Published: Wed, 29 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2017 20:46:56 -0400
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.
Mon, 20 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0400
(image) The Russian government has barred children under 16 from seeing the new version of Beauty and the Beast because it has a gay character. Russian law bars what it calls gay propaganda aimed at minors.
Wed, 15 Mar 2017 13:09:00 -0400The state of New York wants to tell you what's appropriate to post online and what should be removed. The concept behind the European Union's "right to be forgotten" has crossed the Atlantic, and two state lawmakers in New York want to attempt to institute it here. The "right to be forgotten" in the European Union originated from a court ruling demanding Google and search engines remove links to a story that embarrassed a Spanish man because it detailed a previous home repossession. The story was not factually inaccurate. He insisted it was no longer relevant and that it embarrassed him, and the court agreed he had the right to have the information censored from search engines. Since 2014, search engines like Google have received hundreds of thousands of requests to have links to news reports removed and not because there's anything factually incorrect about them, but because the people within them are embarrassed by having the information public. Now, in New York, Assemblyman David Weprin and State Sen. Tony Avella (both Democrats) are attempting to implement such a law in the United States. The bill (readable here) appears remarkably far-reaching. It would allow people to demand that identifying information and articles about them to be removed from search engines or publishers if the content is "inaccurate," "irrelevant," inadequate," or "excessive." And yes, there are potentially fines involved ($250 dollars a day plus attorney's fees) for those who don't comply. Here's how the legislation defines the rather vague justifications for removal: [C]ontent, which after a significant lapse in time from its first publication, is no longer material to current public debate or discourse, especially when considered in the light of the financial, reputational and/or demonstrable other harm that the information, article or other content is causing to the requester's professional, financial, reputational or other interest, with the exception of content related to convicted felonies, legal matters relating to violence, or a matter that is of significant current public interest, and as to which the requester's role in regard to the matter is central and substantial. This would put the courts in the position of having the authority to declare what is or isn't relevant for the public to know. Reason asked First Amendment attorney Ken White of Brown, White & Osborn (and also of Popehat fame) for his analysis of the bill. He did not hold back in an emailed statement: This bill is a constitutional and policy disaster that shows no sign that the drafters made any attempt whatsoever to conform to the requirements of the constitution. It purports to punish both speakers and search engines for publishing—or indexing—truthful information protected by the First Amendment. There's no First Amendment exception for speech deemed "irrelevant" or "inadequate" or "excessive," and the rules for punishing "inaccurate" speech are already well-established and not followed by this bill. The bill is hopelessly vague, requiring speakers to guess at what some fact-finder will decide is "irrelevant" or "no longer material to current public debate," or how a fact-finder will balance (in defiance of the First Amendment) the harm of the speech and its relevance. The exceptions are haphazard and poorly defined, and the role of the New York Secretary of State in administering the law is unclear. This would be a bonanza for anyone who wanted to harass reporters, bloggers, search engines, and web sites to take down negative information, and would incentivize such harassment and inflict massive legal costs on anyone who wanted to stand up to a vexatious litigant. Also of relevance: The law extends the statute of limitations for defamation complains for online content in a way that pretty much all but removes them. The clock for the statute of limitations for defamation claims wouldn't start ticking until the defamatory statement has been removed from the internet, meaning that publishers could be sued f[...]
Thu, 09 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0500
(image) The European Union parliament has voted to remove the immunity of French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen after a request from French prosecutors. The move allows Le Pen to be prosecuted under French law for publishing violent images. French officials are investigating Le Pen for posting images of executions committed by the Islamic State.
Tue, 07 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0500
(image) A judge in Madrid, Spain, has banned a bus with an anti-transgender message on it from driving city streets. The judge said the message on the bus, which had been chartered by a Catholic group, was discriminatory and could provoke hate crimes.
Wed, 22 Feb 2017 09:40:00 -0500Political correctness frequently manifests itself when authority figures decide certain forms of expression are likely to offend delicate sensibilities and therefore must be curbed. That appears to be the spirit behind the Carroll County Public Schools' (Md.) decision to order the removal of posters depicting women of different ethnicities and religions from the classrooms of Westminster High School. Some teachers had hung the posters in support of "diversity," but school administrators decided the posters amounted to political advocacy on behalf of the teachers, the Carroll County Times reports. Carey Gaddis, a district spokesperson, told the Huffington Post that after receiving "at least one" complaint from a school staffer, teachers were asked to remove the posters "because they were being perceived as anti-Trump by the administration." Gaddis says the school district doesn't allow for political posters in the classroom unless "both sides" are represented. At first blush, the posters don't scream partisan politics. There is no mention of President Donald Trump or any political entity anywhere on the posters, the only words read, "We the People-Defend Dignity." However, the posters are political, at least according to their creator, Shepard Fairey—the street artist behind the iconic Barack Obama "Hope" image. Fairey told the Washington Post that thousands of prints of his "We the People" images were produced specifically to be used in protests against the Trump administration, and also told the Los Angeles Times, "It makes it easier for people who are afraid to express their point of view because they think they are out of step with the dominant ideology." This creates an interesting conundrum. If a teacher had hung a poster reading "Support Our Troops," would that be a political act requiring a "No War" poster to ensure both sides are represented? Would the "We the People" posters be acceptable if they were placed beside a "Build the Wall" poster? Some Westminster High students and alumni have found a clever way to get the message of the posters into their school without the approval of the administration, through a crowdfunding campaign to re-produce the posters' imagery on t-shirts. Gaddis confirmed to the Carroll County Times that students will be permitted to wear the shirts to school and that teachers have the right to contribute to the campaign on their own time, but per district policy will not be allowed to wear the shirts in the classroom. It's reasonable that to expect public school teachers to not explicitly stump for political candidates or causes in the classroom, but politics can be inferred in almost any social statement. If equal time is required for every viewpoint expressed on a poster (take environmentalism, for example), or if public schools must be made safe spaces from any form of expression with even a tangential political point of view, that could potentially create more problems than it solves.[...]
Fri, 03 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500
(image) The Chinese government has closed the social media sites of economist Mao Yushi as well as a think tank he is associated with. Mao, who received the 2012 Milton Friedman Prize, is a proponent of free markets and a critic of those inspired by the late Communist leader Mao Zedong.
Wed, 01 Feb 2017 12:28:00 -0500It's the early days of a presidency that has openly declared itself to be hostile to the media (and to be fair—the reverse is also true), and Ari Melber, MSNBC's legal correspondent and a lawyer, has what he thinks to be a brilliant idea—let's have the federal government get more involved in evaluating the legitimacy of news. I'm not a big MSNBC viewer, but I'm fairly sure that they haven't suddenly become big supporters Donald Trump's presidency. That's not what Melber is going on about. Rather, what Melber has suggested is that the federal government, particularly the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), can use its authority to protect consumers from fraudulent advertising claims in order to fight the existence of "fake news." He suggests that by classifying disprovable media claims as fraudulent, the government has the authority to intervene. "Fraud" is not considered protected speech. He makes the case in a piece for the New Jersey State Bar Association: To follow First Amendment precedents, the framework could limit the FTC to only regulating posted articles—not seeking prior restraints against future articles—and to only regulate businesses devoted to fraud news. Legally, a focus on deceptive businesses keeps the FTC in the ballpark of commercial speech, patrolling deceptive practices taken in pursuit of commerce. During the election, the most popular fraud news sites were launched by business people, often abroad, enticed by the market online for political news. They were trying to make money, not express any particular view. … Since these sites are clearly operating as businesses, it is logical to regulate their commerce and deceptive practices like any other business. A focus on deceptive businesses would also keep the government away from meddling with actual journalists or citizens exercising their right to lie while engaged in politics. Where to begin here. First of all most media outlets—whether legitimate or "fake"—are trying to make money, most were launched "by business people," and many are not trying to express any particular view. But some are. "Making money" and "expressing any particular view" are neither opposing choices, nor or they determinants of the validity of the existence of a media outlet. And that a media outlet might be a venture designed to make money doesn't mean it suddenly becomes exempt from the First Amendment protections that the government cannot censor the press. But that's just semantics (and frustration at people who work in the media who think they aren't already engaged in acts of commerce). The much bigger, so much more important issue here is what it would actually look like were a government agency to decide that it can use a tool to fight consumer fraud to monitor the legitimacy of news. We already saw what happened when the whole latest outburst about "fake news" happened during the election. People went looking for resources that separated "real" news from "fake" news and we ended up in a place where media outlets with heavily ideological slants were dumped in with media outlets that were deliberately making up stuff. You don't have to go very far to determine what could happen when a politicized apparatus (and every government agency is partly political) can have control over what can be defined as "fraud" when it comes to information. You don't even have to leave this site! Several attorneys general for states across the country have teamed up to go after ExxonMobil for its participation in the larger debate over climate change. They have decided to attempt to prove that ExxonMobil knew more about what was going on with the burning of fossil fuels and the environment and deliberately attempted to mislead investors and customers. They are attempting to reclassify the debate (free speech) as deliberate consumer fraud (not free speech). To do so, they've attempted to subp[...]
Wed, 25 Jan 2017 13:45:00 -0500
(image) Do you identify as an anarcho-capitalist? Are you skeptical of safe spaces, or the excesses of social justice activism? Have you ever muttered "Make America Great Again," perhaps in your sleep?
Well, you're probably a Nazi who's trying to recruit others into your secret fascist cabal.
That's according to flyers that appeared all over the University of Kansas's campus. The flyers warn students that neo-Nazis are among them, using coded language, according to Campus Reform.
"Recently, there has been a disturbing presence of neo-nazi and hate group recruitment taking place on the University of Kansas's campus," the flyer reads. "Given the violent and dangerous nature of groups such as this, it is imperative that we do not allow their presence to become normative."
The flyer warns that the violent, dangerous neo-nazis who live among them use coded language like, "alt right, anarcho-capitalist, men's rights activist, and Make America Great Again."
Furthermore, "opponents of safe-spaces, inclusivity, social justice, intersectional activism, and multiculturalism are opponents of liberty and equality for all people," according to the flyer.
Such hateful rhetoric, when encountered, should be reported the university, according to the flyer:
"If you see postings regarding the alt-right, anarcho-capitalists, white nationalists, or any other hate group, photograph the post for documentation and remove it immediately."
In addition to endorsing the censorship of certain non-liberal viewpoints, the flyer also asks students to contact their Congressmen and urge them to vote against the confirmation of President Trump's Cabinet picks. It concludes with a warning that those who remain neutral will be considered allies of the oppressors.
It's not entirely clear who posted the flyers, but Campus Reform did some additional reporting, and many members of campus believe the School of Social Welfare was behind it.
When reached for comment by Campus Reform, the university would not say who was behind the flyers. One expects that if the School of Social Welfare wasn't involved, KU would say so.
In any case, while there's some overlap between the alt-right and white nationalist groups, it's more than a little hyperbolic to say "anarcho-capitalist" is essentially a code word for neo-nazi. Regardless, KU is a public university, and it must provide free speech to everyone—even people whose views are disfavored by the School of Social Welfare.
Tue, 24 Jan 2017 19:10:00 -0500
(image) First, let's acknowledge the Obama administration was obsessive about controlling the flow of information from the executive branch. The "most transparent administration in history" simply wasn't. In 2015, 40 journalism and government accountability organizations under the auspices of the Society of Professional Journalists sent an open letter to President Obama complaining about the lack of transparency. The letter listed among other techniques used by the administration to keep the media tamed:
prohibiting staff from communicating with journalists unless they maneuver through public affairs offices or through political appointees; refusing to allow reporters to speak to staff at all, or delaying interviews past the point they would be useful; monitoring interviews; and speaking only on the condition that the official not be identified even when he or she has title of spokesperson....
The public has a right to be alarmed by these constraints–essentially forms of censorship–that have surged at all levels of government in the past few decades. Surveys of journalists and public information officers (PIOs) demonstrate that the restraints have become pervasive across the country; that some PIOs admit to blocking certain reporters when they don't like what is written; and that most Washington reporters say the public is not getting the information it needs because of constraints. An SPJ survey released in April confirmed that science writers frequently run into these barriers.
President Donald Trump is evidently taking a lesson out of the Obama administration's media squelching playbook, at least initially. Specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency has reportedly received memoranda from the White House ordering what has been described a "temporary media blackout." Every incoming administration needs time to get organized and, of course, seeks to control the flow of information from executive agencies so as to put its policies in the best light. In the short run, that's annoying to those who want to know how their government is performing at any given time, but is to be expected.
The Obama administration was, for the most part, able to keep unflattering leaks to a minimum largely because the bulk of the federal workforce was simpatico with its policies. This is unlikely to be the case with the Trump administration. If Trump tries to keep federal workers muzzled past a short transition period, I predict that he will succeed brilliantly in making government leaks great again! Maybe some minor portion of national security information needs to be kept secret, but it's hard to see why any information, data, studies, and reports that the EPA and other agencies produce should be kept from the public and press.
Thu, 19 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500
(image) Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to order an Oregon man to take down blog posts he made that contain information about informants the feds had in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge when part of it was occupied by a group led by Ammon Bundy. They say Gary Hunt is illegally in possession of sensitive documents that could threaten investigations.
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[...]
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 -0500Apple 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."