12 talk by another conservative journalist, David Horowitz, after the university insisted that it take place at an inconvenient location and end by 3 p.m., meaning most students would be in class while Horowitz was speaking. BCR and YAF say the restrictions imposed by Berkeley in the name of public safety have not been applied to left-leaning speakers and amount to an "unlawful heckler's veto" that marginalizes conservative voices. After the Milo melee in February, Trump suggested on Twitter that Berkeley risks losing federal funds if it "does not allow free speech." If the president were sincerely committed to protecting First Amendment rights, he would issue similar warnings to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which recently demanded that Twitter reveal the identity of a DHS gadfly, and the Justice Department, which is considering criminal charges against people who share classified information leaked by others. Last month a special agent in charge at Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a division of DHS, issued a summons to Twitter seeking records that would unmask the person or persons behind @ALT_USCIS, an account that regularly criticizes the Trump administration's immigration policies. There did not seem to be any legal justification for the summons, which looked like a blatant attempt to intimidate critics. DHS dropped the summons the day after Twitter filed a lawsuit arguing that it threatened the First Amendment right to engage in pseudonymous political speech. Last week, in response to inquiries by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), DHS Inspector General John Roth revealed that his office is investigating whether the CBP summons was "improper." The day before Roth expressed concern about government inquiries that might have "a chilling effect on individuals' free speech rights," CNN and The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department is once again looking for a way to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for sharing classified documents with the public. The Obama administration abandoned that project after concluding that charging Assange with violating the Espionage Act would create a precedent that could be used against any news organization that publishes stories based on "defense information" from sources who obtained or divulged it illegally—a very common journalistic practice. CIA Director Mike Pompeo says we shouldn't worry about that because Assange is not a real journalist, a debatable and constitutionally irrelevant point. The "freedom of the press" that is guaranteed by the First Amendment is not the freedom of people who work for officially recognized news outlets; it is the freedom to use technologies of mass communication. That freedom extends to everyone in the United States, whether or not he is a professional journalist or an American citizen. If As[...]

The Hypocritical Logic Behind Republican Plans to Ban Online Porn (Unless You Pay $20)

Tue, 11 Apr 2017 15:30:00 -0400

Draft bills in at least 13 state legislatures would require all internet-enabled devices to come installed with an anti-porn filter, which adult consumers could choose to have removed for a fee of $20. They're calling it the Human Trafficking Prevention Act. The Daily Beast does a nice job today of exposing the huckster behind this legislation, a 40-year-old EDM musician and anti-porn crusader named Chris Sevier who tried to marry his computer in protest of same-sex marriage, was released early from an Iraq tour for mental-health issues, sued Apple over the dissolution of his marriage, and has been charged with harassing a teen girl as well as country singer John Rich. Beyond Sevier's questionable and colorful past, however, a bigger question remains: why are so many state lawmakers—overwhelming Republican—supporting this sort of nonsense? A cabal of legislative cheerleaders from Alabama to Wyoming has embraced the idea that we should require manufacturers of computers, tablets, iphones, smart TVs, and the like to equip devices with the anti-porn filters and require consumers to pay to remove the filters from their devices. South Carolina state Rep. Mike Burns, who co-sponsored one bill in his state, told the Beast that they "do not want more taxes. Period. But we are trying to make a statement, and $20 ain't gonna kill anybody." But of course it's not only monetary costs to consumers that are are a concern. The porn-filter proposal would also impose costs on product makers, and even steeper costs on U.S. civil liberties. "The way it's written, it would cover your router. It would cover your modem," said Electronic Frontier Foundation researcher Dave Maass. "Plus, now Best Buy is sitting on a database of people who wanted their porn filters removed." And then there's question of how the filters would decide what is and isn't porn—content filters designed to catch explicit content have historically been harsh on all sorts of sexuality-related content, from educational websites to news to art. Conservative lawmakers seem to support anti-porn proposals like this one because they please certain segments of their electoral base, give people easy fodder against lawmakers who vote in opposition (how does it look at a glance to be against the Human Trafficking Prevention Act?), and aren't generally a political dealbreaker for those who oppose the plans. The porn-filter laws might irk some or seem silly, but like Rep. Burns said, "$20 ain't gonna kill anybody." This justification might make sense if the idea was simply a tax on porn consumers. But the porn-filter bill is explicitly packaged as a response to porn being a "public health hazard" and "cancer on society" that "perpetuates a sexually toxic environment" in America, normalizes violence against women and children, "portrays rape and abuse as if such acts are harmless," promotes "problematic or harmful sexual behaviors," and "increases the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution, child sexual abuse images, and child pornography." If Republican lawmakers really believe that online pornography is a public health crisis that directly contributes to human trafficking, isn't $20 to access an unlimited quantity of it a bit low? Why shouldn't such a scourge just be banned entirely? Much like liberal counterparts who declare Donald Trump a fascist/Nazi/white supremacist and themselves the #Resistance and then demand more government control of broadcast media, arts funding, etc., conservative lawmakers demonstrate an extreme dissonance of rhetoric and response here. It leaves open three possibilities: Republicans really believe that internet porn is a public health crisis that ruins relationships and directly leads to human trafficking—and also that paying $20 absolves one of moral responsibility for such matters. Republicans be[...]

Victim in United Flight Debacle Gets Smear Treatment

Tue, 11 Apr 2017 15:00:00 -0400

You would think that an elderly doctor (69 years old!) being filmed getting dragged by police off a United airplane in order to make room for the airline employees would be immune to the "He's no angel" defense of government violence. You would be wrong, though, and underestimating the willingness of media outlets to publish anything that has the potential to get them attention, even negative attention. Everybody's got a past that can be used against them. It has become a common practice that when a citizen has a very public, highly publicized encounter with law enforcement, his or her criminal background very quickly ends up in the hands of local media outlets. Sometimes it's relevant. If a criminal suspect gets wounded or killed in a confrontation with police, a history of convictions for violent crimes helps put it in context. It doesn't inherently mean the police's behavior was justified in any particular instance, but it is important information. And the public should know. But sometimes it's clearly an attempt to make the person subjected to police aggression look guilty in the eyes of the public and shield the authorities from criticism for bad behavior. All of that is to say the Courier-Journal in Kentucky got its hands on the criminal and licensing background of the guy that got forcibly yanked (and injured) by Chicago police off that United flight, and it turns out this David Dao fellow did some bad things, more than a decade ago. But they've decided to dredge it up anyway: Dao, who went to medical school in Vietnam in the 1970s before moving to the U.S., was working as a pulmonologist in Elizabethtown when he was arrested in 2003 and eventually convicted of drug-related offenses after an undercover investigation, according to documents filed with the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure last June. The documents allege that he was involved in fraudulent prescriptions for controlled substances and was sexually involved with a patient who used to work for his practice and assisted police in building a case against him. Dao was convicted of multiple felony counts of obtaining drugs by fraud or deceit in November 2004 and was placed on five years of supervised probation in January 2005. He surrendered his medical license the next month. The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure permitted Dao to resume practicing medicine in 2015 under certain conditions. None of this provides any contextual information useful to understanding Dao's refusal to comply with United. It's a smear. There's no reason to believe any of it is not true, but it is not journalism that provides any actually useful context about Dao. They can't even say he was misleading the airline when he said he had patients to treat as an explanation for his refusal to disembark "voluntarily." The newspaper is being absolutely blasted on both their website and on Twitter for running with this story. There are maybe one or two people who defend the publishing and the idea that Dao should have complied and think his criminal background is in any way related. A poll asking whether the Courier-Journal should have published this story would likely lead to a very lopsided result telling the paper they made the wrong choice here. I did not see anywhere in these tweets or comments anybody saying the newspaper shouldn't be allowed to have published this information, which is good. This is a perfect example of using "more speech" to counter "bad speech." The media outlet arguably made a poor choice in what information to publish and is being publicly criticized for doing so. It would not surprise me if the editor there was being inundated with angry phone calls. Nevertheless, though there is no call for formal government censorship, it's worth looking at this story about Dao's checkered past and thin[...]

Germany Willing to Fine U.S. Companies to Censor What People Say Online

Thu, 06 Apr 2017 14:20:00 -0400

If you were financially responsible—to the tune of millions of dollars—for the content that users of your online platform posted online, you might take a bit of a dim view of giving them a lot of leeway in what they had to say. That is apparently what the government of Germany is hoping for. Germany does not share America's broad view of free speech. Like several European countries, it has laws and criminal penalties for hate speech and a broader conception of what an incitement to violence is (America tends to require an actual discernable threat). As part of the European Union, Germans are also able to invoke the online "Right to Be Forgotten," forcing online search engines to delete links to content about them that may be true, but is embarrassing or casts them in a bad light. Germany's now working to expand its authority to order online censorship by holding social media companies like Facebook and Twitter financially liable for user content that violates its restrictions on speech. And it's not a slap on the wrist either. Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet has approved possible fines of more than $50 million if social media companies don't respond quickly enough to remove speech that violates their laws. They have 24 hours to remove content calling for criminal behavior and a week to remove other types of "illegal" speech. Besides potentially resulting in social media companies censoring content by non-Germans posted outside of Germany, also puts these companies in the awkward position of having to determine what is and isn't legal to say under German laws, as though they were part of the country's judicial branch. They are uncomfortable at the idea, Reuters notes: A spokesman for Facebook, which has 29 million active users in Germany - more than a third of the total population - said the company was working hard to remove illegal content, but expressed concern at the draft law. "This legislation would force private companies rather than the courts to become the judges of what is illegal in Germany," he said, adding that Facebook's partner Arvato would employ up to 700 staff in Berlin for "content moderation" by year's end. A spokesman for Twitter declined to comment on the legislation, but said the company had made a number of changes in recent weeks, including adding new filtering options, putting limits on accounts it had identified as engaging in abusive behavior and stopping those users from creating new accounts. Given the financial risks involved here, it would not and should not be surprising if speech considered legal even by German standards ends up getting censored. Why take the risk? Before dismissing this all as just a German law-and-order quirk, note that there has been pressure across the European Union to force social media companies to engage in more overt censorship. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said he wants to take this proposed law (it still needs to be approved by Germany's parliament) and push it through all of the European Union. And while America may have different attitudes and laws protecting free speech, it still nevertheless has problems with its own broadly written laws that authorize censorship. America's federal laws designed to eliminate online piracy and copyright violations are frequently misused to censor online content that is actually constitutionally protected criticism. Furthermore, while we also have regulation shielding online companies from criminal and civil liability over much of the content written or posted by users (not the company itself), even those regulations are threatened all in the name of "public safety." As Elizabeth Nolan Brown has reported, activists who believe America has a sex trafficking problem want to compromise these regulations in order to hol[...]

Eugene Volokh: Free Speech on Campus

Mon, 03 Apr 2017 10:00:00 -0400

Eugene Volokh has a few things to say about things that aren't supposed to be said. Volokh, a professor of free speech law at U.C.L.A., has seen books banned, professors censored, and the ordinary expression of students stifled on university campuses across the nation.

Volokh believes free speech and open inquiry, once paramount values of higher education, are increasingly jeopardized by restrictive university speech codes. Instead of formally banning speech, speech codes discourage broad categories of human expression. "Hate speech. Harassment. Micro-aggressions," Volokh says. "Often they're not defined. They're just assumed to be bad, assumed they're something we need to ban."

Volokh spoke at Reason Weekend, the annual event held by Reason Foundation.

Edited by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Meredith Bragg.

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Brickbat: Shame on Your Name

Thu, 30 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Nova Scotia's Registrar of Motor Vehicles says Lorne Grabher's last name is "socially unacceptable." Lorne had a personalized license plate made with his last name for his father back in 1991. Since then, the plate has been used by three generations of the family. But the registrar's office say they got a complaint about it last year and have told Lorne he can no longer use it.

Brickbat: Take It Off

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) German Justice Minister Heiko Maas says the government is drafting laws that could fine social media companies up to $53 million if they don't remove slanderous or threatening posts within 24 hours. In addition, the law would allow a company's top representative in Germany to be fined personally up to $5.3 million if such material is not removed in 24 hours.