Thursday, August 22, 2019

Facebook still has unintended bias (against conservatives) from living inside its own "Klein bottle" bubble


Senator Jon Kyl (T-AZ) has issued a “Covington Interim Report” concerning Facebook’s internal audit of whether it is biased against conservatives.  Note that the PDF was uploaded to a wordpress.com subsite – interesting to know that this can be done.  
  
Much of the apparent censorship seems circumstantial.  Well-intended policies to limit bullying, or to discourage the streaming of violent acts or hate, may be more likely to affect some conservatives in today’s political climate. Some of the content moderation would be viewed as acceptable under normal interpretation of Section 230.


For example, showing medical tubes attached to bodies would allow pro-life groups to present some additional material.

Politico describes the report in an article by Steven Overly. 

Politico mentions the non-profit “Color of Change”, as critical of FB for not recognizing hidden, stochastic dangers really dependent on race. I generally don’t get involved with groups that try to claim enhanced group-level oppression and focus on groups and not individuals.
  
Jon Kyl also has an article in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, “Why conservatives don’t trust Facebook”. 
  
Facebook is so deeply in its pseudo-theological bubble that it can’t see out of it. “Bias doesn’t mean intent”.

I do think the issue I ran into in the fall of 2018 promoting my article on the power grid on my Facebook page had something to do with the belief it was “conservative”.  Also the prodding to run fundraisers for non-profits.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

R. Derek Black's narrative; tribalism on the far Left shadows the far right with different parameters


Here are a couple of stories concerning R. Derek Black, raised and home-schooled by a white supremacist. 
  
The NPR story (Sept 2018) traces his own change of heart, once he left home, but explains the roots of the ideology. 

On Monday Aug 12, Derek had an opinion piece in USA Today, page 9A, about El Paso and how his origins think about the incident.

He says his own family isn’t guiltless, and neither is Donald Trump. He also says that the W.S. “movement” is in disarray and disintegrating into lone wolf actors.


But he also refers to the successive de-platformings and even payment processor and bank account terminations which have happened not only to organizations or groups but also to individuals sometimes believed incorrectly to be associated with the “movement”.  In fact, with the individuals involved, none of them (except maybe for Richard Spencer) advocate ethnic homelands (following the model of the Middle East).  A few of them, while conservative, actually have supported LGBTQ equality.

In the post yesterday, I talked about the ideas of Herbert Marcuse, and his idea that free speech is a kind of control for those already having privilege, and that being oppressed is a virtue that justifies revolution and taking back power. The idea sounds literally like the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in Leninism, and shows a parallel between European authoritarianism in World War II (Fascism v Communism) and a comparable shadow today, where various groups claim they are entitled to take what is theirs (although the extreme right has the additional historical strike of slavery and segregation on the books).
   
There are disturbing situations going on known to me, where there is a lot of “guilt by association”.  I still believe that any ideology can be presented in public, even Marcuse’s, even if the latter could be dangerous to me personally.
  
 Black may not be quite right on the "very fine people on both sides" thing with Charlottesville;  PragerU explained that (cf blog, Aug. 11)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Marcuse, asymmetry, and the modern "regressive Left": they can remold the world in such a way I don't belong in it


Why is the “regressive Left” so intolerant of normal free speech of others, even of moderates? 
   
There are many papers around that trace the ideology to philosophy professor Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School.  For example, consider Dinesh D’Souza in the Daily Signal.  Ulysses Alvarez Laviada (who apparently likes gender fluidity personally) has an even more detailed explanation on Medium.  This seems to describe a very dangerous ideology indeed. 
     
The basic idea seems to be existential.  The “oppressed” (whether a religious, racial, sexual, or simply exploited worker minority) must become combative in order to survive. Once there is a privileged, oppressing class exploiting visible minorities (which may be race-based, or may be just class, as with the original Russian revolutions), tolerance and free speech become tools for staying in power and retaining order.


You see this in arguments and tweets (some sent to me) which maintain that the lower-level left-wing violence (Antifa groups) is acceptable because the extreme right creates a much bigger threat for loss of life or further abuse of already oppressed groups. So the “both sides” depiction falls apart.  Moderate speakers and journalists are hounded to put down their pens and take action and join fights for the oppressed.  Journalism gets viewed as violating Burning Man’s “no spectators”, or “skin in the game” moral paradigms.

Another way to put it, is that (in the view of the authoritarian Left) being oppressed makes you morally superior and automatically gives you reparative privileges.  To counter oppressive speech, you are allowed some violence, and it isn’t nihilistic.

Once there is this kind of asymmetry in the way different groups in society function, free speech comes to be seen as destabilizing.  That’s why China is now a fairly successful and stable country now for most of its people, as it suppresses speech (Hong Kong extradition now) and urges citizens to mind their own local business in collectives.  I wouldn’t want to live there.  But it makes some sense.



  
On my first job as a young adult, at RCA in Princeton NJ (David Sarnoff Labs) in Princeton NJ in 1970, I had a co-worker who liked to talk about Marcuse.  He was straight and married, but noted that men can only “shake hands” to interact. In 1972, I ran into Marcuse-like ideas at the People's Party of New Jersey, that made no bones about revolution in private meetings and saw me as an oppressor for merely being employed as a "salaried professional".  In 1973, I came out again. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

New York Times LTE's suggest that journalism is public service and could be supported by philanthropy


The New York Times has useful LTE’s today to a weekend (Aug 4) column “A Future Without a Front Page” (Steve Waldman, Charkes Sennott) which describes local journalism as national service, with an effort called “Report for America”. This is certainly interesting, and it may be an opportunity I should look into given my current circumstances, described before.

One of the LTE’s says that philanthropy should support journalism.  It discusses the Charles F. Revson Foundation


Another, noting Youngstown, Ohio’s loss of a paper (I was recently there, or in Warren) suggests that laws need to change to make it easier for newspapers to become non-profits.
  
Again, I have worked, “for free”, almost, on my own in retirement and even I am “accused” of low-balling non-profits and professional journalists.  That is one of the reasons for what is going on in the EU with the Copyright Directive, same model.  On the other hand, consider the open access debate (Saturday).

Sunday, August 18, 2019

FCC fines Jimmy Kimmel for fake "emergency broadcast" intended to make fun of Trump


The FCC has fined Jimmy Kimmel over $400000 for broadcasting an emergency broadcast tone as a jole when there was no emergency, as a way to make fun of Donald Trump. The same has happened with "The Walking Dead". 


This is illegal over broadcast or cable services.  Buzzfeed News reported the story, and the FCC has a specific warning.  It could cause confusion among consumers and emergency services.  I don't know if this applies to social media livestreams, but it probably does. 
    
But the incident does underscore the concern some people may have over giving the FCC more censorship powers in Trump’s proposed executive order.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Elsevier subscription costs for academic journals now a challenge to universities


In July, The University of California terminated discussions about subscription from Reed Elsevier, the Books in Print people, over high subscription rates.  The UC says this is very difficult for professors, students (both graduate and undergraduate) and possibly other community efforts like science fairs (as Jack Andraka – now at Stanford – has often argued with many tweets and public talks and in the film “Science Fair”).


The UC July link leads to a second article at UC August 2, which is quite detailed as to discussions and the use of copyright law.
  
The San Jose Mercury News had reported this matter in detail in March.
  
Tom Donoghue has an important tweet on his own research being affected. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Legacy publishers, as well as independent creators, now complain about advertiser (keyword-based) blacklists on controversial or important news content


The Wall Street Journal notes in a story by Suzanne Vranica (front page) that “Advertiser blacklists hobble publishers”.  

Advertisers have long lists of keywords that they don’t want to appear in articles (online or possibly print) next to ads.

One of the most commonly banned words is “Trump”.
  
David Pakman and to some extent Tim Pool and Ford Fischer have repeatedly noted that YouTube has shunned monetizing issue- or politically oriented videos from independent creators in favor of legacy media (which is more likely to be leftist but does include Fox).  But the Wall Street Journal article maintains that newspapers and legacy larger media companies are now having a problem with getting ads placed near important news stories. 
    
Some publishers (like Vice Media) are starting to refuse blacklists of some words, especially those relating to LGBTQ content or to faith-based content. 
  
  
On Blogger, I have found more posts don't get ads in the past two or three years.  But some posts with very sensitive content still do.  I segregate some of the most sensitive content to twp separate blogs ("cf" and "fil") to reduce the effect. 
 
What seems so notable to me is that the corporate world (including the social media companies) are uncomfortable that so many “intellectuals” and “individualists” (who like to spout their theories on YouTube and blogs) have decreasing interest in consumerism, social solidarity, and often organized charity.  I noticed this in the job market as early as maybe 2002 and the following years, where I would be contacted to see if I wanted to sell life insurance (and other financial things) since I had spent 12 years in IT in the business, and were met with a degree of diffidence from me.  Wasn’t that my expertise?
  
This is also a good time to make a note about YouTube subscriptions.  David Pakman has noted that some of them “disappear”.  Subscriptions only through YouTube don’t result in charges.  If you “subscribe” through Patreon or Subscribestar, then you are charged, which on many channels allows you to see additional content.  Other channels don’t to this, and regard this as a form of crowdfunding.  A number of months ago, the banning of some persons from Patreon and the difficulties Subscribestar had getting allowed to use payment processors when persons kicked off Patreon tried to use it, created controversy last winter and now has resulted in some FTC investigation. But the difference between truly paying for content and offering patronage could itself become controversial in the future, and I expect to get into this again.  Having a single corporate sponsor for a video is a way to "pay" for it, perhaps more legitimate than "clickbait" advertising. 
  
Update: Aug. 18 

Here's a story from the Guardian on how the "Advertising Standards Authority" in the UK banned ads for Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Volkswagen for "gender stereotyping." 




Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Tumblr sold by Verizon to Wordpress owner for almost nothing


Verizon is selling the blogging platform Tumblr to Automattic, the owner of Wordpress, for a very nominal amount.  The Verge story by Julia Alexander is here.  

Tumblr was known for terse, photo-heavy personal blogs.  But in December it attracted attention when it decided to ban “adult” content, which was thought to hurt LGBTQ creators.
  
  
It’s a good question, whether the platform will be combined with Wordpress technically, with some sort of plugin manipulation.  Will Tumblr users be offered a conversion tool to convert to Wordpress? 
  
When AOL discontinued Hometown in 2007, Blogger offered a conversion tool.
But it is hard to see how free Blogging platforms make money in the age of social media.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

YouTube seems to be inconsistent on demonetization, giving slack to biggest independent creators


The Washington Post, in an article by Elizabeth Dwoskin, reports on YouTube’s inconsistent moderation and monetization standards, and maintains big stars like Pewdiepie and Logan Paul get “wrist slaps” and are allowed to go back to their usual business because they generate so much revenue for YouTube.  

ArsTechnica has a similar article here

The article also describes the difficulties in content moderation, which is becoming unsustainable.
  
Another problem is inconsistent culture.  Probably a majority of mainstream adult viewers are not offended or very sensitive to videos that marginalized communities call out. Pewdiepie is a good example, as most viewers see his games and animation as satire or plain entertainment and don’t see it as prodding the right wing. It’s hard work to be a consistent entertainer who can bring in so much revenue with video that is of good technical quality. OK, Logan Paul wants do push hyper-masculinity.  Maybe some of us need that.  Prager U will approve. 


The article also notes that the FTC is already regulating some social media issues (despite the controversy over Trump’s intended executive order, yesterday’s post).

David Pakman, in particular, has noted that YouTube seems to be trying to drive viewers to “ad safe” content from larger companies and legacy creators.  But there also seems to be an underlying political motivation.  There is a belief that independent creators are diluting viewer hours and causing layoffs and job losses in more guilded legacy companies.  Non-profits and activists, especially on the left, complain that independent creators dilute activism and solidarity and tend to get in the way of getting political change to happen.  YouTube (and Facebook, recently, too, with its plan to have a legacy news page and to make its normal user interaction more ephemeral) seem to be taking the position that “do it yourself” activism may not be such a good thing and that people with strong egos need to reconsider their priorities.

Tim Pool (Timcast) also weighs in here. He mentions low-profile conservatives getting banned. That can happen to me, although I have an "unusual" business model which refuses to "play ball" with conventional activists (who really want me to join them). 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Trump considers Executive Order putting the FCC in charge of monitoring social media censorship


Trump is reportedly considering issuing an executive order that would place regulation of Internet monitoring by large social media sites under the FCC or FTC. 


The order reportedly claims to protect speakers from unreasonable censorship (especially of conservatives, in practice).
  
Brian Fung has a discussion of the order on CNN Business. 

Fight for the Future (known for its opposition to Trump’s rolling back net neutrality) is claiming that the XO would enable any censorship Trump wants, petition site. 

Gizmodo expresses similar concerns in an article by Melanie Ehrenkranz and suggests that social networks might actually shut down with greatly weakened Section 230.  But it is hard to see how the FCC could really do very much with this bureaucracy.

EFF notes a recent Second Circuit ruling (Sophia Cope and Aaron Mackey) that says Section 230 protects Facebook from downstream liability in a case involving Hamas.  Other circuit rulings cited were weaker and predicated on the credibility of specific claims of harms. 

Friday, August 09, 2019

Americans arrested abroad for social media or other online content; how big a problem?



The Washington Post, in a story by Sudarsan Raghavan, reports that a dual American citizen Egyptian national Reem Mohamed Desouky, who works as a teacher in Lancaster PA, was arrested and detained in Cairo when she arrived with her 13 year old son, for “administering social media accounts critical of the regime”.

Egypt, like many authoritarian countries, has strict laws against criticizing the regime, believing that “free speech” leads to uncontrollable civil unrest. It has arrested other travelers, as from Lebanon.  What is less clear is if it would arrest Americans or foreigners who are not Egyptian. 

The question needs to be asked before traveling to any authoritarian country.

There would also be a question as to whether this policy applies only to major social media platforms, but also to hosted websites.
  
  
For example, I might be arrested if I traveled to one of these countries (or tried to visit China) as it would be simple for authorities to check my “online reputation” in search engines.
  
Since I have announced a massive scale-back of my online presence to happen at the end of 2021 (in about 28 months) travel to these countries might be conceivable afterwards.  But the Internet archive could also be checked.
   
It’s worth looking at the video above to know whether you can be prosecuted for violations of US laws when traveling overseas (if you are from the US). Sometimes you can.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

European limits on free speech and campus attitudes affecting social media companies big time


Melissa Eddy and Aurelien Breeden have a thoughtful article on p. A12 of the New York Times on Wednesday, Aug. 8, “Studying Europe’s Laws After Manifestos Revive the Free Speech Debate”, or, online, “The El Paso Shooting Revived the Free Speech Debate; Europe Has Limits”, link

“Free speech” is supposed to be a human right in Germany and France but the constitutions allow more explicit limitations on speech. European law tends to ban speech intended to provoke hatred for members of specific groups.  Marine Le Pen, who was a candidate for prime minister, is now being prosecuted for disseminating hateful messages available to a minor (like the former US COPA law) when she posted images of ISIS violence on Twitter.


But members of groups comprising people who feel they are marginalized and unable to compete as individuals because of group prejudice, want to shut down exposure to speech that they see as hurtful.  This is sometimes particularly true with gender and sexuality related issues.  We’ve gotten familiar with the problems of “speech codes” and “microaggressions” from woke universities, and these are affecting the perception of what should be acceptable speech in social media or even constitutionally protected in some countries.  These in turn affect what speech social media companies and advertisers see as acceptable in the US, because content is seen abroad.
  
Groups even see some legitimate topics, like population demographics or low birth rates in some countries, as motivated by racism, at least indirectly.   Such views could inhibit necessary discussion of what is behind anti-gay laws or beliefs in countries like Poland and Russia, where there a low birthrate issues and “replacement” fears in some right-wing groups.

Update: later Aug 8

Ben Collins of NBCNews reports that the White House will meet with tech executives on online extremism Friday Aug 9, link

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

NYTimes offers pessimistic view of how to deal with (especially right wing) domestic extremism



I discussed the NYTimes editorial on the Issues blog, but now I see the NYTimes print headline that produced outrage, “Trump urges unity vs. racism”, link.  (Umair Haque continued this story on Medium.)
  
The New York Times continues a discussion which, in my own setup, I placed first on my “Bill on Major Issues” blog Sunday, with an article by Nicole Perlroth et al 

The article is correct in that in practice it is harder for law enforcement and the criminal justice system to ferret out true terror dangers from white supremacy than it was for radical Islam, because the former is closer to our own political power center, and because of the “stochastic terrorism” risk inherent in memes, dog whistles (which change) and the difficulties in drawing lines as to what is acceptable behavior, where attitudes about personal association are less private in the Internet age and can have insidious public consequences.


It’s also true that gun control alone will not remove threats which could be carried out in other ways (in Japan there was an arson incident; in Sweden, as Tim Pool has pointed out, there have been grenades). But there is no excuse for Congress’s not implementing some reasonable gun control reforms.

The article mentions that the scale of tech platforms makes it impossible to draw lines effectively in policing inciteful speech, and that the supposed tech prejudice against conservatives may be deceptive because the extreme right generally has more capacity to create extreme damage than the extreme left (Antifa notwithstanding, or even Dayton).

Tim Pool, above, refutes Trump's placing emphasis on the "dangers" of video games.  Pewdiepie and Minecraft are not a problem. 

The problem does have to do with the problems with a hyperindividualistic society in which many people simply cannot function as expected, so they tend to rejoin tribes where they find more sense of purpose.  Our problems may not be so much with racism as with cognitive ableism.

Update:  Aug 9

The Wall Street Journal offers an op-ed by Clint Watts as a Saturday essay on how to fight specifically bottom-up domestic terrorism. It notes that extremists have been driven into corners by major social media. 

Update: Aug 12

From USA Today, here is an op-ed by R. Derek Black, "This is how white nationalists think about shootings", p 5A in the print edition (I bough it today), tricky URL.   However the deplatformings and payment processor cutoffs he supports have ensnared people who are not white nationalists by the usual meaning. 

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Journalist exposes a small "entrepreneur" whose business model is plagiarizing academic papers



The journalist Bostwiki tells a story about the values of journalists. “F***ing Over People: The Truth About Journalism”.


The writer, who is quite handsome, slender and probably late 20s, talks (as he walks around Greenville SC) about an incident where he convinced someone who wrote fake academic papers for a living (called a "paper mill").  His story on Yahoo is here 

In the early days of my own websites, I learned of three or four instances where people (or teachers) claimed my online essays (in those days on flat sites) had been plagiarized.  These might have been found by Turnitin.
  
Imagine the consequences had this happened when I worked as a substitute teacher 2004-2007.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Reason magazine has a useful video on right of publicity and "unauthorized biographies"



Eugene Volokh, First Amendment law professor at UCLA, provides Reason TV useful practical advice forum on writing books or making movies about other people (even) without their permission.


The “right of publicity” of a public figure would not prevent the making of an “unauthorized biography” by, for example, a new author.  It would preclude claiming the person’s endorsement of the book.

Volokh gives some outlier cases involving comic books (which seem a bit more jealously guarded, maybe because of the political influence of big entertainment companies like Marvel) and fantasy sports leagues on the Internet.  The latter reminds me of a fantasy sports “league” I and neighborhood kids formed in the 1950s, in an era where there was a lot more outdoor play and physical creativity (like making cardboard stadiums and real whiffleball fields with appropriate outfield fences).

Laws may be different in Europe, where “the right to be forgotten” plays in. 
   
It's also important to ponder, in the Internet age of social media and search engines, who has the "right" to claim to be a public figure if he wants to be. (If you claim it, then it is harder for you to win a libel case.  And what it you are an "accidental" public figure like one of the Covington kids?) 
    
I’ve had maybe three times when people asked me not to name them on my websites, where search engines would find them.  In one case, I removed a name from a footnote file of the image of my first DADT book (1997, 2000) but it cannot be removed from the book itself. There is a practical issue that obscure authors could make otherwise less visible people “famous” because of search engines and this issue has been around since Web 1.0. 

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Pakman's knockdown by CNN during livestream of debate raises questions that ought to be settled law


On Wednesday, July 31, I embedded David Pakman’s video of his having a livestream of the CNN Democratic debates stopped (on the TV blog).  Pakman reported getting a formal three month copyright strike from YouTube after a manual complaint from someone at CNN, and also being the target of a malicious tweet calling him a pirate.

Today Pakman reports that the copyright strike has been reversed. He did the second night livestream on Twitch without incident.  I’m a little confused if you need separate Twitch membership to his channel to join the chat.


But the big question still remains:  can one network monopolize rights to carry a political debate from candidates for national office?  How does copyright law apply?  Could the Copyright office change the policy if CASE eventually passes?

Did the Democratic Party of DNC give CNN exclusive right to carry the debates?  It sounds like it is very much against the public interest if it did so, and the DNC is giving in to Wall Street and big media if it did, and behaving hypocritically (big surprise). 
  
But it is common for persons who film pubic events (like outdoor protests and demonstrations) to own the exclusive rights for their own film, and to license the film to documentary film companies or to larger news outlets for broadcast.  It is possible to do this and still allow the YouTube video to be embedded for free in blog posts (although that goes against the idea of paywalls and this practice could change if industry gets around to setting up bundled paywalls for consumers, which I have been advocating for having healthier business models).  Ford Fischer’s videos of protests are licensed this way (by News2Share).
  
 But we should not have controversy over livestreaming political debates with commentary.  Whether this is Fair Use ought to be settled law already,