May 6, 2019

Facebook Censorship

Last Friday, Facebook “banned Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones and other extremists, saying they violated its ban on ‘dangerous individuals.’ The company also removed right-wing personalities Paul Nehlen, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and Laura Loomer, along with Jones’ site, Infowars, which often posts conspiracy theories. The latest bans apply to both Facebook’s main service and to Instagram and extend to fan pages and other related accounts.” AP News

See past issues

From the Left

The left generally supports Facebook’s decision, but wants increased transparency about its policies.

“The link between what people say online and what people do offline has never been clearer, and neither has the need for companies to do something about it. Concerns about censorship still exist, and rightly: Governments are becoming more eager to get involved in policing Internet speech, and the most aggressive proposals look especially concerning against a backdrop of authoritarian regimes cutting off access to social media altogether. Firms such as Facebook could also overreach. But so far, they are still only getting a grip on the most dangerous actors.”
Editorial Board, The Washington Post

“Researchers found that [in Germany], in towns where more people use Facebook, there have been more attacks on refugees. In Myanmar, human rights activists say Facebook has been used to fuel a genocide against the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority group. The government of Sri Lanka blocked Facebook last year, saying it was being used to foment violence, and shuttered the platform again after terrorist attacks last month. The man who massacred worshippers in two New Zealand mosques in March used Facebook to document his actions. And many in India have blamed numerous launchings on hoaxes spread on the Facebook-owned platform, WhatsApp. So Facebook is clearly going to need to crack down on many more accounts to do its part to reduce these acts of hate.”
Kara Alaimo, CNN

“In a political culture where ideas turn into tribes of like-minded people in internet silos, untouched by alternative views, protesters on the left and right seem to be dangerously content with marching into other people’s events, shouting or chanting a few slogans and walking out. ‘Propaganda ends where dialogue begins,’ philosopher Marshall McLuhan wrote. Social networks can’t police everything that is posted on their platforms, but when they see something that poisons that dialogue, they have not only a right but an obligation to remove it.”
Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune

Critics, however, note that Facebook “didn’t specify how these accounts had violated the platform’s policies. Instead, a spokesperson told multiple outlets that the company has ‘always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,’ which was a bit tough to swallow, considering these accounts have been spewing hate for years—and many, many hateful accounts remain on the social network…

“The lack of transparency is so troublesome because Facebook’s content moderation processes aren’t only applied to famous racists. For years, black users on Facebook have been forced to navigate the platform’s mercurial enforcement of its speech policies. It’s become so routine for black activists to get suspended when they complain about racism that it’s become common practice in activist communities to create backup accounts and use slang… to dodge the company’s content moderation algorithm… Unless Facebook applies its rules consistently and transparently, people with an agenda will find a way to come crawling back to find their fans.”
April Glaser, Slate

The political calendar and Trump's approach could give grounds for optimism. Kim, who has presided over a limited form of economic development inside North Korea, is under pressure to deliver improvements in the lives of his people… So he has an incentive to try to seek economic benefits or aid from the United States and wants punishing economic sanctions lifted — a potential opening for US negotiators… Kim must realize that his chances of basking in this kind of legitimacy with a US President other than Trump are slim. So if he fears Trump could lose in 2020, he may reason the time may be ripe for a deal. And Trump wants nothing more than a big diplomatic breakthrough months before the election.”
Stephen Collinson, CNN

Regarding the Cadillac tax, “high-premium employer-based plans raise the cost of health care for everyone by encouraging the overconsumption of expensive services. This means that even Medicare and Medicaid face higher prices. Quite aside from its benefits for the health-care market, the Cadillac tax would also have the effect of expanding the tax base and making the tax code more efficient. It would raise revenues by about $15 billion a year… Rather than killing or delaying the Cadillac tax, Democrats should be trying to make it operational. The tax would raise revenue, lower costs, increase the efficiency of the tax code and give the Obamacare individual market its best chance at success.”
Karl W. Smith, Bloomberg

“The two issues with which he is most often associated, support for a balanced budget and opposition to free trade, put him at odds with both of our major political parties. An old-fashioned, soft-spoken Southerner, he nevertheless held views on so-called ‘social issues’ that would be to the left of the mainstream of the Republican Party, both then and now. He was a fervent supporter of the Vietnam POW/MIA movement in the late '80s and early '90s, but he was not in any sense a hawk. Never mind 2003. Perot opposed the first war in Iraq in 1990… Perot's death should be mourned by all Americans who regret the fact that it is no longer possible to make reasoned, non-ideological arguments about questions of public import, and by the devolution of our political life into mindless partisan squabbling.”
Matthew Walther, The Week

From the Right

The right, while not defending the opinions of the banned individuals, argues that Facebook should allow all speech permitted under the first amendment.

From the Right

The right, while not defending the opinions of the banned individuals, argues that Facebook should allow all speech permitted under the first amendment.

“Why should Louis Farrakhan be allowed to use a telephone to spread his hateful message? Why should anybody sell him paper — or a pencil, for that matter? Think of the damage he might do with them… [Supporters of the new policy] have helped to establish the norm that our public discourse is to be moderated by the social sensibilities of the Fortune 500’s chief executives and their boards of directors. Laugh all you like at Alex Jones. He is a kook. But Facebook, and other online platforms, are not going to stop with him.”
Kevin Williamson, New York Post

“The issue isn’t whether the people in question deserve censure. They do. Or that the forms of speech in which they traffic have redeeming qualities. They don’t… [but] do you trust Mark Zuckerberg and the other young lords of Silicon Valley to be good stewards of the world’s digital speech?...

“What happens with the harder calls, the ones who want to be seen publicly and can’t be swept under: alleged Islamophobes, militant anti-immigration types, the people who call for the elimination of Israel? Facebook has training documents governing hate speech, and is now set to deploy the latest generation of artificial intelligence to detect it. But the decision to absolutely ban certain individuals will always be a human one. It will inevitably be subjective. And as these things generally go, it will wind up leading to bans on people whose views are hateful mainly in the eyes of those doing the banning.”
Bret Stephens, New York Times

Many argue that “the professional irritants expelled from Facebook aren’t equally ‘dangerous’. Milo Yiannopoulos is about as dangerous as a plastic spork. Laura Loomer protests, with good reason, that she hasn’t breached Facebook’s terms of use. Paul Joseph Watson’s speech, from what I can tell, is mostly harmless, and his dubious material falls well inside the speech that Facebook wishes to protect: statements that are ‘wrong or inaccurate, even when they are offensive’. The only conclusion is that Facebook has banned them not because they lie, but because their lies are the wrong ones, told from the wrong political perspective.”
Dominic Green, Spectator USA

“It’s important to remember that Facebook users have an advantage that we don’t enjoy offline. They can mute or block toxic voices. If someone is offending you in a classroom, on the quad, or in the cubicle next to you, there is no mute or block. You must ignore or engage. Online, however, you can entirely curate your feed and remove everyone you don’t like… when activists call for bans, they’re frequently not asking to be personally protected from offensive expression but rather demanding to give you protection you may not want…

“I understand Facebook’s desire to rid itself of terrible speech, especially given the rise of online hate. But when considering how to deal with the worst ideas, it’s prudent to rely on principles of free speech and common law that have served America so well for so long. Facebook has a right to invent its own rules, but perhaps it’s better to exercise that right by deferring to the wisdom of the past.”
David French, National Review

“Not only did [Trump] attack the ‘squad,’ he managed to do it in a way in which no other prominent Democrat can continue to criticize them publicly, lest they be perceived as echoing the president’s contention that they should go back where they came from. At the exact moment the accusations and counter-accusations were set to do lasting damage, Trump just had to jump in and give them an attack that would unify them all. It often seems like Trump would rather have a bad news cycle that focuses on him than a beneficial news cycle that focuses on someone else… Everyone around the president can read a poll and knows that his rage-tweeting is a liability; it is perhaps the biggest liability in a presidency that, with prosperity and a perception of peace, ought to be comfortably cruising to reelection.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“If Joe Biden can win his way through the primaries, he’s almost lab-engineered to beat Trump. He doesn’t cause Republican panic, he has the potential to connect with white working-class voters in a way that Hillary couldn’t in 2016, and he has a potential to connect better with black voters than Hillary did… if Biden emerges from [this] crucible, Trump will face a very different challenge than he faced in 2016.”
David French, National Review

“NBC and MSNBC embraced Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in the first debate of Democratic presidential candidates Wednesday night, treating her like the star of the show. The debate led off with Warren, who had a huge popularity advantage from the start… NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie started it off sounding more like Warren’s press secretary. ‘You have many plans – free college, free child care, government health care, cancelation of student debt, new taxes, new regulations, the breakup of major corporations,’ Guthrie said, before teeing up an economy question. Guthrie even used Warren’s plan to break up tech companies as the foundation for a question for Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey… the round-robin final comments also ended with Warren, as Maddow asked her for the ‘final, final statement.’ That let NBC bookend the entire debate with Warren and Warren.”
Dan Gainor, Fox News

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“The fans who avidly followed the men’s tournament certainly weren’t doing anything wrong. And it’s hard to argue that each of them had a moral obligation to be exactly as interested in women’s soccer. Even if we could stop them from watching the men more than the women, should we?…

“It’s tempting to answer that the fan choices aren’t innocent, they’re sexist. But since we can’t peek into their hearts, to say that definitively, we’d have to assume that men’s greater speed, strength and endurance definitely make nodifference to the sport’s quality. Fair enough, but then why do fans prefer to watch Megan Rapinoe play instead of the sedentary elderly who could presumably use some exercise? Alternatively, maybe pay should be equalized precisely because biology is unfair. But that seems to be an argument for curbing the pay of all top-level athletes, who have to hit the genetic lottery just to get on the field. It might be easier to focus on the distributions across society at large, rather than every individual industry, especially when fundamental biology is in play.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

On the bright side...

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