Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Senate passes FOSTA as is; CDA230 erosion begins; unclear how tech platforms will react at first

At mid afternoon today, the Senate passed the FOSTA-SESTA bill presented here, without alteration, 97-2, despite passionate floor remarks from Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR). Here’s a typical story on “The Hill” by Harper Neidig.  Congress seems unconcerned about the “frivolous lawsuit” problem.  One of the biggest problems for any provider content moderation (especially without Wyden's amendment) would be "meta-speech" where filters cannot detect whether speech is "about" prostitution or actually trying to sell it. It's also not clear if "websites" are handled differently from social media platforms or hosting providers. 

The passage occurred on a snowy day when reporters were distracted by Facebook’s problems with Cambridge-Analytica, and with Mark Zuckerberg’s later (linked earlier today) and interview on CNN tonight.  Actually, the problems are interrelated.  I’d love to hear CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin talk about the Backpage problems and their contagion, in addition to Zuckerberg, Trump, Putin, and Stormy Daniels.  And, by the way, despite the “#DeleteFacebook” movement, I haven’t lost any “friends” today yet. '

The combination of erosion of downstream liability protections and questions about misuse of user data will create serious sustainability business model problems for many tech platforms. 


Here is my own policy statement on what actions I am taking now with comments on my sites> 

Google News and its journalistic standards; Mark Zuckerberg makes a statement just now

I recently ran across the Google News Initiative, “Elevating quality journalism on theopen web” article. 
I also wasn’t aware that publishers could submit their work to Google News for consideration, as here

It would be hard to say whether they could normally consider only established news outlets.  They might prefer local news outlets. 

As a blogger, I generally try to connect the dots between different stories and issues, and indicate significance beyond the hard facts.

But I have also tried to emphasize reporting on events where I was present and was an eyewitness.  
These may be events I have gone to, but sometimes I may stumble onto them, as in New York City in September 2016 right after the attempted bombing on 23rd Street.  I missed being injured by that blast by about two hours as I had walked past it that evening.  One or two photos of mine appeared on evening news broadcasts in DC. 

It’s interesting to wonder if news standards would affect how stories are indexed in the search engine.  

CNBC was the first to break Mark Zuckerberg’s statement on Cambridge Analytica, just now, here. This is definitely reputable news. Zuckerberg will appear on CNN tonight. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Senator Wyden's amendment may limit FOSTA-SESTA and slow passage; WSJ expects Section 230 will get gutted on other politically sensitive issues

Senator Ron Wyden, D-OR, has introduced an amendment to FOSTA-SESTA which would relieve the “moderator’s paradox” built within the legislation, providing that reasonable attempts at moderation by a host do not necessarily mean that the provider should have known or detected sex trafficking.  John Samples of the Cato Institute explained this in a blog posting Monday March 18 here.  Samples refers to a detailed Techdirt article by Mike Masnick on Techdirt here. 
The wording of the amendment would say:

“The fact that  provider or user of an interactive computer service has undertaken any efforts (including monitoring and filtering) to identify, restrict access to, or remove material the provider or user considers objectionable shall not be considered in determining the criminal and civil liability of the provider or user for ny material that the provider or user has not removed or restricted access to.”

Note that “provider” and “user” are mentioned interchangeably. It’s not clear whether a web hosting service falls within the idea of “interactive” computer service because the hosting activity is more removed from “interaction” than is, say, social media.

Samples had earlier published a dire article, “The Death of an Open Internet”, Feb 27 here  in which he referred to a long analysis by Eric Goldman. 
Earlier Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal had “connected the dots” in an editorial  (“Facebook joins the club; Big tech is learning what it is like to deal with political risk”)  predicting the passage of SESTA this week and predicting much more similar legislation.  WSJ predicts synergy from Trump and 2018-elected Democrats in Congress in pouncing on liability exemption and socializing risk.
However, it appears that this editorial was written before knowledge of the Wyden amendment, which could slow down passage and cause one more round in the House.
Intuitively, it seems hard to see how Section 230 could protect Facebook if it deliberately manipulates which news items (among friends) users are most likely to see.  YouTube does a little of this by showing previews based on past behavior;  part of the question though would reside in whether algorithms really were "neutral" and considered only your own habits.  Independent blogs, on the other hand, simply display the same thing to everyone.  That's like saying a book author has no right to control who buys his book.
Indeed, the personal scuttlebutt that I deal with (as a visible blogger) all the time is pleading to join collective speech of others (even “intersectional” activism) and become much more personally involved with others in ways that would not have been welcome in decades past.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Hollywood could find that gutting Section 230 (because of Backpage) could help defend its business model from low-cost competition; Does Section 230 protect Facebook over Russian meddling?

Electronic Frontier has been re-posting tweets with reminders for visitors to contact their Senators to defeat SESTA for some time, but Sunday night EFF published its best and most comprehensive (dot-connecting) article yet on the Backpage-Section 230 problem, by Joe Mullin, “How FOSTA could give Hollywood the filters it’slong wanted”.  
First, let me also mention that the article (before the usual “Take Action” button for calling Senators) does explain well the way Section 230 (dealing with most torts like libel) works “in sync” or in parallel to DMCA Safe Harbor (specifically for copyright infringement claims), although Section 230 does not have an actual corresponding provider takedown process for a libel claim. 
Mullin is recalling the debate over SOPA (Stop Online Piracy) at the end of 2011, which led to a day long protest (with a Wikipedia blackout) in January 2012.  Congress finally scuttled SOPA because of too many likely unintended consequences.  Hollywood seemed to want YouTube, Vimeo and other platforms (I guess (Facebook) to catch all pirated videos in advance before they could be put up.  Even today, sometimes there are low-quality copies of films that look illegitimate, with the videos often disappearing and accounts terminated according to YouTube “copyright strikes” policies.  It’s worth noting that there is controversy again (in a New York ruling) over whether bloggers could be liable for merely embedding copyright infringing material on other servers (Feb. 17).

The underlying concept, again, is that a service provider (for example, your hosting provider if you have your own domain and website) cannot possibly pre-screen every posting you could make for possible downstream legal issues – particularly for the common torts and particularly for copyright. If it had do, people simply would not be allowed to self-publish on the web because of the subsumed risk to others.  Things would get published only when they made money with paying publishers and were popular enough, or came from well-established and politically acceptable causes and organizations.  That’s more how it is in authoritarian countries like China and, for example, Singapore (Russia less so).  But that’s how things were in the US until the mid-late 1990s when the Internet opened up. And it looks like that's how Hollywood and maybe some legacy trade publishers would like it to be again. 

There were early fights over whether user-generated content needed to be screened for child appropriateness (the 1996 Communications Decency Act, largely struck down in 1997, and later the Child Online Protection Act, or COPA, for which I was a litigant under EFF, finally struck down in Philadelphia in 2007).  But in 1996 Section 230 of the same CDA was established, and in 1998 the DMCA Safe Harbor mechanism was set up. Both of these laws largely shield service providers (ranging from shared web hosting to social media companies, to specialized classified ad sites – like Backpage, or Craigslist, to discussion forums) from downstream liability for user behavior.  But in some cases they are required to report credible information (from user complaints) about illegal behavior of users, like postings of child pornography and, even under current law, selling sex trafficking (of minors), to law enforcement.  But they only need to report retrospectively this when informed, not prospectively by screenig.  Congress seems to want to establish a “should have known” (like Reid Ewing’s “woulda-coulda-shoulda” line from his 2012 short film “I’m Free!”)  or “reckless disregard’ standard specifically for sex-trafficking conducted by users on their platforms.  A good question is whether “reckless disregard” would mean different standards for different kinds of providers.  A hosting provider like BlueHost is in much less position to know what I am doing than even Facebook.  Another question is whether “underlying conduct” refers to the provider or to the user.

The EFF article links to two letters of support from the tech industry from last autumn.  By late fall, we were getting feedback that the tech industry as a whole was comfortable that SESTA would be narrow enough to catch only ad sites.  That seems to have changed. 
One of the letters is from Oracle, the database company on Highway 101 south of San Francisco (I have stated in a motel right next to it once – this company used to be very influential on the IT job market), sent to Senator Bob Portman. Oracle suggests that even startups and smallc companies have screening technology not available in 1996 – like searching the Cloud (it is possible to identify child pornography from digital watermarks on known images in the Cloud now – people have been arrested this way).  Does this mean that a hosting company like BlueHost should routinely scan its servers for illegality?  Except for known digital watermarks (NCMEC in Alexandria VA) what else could it look for?  Oracle makes a leading statement at the end, that those who sell advertising (like bloggers using ad services like this one’s) must chip in and help stop sex trafficking. 
Then 21st Century Fox weighs in (funny, it’s never changed the 20 to a 21 in its trademark), as published in Variety:  “We believe that everyone who does business in this medium  has a civic responsibility to help stem illicit and illegal activity.” 
It’s easy to wonder where his is headed.  EFF’s article seems to bring up the idea that Hollywood objects not only to piracy but to the low-cost content (especially video and micro-budget films) that it imagines competes with its union and guild-supported films.  (The guilds like SAG do have special rules for low budget films, by the way.)   Mark Cuban once mentioned as much on his “Blogmaverick” (reinforced in an email back to me).  Given the commercial success of a “Black Panther” (and its political correctness) it’s hard to imagine that this should be an existential concern for Hollywood now.  But just last weekend, for the film “Love, Simon”, Fox provided a prologue where Robinson and Berlanti thank the audience for actually coming to a theater to see a (gay-themed) movie rather than couch-sitting at home and doing video.

There’s also the idea that, if someone has his own voice online, he owes something back and needs to pay off someone else’s prespecified agenda.  Sex trafficking is horrible, but so are a lot of other things (like recruiting terrorists).  What gives Oracle and Fox the right to dictate our own political priorities?  This sounds like it could go into expecting people to show intersectional volunteerism or “community engagement” before having their own voices online at all (an idea I hinted at in my 2014 DADT III book, “Speech is a fundamental right, but being listened to is a privilege”).  I seem to have started something.
EFF also shared an article from Jezebel (“The Slot”) about the plight of legitimate (consensual) adult sex workers, “#LetUsSuvive”, here

The scuttlebutt over Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica harvest operation (a kind of digital epilation) is certainly raising a different set of questions over Section 230 protection for social networks like Facebook. Blogs alone don’t raise that question, although blogs can “connect the dots” in novel ways and influence policy and maybe elections in asymmetric ways (as was known from a controversy over campaign finance in the early 2000’s). 

In an interchange on Facebook today on this very matter, a FB user suggested that bloggers be required to label their posts as opinion rather than news, as a matter of law!  That same user had suggested that "electronic media should be governed by the same controls and, dare I say, regulations, under which newspaper, TV and radio have operated."  All this was in reaction to another friend's post of an update on Cambridge in the Guardian, well, an op-ed by Ellie Mae O'Hagan, "Nobody can pretend Facebook is just harmless fun anymore", complete with a picture of Mark Zuckerberg's gams. 

Without the opportunity for unsupervised speech as I have engaged online since late 1996, I would be compelled to join to “take sides” in what I see as combative political tribalism, and let an activist group on one side or the other speak for me.  I do get offended at all these pleas for money from groups like Truth-Out:  some of their articles are interesting, but they seem to trying to bully (almost threaten) me into supporting them and letting them speak for me.  If I had to chose sides, I might not choose the side you want.

I don’t know how close SESTA is to a vote, and whether it has to be combined with FOSTA first, and whether there would be one more round of reconciliation between House and Senate first.  I would hope that the language would be narrowed further as to what some critical phrases mean in relation to different kinds of providers.   I also don’t know whether EFF has any plans to help users “assimilate” to the weakening of Section 230, which seems rather inevitable given the political climate – whether it plans gatherings on either coast.  I a trying to find out. 

Brief Update:

It appears that FOSTA "as is" was entered into the Senate schedule on Friday March 16, but that doesn't predict how long it will take to come to a vote.  Skopos Labs gives it a 49% chance of passage in that form. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

How "well-intended" brilliance may have helped Trump with Facebook metadata (the Cambridge Analytica Caper)

The UK site “The Guardian” (which, by the way, keeps bragging that it hasn’t yet put up a paywall but asks for money) has a book-length article ("The Cambridge Analytica Files" by Carol Cadwalladr)on the story behind the “hack” (so to speak) of Facebook by Cambridge Analytica and the role of 28-year-old (now) gay Canadian computer nerd Christopher Wylie of Facebook, and how Steve Bannon “mis”-used it.  

Wylie has a mind that reminds one of world chess champion Magnus Carlsen – until you realize that even Carlsen one time lost in 22 moves with White to a “patzer” grandmaster.  (I use "brilliance" in the title of this post: in chess, a "brilliancy" is usually a sacrificial combination that ends a game with a forced checkmate.)

Let’s add on this diversion that another former chess world champion, Garry Kasparov, now speaks up for human rights and told Anderson Cooper that he feels safer from Vladimir Putin living in New York than in London.

There’s the whole thing about the harvesting of Facebook data, as if it were a kind of shameful digital epilation. Apparently it was legal to use Facebook friends’ meta data for academic purposes, not for profits, and most of all not to manipulate elections.  The information seems to relate to “friends” of people who had taken personality tests or surveys.

There is some question legally on how you can limit information released legally at first.  Maybe you can call it a trade secret.  Maybe there is copyright or patent law that limits its reuse. 

Wylie, like Milo Yiannopoulos, seemed dismissive of “intersectionality” and seemed to want to find a way to keep the more authoritarian “dangerous” aspects of the Left out of politics.  He sees liberals as not “conscientious” about facts or logical reasoning.
Here is the New York Times story by Matthew Rosenberg et al. 

Sean Illing gives a detailed explanation for Vox, and notes near the end that there is no direct evidence connecting Camridge and the Trump “team” to the Russians.  It’s “smoke without fire” or “hot air”.  Still, you really wonder how surveys and associated "like" can predict gullibility to highly biased "news" and why so many users were so easily fooled, Amy Chua's tribalism allowed for. 
Here is Facebook’s statement on the suspension of Cambridge Analytica. No mention of the Russians or the election here. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Homeowner's insurance may cover Internet libel, but is this a good idea for everyone?

On March 14, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh wrote about the incidental coverage of libel (and other torts like invasion of privacy) insurance on personal blogs or social media that comes from homeowner’s insurance, sometimes.  This opportunity may also apply to some renters’ policies.
Volokh warns that the coverage might not apply if the blogger earns any ad revenue at all from the blog, as from Adsense or Amazon associates, or other networks.  Expanding on this, it would seem not to apply if the blogging is itself a “career’ or a form of self-employment that supplements a business or is a business in its own right – an opportunity that “Blogtyrant” has often promoted (and that I have covered here before).  That would be true of me, who has made news blogging and some fiction as a “second career” at age 74 now.
This coverage is more likely to come with an umbrella policy.  I’ve noted before that some auto insurance policies will not give maximum coverage even for auto accident liability without offering umbrella coverage, a nexus or coupling that seems illogical.  Intellectual property risk is very different (and harder to underwrite) than is property or medical risk as usually experienced in the past (especially pre-Internet).  I’ve also discussed “media perils” insurance here before (like back in 2008).
Volokh mentions the variability of state law. Politicians in various states could be wary of requiring umbrella-like coverage on ordinary property insurance policies, because such a requirement could have unintended consequences, of cancellation or declination of ordinary property or even auto insurance to consumers who blog – something that might not even come up until applying for an auto loan or mortgage. It’s not a good idea for the law to connect unrelated ideas just out of misplaced generosity to voters. Some good libertarian thought.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Charlottesville videographer sues conspiracy theorists, expanding the legal scope of defamation into implicit content; now Fox gets a deserved legal bodyslam over Seth Rich

Brennan Gilmore, who recorded video of the car striking and killing a bystander at the neo-Nazi rally and protest in Charlottesville in August, is suing several Internet conspiracy theorists (including the Alex Jones Channel  -- at least two companies and several individuals) for defamation in Virginia courts.  He explains this in his own words in the Washington Post here.  Rachel Weiner and Abby Ohlheiser summarized the litigation in an article in the Post Metro section on p. B5.

The attorney Andrew Mendraia said, “We don’t think the First Amendment protects blatantly defamatory speech that inspires violence and hatred of victims of terrorist attacks.”

This would be an important concept:  defamation usually is understood as something that leads to job loss, or end of a relationship, or reputation damage.  This time it includes making someone a target of others whom the speaker knows is likely to be incited.  (The issue could border on “implicit content.)  As a practical matter, I’ve had to think about this idea a lot since 9/11.

Update: March 15: 

 If that isn't enough, Fox is getting sued by the Seth Rich family for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and judging from National Review's narrative, it looks like the conspiracy theorists took over. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

EFF focuses on "reckless disregard" language in new letter to McConnell, Schumer in Senate on SESTA/FOSTA

India McKinney, who used to work on “The Hill” is the point person now for the latest letter from Electronic Frontier Foundation dated March 12, 2018 to Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer on SESTA, link here.  There is an embedded Scriptd PDF. 

The letter narrows the focus on the idea of “reckless disregard” by any provider of the possibility that some users (statistically at least if there is a large customer base) could be trying to sell sex trafficking in disguise.

I don’t yet have a feel for when SESTA could come to a vote, or exactly how it will import FOSTA (the additional language on prostitution).  If someone knows, please comment.
As I’ve noted, the idea of “underlying conduct” (of whom) also matters.  I wonder if monitoring of payment portals could be expected.  
EFF’s “StopSESTA” site has added some “expert testimony”, especially from small Internet businesses, on the problems caused by downstream liability.
How does this work in Europe. UK, Canada, Australia?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Honest Ads act could make paid Internet ads conform to rules for broadcast; the ease of radicalizing people with fake news

More threats to free speech abound. Another Wall Street Journal editorial, this time about the Honest Ads Act, bipartisan and sponsored by Mark Warner (D-Va), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John McCain (R-AZ) would impose new disclaimer and notifications for paid political ads on social media.  The name of any American citizen sponsoring the ad would have to be published.

There is also a downstream liability issue for political ads, covered by a 1964 decision New York Times v. Sullivan.

It's good to review the earlier controversy over blogging and campaign finance reform a dozen year ago, here

The WSJ points out that overall Russian spending on social media ads was small compared to overall spending.  Interesting that on Twitter conspiracy theorists seem to have fewer followers and follow fewer people.
On P. 6 of the NY Times Sunday review, Dinan Aral (“Gray Matter’) describes “How lies spread online.”
On the same page, note Zeynep Tufekci, “You Tube, the Great Radicalizer”. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Can a "bad review" get a DMCA takedown notice? Hollywood wants all sites to screen for copyright with content-id

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a bizarre story about Sebastian Tonczak’s electronic music video channel, one video which has hours of white noise that he created and yet received five DMCA takedown notices, story.  Eventually the claimants took the advertising revenue on his own white noise.

I think my own music, which is postromantic, won’t have this problem, but this is a good story to read as I aim to get back to making a performable version of my third Sonata and putting a performance on YouTube or Vimeo.

In 2016 Eliot Harmon had reported that lobbyists wanted to make a Google-style content-id mandatory for all hostings of video.

And now a game developer gets a DMCA notice merely for a bad review (which is not copyright infringement, although sometimes review sites draw threats regarding libel for reviews – Section 230 again) of “Super Seducer”.  

Apparently SESTA could come up for a vote soon (EFF sent out another warning Sunday night), amd this is Sen. Bob Portman's "reassurance" in the Wall Street Journal.


The NRA gets a "cease and desist" for using an outdoor sculpture in a public space in Chicago in an ad or film Whatever you think of the NRA's position on guns, I think the NRA had a right to use it.  A picture or mention showing up on my blog doesn't mean the subject endorses me (that's closer to publicity rights than copyright).  Washington Post story by Phillip Kennicott here.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Youngest adults are getting away from social media

A third of Millennials say that they are quitting conventional social media, especially Facebook and Twitter (that is, those media that act as publishing forums – they kept Snapchat, which I don’t use), UK story. Medium weighs in on this more deeply.  There is a real trend with those born (or maybe conceived) in 1994 or later (23 or younger).

I am the reverse.  I like using social media as a passive publishing forum, and keeping some of my social relationships off line (maybe about 50-50).  Not everyone needs to be a friend or follower on my Facebook or Twitter accounts.  I haven’t gotten into Instagram much – time.  And I don't need to have Facebook pimp me to send birthday greetings or run "other people's" fundraisers.  

There’s another problem – so many people don’t trust even “reputable” “mainstream” media outlets, even with conventional fact checking and more rigorous publication processes. 

There is a problem – when to become receptive to the outside world outside your own bubble or tribe or extended family --- when it can really affect you.
You can invert that idea and understand how the doomsday prepper thinks – self-sufficiency (within the family unit) is a mandatory virtue, which helps feed the Second Amendment debate.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

"Progressives" go after free speech as if it were like guns; ban Facebook right before elections?

Reason has pointed out that the “Progressive movement” is now taking aim at the First Amendment as well as the Second, as A Barton Hinkle writes. Indeed, there is an irony in progressives' defending net neutrality -- when the affected speaker isn't a political or tribal enemy.

This article leads to a piece by Jeet Heer on Feb.22, “Ban Facebook Before Elections”.  which tries to expand the Overton Window on regulating social media and user generated content.

It’s frankly very hard to see how a social media site could scrub all possible “political” comments, and I think a “Jonathan Swift modest proposal” like this begs the question of allowing people to self-distribute their content without oversight at all – whole business models are based on that idea, but they keep falling into sustainability questions – especially when critics complain that users don’t get “paid” (the whole “It’s Free” film of Reid Ewing back in 2012).

There’s something else in the way a whole activist generation (largely on the Left) wants to do away with free speech, in conjunction with the ideology of “intersectionality”.  The idea seems to be that a person who belongs to a deep intersectional combination minority (like transgender and black both at the same time) faces possible extermination if others, better off and not minority members and with none of their own skin in the game, are permitted to present ideas like white supremacy as if they could even be credible – the “meta-speech problem”.
There’s another “Dangerous” (yup, I mean Milo Yiannopoulos) idea that comes to mind:  make all websites account for how they are funded, publicly.  Maybe that sounds undoable but I could imagine setting up systems to do it.  This links back to the campaign finance reform concern back around 2005 that actually affected my substitute teaching career, as I have detailed here before (July 27, 2007). 

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

How to make a living writing about blogging (yet it is done); what is "radical honesty"?

Ramsay Taplin ("Blogtyrant") has shared a comprehensive and surprisingly long list of online marketing blogs that appear to address the subject of how to make a living by writing online.   Here it goes:  

 It is divided into functional sections.  There are some surprises.  Like #9 (the name of one of my favorite bars!), Authority Hacker, takes up the question of whether to allow digital currency (bitcoin) mining from your site!  Under social media, I see that Jon Loomer is keeping up with the rapid changes in Facebook.   Just today, there is a disturbing USA Today story about a recent Facebook survey  -- and beware, sites imitate Facebook by typosquatting and try to spread malware in surveys.

Then Susanvelez presents the 15 types of blog posts that work.   I focus in reviews – movies, books, music compositions, but with emphasis on the social or moral significance of each opus I review (like Amy Chua's book on political tribalism, which I reviewed yesterday). 
A posting by David Brooks on Feb. 22, “The Virtue of Radical Honesty”, about Steven Pinker, whose views appear similar to mine.  There is an emerging moral question about sophistry – which I indulge in a lot in my own blogs with no specific customer of audience, proposing all kinds of questions that many people would rather believe were settled.  Brooks here weighs the balance between following your own intellectual convictions, and having the needs of real people – especially real customers – to meet.  That seems to be a theme in many of the links Ramsay and Susan give above. The question may become more potent as a tribalized political climate in the US demands results from writers and will shut down those who just toy with the lives of others, even in the abstract.  Will everyone have to belong to at least one tribe?  I ask, too, does "radical honesty" (is that more than just integrity?) conflict with "radical solidarity" and even "radical hospitality"? 

Sunday, March 04, 2018

China tries to censor the web outside its borders, with pressure on some tech companies

Paul Mozur writes in a front page article in the New York Times Saturday, “China exerts digital control beyond its borders”, link . The subtext is “broadening efforts to censor and influence foreign websites”.

Although China can block many sites and social media within its borders, these filters are not always effective.  (Last time I looked, Blogger,, as a Google product, is banned in China but Wordpress is not, and most flat sites reach China;  I get emails from the Middle East and China so I know my content gets found there.) 

But if I read the article correctly, China seems to want foreign social media to censor content worldwide because it is likely to reach dissidents in China anyway. It seems to be putting pressure on Twitter.  It can’t put pressure on companies it doesn’t allow in the country, however.

There have been cases where Chinese citizens have been arrested for comments they have published when outside the country or even for conversations they have had with foreigners when hacked.  That is one reason why EFF has encouraged all websites to use https for the protection of foreign visitors and has encourage competence in using TOR when communicating with clients, when one doesn’t know one’s clients vulnerabilities.
In 2013 I kept getting emails about registering my legacy doaskdotell in China, which I had no interest in doing.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

States want to require obscenity or adult content filters on devices and identify consumers who remove them

Now Electronic Frontier Foundation warns that up to 15 state legislatures (includes Virginia) are entertaining an HTTA (or human trafficking prevention act) which (unlike even FOSTA and SESTA) doesn’t even address trafficking.
Instead it would require device manufacturers to install obscenity filters on devices.  Remember COPA?  Users would have to pay a $20 fee to remove the devices and the state would have a record on who had done paid for this.
That does seem to invite Fourth Amendment challenges.
EFF has a story by Gennier Gebhardt on it today. 
Today, a dad told Trump in a meeting on CNN that his deceased son had bought opioids on the open Internet, not the dark web.
Sarah Sanders mentioned FOSTA favorably in the Press Briefing today and no reporters questioned her.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Major news sites report passage of FOSTA but differ in how they cover the Section 230 undermining

Major stories on the passage of HR 1865 have appeared in at least three major sources:  The Washington Post (by Tom Jackman), The Wall Street Journal (John D. McKinnon), and Ars Technica (Timothy B Lee).  I couldn't find it in the NYTimes, or in the printed WSJ today. 

How much of a problem this can create for sites other than “bad actor” advertising sites is far from clear.  Social media sites would seem to be more exposed than, say, web hosts or telecoms, but someone needs to sit down and analyze the downstream liability exposure of the businesses that enable user generated content. There is even an irony when it comes to concerns over telecom behavior if net neutrality really ends, because some behaviors could increase downstream liability exposures.  Congress seems na├»ve in the range of business models on the Internet;  most providers don’t know their customers as well as Backpage did.

One observation is that the House apparently considered piggybacking the Mann Act rather than attacking Section 230.

Another (as Lee notes) is that social media companies have to wonder whether increased monitoring actually increases or decreases downstream liability exposure.

Still another problem is that trafficking or prostitution enablements before passage of the law might enable litigation, which sounds like an unconstitutional breach of ex post facto.

I am told that some attorneys are concerned over the language concerning "reckless disregard".  Theoretically operating a service that allow users to commit crimes without being watched might be regarded as that by some lawyers, by analogy to a website's having insufficient security to prevent identity theft, for example. But many things provided by companies have good and bad uses.  Is Apple responsible for the fact that people can text while driving?  Apple is trying to stop it, out if this theory.  The idea that much user speech is "gratuitous" (doesn't pay its own way) could become significant. 

The law was supposed to go into effect immediately when signed, giving tech companies no time to prepare. 
This still needs a lot more detailed attention.

Update:  March 8

EFF reports that the Senate will vote on some form of SESTA in a few days, 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

FOSTA passes House by overwhelming margin; unclear what happens in Senate; lawyers debate what "reckless disregard" standard means for intermediaries

Elliot Harmon at Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that FOSTA has passed the House 388-25.  Here is the latest link on Twitter. 
I talked to him just now by phone.  SESTA has not passed the Senate. It may be fillibustered, or rewritten to be more like FOSTA.  There is no reliable information on how long it will be before some damaging version of this law goes into effect.  
There seems to be some misinformation in Congress, who seem unaware of the different business models on the Internet and who believe that only classified ads sites can be affected.
I’m told that there are serious legal problems with the way the “reckless disregard” standard is worded but I can’t explain further. 

EFF has a new story now on the passage of FOSTA.

Read the text of the passed bill on Govtrack. Note Section 3(c) and (4).  Tricky to interpret. Does this apply to web hosts or only to advertising sites? 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

House about to vote on FOSTA with troubling new change to Section 230, as per EFF

Electronic Frontier Foundation is warning that the House will soon vote on the amendment to FOSTA (HR 1865)  weakening Section 230 in relation to sex trafficking.
EFF, in an article today by Elliot Harmon, warns that the House seems to have tightened FOSTA in relation to SESTA, and apparently no longer includes the safeguard that a service provider must “knowingly” be part of trafficking.  EFF calls it a “Frankenstein Monster”.  EFF provides a PDF of the recent changes.

I tried to peruse the House’s latest explanation today, here.  It does look like what happens in Section 230 is that a section 230 defense is no longer available when 2421a (promoting prostitution) or 1591a (promoting trafficking) is involved at the state or federal level.  However, at a very cursory reading both of these laws seem to invoke some prior knowledge of the agent distributing the offending material.

It will take a lot more time to sort this out in the detail necessary.
EFF points out the victims of sex trafficking will be among the people most likely to have their speech censored. 
This topic needs to be followed closely.  The wording is tricky to interpret.  Congress obviously believes that only “bad actor” classified ads websites or services are affected.  It is less clear that the underlying hosting companies would be affected.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Credit card companies may refuse to do gun business; could this spread to speech areas (as last summer with extremist web sites)?

Andrew Ross Sorkin, yes, the screenwriter, writes Tuesday in the New York Times, “Congress fails to curb guns; could bankers?” 

There is talk that the credit card industry will refuse to accept transactions for most private gun sales. That could certainly slow them down.  Paypal has already done so, since Peter Thiel existed.  Cards apparently cannot be used now to purchase digital currency.

The idea has already surfaced with condom sales.

This reminds me of the flak last summer after Internet companies refused to host at least one alleged "white supremacist site", the Daily Stormer (and maybe others). 

You can put this all together and imagine private regulation of some sort of social contract as to how people behave.

Put this all together, if you will, with George Soros: (Milo’s own recent account ).
You could see public speech that is privately driven and funded without accountability as adding to social instability – and that would not be good for me.  You could imagine, for example, expecting community engagement as the price for being heard.  Or, else, you pick a tribe.
I’ll add in here a Washington Post report on a new law in Germany requiring private companies to identify and delete hate speech  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Russian bots on issues like gun violence tend to make extreme positions look mainstream, make it hard for politicians to pass practical reforms

Russian bots are still at it, with bots pushing relatively extreme positions into controversial debates, getting legitimate people to repost them so that outlier ideas gain traction.  That process makes it harder to pass reforms on narrower issues, like gun control and especially school safety.
That’s the thrust of a front page story today by Sheera Frenkel and Daikuse Wakanayashi in the New York Times. 
This problem seems more subtle than just possibly perturbing elections.  The Russians are trying to make it appear that open speech is dangerous to society, because it distracts electorates and keeps elected politicians afraid to settle issues and pass reforms.   This is also a serious future problem for “individual” speech like mine that isn’t connected to one side or another – which is ironic inasmuch as I see my speech as an answer to tribalism. Instead, you could wind up requiring everyone to join one side or the other.

But generally it’s distractions on the right-wing side that are more troubling. For example, I’ve pointed to arguments that the “absolutist” position on the Second Amendment as an individual right (including access to assault weapons) tends to feed the doomsday prepper narrative, that some day citizens will need to function without a central government after a calamity.  In this environment, it’s harder to focus on the grief of victims of major attacks.  It’s easier to maintain an atmosphere of personal aloofness  -- the so called “stoicism” problem, which may in turn feed to extreme right-wing or Nietzchean narratives that might suit oligarchical enemies, like Putin.