Published: Sun, 26 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Sun, 26 Feb 2017 06:56:27 -0500
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 subpoena decades of communications between ExxonMobil and various policy groups in order to fish for information they hope will make that cas[...]
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); or perhaps by returning to older client-gathering methods, like word-of-mouth or walking the streets. But what doesn't happen in all b[...]
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."
Thu, 22 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500
(image) A New Jersey judge has ordered the Trentonian newspaper not to publish stories about a child custody case regarding a 5-year-old who brought drugs to school on at least two occasions. The judge issued the injunction after a reporter for the paper obtained court documents from the case. The New Jersey Attorney General's office has filed a motion to continue the injunction.
Tue, 20 Dec 2016 13:00:00 -0500
(image) The Turkish government appears to be blocking access to social media networks and messaging apps like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp in the aftermath of the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Turkey Block reports.
The monitoring network says it had detected "severe slowdowns affecting Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp for some, but not all, internet users in Turkey" between last night and this morning. As The Telegraph notes, it's not the first time the censor-happy government of Turkey has restricted access to social media following an incident.
The Turkish government had already recently banned the use of Tor and other virtual private networks, which allow internet users a measure of privacy, and, according to The USB Port, deployed sophisticated blocking tools to prevent the use of VPNs. "All these stringent measures could make Turkey's digital world resemble China's regulations," The USB Port's Angel Diaz writes.
The government of Turkey has been working to improve its ability to censor information on the internet for years, using any excuse, from mass arrests to attempted to coups, to crack down on internet use. After the coup earlier this year, the Turkish government dismissed the European Union's "red line" on freedom of the press, cracking down on opposition outlets and tightening its control over media.
The assassination of Andrey Karlov is far more likely to spur even more censorship in Turkey than it is to harm Russian-Turkish relations, despite the hot takes yesterday suggesting the latter was a real possibility. Leaders of Turkey and Russia both insisted they would not allow the assassination to sour relations. Instead, the Turkish government is already attempting to pin Karlov's assassination on Fetullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in exile in the United States, whom the Turkish government already blamed for the attempted coup earlier this year and against whose supporters it has already begun to crack down. Gulen has rejected both allegations.
Karlov's assassin, meanwhile, was identified as 22-year-old Mevlut Altinas, a riot cop from Ankara. A number of his family members have been arrested as the government begins its investigation into the assassination. Karlov often eschewed security measures, and had no security officers by his side at the event yesterday nor, reportedly, where there any on-duty police officers there.
Sat, 10 Dec 2016 08:20:00 -0500Some good news for folks who value free speech and sex-worker safety and frown on prosecutorial overreach: Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman has sided with the current and former heads of Backpage in their battle against California Attorney General (AG) Kamala Harris. The defendants had been charged with pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping for running Backpage.com, an online classified-ad site that Harris has called "the world's largest online brothel" due to its ample "adult" and "escort" ads. But as Bowman noted in a preliminary decision in November, federal law specifically prohibits online publishers and publishing-platforms from being held criminally liable for user-generated content, under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). "Congress did not wish to hold liable online publishers for the action of publishing third party speech," wrote Bowman at the time. "Congress has spoken on this matter and it is for Congress, not this court, to revisit." Judge Bowman seemed set to dismiss the charges in November, but the AG's office asked for more time to prove that defendants—current Backpage Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Carl Ferrer and former heads Michael Lacey and James Larkin—had not simply presided over a publishing platform but actually altered user-posted ads in order to disseminate them more widely or to conceal the illegal nature of their offerings. Harris' office subsequently submitted 74 pages of info and internal Backpage emails to make the state's case. These documents mostly centered on how Backpage handled the aggregation and publishing of Backpage.com content on two affiliated sites, Evil Empire and Big City. As Bowman summed it up: Prosecutors' "overall theory is that Backpage knew prostitution ads were placed on its main site and, in response, created two additional websites with the goal of encouraging that prostitution through increased ad placement." The state also contended that Backpage "manipulated" content in various ways—shortening headlines, cropping images—when it repackaged Backpage ads on the additional sites. But after considering the state's new evidence, Bowman concluded in a December 9 decision that "defendants have, at most, republished material that was created by a third party." The judge pointed out that California's declaration in support of the defendants' arrest warrant even stated that EvilEmpire.com ads were "essentially identical" to their Backpage.com counterparts. "This demonstrates republication, not content creation," and "republication is entitled to immunity under the CDA," wrote Bowman. The judge also blasted the state's assertion that removing possibly illegal content from user posts counted as criminally manipulating them: Assuming that the People's assertion is true; that the ad went from expressing intent to advertise prostitution to express a desire to 'date,' the People are essentially complaining that Backpage staff scrubbed the original ad, removing any hint of illegality. If this was the alleged content 'manipulation,' the content was modified from being illegal to legal. Surely the AG is not seeking to hold Defendants liable for posting a legal ad; this behavior is exactly the type of 'good Samaritan' behavior that the CDA encourages through the grant of immunity. Ultimately, the court "finds it difficult to see any illegal behavior outside of the reliance upon the content of speech created by others," wrote Bowman. "The whiff of illegality is detected only when considering the alleged content of the statements contained in the ads. ... Thus, the prosecution depends on consideration of speech provided by a third party." The court granted defendants demurrer seeking to have the charges against [...]
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 exceptio[...]