Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Federal law now prohibits non-disparagement clauses on consumers

NBC Washington brought us up to date at the 11 PM report last night (May 30) on the bad reviews problem, with this report by Susan Hogan and Meredith Royster.

The newscast reports that a new federal law prohibits businesses from requiring consumers to sign “non-disparagement” clauses, prohibiting giving negative reviews.

Techdirt had reported on the law in December 2016, here.  The anecdote about DC United trying to prohibit people from writing about them and trying control social media presence entirely is very disturbing.  I had been to one DC United at RF Kennedy Stadium game in July 2014 and had not heard of this.  However, video of big league sporting events might run into copyright issues.

The Fort Worth, TX Star Telegram has a similar story here.

But consumers can still be liable for legal defamation or libel, for giving false information.  In the U.S., the burden of proof of a statement’s falsity falls on the plaintiff (Trump wants to change that).

There was a case in Utah where a consumer was "fined" $3500 for disparagement.  A court ruled that the bill could not be collected, but it stayed on the consumer's credit report, although it would sound to me that the consumer could have the credit reporting agencies remove it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Why this generation of young adults shies away from free speech

Jay Fayza of Rebel Media has a nice video explaining “Two Big Reasons My Generation Hates Free Speech”

Note how Jay explains postmodernism and connects it to Marxism and nihilism, and a tendency to deny reality out of convenience.  He notes that in the 60s it was young people who led the way with free speech and demonstrations not only about race but about the Vietnam era. Today, young people build “subjective identities” not based on facts (such as, you could say, gender fluidity).  Campuses have tended to believe that people need to sheltered from hostility based on these identities, rather than dealing with challenges (as I had to).

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Reported bodyslammed by political candidate; alt-right leader has gym membership cancelled over his public reputation

An attack on a reporter by a GOP candidate in Missoula, Montana who body-slammed him is getting the rage today, as in this story by David Wegit.  The candidate said he was sick of journalists from liberal sources (the Guardian) challenging him.  After all, journalists don’t have to ask for money or win elections. Here is the Guardian's own story.

Here's a LTE about Sport-and-Health’s suspension (cancellation) of Richard Spencer’s membership for his public notoriety as an alt-right leader, but not for his conduct in the club. Imagine if apartment landlords, for example, behaved this way, say out of fear of targeting.  It’s an issue I have wondered about and heard people speculate about ad hoc in the past.

Wikipedia attribution link for Missoula picture, by Mloken 406, under CCSA 4.0.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Russia's stunning leveraging of social media on US voters

Time Magazine on May 29, 2017 has a feature story by Massismo Calabresi, “The New Propaganda” or alternatively “Hacking Democracy: Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America”, link.
The details are quite startling.  Russians directed tweets to users in DOD, encouraging them to like to malware infected sites that would enable them ultimately to spy on US defense and political operations. It’s a little unclear how government and major party operation computers were so poorly protected.  Likewise, reporters were contacted in a way to lead them to “fake news” sites that would distort the picture of the refugee issue in particular.  Russians also used algorithms to manipulate news feeds through Facebook to ordinary Americans to convey a distorted picture of what was happening.

Russians seem to have exploited the cultural gap in US society, where “average Joe’s” don’t believe the intellectual elites of the Hillary Clinton types and can be prodded to believe fake news and conspiracy theories. Part of the problem is that the “elites” don’t interact personally much with the “average Joe’s” and tend to regard them latter with a bit of not so hidden personal contempt.  The Russians on the Internet promulgated a new kind of class warfare.  Incidents like Comet Ping Pong were bound to result.

Russians seemed to have targeted attitudes toward migrants and undocumented immigrants, sometimes trying to create sympathy (like the debate over sponsorship and hosting) and then suddenly uncertainty, playing the "you take somebody else's bullet" or "trojan horse" card.

And a president who seems manipulative, thin-skinned, and intellectually inconsistent on what he believes – Donald Trump – got elected by hucksterizing to a mentally vulnerable base.

All pretty incredible.

And on Saturday, touring around central Pennsylvania and its decimated coal country (like around Centralia) I found people still supported Trump.  It wasn’t just because of Obamacare.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ivanka Trump host dad's Twitter forum on countering extremism; alt-right leader kicked out of gym for conduct of other members

President Donald Trump promised to host a Twitter forum while in Saudi Arabia on how to combat terrorism or terror recruiting specially among young adults.

CBS News reports that this forum was conducted largely by daughter Ivanka and was rather ligh level and general.

This is certainly a cry from calls at the end of 2015 that much of the social media world should be shut down to stop terror recruiting, which was out of control then, an abrupt turnaround form the Arab Spring a few years before.

Also alt-right figure Richard Spencer had a membership canceled at Sport and Health in Old Town Alexandria after a female Georgetown University professor confronted him.  Although the gym is a private organization, it seems that it terminated the membership because of complaints of other members just about his presence, story.

BuzzFeed has the juicier links on this incident.
Would Milo encounter the same fate?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Trump makes good-faith journalists uneasy about the possibility of jail; "Life is not fair"

Columnists, especially at the Washington Post (“Democracy dies in darkness”) are warning that Donald Trump could become an increasing threat to journalists, as in this Style column Thursday May 18 by Margaret Sullivan   These comments appear as Trump receives Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, after ugly events near the residence of the Turkish ambassador.

The article does focus somewhat on the prison sentence and Obama’s release of Chelsea Manning, although that seems to be a stretch to say that Bradley-Cheslea’s behavior was journalism comparable to reporting.  After all, she was (and still is) in the Army.

I note that CNN and other networks have said they would not publish specific intelligence they had become aware of concerning the source leading to the overseas “electronics ban”.  Responsible papers are careful about publishing information that they know could compromise sources.

There does seem to be a legal gray areas between “The Pentagon Papers”, and publishing specific classified information when it is learned.

It is possible for independent, non-press-credentialed bloggers to have classified information (often unsolicited) sent to them.  This happened a few times with me after 9/11, and I did share it with authorities.  One comminque led to a 20-minute phone chat with an FBI agent in Philadelphia in summer 2005 about Osama bin Laden.

The AP reports that Vermont has become the latest state to provide a journalist shield law.

Jenna Johnson and David Nakamura at the Post report that Donald Trump told a graduating class art the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT, "Over the course of your life, you will find that things are not always fair."  Trump used to say "Life is not fair" in the Boardroom scenes on "The Apprentice".  He tends to look at people as "winners" and "losers" in an absolute, existential and overly individualized sense.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Meet Washington D.C.'s "civic agent" Chris Otten, who believes in legal activism, not just journalism, to protect poor people

I am sometimes criticized for physical inertia and leaving the resistance and activism (and protests) to others, claiming to be a “citizen journalist”.

No so with “civic agent” Chris Otten, who files appeals and litigation to halt the gentrification of poorer sections of Washington, DC.

The Washington Post has a story by Paul Schwartzman today, here.  The story was shared by a Facebook friend, Dave Edmondson, who had been the editor of “The Quill” in the early 1990s, for Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (GLIL), a group among whom Rick Sincere (now in Charlottesville) may be the best known today.  I’m going to interrupt my own post right here and share a guest post on Rick’s blog by a US Congressman. Anyway, I became the editor of Quill and then went on to my books and bogs.

Otten, who looks fairly youthful but scruffy in the picture (white), has tutored poor children (compare that to my own substitute teaching experience in the middle 2000’s) and run for office under the Green Party.  The article says he drives a 20-year-old car (the maintenance would be more expensive than a new one, maybe) and lives in subsidized housing in Adams Morgan.
I see gentrification all over Washington, now on U Street, and in Northeast.  Where do the poor people, driven out by the high rents (unless there are enough subsidized units) go?  PG County? 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Journalist, engineer both arrested or fined for speaking out of turn

Here are a couple of stories about the risks that journalists sometimes take, with exercising their first amendment rights, even more for members of the Fourth Estate, the formal credentialed press (which I am not, yet).

In Charleston, W Va, reporter Dan Heyman was arrested for tailgating Trump’s HHS secretary Tom Price, as explained in this New York Times story by Christophere Mele on May 10.  The reporter was specifically asking whether (usually female) victims of domestic violence were considered to have “pre-existing conditions”.  It is true, that in some public buildings there are security rules about behavior (like at the airport) that can get someone arrested whatever the speech.

Even more disturbing is a story in FEE (a libertarian site) about the summons and fine in Oregon of Mats Jarlstrom for criticizing traffic light patterns “without a license”, apparently for identifying himself publicly as an engineer to back up his statements.

I contact local governments about the need for “no turn on red signs” and once got out of a photo red light ticket in DC after explaining how a particular pattern on New York Ave. NE was confusing (it was fixed).

This may be a good place to note that Donald Trump is considering stopping the daily press briefings, or heading more infrequent briefings himself, after Spicer and Sanders got roughed up by reporters questioning about Comey's dismissal timeline.

Update: June 8, 2017

George Will talks about the case of Mats Jarlstrom in Oregon on the stop-light case p A21 of the Washington Post, here.   I once got out of a ticket on NY Avenue in NE DC by complaining that hte lane markings were wrong with respect to the light, and the problem was actually fixed. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Popular social media users can sometimes make big money for posts from advertisers

A quick story – how some people become popular enough that they can make a lot of money from advertisers from single social media posts if they have enough followers.

This works for some niche consumer areas, and rather grows out of the advice on the “Blogtyrant” site, for blogs (supplementing social media posts). I wonder if it works as well for “Mommy bloggers” as well as it used to (Heather Armstrong).
The problem is, telling the truth, after digging it out, is much harder.  It doesn’t make money easily.  It is perceived as a luxury for people without their own skin in the game.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What if users could not post content that can be viewed for free?

Back on April 23, the New York Times ran a piece by Jonathan Tarplay that essentially would imply that it should no longer be possible for users to post their own unsupervised content online for free if they could not otherwise get people to pay for it.

I discovered this piece  this morning before a meeting in DC why looking an LTE in a printed New York Times.  “’Safe Harbor’ Online, here.

The original article is titled “It is time to break up Google?”.  While we can reasonably talk about monopolies on the Internet and the “Big 5” who survived the dot-com bust of 2000 (there is a tweet running around about which one you could live without) the article really talks about all of them.
But the writer takes particular aim at the Safe Harbor Provision of the DMCA, without noting the even more powerful sister it has, Section 230, which is even more important in preventing service providers having to preview what gets published. 

And the writer suggests that service companies should pay users for the posts, because they make money off them.  That would mean that most posts would not get published because readers won’t pay for them.  No more could people publish anything that doesn’t “sell”.  Think of the implications for the POD book publishing industry.

But I can see that may be what some observers want  ("It would be a good thing" as my piano teacher would have said in the early 1950s about banning television.).  Let’s bring back the physical world (especially book stores) so people can have low-pay retail jobs again.  Let’s force people (like me) to shut up and actually pay personal attention to others, especially the less gifted in the world, and even things out.  I can see how the reasoning would go, countering our “mind your own business” individualistic world.
We need Reid Ewing’s little film “it’s Free!” back online. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Facebook limits pages of two "ex-religious" groups, reasons unclear

Patheos reports that Facebook has placed temporary restrictions on the “broadcast” rights of two pages run by “anti-religious” groups.  The story is here.   One of the groups is “Ex Muslims of North America” and the other is Atheist Republic.

The groups are allowed to post to their pages, but for at least one week the pages cannot be aggregated into followers news feeds.

It’s not apparent how their content could have violated Facebook standards, either against hate speech or particularly, perhaps, “fake news”.  But the action was based on user complaints, which could have been practicing Muslims or evangelical Christians.
Would an ex-gay page be treated the same way?  Would a “health” page that does “fat shaming” be treated this way?  A good question for Milo.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Yelp tries to defend the rights of its reviewers to anonymous speech in California state court

In state court in California, Electronic Frontier Foundation has supported an appeal by Yelp that it can argue that its users have a right to anonymity in giving consumer reviews.
This happened after Yelp as subpoenaed to identify a user in a “bad review” litigation case against the user.  Yelp would still be immune to litigation itself based on the user’s content under Section 230.

It’s significant that if libel laws were changed to be more like what Trump wants, Yelp defendants could be compelled to “prove” their claims are actually true.
Some companies involved in bad review litigation still advertise vigorously in Washington DC newspapers.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Actor quits social media over death threats based on character he plays

Some actors who play controversial characters in films or fantasy TV series get lots of harassment on social media for the characters they play, from fans who don’t honor the difference between a character and the character who plays him.

Josh McDermitt said he was quitting Facebook, Twitter and Instagram after receiving death threats for the actions of his character Eugene on the AMC Show “The Walking Dead”.  (Maybe that’s “The Walkin’ Dude” from Stephen King’s “The Stand”).

He put one video on Facebook Live (which, ironically, is now adding 3000 screeners to take down violent content) to make his point and say he would call police about threats, before signing off.

The Refinery29 story is here.   MSN carried the story today on its home page.

Actors and other celebrities (as in music) vary widely in how they deal with fans and followers in social media.  But some will answer tweets or Facebook posts that they believe are constructive and stand out in the crowd.  The trend for some not to want to be replied to unless they follow you seems to be abating.