Sunday, February 19, 2017
Should Twitter and Facebook be Regulated as Utilities?
Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert
The Constitution guarantees every citizen the right of free speech. But what happens when the most effective channels for that speech are corporations such as Twitter and Facebook? Does the government have an obligation to make sure those companies are not limiting free speech for some classes of users?
My sketchy understanding of the law is that the government is only responsible for making sure the government itself is not abridging free speech. I think most of us agree that we don’t want the government volunteering for any more work than the constitution says it should be doing.
But shouldn’t the federal government get involved if a few monopoly corporations start to control the national conversation by filtering out voices that disagree with them?
That seems to be the situation right now. For example, Twitter is apparently “shadowbanning” me because of my past Trump tweets, or so I assume. That means my tweets only go out to a subset of my followers. The rest don’t know I tweeted. My followers tell me this is the case. They have to visit my timeline to see my tweets.
Realistically, can I quit Twitter and be a successful media personality without it? Not in today’s world. The only way I could make that work is by having a huge presence on Facebook or Instagram.
But that might be a problem too. Instagram (owned by Facebook) just removed my girlfriend’s (@KristinaBasham) blue verification badge – on inauguration day – without explanation. Was that politically motivated? She has 2.7 million followers and lots of imposters pretending to be her. The blue verification badge was invented for situations like hers. We have no way to contact anyone at Instagram to fix it.
The same thing happened a few months ago and we worked through a friend-of-a-friend to get her verification badge back. The official explanation was that removing it the first time was just a glitch. This time my contact didn’t reply to my email.
I can’t be 100% sure that Twitter is shadowbanning me to limit my political speech. They might have a bug in their system, for example. But it would be a big coincidence if they are not, given how many Trump supporters were targeted by Twitter in the past year.
Likewise, I can’t be 100% sure my girlfriend is being punished by Facebook/Instagram for her association with me. But it seems like a big coincidence that she lost the verification on Inauguration Day. That lack of transparency is just as much of a problem as an actual abridgement of free speech. if I can’t know whether my freedom of speech is being limited by corporate overlords, how can I have trust in the Republic? And without trust, the system falls apart.
I want to trust my government, but without freedom of speech, I find that impossible. That’s why I support creating a law requiring the government to audit the major social media sites to certify that freedom of speech still exists for all classes of users. (Within reason.)
You might think there is not much risk of losing the right of free speech in the United States. But keep in mind that I have already lost my free speech in a practical sense. The social media tools you take for granted are not available to me in their full form.
Update: Kristina got her blue verification badge back from Instagram after several days. No explanation given.
HISPANICS BACK TRUMP ON SANCTUARY CITIES
According to a new poll, more than half of Hispanic voters support Donald Trump’s vigorous new effort to deport criminal illegals and punish sanctuary cities:
The survey for Secure America Now found that 56 percent of Hispanic voters approve of deporting criminal illegals. Some 31 percent don’t.
What’s more, they back the president’s executive order to end the Obama administration’s “catch and release” policy at the border....
On cutting off federal grants to sanctuary cities, 46 percent of Hispanic voters agreed, 43 percent opposed.
This should come as no surprise, except for privileged white liberals who don’t actually know any Hispanics. Illegal aliens attract illegal alien gangs, like MS13. Those gangs also prey on legal immigrant and Hispanic citizens. Hispanics back Trump’s policies because they mean a safer Hispanic community.
According to a statement from Homeland Security Chief John Kelly, recent immigration raids across the country resulted in more than 680 arrests. Of those arrested, approximately 75 percent were criminal illegals.
Fake news about fake news
The war on fake news is just another pretext for the elite to impose censorship on what people see and hear
The fake-news panic can be exposed as misleading on various levels. For instance, the notion that it is an entirely new problem ignores the fact that fake news is at least as old as the Trojan Horse. In more modern times, it is not only the likes of Vladimir Putin’s Russia that have used fake news reports to justify their wars. Western states have deployed similar falsehoods to aid their efforts in every major conflict, from the war-porn fantasies about German soldiers raping and bayoneting Belgian nuns in the First World War to the sci-fi fantasy of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in 2003. What is new now is not the faking of news, but that the internet means governments and their tame media no longer have a monopoly on making up such stories.
The notion that fake news somehow poses an external threat to the West’s Enlightenment values of truth and reason also ignores the extent to which, as previously analysed on spiked, those values have already been thoroughly trashed from within Western cultural elites. Postmodern academics preaching that there can be no such thing as a single truth; news media practising the ‘journalism of attachment’ in which emotions can count more than evidence and objectivity is abandoned even as a goal (in which case, as I once told objectivity-scorning journalism students, they might as well switch courses and study to be poets or playwrights instead); and the many apostles of ‘identity politics’, for whom how you feel about something – especially if you feel offended or victimised in any way – overrides such small matters as the facts. These and other influential Western voices had done much to undermine Enlightenment values long before anybody starting posting fake news stories from the former Soviet bloc.
The cutting edge of the current panic is the argument, recently repeated by top politicians and prominent commentators on both sides of the Atlantic, that ‘fake news poses a threat to our democracy’. It is this that exposes the fake character of the kind of democracy that these forces want to defend.
How exactly could fringe fake-news websites and stories threaten the fortress of Western democracy? Only if you believe that the masses are sufficiently stupid or suggestible that they will believe whatever they are told, and act accordingly; that because some blowhard politician claimed that Brexit would fix the NHS, that must be why millions of Brits voted to Leave; and that some blogger accusing Hillary Clinton’s campaign of being involved in a child-abuse scandal explains why millions of Americans voted for the dreadful Trump.
In other words, the elevation of the problem of fake news is the flipside of the denigration of the intelligence and independence of the electorate. What these elitists and experts really object to is the wrong kind of democracy – voters inexplicably having the gall to reject their advice and support policies and candidates that are not to their taste. They blame the electorate for being unfit for the democratic system, rather than the other way around. They see the solution as tighter policing of public discussion – that is, more controls on what people can see and how they see it — through new systems of gatekeeping and fact-checking guardians on the web.
In this worldview, the political and media elites become modern priest-like keepers of The Truth, and any who question their authoritative version of events can be dismissed as heretics and deniers. This apparent defence of democracy goes against everything that the D-word should mean.
The essence of democratic politics is freedom of speech and no-opinions-barred debates. It is a clash of competing moral values and political visions. It is up to the demos – the people – to take in all the evidence and arguments, take part in the debate, and then judge for themselves what they believe to be true and choose whose side – if any – they want to be on. In a democracy, experts can always give advice, but not give orders about what the demos should do.
The idea of imposing gatekeepers and fact-checkers assumes that there can only be one correct way of viewing an issue. That sounds like the stuff of Orwellian news-control. Thus in its critical report into the EU referendum campaign, the Electoral Reform Society suggested an ‘official body’ should be created to intervene and correct falsehoods in future political campaigns. Perhaps they could call it the Ministry of Truth?
President Trump’s spokesperson was justifiably ridiculed for suggesting that the administration’s inflated estimate of the inauguration ceremony crowds was simply based on ‘alternative facts’. Yet in politics there really are always competing interpretations of reality, different versions of the truth. What you see depends which side of the battle lines you are on. Who really believes that gatekeepers imposed by the political and cultural elites would somehow be neutral seekers of truth, floating on a cloud above the fray with no agenda to pursue or axes to grind?
How does a democratic society decide on what it believes to be true? By the fullest possible debate, not by having it handed down from above. The media have an important part to play in countering fake news, by maintaining a core of properly sourced professional journalism. However, some now apparently see their role as policing what others publish.
Thus the new ‘Countercheck’ scheme for countering fake-news stories during the French presidential election campaign involves the liberal Le Monde, BuzzFeed and Agence France Presse working with Facebook and Google to help French voters ‘make sense of what and who to trust online’ by offering users the option to flag news stories as ‘real’, ‘satire’ or ‘fake’.
Leaving aside the small matters of why they assume voters should automatically trust the judgements of media outlets that are widely seen as part of the French establishment or, in the case of Buzzfeed, as a scandal-monger, the political motives behind this patronising effort to guide the French away from the far-right Front National should be clear to all. If anything, this appears even more explicit in Germany, where Facebook has launched a gatekeeping initiative in response to state officials’ concerns that, as the BBC puts it, ‘online “hate speech” could influence the parliamentary elections in September in which Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term in office’. In other words, they are trying to protect Ms Merkel from the possible revenge of the masses whom they all fear and loathe.
The only way to counter Trump in America or the FN in France is through a political battle, an open democratic debate to try to win people over and decide what society believes to be true. But instead, the Western establishment wants to close down discussion through internet policemen or the courts, in the false belief that banning a critic is the same thing as beating them. They have learned nothing from Brexit and Trump’s election except for the need to double down on their prejudices about the ‘under-informed’ (aka under-intelligent) electorate.
The elites have effectively redefined defending democracy to mean defending the status quo – if necessary, against unfettered free speech and the unruly demos. Their crusade against fake news is only the latest stage of their war to maintain a fake version of democracy that depends on trying to dictate the speech, thoughts and votes of the demos in whose name they claim to rule.
A Canadian judge has been forced to capitulate to feminist groupthink
In December 2011, some homeless youths gathered in a house in Calgary in Canada for a party. One was Alexander Wagar, aged 23, who had recently come out of prison. Another was a 19-year-old woman, Ms A. Also present were Wagar’s brother, and a friend. Much drink was taken, and Wagar was said by some present to have exposed himself while dancing at one point. Then four of them, including Wagar and Ms A, went to the bathroom to smoke some cannabis.
Ms A then intimated to the others and that she and Wagar wished to have sex, so the others politely left the room. What happens next became hotly disputed in a series of court cases. Wagar said he helped Ms A pull down her jeans, and they started having sex, with her sitting on top of a washbasin. They then moved to the shower, where they made out. Wagar’s brother then came into the bathroom, and Ms A told him to ‘fuck off’. Later, Wagar’s brother told others at the party that Ms A was a ‘slut’.
Later, Ms A complained to the police that Wagar had raped her. He denied this, saying she was a willing participant in their sexual encounter. She claimed that she had been drunk and was unable to resist. Wagar was charged with rape. The trial came before Judge Robin Camp in September 2014. He sat without a jury. Camp had practised law in South Africa and Botswana between 1979 and 1998, before emigrating to Canada.
During the case, Camp made some unfortunately phrased comments. A number of times, he referred to the complainant Ms A as the ‘accused’ (possibly, he meant to say ‘accuser’?). He also asked her to clarify how the assault happened, given her evidence that her bottom was in the washbasin.
‘Why didn’t you just sink your bottom down into the basin so he couldn’t penetrate you?’, he asked her at one point. Ms A replied, ‘I was drunk’. The judge also asked Ms A, who testified that her jeans were around her ankles: ‘Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?’ Ms A did not reply at first, then said: ‘I don’t know.’ He said she failed to explain ‘why she allowed the sex to happen if she didn’t want it’. Ms A accepted that she did not resist Wagar, either verbally or physically.
Camp annoyed the prosecution counsel by making the comment, ‘Sex is very often a challenge’. But in ‘he said/she said’ or drunk sex/rape claims, that is a legitimate comment. These difficult scenarios have exercised very many reputable academics and legal practitioners.
Camp acquitted the defendant, concluding that he could not be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Ms A did not consent. Wagar’s lawyer argued that she evinced consent by her cooperative conduct. Ms A had told Wagar’s brother the morning after: ‘I didn’t care that [Wagar] did that to me, like I wanted him to do it.’
Camp’s verdict caused an outcry about alleged victim-blaming. Four law professors reported the judge to the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC), complaining of the way he had questioned Ms A. Two of them started a media blitz by penning an attack on him in the Globe and Mail. The Alberta minister for justice and solicitor general followed with a request for a formal inquiry, which forced the CJC to act. Perhaps unwisely, the judge issued a grovelling public apology which, predictably, his critics seized upon as evidence of guilt.
In an ominous move, which challenges the independence of the judiciary, Camp was disciplined because of his interpretation of the law: the ‘rape shield’ law which governs what evidence may be adduced of a complainant’s sexual activity with others. Ms A was alleged to have been flirtatious with another person at the party. He was also accused of ‘belittling’ sexual assault, simply because he showed a willingness to question the complainant’s version of events.
Even more alarmingly, the judge faced attacks from a horde of activists who were granted intervener status in the inquiry: the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre; the Ending Violence Association of British Columbia; the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women; the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence against Women and Children; the West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund; the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund Inc (LEAF); Women Against Violence Against Women; and the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic.
The CJC’s inquiry has now recommended that Camp be stripped of judicial office. It remains to be seen whether this recommendation will be submitted to the justice minister, and if so, whether Camp will challenge this in court. Only two Canadian judges have been relieved of their office since 1971.
The 112-page report on Camp is interesting for its abject deference to feminist ideology. It found Camp guilty of unconscious bias and thoughtcrime, in essence, because he: ‘Made comments or asked questions evidencing an antipathy towards laws designed to protect vulnerable witnesses, promote equality, and bring integrity to sexual-assault trials. We also find that the judge relied on discredited myths and stereotypes about women and victim-blaming during the trial and in his Reasons for Judgement.’
It complains that he asked questions of the complainant ‘rooted in stereotypical, biased reasoning’. The report claims that he damaged public confidence by evincing ‘a profound failure to act with impartiality and to respect equality before the law, in a context laden with significant and widespread concern about the presence of bias and prejudice’. These are astonishing and contemptuous findings to make about a judge.
Disturbingly, Camp was forced to grovel during this process, admitting that some of his comments were ‘insensitive’ and ‘inappropriate’. In an abject display of capitulation to feminist groupthink, he also confessed: ‘My thinking was infected.’
As an illustration of his supposedly infected thinking, one of the judicial questions to counsel which he was hauled over the coals for making was: ‘Is it unreal for me to accept that a young man and a young woman… want to have sex, particularly if they’re drunk?’ Meanwhile, the prosecutor, Hyatt Mograbee, was arguing for affirmative consent:
THE COURT: Well, tell me about that. Must he ask?
MS MOGRABEE: He must ask.
THE COURT: Where is that written?
Judge Camp was found guilty for this exchange. The report concluded that he was ‘expressing disdain’ by being flippant.
This is nonsense. Such judicial interrogation is the meat and drink of courtroom interactions. Crown counsel whose cases have been dismissed should not be allowed to accuse a judge, who rejects their case, of thoughtcrime. The proper and indeed the only way to challenge a judicial decision, which the losing party does not accept, is to appeal. This is a deeply sinister development: the state is attacking the judicial arm of government for failing to adhere to the ideology of the executive arm of government.
Interestingly, this report acknowledged at the outset that there was some evidence supporting the inference that Ms A might have fabricated the allegation of sexual assault, because she believed that Wagar had later had sex with another woman at the party, and because the complainant was upset with the accused’s brother for embarrassing her by telling others at the party that she had sex with the accused. Should not that have been a valid reason for the judge to have adopted a questioning approach, testing the prosecution’s claims and assumptions, instead of blindly accepting them?
The Crown appealed Wagar’s acquittal. In 2014, in Wagar’s absence, the Alberta Appeal Court overturned the acquittal, claiming that Camp had failed to address the law on consent correctly. ‘We are also persuaded that sexual stereotypes and stereotypical myths, which have long since been discredited, may have found their way into the trial judge’s judgement.’
Wagar’s retrial took place last November before Judge Jerry LeGrandeur. But in a dramatic twist, on 31 January this year, LeGrandeur acquitted Wagar for the second time, essentially on the same grounds as Camp did. The complainant lacked credibility. The point is: when subjected to forensic scrutiny, this rape complaint just didn’t stack up.
But, predictably, the commentariat has been grumbling, and the Crown is talking of yet another appeal. As one experienced commentator says: ‘How many kicks at the can do prosecutors get before they find the decision, not to mention the language, they like?’
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.