Published: Wed, 07 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2016 11:40:00 -0500
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 platform intervention—and even then, in a limited fashion. Other than that, users were expected to generally work things out among themselves. This ethos of voluntary collaboration and lar[...]
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 within a 48-hour period to conduct an inquiry into the person's access to resources, such as, but not limited to, health care, shelter, mental health counseling, or financial aid. The court [...]
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 where "fake news" is policed by third parties that rely on expert analysis, we could see ideologically driven posts from outlets censored entirely because they're lesser known or smaller, wh[...]
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 service to a prostitute even if paid with proceeds earned from prostitution." In this case, Backpage earns money for services rendered to sex workers—providing a platform and tools to easily pos[...]
Wed, 16 Nov 2016 04:00:00 -0500
(image) The University of Louisville has suspended several cheerleaders for tweets they posted on election night. The only cheerleader who has been identified by the media, Brynn Baker, told one person to "stfu about racism, sexism, whateverism" and told to someone "to take a pill yo. You're so pressed for nothing lmfao. You act like you came off a boat."
Tue, 15 Nov 2016 13:45:00 -0500So now it's Facebook's fault that Donald Trump was elected president. If you have any number of friends who like sharing either memes or headlines, you've undoubtedly seen all sorts of fake news stories and fabricated facts. We're not talking deliberate parodies, like The Onion, though even they fool people now and then. We're talking pieces that are just completely made up by little-known "media outlets" with vague names, and the stories are intended to be perceived as real. Because these stories don't show up anywhere else (because they're not true), people might be more inclined to click the link to read when they see them on Facebook, particularly when the headlines are outrageous. There's now apparently both a push to act as though these fake stories had a major impact on the election and also that Facebook should do something about it. There has been coverage in the New York Times, Gizmodo, and elsewhere. Google and Facebook have responded in the past by trying to find ways to de-emphasize links from these sites and just recently announced they'll refuse to run ads on fake news sites. There are a lot of concepts to parse on what seems like a minor election side story (and the latest reason for some people to ignore why Hillary Clinton actually lost), but it's worth exploring more deeply. First of all, perhaps consider that thinking people voted because of fake information they were exposed to on Facebook says more about you than them. To the extent that people fall for fake news, the fact that such news affirms existing biases certainly plays a major factor. Does anybody have evidence to suggest that fake news actually caused anybody to change their vote? There is a component to this particular argument that has a stench of "What a bunch of rubes the people are," connected directly to the results of a controversial election. Not that people don't believe in conspiracies or fall for fake news, but as Jesse Walker would point out, Americans across the spectrum believe in them, not just those who would vote for Trump. And I would point out that believing fabricated conspiracy stories perpetuated by fake news sites significantly influenced the election is itself kind of a conspiracy theory. Second, do you know who was big about pointing out fake news stories? Donald Trump. All those accusations of sexual assault and harassment? He said they're all lies. A smear job. He said he was the victim. We all understand what people demanding Facebook do something about "fake news" are actually getting at. They're generally not asking for Facebook to serve as an arbiter of the factual components of controversies (though I wouldn't put it past some people). Facebook is not very good at managing controvery. Rather what these folks have in mind that is that there are clearly news outlets that are producing fake news stories on purpose to get page views and earn some cash, and they're absolutely right. But that's exactly how Trump would describe the media outlets who run with the assault stories. So what these frustrated people need to realize is that if they convince Facebook to censor sharing of these obviously fake stories, then there's going to be a fight over what a "fake story" actually is. There's a bias here—in media circles most obviously—that it's simply going to be a matter of cutting out the outlets making stuff up from whole cloth. These little no-name places that aren't known journalistic outfits. Why would it end there? Given that Facebook is now so influential in putting information in front of people, the result will most certainly be a push to define "fake" down in order to keep stories that harm certain interests from spreading. And so, yes, forget letting algorithms do all the work. Eventually Facebook staff will be put in a position of determining what is and isn't "r[...]
Fri, 11 Nov 2016 04:00:00 -0500
(image) A teacher at Ridgewood High School in New Port Richey, Florida, pulled Tyler Powers out of class and told him the survivor T-shirt from Relay for Life he was wearing did not meet the school's dress code, which says no logos on clothing can be larger than a quarter. Powers, who has survived two bouts with cancer, was told he could change the shirt or spend the rest of the day in in-school suspension.
Thu, 03 Nov 2016 12:15:00 -0400
(image) Reporters Without Borders (RSF) commemmorated International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists yesterday by releasing a gallery of "press freedom predators" which they describe as various "presidents, politicians, religious leaders, militias and criminal organizations that censor, imprison, torture or murder journalists."
RSF issued 35 mock "hunting permits" to name and shame each of these predators, detailing their tactics, preferred victims, and their country's generally abysmmal ranking on the RSF's World Press Freedom Index. Though the imagery is a bit confused (if the idea is to hunt these predators, hunting permits should be issued for the hunters, not the hunted), RSF's gallery is a helpful reminder that in a great many places in the world, simply reporting facts or speaking truth to power involves taking life-threatening risks.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government just arrested over a dozen journalists at one of the country's last remaining independent news outlets, makes his debut appearance on RSF's roll call of press freedom predators. Usual suspects such as North Korea's Kim Jong-Un (RSF lists his preferred attack technique as "paranoid totalitarianism") and Russia's Vladimir Putin (technique: "nationalist authoritarianism") get their due, but so do the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas (technique: "criminal barbarity") and the Islamic State a.k.a ISIS (technique: "barbaric acts in religion's name").
Wed, 26 Oct 2016 12:30:00 -0400I'm afraid I botched a prediction pretty badly back in 2011. I was writing about the news that Archie Comics was dumping the Comics Code, a set of rules the industry had adopted in the '50s to stave off the threat of government censorship, and in the process I said this: Don't worry, the kids of Riverdale aren't about to endure a darker, edgier reboot. You just don't need the Comics Code Authority's seal of approval to know what you're getting when you buy an Archie comic book. Since then, the folks at Archie HQ have branched out in a bunch of different directions, and some of those branches definitely aspire to dark-and-edgy status. There's a whole "Archie Horror" line, featuring a gory zombie comic called Afterlife with Archie and a second series called Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The latter is not, I gather, sitcom material: There is also a non-horror series in which Archie's gay pal Kevin becomes a senator and Archie dies stopping his assassination. Today I learned about a bizarre new comic in which Archie and his friends travel back in time to meet the Ramones. And the entertainment press has started buzzing about Riverdale, an upcoming Archie TV show whose tone is being compared to film noir and Twin Peaks. That's a television series, not a comic, but it's gonna spawn a comic-book version too. If you prefer the wholesome Archie that your grandparents grew up with, don't fret: Those comics are still coming out too. (Needless to say, these stories all take place in different timelines. The Archieverse is a multiverse.) So the gritty stuff isn't squeezing out the old Archie; it's an addition rather than a replacement. The death of the Comics Code has given us more choice and plenitude, which as far as I'm concerned is a good thing. I'm just sorry I didn't have the foresight to see just where the post–Comics Code Archie would be heading. Bonus links: Dark Archie may be a new development, but Weird Archie certainly isn't. Check out Al Hartley's right-wing, evangelical Archie comics from the '70s, which among other wonderfully strange moments featured Betty denouncing Darwinism in the schools: The Christian Archie stories were produced by a separate company, called Spire—and Spire, interestingly, eschewed the Comics Code seal of approval, just like the Archie Horror folks do today. The Christian Archie comics were therefore able to allude explicitly to sex, drugs, and other subjects barred from the mainstream Archie line. And they did! Another flavor of Weird Archie manifested itself in the 2001 film Josie and the Pussycats, which is part conspiracy movie and part self-aware anti-corporate satire. And if unsanctioned parodies count, there's the underground cartoonists Jay Kinney and Paul Mavrides' 1979 classic "Kultur Documents," in which Archie and Jughead are reimagined as Anarchie and Ludehead, a couple of punk rockers rebelling against the hippies. Little did we know that one day the characters who inspired them would be hanging out with the Ramones.[...]
Thu, 20 Oct 2016 12:52:00 -0400Backpage.com Chief Executive Carl Ferrer and the classified-ad company's former owners are seeking a dismissal of the pimping and conspiracy charges filed against them in California, which they describe as unconstitutional, unjustified by facts, and a violation of federal communications law, as well as a blatant ploy for publicity from California Attorney General (AG) Kamala Harris. The state "cannot pursue the charges asserted and, in fact, is expressly precluded from doing so under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act," their attorney, James Grant, wrote in a letter to Harris, who is currently running for U.S. Congress. She can't claim ignorance: three years ago, Harris was one of several state attorneys general who pleaded with Congress to change the law so that they could prosecute Backpage, specifically admitting that, as is, Section 230 "prevents state and local law enforcement" from doing so. Congress said no. "It is troubling that the State is now pursuing a prosecution you admitted you have no authority to bring," Grant wrote. Ferrer and his co-defendants, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, were booked for pimping, pimping a minor, attempted pimping of a minor, and conspiracy, based on the state's contention that they know some of the tens of millions of user-generated posts on Backpage.com are veiled ads for prostitution, sometimes involving teenagers. As evidence of this, the state pointed out that Backpage blocks ads explicitly offering prostitution, states clearly that ads in the "adult" section can only be posted by adults, and promptly removes posts that are reported to advertise sex or underage women. In the topsy-turvy logic of the criminal complaint, the fact that Backpage policies are designed to prevent commercial-sex advertising and the prostitution of minors shows that execs actually condone these things, because said policies encourage posters of illicit sex ads to conceal their true intentions. "The AG's Complaint and theory of prosecution are frankly outrageous," state the defendants in a formal objection to the changes, filed October 19. "The basis for the AG's charges is that third-party users posted ads on Backpage.com, and the AG's office determined by responding to the ads that the users were offering prostitution." In total the complaint mentions nine ads, for which Backpage received $79.60. It does not allege that Ferrer, Lacey, or Larkin knew the ad-posters were discreetly offering sex for cash, knew the ad posters personally at all, had ever seen the ads in question, or had any direct knowledge of these ads. In his letter to the AG, the Backpage attorney notes that a recent federal court ruling against the Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, "reject[ed] much the same theories that [California] asserts here," and that the U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that "states cannot punish parties that publish or distribute speech without proving they had knowledge of illegality." In addition, "Section 230 expressly preempts all inconsistent civil and criminal state laws," he notes. "Literally hundreds of cases have applied and underscored the broad immunity that Section 230 provides and that Congress intended so as to avoid government interference— especially by state authorities—that would chill free speech on the Internet." Backpage itself has fought for these rights many times, winning cases in federal courts in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Washington, Tennessee, Illinois, and Missouri. But knowing the law is on their side "was of modest comfort," said Lacey and Larkin, "as we were being booked into the Sacramento County jail and paraded in front of the press in orange jump suits last week on a charge Ms. Harris knew she had no legal[...]
Wed, 05 Oct 2016 14:00:00 -0400It looks like Judge Richard Posner's ruling will stand in Backpage's lawsuit against Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. That means the classified-advertising website can keep doing business with Visa and Mastercard, which had temporarily stopped serving the site under threat of sanction from the Illinois sheriff. On October 3, the Supreme Court announced that it wouldn't hear Sheriff Dart's appeal of Posner's decision for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. That decision (which cited the Reason Foundation and Cato Institute) held that "Sheriff Dart, his office, and all employees, agents, or others who are acting or have acted for or on behalf of him, shall take no actions, formal or informal, to coerce or threaten credit card companies, processors, financial institutions, or other third parties with sanctions intended to ban credit card or other financial services from being provided to Backpage.com." Last month, the Supreme Court also declined an appeal from Backpage Chief Executive Officer Carl Ferrer related to subpoenas from a U.S. Senate subcommittee. The committee, led by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), is conducting its own crusade against Backpage.com, which it claims facilitates sex trafficking. In August, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer denied Backpage's motion to stay enforcement of the subpoenas, which demand various information about Backpage's business practices, and Backpage appealed to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts initially issued a halt on the district court's decision. But on September 13, SCOTUS issued an order that said only this: "The application for stay, presented to The Chief Justice and by him referred to the Court, is denied. The order heretofore entered by The Chief Justice is vacated. Justice Alito took no part in the consideration or decision of this application." George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley called the Supreme Court's decision not to consider the Backpage CEO's appeal "a sweeping reaffirmation of congressional subpoena authority." Backpage and Ferrer had launched "a broad-scale constitutional attack on the Senate subpoena," as Reuters legal editor Alison Frankel described it. After losing on those grounds, they were told by the government that was their one shot at protecting any corporate communications. Correspondence between Backpage lawyers and corporate officials must be turned over to the subcommittee, as lawyers had not asserted attorney-client privilege or prepared a log of protected documents when contesting the Senate's orders, so they no longer had a right to expect any such privileges. On September 16, Judge Collyer agreed, ordering Backpage to turn over the documents by October 10. "One broader worry is how all of this might erode Section 230—and alter the internet," noted Bloomberg Businessweek. Santa Clara University School law professor Eric Goldman told Bloomberg: "We're seeing some judges who are just so concerned about harm to victims online that they'll twist law in whatever direction it needs to be twisted."[...]