• Deplatforming: Break Up the Teach Giants and Save Free Speech

    June 21, 2019 // 4 Comments »


     

    In an age of deplatforming and amid howls for censorship, the viability of free speech is at stake. Antitrust laws to break up the tech giants may be the last, best hope in this ideological war.

     

    The First Amendment doesn’t restrain censorship by private social media companies. Progressives today revel in their new-found power to enforce their own opinions through deplatforming. That only works because the platforms matter as near-monopolies; no one cares who gets kicked off MySpace. If you end the monopolies, you defang deplatforming. Trump is preparing to unleash the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as antitrust warriors against the tech giants. That just might save the ability to hear ideas outside of echo chambers of bullied consensus.

    For much of American history media published things (on paper, then on radio, movies, TV, art shows, the Internet, etc.) and the First Amendment as law and as a cultural touchstone protected political thought. Nice thoughts you and your grandma agreed with and vile thoughts from ideologies your grandpa fought against. As in “I disagree with what you say, but will fight for your right to defend it.”

    Then social media hit some kind of cultural saturation point around the 2016 election. People couldn’t produce and consume enough opinion, and even traditional media dumped old-timey reporting in favor of doing stories based on what others posted online. It was a mighty climax for the Great Experiment in Free Speech, no filters, no barriers, a global audience up for grabs. Say something interesting and you went viral, your thoughts forever alongside Edward R. Murrow’s, Rachael Maddow’s, and the candidate herself.

    Donald Trump then did away with near-universal agreement over the right to speak, driven by a false belief too much free speech helped him get unjustly elected. Americans began not just to tolerate, but to demand, censorship to protect them. First they came for Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik, and few shed a tear. When Twitter initially dragged its feet banning Alex Jones, a “journalist” from CNN helpfully dug through Jones’ tweets to find examples of where he broke the rules. Free speech had been weaponized, using platforms like YouTube to put Alex Jones’ thoughts alongside Edward R. Murrow’s, Rachael Maddow’s, and the candidate herself.

    Jones (and soon Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, Ann Coulter on campus, et al) had few friends outside his own supporters, so it was easy to condone his deplatforming. But that was only round one. Progressives discovered those first deplatformed voices were just the tip of a white supremacist iceberg, a legion of hate that sought to stomp out immigrants, people of color, the 50% of the population who were women, all shades of LGBT, and perhaps democracy itself. And what was fueling this dirty fire, allowing these men to organize (what the Bill of Rights calls “freedom of assembly” the deplatforming community calls “coordinative power”), raise money, and spread their bile (deplatformers call it red pilling)? Social media. Someone needed to do something about all this free speech before it was too late and America (re-)elected the wrong president again.

     

    Somewhere along the way progressives realized people who largely thought like them controlled key platforms in America. Offline that included college campuses. Jeff Bezos could simply buy the Washington Post to silence some voices and amplify others. Advertisers could shift corporate funds to put political thought they disliked out of business. Authors could have books pulled and lose long-standing contracts. And none were bound by the 1A. But social media was where the real action was. Twitter, with a tweet, could silence what once were inalienable rights. The sparse haiku clarity of the First Amendment was replaced with groaning Terms of Service that meant whatever the mob wanted them to mean. The freedom to speak on social media no longer existed independent of the content of speech. And thus the once loathed Heckler’s Veto, the shout-down, was reimagined as the righteousness of deplatforming, the online equivalent of actually punching Nazis to silence them. And the 1A bullies were thirsty.

    So there was nothing to prevent deplatforming journalist Steven Crowder for calling Vox writer Carlos Maza a “lispy queer Latin” on YouTube. In fact, Maza successfully campaigned across social media to get YouTube to demonetize the other journalist when the site initially hesitated. YouTube then announced an update to its hate speech policy broadly prohibiting “videos alleging a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion” and deleted the classic documentary studied in every film school, Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 Triumph of the Will. YouTube also deplatformed history teachers for uploading archive material related to Adolf Hitler, saying they breached the new guidelines banning hate speech.

    The site previously sent entire genres down the Memory Hole, banning “videos promoting or glorifying racism and discrimination.” That purge deplatformed News2Share, a site which covered everything from pro-Assange protests to 2A supporters rumbling with Antifa. YouTube proudly asserts since 2017 it has reduced views of “supremacist” videos by 80%.

    Gab was threatened by Microsoft with the cancellation of its web domain because of two “offensive” posts made by a minor Republican candidate. Facebook/Instagram banned “white nationalist and separatist” content, including at one point documentaries from Prager University. It also deleted posts from veteran journalist Tim Shorrock criticizing the New York Times’ coverup of American support for previous South Korean dictatorships. Facebook allegedly now has an office dedicated to watching what its users do outside of Facebook, looking at their work as journalists, what they say off-line, what tattoos they have, to determine whether they should be allowed to participate on Facebook. Pintrest deplatformed groups and messed with searches involving anti-abortion content. Twitter in turn suspended the accounts of those who blew the whistle on Pinterest in retaliation.

    Google refused ads for a gala featuring Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, something they claimed was in violation of their policy on “race and ethnicity in personalized advertising.” Google company sees itself at the nexus of ideological war, declaring, “Although people have long been racist, sexist, and hateful in many other ways, they weren’t empowered by the Internet to recklessly express their views with abandon.”

    Google might soon add its terms of service to the First Amendment. A leaked document from the tech giant argues that because of a variety of factors, including the election of Donald Trump, what we call the “American tradition” of free speech may no longer be viable. The report lays out how Google can serve as the world’s “Good Censor,” a stern hall monitor figure protecting us from harmful content and, by extension, dangerous behavior, like electing the wrong president again. And all this comes not a moment too soon — the Southern Poverty Law Center claims it has taken “blood in the streets for tech companies to take action.” More simply put, the group just says “tech supports hate.” There are many more examples of those deplatformed.

    But why wait for someone to commit hate speech when technology allows deletion when hate is largely still a thought crime? Google developed a tool called Perspective which aims to root out “hate speech” before it spreads. The software uses machine learning to spot “toxic” content in online conversations to preemptively redirect their trajectory. The tool, designed to monitor comments section, could also be deployed against content creation in real time. As you type.

    Websites too right of center have serially lost their web hosts and gone dark. Website security company Cloudflare “woke up … in a bad mood and decided to kick [a hate site] off the Internet.” On another site, parents who started a petition questioning their local school’s transgender policy were deplatformed. I was deplatformed by Twitter. There are many more examples. Mashable claimed overall 2018 was the year “we cleaned up the Internet,” while Vice announced deplatforming “works” and celebrated censorship of fellow journalists.

    A version of deplatforming has moved off-line as well. The ACLU — the ACLU which once stood by actual Nazis because the beautiful concept of free speech was so much more important than whatever dumb stuff those Nazis said in Skokie which no one remembers anyway– started applying an ideological/political litmus test to which free speech cases it would support following Charlottesville. Some people are now deplatformed out of the justice system.

    Though the bulk of deplatforming is aimed at right of center voices, there are examples from the left, often cited as “good news” that “see, this isn’t a progressive jeramaid.” But in fact more censorship is not a good thing for free speech, however equally distributed. And this is not as much a slippery slope question as it is ideological warfare. Progressives want to eliminate the opposing ideas. They have no problem with free speech that, for example, criticizes religion, or sends drag queens to read to children in public libraries. Flag burners are welcome! Conservatives, not so much.

     

    Two visions of free speech have overtaken America. One is now widely dismissed as dangerous because it fought for a marketplace of ideas that could include hate speech, while another danced a jig because America’s new censors are ideologically sympathetic corporations currently supporting the progressive agenda. The latter group is comprised of people (some 69% of American college students believe intentionally offensive language should be banned) seemingly unable to project a future where those corporate censors’ might support a different set of views. Instead, as a mob today they gleefully point to a viewpoint as “hate speech” and let @jack purify it away.

    It is very important to underline there is no law against hate speech. Hate speech is an umbrella term used by censorship advocates to describe anything they don’t want others to be able to listen to or watch. It is very flexible and thus very dangerous. As during the McCarthy-era in the 1950s when one needed only to label something “communist” to have it banned, so it is today with the new mark of “hate speech.” The upshot is that apart from some very narrow definitions of violence-inducing words, the obligation exists to the concept of free speech independent of the content of that speech. This is also one of the most fundamental precepts of free speech in a democracy. There need be no protections for saying things that people agree with, things that are not challenging or debatable or offensive; free speech is not really needed for the weather and sports parts of the news. Instead, free speech is there to allow for the most rude, offensive, hateful, challenging stuff you (or your neighbor, your political party, your government) can imagine.

    The Founding Fathers, themselves now seen as misogynist slave owners except the scrubbed version of Hamilton, had left a ticking time bomb inside the Bill of Rights. You in fact could not punch nazis to silence them without going to jail. The 1A protected hate speech! There is no justification for restricting speech so that people are not offended. Speech may offend, indeed that may be its point, but bad ideas are then defeated by better ideas. Yet today Google (and Facebook, Twitter, and their successors) seem to perceive these old ideas as more outmoded than the powdered wigs the Founders wore when they wrote them.

     

    What to do? Efforts to extend the First Amendment to entities like Facebook, arguing they are the new public squares (seven of 10 American adults use a social media site), have been unsuccessful.

    Trying to classify social media companies as “publishers” has also been unsuccessful. They insist they are “platforms.” They say they are like the phone company, which lets you talk to a friend but exercises zero control over what you say.

    Being a platform is desirable for Facebook and the others as they have no responsibility for the content they print, no need to create transparent rules or appeals processes for deplatforming, and users have no legal recourse. Publishers,on the other hand, are responsible for what they print, and can be taken to court if they print something libelous or maliciously false.

    Social media’s claim to be a platform and not a publisher is based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That section however was predicated on social media companies being neutral public forums in return for offering them legal protections against being sued over content they present. Companies like Twitter now want it both ways – they want the protection being a platform like the phone company offers but after the 2016 election they also want to ideologically manipulate their content as publishers do.

    Breaking through the platform-publisher question will require years of court battles. The growth of much of the web is driven by the lack of responsibility for the content third parties chuck online. It is a complex situation when applied to everything from knitting site hosts to Nazi forums, and across international borders.

    Yet social media entities’ control over speech is so significant a more immediate solution is demanded. Google owns 90% of the search market, three quarters of mobile and 70% of desktop browsing, and along with Facebook, 50% of online ads. YouTube dominates video. Facebook makes up two-thirds of all social media, with Twitter holding down most of the rest. Large enough on their own, the platforms also work in concert. One bans say Alex Jones, most of the others follow and then whomever is last to act is chided into action by the mob and threatened with advertiser boycotts. Eventually (as with Jones) Venmo and Paypal also cut them off.

    With legal and legislative solutions ineffectual for preserving free speech online, enter the major antitrust enforcement agencies of the executive branch. The Department of Justice is preparing to investigate Google’s parent company Alphabet, while the Federal Trade Commission is doing the same for Facebook. The goal may be to break the tech giants into multiple smaller companies, as was done at the dawn of mass electronic communication in America.

    Monopolies on speech first appeared as national media appeared, in the form of radio stations linked into networks. For the first time, an opinion expressed on air in New York was broadcast everywhere. The once-mighty Mutual Broadcasting System successfully filed a complaint which led to a Supreme Court battle claiming NBC and CBS controlled the national market. NBC was ultimately forced to split into two networks, Red and Blue. Regulation followed. The 1934 Communications Act required broadcast licensees to operate in the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.” This translated into things like the Fairness Doctrine, which requires broadcasters to cover politically important issues, ensuring various points of views are given equal time. The public-interest obligation also protects against one company controlling all the stations in a market.

    The end of social media mega-companies, with none big enough to silence effectively any significant amount of free speech, would be a clumsy fix for a problem the Founders never imagined – citizens demanding corporate censorship because they didn’t like the results of the last election. It is nowhere near the comprehensive solution of an expanded First Amendment a democracy should grant itself, but in a world where progressives fail to understand the value of free speech it may provide enough of a dike against censorship to hold the waters back until reason again takes hold.

     
     

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Social Media is Not Real Life: A Tale of 2020

    May 16, 2019 // 6 Comments »


     
    (I fully support a woman’s right to abortion. The following is about how power works.)
     
    Repubs: We installed two Supreme Court judges, and Ginsberg won’t live forever. We have 2-6 more years to get a third on the court.

    Dems: We cosplay Handmaiden Tale costumes. You can buy them on Amazon. And the rat in the Arthur cartoon is gay, major victory for LGBT rights, yes.

    Repubs: During the Obama terms, we won back 1,000 state seats (including governorships) that have allowed for abortion bans to be enacted in multiple states. At the beginning of Obama’s term, you Dems controlled 59% of state legislatures, while now it’s only 31%, the lowest percentage for the party since the turn of the 20th century. Same for governorships: when Obama took office Dems held 29 governor’s offices and now have only 16, the party’s lowest number since 1920.

    Dems: Obama was the first black president you know.

    Repubs: We passed legislation in Alabama and other states in line with our goals.

    Dems: Didn’t you see Left Twitter erupted over that? Late night tore Alabama apart. Did you see Sam Bee’s fierce rejoinder?

    Repubs: We won important races in Georgia and Florida.

    Dems: We protested on social media how that was unfair.

    Repubs: We held the line on gun control for our base.

    Dems: The Parkland Kids were on the cover of Time magazine in the dentist’s office.

    Repubs: You guys are all about checking boxes — first black this, first openly gay that, and calling those achievements. OK, they are, in a way, but they are often empty in the long run if they don’t produce actual legislative change alongside symbolic change. Obama, in one example, did too much by executive action and altering the ways rules are interpreted inside the bureaucracy. As with DACA, it was all too easily unwound as soon as he left office. Power works in certain ways, under certain systems. In the U.S., getting laws passed means understanding where action resides to get something changed, and securing that seat or office. Dems have for too long relied on the deus ex machina of the Supreme Court to impose from above what is often opposed, or at least not broadly supported, from below. This creates a reverse wave of anxiety, which will find its outlet in events like the election of a guy like Trump.

    Dems: We made same-sex marriage the law of the land whether you pigs like it or not. We’re gonna force open borders, too.

    Repubs: People are anxious over immigration. They worry about jobs, and they worry about societal change being forced on them. They worry the government has no policy on all this, and these things are just left to happen to them.

    Dems: Abolish ICE. Anyone who doesn’t support open borders is a racist fascist hater. We don’t need them in our party.

    Repubs: Trump’s gonna run on his record you know, strong economic growth —

    Dems: Obama did that.

    Repubs: — got the wall, lots of things his supporters like. You’re scaring more voters away than influencing them by prioritizing legislated social change too fast over kitchen table economic issues —

    Dems: Trans rights are human rights, you pig.

    Repubs: — You’re alienating members within your own party with crazy ideological and race hate memes. You’re telling white people they are unwanted. You’re throwing away too many potential voters in swing states.

    Dems: We’re not done fighting over 2016 yet so don’t talk about swing states. Trump is now obstructing the investigation into the last time he obstructed! We’re going to arrest Bill Barr! Just ask AOC!

    Repubs: You let the media choose the face of your party, and so you end up with people who talk and look “right” but accomplish little — Linda Sansour, AOC, Beto, Mayor Pete. There’s a new one all the time. It’s hard to take you seriously.

    Dems: Um, Biden.

      

    BONUS ADVICE

    Dems must create — quickly — a broadly supported, positive agenda, something people can vote for, get excited about, rally around. A negative agenda, essentially destroy Trump or elect whichever old white guy they throw up as the nominee who is not Trump, divides the party and is uninspiring to voters. The certainty Trump is guilty of something (obstruction, tax things, whatever) is not shared across the country, and the clarity of evil the media sees in the Mueller report does not exist for many purple state voters. The Obama lesson (lost on Hillary) was inspire or retire.

    Biden, running on nothing but he’s not Trump, does not inspire. Bernie is Bernie, looking kind of goofy and sounding repetitive when in 2016 he looked fresh and inspiring. The rest are flashes in the pan, media-made K-Pop wanna be’s, or at best immature and reaching too high too soon and should be running for Senate seats.

    The Dems seem to be betting the house on impeachment even as the number of Americans who say Trump should be impeached is at 45%. Some 42% said Trump should not be impeached.

    But at the same time, 57% said multiple congressional probes of Trump interfered with important government business, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. That 57% included about half of all Democrats and three-quarters of all Republicans.

    Do Dems really want to bet those odds against the economy? There have been more job openings than job seekers for 13 straight months. Workers without college degrees have seen significant gains in their wages. Productivity growth is up, unusual at this point in an almost decade-long expansion. There are no obvious bubbles in tech, real estate or other industries, and the stock market has mostly recovered from last year, and last week.

    The reality is captured in a NYT headline The Economy That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen. Unemployment is 3.6%, a 50-year low. Average hourly earnings are up 3.2% over last year. Inflation is a low 1.6%.

    The standard drone of the media/Dems Trump would crash the economy, or that any positives only the few, or that gains would not last, or that all credit is due to Obama have proven weak. About as weak as claiming, still, post-Mueller, Trump won because of Russia and still needs to be impeached for, well, something, just wait, we’ll find it.

    But don’t leave out the ultimate Dem kamikaze ticket, where Hillary is called in from the cheap seats at the convention when no vote can chose a winner. Biden slides right into his traditional VP slot beside her. They’ll make a nice couple at Trump’s third and fourth inauguration.

      

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Blackface: Confronting One’s Integrity in the Past

    February 6, 2019 // 19 Comments »


     
    We live in an age when one’s past is dragged up by those with ill intent to confront one’s integrity in the present.
     
    If you worked in Asia in the 1980s or earlier, you likely remember a popular toothpaste called, sadly, Darkie. It featured a caricature of a black-faced minstrel performer on the label, with shining white, white teeth.

    I have an old Polaroid photo of a very young American diplomat from that era, now a senior official, dressed as that logo, complete with blackface and a top hat, from a long-ago Halloween party. Others present were dressed as local characters, logos, kind of a theme. One person was done up as the Frito Bandito, a caricatured portrayal of Mexicans. The black-faced diplomat was not a racist then and is not now, actually has done some important things for the State Department at some personal risk in terms of getting it to treat its people better. Most today would describe him as “woke.”

    Yet I am sure the NYT, or if not them, TMZ, would rush to publish the photo and the diplomat would be pressed to resign. His career would be impacted, his decent work stopped, and none of that would have a whit of any effect on racism in America. Unspoken is the idea that the same guy who wore blackface then is the same guy who is doing good things today. You just know something more about one evening long ago that now seems to matter so much when it doesn’t matter at all.

    I have no intention of revealing the photo from three decades ago. But we live in miserable times for this kind of thing when judging someone based on 30 years of their life seems to make less sense than picking something from 30 years ago and ignoring everything else since.
     
    Our society’s current solution is to selectively allow offenders to apologize, often accompanied by a sizable donation to some appropriate charity. Kevin Hart was offered the chance with hosting the Oscars as his prize, Louis C.K., not so much. Al Franken’s time came too soon; today he’d likely be let off by the mob with a heartfelt mea culpa; one can see the tears behind those smug glasses.

    But overall the idea of apologizing as a work-around is a bit of a strawman, a cheap trick to somehow drag the discrete events of the past into the present day — well, he did XYZ in 1984, but he continued not to apologize for the last 35 years! And it offers the mob another chance to judge; see, it’s about something happening today (the apology) and not an event from when TV was in black and white! Yet in one case it was presented as enough to derail a Supreme Court nomination and in another it is dismissed as a political smear.

    Anybody can say they’re sorry, especially under the gun of the social media-regular media mob that passes judgement on these things. What might make more sense is to look for are amends, what someone has done with their life since some bad thing. Are you a better person? Are you still espousing racism? What have you done with the years? Oh, but that’s complicated. Easier to snarl at a old photo and tweet.
     
    Inside the world of security clearances, where practicality often still overrules mob shoutdowns, standards have evolved. When I joined the State Department during the Reagan era, you could not get a clearance if you admitted to smoking a joint, and you certainly could not be cleared if you admitted to being gay. Same for holding significant debt, which supposedly made you vulnerable to Russian spy payoffs. Heavy drinking? Well, that was almost part of the job description and was generally overlooked. It got to the ridiculous point where only good liars, people from strict religious backgrounds, and folks who could hold their liquor could pass.

    If today was debt was a show stopper the vast majority of young applicants, with their massive student loans, would be denied clearances. Limited illegal drug use in the past is not a problem in most cases, and we all know of the 180 degree change on LGBT status. There are still showstoppers in the clearance process (having relatives in “bad” countries is a huge issue as more and more first generation Americans, some with critical language skills, seek clearances,) but the emphasis is now on holism, a long view of a person’s life that looks for trends and patterns instead of hyper-focusing on singularities.

    Few claim Northam in blackface is a good thing. The real question is at what point do we judge, a single point in the past or the sum of a man’s life. I don’t know much about his work in the last 35 years, but that seems a more reliable indicator of how he’ll serve as governor (the actual issue) than a photo from whenever. Northam resigning does not erase racism of the past, and it does nothing practical about racism today. He just joins the crowd of those sacrificed at the altar of identity politics, a feel-good to the many who only seem to have realized these issues exist since Trump was elected.
     
    See, it is not like this issue of how the past affects the present is new; we’ve just resolved it more practicaly in other iterations. How many states are seeking to allow felons to vote again? Parole, expungement, time served — people who have committed actual crimes, even murder, get to a point where they can move on.

    Our tolerance for illegal drugs has followed a similar path. Decades ago, Bill Clinton was confronted with accusations he smoked marijuana. To save himself, he came up with the line that while he may have once held a joint to his lips, he never actually inhaled (Clinton would employ similar word play later in his career over whether a blow job constitued sex.) Fast-forward to candidate Barack Obama, who early on casually admitted to smoking weed, and even experimenting with other drugs. The public response? Meh. People grow, people change, that was then.

    The alternative is to allow the mob greater control. With Facebook turning 15 years old today, politicians on the rise will find more and more of their pre-celebrity lives documented. Will we band together online to hunt down every person who ever did anything wrong and drive them out of home and job in some Great Cleansing? What happens when definitions of “wrong” morph? Is such a mob vetting likely to bring better people into government, or send them running?

    Unspoken is the idea the same guy who wore blackface then is the same guy who was elected by the people of Virginia now and, until about a week ago, apparently well-thought of by them. We all just know something more about his past that powerful forces are seeking to drag forward into the present and claim represents a different man. We live in the age when one’s past is dragged up to confront one’s integrity in the present.
     
    We don’t want to talk about Brett Kavanaugh, but there are elements that awkwardly pair with the Northarm story. What really happened decades ago? Are we learning about those events now accurately and unemotionally, or are they being spoon-fed through a ready tablodized media for partisan political ends?

    How were the Kavanaugh accusations, uncorroborated and in some instances refuted by other witnesses, more in line with #BelieveWomen than those now directed by a woman at the Virginia Lieutenant Governor but labeled as a political smear by his supporters? Yet in one case it was presented as enough to derail a Supreme Court nomination and in another it is dismissed as a political smear, spiked by a partisan Washington Post who basically said to the victim “Honey, time to take one for the team, we’re not running this an causing a Democrat to lose this election. Now, did Judge Kavanaugh ever lay a hand on you?”

    And not a single 2020 Democrat has commented on Fairfax, though pretty much all have condemned Northam. Meanwhile, in the hearings to replace Kavanaugh in his old job, Democrats hyperfocus not on the nominee’s years on the bench, but on her now-politically incorrect articles written by the nominee in the 1990s, containing what they label as anti-feminist advice such as “a man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.” We’ll leave judging the actual usefulness of such advice to those with daughters reading this.

    Now imagine the potential for what we awkwardly call blackmail should an unscrupulous lobbyist confront a politician with some old photos, asking for a political favor. Need we demand candidates hand over their yearbooks along with their old tax forms as a bulwark against social media mob justice?
     
    This is about the future, not Ralph Northam. How did the very serious business of #MeToo end up a political tool? How did we get to a place where old yearbook photos may overturn an election? Why are we accepting this as the way we’re conducting our democracy?

      

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Social Media Legally Falls Under the First Amendment; Here’s How

    January 18, 2019 // 14 Comments »


     
    A court just came close to acknowledging the First Amendment applies to social media. But there is still a lot of ground to cover to protect our free speech rights online.
     
    In Davison v Randall, a local government official blocked a constituent from an “official” Facebook page. The court held this to be viewpoint discrimination, a 1A violation in a long-recognized category of unconstitutional speech restraint. Advocates like the ACLU and Knight Institute supported the case to bolster the argument Trump cannot block people on his Twitter feed; lower courts have agreed it is unconstitutional under the 1A for Trump to silence his critics this way. The Department of Justice is appealing, and the ACLU is happy to build precedent with smaller cases like Davison v Randall, as the Trump case almost certainly will wind its way to the Supreme Court.

    The ACLU is likely to continue to prevail against Trump. The problem is while narrowly focusing on an individual politician’s responsibility not to block users with unpopular opinions, the courts continue to allow Facebook, et al, to do exactly the same thing on a much larger scale.
     
    In the age of Trump, social media companies’ suspensions skew against conservative and libertarian commentators (I am permanently banned from Twitter) but Facebook could just as easily block all Sanders supporters, or anyone left handed for that matter. Despite this, and driven in part by the ACLU’s apparent desire to only disadvantage Trump and not enlarge 1A protections in ways that might empower his critics, the broader issues are being bypassed in favor of a narrower one.

    The struggle to grow the 1A to cover social media has a history of piecemeal progress. One victory confirmed the status of social media, when the Supreme Court struck down a law making it a crime for registered sex offenders to use Facebook. Justice Kennedy wrote in Packingham v North Carolina social media is now part of “the modern public square.” Denying access violated the First Amendment.

    But the decision made clear unconstitutional denial still has to come from the government. Facebook and others may deny those speech rights any time they want. The argument only the government is covered by the 1A seems to have reached its limit with technology that so grossly delineates whose literal finger clicks the mouse when the results and implications for free speech in our society are exactly the same.

    Technology and market dominance complicate the 1A environment by giving greater power to a handful of global companies (currently all American but imagine the successor to Twitter based in Hong Kong with Chinese censors at the helm) even as the law seeks to crave the simplicity of the 19th century. That way of thinking requires willful ignorance that Facebook would never act as a proxy for the government, unconstitutionally barring viewpoints on behalf of a politician who would not be allowed to do it themselves.

    Except it already happened. Following a hazy intelligence community assessment accusing the Russians of influencing the 2016 presidential election, Twitter and Facebook punished Russian media RT and Sputnik by banning their advertising in line with the government’s position the two did not deserve the protections of the 1A. Senator Chris Murphy got it. He demanded social media censor more aggressively for the “survival of our democracy,” with companies acting as proxies for those still held back by the First Amendment.
     
    It may even seem to some a valid argument in the realm of social media. But when the same proxy idea appears in the flesh, the underpinning seems less acceptable. It is easy to see how the government using federal law enforcement to bar entry to opposition supporters at a town hall meeting held at some theater is unconstitutional. It is equally easy to see the president’s best friend hiring private security guards to do exactly the same thing would not pass a court challenge, yet that is basically what is currently allowed online.

    The sub-argument the theater is private property and thus outside the 1A (just like Twitter!) does not hold up. The Supreme Court recognizes two categories of public fora: traditional and limited public forums. Traditional public forums are places like streets, sidewalks, and parks. Limited public forums are not traditionally public, but ones the government has purposefully opened to some segment of the public for “expressive activity.” Like that town hall meeting held in a private theater.

    By inviting the public to Facebook for comment, the government transforms a private place into a limited public forum covered by the 1A. The Court only requires a “forum” for 1A purposes “to be private property dedicated to public use” or when the government “retains substantial control over the private property.” Like how the government cannot censor public library books even if the library is located in a private storefront. Like a Facebook page set up and administered by the government.

    The most analogous example of how shallow the debate is comes from a technology of the 1980s, one originally expected to change the nature of debate: public access television. Before the Internet, it was envisioned privately-owned cable TV companies would make air time available to the public as “the video equivalent of the speaker’s soapbox.” Even though the channel and equipment used to produce the programming was privately owned, the programming fell under the 1A. The Court concluded “public access channels constituted a public forum, notwithstanding that they were operated by a private company,” the dead solid perfect equivalent of social media.

    The faux public-private argument is being double-plus used as a work-around to prohibit disagreeable speech, say by labeling a conservative viewpoint as hate speech and letting @jack banish it. Millennials who celebrate Twitter not being held back by the 1A believe that power will always be used in their favor. But back to the law, which sees further than the millennial obsession with Trump. In City of Lakewood v Plain Dealer the Court held all that power was itself a 1A problem: “The mere existence of the licensor’s unfettered discretion, coupled with the power of prior restraint, intimidates parties into censoring their own speech, even if the discretion and power are never actually abused.”

    The once-upon-a-time solution was to take one’s free speech business elsewhere. The 2019 problem is the scale of the most popular social media platforms, near global monopolies all. Pretending Facebook, which claims it influences elections, is just another company is to pretend the role of unfettered debate in a free society is outdated. Technology changed the nature of censorship so free speech is as much about finding an audience as it is about having some place to speak. In 1776 you went to the town square. In 2019 that’s on popular social media. Your unknown blog is as free, and irrelevant, as a Colonist making an impassioned speech alone in his barn.
     
    Asking for the 1A to reach now to social media is in line with the flexibility and expansion the 1A has shown historically. For example, it wasn’t until the post-Civil War incorporation doctrine that the 1A applied equally to the states and not just the federal government. Some private institutions accepting federal funding are already covered by the 1A. The Supreme Court has regularly extended 1A protection to new and non-traditional speech, including nudity and advertising.

    Facebook and others like it have become the censors the Founding Fathers feared. The problem is the ACLU and other advocates today apply political litmus tests to what speech they will defend. And so they aggressively seek to force the 1A into social media to prevent Trump from blocking users he dislikes, but they have not taken on cases which would force the 1A into social media to prevent Facebook and Twitter from blocking users whose conservative and libertarian ideas upset their own viewpoints.

    The greater First Amendment challenge is thus stymied by politics, even while the problem only grows with the greater impact of social media. Yet the cornerstone of free speech, the critical need to have all views represented in a marketplace of ideas, has not changed. One hopes these core elements of our democracy will collide inside the Supreme Court in the near future. If not, the dangers of narrow, short term thinking, that Trump is the problem, not the one of access to free speech, will become more obvious.
     

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Google, the “Good Censor,” is Going to Think for You

    October 24, 2018 // 7 Comments »




    Google might soon add its Terms of Service to the First Amendment.

    A leaked document written by Google argues because of a variety of factors, including the election of Donald Trump, what they call the “American tradition” of free speech may no longer be viable. The document lays out how the company can act as the world’s “Good Censor,” protecting us from harmful content and, by extension, harmful acts like electing the wrong president again.

    The document, which Google has officially characterized as research, is infuriatingly vague about whether the company has made any decisions or taken any action. So think of all this as a guidepost, like the Ghost of Christmas Future showing us the worst case scenario.

    The company is talking about changing the rules so the freedom to speak will no longer exist independent of the content of speech. What you can say could depend on Google’s opinion of whether or not it will negatively affect others. To Google, the personal liberty of freedom of speech might need to be balanced against collective well-being. The company acknowledges for the first time it has the responsibility and power to unilaterally adjudicate this battle between “free-for-all and civil-for-most” versions of society.

    We probably should be paying more attention to how they plan to do this, but because the document leaked on Breitbart, and because the initial rounds of censorship have impacted right of center, it has received little critical attention. But the significance of Google’s plans extends beyond the left-right fight; which content is censored is easily changed. If this plan is implemented, everything you will ever read online will be judged before it reaches you. Or doesn’t reach you.

    The old ideas seem as archaic to Google (Facebook, Twitter, and their successors) as the powdered wigs the Founders wore when they wrote them. People should be free to say nearly anything they want. In the marketplace of ideas good will overpower bad. If we block one person’s speech, we can soon block others, right up to when it comes to us. The collective right to free speech is more important than an individual’s reaction to that speech. There is an uncomfortable duty to protect speech irrespective of its content.

    Jefferson had a good run. Then the election of Donald Trump scared the free speech ideal out of Google. Could they have been… responsible… for helping elect a threat to democracy, the last president, someone who would shape-shift into a dictator? Should they have tried to stop him? Wouldn’t you have killed baby Hitler if you could have?

    Under such circumstances, free speech is reimagined by many as a liability which bad actors will exploit judo-style, the tools of democracy used to destroy democracy. The Google document warns “online manipulation and disinformation influenced elections in more than 18 countries, including the U.S. [as] free speech becomes a social, economic and political weapon.”

    The irony is the Internet was supposed to be, and maybe briefly was, the highest expression of what is now the legacy definition of unfettered speech. Anyone could start a website to stand alongside the .govs. One voice was as loud as anyone else’s, and search engines were the democratizing connective tissue. Google was created to organize the world’s knowledge, not help control it. Free speech flourished online. Government censors had real restrictions; we know them as borders.

    Not so for global entities like Google. What doesn’t pass through their search engines or social media travels through their servers and cloud storage. There is no more pretending any but a minority of users can use another tool, or ignore the web, and still functionally live in the real world. Google sees itself at the nexus of this historic change, saying “Although people have long been racist, sexist, and hateful in many other ways, they weren’t empowered by the Internet to recklessly express their views with abandon.” We apparently can’t handle that, and Google is, for the first time in human history, in a position to do something about it. After all, they acknowledge they “now control the majority of our online conversations” so the Internet is mostly whatever they say it is.

    At that point, Google worries, the “we’re not responsible for what happens on our platforms” defense crumbles. How much the last election was influenced doesn’t matter as much as the realization the tools are in place to do it more effectively next time. Existing laws can limit foreigners buying political ads stuffed with controversial news, but if Americans want to do the same thing laws not only don’t limit them, the legacy version of the 1A demands they be allowed to blast out hate speech and gendered bigotry. Something has to be done. Google’s document says they as the apex predator can now create online “well-ordered spaces for safety and civility.”

    There is no one to stop them. It is very clear what private companies can do vis-a-vis speech; the argument is over what they should do. Thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Google is shielded from traditional publishers’ liability and responsibility. The 1A does not apply. No one at Google stands for election. Users matter only in the aggregate of millions of clicks. Google as the Good Censor would be accountable to pretty much no one (though the Supreme Court last week agreed to hear a long-shot case that could determine whether users can challenge social media companies on free speech grounds.)

    As proof-of-concept – what they are capable of doing – the Google document cites Charlottesville. Following racial violence, Google, GoDaddy, and Cloudflare quietly ganged up to end their relationships with The Daily Stormer, “effectively booting it off the Internet.” Google noted “While some free speech advocates were troubled by the idea that ‘a voice’ could be silenced at its source, others were encouraged by the united front the tech firms put up.” Same with Alex Jones, as corporations serially kicked him off their sites. Facebook and Twitter also actively censor, with Facebook removing over 800 political pages for “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” an Orwellian term Facebook claims means they were not forums for “legitimate political debate.”

    Google and the others aren’t acting in a vacuum. Some 69% of American college students believe intentionally offensive language should be banned. The ACLU now applies a litmus test to cases it defends, weighing their impact on other rights (for example, the right to say the N-word versus the rights of POC not to hear it), declaring free speech can be secondary to other political goals. As Google suggests, censorship has a place, per the ACLU, if it serves a greater good.

    The document makes clear Google understands current censorship efforts have fallen short. Decisions have been imprecise, biased, and influenced by shares and likes. Yet while acknowledging they never will please everyone, Google is emphatic it can’t escape “its responsibility for how society functions and progresses.” So the document is rich in words like transparency and fairness as it wrestles with the complexity of the task, with Google envisioning itself as more an imperfect but benign curator than Big Brother. But like a bad horror movie, you can see the ending from miles away.

    Eliminating voices to “not influence” an election is influencing an election. Once one starts deleting hate speech, there is no bottom to the list of things offensive to someone. Once you set your goal as manipulating thought via controlling information, the temptation to use that tool will prove great. Why not manipulate stock prices to fund “good” nonprofits and harm bad ones? Who should be elected in Guatemala? What’s the Google solution for that land dispute in St. Louis? It is so easy. Just placing links for one candidate above another in a test search increased the number of undecided voters who chose that candidate by 12%.

    The cornerstone of free speech – the absolute right to speak remaining independent of the content of the speech – is now in the hands of corporate monopolies, waiting for them to decide whether or not to use the power. Where the Supreme Court refused to prohibit hate speech, Google can do so. Where the 1A kept the government from choosing what is and isn’t called true, Google may decide. Journalists can take a first pass at writing news, but Google is the one positioned to determine if anyone sees it. Like some TV murder mystery, Google is perched on the edge of a terrible decision, having tested opportunity, means, and method. All that’s left is the decision to pull the trigger.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    What Kavanaugh Tells Us about the Midterms

    October 13, 2018 // 36 Comments »

     

    While Democrats refight the 2016 election, Republicans confirmed their second Supreme Court judge.

    The soiled Kavanaugh confirmation process put Democratic strategy for the 2018 midterms in plain view. The question is will what hasn’t worked to date do any better for the Dems a month from now?


    This week’s FBI investigation was never going to turn up much beyond incomplete recollections. Apart from liberal Twitter, all of whom are apparently trauma memory experts (last week they were scholars of perjury law), most people in Normal America have a hard time conjuring up long ago details. It is even harder to remember things that never happened. The FBI had done background investigations six times on Kavanaugh over a period of decades without uncovering any of what people said this week, so in reality, the investigation lasted 30 years. Democrats knew unless the FBI miraculously turned up a blue dress with semen stains on it, the facts by themselves were never going to be enough.

    The investigation, like Trump’s taxes and Russiagate, was really just a way to turn a scar into a scab to pick at, enough of something to propel the story into another week. Then if no new smoking gun-let drops into the media’s lap, the script says claim the process itself was unfair – Putin stole the election, gerrymandering cheated the vote, the FBI wasn’t allowed to interview enough witnesses.

    The real plan was always to force the confirmation into the mold Democrats think will win them the House, the same gambit they thought would deliver a landslide in 2016. And so Kavanaugh’s complex judicial record was discarded in favor of Clinton-esque, er, progressive, talking points: the election, um, sorry, the confirmation is all about respect for women, fighting misogyny, defeating privilege, too many White Men, Trump is evil, we can’t have an accused rapist in the White House, sorry, on the Supreme Court! Disqualification via demonization. The Kavanaugh hearings were an updated version of what was supposed to be the 2016 game-changer, the “pussy grabbing tape.” The Dems would give America another shot at having had it with the patriarchy.


    It didn’t work. Despite endless bleating the hearings were a “job interview” (imagine the lawsuit after a Microsoft hiring manager pivoted from coding skills to accusing someone of being a drunk) the hashtags were not enough. Judicial temperament problems? The issue never came up in Kavanaugh’s long career. Even so, few courtroom situations turn a judge into a Senators’ punching bag; maybe a little righteous anger was called for? Some may even remember how Democratic voters abandoned presidential candidate Mike Dukakis when he was too dispassionate in his reaction to a question about someone assaulting his wife.

    Things devolved too quickly from concern over Roe v. Wade to an attempt to catch Kavanaugh out on yearbook nomenclature. Dems convinced themselves it was conclusive when Maddow labeled Kavanaugh a liar over what “Devil’s Triangle” really meant in a suburban Maryland boy’s school in 1982. They imagined people would believe wrongly stating the drinking age in Maryland decades ago was perjury and not just a mistake. They thought people would care more if the pool of “victims” (i.e., anyone who saw Kavanaugh with a brewski) increased exponentially. Most everything serious was lost in a cloud of stupid.

    It is a hard ask to get people concerned about health care as a life-or-death issue to take you seriously as a party when all you seem to care about is high school butt sex. Jester Michael Avenatti pushed things further into farce with an “accuser” whose credibility failed sitcom standards. Susan Collins specifically cited Avenatti’s actions as part of her decision to vote yes on Kavanaugh. Yet Democrats still see Avenatti as a useful idiot, a kamikaze working alongside them, without understanding he demeans the seriousness of everything he touches as a tabloid Midas.

    It was little surprise the absurdity of it all was missed by the Dems. One Democratic strategist statedidentity politics has really become the ecology you’re operating in. Economics aren’t as dispositive as they used to be.” That makes sense only to a party banking its midterm strategy on voters not noticing the economy is doing pretty well. It follows pretending constant predictions of trade wars and real wars haven’t all turned out to be crying wolf. It starts to make sense America would go along with the idea a guy claiming he wasn’t a drunk in college means he’s a liar unfit to serve on the Supreme Court.


    There were issues in Kavanaugh’s judicial history worth debating. Concern over Roe runs deep. But the Democrats spent little thought on that, failing to grasp while American demographics may be changing, they haven’t yet changed.

    The only constituency re-energized over Kavanaugh is suburban liberal white women (accuser Ford could not have been more a Clintonite if Murphy Brown was reanimated out of the 1980s via a horcrux from Hillary herself), a group favoring the Democrats anyway. Apparently this group can also be counted on to ignore the likelihood a Democrat Senator outed Ford when she wanted to remain anonymous, and to overlook attempts to slut-shame high school girl Renate Schroeder on the grounds that if she was a pass-around then Kavanaugh was a non-virgin who screwed tramps like that. Same for the tsunami of criticism directed at Susan Collins, labeled a traitor to her gender to the point where people are donating money to her unknown opponent of the future. No one on CNN praised her as a courageous woman who made a thoughtful decision.

    There seems little inside the Kavanaugh fight to specifically drive minorities, already understood as reluctant voters, to the polls. Millennial voters share a low historic turnout rate. If you can’t get a lot more than 1 out of 4 in a demographic to show up things are unlikely to work out (71% of Americans over 65 vote, skewing Republican, and the Kavanaugh saga could easily energize them into an even higher turnout). There seems little-to-no Democratic plan to shift these historical trends other than Trump rage, and the warm feelings of consensual hallucination embodied in social media aside, that failed again this week to affect a #RealWorld event.

    Purple” men moving to the Democrat side? One of the things which damaged the women’s movement in the 1980s and helped the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA; remember that?) to fail was an overemphasis on men as the enemy, a feature of the Kavanaugh process. Many women walked away from the feminist groups supporting the ERA, knowing the mantras “all men are rapists” and “Republicans hate women” just weren’t true.

    This is what is happening now, when people who support Trump based on economics end up labeled fascists, people who support Kavanaugh based on his judicial history are rape apologists (or traitors), and people who support free speech are Nazis. Same as post-Parkland, when people who support the 2A were slandered as child killers. It’s deplorable. No one supports rapists or child killers. But few voters are willing to trust Democrats that see them as people who do.

    The point of politics is to change people’s minds, not declare them unfit to walk among decent folk. Kavanaugh proved the Democrats (and their partnered media) are still unaware while this may be the year of #MeToo in Washington, New York, and Hollywood, it’s still just 2018 in West Virginia.

    The Democrats failed in 2016 when they tried to make the election a referendum on Trump’s behavior. They failed again this week with the same strategy, even after elevating Kavanaugh to a psychopathic POTUS mini-me. With no tailwind from Russiagate, Democrats move toward November with little more than more of the same, throwing in some mumbled threats to impeach Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court (will that be before or after they impeach Trump?) if they take the House.

    It’s bad enough to pick the wrong hill to die on. Even worse to do it three times.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    The Offending Tweets That Got Me Banned for Life from Twitter

    August 27, 2018 // 24 Comments »




    A leaky little “bird” inside Twitter tells me these are the tweets that got me banned for life.

    I have no way of verifying this; official Twitter will not respond to my inquiries. I stand accused of dehumanizing several reporters (“targeted abuse”), using words to offend them into silence. It seems now you can judge for yourself, as it should be.

    This whole series of threads started when Trump accused the press of being “enemies of the people,” followed by Glenn Greenwald reminding us how the media enables America’s wars.

    The tweets about Sulome Anderson’s father, Terry Anderson, were cited as particularly offensive. If you don’t know his story, he was a journalist held hostage in Lebanon in the 1980s by Hezbollah. Sulome was in first grade when he was released.

    It’s hard to avoid editorializing here, but I do want to point out how quickly the offended journalists and their friends tried to shift my words into “picking on women” and similar inaccurate accusations of misogyny. I’ll also point out Twitter allowed the journalists to freely dehumanize and insult me. Note also how these journalists react to a whistleblower confronting them with the admission government officials lie, and that they accept the lies. One of the journalists who attacked me, below, once even used me as a truth-telling source during the Iraq War. Oh well.

    Click on each tweet to enlarge it.




































    NOTE: Blah blah, only part of the story, if those tweets are real, whatever. I’ll be happy to publish any official response from Twitter, any evidenced unofficial response, any evidence of altered tweets, and any additional tweets anyone can send me that enhance, enlarge, or refute the story. Your ball, push PLAY and go, or shut up.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Corporate Censorship Brought Us the America I Always Feared

    August 13, 2018 // 4 Comments »

    When I was in Iran earlier this year, the government there blocked Twitter, deciding for a whole nation what they can not see. In America, Twitter purges users, deciding for a whole nation what they can not see. It matters little whose hand is on the switch, the end result is the same. This is the America I always feared I’d see.

    Speech in America is an unalienable right, and goes as deep into the concept of a free society as any idea can. Thomas Jefferson wrote of the right flowing from his notion of a Creator, not from government. Jefferson’s 18th century invocation is understood now as less that free speech is heaven-sent and more that it is something existing above government. And so the argument the First Amendment applies only to government and not to all public speaking (including private platforms like Twitter) is thus both true and irrelevant, and the latter is more important.

    The government remains a terrifying threat to free speech. An Espionage Act prosecution against Wikileaks’ Julian Assange will create precedent for use against any mainstream journalist. The war on whistleblowers which started under Obama continues under Trump. Media are forced to register as propaganda agents. Universities restrict controversial speakers. The Trump administration no doubt will break the record (77%) for redacting or denying access to government files under the Freedom of Information Act.

    But there is another threat to freedom of speech now, corporate censorship. It is often dressed up with NewSpeak terms like deplatforming, restricting hate speech, or simply applying Terms of Service. Corporations always did what they wanted with speech. Our protection against corporate overreach used to rely on an idea Americans once held dear, enshrined as “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.” The concept was core to a democracy: everyone supports the right of others to throw ideas into the marketplace independent. An informed people would sort through it all, and bad ideas would be pushed away by better ones. That system more or less worked for 240 years.

    For lack of a more precise starting point, the election of Donald Trump did away with near-universal agreement on defending the right to speak without defending the content, driven by a belief too much free speech helped Trump get elected. Large numbers of Americans began not just to tolerate, but to demand censorship. They wanted universities to deplatform speakers they did not agree with, giggling over the fact the old-timey 1A didn’t apply and there was nothing “conservatives” could do. They expressed themselves in violence, demanding censorship by “punching Nazis.” Such brownshirt-like violence was endorsed by The Nation, once America’s clearest voice for freedom. The most startling change came within the American Civil Liberties Union, who enshrined the “defend the right, not the speech” concept in the 1970s when it defended the free speech rights of Nazis, and went on to defend the speech rights of white supremacists in Charlottesville.

    Not so much anymore. The ACLU now applies a test to the free speech cases it will defend, weighing their impact on other rights (for example, the right to say the N-word versus the rights of POC.) The ACLU in 2018 is siding with those who believe speech can be secondary to other political goals. Censorship has a place, says the ACLU, when it serves what they believe is a greater good.

    A growing segment of public opinion isn’t just in favor of this, it demands it. So when years-old tweets clash with 2018 definitions of racism and sexism, companies fire employees. Under public pressure, Amazon removed “Nazi paraphernalia and other far-right junk” from its online store. It was actually just some nasty Halloween gear and Confederate flag merch, but the issue is not the value of the products — that’s part of any free speech debate — it’s corporate censorship being used to stifle debate by literally in this case pulling things out of the marketplace.

    Alex Jones’ InfoWars was deplatformed off download sites where it has been available for years, including Apple, YouTube (owned by Google), Spotify, and Amazon, for promoting “hate speech.” Huffington Post wondered why more platforms, such as Instagram, haven’t done away with Jones and his hate speech.

    That term, hate speech, clearly not prohibited by the Supreme Court, is an umbrella word now used by censorship advocates for, well, basically anything they don’t want others to be able to listen to or watch. It is very flexible and thus very dangerous. As during the McCarthy-era in the 1950s when one needed only to label something “Communist” to have it banned, so it is today with the new mark of “hate speech.” The parallels are chilling — it was in the McCarthy-era Hollywood created its infamous blacklists, actors and writers who could not work because of their political beliefs.

    Twitter is perhaps the most infamous platform to censor its content. The site bans advertising from Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik. Twitter suspends the accounts of those who promote (what it defines as) hate and violence, “shadow bans” others to limit their audience, and tweaks its trending topics to push certain political ideas and downplay others. It regularly purges users and bans “hateful symbols.” There are near-daily demands by increasingly organized groups calling on Twitter to censor specific users, with Trump at the top of that list. The point is always the same: to limit what ideas you can be exposed to and narrow debate.

    Part of the 2018 problem is the trust people place in “good companies” like Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter. Anthropomorphizing them as Jeff, and Zuck, and @jack is popular, along with a focus on their “values.” It seems to make sense, especially now when many of the people making decisions on corporate censorship are the same age and hold the same political views as those demanding they do it.

    Of course people age, values shift, what seems good to block today might change. But the main problem is companies exist to make money and will do what they need to do to make money. You can’t count on them past that. Handing over free speech rights to an entity whose core purpose has nothing to do with free speech means they will quash ideas when they conflict with what they are really about. People who gleefully celebrate the fact that @jack who runs Twitter is not held back by the 1A and can censor at will seem to believe he will always yield his power in the way they want him to.

    Google has a slogan reading “do no evil.” Yet in China Google will soon deploy Dragonfly, a version of its search engine that will meet Beijing’s demands for censorship by blocking websites on command. Of course in China they don’t call it hate speech, they call it anti-societal speech, and the propaganda Google will block isn’t from Russian bots but from respected global media. In the U.S. Google blocks users from their own documents saved in Drive if the service feels the documents are “abusive.” Backin China Apple removes apps from its store on command of the government in return for market access. Amazon, who agreed to remove hateful merch from its store in the U.S., the same week confirmed it is “unwaveringly committed to the U.S. government and the governments we work with around the world” using its AI and facial recognition technology to spy on their own people. Faced with the loss of billions of dollars, as was the case for Google and Apple in China, what will corporations do in America?

    Once upon a time an easy solution to corporate censorship was to take one’s business elsewhere. The 2018 problem is with the scale of platforms like Amazon, near global monopolies all. Pretending Amazon, which owns the Washington Post, and with the reach to influence elections, is just another company that sells things is to pretend the role of unfettered debate in a free society is outdated. Yeah, you can for now still go through hoops to download stuff outside the Apple store or Google Play, but those platforms more realistically control access to your device. Censored on Twitter? No problem big guy, go try Myspace, and maybe Bing will notice you. Technology and market dominance changed the nature of censorship so free speech is as much about finding an audience as it is about finding a place to speak. Corporate censorship is at the cutting edge of a reality targeting both speakers (Twitter suspends someone) and listeners (Apple won’t post that person’s videos made off-platform). Ideas need to be discoverable to enter the debate; in 1776 you went to the town square. In 2018 it’s Twitter.

    In the run up to the midterm elections, Senator Chris Murphy, ironically in a tweet, demanded social media censor more aggressively for the “survival of our democracy,” implying those companies can act as proxies for those still held back by the First Amendment. We already know the companies involved can censor. The debate is over what happens when they do.

    A PERSONAL NOTE: Some readers are aware I have been permanently suspended from Twitter as @wemeantwell. This followed exchanges with several mainstream journalists over their support for America’s wars and unwillingness to challenge government lies. Twitter sent an auto-response saying what I wrote “harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence someone else’s voice.” I don’t think I did any of that, and I wish you didn’t have to accept my word on it. I wish instead you could read what I wrote and decide for yourself. But Twitter won’t allow it. Twitter says you cannot read and make up your own mind. They have in fact eliminated all the things I have ever written there over seven years, disappeared me down the Memory Hole. That’s why all censorship is wrong; it takes the power to decide what is right and wrong away from you and gives it to someone else.

    I lost my career at the State Department because I spoke out as a whistleblower against the Iraq War. I’ve now been silenced, again, for speaking out, this time by a corporation. I am living in the America I always feared.

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    What if a #MAGA Guy Ate Twitter’s Face?

    August 8, 2018 // 6 Comments »




    More than a few people have cited the exchange above as justification for my forever trip down the Memory Hole, my ban from Twitter. I used to be there as @wemeantwell.

    My bad zombie joke about #MAGA, or anything else I wrote that was flippant, is not writing I’m proud of. But ask yourself if indeed what I was doing, in the words of Twitter’s auto-response to me, “harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence someone else’s voice,” or if I was just being rude and childish. Ask yourself if whatever I did means you can never read anything I’ve written on Twitter over the past seven years, if it means I should never be allowed to write there again.

    Does it justify censorship?

    Before you say yes, keep in mind that Twitter allows you to block me, mute me, never see me again. That’s your decision, and good for you, and good riddance to me. But censorship takes that decision out of your hands, and allows Twitter to make it on behalf of literally the entire planet.

    Though the “he called me human garbage first” excuse is pretty weak, it is useful to show the context of my allegedly game-changing Tweet. I think anyone who has dipped into the sticky waters of Twitter, or lived as an adult on earth, has heard much worse. I think also my line about a MAGA guy eating someone’s face can be seen by reasonable people as a rhetorical slap, not a literal invitation to zombie attack.

    Think of it like people saying “Go kiss my ass!,” or “F*ck yourself.” I don’t think in those instances anyone expects you to contort and smooch the buttocks or to perform a unilateral sex act. There’s a difference between saying “Go jump in a lake” to end an argument and an invitation to go swimming.

    But corporate censorship needs only the finest of hooks. Twitter is happy to allow calls for white genocide by New York Times editorial board member @SarahJeong, “understanding” they are not literal, while being shocked — Shocked! — to see me invoke a scene from Fear the Walking Dead.

    And anyone who thinks I was banned for simply being rude on Twitter does not understand much about the point of censorship.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Twitter Suspends Me Forever

    August 7, 2018 // 26 Comments »



    Some readers are aware I have been permanently suspended from Twitter as @wemeantwell.

    This followed exchanges with several mainstream journalists over their support for America’s wars and unwillingness to challenge the lies of government. After two days of silence, Twitter sent me an auto-response saying what I wrote “harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence someone else’s voice.”

    I don’t think I did any of that, and I wish you didn’t have to accept my word on it. I wish instead you could read what I wrote and decide for yourself. But Twitter won’t allow that. Twitter says you cannot read and make up your own mind. They have in fact eliminated all the things I have ever written there over seven years, disappeared me down the Memory Hole. That’s what censorship does; it takes the power to decide what is right and wrong away from you and gives it to someone else.

    Hate what I write, hate me, block me, don’t buy my books, but please don’t celebrate handing over those choices to some company.

    I lost my career at the State Department because I spoke out as a whistleblower against the Iraq War. I’ve now been silenced, again, for speaking, this time by a corporation. I am living in the America I always feared.








    UPDATE: I’ve made a mistake. I was wrong to criticize the government, wrong to criticize journalists, wrong to oppose war. In fact, after much reflection, I have come to understand that I Love Big Brother.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    U.S. Customs to Solve Terrorism by Asking Tourists for Their Social Media Accounts

    February 12, 2017 // 23 Comments »

    NSA_User_Activity_Leads


    The United States government seems to have a real thing for social media and terrorism, stoutly believing if only they could “take out” Twitter the global jihadi movement would collapse. Or something like that. Maybe it’s Instagram?



    Social Media vs. Jihad

    But while Trump talks the talk, Obama walked the walk.

    You may not know it, but since December the United States quietly changed the standard online entry form (ESTA) used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a part of your neighborhood Department of Homeland Security.

    The question added is “Please enter information associated with your online presence — Provider/Platform — Social media identifier.” The question is for all foreign travelers’ who use the visa waiver (visa-free) system for admission into the U.S. The form is not used for American citizens.

    The form also asks for info on citizenship, passport data, and contact information in the U.S., along with hilarious questions inquiring if the traveler is coming to the U.S. to commit espionage, sabotage or terrorism (seriously; see here). Not so many people answer Yes.

    The entry process for all foreigners already includes fingerprinting, photographing, an in-person interview, and numerous database checks.


    The U.S. government had 77.5 million foreign visitors in 2015. Collecting social media accounts for all visitors is producing one of the largest government-controlled databases of its kind.

    And even though the social media question is voluntary, apparently most travelers have been filling in the blank out of fear of calling attention to themselves and prompting further attention at the border.

    As a reminder to all those who bark fascism at every turn: this change went into effect by order of the Obama administration, not Trump’s.

    And who is having their social media examined? Citizens from the visa-waiver countries. No, no, not those naughty people from the Seven Banned Muslims nations, but American allies like Japan, the UK, Germany and the like. And guess what? There’s not been a word of protest, not a single court challenge. It’s almost as if people paid no attention to any of this before Trump came long.

    Mohammed Atta on Twitter?

    According to the rules, the new info “will be an optional data field to request social media identifiers to be used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information. Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”

    So the concept is that Mohammed Atta (for example) rolls up to the Customs checkpoint at the airport, and jots down his Twitter handle as @terrorist911 and then enters the U.S. to resume his flight lessons. Someone from Customs later trolls Atta’s account to discover “Shout out to all the brothers, gonna lay down some whoop ass on Septemb–” Ah poo, only 140 characters, now we’ll never know.

    Image Courtesy of Edward Snowden



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Happy Holidays from the Video Asshats at Your State Department

    December 24, 2016 // 41 Comments »

    So what better use of taxpayer money and time than for your State Department to make idiotic holiday videos?

    Acting like an asshat is something of a State tradition year-round, but these annual videos seek to memorialize it. The very broad theory is that these things “humanize” American foreign policy in a way drones do not, and because they get lots of “clicks,” prove those foreigners really do love us after all. Of course, lots of people slow down for gory car wrecks, too.

    A theme this year is American Embassy staff acting wacky and speaking their host country’s languages poorly, and thinking that is hilarious. Why, those goofy foreign words! Good thing everybody overseas speak English, amiright? Can anyone imagine a foreign ambassador in the United States going on YouTube and speaking sad, broken English like he’s Sasha Baron Cohen? Hah, the comedy Christmas Americanski joking time!

    Anyway, it’s social media and that’s a good thing, right?

    Those who are worried about the loss of respect for America under the coming administration should console themselves knowing there is little left to lose.



    The loquacious American ambassador in Seoul:


    Tokyo, featuring the ambassador dressed as Santa:


    And here’s the U.S. Embassy crowd in Manila (skip ahead to about 1:00 for wacky funs)


    Maybe Norway:


    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Trump and Social Media: Welcome to the New World

    December 5, 2016 // 13 Comments »

    trump


    Did you see what Trump just tweeted out? Buzzfeed’s got it, and some guy over at Daily Kos is totally losing his mind replying. It’s Donald Trump’s Internet, and we’re allowed to watch. And retweet.

    Trump has done more than become the most prolific social media communicator in political history. He has discovered the Holy Grail of presidential-media relations: the ability to ignore the whole damn Fourth Estate. This is a new paradigm for political power, one that at a minimum pushes the media another circulation drop closer to irrelevancy. Oh well, they’ll always have the weather and sports to report. Craigslist already took the classifieds away.

    The latest online thrust by Trump has been a series of tweets directed personally against a reporter who said the president-elect claimed without evidence his popular vote total suffered because of extensive voter fraud. Jeff Zeleny, CNN’s chief Washington correspondent, said Trump was a “sore winner,” adding the president-elect had “zero evidence” to back his claim he won the popular vote. Commentators agreed with Zeleny, saying Trump’s ego couldn’t accept the insult of losing the popular vote.

    Trump responded with a series of tweets and retweets condemning Zeleny. All of the tweets saw “likes” in the tens of thousands, and endless websites excerpted and embedded them out to an even larger audience. Just another episode in the Trump reality show, right?

    Wrong.

    As the media missed the overall populist appeal of Trump right up until election night, so are they missing the populist power he is wielding and likely will continue wield via social media for the next four years.

    While Obama claimed the title of first “Internet president” by virtue of his online fundraising, brilliant datamining, and seeding of the 24-hour news cycle, the bulk of his efforts were essentially repurposing technology to do the traditional things politicians have always done, albeit faster and better. Evolution, not revolution.

    Trump has discovered something much, much bigger: he does not need to depend on the media to communicate to the electorate. As the once-upstarts such as HuffPo, Buzzfeed, and the Daily Beast pushed the TV networks into the background, so now is social media Trump-style stepping forward.

    Sure, OK, the Internet is a powerful tool for global communication, social media blah blah blah, Kanye something something Instagram, this stuff’s taught now in Communications 101: The Modern Age at community college.

    But social media for Trump is not simply a display board to pin policy statements to as Obama has used it. Social media is a tool that first allows Trump to bypass everything and speak to individual citizens/voters, and then force the traditional media to amplify what he says as part of its own thirst for “content.” There really isn’t any news anymore when Trump has it on Twitter as his own scoop. Ignore the tweets so as to starve the beast? The worry is more that the audience will ignore you because they can read the tweets themselves.

    Every president who’s left a record has expressed some level of disdain for the media of his day, and a desire to circumvent it. But no president could afford to ignore them, or to truly anger them. Influence them, of course: presidents would leak juicy stuff to one reporter, cut off another, but at the end of the day media and the president needed each other to do their respective jobs. A president would once upon a time have had to be careful chiding a columnist for the New York Times to her face for fear of being slaughtered on the editorial page. President Lyndon Johnson, after hearing CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite had spoken out against the War in Vietnam, famously said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost the country.”

    Access now only has to be courted one way. Trump can afford to insult reporters because he no longer has any real need for them, except perhaps as foils for his anti-establishment rhetoric. He treats them with contempt because in his mind, all they really do is retweet him. Who cares what CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, thinks of you? How many followers on Twitter does he have anyway? Zeleny = 135k. Trump = 16.3 million.

    Trump has also mastered, via social media, the art of Internet logic. His tweets often read like the “Comments” section on some political blog. Make a bold statement unsupported by facts. When challenged, demand the challenger provide proof you’re wrong (often meaning to prove the negative) and then mock them if they don’t respond. Dispute sources, not facts — X can’t be true because it was reported by a media outlet that favored Clinton. Attack ad hominem, and goad others into doing the same. The enemy isn’t just CNN, it is Jeff Zeleny himself. Then stand back and disavow what happens, up to and including death threats. And, for the triple score, issue an appeal for calm with a conspiratorial wink.

    Social media Trump-style also offers the unprecedented ability to control the agenda. Should a troublesome story appear, a handful of bombastic tweets changes the conversation. If no one seems to be listening after some rude remarks about the musical Hamilton run their course, just yell louder — flag burners should lose their citizenship! All in real, real time; Trump is no stranger to sending out 140 characters of white noise at 3 am.

    With its reliance on “friends” and “followers,” social media also creates a personal bond between Trump and individual Americans not really experienced since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era fireside chats. As those radio broadcasts brought Roosevelt into the living room, Trump’s tweets put his policies, opinions and rants into the same feeds as Aunt Sally talking about Christmas plans. It creates intimacy, and by association (who doesn’t like Aunt Sally), may increase trust.

    And make no mistake about it; unlike most politicians’ social media, which sounds like robotic ad-speak, Trump’s tweets come from Trump. It’s him talking to you. Look at many of the responses to Trump on social media; people are writing back to him in the first person, using the informal language of the web. This is a personal connection. He is part of your world and part of your day. And unlike TV, you can speak back to him, and maybe get an answer of sorts; Trump has been known to retweet messages from his followers.

    While many will advise him to tone it down, or perhaps switch his Twitter to a more “presidential model,” it seems unlikely Trump would set the whole thing aside when the clock strikes midnight on inauguration day. These are very powerful tools. They played a significant role in electing Trump. They will allow him for four years to pick and choose how and when, or if, he wants to engage with the traditional media. With that on one side of the scale, and with Trump being both the president, and, well, being Trump, who is going to make the argument that pulling back is in Trump’s interest?



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    We’re Winning the War Against ISIS! Maybe? On Social Media?

    September 22, 2016 // 23 Comments »

    isis twitter.resized


    Now if we can just stop them from blowing stuff up all the time, this thing is in the bag.



    Social Media Uber Alles

    Despite the reality that propaganda in wartime is as old as dirt, America collectively is freaking out because a lot of ISIS’ takes place on social media. The elderly and feeble who run our government do not understand The Online gizmos and thus are terrified of them and declare they must be turned off with a big switch somewhere.

    The young who serve them and understand little outside their own online bubbly life, all want to get ahead and so are eager to “engage” in online warfare with ISIS as if it was all just a cooler version of Pokemon Go.

    So it was without meaning or surprise that the Obama Administration announced that Twitter traffic to pro-ISIS accounts has fallen 45 percent in the past two years.



    American Strikes Back in the Twitter Wars

    See, two years ago the administration put together an international coalition that’s mostly just America to fight ISIS, with one of the goals being to discourage the popularity of the group online. The “coalition” has been unsuccessful, making “gaffes” that seem, um, amateur. For example, a lot of the content was written solely in English, which sort of didn’t help in that a lot of ISIS people read only Arabic or whatever Chechens speak.

    The State Department, who is in charge of all this media-ing, also spent $1.5 million of your taxpayer money earlier this year making a TV drama for Afghans saying ISIS is bad. Silicon Valley executives even met with top government officials to “game out” strategies to counter Islamic State online.

    There’s been ever so much “messaging” over the last two years. One example is that in honor of #HumanRightsDay 2015, the State Department’s “Think Again Turn Away” program Twittered and Facebooked out the message of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a discredited Islamophobe who says things like Islam itself is a death cult. In 2007, she called for the west to destroy Islam using military force.

    Also, in a whole-of-government effort, everyone calls ISIS “Daesh,” which supposedly is a meany word in Arabic. I guess the idea is that in a war for minds, sending every ISIS fighter to bed angry at being called a name by the Secretary of State is a thing.



    But It’s All Better Now

    According to an Administration spokesperson, the coalition now uses “memes” — like a teddy bear that says ISIS “slaughters childhood” — written in Arabic. And Anonymous declared war on ISIS with, most recently, a member shaming ISIS by hacking their accounts and posting sexy photos of women. The same group once hacked an ISIS web site and replaced it with a Viagra ad. Laffs!

    The only problem of course is that ISIS seems to have no problem recruiting people to replace those killed by the “coalition.” Could it be… that U.S. actions on the ground stomping on Muslims, and U.S. actions from the air droning women and children, and U.S. actions garrisoning Muslim lands, could possibly play more of a role in ISIS recruitment than 140 characters on Twitter?




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Let’s Watch U.S. Government *ss Clowns Spend Your Money on Pakistani Dancing Videos

    September 17, 2016 // 18 Comments »


    This one’s a double play: the U.S. government is wasting your tax money on stupid videos while at the same time no doubt angering the very people they are somehow trying to impress.



    So the video above was made, using your tax dollars and on official government time, by the Public Diplomacy staff at the American Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan. As you can see, a Pakistani traditional dancer was hired, and alongside him were placed various overweight American State Department officials to act like *ssclowns.

    See, they can’t do the dance right, so it’s a funny! It’s on YouTube! It’s groovy social media! And it has all of 380 hits!


    The saddest part is that the stated mission of Public Diplomacy staff abroad is to enhance America’s image, make us some friends, that hearts and minds stuff. So it is only in a parallel universe that the staff could imagine the video above could be helping with any of those goals. Indeed, in many parts of the world, fat American’s mocking a local tradition is not seen as funny at all, but actually as a serious insult.

    Oh yeah, the Taliban are like a big problem in Pakistan and they are no doubt seriously in favor of the Americans creating their propaganda videos for them.

    Maybe not in Pakistan. Maybe the Pakistanis have a wacky sense of humor roughly the same as a 28-year-old ex-sorority member now employed by the State Department who cannot conceive of how a skit that went over so well during senior year Rush Week would fail overseas.


    FUN FACT: Foreign governments with offices in the U.S. do not seem to make these kinds of videos. They seem almost exclusively, uniquely, the product of American diplomacy.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    New Service Sends Summaries of Your Social Media to Landlords, Employers to ‘Assess’ You

    June 24, 2016 // 14 Comments »

    social_media

    Here’s a shout out to all of you who said “If I’ve got nothing to hide I’ve got nothing to fear” after the Snowden revelations. And this little gem deals only with publicly available information about you. Imagine what it’s like when it gets into the good stuff you think is private.


    An Orwellian startup called Tenant Assured will to take a deep dive into your social media, including chats, check-ins, how many times you’ve posted words like pregnant, wasted, busted, no money, broke, moving back in with the parents, weed, or loan, and deliver to potential landlords and employers a “personality score.”

    While many people already Google folks they might rent to or hire, this new service aggregates a mountain of information and then evaluates it. At the end, someone gets some numbers that describe you (see sample reports, below,) with little idea how those numbers came to be determined.

    How many times did you check-in at a bar? Are you a drunk who’ll screw up at work? How often does your relationship status change? Same sex relationships? Evidence of drug use? Political affiliation?


    The report will also assess your “financial stress level” as a breakdown of five personality traits: extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

    The company says it is aware that some of the information it gathers cannot legally be used to decline a loan, lease or job, but nicely covers itself. “All we do is give them the information,” a spokesperson said. “It’s up to landlords to do the right thing.”

    The company states its goal as “you won’t hire a dog sitter or book an Airbnb without first viewing a social media dossier,” as compiled by the company.

    Welcome to your future. We’ll soon be looking back on the Snowden revelations as quaint.


    A sample report:




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    State Department: Let’s Fight ISIS With the #TeeVee

    March 29, 2016 // 11 Comments »

    borat



    Your State Department loves loves loves #socialmedia. They will use it now to defeat ISIS, maybe also the Taliban, by making a #TeeVee show for Afghans saying ISIS, and maybe the Taliban, is bad.

    It will only cost $1.5 million of your taxpayer dineros, so be sure to pay the IRS on time this year.

    And the show will star Taylor Swift.



    #Old People

    No, no, just kidding about Taylor Swift, but the other stuff is sadly, pathetically true.

    To understand this, you need to understand the State Department. The Department is made up of a few old people in senior positions, and lots of young people (“millennials.”) Think of the old people as your sad, old dad after a divorce, bugging you to explain to him stuff like Tindr and Molly that wasn’t around when he was “dating” but now suddenly seems like something he needs to “get down with.”

    So that’s what happens inside State. Old people are told to stop ISIS somehow. They ask the young staffers about this social media gadget they read about in AARP magazine and the young people, none of whom have a rat’s butt worth of overseas knowledge but have lived their whole lives within a media bubble, tells the olds “Let’s do something social media, or make a TV thing we can show on YouTube. We’ll get, like, seriously, a zillion hits. Anti-ISIS will go, literally, viral, you know.”

    The State Department old people will not understand any of that, but it will brief well when they talk to their even older bosses, and BOOM! policy is made. And the great thing is that no one else has figured out how to defeat ISIS, so when this latest venture fails, no one will be too upset with State.

    #JihadAintCool

    But back to the details of this latest innovation.

    The day after the attacks in Brussels (timing is everything), the State Department posted a $1.5 million grant proposal to develop “a television drama series that addresses the issue of countering violent extremism among young people in contemporary Afghan society.”

    The rest of the proposal:

    This grant will fund the development and broadcast of a television drama series in which young people grapple with everyday frustrations and lack of opportunity, while growing and learning through new experiences. The drama will be grounded in reality but will also contain compelling creative content (i.e. storytelling, resonant narratives, strong characters, sophisticated production, etc.). In short, it will strive to be entertaining while challenging viewers to engage in critical thinking by placing characters in situations where they are faced with a choice: support universal values of tolerance and peace or be drawn into the dark world of extremism. The characters will be aspirational and will provide positive role models for young people facing similar dilemmas. The program will be amplified through social media and other means.

    The same day the State Department dove into the soap opera business, Hillary Clinton said at Stanford University that beating ISIS “means waging online battles with extremists. To discredit their ideology, expose their lies and counter their appeals to potential recruits in the West and around the world.”

    #StupidIsAsStupidDoes

    Ok, sure. This is the same State Department that spent $630,000 of your money buying “likes” for its own Facebook pages. Or dropped an unspecified amount making Gangnam video tributes when that was a thing.

    The overall problem with these ventures is that the State Department believes at its core that most/all young Muslims are simply sold on jihad as if it was just another clever online meme, or maybe a product. Why, if that is the case, one can simply make a better Tweet, a cooler hashtag or a better commercial and everything will be better. See, it’s the medium, not the message.

    In essence, instead of seeing young Muslims reacting to the American destruction around them with deeply held feelings, State thinks they are just as shallow and empty-headed as its own staff. #Fail



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    White House Meets With Silicon Valley Execs to “Disrupt” ISIS Online

    January 14, 2016 // 5 Comments »

    google

    Since our providers and tech makers in Silicon Valley are already deep in bed with the NSA to help spy on us, it should be little surprise that the White House now wants them to climb on board another Bill of Rights busting train and help “disrupt” ISIS online by editing the Internet.


    This new strategy is based on the government’s firm belief that the real cause of radicalization is because some suburban kid reads a Tweet and then poof! skips Spring Break for jihad. The idea that the roots of radical actions lie deep and involve complex motivations, including being torqued off at bloodthirsty U.S. foreign policy, meh, let’s blame social media and that damn rock ‘n roll you kids like and use it all as a way to clamp down on political speech the government doesn’t like.


    And now, mighty tech giants, you can help.

    Silicon Valley executives met with top government officials in a private (of course!) meeting this week to game out strategies to counter Islamic State online. The goal is for technology companies to crack down on ISIS’ social media. See, if Google does it based on government instructions instead of the government doing it directly, it does not technically violate the First Amendment.

    According to America’s best newspaper, the UK Guardian, executives from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Apple, and Microsoft attended along with FBI Director James Comey, NSA Director Mike Rogers, NIA Director James Clapper, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.


    The Guardian obtained a copy of the agenda for the meeting, which focuses heavily on the devil’s tool, social media. So here’s how the government thinks ISIS will be defeated online:

    a. How can we make it harder for terrorists to leveraging [sic] the internet to recruit, radicalize, and mobilize followers to violence?

    b. How can we help others to create, publish, and amplify alternative content that would undercut ISIL?

    c. In what ways can we use technology to help disrupt paths to radicalization to violence, identify recruitment patterns, and provide metrics to help measure our efforts to counter radicalization to violence?

    d. How can we make it harder for terrorists to use the internet to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize attacks, and make it easier for law enforcement and the intelligence community to identify terrorist operatives and prevent attacks?

    I especially love the bit in Item C about providing “metrics to help measure our efforts to counter radicalization to violence.” Exactly how does one gather metrics to prove a negative, i.e., how many people allegedly don’t join ISIS because of something they read online?


    Anyway, as a loyal American myself, and as a public service, I offer the following suggestions:

    — Hack each ISIS site so that it includes pop-ups, multiple invitations to sign up for newsletters and take surveys, autoplay videos set to high volume and use banner ads, lots of banner, ads for payday loan places and boner pills. No one will stay long enough to read the ISIS content.

    — Include more photos of Kim Kardashian interspersed with the ISIS Twitter feed as a distraction. Offer an hour with Kim (she’s a patriotic gal but maybe not a virgin) for each person who denounces ISIS with an emoticon. 🙂

    — Redirect any ISIS phone numbers to a call center in India with an endless loop of “Press or say 145.89 for customer service” prompts.

    — Stop killing Muslims and stop throwing gasoline into Middle East fires, close Guantanamo, have a truth commission expose American torture practices, and realign U.S. foreign policy to stop sucking up to the Saudis as its mainstay.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    State Department Lamely Markets Anti-IS Messages to Millennials

    June 29, 2015 // 11 Comments »

    just_say_no_isis_terrorism_shirt

    I know a fair number of State Department employees peak at this blog, so I have a favor to ask.

    Would someone please tell the “social media gurus” at the State Department young people join Islamic State for a number of very serious and often deeply-held reasons — religion, disillusionment with the west, anger at American policy — and not because they saw an IS tweet? And that you can’t dissuade people from their beliefs simply with a clever hashtag and 140 characters of propaganda pablum?

    Yet the idea that the State Department can use social media to “counter program” IS’ message persists, even as its uselessness stares everyone but the State Department in the face.

    A Little Background on YouTube

    The State Department’s propaganda uses a negative message to try and counter the attraction of Islamic State. Started in 2011, State’s blather was only in foreign languages, moving into English in 2013. In 2014 year the work started showing up on YouTube. The theme then was “Think Again, Turn Away; the messaging was found on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and even on the sides of buses in New York City as posters. One YouTube video includes subtitles such as “learn useful skills, such as blowing up mosques” and “crucifying Muslims.” Another features oil being poured on the ground framed as “squandering public resources.

    The content is seemingly written more to appeal to Washington than potential jihadis, as you can see in this example. A lot of the messaging mocks potential recruits, claiming, for example, they read “Islam for Dummies” before heading to Syria. Those efforts cost between $5 million and $6.8 million a year.

    When in Doubt, Hire a Consultant

    With the clear failure of that messaging to stop the flow of western recruits to IS (State does like to point to proving the negative, suggesting they cannot measure people who did not join), the State Department is now trying a new version of the old strategy.

    EdVenture Partners, a company whose self-described mission is to connect clients with the “valuable and powerful millennial market” to sell junk to dumbasses, was hired to enlist student teams to combat violent extremism with some kind of digital effort — an app, a website or an online initiative. It was to be a contest; State would pick the winners and fund those as U.S. government propaganda, er, counter messaging.

    Because, see, up until now, the problem has been that those dang young people just weren’t “getting down” with the messages old people at State were “putting out there.” For real. Ya’all.

    “Millennials can speak better to millennials, there’s no question about that,” State Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly Keiderling, who was a judge in the competition, said, sounding like some 1950s educational film narrator.


    How to Defeat Islamic State

    So here’s how the young will be stopping other youngsters from joining Islamic State.

    — Australia’s Curtin University developed an app called 52Jumaa, which to support young Muslims. The app sends daily positive affirmations about Islam to users’ smartphones, allows them to connect with other Muslims and asks them to complete a selfless act of kindness every Friday.

    — Students at Texas A&M came up with a website idea called The Funny Militant, which would run jihadi-centric parodies, including a hilarious app for finding a jihadi bride and one called Who’s Your Bagdaddy?

    — Missouri State’s product, which won the competition, is a website about the dangers of violent extremism. The site provides English-language curriculum for teaching about the extreme ideological ideas on social media and how to recognize them. It also includes trivia, community boards and videos from people who have been directly affected by terrorism.

    Wait — the winner sounds almost exactly like the lame stuff the State Department already spews out, basically saying “IS is bad, so don’t do that,” the war on terror’s reboot of the 1980s anti-drug message “Just Say No.” The winning group also created a hashtag, so you know they are like super-serious: #EndViolentExtremism

    Here are all the winners of the competition. Looks can obviously be deceiving, but one does wonder how many Muslims are in a group seeking to speak directly to Muslims in a voice that doesn’t sound like a bunch of know-it-all white kids from the ‘burbs:





    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Monitoring and Criminalizing Online Speech and Social Media

    January 8, 2015 // 1 Comment »

    free-speech

    Challenges to free speech don’t always involve guns.

    Citizens, you have an obligation to remain silent. What you say online, once upon a time an arena of free speech, can and will be used against you.

    Here are two creeping examples.


    In the UK

    Six British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, what the Prime Minister called a “desperately sad day for our country.” A British teenager, Azhar Ahmed, went on Facebook to angrily object, saying innocent Afghans killed by British soldiers receive almost no attention from the media. He opined the UK’s soldiers in Afghanistan are guilty, their deaths deserved, and are therefore going to hell.

    The following day Ahmed was charged with “a racially aggravated public order offense.” He was convicted “of sending a grossly offensive communication,” fined and sentenced to 240 hours of community service. The judge Ahmed’s opinions “beyond the pale of what’s tolerable in our society.”

    The Independent newspaper noted that Ahmed “escaped jail partially because he quickly took down his unpleasant posting and tried to apologize to those he offended.” Apparently, says Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept, “heretics may be partially redeemed if they publicly renounce their heresies.”

    Criminal cases for online political speech are now commonplace in the UK. Around 20,000 people in Britain have been investigated in the past three years for comments made online. The investigations have by no means been neutral, instead directed at the country’s Muslims for expressing political opinions critical of the state’s actions.

    Wow, luckily this can’t ever happen in America… right? Oh wait, it just did.


    In America

    A man convicted in a fatal car crash and released early from prison on parole has ended up back behind bars after an Ohio judge and the victim’s family took issue with a post he made on Facebook.

    Ryan Fye’s post included a photo of him making an obscene gesture and a message saying, “Prison didn’t break me. It MADE me.” Fye claims he was responding to a Facebook threat from someone unrelated to his case who said they “couldn’t wait to bump into” him and that prison ought to have made him tough enough to handle the encounter.

    The message upset relatives of the man killed by Fye in the 2013 crash. A judge also found the Facebook posting disrespectful toward the family and concluded it violated parole sanctions imposed on Fye.

    While typical terms of probation prohibit threats, intimidation, harassment, and retaliation against the victims, prosecution, judges, family of victims and so on, it is quite unclear that Fye’s Facebook posting is even directed at any such people, or that it is even a threat or act of intimidation. Many people might characterize it as boastful at worst.

    Fye’s defense attorney said Fye didn’t violate probation or the law. “Committing a crime is a probation violation, not abiding by the rules is a probation violation. Mr. Fye didn’t do any of those things.” Fye is back in custody while he appeals the judge’s decision to lock him up.

    Over a Facebook posting.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    U.S. Anti-ISIS Recruitment Videos: Why They Don’t Work

    November 6, 2014 // 9 Comments »

    The U.S., via the State Department, is spending considerable effort and money producing anti-ISIS videos and other media (actual example, left), the goal of which is to convince American and other would-be jihadis not to join ISIS. The efforts won’t work, almost can’t work. They fail to understand the way ISIS recruits and as such, can’t counter it.


    Alcoholics Anonymous

    The starting point is oddly Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA does not recruit per se; instead, they rely on attraction, not promotion. The difference is subtle but crucial. Long experience suggests people lured in any spur-of-the-moment, impulse decisions that actually require long-term commitment will almost certainly fail. AA won’t create a commitment, but rather relies on you to make a commitment. Ads for the organization never try to seduce or seek out members. Instead, the focus is on what AA is, and what it does for you if you participate. If you want what we have, sobriety, they say, then join us. Otherwise, thanks for listening.


    ISIS

    And so ISIS. ISIS propaganda (and FYI, this is not an endorsement of anything ISIS does, just an explanation) pulls no punches. Beheading videos (NSFW), boasts about enslaving women, promises of extremely austere Sharia-led lives, there it is. You want what we have? Come along, because ISIS knows they want people with commitment, people who make a positive choice to join, not a negative one to stay away. The presentation is professional and serious, particularly in its Al Hayat Media Center (there is an unaffiliated Egyptian TV channel with a similar name), aimed specifically at non-Arabic speakers via videos and a weekly magazine.

    The strategy seems to be working; recruitment from both inside and outside of the Arab world is strong. Some even claim that ISIS has been so successful they are drawing away foreign recruits from the Taliban. And in the duality of everything the American government says about terrorism, between 12 (we’ve got this, you’re safe) and 300 (panic! run now!) Americans have also left Walmartland for ISIS.


    The State Department

    And so the U.S. State Department. State Department propaganda (and FYI, this is not an endorsement of anything State does, just an explanation) is designed to counter the attraction of ISIS media with the promotion of a negative message. The theme of State’s efforts is “Think Again, Turn Away” and features anti-ISIS accounts on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and even on the sides of buses in New York. The YouTube products are graphic and sarcastic; one includes subtitles such as “learn useful skills, such as blowing up mosques” and “crucifying Muslims.” One also features an odd shot of oil being poured on the ground framed as “squandering public resources.”

    The quality of much of the interaction is poor, seemingly written more to appeal to Washington bosses than would-be jihadis. Have a look at one example. A lot mocks potential recruits, claiming for example that they read “Islam for Dummies” before heading to Syria.

    The anti-ISIS messaging campaign is keeping disaffected youth from joining the extremist group, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel told CNN. “We have evidence that there are young people who are not joining because we have somehow interceded. They’re reading the messages, they’re hearing the messages, not just from us but from the hundreds of Islamic clerics who have said that this is a perversion of Islam.” State’s description of its work is that they are “contesting the space,” fighting back on social media against the ISIS message. State’s coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, which runs the program, has called it “participating in the marketplace of ideas.”

    Richard Stengel and the State Department have not provided any evidence or metrics that they have in fact dissuaded anyone from joining ISIS, nor will they discuss the budget for their work. A request to State for comment has gone unanswered.


    We’re Not All That Different, You and I(SIS)

    The odd thing is that State’s messaging and ISIS’ messaging are not all that different in content, per se. Both stress that recruits are unlikely to survive. State paints that as a terrible choice, while ISIS categorizes it as martyrdom, a chance to help save Islam and achieve Paradise.

    Both show photos of Christian churches ISIS destroyed, with obviously different views of the act. Both talk about Western life, State showing its good side, ISIS claiming it is empty and vapid; one ISIS piece features a recruit saying “We don’t need any democracy, we don’t need any communism or anything like that, all we need is Sharia.”

    Both sides agree that Muslims are killing Muslims; State takes the one-size-fits-all approach, with one Muslim being the same as any other. ISIS says some (i.e., Shias and other pretenders to the faith that abandoned Sharia) are not sincere and pious and it is not a violation of the Koranic imperative against internecine violence to kill them (one report says 92 percent of Saudi Sunnis see the ISIS activities as religiously legal.) “It’s a message frequently posted by ISIS on social media: “You have to join. It’s your religious duty,” said one terrorism analyst.


    Who is Winning?

    To be fair, State’s messaging is hard to quantify, requiring one to prove a negative. On the other hand, while ISIS seems to be chock-a-block with foreign recruits, one can never tell how many were driven to jihad by ISIS propaganda, or how many shyed away.

    But looking at the U.S.’ messaging, one is reminded of the anti-drug “Just Say No” campaign, which quickly morphed into fodder for comedians. As with AA, offering people already committed a positive message– you can have what we have– seems to work. To a disgruntled young person already looking askance at a western society he perceives as hollow, what ISIS offers seems more attractive in many ways than the crude, negative message of the State Department. It appears that many ISIS recruits wan to give their lives for jihad.

    At the end of the day, State says you’re going to hell, ISIS says you’re headed to heaven. Which strategy seems to offer more?



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Hillary: Giving Hagiography a Bad Name

    June 12, 2014 // 12 Comments »




    I suppose I have to get this over with. Sigh. Hillary’s book, Hard Choices, is out this week. As I write it is ranked Number 5 on Amazon.

    The main theme of the book echoes the current media meme around Hillary: that her successes and accomplishments as Secretary of State make it almost mandatory that she be elected president in 2016.

    For that to snuggle even close to truth, there must be successes and accomplishments that rose to the level of being the president. These must be real and tangible, not inflated intern stuff gussied up to look like “work experience.” The successes and accomplishments should not be readily debatable, hard-to-put-your-finger on kind of things. Last time around we bet big on just the two words hope and change, so this round we probably should do a little more due-diligence. And we need to be able to do that. It will not be a good thing heading into an election cycle unable to talk about Hillary except in ALL CAPS BENGHAZI RETHUGS!!! or ELECT HER ‘CAUSE SHE’S A DEM AND A WOMAN!

    So, Can We Talk?

    Let’s start with Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times. Nick pulls no punches in a column headlined “Madam Secretary Made a Difference.” He frames his argument:

    Clinton achieved a great deal and left a hefty legacy — just not the traditional kind. She didn’t craft a coalition of allies, like James Baker, one of the most admired secretaries of state. She didn’t seal a landmark peace agreement, nor is there a recognizable “Hillary Clinton doctrine.” No, her legacy is different.


    The Clinton Legacy Difference

    Specifically, Nick offers the following examples (all quotes from his article):

    — For starters, Clinton recognized that our future will be more about Asia than Europe, and she pushed hard to rebalance our relations. She didn’t fully deliver on this “pivot” — generally she was more successful at shaping agendas than delivering on them.

    — Clinton vastly expanded the diplomatic agenda. Diplomats historically focused on “hard” issues, like trade or blowing up stuff, and so it may seem weird and “soft” to fret about women’s rights or economic development. Yet Clinton understood that impact and leverage in 21st-century diplomacy often come by addressing poverty, the environment, education and family planning.

    — Clinton was relentless about using the spotlight that accompanied her to highlight those who needed it more… On trips, she found time to visit shelters for victims of human trafficking or aid groups doing groundbreaking work.

    — Clinton greatly escalated public diplomacy with a rush into social media.

    — So, sure, critics are right that Hillary Rodham Clinton never achieved the kind of landmark peace agreement that would make the first sentence of her obituary. But give her credit: She expanded the diplomatic agenda and adopted new tools to promote it — a truly important legacy.

    Um…
    First up, Nick used the word “agenda” three times. Not sure what that means really. Also, I am not sure when and where diplomats historically focused on “blowing up stuff.” I also think issues such as “poverty, the environment, education and family planning” were in State’s portfolion pre-Hillary. But matter, we move on.

    A read of Kristof’s article (which mirrors Clinton’s own self-written list) begs the question: What really did Clinton accomplish as Secretary of State? Even her supporters’ lists make it seem like her four years as Secretary and nearly endless world travel were little more than a stage to create video footage for use in the 2016 campaign.

    Here’s Clinton talking about a pivot to Asia (that never happened); Here’s Clinton talking about all sorts of soft power issues (that little was accomplished on; readers who disagree please send in specifics, with numbers and cites and do not try and get away with the cop-out of “raising awareness,” that’s what Bono does); Here’s Clinton visiting shelters and all sorts of victims (whose plight seemed to drop off the radar after the brief photo-op; hey, how’s Haiti doing these days?); Here’s Clinton making her whole Department do social media (without any measures or metrics accompanying the push to see if it helps in any way other than generating hashtag mini-memes and please, let’s not go on about how Twitter changed the world ) and so forth. Clinton’s State Department did spend $630,000 of taxpayer money to buy “likes” on Facebook, so I guess that is one metric.

    The many lists of Clinton’s accomplishments that trailed her departure from State are not very different; here are some examples.

    What’s Missing

    Missing are things that in the past have stood out as legacies for others, history book stuff like the Marshall Plan, or ending a war we didn’t start in the first place, or saving something or advancing peace even a little in the Middle East or opening relations with China to forever change the balance of power in the Cold War. And for the purposes of this discussion we will not get into Clinton’s mistakes and no-shows on important foreign policy issues.

    Hillary’s tenure as Secretary of State does not show she is a leader. She showed no substance. She focused on imagery. She remained silent on many issues of import (the aftermath in Libya and Iraq stand out.) Her time at State was more of a reality show many Americans seemed to enjoy, projecting their own ideas about women’s empowerment and modern social media onto her willing shell. We deserve all that we get– and are going to get– enroute to 2016.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Let’s Easter Twitter with US Embassy Kabul

    April 20, 2014 // 13 Comments »

    Let’s enjoy a quick look at what the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is Tweeting. This is called “social media diplomacy” and is designed to “reach out” to “local” people in the host country and make them love America more. State is kinda shy about saying it, but given the world-wide nature of these things, there is also a sweet little domestic propaganda side to it all. And get this– you pay for all this with your Bitcoins! Have a read:



    To begin, like the U.S. Embassy said, Happy Easter to those who celebrate it. Thing is, Afghanistan is remarkably not Christian, and the purpose of social diplomacy is to “reach out,” so opening with the Christian thing might be… awkward? Many Muslims in the target area already characterize the U.S. as a Crusader at war with Islam, so there, there’s that going for us.

    Next up the Embassy reTweeted something in Spanish about the U.S. Ambassador visiting one of the Crusader bases in Herat. Apparently the base contains some Spanish troopers, so that’s the linguistic connection sure, but like Christians, there are relatively few Spanish speakers among the local Afghan population.

    And on to the domestic side of today’s social diplomacy Tweets, two cheery notes.

    The first heralds Afghan efforts to build an new “Silk Road.” The many Afghans still fighting for, with or against the Taliban and/or the U.S., never mind those whose relatives have been blown up by car bombs or drones, may not fully share the vision of progress, but one guesses the whole Silk Road thing is meant more for gullible Americans than gullible Afghans.

    The second Tweet doubles down on the good news, this time sharing the breaking story that “U.S. Foreign Policy in South Asia [is] A Vision for Prosperity and Security.” So that’s sorted. The only skeptics on that front might include the relatively few Americans who read the news, and pretty much everyone in Afghanistan.

    BONUS: Wait a tick– if the purpose of social media diplomacy is to engage with the local people, why are the Tweets all in English (and Spanish?) Maybe it is like a language tutorial, some kind of “linguistic diplomacy.” There’s also the “issue” that Internet use in Afghanistan varies from 12 percent in Kabul itself, to zero percent lots of other places. The average is about two-three percent. Subtract out of those already low percentages those who do not read English (or Spanish) and those who do not use Twitter and you’ve got a pretty small pool of targets. Anyway, those happy few Afghan web browsers are no doubt the most important people in the country and all that. Besides, you know, social media, Cuban Twitter, youth demographic, whatever.

    We are a sad and lonely people, aren’t we?



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Selfie Diplomacy Solves all Problems in Pakistan

    April 13, 2014 // 9 Comments »




    You’ll be forgiven if you did not know that your Department of State in Pakistan hosted Social Media Summit 2014. A bunch of bloggers gathered under the wings of the U.S. embassy to discuss “Social Media for Social Change.” Panel sessions focused on perennial, go-to U.S. feel good topics such as youth activism, peace promotion, women’s empowerment, and entrepreneurship. Fun fact: those same topics form the “broad themes” of U.S. reconstruction efforts now in Afghanistan, and were our major goals in Iraq.




    You could have followed this dynamic event on Twitter via #SMS14. There you can see a sub-theme of the event, awkward selfies by white people, which count as diplomacy nowadays. That’s your American ambassador pictured there, “getting down” with “hip” youngsters prior to their initiation ceremony as Taliban recruits.

    The Summit’s Twitter output also includes the Tweet above, sent by the U.S. embassy in Kabul. If anyone can explain in the comments section exactly what the hell that Tweet means, I’ll feel much better about this whole thing.





    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    U.S. Government Hilariously Creates Secret-Cuba Twitter, Then Just Quits

    April 4, 2014 // 27 Comments »




    There is, clearly to at least two or three people in Washington, no greater threat to American safety and security than Cuba. America has had a Cold War hard-on over Cuba for decades, and so spending millions of taxpayer dollars on it, even if it means a lot of that money actually and knowingly gets paid to the Cuban government itself, is OK. Freedom isn’t free.


    One of the most recent such events was a failed U.S. government attempt to create a Cuba-only Twitter-like text system, and then to use subscribers’ mobile phones to seed anti-Castro propaganda. The bizarre thinking underlying all this was that such social media would foment “flash mobs” in Cuba that would somehow lead to a people power revolution to overthrow the Cuban government.

    Cuba Libre, Cuba Tweet

    In 2010, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), best known for overseeing billions of dollars in reconstruction money in the successful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, decided to create a bare-bones “Cuban Twitter,” using cellphone text messaging to evade Cuba’s Internet restrictions. It was called ZunZuneo, apparently slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet. Like Twitter, get it?

    To hide the U.S. government’s involvement in all this, fake companies were established in the Cayman Islands, while DNS spoofing and other naughty tricks were employed to disguise the origin of messages, all with the goal of making sure neither the Cuban government nor the Cuban people knew this was a U.S. propaganda ploy. The plan was, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press, for the U.S. to build a subscriber base through “non-controversial content” such as soccer scores and hurricane updates. When the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, the U.S. would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” that would assemble at a moment’s notice a Cuban Spring. One USAID document said the formal goal was to “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.” This was all at a time when the U.S. fantasized that the Arab Spring would yield the same outbreak of democracy that the Ukrainian Orange Revolution is now famous for.

    Hilarious aside: USAID in its internal project documents called hard-core Castro supporters “Talibanes.”

    No Hay Problemas

    To begin, the propaganda network coincidentally activated shortly after Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor who was sent to Cuba to surreptiously help “provide citizens access to the Internet,” was arrested. No one claims there is any connection.

    As the Cuban government became aware of the program, its users (who had no idea they were unwitting stooges in a USG black op) came under intense suspicion. This may cause Cubans to be wary of participating in future U.S. programs, and/or to be very suspicious of any legitimate third-party programs for fear of ending up in jail.

    Because sending the texts needed to participate in the program was quite expensive in Cuba, and because the U.S. sent out thousands of messages itself, significant amounts of U.S. money were paid directly to the Cuban government-owned telephone company. The good news for taxpayers was that the Spain-based front company for this mess negotiated with the Cuban government for a bulk-rate for the texts. Can I get a Viva! from the crowd?

    When the service started to become popular and exceed the technical capabilities of what the U.S. set up, the U.S. limited Cubans to only one text a day per person, unlikely to be conducive to creating flash mobs and revolution.

    Various problems capped Cuban participation in the program to only about one percent of the total population. At one point USAID claimed this was good, and kept the project “under the radar.”

    By mid-2012 Cuban users began to complain that the service worked only sporadically. Then not at all, and ZunZuneo simply vanished. The old web domain is now up for sale by a URL broker. Surprisingly, no takers to date. The ZunZuneo Facebook page is still online, last updated in May 2012. Be sure to hop online and “Like” them.

    To hide the program from Congressional scrutiny, the money spent on Cuba was taken out of funds publicly earmarked for Pakistan.

    As part of all the texting, a contractor for the project built a vast database about the Cuban subscribers, including gender, age, “receptiveness” and “political tendencies.” This will never be leaked, hacked, stolen or ever come into the hands of the Cuban government so that they can stomp out any legitimate dissent.

    A lawyer specializing in European data protection law, told the Associated Press it appeared that the U.S. program violated Spanish privacy laws because the ZunZuneo team illegally gathered personal data and sent unsolicited emails using a Spanish front company. Especially in the wake of the revelations of NSA spying throughout Europe, this is unlikely to have affect on broader relations.

    Since USAID, ostensibly a humanitarian aid organization, apparently created several international clandestine front companies, spoofed Cuban telcom networks and funneled money through Cayman Island banks, there is no chance that the CIA had anything to do with any of this.

    USAID at one point turned to Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter, to seek funding for the project. Documents show Dorsey met with Suzanne Hall, a State Department officer who worked on “new media projects.” Ms. Hall, who appears to be about 26, is captured on video here, explaining how cool social media thingies are. Please note the statue of Hillary Clinton on the bookshelf on the right side of the screen.

    Nothing in the documents available lists exactly how much this all cost American taxpayers.


    Note: As we go to press, the Cuban government is still in power and doing just fine, thank you. Please note that U.S. government efforts to promote freedom in Cuba in no way conflict with U.S. government plans to maintain its off-shore penal colony at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, indefinitely.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    U.S. Embassy in Uganda Slays Christmas

    December 28, 2013 // 3 Comments »

    Continuing what has become a U.S. State Department tradition of making horrid, childish videos with taxpayer money (“social media”), here’s one of the worst best from the U.S. Embassy in Uganda. In only 60 seconds, the Santa crew manages to slaughter multiple local languages (check the guy at around 18 seconds in) and, at the end, make merry of the fact that U.S. diplomats abroad cannot speak their host country’s tongue.

    It’s a Christmas miracle!



    BONUS: No mention in the video of the armed U.S. special forces tear-assing around Uganda killing stuff, but maybe they’re saving that for the New Year’s video?




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Report from Baghdad: Still Liked on Facebook

    June 5, 2013 // 8 Comments »




    Along with the odd threat or hate mail (a few people hilariously misunderstand the book’s title We Meant Well as being serious and chastise me for supporting the Iraq War), some interesting things pop up. Here’s one, a report from the front lines of freedom in Iraq:

    I work in Iraq and I’ve seen first hand the waste and abuse you chronicled so well during the “reconstruction”. I think you once called the US Mission in Iraq a ‘self-licking ice cream cone’ — a self-contained, self-aggrandizing system of little actual use to Iraqis. An apt analogy.

    Here’s something you’d appreciate:

    A couple of days ago, just minutes after a briefing on the latest death toll from sectarian violence (50 killings in one night; 520 close to 1000 total this month) in Iraq, I attended a meeting with people who were enthusiastically discussing the massive uptick in “likes” on our mission’s Facebook page.

    As journalism, I checked Facebook to find that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has some 137,000 “likes.” Their banner graphic celebrates breaking 100,000. As a comparison, retired porn star Jenna Jameson’s Facebook page as 566,703 likes. Maybe the Embassy needs to show more skin?

    So, as the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad remains the world’s largest and most expensive diplomatic mission, we salute the brave boys and girls out there who are still more focused on their Facebook likes than Rome burning down around them. To Victory!



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    I Don’t Get Social Media, Thai Edition

    May 2, 2013 // 9 Comments »

    So it was recently new year in Thailand, Songkran, celebrated by throwing water, face painting and dancing, all for the good. The Thais know how to throw a party.

    In the middle of all this, the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok spends sequester-free dollars to make this video, featuring starring idolizing the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kenney.

    Let’s watch:



    I’ve looked all over, and cannot find any other country’s ambassador to Thailand dancing and grinning like she is on the third day of a serious meth bender, on video (the other ambassadors may take meth and dance, but they have the class to not do it on camera). The Thai comments on YouTube are all nice, but then again the Thais are a wonderfully polite people.

    I have also looked everywhere for video of the Thai Ambassador to the United States doing something “American” on video for Fourth of July, or any other American holiday, maybe smoking meth at a NASCAR tailgate.

    We are then left with the question of whether the American Embassy alone understands the power and value of social media, producing these videos and catapulting public opinion of the U.S.A to crazy heights while other nations just stand aside gaping at our brilliance. Or are we just a bunch of idiots?




    Note: All joking aside, it looks like the Ambassador performed the whole video backwards, which is pretty freaking cool. It also accounts for the spaced out looks on everyone’s faces, so maybe it wasn’t the meth. I could criticize her for what must have been a forever process of rehearsal when she should have been reading Wikileaks or something, but in the end fair points for that.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    How Your State Dept is Dealing with the Sequester ($$$ Edition)

    March 5, 2013 // 16 Comments »

    The sequester and overall budget mess in Washington is expected to impact all Americans. Money will get tighter, and government services will slow or stop– we’ve been told to expect longer lines at airport security, fewer park rangers, less money for schools and more.

    But wait… There’s more!

    Luckily, your State Department does not seem to be affected. Here are a few ways that your tax money is still being spent as Rome burns:


    UPDATE: Passport Day in the USA 2013: Due to the budget sequestration, Department of State Passport Agencies will not be participating and will be CLOSED. But…


    Secretary of State John Kerry announced the U.S. will provide $250 million in assistance to Egypt after Egypt’s president promised to move ahead with negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over economic reforms. Whew, close call on that one but no matter what happens here in Der Homeland, for only a $250 million bribe Egypt will “move ahead” on negotiation. And American struggling small business owners, $60 million of the cash to Egypt is for the creation of a fund to support small businesses– over there.

    Movie buffs all know that the “Afghan” film Buzkashi Boys almost won an Oscar this year, losing in the Short Film (Live Action) category to Curfew. But did you know that it was your State Department that funded the film, some $220,000? That small amount, was “funded almost entirely out of a $150 million State Department campaign to combat extremism, support Afghan media and burnish the U.S. image in Afghanistan.”

    It may be that fund that your State Department will draw from to support the “Afghanistan Is Getting Better, Website and Story Corps” grant of $250,000 of sequester-proof tax dollars to someone who can “create and design a stand-alone website or dedicated channel on YouTube.com that allows individuals from within Afghanistan and across the globe to upload short personally recorded videos describing why and how the individual is contributing to the betterment of Afghanistan and/or the ways in which the Afghanistan of today has provided opportunities that didn’t exist before, and offering messages of hope for the country’s future.”

    Though the sequester will impact American education funding, it will not stop our important educational relationships with Pakistan. We reported earlier on a $1 million of tax money State Department grant to any four-year college or university in the U. S. willing to establish a cooperative agreement with the University of Karachi in Public Policy and Public Administration. Good news! In addition to that grant, State is also offering another $1 million bucks to anyone interested in setting up a cooperative agreement to establish a University Partnership with Karachi’s Kinnaird College for Women in English Literature.

    Keep in mind that the items above are just a sample, drawn from a few random trolls around the web. Sleep tight, America, knowing that more of your money is being spent while you are napping.



    BONUS: Play a fun drinking game; re-order the list above by either “importance to America” or “biggest waste of money.” Then, drink.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Spring Break in Karachi, Pakistan!

    March 1, 2013 // 12 Comments »

    Woooooooooooooo! It’s soon Spring Break ya’all, so get ready to party. And what better way to get it on than to travel overseas on a university exchange program. Need ‘da dinero for party essentials? How about one million sequester-free free dollars courtesy of your Department of State?

    While you might have to leave the bikini at home in exchange for a head scarf, your Department of State is celebrating the upcoming Federal government sequester-driven furloughs by offering one million dollars of American tax money to any four-year college or university in the U. S. willing to establish a cooperative agreement with the University of Karachi in Public Policy and Public Administration.

    All you need do is setup some “collaborative research, curriculum development, and faculty and student exchanges. Faculty exchange programs of one semester and graduate student exchange programs of one month are preferred by the University of Karachi.”

    The tender does not say, but it is likely that collaborative research on nuclear topics is discouraged. It is good to know that the University of Karachi does already have some academic affiliations, including with the Pakistani Army School of Ordinance, Malir Cantt., Karachi in the subject area of “Explosive Chemistry.” (page 4, item 7). One wonders if the State Department read any of the fine print on the University’s own web site?

    Now the State Department does not feel the need to lay out in detail exactly why a million dollars of your tax money should be spent setting up a collaborative arrangement between some U.S. school and a Pakistani school, but we can assume the goals are vague and unfocused, you know, blah blah brotherhood of man and world peace.

    Even More

    But before you regurgitate breakfast over the one million bucks above, take a look at another tender from your State Department. This one is titled “Afghanistan Is Getting Better, Website and Story Corps” and offers $250,000 of sequester-proof tax dollars to someone who can “create and design a stand-alone website or dedicated channel on YouTube.com that allows individuals from within Afghanistan and across the globe to upload short personally recorded videos describing why and how the individual is contributing to the betterment of Afghanistan and/or the ways in which the Afghanistan of today has provided opportunities that didn’t exist before, and offering messages of hope for the country’s future.”

    Now in some forms of reality that might be called simple propaganda; however, in the new world of your State Department, it is known as “social media” and “public diplomacy.” Orwell would be proud.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America