Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Universities set dangerous precedent in cancelling conservative speakers out of fear for causing others to become targets

We’re not willing to risk anyone’s safety”.  Susan Svrluga writes in the Washington Post about the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) recent refusal to allow a “white nationalist” (Richard Spencer) to speak on campus.  That story links to an earlier Metro Section story today about the dilemma universities face when controversial speakers, especially conservatives, want to hold “free speech” rallies. 

Campus Reform reports that Milo Yiannopoulos will spend hundreds of thousands on security for his proposed rally at Berkeley.  Has he made that much from “Dangerous”?  It’s not that easy to do this with self-publishing.  I know because I do this myself with the “Do Ask Do Tell” series.  

All of this highlights an metastasizing problem:  schools and companies fear liability if they allow a “controversial” party a voice on campus and combative elements (like Antifa) harm their customers.  It’s a new kind of liability, for “causing” others to be targeted over a political issue when the property owner knows the speaker has a combative or militant adversary.  It’s a sort of hostage taking, or heckler’s veto.

This concept could spread quickly. Would landlords be liable for letting a controversial figure live in the building?  And what is controversial?  I understand that the KKK is unacceptable to most people (more or less like ISIS).  But, in fact, most of Milo Yiannopoulos’s writings (if you bother to read them) are actually rather reasonable;  he simply attacks individual dependency on “identity politics” and “intersectionality”.  True, Milo goes over the top with some of his antics and hyperbole (his video on hazing), which I personally take as just that but which some minorities don’t find funny. But then protesters turned on libertarian writer Charles Murray, for his willingness to talk about biology and race, in the past.  Where does it stop?

All of this hooks up to the concept of “implicit content” (previous post) and “gratuitous publication” (designed to attract attention or cause emotional provocation without a paying customer to carry its risk).

Then there is the bizarre AP story of Sarah Palin’s lawsuit against the New York Times for defamation for blaming her for “political incitement” before the Virginia baseball field shooting by a left-wing extremist, thrown out of court, but the concept is Milo-dangerous (Bloomberg ).   The New York Times published an excerpt from the Judge’s ruling. 

Update:  Aug 31

Now Ryerson University in Toronto has cancelled a free-speech event out of security concerns, as in this story.   James Turk wrote a guest blog post for Rick Sincere, here.  The left chants "this shit stops now ... either you're with us or against us." 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Violent Leftist groups tend to re-energize the alt-Right; more on implicit content

German Lopez argues on Vox that violent groups on the Left (like “Antifa”) play into the right-wing’s hands. 
The more extreme factions on the Left argue that some factions on the right must be stopped cold, with violence if necessary, or else their ideas could gradually gain mainstream legitimacy, as well as justify systematic attacks on various minorities (especially of color).   Trump was probably thinking about Antifa when he “messed up” (Paul Ryan) with his “both sides” remark about Charlottesville.
This has led to cancellation of some events (as with Milo Yiannopoulos, who is much less extreme than the Left thinks, if you actually read what he writes, as well as with Charles Murray, who is also much closer to the mainstream right).  It also leads to suppression of certain ideas, such as studying genetics and race (or even sexuality), for fear that it could bring back right wing movements again (like eugenics).  It’s easy to imagine how this speech prohibitionism could lead into other areas, such as discussion of  the history of conscription, for fear that could encourage its return.

Giving in to “heckling” could lead to future targeting of much more moderate (but conservative) speakers, as well as an attempt to bring into the law the obscure idea of “implicit content” (an idea that got mentioned at the COPA trial in 2007)  This idea means that the identity of the speaker is part of the message, and that if a speaker knows that some particular consumers (of his speech) are likely to act in a harmful way because of the speaker’s own identity as the messenger, the speaker could incur legal liability.  This is a very dangerous idea indeed.  But that’s what happened to me as a substitute teacher in 2005 (see 2007/7/27 post). 

Note the clipping from the Berkeley event Aug. 27.  

Update: Aug. 30

Note the Washington Post editorial "'Antifa' groups only help the groups they claim to oppose".  The editorial says that the extremist leftist groups don't pose the same threat to democracy as the extreme alt-right, but the muzzling of speech by heckling would seem to create new legal problems (see tomorrow's post). 

Update: Aug. 31  Victor David Hanson: "When the mob attacks innocent words; Purging references to the past is a sign of totalitarianism".  ESPN and Robert Lee;  ESPN and "guerilla" v. "gorilla".

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Baptist pastor preaches on racism: do citizen journalists have a special duty to single it out?

Today Pastor Julie Pennington-Russell at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC gave an important sermon, “The Gospel and Racism: “Who Do I Say that I Am?” based on Matthew 16:13-20 (sermon link)..

Today, if a Clark Kent-type teen (out of Smallville) showed up with powers as an angel or the future Christ, I doubt he would be going around saying “Follow Me”.  He might resent false praise (like in “The Rich Young Ruler”) or being stared at or followed around.   He probably wouldn’t come out (pun) with a confrontational aphorism like in that Matthew quote.

The pastor summarized early US history, including doctrines like Manifest Destiny and Discovery, as well as the earlier development of the slave trade from Europe with at one time the blessings of the Catholic Church as justified by the Bible and “God’s will”.  Christianity could give us the Crusades, or it can give us the humblest of charities and vows of poverty.

Hymnology could give us “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (which we sung in middle school chorus) and “Onward Christian Soldiers” (which is performed near the end of the WWII British dramedy “A Canterbury Tale”).  But it also gives us “Bless Be the Tie that Binds” which we used to sing in the 1950s and the Sunday night youth program after the Church opened (on Christmas Day 1955).
Russell went on to explain the concept of generational advantages as they apply to race.  As a result of these accumulated opportunities, white people are more likely to own their own homes, and white families average 13 times the net worth of black families.  This gets into the moral question of what an individual is supposed to do about his or her own inherited “privilege”.  Russell did not take the sermon into that territory, but returned to the Matthew Text.   

But the sermon logically asks the question:  do citizen journalists have a special responsibility to call out racial injustice (as in the Charlottesville incident and President Trump’s initial refusal to call out white supremacists seeming to promote violence and lynching – Russell seem to be refer to Gode Davis’s “American Lynching”, incomplete film, at one point)?  Trump probably said “both sides” because he was referring to Antifa (and the female counter-protestor who was killed by the car was not part of that group, but peaceful).    

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"Your free speech is more important than my feelings" or being accepted socially; post by female libertarian columnist on FEE

Tricia Beck-Peter has an important op-ed on the FEE (Foundation for Economic Education) site, “Your free speech is more important than my feelings”, link here

“The point of free speech is to rebel when those with power are wrong.”  Well put. 

But, yes, the world is an unequal place.  Yet, she says, “Your right to be awful is more important than my right to feel accepted.” She also says we can’t pick and choose whom free speech applies to.  You will say, terror groups?  KKK?

Actually, social acceptance is always a challenge in a world with more personal freedom. Those with more means must at some point reach out of their comfort bubbles and take risks for those with less.

You can imagine a similar statement about segregation in the distant past.  Back in the 1950s, when I was growing up, most white suburban neighborhoods may well have been “safer”.  Personal risk for those with more privilege means can only be met by building more social capital. 

Rick Sincere has also published his piece as a guest post, here

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

ANITIFA and vigilantism against individuals as well as groups; a very slippery slope endangering free speech. liberalism and law-and -order

Salon has run a disturbing report or cover story by Michelle Goldberg on “The Public Face of Antifa”, link . Goldberg provides the subtext, “Daryle Jenkins has stepped up to explain this group’s violent attacks to a wary world. It’s not easy.”   A Facebook friend messaged this link to me at around 3 AM, Donald Trump's favorite time of the night. 

An important part of the group’s “mission”, she explains, goes beyond physical confrontation and hitting back. The group wants to warn individuals (perhaps through direct intimidation) about the possible direct consequences of becoming personally involved supporting “racist” groups, either in physical rallies (as with Charlottesville) or even online, perhaps. 

I do understand the point that non-white people may feel physically threatened by a gathering of certain groups, include the KKK and neo-Nazis, and get (with some Second Amendment irony) that they may insist on moral justification for the right to fight back. I had not been aware until recently of accounts that most urban Confederate statues had been put up in the early 20th Century specifically to intimidate blacks, so I am rather shocked sometimes at those who demand that others join them. 

But this still sounds like a slippery slope.  It is impossible to say that the KKK is worse than ISIS, for example (the latter may be more dangerous to me).  It is true, it is customary for the US government to label certain groups as terrorist-connected.  But outside that zone, for an independent group to threaten private individuals for their associations or online expressions sounds like something that could spread to many areas, well beyond race or even gender and sexuality issues as we normally see them now.  We could decide that some person is somehow underserving and must be driven into exile.  Personally combative vigilantism, whether from the domestic Left or from radical Islam, has already sometimes forced some people to disappear and live underground, ranging from Darren Wilson (the Michael Brown incident) to Molly Norris (the cartoon controversy).  With very much of this, the whole liberal idea of law and order dissolves, and life becomes a matter of fitting in to other people’s power structures, like in most of the third world today.

I’ve mentioned Cloudflare’s Matthew Prince before, but today he has a column in the Wall Street Journal, “Was I right to pull the plug on a Nazi website? “   He adds a subtext, “A handful of private companies control whether speech can appear online.  That’s reason to worry.”  Prince adds to earlier comments where he says He writes “The reality of today’s Internet is that if you are publishing anything remotely controversial, your side will get cyberattacked”  (Well, maybe.) “Without a massive global network like Cloudflare’s, it is nearly impossible to withstand the barrage.”  What counts as “remotely controversial?”  Something like gender fluidity?   Or sheltering undocumented immigrants?  Or talking about radical Islam or North Korea?   I did have an experience with a discussion about 9/11 and nuclear threats getting hacked way back in early 2002 on an old legacy site. I can imagine how this could go, as I noted in a few postings back in 2013, with attempts to frame people for child pornography or sex trafficking (Section 230 again) for stepping out of line of somebody else's group political goals. 
No wonder one-sided non-profits can send out emails begging for money claiming only “they” can speak for you and protect you.  How insulting.  

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Are Facebook friending accounts really appropriate for news blogging?

It’s well to stop and think about how you use Facebook pages vs. normal Friends’ accounts.
As I explained some time back, I did set an author page, and I do find that  getting traffic to it is slow, unless I pay for promotion campaigns (which are inexpensive). 

I’ve used the regular account as a supplemental blogging platform, often providing links to controversial news stories, trying to use credible (not fake) sources.  It does appear that these posts attract some traffic outside the normal “friends’” list, which is what I expect. 

Some Facebook friends act as if they expect more personal interaction than I normally give.  

Sometimes this gets exploitative or questionable, such as someone who wanted help coming to the US and getting a job. 

Some friends “check in” and let everyone where they are most of the time.  I see this as a bit dangerous.  In fact, as I indicated on my retirement blog yesterday, there can be cases that where if you live in a condo and have an otherwise home-based business, you aren’t supposed to announce in social media where it is located (where you are).  But if you use social media the way it had originally been conceived, as a closed network that starts in the physical world, only for social purposes, you would logically only allow friends to see your normal account posts.  I don’t have enough social capital to make that effective, so I just don’t post PII at all, which could be an issue if, for example, inviting people to a home  for an event  -- dangerous if you don’t know everyone who can see the invitation.

When Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in early 2004, he imagined it as connecting people within specific campuses.  He didn’t make it public until late 2006, and then all the news feeds and pseudo-blogs (and eventually fake news) with all the presentation algorithms followed. 

It’s also possible to set up groups and communities to be completely private, as the video above shows. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Cloudfare CEO, after kicking off Daily Stormer, admits he set a bad example that could invite Internet vigilantism

Other companies are terminating connections to hate sites (especially Nazi-related).

Cloudflare, which does DNS resolution, terminated Daily Stormer. CEO Matthew Prince said he terminated D.S. after the site falsely claimed secret support from CloudFlare (which would normally be libel).  But then Prince wrote that he acted impetuously and has argued that the Internet needs a “due process” procedure for removing service when bad behavior of users comes to its attention.  Here’s his blog post. Note the wide variety f hidden services and entities that “your” own Internet domain probably uses. 

Prince’s remarks perhaps provide an interesting twist in the evolving problem of Backpage and Section 230.  Prince seems to believe that often the fact that a site is facilitating sex trafficking, child pornography, terrorism recruiting, or gross hate speech will probably find out from the public with no pre-screening necessary (the “knowingly” standard proposed by Bob Portman). 

It’s also important to review what service providers mean by “hate speech”.  Generally, it is speech that attacks a person merely for belonging to a protected group, particularly if the speech advocates violence or coercion against members of the group.  Service providers usually regard sexual orientation and gender identity or fluidity as creating protected classes even if not quite true in US law.

Timothy B. Lee writes on Ars Technica that Prince has regrets on his decision, admitting it sets a dangerous precedent, inviting politically motivated vigilantism.

Ken Schwencke reports on Ars Technica that D.S, actually found a new DNS provider. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Tech companies become aggressive in kicking out hate groups

Many more tech companies are suddenly trying to remove hate groups from their services, as explained tonight on NBC Nightly News.   An important example was Google Play’s banning of Gab from downloading.

Ars  Technica, in an article by David Kravets, explains how private companies can refuse service to certain customers in public accommodations based on the ideology of the consumers or, in tech users.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the ACLU now is changing its policy on defending hate groups.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Female blogger loses defamation suit for making accusation of sexual assault when she was in the Army

A recent case in Virginia shows the danger of making accusations against people online if you can’t prove them. Tom Jackman has a detailed story in the Metro Section of the Washington Post Tuesday August 15, 2017 here

A Fairfax County jury awarded a retired Army colonel $8.4 million (which may exceed state limits) in litigation against a female blogger who wrote posts accusing him

National Review, in a story by David French, has jumped on this story as a refutation of “#BelieveAllWomen”, story

The Blogger’s hosting provider, under Section 230, has no liability because the host could not possibly know in advance what is going to be posted or whether it could be problematic. 

One observation could be that links to her blog posts might have made others defendants had the plaintiff gone after them. But secondary liability for defamation by links has been very rare in practice. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Godaddy, then Google take down "Daily Stormer", but is this an open invitation to web vigilantism?

Whether hosting companies should take responsibility for what their customers do has come up as an issue with Backpage and Section 230, but today Godaddy apparently canceled the domain registration of “Daily Stormer” after an activist reported that it had published an article flaming the female who died in the violence in Charlottesville VA Saturday when a car plowed through of counter-demonstrators on a narrow street.  CBS reports here.  
As a further development, the site content was reportedly “seized” by Anonymous.  On Domain Tools right now, the site (“the World’s most genocidal Republican website” – a subtitle that might suggest sarcasm) is shown register by Google, but NBC News reports that the site domain registration was taken down by Google also. There is nowhere to hide in the digital age. 
Godaddy had said that it was giving 24 hour notice to Daily Stormer for violating “terms of service” for apparently encouraging violence by and on others. 
The site has been sued in April by a woman who claimed the site had caused her to be targeted, another CBS story here. That would probably violate the same TOS, but Godaddy would be protected by Section 230.

All of this suggests a strategy to handle issues like Backpage (August 2):  Limit the exposure to provider liability to situations where the service provider knows of a problem (usually from user input) or is in a position to know with reasonable caution (outside of pre-screening – there may be no way to know in advance that a particular prospective user is a “neo-Nazi” or anything else).  That is pretty much how child pornography is handled now: every hosting company includes a ban on c.p. its terms of service or acceptable use policy (AUP).  Sen. Bob Portman (R-OH) who introduced SESTA says that’s how it would work.   There is a chance, however, that this idea can open up hecklers’ vetoes.  In the Godaddy case, the company took action on a complaint from an activist outside of the company and apparently a non-user. 

That all said, most service providers and hosting companies do “voluntarily” take down users who have been found to be trying to cause violence against others.  This is comparable to Twitter’s closing ISIS-terror recruiting accounts. 
One other thing about the left-wing panic over Trump’s “all sides” on Charlottesville (which he “fixed” today).  There are a lot of things that are bad.  Trying to single out one thing as the worst of all is inherently dangerous. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Law professor explains the inability to sue federal employees for defamation on the job; also, a note about Sharia law

Aziz Huq, a law professor at the University of Chicago, has an interesting op-ed Thursday August 10, 2017. “When government defames.”

The article discusses the lack of recourse for individuals in court who are defamed by government employees or agents in the course of doing their jobs. 

There is no constitutional protection of “reputation” (no less “online reputation”) as such. 

I am reminded of how back in the 1950s police could raid gay bars and publish the names of people arrested in the newspapers. 

Back in 2011, Huq had argued against and Oklahoma state constitutional amendment that would ban the use of Sharia law in the state (or any religious law), with logic similar to that concerning support for sanctuary cities today.  He also argues that such a provision could undermine normal civil contracts based on supplying food that meets particular religious requirements.  

Monday, August 07, 2017

Anti-diversity "manifesto" circulated by an engineer at Google raises legitimate questions about freedom of speech and the workplace

The word “manifesto” certainly has a pejorative, and now a document called “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” is circulating in the company, authored by an unidentified male software engineer.
Fortune Magazine describes the controversy here in an article by David Morris here.  CNN’s account of the “anti-diversity manifesto” is here

A software engineer in Britain who just left Google “clears up” the controversy, at least for Brits, here.

One very interesting point arises about how I have handled “conflict of interest”. I’ve said that people with direct reports or underwriting responsibilities probably should not put their opinions up about anything in publicly searchable mode because of the indirect risk of hostile workplace or discrimination complaints later. At Google, all work is peer-reviewed before it is implemented, so the speaker seems to be compromising his own ability to participate in the peer review process objectively.

My own first DADT book, affectionately called “The Manifesto” by my friends, was called a “screed” by one reviewer on Amazon (Jan., 4, 2007).

Michael Cook's piece on "idol men" in Intellectual Takeout, a conservative site, seems applicable. 

Wikipedia attribution link for picture from the company’s Mountain View complex, CCSA 3.0, by “Ashstar01”. 


Timothy B. Lee of Ars Technica reports that Google has fired the employee, here.   But the NBC Today show said Tuesday morning that it could not confirm the firing. 

Update: Aug. 10

Gizmodo has published Damore's "screed" with its own commentary here, and I have to say I agree with some points in it (the comment on "empathy" is interesting).  I have thought about some of  these things.  Some of his views resemble Charles Murray and Milo Yiannopoulos.  Wired reports that Damore "might have a case", here, 

In Personal Tech on p. B6 of the New York Times, Kevin Roose ("The Shift") writes "The Alt-Right Finds a New Enemy in Silicon Valley". I'd be a little put-off by the reported actions of Paypal annd Airbnb reported here. 

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Are smart phones destroying the ability of teens to build their own social capital?

Here’s an interesting and rather disturbing long article in The  Atlantic by Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” 

The writer makes an interesting point about teen independence.  In the physical world, they don’t learn to do things by themselves as soon.

It’s also interesting that she says they have less sex – that sounds like a good thing at first, reducing teen pregnancy –  and learn to drive later – again that sounds like a safety improvement (back in the 60s some people wanted to hold drivers’ licenses until 21 – and in those days girls had dorm curfews) – but they also date less.  That could feed into the population demographics argument, and the questions about learning to provide for others. 

Here's another provocative pice, by Julia Zauzmer in the Washington Post, "Is poverty due to bad effort, or to circumstances?" with the sub-text, "Christians are more than twice as likely to blame difficulties on laziness".  I remember hearing debates between pre-millennialists and post-millennialists on my car radio when living in Texas in the 1980s.  

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Senate introduces anti-trafficking bill that compromises Section 230; House had done so in April

The Senate has introduced a Bill to reduce the use of Section 230 with respect to sex trafficking.  The bill is the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017”, with text here  (or here).

The Verge has a good analysis of the bill, with links to blog postings by law professor Eric Goldman from UC Santa Clara, that ask plenty of questions about “unintended consequences”.  The Senate bill is not as “bad” as the House bill in April, which did not get as much attention as it should have.  It does not appear that I made a posting about that bill here in April but I did so on Wordpress here

This sounds like a bill that would been drafted even if Hillary Clinton had won the election.
I won’t attempt this morning to analyze all the dire possibilities that Goldman does.  I do intend to take up these bills in more detail soon on Wordpress. 

But two questions come to mind right away.

One of these is, how does a service provider (like Blogger, Automattic, any hosting company, or any social media platform like Facebook or Twitter) know ahead of time that a posting promotes sex trafficking?  That’s a question of procedural logic.  It is true that reputable companies, like all of these, remove illegal content when users point it out to them.  Google has become proficient in automatic detection on some content (copyright issues, watermarked child pornography, spam blogs) with automated filters, but we all know they can be fuzzy and lead to false positives.  There has been legal controversy (comparable to child porn) over terrorism promotion, also, and some people have tried to hold social media companies "responsible". 
Congress may imagine that this law corresponds to the practice already with child pornography, and perhaps the analogy has some validity.  (Many of sex trafficking victims are underage, so child porn laws might be used now.)  It may imagine also that Backpage (which says it stopped sex ads in January as I recall) is a different kind of site than Blogger, Facebook, or Wordpress.  But the existential problems are the same:  a service company does not know in advance what a post can contain.

A second question: It would be useful to know how this plays out in Europe, where downstream liability protection is much less.

We saw some of these concerns with the litigation against COPA, Child Online Protection Act, to which I was a party.

In the video above, Senator Bob Portman claims that only companies that “knowingly” facilitate sex trafficking would be exposed.  Supporters also link sex trafficking to the opioid crisis. 

I agree that there I a real danger of COPA-like state laws piggybacking onto this bill.

Tom Jackman has a similar story on p. A2 of the Washington Post Aug. 2, "Senate bill spurred by", but the online title is a bit misleading and over the top, "Senate launches bill to remove immunity for websites hosting illegal content, spurred by".  

An individual blogger (if hosting companies can allow him to stay up given the existential logical risk) could conceivably be liable for approving a comment that promotes sex trafficking, it would appear.  Not sure if comments aren't monitored. 
I’ll have a lot more material on this one on Wordpress fairly soon.

Update: Aug, 3

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a brief writeup and petition here. If you write Congress about this matter, it's best to make the letter as personalized as possible. 

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Facebook criticized for hate speech standards, impeding some journalism on personal accounts

Facebook is inconsistent in the way it patrols hate speech, according to a Washington Post story Tuesday August 1, 2017, frontpage, in the Washington Post, by Tracy Jan and Elizabeth Dwoskin, link .

 Facebook seems more likely to remove a post that refers to identity groups as such, rather than criticizes individuals.  It also seems more likely to remove posts from personal accounts than from official accounts of companies and organizations.  There have been instances where posts have been removed (especially from personal accounts) when they quoted another offensive post for journalistic purposes. This gets into "implicit content" territory.  It also fits the idea that personal Friending accounts are really supposed to be for that purpose, not for journalism or blogging per se. 

There have been suspensions of accounts, that get called “Facebook jail”. Maybe it’s like Monopoly jail.
One third of the world’s population now logs on to Facebook.  Zuckerberg, 33, is trying to shift from “connection” to “community building”.