May 6, 2019

Facebook Censorship

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

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

Others note that “[Warren] has provided more detail on Medicare financing than Sanders has. She has also provided more overall policy detail, including on the taxes she would raise, than Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg. And her Medicare plan comes much, much closer to paying for itself than various Republican tax cuts. I wish the conservatives complaining about her plan applied the same rigor to their own ideas… The biggest weakness of Warren’s approach is that it tries to bulldoze through the sizable public anxiety about radical changes to the health care system. Warren would not let people opt into Medicare, a wildly popular idea. She would force them to join… she needs to come up with a reassuring transition plan soon.”
David Leonhardt, New York Times

“Trump’s defenders will say this evidence is all circumstantial. But circumstantial evidence is not weak evidence: it’s simply evidence based on the circumstances in which an act of wrongdoing is committed — such as the license plate of a car that speeds away from a bank just after that bank is robbed. Criminals are convicted on such evidence all the time. They will also say that there’s no explicit quid pro quo proposal here. But… ‘even when a corrupt deal is struck implicitly, the government can still prosecute extortion on a quid pro quo basis. Circumstantial evidence can be enough to prove a criminal exchange.’…

“In the absence of an explicit quid pro quo over restarting aid, the context and circumstances are what will become the focus of the investigation. There is enough here to support impeachment. Whether it is also enough to convince Republicans and lead to removal is another matter.”
Noah Feldman, Bloomberg

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) “insisted the president couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong because, in the end, Ukraine got its money without committing to any investigations. This point of view has radical implications for America’s system of justice and overcrowded prisons, if Mr. Jordan in fact truly believes that all inmates convicted of attempted crimes are innocent of wrongdoing… Perhaps the most telling remark was offered by a Republican staff lawyer, Stephen Castor, who suggested that while the president’s behavior may have been highly irregular, ‘it’s not as outlandish as it could be.’ Here’s a tip: When ‘not as outlandish as itcould be’ is your strongest defense, it’s time to rethink your position.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

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

It’s worth noting that “conservative ideas were much more popular when not associated with the Republican party. In Washington State, voters narrowly rejected bringing affirmative action back to state contracting and university admissions…

“In Seattle, the self-proclaimed socialist city-council member appears to have lost her seat to a pro-business challenger. In Colorado, voters gave fiscal conservatives a big win by rejecting letting the state keep any tax revenues above the state spending cap, money that the state Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights currently guarantees as refunds to taxpayers. In Sussex County, N.J., voters approved, by a 2-to-1 margin, a referendum directing the local freeholder board to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Washington, Colorado, New Jersey — notice these are places where Republican candidates have had no luck lately.)”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

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

“After adding in the ultra-millionaire’s tax and factoring in the other capital taxes Warren wants to levy — on financial transactions, on unrealized capital gains, on corporations — we’d be asking every billionaire to hand over more than two-thirds of their total wealth over a 10-year period. If the government actually managed to collect it, their fortunes would rapidly erode — and so would tax collections. The plan might be a good way to smash wealth, but it’s a terrible way to fund the nation’s health-care system…

“If Warren makes it to the White House, and tries to pass a plan, the Congressional Budget Office will eventually attach more reasonable numbers, with more defensible assumptions, sparking an even more spectacular political blowback than the one that greeted Friday’s announcement. Outside of the progressive Twitterati, there isn’t necessarily an enormous constituency for spending $20.5 trillion to herd every American into a national health insurance program; there would be even less support for spending what Warren’s plan would actually cost.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

On the bright side...

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