Monday, March 26, 2018

Multiple public safety and systemic security problems -- and foreign misuse -- threaten the environment that enables user-generated content; is "gratuitous speech" a problem? It's not just Backpage

This Monday morning, I give myself a pep-talk, maybe like the song “Soliloquy” in the musical “Carousel.” (Movies blog, Dec.. 30, 2016). 
I ask myself, what do I have to “sell” to real people, whose needs or wants are met if they pay for it  The endgame (rather like pawn promotion) comprises two or three major elements.  One is a couple of big music pieces of mine, the two large sonatas, with some smaller component miniatures – because they are post-romantic and address certain compositional problems, I think they could get an audience, if I could complete producing them technically (with some assistance). They could be real crowd pleasers.  Yup, I can fantasize about Poisson Rouge or 930 Club.  But they would go outside the usual loop of how works are commissioned (to give composers income) and that’s a problem right off the bat. 

Another component is the novel, “Angel’s Brother”, which I have finally started the charting off (to find any loose ends).  And the layered screenplay “Epiphany” of my three books as backstories to a sci-fi plot on a space station, with an outer plot setup that loosely resembles “Crypto” (which I supported and which is due this summer). Both pieces give an original take on "are we alone?" and answer "who are the angels?"' but by today's standards of intersectional political correctness may see, too elitist and exclusionary.  There isn't room for everybody on the ark, after all.

dSo, you ask, why do I keep blogging the news?  I have long seen that as a way to become known (and I think it has worked), as an alternate path to success since I missed out on the more usual opportunities from the music or film establishments.  But of course, that’s dicey.  We don’t want to see the world as a zero-sum game, but of course for new actors to succeed, the established companies and celebrities have to risk distraction from newbies with lower costs.

But I think I have established value as an independent commentator (quasi journalist), as I keep covering potential existential problems that the mainstream media sleeps on (for example, EMP) –  possible real threats that are no less real just because only conservative media pays attention to them. 

Succeeding will require a lot of focus and self-discipline on my part. It means a lot more travel, and not postponing trips that I know I need to get done, just because there is another demonstration in town. (That means staying connected when on the road, despite issues with the TSA and airline reliability.)  It is also, quite frankly, to function as another group’s “volunteer” or particularly to join in “action” with the supervision of other groups and their branding.  Making time for that was always a problem in the past when I was working in a conventional job full time, often with unpaid overtime;  it seems to have gotten harder now.

Such is part of the problem with various plans to regulate who can be heard on the Internet.  The threats are many.  Most recently, the Backpage scandal (the first major erosion of Section 230 or #CDA230), resulting in FOSTA (especially the March 19 post).  Others include net neutrality repeal (probably overhyped), but especially the “scandals” over mass abuse of our social media (especially Facebook recently) by foreign interests  In some cases, even local situations (like zoning or condo bylaws) could have the potential to be disruptive.  I spend a lot of time “watching my back” and this interferes with “getting done” – so that there really is more time for “others”.  "Doing the work" is one thing, but the idea of whether a self-deployment plan remains permissible is another. 

Yesterday, I put up review of a working session on free speech and the First Amendment at UVa and the Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville (same blog as noted) with Nadine Strossen and John Whitehead. One idea that kept coming out was subject matter independence and viewpoint neutrality, as buttressed in what may be said and disseminated in the public square.  In fact, Strossen wants Facebook and social media sites to become neutral again in what they pipe to their users – although that could wreck their advertising business models. 

But the other problem seems to be the way the public views the connection between content and the identity and apparent purposes of the speaker.  This idea has much less legal traction (in the COPA trial in 2007 in Philadelphia, the concept was called “implicit content”) than other better known ideas in tort and statutory law, but it does seem to appeal to populists.  The most obvious current example, for example, is that neo-Nazis should not be allowed to speak at all. (Hence, the Twitter Purge in December.)  But I am finding a much more subtle problem, the idea that individuals should not be allowed the floor unless they have a socially favorable purpose.  I could call this the "Pharisee Problem";  I’ve covered this before, in my DADT III book in February 2014 (the subtitle “Speech is a Fundamental Right; Being Listened to Is a Privilege”), and in other essays (“The Privilege of Being Listened to, back in 2005, which figured into that substitute teaching scandal I have talked about).  In fact, it seems that right after publication of DADT-III, the world seemed to take big turns overseas (with Russia, ISIS, and the BLM demonstrations at home), undermining Obama’s presidency and helping set up a “whitelash” that could allow Trump to win, after foreign elements continued to divide Americans, taking advantage of the aloofness of elites like me to what was really going on in the world of “street smarts”. (And, by the way, isn’t it chilling, in retrospect, what the Russian 2013 anti-gay law foreshadowed?)

The most glaring objection to my own style of speech is that it is “gratuitous”.  It doesn’t pay its own way and meet the needs of real people as customers.  Instead, it expects to be found passively from search engines and word of mouth (it often is, and this idea really worked well in the 1998-2003 time period) and affect policy and conceivable in some cases elections.  To some extent (most of all on the “gays in the military” issue and how I argued it, referring to military conscription in the past) it really worked.  It takes a great amount of work to maintain the blogs and content, as well as “watching my back”.  Of course, this is all “in retirement” (at age 74), rather like “in relief” (from the bullpen) in baseball, perhaps. 

Arguably, I could be “expected” to use my resources in retirement in collectively defined goals for others – volunteering (as supervised by others) and taking sides and joining groups for specific causes (the recent March for our Lives, however spectacular and compelling, is just still “one” issue that would take capital away from others).  I also know the argument, if I had kids (that is, previous intercourse with women – sorry, Stormy Daniels, I wouldn’t have been interested!) I would have more of my own “skin in the game” to take sides. (Look at the comment to  libertarian writer Timothy B. Lee here, it seems relevant.)  Yup, keeping my own “brand” separate from others could mean that other activist groups are weaker than they might otherwise be.  I am the low cost competition that the “Hollywood” of activism sees as a problem, disruptive to solidarity, even “counter-revolutionary”.  Yup, I see shades of Marxism in some of the bombastic “donate” and “take action” emails that I get, some of them sounding threatening, that I will be personally silenced soon.  (The emails from “Truth-out”, even though their articles are often provocative, are among the most offensive.)   Sometimes I get the impression a few people think that “I” am “the Russians”! . 
So, we come down to the idea that you could make the world “safer” and force more attention real-world help for the disadvantaged, if you limited the floor to speakers on the Internet.  Thought experiments and speculations abound.  But one “obvious” idea is requiring strict vetting of anyone before they have a social media account, or even their own domain name.  That could mean requiring not only identification the way banks do (and that is not absolutely foolproof, as we know, from identity theft scams), and possibly hefty personal liability insurance (see posting March 23).  That would shut me down, of course, and shut me up, and force me to “join up” and “enlist” (and “resist”) – although you might not like which side I choose.  In fact, the mechanisms to do and enforce anything like this are not very well set up (as I have covered on previous posts), fortunately.  And it’s pretty obvious that such a measure would destroy the value of many tech companies, as Wall Street sees them, and destroy a lot of tech jobs.  Many companies would indeed fold and disappear, inasmuch as they would no longer have workable business models.  This may sound like going back to the world of the early 90s and before, when self-distribution was not possible for most people.  It was a world where the well-established interests could keep out the newbies and force individuals to “rightsize” themselves by their rules (which labor unions and guilds loved).  This sounds a lot like China or perhaps Singapore today.  You can’t say, however, that an economy where individuals have less sway and are forced into enlistment can’t work.  Look at China’s success and disdain for western free speech.
But the challenges to the world of spontaneous speech as we know it are mounting (Facebook’s[not Backpage or Net Neutrality] strikes me as the most serious), and the real debate is more about who the speakers are than what the content is.  The permissive “Wild West” atmosphere has indeed allowed many bad actors to jeopardize the safety of the less well-off, and like it or not, that has become bad karma for the rest of us, including me. It's certainly possible to say that the idea that everyone of us can get recognition for our own "TV stations" and therefore need not share the goals of others in some kind of structure could turn out to be a grand illusion. 

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