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Experts Warn Accurate News Articles Are Misinformation if They Support Conservative Views

https://reason.com/2021/07/19/experts-warn-accurate-news-articles-are-misinformation-if-they-support-conservative-views/

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Political bias is not new to journalism, either in the United States or anywhere else in the world. But check out how NPR discusses the conservative outlet The Daily Wire and pundit Ben Shapiro. It's a case study in people's eagerness to classify writing they disagree with as "misinformation," whether or not it's factually accurate.

The hit piece begins by pointing out how well The Daily Wire does in Facebook engagement compared to more mainstream media outlets, such as The New York Times and the Washington Post. This is a useful corrective to those who think left-wing "Big Tech" companies have scrubbed away the conservative presence online. But that's not the point of Miles Parks' analysis. His point is that The Daily Wire's success on in Facebook is a bad thing because the outlet is using "outrage as a business model."

Needless to say, many media outlets do that. It's not even new to the age of social media. Before we had outrage clicks we had gossip columns and "If it bleeds, it leads."

But The Daily Wire is different, you see. Because of the site's political leanings, it is framing stories in a certain way to appeal to conservative opinion. NPR doesn't accuse The Daily Wire of publishing false news. But the expert Parks interviews—Jaime Settle, director of the Social Networks and Political Psychology Lab at the College of William & Mary—sees the historically common political reframing of the stories of the day as a big problem:

"They tend to not provide very much context for the information that they are providing," Settle said. "If you've stripped enough context away, any piece of truth can become a piece of misinformation."

This story provides a useful example of this phenomenon, though probably not the one Parks intends. The entire piece hinges on "Facebook engagement" data, which is just one of many measures of a story's impact; hilariously, it doesn't even indicate whether the piece was even read. It's a measure not just of who clicked a link, but who liked, shared, or commented on a Facebook post. That a Daily Wire post gets more Facebook engagement than a New York Times report does not mean more people actually read the Daily Wire post.

The story appears right as the White House is calling for broad coordination between social media platforms to ban users that the government deems to be sources of vaccine misinformation. We've already seen where that approach leads. The U.S. government is not the final arbiter of what COVID-19 claims are accurate. We've already seen platforms, at government urging, classify theories that the virus may have leaked from a Chinese laboratory as misinformation and censor them. But it wasn't "misinformation." It was a theory that may well turn out to be accurate.

There is plenty of genuine misinformation out there about COVID-19, but at this point the federal government has, for many Americans, blown the handling of this epidemic with fear-driven responses not backed up by science. As a result, large swathes of people are going to be suspicious about any White House statements about misinformation.

Stories like this NPR report perpetuate the divide. Parks says The Daily Wire's stories "don't normally include falsehoods," but then lets Settle (who has a book to sell blaming social media for political polarization) say that sometimes the truth can "become a piece of misinformation."

Parks does not go so far as to suggest that anybody in a position of power should do anything about The Daily Wire's success. But he does give Judd Legum, former Democratic campaigner and founder of the progressive website ThinkProgress, plenty of space to critique The Daily Wire's methods, which is a weird way of undermining his entire piece. A well-known progressive Democratic media analyst is concerned about a conservative media outlet's behavior? The polarization is coming from inside the house, Parks!

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

ACLU (California) on the Bill Restricting Speech Outside Vaccination Sites

https://reason.com/volokh/2021/08/09/aclu-california-on-the-bill-restricting-speech-outside-vaccination-sites/

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Last week, I wrote about SB 742, which seems on track to become California law (having passed the Senate 33-4, and the Assembly Public Safety Committee 6-2). The law would make it a crime to, among other things,

knowingly approach within 30 feet of any person while a person is making the approach within 100 feet of the entrance of a vaccination site and is seeking to enter or exit a vaccination site, or any occupied motor vehicle seeking entry or exit, for the purpose of …

nonconsensual[ly] and knowing[ly] … passing a leaflet or handbill, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with that other person in a public way or on a sidewalk area …

in connection with any vaccination services.

I opined that this would be clearly unconstitutional, for two reasons:

[1.] The First Amendment protects speech on public sidewalks, including offering leaflets, displaying signs, or conveying oral messages to people who haven't "consen[ted]" (whether because they haven't thought about the matter, or even if they affirmatively don't want to see the sign or hear the message).

In Hill v. Colorado (2000), the Court did uphold a restriction on "'knowingly approach[ing]' within eight feet of another person [near a medical facility], without that person's consent, 'for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person.'" But the majority stressed that this stemmed from 8 feet being such a short distance:

Unlike the 15-foot zone [struck down in Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network (1997)], this 8-foot zone allows the speaker to communicate at a "normal conversational distance."

Thirty feet, on the other hand, is very far from a "normal conversation distance"; and in McCullen v. Coakley (2014), the Court struck down a 35-foot buffer zone outside a clinic in part because

[T]he zones … compromise petitioners' ability to initiate the close, personal conversations that they view as essential to "sidewalk counseling." For example, in uncontradicted testimony, McCullen explained that she often cannot distinguish patients from passersby outside the Boston clinic in time to initiate a conversation before they enter the buffer zone…. McCullen is often reduced to raising her voice at patients from outside the zone— a mode of communication sharply at odds with the compassionate message she wishes to convey.

[2.] On top of that, Hill stressed that the 8-foot no-approach zone was content-neutral (even though it mostly affected anti-abortion protests, given that it was limited to speech outside medical facilities). The California bill is expressly limited to speech "in connection with any vaccination services"—someone approaching people to hand out leaflets in connection with a labor dispute wouldn't be covered by the law, while someone approaching people to hand out leaflets in connection with vaccination would be. Such subject-matter restrictions are unconstitutional, see, e.g., Carey v. Brown (1981) (holding that a residential picketing ban that applied only to nonlabor picketing was unconstitutionally content-based); Reed v. Town of Gilbert (2015) (holding that a sign ordinance that treated political signs, ideological signs, and signs giving directions to certain events differently was unconstitutionally content-based).

Now here's the development: Rachel Bluth (California Health Online) wrote about this on Friday, and she quoted, among others, Kevin Baker of ACLU California Action (a collaborative project of the ACLU California affiliates):

The American Civil Liberties Union said it has no issues with it as written.

"It's not necessarily the case that the freedom to express our views is unrestricted," said Kevin Baker …. "They can be balanced with important governmental objectives" like letting people get vaccinated in peace.

I e-mailed Baker to verify his position (and alluding to my contrary position) and got this reply:

It is certainly [an] interesting and novel question, and you may well be correct. Were we to write the law ourselves, we might draw a somewhat different line. But we feel pretty confident that the courts would uphold SB 742 based on the buffer zone/bubble case law largely drawn from the fairly analogous context of reproductive health services. To be clear, however, we are not supportin/g the bill—we are simply neutral.

I have to say that I don't see how the ACLU's view can be correct, for the two reasons I describe (that it's much broader than the 8-foot bubble upheld in Hill, and that it's content-based); but I thought I'd note the ACLU's perspective.

The ACLU has gone off the rails. Again.

 

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

NPR Trashes Free Speech. A Brief Response

https://taibbi.substack.com/p/npr-trashes-free-speech-a-brief-response

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The guests for NPR’s just-released On The Media episode about the dangers of free speech included Andrew Marantz, author of an article called, “Free Speech is Killing Us”; P.E. Moskowitz, author of “The Case Against Free Speech”; Susan Benesch, director of the “Dangerous Speech Project”; and Berkeley professor John Powell, whose contribution was to rip John Stuart Mill’s defense of free speech in On Liberty as “wrong.”

That’s about right for NPR, which for years now has regularly congratulated itself for being a beacon of diversity while expunging every conceivable alternative point of view.

I always liked Brooke Gladstone, but this episode of On The Media was shockingly dishonest. The show was a compendium of every neo-authoritarian argument for speech control one finds on Twitter, beginning with the blanket labeling of censorship critics as “speech absolutists” (most are not) and continuing with shameless revisions of the history of episodes like the ACLU’s mid-seventies defense of Nazi marchers at Skokie, Illinois.

The essence of arguments made by all of NPR’s guests is that the modern conception of speech rights is based upon John Stuart Mill’s outdated conception of harm, which they summarized as saying, “My freedom to swing my fist ends at the tip of your nose.”

Because, they say, we now know that people can be harmed by something other than physical violence, Mill (whose thoughts NPR overlaid with harpsichord music, so we could be reminded how antiquated they are) was wrong, and we have to recalibrate our understanding of speech rights accordingly.

This was already an absurd and bizarre take, but what came next was worse. I was stunned by Marantz and Powell’s take on Brandenburg v. Ohio, our current legal standard for speech, which prevents the government from intervening except in cases of incitement to “imminent lawless action”:

MARANTZ: Neo-Nazi rhetoric about gassing Jews, that might inflict psychological harm on a Holocaust survivor, but as long as there’s no immediate incitement to physical violence, the government considers that protected… The village of Skokie tried to stop the Nazis from marching, but the ACLU took the case to the Supreme Court, and the court upheld the Nazis’ right to march.

POWELL: The speech absolutists try to say, “You can’t regulate speech…” Why? “Well, because it would harm the speaker. It would somehow truncate their expression and their self-determination.” And you say, okay, what’s the harm? “Well, the harm is, a psychological harm.” Wait a minute, I thought you said psychological harms did not count?

This is not remotely accurate as a description of what happened in Skokie. People like eventual ACLU chief Ira Glasser and lawyer David Goldberger had spent much of the sixties fighting for the civil rights movement. The entire justification of these activists and lawyers — Jewish activists and lawyers, incidentally, who despised what neo-Nazi plaintiff Frank Collin stood for — was based not upon a vague notion of preventing “psychological harm,” but on a desire to protect minority rights.

In fighting the battles of the civil rights movement, Glasser, Goldberger and others had repeatedly seen in the South tactics like the ones used by localities in and around Chicago with regard to those neo-Nazis, including such ostensibly “constitutional” ploys like requiring massive insurance bonds of would-be marchers and protesters.

Years later, Glasser would point to the efforts of Forsyth County, Georgia to prevent Atlanta city councilman and civil rights advocate Hosea Williams from marching there in 1987. “Do you want every little town to decide which speech is permitted?” Glasser asked. Anyone interested in hearing more should watch the documentary about the episode called Mighty Ira.

This was the essence of the ACLU’s argument, and it’s the same one made by people like Hugo Black and Benjamin Hooks and congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who said, “It is technically impossible to write an anti-speech code that cannot be twisted against speech nobody means to bar. It has been tried and tried and tried.

The most important problem of speech regulation, as far as speech advocates have been concerned, has always been the identity of the people setting the rules. If there are going to be limits on speech, someone has to set those limits, which means some group is inherently going to wield extraordinary power over another. Speech rights are a political bulwark against such imbalances, defending the minority not only against government repression but against what Mill called “the tyranny of prevailing opinion.”

It’s unsurprising that NPR — whose tone these days is so precious and exclusive that five minutes of listening to any segment makes you feel like you’re wearing a cucumber mask at a Plaza spa — papers over this part of the equation, since it must seem a given to them that the intellectual vanguard setting limits would come from their audience. Who else is qualified?

By the end of the segment, Marantz and Gladstone seemed in cheerful agreement they’d demolished any arguments against “getting away from individual rights and the John Stuart Mill stuff.” They felt it more appropriate to embrace the thinking of a modern philosopher like Marantz favorite Richard Rorty, who believes in “replacing the whole framework” of society, which includes “not doing the individual rights thing anymore.”

It was all a near-perfect distillation of the pretensions of NPR’s current target audience, which clearly feels we’ve reached the blue-state version of the End of History, where all important truths are agreed upon, and there’s no longer need to indulge empty gestures to pluralism like the “marketplace of ideas.”

Mill ironically pointed out that “princes, or others who are accustomed to unlimited deference, usually feel this complete confidence in their own opinions on nearly all subjects.” Sound familiar? Yes, speech can be harmful, which is why journalists like me have always welcomed libel and incitement laws and myriad other restrictions, and why new rules will probably have to be concocted for some of the unique problems of the Internet age. But the most dangerous creatures in the speech landscape are always aristocrat know-it-alls who can’t wait to start scissoring out sections of the Bill of Rights. It’d be nice if public radio could find space for at least one voice willing to point that out.

Great commentary by Mr. Taibbi.

And he's right about the current NPR.  Recently listened to an episode of their Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast where they were supposed to discuss their favorite recent Science Fiction & Fantasy novels.  Instead 75% of the episode went by with the hosts navel gazing about how "woke" they all were before they even mentioned one title.

 

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Reddit's Messy Fight Over COVID Misinformation

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This week, Reddit banned r/NoNewNormal, a discussion forum on the site that called into question conventional wisdom about masking and vaccines, while also "quarantining"—or applying an opt-in requirement for viewing—54 other subreddits that violate the site's "Rule 1" about inciting violence or promoting hate "based on identity or vulnerability."

Reddit says it banned r/NoNewNormal for "brigading," or the practice in which frequent users of one forum go into another to hijack the discussion. In this case, COVID denialists and policy skeptics (the two are not the same, though Reddit's rules clarification post conflates the two) engaged in 80 brigades in a one-month span that were "largely directed at communities with more mainstream views on COVID or location-based communities that have been discussing COVID restrictions." The subreddit had been previously warned that it was flouting the rules.

Interestingly, COVID skeptic and denialist forums are seemingly dominated by more positive internal feedback than the typical subreddit. According to Reddit's analysis, not only has COVID content increased since the larger July emergence of the delta variant in America, but subreddits that call into question pandemic-era bromides and policy choices have a far greater percentage of "content positively received" and, therefore, exposure, than typical subs.

As one Reddit content moderator wrote when announcing the ban and quarantines, "An important part of our moderation structure is the community members themselves. How are users responding to COVID-related posts? How much visibility do they have? Is there a difference in the response in these high signal subs than the rest of Reddit?"

The moderator noted that "in these high signal subs, there is generally less of the critical feedback mechanism than we would expect to see in other non-denial based subreddits."

But it's also important to pair this defensible moderation decision with an understanding of the public protests that other Reddit communities have engaged in. Weeks ago, moderators of over 450 other subreddits submitted an open letter to the company asking it to "take action against the rampant Coronavirus misinformation" on the site:

"We could have been better off months ago, but disinformation and lies have been allowed to spread readily through inaction and malice, and have dragged this on at the cost of lives. There are those who deny that the pandemic even exists, there are those who think that wearing a mask will literally suffocate you, there are those who think it's no worse than a regular flu virus, that it's a bioweapon, and everything in between….

There is no area of recognised safety procedures when it comes to battling the spread of a dangerous virus that is not under attack here. All empirically proven measures which can help save lives are under attack. Masks work1 , but not according to the propaganda. **The vaccine is safe,**2 it is not untested, and it is not experimental technology or DNA manipulation, but people getting their information from these propaganda subreddits are told the opposite."

"There can be no room for leniency when people are dying as a result of misinformation on this platform," the open letter continued, ending with a pointed demand: "Subreddits which exist solely to spread medical disinformation and undermine efforts to combat the global pandemic should be banned."

Reddit refused to acquiesce, responding instead with a forceful defense of the site's value proposition—"dissent is a part of Reddit and the foundation of democracy. Reddit is a place for open and authentic discussion and debate. This includes conversations that question or disagree with popular consensus"—and roughly 150 subs went private, putting up protest messages informing visitors of their grievances.

It's difficult to tell whether Reddit's decision to crack down on inappropriate user practices was influenced by widespread outcry. When its most recent announcement was greeted with frustrated responses, company representatives continued to defend their concept of the site as a place to explore ideas, even unpopular or offensive ones.

But internal Reddit data on forum traffic and upvotes indicate that the people who frequent COVID-skeptical subreddits have a hunger for exchanging heterodox takes on masks, vaccines, and pandemic-era policy missteps. It's fascinating that engagement within such communities is more positive than is typical for other forums. It's almost as if giving people a wide berth to feel as though they can legitimately question the party line is important—something Reddit seems to understand, but most free speech–antagonistic zealots who call for heavier content moderation fail to grasp.

"The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it," wrote John Stuart Mill in On Liberty. "If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."

Today's writers of open letters clumsily imply that barring people from "the opportunity of exchanging error for truth" will result in submissive acceptance instead of heightened suspicion of the approved consensus. This error in thinking sells short just how frequently public health authorities and their mainstream boosters have been wrong on important issues like the lab leak hypothesis, overselling the frequency with which breakthrough infections occur, and simultaneously underselling the benefits of masks (that old "noble" lie!) while overselling the benefits of mask mandates, not to mention officials' persistent attachment to hygiene theater measures that should have been retired long ago or never rolled out. This doesn't fully erode their credibility, nor does it absolve vaccine denialists, many of whom traffic in bad information. It does, however, complicate the idea that skeptics and critics have nothing useful to add, or that their ideas will magically comport with mainstream opinion once suppressed.

Kudos to Reddit for mostly sticking to it's principles.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Cops Get Qualified Immunity After Jailing Florida Man for 'I Eat Ass' Bumper Sticker

https://reason.com/2021/09/28/florida-man-jailed-i-eat-ass-bumper-sticker-free-speech-qualified-immunity-cops/

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New life was injected into a free speech legal saga over an "I Eat Ass" bumper sticker yesterday when a federal judge ruled that the expression might violate Florida's obscenity law and would thus be unprotected by the First Amendment.

At the center of the odyssey is Florida man Dillon Shane Webb, who was pulled over in May of 2019 after Columbia County Sheriff's Deputy Travis English took exception to the sticker. Webb declined to censor it on the spot, his vehicle was searched, and he was subsequently arrested and booked in jail for "obscene writing on vehicles" and "resisting an officer without violence." (The "resisting" in question refers to his refusal to alter the sticker's appearance at the officer's demand.)

Those charges were dropped shortly thereafter, with the State Attorney's Office citing the First Amendment.

But the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled yesterday that the case is not so cut and dry, awarding qualified immunity to English and thus dooming the suit Webb brought against him for allegedly violating his free speech rights and for falsely arresting him.

"While Webb denies the Sticker was in fact obscene, in interviews he repeatedly acknowledged the sexual nature of his Sticker," wrote Judge Marcia Morales Howard in Webb v. English, "albeit couched as an attempt at humor, showing that the notion that an erotic message was more than hypothetical—it could reasonably be viewed as the predominant message being communicated." She added that "if the Sticker depicted a sexual act, it would be protected speech under the First Amendment only if it had serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." English, as well as Corporal Chad Kirby—who via phone agreed Dillon should be arrested—thus can't be held liable over their subjective determination and the subsequent arrest.

Yet the law in questionFla. Stat. § 847.011(2), which prohibits "any sticker, decal, emblem or other device attached to a motor vehicle containing obscene descriptions, photographs, or depictions"—is unconstitutional on its face, according to Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley. "This entire provision is therefore unconstitutionally overbroad and thus invalid on its face, and thus can't be applied even to possession of obscenity in public," Volokh argued in May 2019.

The doctrine of qualified immunity protects certain state actors from accountability for alleged misconduct if the exact way they violated your rights has not been explicitly carved out as unconstitutional in a prior court decision. Though it was supposed to shield government officials only from silly lawsuits, it has instead shielded them from ones with merit, including the more than two-dozen cops who blew up an innocent man's home during a botched SWAT raid on the wrong residence, a cop who conducted an illegal search and ruined a man's car in the process, cops who allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars, and cops who arrested a man on bogus charges after attacking him outside his house. Those who overcome qualified immunity do not win damages as a result; they merely get the opportunity to state their claim before a jury.

This is not the first time a qualified immunity case arose from an alleged breach of the First Amendment. Denver cops affirmatively violated a man's First Amendment rights when they forced him to delete a video of them beating a suspect, a federal court ruled in March. That same court also gave the officers qualified immunity because, though the officers were guilty of violating the man's rights, that right was not "clearly established" at the time, the ruling said.

And the doctrine does not solely apply to police: College administrators at Arkansas State University received qualified immunity after hamstringing a student from recruiting for a conservative political advocacy group. The Supreme Court declined to hear that case, eliciting a scathing rebuke from Justice Clarence Thomas.

Ironically, there was a ruling that may have helped Webb. Nieves v. Bartlett, a 2019 Supreme Court decision, holds that officers may be held liable if they "have probable cause to make arrests, but typically exercise their discretion not to do so." One would assume that applies here, where the officer surely should have exercised his discretion not to make an arrest over a bumper sticker.

Yet in an apt demonstration of how lopsided qualified immunity doctrine is, Judge Howard noted that the Supreme Court handed that particular decision down three weeks after Webb's arrest. "As such," she wrote, "as of the date of Webb's arrest, the right to be free from a retaliatory arrest that was otherwise supported by probable cause was not clearly established."

 

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Democrats and Media Do Not Want to Weaken Facebook, Just Commandeer its Power to Censor

https://greenwald.substack.com/p/democrats-and-media-do-not-want-to

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Much is revealed by who is bestowed hero status by the corporate media. This week's anointed avatar of stunning courage is Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager being widely hailed as a "whistleblower” for providing internal corporate documents to the Wall Street Journal relating to the various harms which Facebook and its other platforms (Instagram and WhatsApp) are allegedly causing.

The social media giant hurts America and the world, this narrative maintains, by permitting misinformation to spread (presumably more so than cable outlets and mainstream newspapers do virtually every week); fostering body image neurosis in young girls through Instagram (presumably more so than fashion magazines, Hollywood and the music industry do with their glorification of young and perfectly-sculpted bodies); promoting polarizing political content in order to keep the citizenry enraged, balkanized and resentful and therefore more eager to stay engaged (presumably in contrast to corporate media outlets, which would never do such a thing); and, worst of all, by failing to sufficiently censor political content that contradicts liberal orthodoxies and diverges from decreed liberal Truth. On Tuesday, Haugen's star turn took her to Washington, where she spent the day testifying before the Senate about Facebook's dangerous refusal to censor even more content and ban even more users than they already do.

There is no doubt, at least to me, that Facebook and Google are both grave menaces. Through consolidation, mergers and purchases of any potential competitors, their power far exceeds what is compatible with a healthy democracy. A bipartisan consensus has emerged on the House Antitrust Committee that these two corporate giants — along with Amazon and Apple — are all classic monopolies in violation of long-standing but rarely enforced antitrust laws. Their control over multiple huge platforms that they purchased enables them to punish and even destroy competitors, as we saw when Apple, Google and Amazon united to remove Parler from the internet forty-eight hours after leading Democrats demanded that action, right as Parler became the most-downloaded app in the country, or as Google suppresses Rumble videos in its dominant search feature as punishment for competing with Google's YouTube platform. Facebook and Twitter both suppressed reporting on the authentic documents about Joe Biden's business activities reported by The New York Post just weeks before the 2020 election. These social media giants also united to effectively remove the sitting elected President of the United States from the internet, prompting grave warnings from leaders across the democratic world about how anti-democratic their consolidated censorship power has become.

But none of the swooning over this new Facebook heroine nor any of the other media assaults on Facebook have anything remotely to do with a concern over those genuine dangers. Congress has taken no steps to curb the influence of these Silicon Valley giants because Facebook and Google drown the establishment wings of both parties with enormous amounts of cash and pay well-connected lobbyists who are friends and former colleagues of key lawmakers to use their D.C. influence to block reform. With the exception of a few stalwarts, neither party's ruling wing really has any objection to this monopolistic power as long as it is exercised to advance their own interests.

And that is Facebook's only real political problem: not that they are too powerful but that they are not using that power to censor enough content from the internet that offends the sensibilities and beliefs of Democratic Party leaders and their liberal followers, who now control the White House, the entire executive branch and both houses of Congress. Haugen herself, now guided by long-time Obama operative Bill Burton, has made explicitly clear that her grievance with her former employer is its refusal to censor more of what she regards as “hate, violence and misinformation.” In a 60 Minutes interview on Sunday night, Haugen summarized her complaint about CEO Mark Zuckerberg this way: he “has allowed choices to be made where the side effects of those choices are that hateful and polarizing content gets more distribution and more reach." Haugen, gushed The New York Times’ censorship-desperate tech unit as she testified on Tuesday, is “calling for regulation of the technology and business model that amplifies hate and she’s not shy about comparing Facebook to tobacco.”

Agitating for more online censorship has been a leading priority for the Democratic Party ever since they blamed social media platforms (along with WikiLeaks, Russia, Jill Stein, James Comey, The New York Times, and Bernie Bros) for the 2016 defeat of the rightful heir to the White House throne, Hillary Clinton. And this craving for censorship has been elevated into an even more urgent priority for their corporate media allies, due to the same belief that Facebook helped elect Trump but also because free speech on social media prevents them from maintaining a stranglehold on the flow of information by allowing ordinary, uncredentialed serfs to challenge, question and dispute their decrees or build a large audience that they cannot control. Destroying alternatives to their failing platforms is thus a means of self-preservation: realizing that they cannot convince audiences to trust their work or pay attention to it, they seek instead to create captive audiences by destroying or at least controlling any competitors to their pieties.

As I have been reporting for more than a year, Democrats do not make any secret of their intent to co-opt Silicon Valley power to police political discourse and silence their enemies. Congressional Democrats have summoned the CEO's of Google, Facebook and Twitter four times in the last year to demand they censor more political speech. At the last Congressional inquisition in March, one Democrat after the next explicitly threatened the companies with legal and regulatory reprisals if they did not immediately start censoring more.

A Pew survey from August shows that Democrats now overwhelmingly support internet censorship not only by tech giants but also by the government which their party now controls. In the name of "restricting misinformation,” more than 3/4 of Democrats want tech companies "to restrict false info online, even if it limits freedom of information,” and just under 2/3 of Democrats want the U.S. Government to control that flow of information over the internet:

https%3A%2F%2Fbucketeer-e05bbc84-baa3-43

The prevailing pro-censorship mindset of the Democratic Party is reflected not only by that definitive polling data but also by the increasingly brash and explicit statements of their leaders. At the end of 2020, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), newly elected after young leftist activists worked tirelessly on his behalf to fend off a primary challenge from the more centrist Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA), told Facebook's Zuckerberg exactly what the Democratic Party wanted. In sum, they demand more censorship:

This, and this alone, is the sole reason why there is so much adoration being constructed around the cult of this new disgruntled Facebook employee. What she provides, above all else, is a telegenic and seemingly informed “insider” face to tell Americans that Facebook is destroying their country and their world by allowing too much content to go uncensored, by permitting too many conversations among ordinary people that are, in the immortal worlds of the NYT's tech reporter Taylor Lorenz, “unfettered.”


When Facebook, Google, Twitter and other Silicon Valley social media companies were created, they did not set out to become the nation's discourse police. Indeed, they affirmatively wanted not to do that. Their desire to avoid that role was due in part to the prevailing libertarian ideology of a free internet in that sub-culture. But it was also due to self-interest: the last thing social media companies wanted to be doing is looking for ways to remove and block people from using their product and, worse, inserting themselves into the middle of inflammatory political controversies. Corporations seek to avoid angering potential customers and users over political stances, not courting that anger.

This censorship role was not one they so much sought as one that was foisted on them. It was not really until the 2016 election, when Democrats were obsessed with blaming social media giants (and pretty much everyone else except themselves) for their humiliating defeat, that pressure began escalating on these executives to start deleting content liberals deemed dangerous or false and banning their adversaries from using the platforms at all. As it always does, the censorship began by targeting widely disliked figures — Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones and others deemed “dangerous” — so that few complained (and those who did could be vilified as sympathizers of the early offenders). Once entrenched, the censorship net then predictably and rapidly spread inward (as it invariably does) to encompass all sorts of anti-establishment dissidents on the right, the left, and everything in between. And no matter how much it widens, the complaints that it is not enough intensify. For those with the mentality of a censor, there can never be enough repression of dissent. And this plot to escalate censorship pressures found the perfect vessel in this stunningly brave and noble Facebook heretic who emerged this week from the shadows into the glaring spotlight. She became a cudgel that Washington politicians and their media allies could use to beat Facebook into submission to their censorship demands.

In this dynamic we find what the tech and culture writer Curtis Yarvin calls "power leak.” This is a crucial concept for understanding how power is exercised in American oligarchy, and Yarvin's brilliant essay illuminates this reality as well as it can be described. Hyperbolically arguing that "Mark Zuckerberg has no power at all,” Yarvin points out that it may appear that the billionaire Facebook CEO is powerful because he can decide what will and will not be heard on the largest information distribution platform in the world. But in reality, Zuckerberg is no more powerful than the low-paid content moderators whom Facebook employs to hit the "delete” or "ban” button, since it is neither the Facebook moderators nor Zuckerberg himself who is truly making these decisions. They are just censoring as they are told, in obedience to rules handed down from on high. It is the corporate press and powerful Washington elites who are coercing Facebook and Google to censor in accordance with their wishes and ideology upon pain of punishment in the form of shame, stigma and even official legal and regulatory retaliation. Yarvin puts it this way:

However, if Zuck is subject to some kind of oligarchic power, he is in exactly the same position as his own moderators. He exercises power, but it is not his power, because it is not his will. The power does not flow from him; it flows through him. This is why we can say honestly and seriously that he has no power. It is not his, but someone else’s. . . .

Zuck doesn’t want to do any of this. Nor do his users particularly want it. Rather, he is doing it because he is under pressure from the press. Duh. He cannot even admit that he is under duress—or his Vietcong guards might just snap, and shoot him like the Western running-dog capitalist he is….

And what grants the press this terrifying power? The pure and beautiful power of the logos? What distinguishes a well-written poast, like this one, from an equally well-written Times op-ed? Nothing at all but prestige. In normal times, every sane CEO will comply unhesitatingly with the slightest whim of the legitimate press, just as they will comply unhesitatingly with a court order. That’s just how it is. To not call this power government is—just playing with words.

As I have written before, this problem — whereby the government coerces private actors to censor for them — is not one that Yarvin was the first to recognize. The U.S. Supreme Court has held, since at least 1963, that the First Amendment's "free speech” clause is violated when state officials issue enough threats and other forms of pressure that essentially leave the private actor with no real choice but to censor in accordance with the demands of state officials. Whether we are legally at the point where that constitutional line has been crossed by the increasingly blunt bullying tactics of Democratic lawmakers and executive branch officials is a question likely to be resolved in the courts. But whatever else is true, this pressure is very real and stark and reveals that the real goal of Democrats is not to weaken Facebook but to capture its vast power for their own nefarious ends.

There is another issue raised by this week's events that requires ample caution as well. The canonized Facebook whistleblower and her journalist supporters are claiming that what Facebook fears most is repeal or reform of Section 230, the legislative provision that provides immunity to social media companies for defamatory or other harmful material published by their users. That section means that if a Facebook user or YouTube host publishes legally actionable content, the social media companies themselves cannot be held liable. There may be ways to reform Section 230 that can reduce the incentive to impose censorship, such as denying that valuable protection to any platform that censors, instead making it available only to those who truly allow an unmoderated platform to thrive. But such a proposal has little support in Washington. What is far more likely is that Section 230 will be "modified” to impose greater content moderation obligations on all social media companies.

Far from threatening Facebook and Google, such a legal change could be the greatest gift one can give them, which is why their executives are often seen calling on Congress to regulate the social media industry. Any legal scheme that requires every post and comment to be moderated would demand enormous resources — gigantic teams of paid experts and consultants to assess "misinformation” and "hate speech” and veritable armies of employees to carry out their decrees. Only the established giants such as Facebook and Google would be able to comply with such a regimen, while other competitors — including large but still-smaller ones such as Twitter — would drown in those requirements. And still-smaller challengers to the hegemony of Facebook and Google, such as Substack and Rumble, could never survive. In other words, any attempt by Congress to impose greater content moderation obligations — which is exactly what they are threatening — would destroy whatever possibility remains for competitors to arise and would, in particular, destroy any platforms seeking to protect free discourse. That would be the consequence by design, which is why one should be very wary of any attempt to pretend that Facebook and Google fear such legislative adjustments.

There are real dangers posed by allowing companies such as Facebook and Google to amass the power they have now consolidated. But very little of the activism and anger from the media and Washington toward these companies is designed to fracture or limit that power. It is designed, instead, to transfer that power to other authorities who can then wield it for their own interests. The only thing more alarming than Facebook and Google controlling and policing our political discourse is allowing elites from one of the political parties in Washington and their corporate media outlets to assume the role of overseer, as they are absolutely committed to doing. Far from being some noble whistleblower, Frances Haugen is just their latest tool to exploit for their scheme to use the power of social media giants to control political discourse in accordance with their own views and interests.

.....

 

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Government Keeps Trying To Censor This Brewery. The Owner Isn't Having It.

https://reason.com/2021/10/06/free-speech-flying-dog-brewery-government-censorship-first-amendment/

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Jim Caruso, CEO of Flying Dog Brewery, calls his business a "First Amendment brewery." That's because he keeps going to court to defend beer labels.

It started in 1995, when Colorado's Liquor Commission objected to the label, "Good Beer, No Shit."

Bureaucrats told him, "Pull the beer from the market, or we suspend your license," he says in my new video. That could have put him out of business.

I tell Caruso, "I'm glad we get to say 'shit' in this interview, but I can see why the regulators didn't want the word."

"Want free speech?" Caruso responds. "You have to respect that in others."

After four years of litigation, Colorado's Supreme Court overruled the liquor commission, ruling that "no shit" is free speech.

Then Michigan's liquor commission banned another Caruso beer, "Raging Bitch" (remember, it's "Flying Dog" brewery).

The bureaucrats said the label was "detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the general public." They told Caruso, "Oprah doesn't use the word on her show."

Oprah?

Michigan police ordered him to pull Raging Bitch from the shelves, or they'd confiscate it.

Caruso went to court again.

"Do you really want to live in a country where government bureaucrats, based on whim and personal preference, can censor whatever they don't like?" asks Caruso. "Movies, books, music lyrics, news stories?"

"No," I respond. "But I wouldn't want to fight over a beer name. What do you care? Change the name of the beer."

"All of these battles are fought at the margin. That's where everything controversial is," responds Caruso. "By the time you're defending something mainstream, it's too late."

After six more years in court, he won again. The court said, "Banning a label for vulgarity violates the First Amendment."

You'd think the bureaucrats would have known that, since the federal government already approved Caruso's beers. In fact, every brewer in America must first submit every label to a federal bureaucracy called the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Which makes me wonder: Why does every state need separate regulation?

I suspect the answer is: Bureaucrats want jobs, and politicians are eager to waste our money.

On top of the feds' hundreds of pages of rules, Caruso complains: "Every state has its own regulations. I think Maryland is 300-some pages, single-spaced….The cost and time for compliance is onerous."

This year, North Carolina's Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission rejected another Caruso beer, "Freezin' Season."

The label depicts a cartoon figure in front of a fire. It might be a naked man…or not. If you squint at it, one tiny line might represent a penis.

Oh, no! Who will save us? North Carolina's BEEReaucrats!

They told Caruso it is "inappropriate" to expose children to that image and cited "Rule 15b 1003-3(2)," which prohibits labels that are "undignified, immodest, or in bad taste."

Bureaucrats love writing lines like "Rule 15b 1003-3(2)." North Carolina had already rejected more than 300 other beer labels—such as "Polygamy Porter," "Beergasm," and "Hedonism."

Most rejected breweries then usually just sell their banned beers in other states, but Caruso sues. Good for him for spending his own money to defend a principle.

Days before his first court hearing, North Carolina suddenly approved his beer, saying their change of heart "rendered the case moot."

But Caruso pursued his litigation anyway, saying: "It's not about one beer label. It's about striking down an unconstitutional law!"

He also pointed out, "If it was to protect the children before, and now they've lifted the ban, they're either sacrificing children at the altar of evading a preliminary hearing, or they're just full of shit."

North Carolina's liquor commission wouldn't agree to an interview.

 

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Netflix Staff Apparently Unaware That Dave Chappelle's Comedy Special Would Include Jokes

https://reason.com/2021/10/14/netflix-staff-apparently-unaware-that-dave-chappelles-comedy-special-would-include-jokes/

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Comedian Dave Chappelle's newest hourlong special, The Closer, pokes fun at people's pieties, sprinkled with a tenderness that Chappelle has long supplied. It's humane and irreverent and, yes, he directly deals with the criticism and cancellation attempts he's gotten from transgender activists; why wouldn't he? He's never been one to shy away from good material.

If you were reading reviews of the special, you wouldn't know that. "Too often in The Closer, it just sounds like Chappelle is using white privilege to excuse his own homophobia and transphobia," sanctimoniously declares an NPR piece, clumsily arguing that he thinks that the plight of the black man in America trumps oppression faced by all other identity groups, intimating that Chappelle is just looking for thinly veiled excuses for his own purported animus. A Daily Beast headline reads "Dave Chappelle, and the Week From Hell For Trans People."

Chappelle's comedy exists in the liminal space between irresponsible and downright dangerous to trans people, or so his critics' argument goes. He's gratuitously edgy, pushing the envelope because he knows he can, allegedly prioritizing little glimmers of comedic payoff over nurturing a culture that's comfortable and welcoming for trans people. But he jokes about almost everyone in a manner that could cause discomfort if you're overly preening and self-serious. This man jokes about hoping "white bitches" get tear-gassed at the Women's March!

 

No one is safe from Chappelle's jokes—but also, everyone is safe from Chappelle's jokes, given that words don't directly cause harm, and that Chappelle is not uncaring or unfeeling. He seems sincere when he insists he's "not indifferent to the suffering of someone else" (before launching into a joke about taking a shit at Walmart and trans bathroom bills and DaBaby killing a guy, of course).

"These transgenders…want me dead," Chappelle says later on. "Every time I come out on stage, I be scared. I be lookin' around the crowd, searching for knuckles and Adam's apples to see where the threats might be coming from."

"A nigga came up to me on the street the other day, he said, 'Careful Dave, they after you,'" Chappelle says, pausing, his eyes wide. "I said 'What? One they, or many theys?'"

Jokes like these have inspired outcry from within Netflix. Lower-level employees took to crashing a company meeting of executives; media sites dishonestly declared that "Netflix Employee Who Criticized Dave Chappelle's Special Gets Suspended," neglecting to mention in the headline that it wasn't really the criticism that was the problem, but rather the unkosher practice of crashing leadership's meeting. (Many media outlets, from The Daily Beast to The Verge to NPR to The New York Times neglected to convey the appropriate nuance in their headlines.) "It is absolutely untrue to say that we have suspended any employees for tweeting about this show. Our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we support their right to do so," a Netflix spokesperson clarified to Variety, failing to stop the deluge of misleading headlines.

Earlier this week, Netflix's co-CEO Ted Sarandos issued a careful rejoinder to his employees, some of whom were staging a walkout in protest of the company airing the Chappelle special. "Our goal is to entertain the world," Sarandos wrote, "which means programming for a diversity of tastes.…We also support artistic freedom to help attract the best creators, and push back on government and other censorship requests." Excerpted below:

With The Closer, we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.) Last year, we heard similar concerns about 365 Days and violence against women. While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn't directly translate to real-world harm.

The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last thirty years, especially with first party shooter games, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly in many countries. Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse – or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy – without it causing them to harm others. We are working hard to ensure marginalized communities aren't defined by a single story. So we have Sex Education, Orange is the New Black, Control Z, Hannah Gadsby and Dave Chappelle all on Netflix. Key to this is increasing diversity on the content team itself.

With this, Sarandos delivered a decisive blow to the words-are-violence crowd. Well-adjusted adults should be able to coexist in a world with people who don't share their tastes, morals, sensibilities, and convictions. They ought to be able to work for a company that platforms content that does not conform to their own personal sense of what is worthy or even prudent. You will not break, or be mowed down in the streets, simply because Chappelle said transgressive things in a Netflix special; the supposition that our world works that way is unfounded.

Chappelle's comedy is at its strongest when he's engaging with issues that are actually quite hard to stomach, issues requiring both deftness and heart. His suicide-related comedy (the Foot Locker guy/Anthony Bourdain bit, from Sticks & Stones; the bits about Daphne Dorman's plight, from The Closer), which oscillates comfortably between irreverent and humane, is some of his finest work. And his trans-related comedy indicates just how much he wishes he could opt out; he reserves his right to just not care that much about people's pronouns and niche subcultures he's not particularly interested in.

He tells us later on in the special that he's happy to have friends who are trans—provided they're not humorless—implying that he sees them as individuals, not as symbols or representatives of any one idea or thing. There's no categorical opposition to being friends with trans people expressed, not even once. (In fact, Dorman's story, which he tells right before closing out, wholly counters the idea that Chappelle has no heart for transgender people.)

But the great disappearing act that is Chappelle, who famously quit The Chappelle Show and moved to South Africa (and worse, Ohio), has announced with his latest special that he's once again dipping out. Receding from the limelight is Chappelle's specialty; he famously walked away from $50 million when he felt like it was time to stop doing his show, and he's indicated, with this latest special, that he's neither interested in backing down from his beliefs and sense of humor nor in relitigating the same things over and over in the public square.

Surprising no one, Chappelle—the man who once dreamed up Clayton Bigsby, a blind white supremacist who doesn't realize he's black—failed to make an adequately sensitive special, and he failed to make one that pleased or mollified critics. But he succeeded at making a special that was both funny and tender, if only people would stop chattering about his purported sins long enough to listen.

Agreed.  Mr. Chappelle is a national treasure.  Censoring him like these woke scolds want to do would be a crime.

 

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Netflix Caving On Chappelle In 5…4…3…

https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/netflix-caving-on-chappelle-watch/

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Everybody get ready, Netflix is in the process of caving to Big Trans. From an interview Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos did with Variety:

On the eve of a planned employee walkout at the streaming giant — organized by trans and LGBTQ+ staffers, content creators and allies — Sarandos addressed numerous points related to recent jokes from Chappelle that have incensed the trans community and been labeled as harmful.

Stop right there. Those who walk out should be told by Netflix to keep stepping.

More:

Do you have any regrets about how this process was handled, especially in your internal communication with employees? 

Ted Sarandos: Obviously, I screwed up that internal communication. I did that, and I screwed it up in two ways. First and foremost, I should have led with a lot more humanity. Meaning, I had a group of employees who were definitely feeling pain and hurt from a decision we made. And I think that needs to be acknowledged up front before you get into the nuts and bolts of anything. I didn’t do that. That was uncharacteristic for me, and it was moving fast and we were trying to answer some really specific questions that were floating. We landed with some things that were much more blanket and matter-of-fact that are not at all accurate.

Of course storytelling has real impact in the real world. I reiterate that because it’s why I work here, it’s why we do what we do. That impact can be hugely positive, and it can be quite negative. So, I would have been better in that communication. They were joining a conversation already in progress, but out of context. But that happens, internal emails go out. In all my communications I should lean into the humanity up front and not make a blanket statement that could land very differently than it was intended.

Man, I do not get this. At all. Publishing and media executives do this crap too. Do they have any idea what kind of business they are in? Chappelle’s great sin, in the eyes of these crybullies, was that he said trans women aren’t women because they do not have the biology of women. I believe that. A lot of people believe that. Maybe Chappelle is wrong about that. But if this now unsayable, even by a comedian (who makes fun of everybody), this is madness. Sarandos ought to tell those protesters if they cannot handle working for a giant media company that distributes a comedy show in which a standup says only biological women are women, then they should find another line of work. This is cringe.

More:

So the special will remain on the service?

I don’t believe there have been many calls to remove it.

That’s not a “no,” is it? And it’s a not-no that leaves open the possibility that there will one day be so “many calls” that Netflix decided to take it down.

Look at this, and try to make sense of what Sarandos is saying:

Is there anything more specifically actionable from the list of requests — like a call for a new trans and nonbinary talent fund be created? 

We have a creative equity fund that we’ve heavily invested in exactly the things I believe they are asking about. We have and continue to invest enormous amounts of content dollars in LGBTQ+ stories for the world and giving them a global platform. Specifically, trans and non-binary content as well. That’s obviously continued strong, and I think we’ll continue on that path. What’s important to remember is that we’ve got incredible growth in our employee base, and a lot of people have joined during COVID and have never met anyone from Netflix. It’s very tough to understand company history, knowing where we’re at, what we do, and what kind of folks we are. We’ve got to take this opportunity to make sure that they know we are with them and creating this content to spread around the world and creating a great workplace for diverse and marginalized populations. We’re firmly committed to it.

Translation: “We’re going to throw money at making more trans and non-binary shows, so please, I beg you, leave us alone!”

When do you think Netflix will actually pull the special? I bet they’re waiting to see what the response to tomorrow’s walkout is. Remember, even though probably 95 percent of America doesn’t care if a comedian says “only women are women” on his Netflix special, the five percent who do are concentrated in the circles in which Netflix executives move.

Soft totalitarianism is about to claim another scalp…

Indeed it is.

 

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On 1/27/2021 at 7:04 AM, Muda69 said:

Tennessee Cops Arrest Man For Posting Photoshopped Picture of Men Urinating on Dead Officer's Grave

https://reason.com/2021/01/25/tennessee-cops-arrest-man-for-posting-photoshopped-picture-of-men-urinating-on-dead-officers-grave/

Agreed.  In very poor taste, but not a crime.

 

There have been a few people I wanted to piss on. I figured out there would be a line there so there is no sense.

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Speech Isn't a "Threat" Just Because a Government Official Says So

https://mises.org/wire/speech-isnt-threat-just-because-government-official-says-so

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Speech doesn't become a "threat" just because a government official calls it that. Yet the National School Boards Association (NSBA) got the Justice Department to open an investigation after labeling parents' speech as "threats and acts of violence" when it occurred in controversies over "critical race theory" and "masking requirements" in the public schools. As the Washington Examiner notes, "A few of the most outrageous examples of these 'threats and acts of violence,' according to the association, include a man filming himself while calling school administrators and another man labeling a school board as 'Marxist.'" The NSBA's letter lists as an example of such threats and violence "A resident in Alabama, who proclaimed himself as 'vaccine police,' has called school administrators while filming himself on Facebook Live."

The NSBA letter falsely claims that "critical race theory is not taught in public schools and remains a complex law school and graduate school subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class." In reality, 20 percent of urban school teachers have taught or discussed critical race theory with their K-12 students, along with 8 percent of teachers nationally, according to a survey by Education Week. These percentages are even higher in high schools, where books by critical race theorists are much more likely to be assigned to students than in elementary schools. The Loudoun County, Virginia, public schools paid a contractor to train their staff in critical race theory, giving it $3,125 to conduct "Critical Race Theory Development."

The NSBA complained about a man filming himself talking to school administrators. But filming yourself is not threatening, and it is less intimidating than filming other people, which courts have ruled is still protected by the First Amendment. For example, courts have ruled that filming the police is free speech in cases such as Fields v. Philadelphia (2017). If you can videotape the police during a tense encounter or an arrest, then you can certainly film yourself talking to school officials, even if they think their responses make them look bad to the public. 

Speech can't be punished just because it makes someone look bad and leads to them getting hate mail. The Wisconsin Supreme Court made that clear when it ruled in favor of a conservative professor whose criticism of a bossy progressive instructor led to her getting hostile emails and hate mail from angry members of the public. (See McAdams v. Marquette University [2018]). So even if a school board receives angry emails after a parent films them or calls them "Marxist," that's still speech protected by the First Amendment.

The Justice Department's response followed NSBA's request that the Justice Department "intervene against … cyberbullying attacks," and prosecute "these crimes and acts of violence under … the PATRIOT Act in regards to domestic terrorism," the "Hate Crimes Prevention Act," and federal civil rights laws. The NSBA's letter also lists some less benign conduct, such as unspecified alleged "physical threats" and the arrest of a man for supposedly committing battery and disorderly conduct at a school board meeting.

In response to the NSBA's letter, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department would investigate "harassment, intimidation, and threats" aimed at school officials or employees. But the conduct alleged by the NSBA is mostly heated rhetoric or bad publicity, not true threats that the government should prosecute. The Supreme Court has ruled that speech isn't an unprotected threat just because it contains harsh rhetoric or someone feels threatened by it. For example, it ruled a man couldn't be prosecuted for saying, "I have already [been drafted] and I have got to report for my physical this Monday coming. I am not going. If they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sights is [President Johnson]."

Government officials often feel "harassed" or "intimidated" by angry voters threatening to vote them out of office, but that doesn't render such speech an unprotected threat. Voters have the right to threaten to remove school board members from office, even if government officials find that "harassing" or "intimidating." As judges noted in striking down a school "harassment" code that restricted speech critical of homosexuality, "there is no categorical 'harassment exception' to the First Amendment's free speech clause." (See Saxe v. State College Area School District [2001]).

The NSBA's complaint about "cyberbullying attacks" follows coordinated parent email campaigns against the teaching of critical race theory in the public schools. When recipients receive hundreds of angry emails, such as from outraged parents, they regard them as "cyberbullying." That it's labeled as "cyberbullying" does not mean that speech is unprotected. People have a right to express their anger about government policies, even if they do so by the thousands and that leaves school board members with thousands of angry emails in their inboxes.

New York's highest court struck down a cyberbullying law as a violation of free speech in People v. Marquan M. (2014). That law restricted "sending hate mail" with "the the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate, or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person," which is how government officials often view angry messages from constituents. And it criminalized "disseminating … personal … information"—even if it’s not "false" or "sexual"—about any person if it was done "with the intent to … annoy …, abuse, [or] taunt” and “with no legitimate private, personal, or public purpose," whatever that might mean. Taping school board members saying stupid things could run afoul of that provision, such as the example the NSBA gave of a man calling school officials while on Facebook Live.

But legislators continue to pass overly broad laws against "cyberbullying" and "cyberstalking." Indeed, the federal Violence Against Women Act already contains an overly broad cyberbullying provision that the Justice Department may attempt to use against parents. One judge found that certain applications of that law were unconstitutional in United States v. Cassidy (2011). As a result, the judge dismissed a prosecution over harsh, repeated criticism of a religious leader on Twitter, finding that the criticism was free speech. But Congress has since expanded the law's reach even further, giving Attorney General Garland a potential weapon to go after some parents.

The NSBA's letter also cited federal civil rights laws such as the "Conspiracy Against Rights statute" and the "Violent Interference with Federally Protected Rights statute." That is ominous, because there is a very real danger that the Biden administration, like past Democratic administrations, will misuse the civil rights laws to censor speech. During the Clinton administration, progressive civil rights officials investigated citizens for "harassment" and "intimidation" merely because they spoke out against or used lawsuits to block, housing projects for classes of people protected by the Fair Housing Act (such as recovering substance abusers). These speech-chilling investigations came to an end in 2000, after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals court ruled such investigations violated the First Amendment in White v. Lee (2000). But in 2017, liberal judges wrongly allowed condo owners to be sued for "interference" with civil rights, because they published angry blog posts that created a "hostile housing environment" for a disabled neighbor who later committed suicide.

As one of the comments to this commentary states "Speech is a threat to authoritarian rule".

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