Saturday, September 30, 2017

Cato First Amendment forum occurs just as Russian use of social media to undermine democracy unravels itself

Other important topics covered on the Cato Institute’s “The Future of the First Amendment” on Sept. 28 included commercial speech (Martin Redish) and campaign finance (the Citizen’s United issue, Jeffrey Milyo, and later Jeffrey Herbst).  Another important presentation was Emily Ekins and the Cato Institute 2017 Free Speech National Survey (for example).   One particularly notable finding was that a majority of people thought that employers should be able to fire people for social media posts even off the job.  

The Cato survey took place the same week that the sensational revelations about the attempts by Russians to disrupt American society through fake social media accounts and ads appeared in the mainstream media. As explained on Smerconish on CNN Saturday morning, the intention behind Russian intervention was not so much to help Trump win as to sow discord among “neglected” groups in American society to discredit American-style democracy and boost authoritarianism in their own countries.  Some of the regulations proposed already for political ads could include “free ads”, throwing us back to the 2005 controversy over whether political blogs could by themselves constitute illegal “contributions

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Cato holds a day-long "The Future of the First Amendment" symposium; Some discussion of Section 230 and Backpage

Today, I attended the all-day session at the Cato Institute, “The Future of the First Amendment”.

Cato’s basic link giving the names of all speakers and their sub-topics is here.  There were four panels.  Eugene Volokh, of UCLA Law School, gave the keynote speech at lunch.
There was so much material that it will take several postings on different blogs and different times to cover everything.  College students actually get credit for attending these and writing papers on what is said. 

Let’s talk about Eugene Volokh’s speech, “Free Speech, Libel, and Privacy in the Internet Sge”.  He first started talking about how defamation works on the Internet.  In print, usually a defamatory statement tended to be forgotten, if in a newspaper (in a book was more serious).  But on the Internet the damage to reputation may be permanent  And the speaker, unlike an established book author or newspaper, may not have deep pockets, since anyone can self-publish easily.

 So the tendency Is for states to try to criminalize libel with court injunctions against the speaker, which may be enforceable with contempt sentences. The broadest injunctions could mean never mentioning the subject again on the Internet (even in a non-defamatory manner, such as in a performance review of an artist). 

I popped the question on Section 230 being weakened by Backpage.  Volokh said that the “knowingly” standard would probably be applied, which would mean that service providers don’t have to pre-screen material, but many fear that other forms of damaging speech will be added, as with state laws. Volokh explained the concepts of "utility provider", "publisher", and the intermediate stage of "distributor" of content. 

Volokh also talked about the idea that fake news could be viewed as libel sometimes, but usually governments don’t want to apply defamation law that way.

In the last session, Danielle Keats Citron, from the University of Maryland School of Law, talked about “extremist speech and compelled conformity”, but she also talked about Section 230, as there needing to be a way to balance “Good Samaritan” speakers against “Bad Samaritans”. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

States may limit demonstrations with tough new laws

Margaret Sullivan, of the Washington Post, warns in the Style section Monday that 27 states are considering laws that could provide severe felony penalties who disrupt commerce, like by blocking highways.  She reports that the laws are likely to pass in at least 12 states. 

She argues that the dissent that helped end the Vietnam war, or that could perhaps forestall a new Korean war, could be shut down (let alone the protests over racial profiling).

Some of us may think such protests are “beneath us” 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Trump shouldn't interfere with sports teams on players' "free speech" at games

The latest “free speech” flap these days is NFL players leaning during the National Anthem to protest racism.  Trump has been saying the NFL teams should fire players who do this.

Well, the players do have a constitutional right to protest this way as far as US law is concerned. But clubs would be free to discipline or dismiss players for bringing protests on the job. That’s like saying you can’t bring your own political protests to the workplace.  That’s how it generally is.

But the president should not be intervening in what NFL clubs do.

I have not seen this happen in MLB. 

The practice started with Colom Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers.
ABC News story is here

Friday, September 22, 2017

Facebook's accidental Russian subversion faces social media with more regulation

Facebook has agreed to turn over information on ads purchased by Russians, in a story wide reported yesterday, as with the NYTimes here.

May Kosoff on Vanity Fair reports that Russia set up multiple Trump rallies in Florida. 
Congress talks about regulating social media companies, at least requiring reporting of large ad purchases. In a manner similar to standard industry practice in the past for broadcast television networks.  This is relevant to my own resume:  I worked for NBC in MIS from 1974-1977 after moving to NYC, and important period of my own life.  I remember hearing about the regulations.
Facebook says it will overhaul its own political ads system, as in this Reuters story.

The Russian interference played on the idea that the “elites” didn’t pay much attention to what the “deplorables” would believe when fed into their newsfeeds.  The “elites” tended not to care what people whom they looked down on as inferior believed.  A foreign enemy took advantage of this.

It’s touchy for Mark Zuckerberg, who would be 36 during the 2020 political election, and conceivably could run as a Democratic candidate for president.  There could be an irony of a much younger and richer businessman challenging Donald Trump.   Who really wants the job of dealing with Russia, radical Islam, and North Korea?  (Obama gave Zuckerberg a fatherly talk in December in Peru about the fake news, fake users and fake ads, story here.) 
The reports recall the flak from 2002-2005 over whether routine blogging about political campaigns could constitute “illegal campaign contributions” given the implementation of campaign finance reform at the time – an issue that indirectly affect my own career (July 27, 2007 post). 

The entire situation comes at a time when there are controversies about Internet regulation, especially pre-screening of content -- especially ads -- in other areas (like Backpage and Section 230, which Congress wants to weaken).  It's not yet clear whether all of this would have much impact on smaller businesses on the web.  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Conservative site pulls article on "indoctrination" in public schools over implicit content (that is, personal targeting) problem

Here is an interesting non-article (so self-declared) by Devin Foley of the libertarian-to-conservative site “Intellectual Takeout”, “We had to pull an article on indoctrination”.

A middle or high school social studies teacher assigned the task of writing a coherent essay on a major “social justice” (to use the term loosely) issue.  Foley ran an article on it, and pulled it when the family that had pointed out the article contacted him and feared that their child could be targeted – this is the “implicit content” issue I have talked about before. 

The teacher supposedly apologized and pulled the article.  And Devin apparently rewrote the article to say the same things “without the article”.

Now I think that the teacher’s assignment might have aimed at a balanced piece like something you would see today on a mainstream current events site like Vox, which is pretty centrist and moderate in its positions (it’s somewhere between the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.)  The teacher could have reasonably expected views closer to Hillary Clinton’s than Donald Trump’s, perhaps. But I really don’t see this as “indoctrination.”
The non-piece brings up an incident with an article supporting Trump’s transgender ban.  I do not support the ban (I was one of the people who fought to end “don’t ask don’t tell” years before, and with all these natural disasters we need every reservist and guardsperson we have right now) but I am particularly shocked that “activists” tracked down the tagging of a picture of someone in a photo in the article unrelated to the story.  I’ve mentioned before that since about 2010 some people have become more sensitive about being photographed in bars and discos, and this kind of incident may be one reason.  I am careful about this, and often pick artwork with no people in it for blog postings. 
Devin’s earlier article on indoctrination is here

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sociology professor gets students to assess their own level of privilege

Professor Dae Elliott, who teaches sociology at San Diego State University, offers her students credit for taking a quiz analyzing their privilege, as explained here in the New York Post. 

It’s not so clear if non-white students take the quiz.

If the purpose the quiz is to perpetuate identity politics and the emphasis on group oppression, or the pimping of victimization, then it would seem to further the bubble world of speech codes and trigger warnings on some campuses.

But it encourages the student to look at his or her individual karma and perhaps make some amends for it, it could promote justice.  Even so, overemphasizing “right-sizing” can be an invitation to authoritarianism (either on the right or left, with differences on whether there are pretenses of equality).  To remain free, people have to reach out of their personal bubbles out of their own volition (“willingly” as my mother would have said) and lift others up, without having to keep score.  It is hard to practice what you preach.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Brookings study shows that many college students don't find value in free speech that challenges group deferences

Catherine Rampell writes on p. A17 of the Washington Post today, Tuesday, September 19, 2017, “Students need a lesson on free speech.”  Online the title is more blunt “A chilling study shows how hostile college students are to free speech.”
The survey was distributed by John Villasenor, a Brookings Institute Senior Fellow, and a UCLA professor.  Brookings publishes the results with detailed analysis.

Some students believe that speech can be construed as violence, especially when it intrudes on "safe spaces",  and therefore can ethically be met by violence.  Many did not understand that “hate speech” is legally protected by the First Amendment.

Many do not value the right to speak for oneself, but see things in terms of participation in groups.  
Many seem to believe that historical systematic oppression justifies additional protection from hostile speech today.  And many may believe that (according to the idea of unearned privilege) speakers need to be able to put their own skin in the game, and speech alone is a kind of spectator activity. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Panpsychism might offer clues to "what makes me"

NBC News just carried an article about pan-psychism, or the idea of a “conscious” universe.

Consciousness in humans and advanced animals results from the interaction of quantum fields withint the extremely tiny spaces of “microtubules”.  It also results from the idea that something has to be observed to exist.  The observer fixes uncertainty into specificity.

The article postulates that stars could have rudimentary consciousness, to the point that they can vary their own rotational angular speed or revolutions in their galaxies. 

All of this will fit into my plans on my novel “Angel’s Brother” which I have been discussing on Wordpress.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Personal social media posts about Trump causing serious ethical problems in sports, legislatures

Social media posts are getting all the rage right now.  A Missouri state senator faces calls for her resignation for, well calling for a specific crime to be committed, KCMO Star story

Then an ESPN anchor (Jemele Hill) tweeted that Trump is a white supremacist, leading to supposed calls for her firing.  The Chicago Tribune writes that many sports figures don’t feel they can remain silent in view of the constant protests about claims of systematic oppression from BLM.  
Sports Illustrated printed and analyzed ESPN’s statement about Hill’s tweet made in her own personal account 
Again, the Internet has made double lives impossible for people with direct reports or public impact.  I’ve written about this issue myself before as a “conflict of interest”. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Facebook still gets doxed for its accidental attraction of hate group ads

Facbook continues to get hammered about the way its algorithms attracted ads now normally associated with hate speech, as in this story from a San Diego newspaper. 

What’s disturbing is how the fake news and ad storms targeted people living in their own bubbles of group resentment (especially, it seems, on the alt-right), while people who see themselves as intellectually sophisticated and libertarian or classically liberal didn’t notice what was going on. 
Again, people don’t have a lot of contact outside their own circles of cognition.

Here’s Mark Miller’s article on Antifa in the Washington Post today, where the view that stopping fascism takes precedence over free speech is advanced by some, even if that simply invites more reaction from the right.  For both sides, it’s about powerlessness, being left out, and being ignored personally by the “elites” – the politics of personal resentment.
The statute removals continue, the latest from Lee Park in Dallas, where we used to have Easter Sunday concerts in the 80s when I lived there. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Can Block-chain change the business model for social networks?

Brian Fox has a major article on INC about a new evolution (or revolution) in social networking site business models:  New networks that will pay you in digital “tokens” for placing content there.  The title sums it up: “Block chains are about to disrupt social networks in a major way”. 

I don’t know where it is reviewed before being put up.

Right now, Facebook and Twitter own the content you put up on them (although I’ve never heard of a problem with reusing it yourself).  Google does not claim such ownership on Blogger, Youtube or Picasa.

You can check out Steemit.  It sounds a little bit like Second Life.

I might join and consider submitting an article on power grid security.  That would create some value.  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Washington Post calls for citizen op-ed contributions, but who will tackle the really big issues?

The Washington Post is calling for op-ed submissions from the general public, target length of 750 words, must be exclusive and not have been posted before on personal blogs.  Here is the link.  

That would imply that the author needs to care enough about the topic or people involved to take the time to polish something that might not get published – the old fashioned idea of trade publishing.
I wondered, though, about some of my recent Wordpress posts.  For example, on my recent discussion of the nuances of EMP threats (E1 to E3) on Wordpress,  I think the best way to get the mainstream (not just “conservative”) media to take the EMP and space weather issues seriously is for a recognized expert in power grid engineering and also in solid state electronics to write the op-ed.  I’ve already contacted Resilient Societies and suggested they find a mainstream, politically moderate engineering professional to write the op-ed as factually as possible.

One subject that I might be in the right place to submit a big newspaper op-ed is the whole problem of downstream liability for Internet service providers, the whole Section 230 mechanism, which is getting threatened (now by Backpage).  I could link this to the idea that the prevalence of well-written user-generated content can help break up the hold of the political extremes in their demands to capture people into their “identity politics”.

A lot of other things I have written about on these blogs, like “implicit content”, might seem too speculative a paper like the Post to run yet. 

I don’t feel a lot of emotion personally about the trans military ban issue the wat I did 20 years ago about “don’t ask don’t tell” which was much closer to my own experience track.

I do agree that a lot of people who feel affected by a narrower problem could well take advantage of the Post “offer” and communicate their situations.  It might take guts, but issues like DACA and asylum seeking could be addressed by the immigrants themselves, or perhaps their attorneys (like Jason Dzubow, who writes “The Asylumist” blog).  That could include people who have hosted asylum seekers (which I considered but did not wind up doing).

Another example could be someone who does feel affected by the Confederate statues issue.  I don’t feel that way, but I respect that someone else will and could well speak up in that forum. 

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Hurricanes raise the issue of "radical volunteerism"

I’ve talked about “radical hospitality” (and “scruffy hospitality”) on these pages before, but I think you can add the idea of “radical volunteerism”.

The Red Cross has a rather detailed application form for the recent and upcoming hurricane disasters, here.

It appears that some of the gigs involve travel to a disaster location (Texas, Florida, etc) and camping out and working two weeks of 14 10 hour shifts.  So this would be a radical sacrifice for many people.

The Red Cross says right now it anticipates needs as far north as Virginia.  Does this mean shelters will be set up 800+ miles from the damage zones?  When would the people want to return?
No, this is not very easy for me to do; but I can get into more details on my own personal circumstances on a related Wordpress blog.  One problem is that I would need Internet access to keep the blogs going and respond to any issues.  In a disaster area, Internet service or wireless might not always work and hotel rooms with normal privacy would not always be available.  This sounds a little bit like short term military service, or perhaps the National Guard.

Churches tried to set these up after Hurricane Katrina.  Generally, when people got down to the Ninth Ward and similar areas, there was not a lot they could do.  Is Habitat-for-Humanity volunteer labor the solution; or is it better to depend on Walmart and large companies to provide immediate manufactured housing?  Walmart is very good at doing this.  So is the LDS Church.  Church youth groups also tried to help West Virginia flood victims in 2016 but for the most part the mountain people took care of doing their own rebuilding (sort of "Glass Castle" style), much more quickly than expected. 

On the "radical hospitality" side, it's well to mention that Airbnb is encouraging its host to offer free housing in Texas and in southeastern states.  I don't do Airbnb, because of the labor intensiveness, and it looks like I am downsizing into a smaller space (July 5) anyway.  I haven't seen Airbnb ask homewoners outside its system to offer space, and I don't think it would.  I haven't seen "Emergency BNB" answer the hurricanes yet.  

The radical hospitality issue long distance becomes much more relevance if there were an enemy-induced event (nuclear, for example) in one city, making an area permanently uninhabitable.  The US is not ready for that. 

What about moral obligations?  I know the libertarian argument.  Why should we support people deliberately living in danger zones?  But our economy depends on people being willing to live on coastal plains.  I was employed in Dallas for 10 years with no incidents.  What if the same job were in Houston now?  I agree, people can choose where they live carefully. In NYC, for example, Hell’s Kitchen is safer than Greenwich Village, because Hell’s Kitchen is higher (both have gay life).  Lower Queens and Brooklyn are very exposed, as we learned from Sandy.  Generally lower income people don’t have the luxury of living in safer places.

It’s easy to imagine a system of expected volunteerism, that employers could expect to see on resumes.  That might include openness to more radical stints involving sacrifice.. 

I can even imagine how in the future this could affect online reputation and the willingness of others to do business with you.  We’re already seeming examples of people being doxed or marked for engaging in hate speech (postings here Aug. 17 and Aug. 19)   Maybe indeed people could have to “earn” the “privilege of being listened to” to keep their presence  This might apply more to privately owned sites than just to social media accounts – and in fact, until about 2005, that was really what “online reputation” was all about, and what companies (like Cloudflare) could be more sensitive about again. 
I’d add one other no-no, besides “hate speech” as we usually see it (and which the Left is trying to expand as mere neglect) – that is “combativeness”, going outside the rule of law. 

Update:  Sept. 11

"The Survival Mom" on Facebook weighs in here.

Update: Sept. 12

Richard Cohen talks about breaking down our social bubbles with national service, also talks about th draft, which he doesn't think can ever come back.  But the problem is national service could be continue intermittently for all age groups if someone wanted o push it. 

Update: Sept. 14

WJLA7 in Washington reports on people doing 3-week volunteer camp-outs in the Caribbean islands but did not have a URL for the story.

Update: Sept. 24

There is an important article and discussion on The Survivor Mom's Facebook thread about the situation in SE Texas, with comments about the supposed ineffectiveness of the Red Cross, link here

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Facebook admits selling ads from probably fraudulent Russian accounts during 2016 election

Several hundred Facebook accounts apparently based in Russia (especially St. Petersburg) spent $100,000 or more on ads aimed at potential Trump voter bases on issues like gun control, race, and even gay rights, during the 2016 election, especially toward the end.  ABCNews has a typical story by Jake Pearson et al from the AP, here.   Facebook made the “admission” Wednesday.
The gay rights issue is troubling because of Russia’s 2013 anti-gay propaganda law, and because Trump personally has not been anti-gay (even if some of his appointees are). It’s troubling that a foreign power with an authoritarian government would try to stir up hate and resentment in the U.S.

The recent disclosure fits into the “fake news” debate, and the tendency of social media users to live in their own bubbles, which outside interests can exploit.  
The story also reminds me of the furor from 2004-2005 when pundits claimed that campaign finance reform laws could interfere with political blogs that are written for free, a controversy that accidentally caught on to me when I worked as a substitute teacher. 

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Ars Technica offers major article on Backpage and Section 230

Timothy B Lee of Ars Technica has written a detailed article analyzing the proposals in Congress to weaken Section 230 to make it easier for states to go after websites that host sex trafficking ads.  The link is here. Lee reports that the bills seem to have considerable traction in Congress. Lee also adds the libertarian argument that the laws are not likely to reduce sex trafficking but will drive it underground.  Backpage allegedly developed a way to accept questionable ads with keywords. 

I’ll consider looking at this and probably will expand in detail on Wordpress soon. 

But Lee’s analysis suggests it is mainly a narrow range of websites at most risk.  He doesn’t consider shared web hosting companies (like Blue Host) and whether they could be at more risk.  There are ideas that some websites would be required to add adult-id for sign-in, a debate that we had with COPA a decade ago.  But there have been some advances in this area that could make it more practical, as we see with the video-editing company VidAngel. 
This is a changing story,  with lots of wrinkles that can evolve with technology.  Lee’s byline does say that Section 230 is viewed as a legal cornerstone of the Internet economy.

None of my sites require user logon.  One site allows credit card processing which is managed by a third party with encryption and PGP. I suppose it's possible to add adult-id to that but the whole topic needs a close look. 
I still like Ashton Kutcher's idea, "Real men don't buy girls."  Kutcher is one of my favorite tech and Hollywood executives. 

Friday, September 01, 2017

OK, let the radical Left tell its side of the story

Here is an interview on Vox by Sean Illing of Vox with Daryle Jenkins, “meet antifa’s self-appointed spokesperson”. 

He says most of his activity is non-physical.  But he does talk about doxing (and about being doxed). He “names names” of White supremacists to employers and to others who would want to know. He talks of himself as a journalist.  The press does identify people charged with crimes;  as a blogger, I generally don’t name obscure people associated with bad behavior to search engines unless there is a court conviction or overwhelming evidence.  

But it seems that some (alt-right) groups have to be stopped, or to be shown they are not credible or deserve to be on the stage, he implied.

Truth-out claims that Antifa organized assistance in Houston  but others claim “left wing activists” are misrepresenting their calls for charitable assistance. 

Mark Karlin on Truth-out interviews Charles Derber on “universalizing politics” along with resistance and revolution (and probably eventual coercive expropriation).