Dianne Feinstein

Sen. Feinstein's Threat to 'Do Something' to Social Media Companies Is a Bigger Danger to Democracy Than Russia

Do not ignore the self-interest of elected officials in controlling online political messaging.

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Dianne Feinstein
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) took the opportunity this week to remind social media companies that she's as authoritarian as President Donald Trump and isn't afraid to try to push people around.

Reason's Jacob Sullum and Jesse Walker have ably punctured the hysteria surrounding the Russian government's attempts to influence America's elections with really, really lame social media ads. The ads attempted to exploit our polarized electorate to Russia's advantage, and apparently some of our senators take issue with that.

Perhaps they don't like the competition? Feinstein certainly knows a thing or two about taking advantage of a polarized electorate. Perhaps that explains her Mafia-don approach this week when social media companies failed to kiss her ring sufficiently at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

From The Verge:

Senators raised the stakes against some of America's biggest tech companies on Wednesday, telling them they must take more comprehensive action against foreign actors misusing their platforms. "You created these platforms…and now they're being misused," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told the top lawyers at Facebook, Google, and Twitter. "And you have to be the ones who do something about it—or we will."…

"We are not going to go away, gentlemen," Feinstein continued. "And this is a very big deal. I went home last night with profound disappointment. I asked specific questions, I got vague answers. And that just won't do. You have a huge problem on your hands. And the US is going to be the first of the countries to bring it to your attention, and other countries are going to follow I'm sure. Because you bear this responsibility."

Just imagine somebody saying this about the printing press. Actually, you don't have to imagine it: Powerful political figures did indeed abuse their authority (and continue to abuse their authority) to hold printing press owners responsible for how their "platforms" were "being misused."

Very little coverage of this conflict between the Senate and the social media companies seems interested in pointing out that lawmakers are not neutral, disinterested parties here. Any policy Feinstein might enact here could erect barriers for people using social media tools to challenge her position and power as a senator. Feinstein, it's worth noting, is running for re-election next year and has a personal stake in any policies that control how political speech is presented online. What sort of ads are going to pop up on Facebook and Twitter next year, and what will they be saying about her?

So look at those terrible Russian Facebook ads that try to exploit Americans' unhappiness about their government. And then look at Feinstein declaring that communication tools are being "misused" and must be regulated, possibly by her and other lawmakers unless the companies implement stronger censorship policies on their own. Which presents a greater threat to the proper, open functioning of American democracy?

By the way: This week, as part of this investigation into Russian meddling, Feinstein sent the CEO of Twitter a letter asking that he provide him with a bunch of records, including the content of private direct messages from Julian Assange and other Twitter users. No, she doesn't have a warrant.

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  1. Sure would be a shame if she had a stroke and put Her out of our misery.

  2. Ms. Feinstein, were YOU swayed to vote for Trump as a result of those ads?

    1. Of course not, what do you think she’s a moron like the rest of us? That’s why we elected her. We are sheep and she is our sheepdog.

      1. I do not know her (in either sense), but living in SF, I have been around her.
        Let’s just say that no one of normal intelligence is going to be intimidated. She’s not anywhere near as flat out stupid as Boxer or Pelosi, but you wouldn’t go to her for advice on any subject I can think of.

      2. It’s sad that all those would-be Hillary voters were so stupid that they were swayed by pictures of Satan and Paul Rudd staring at each other.

      3. You need to apologize to making such an unfair and prejuduced comparision.

        Come on, tell the sheepdogs you are sorry!

    2. No but people exactly like you were. That’s people who might say things like “I don’t really like Trump, but at least he’s not a serial murderer like Hillary.”

      Of course you probably actually do think Trump is a credible president, right?

      1. I kind of love that this argument boils down to the idea that one can’t decide on one’s own that Hillary is detestable.

        1. I was on the fence until Russia whispered in my ear.

        2. I like how everyone who voted for trump was an erstwhile Hillary supporter.

        3. You cannot rationally determine that Trump was better. We’re talking about the presidency, and I think the way things have unfolded since Jan. 20 makes my case rather more than I even thought.

          1. Tony|11.3.17 @ 3:54PM|#
            “You cannot rationally determine that Trump was better.”

            I can:
            Devos
            Gorsuch
            Ending the illegal payments to medical insurance companies
            “Competitive Enterprise Institute one month ago issued a report at the Trump administration’s nine-month mark concluding that he is “the least regulatory president of all,”
            There’s more, but hey, it’s fun and easy! You can find them yourself!

            All good.
            And none of which would have been done by the hag.

            1. If you’re a right-wing Republican, just say so.

              1. Sorry I don’t favor the teachers’ unions running the schools for their benefit, ‘penaltaxes, illegal payments, and a while pile of new regulations. If that makes me ‘right-wing’, well, that’s fine by me.
                You, OTOH are a fucking lefty wing asshole; you have no need of saying so.

          2. I think the way things have unfolded since Jan. 20 makes my case rather more than I even thought.

            That’s because you don’t have an actual HRC presidency to compare it to, only your fantasy of what would have been.

          3. “I think the way things have unfolded since Jan. 20 makes my case rather more than I even thought.”

            Yes, Hillary’s words and actions since Jan. 20 have eased the minds of millions of people who leaned away from her.

      2. Tony|11.3.17 @ 2:15PM|#
        “No but people exactly like you were. That’s people who might say things like “I don’t really like Trump, but at least he’s not a serial murderer like Hillary.””

        Yeah, Tony, it wasn’t like any of the baggage she was lugging about suggested that someone might not vote for the hag.
        After you asked (yesterday) and I gave you the links for her baggage, I’m sure an honest person would have checked to see the response, so a miserable fucking slime-bag like you never did, right m-f-s-b?

        1. I missed that. I’m sure it’s all very credible and not overblown horseshit. Still it was a choice between two people.

          1. Tony|11.3.17 @ 3:56PM|#
            “I missed that. I’m sure it’s all very credible and not overblown horseshit. Still it was a choice between two people.”
            No, it was a choice between at least three; I voted for Johnson, but I’m thrilled you, the hag and her baggage get to stamp your feet and act like 5 year-olds for years on end.
            Simply proves what has long been obvious regarding proggies.

      3. That’s people who might say things like “I don’t really like Trump, but at least he’s not a serial murderer like Hillary.”

        If such a person actually exists, so what? People have believed outlandish conspiracies about politicians since time immemorial, long before Putin came along.

        1. “I don’t really like Clinton, but at least she’s not a serial rapist who can’t wait to use nukes.”

          1. … The obviously more rational position.

  3. “We’re going to open up those free speech laws so when the Russians post a meme which is a total disgrace, we can sue them and win lots of money” – Dianold Trumpstein

  4. Government is the mafia masquerading as a human rights organization

  5. I’m sure it will be a waste of time to ask the good senator to point out where in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution the Congress is given authority to do that.

    1. It is in the same part where it says ‘separation of church and state’

      But yeah, she doesn’t know that.

  6. We a have a Senator with a decades long track record, yet Trump is the standard to measure her authoritarianism by.

    1. How many MegaTrumps does she measure out to?

      1. Apparently, just a single Trump.

  7. This whole social media thing is really awful, and from what I’ve been hearing in the media, and the way the media is treating it, it’s bizarre, and largely uncritical. I’m hearing shockingly few news outlets even mention the first amendment in their reporting. I’m hearing squabbling about whether or not Facebook is a “media company”. Last night, NPR described how the social media companies see themselves as private platforms beyond the reach of regulations, but legislators increasingly see them as public squares.

    Here’s an article I came across today, which isn’t based in the US so there are no 1st amendment issues, but the entire tone of the article– and the solutions it proffers are so awful, it’s hard to stomach.

    A potential solution to this species of fake news is to create new platforms ? like federated social networks ? that do not rely on advertising revenue and, by extension, the economic incentives that force Facebook and other proprietary social networks to optimize for clicks and ignore user privacy to more effectively serve ads.[…]

    1. NPR and an array of other publicly minded companies could focus on developing a trusted social media platform, but as we highlight below, the BBC has already cultivated the technological and social capital required for a trusted social networking platform and could serve as a possible model for what could be built.

      1. I appreciate the first amendment as much as anyone, but in order to do so you must also believe that speech has power (otherwise why is it worth protecting?), and propaganda is one form of powerful speech.

        Is your position that yes it’s possible for foreign governments to propagandize Americans for their own nefarious interests, but there’s nothing we can or should do about it?

        1. Of course speech has power, that is the very reason for limiting the government’s authority over speech.

          1. Of course speech has power, that is the very reason for limiting

            You misspelled “eliminating”.

        2. No, this was answered hundreds of years ago.

          You counter it with more speech.

          “something something HIGH TECH PROPAGANDA THESE DAYS IS DIFFERENT DERP!”

          1. “something something HIGH TECH PROPAGANDA THESE DAYS IS DIFFERENT DERP!”

            Well, the poor DNC and the hag’s staff didn’t have a spare couple of hundred to pay some kids to counter that stuff.
            It’s just UNFAIR! How could they ever counter such sophisticated ads?

          2. Propaganda has always been around, and technology has made it more powerful. It’s not not a thing. I’m not saying it’s an easy issue for a free-speech absolutist like me, but it’s worth paying attention to, since propaganda has even caused genocides.

            1. Tony|11.3.17 @ 3:57PM|#
              “…It’s not not a thing. I’m not saying it’s an easy issue for a free-speech absolutist like me,…”

              You’re a laugh a minute, you are.

              1. “Now, I’m a free-speech absolutist, but . . .”

                1. You’ve done far better by capturing the negative “but”. Everything earlier is so much smoke.

        3. I appreciate the first amendment as much as anyone, but

          *drinks*

          you must also believe that speech has power (otherwise why is it worth protecting?), and propaganda is one form of powerful speech.

          So… *rubbing my temples* your position is that because speech has power, we need powerful gatekeepers to ban or police particularly powerful speech that might have power in undesirable ways to the people in power?

          Is your position that yes it’s possible for foreign governments to propagandize Americans for their own nefarious interests, but there’s nothing we can or should do about it?

          My position is that in a country where there’s truly free speech, you may occasionally hear speech from unsourced or unsourcable persons and organizations, and the laughable notion that it can be vetted, controlled and appropriately blocked by unaccountable bureaucrats with three ring binders is laughably stupid- and horrifyingly scary.

          1. My position is that propaganda is every bit a threat to civilized society as terrorism, crime, natural disaster, or what have you. The Rwandan genocide happened because of propaganda. Nazi Germany happened because of propaganda. Trump happened because of propaganda. You can’t simply dismiss it.

            1. You can only combat propaganda with more free speech. There is no other tool.

              1. Tell that to the Jews.

                1. Which Jews? The ones who lived under a government that persecuted them for their speech? I’ll bet they think highly of the Thought Police.

                  1. And the Tutsi. Victims of genocide caused by mass hysteria caused by propaganda.

                    It’s somewhat more than shouting fire in a crowded theater. I’m not saying I have the policy solution, I’m just saying you are allowed to ponder the problem even if it did help elect a Republican this time.

                    1. And the Tutsi. Victims of genocide caused by mass hysteria caused by propaganda.

                      Holy shit you are shameless.

                      Please educate yourself on the history of Rwanda and Burundi and the history of Tutsi-Belgian cooperation in oppressing the Hutu.

                      I’m not saying the genocide was justifiable, but to toss it off as “the effects of evil propaganda” is just painfully ignorant.

                      Same with Nazi Germany – if you think the only thing going on there was “propaganda can make people do awful things” you are truly more stupid and ignorant than I thought even just a few minutes ago.

                    2. Same with Nazi Germany – if you think the only thing going on there was “propaganda can make people do awful things” you are truly more stupid and ignorant than I thought even just a few minutes ago.

                      Somehow, Tony zooms past the point that the government in Nazi Germany controlled speech… something he wants for this country. But somehow, our government, including the one that Donald Trump is in charge of, will control it correctly and only benevolently.

                      The cognitive dissonance is breathtaking.

                    3. Did I say only?

                    4. Tony|11.3.17 @ 4:40PM|#
                      “And the Tutsi. Victims of genocide caused by mass hysteria caused by propaganda.”

                      Yeah, it would have been helpful to have other views presented, wouldn’t it, you ignorant piece of shit.

                2. Tell that to the Jews.

                  If only they’d have had free speech. And a second amendment would have been nice.

            2. Tony|11.3.17 @ 3:59PM|#
              “My position is that propaganda is every bit a threat to civilized society as terrorism, crime, natural disaster, or what have you”

              And here just a minute ago, you were a “free-speech absolutist”. How……..
              pathetic.

              1. No he wasn’t, he said he “appreciated it it, but…”

                That’s not even on the free speech property.

                1. Tony|11.3.17 @ 3:57PM|#

                  Propaganda has always been around, and technology has made it more powerful. It’s not not a thing. I’m not saying it’s an easy issue for a free-speech absolutist like me, but it’s worth paying attention to, since propaganda has even caused genocides.

        4. You’ve convinced me. I now support using government force to crush businesses who tolerate some level of free speech on their platform

          1. Except they’re not crushing businesses. They’re enlisting them.

      2. “NPR and an array of other publicly minded companies could focus on developing a trusted social media platform,”

        focus =/= deliver

    2. I suspect newspape s and broadcast media are looking at it as a way to shackle the competition from social media. Therw wad a video advI saw on YouTube ladt night which had a rant on it, that if social media platforms cannot prevent foreigners from “weaponizing” their platforms then they shpuld shut themgselves down, lest they involuntarily commit treason. The presenter then used the New York Times of all things as an example of the tupe of mefia company that properly vets its content to “protect our democracy”. The whole thing wad rather unsettling in tone, attitude and sanctimony.

      1. It’s absolutely what they’re doing, if not a large part of it. The old media organizations see an opportunity here. Re-define Facebook/Twitter et al as “media companies” which, in some weird kind of logic will cause them to be subject to government regulations and oversight as to what they can publish, yet these regulations and oversight somehow won’t apply to them.

        It makes me want to fucking fistfight nearly every journalist I hear reporting on this.

        They’re backing themselves into a corner. But again, I have to remember these are the same organizations which breathlessly follow twitter accounts and treat them Real News and valid sources. So I don’t think 1 dimensional checkers is really their forte.

        1. these are the same organizations which breathlessly follow twitter accounts and treat them [as] Real News

          Hey, it’s more cost-effective than investigative reporting!

      2. the New York Times of all things as an example of the tupe of mefia company that properly vets its content

        That’s hilarious. We’re not shilling for Team Blue, paying no attention to vast swaths of actually important news, and on occasion flat-out lying… we’re “vetting our content”.

    3. Have you watch the two part PBS Frontline series Putin’s Revenge? I usually find their reporting pretty unbiased. Not so much on this one. It did have some good points about why Putin would try to hurt HRC. But, I felt sick to my stomach when they implied that Sputnik and RT promoted ‘fake news’ about her health. She’s on camera passing out and falling face first. And, admitted that it happened. And, they are trying to convince me that it was a fake Russian conspiracy. WTF!?!?!

      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/

    4. News media companies think they get special First Amendment rights, because they have a printing press in the lobby as a museum piece.

  8. At long last, has she left no sense of decency?

    1. Nice website you got there. Be a shame if something happened to it after you run some anti-Democrat ads.

  9. “You created these platforms…and now they’re being misused,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein [said.]

    “But enough about the Founding Fathers and the Houses of Congress.”

    1. “And tags are being misused, too!”

  10. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) took the opportunity this week to remind social media companies that she’s as authoritarian as President Donald Trump and isn’t afraid to try to push people around.

    by this standard, isn’t every single political character ‘authoritarian’? it seems like you’re adopting the lingo of the #Resist! types simply to appeal to the hysterical posturing du-jour.

    while i’m not any more of a fan of politicians than anyone else here, please don’t go confusing “authoritarianism” with “moral suasion” (aka Jawboning)

    Jawboning

    “Jawboning” or “moral suasion” in economics and politics is an unofficial tec- hnique of public and private discussions and arm-twisting, which may work by the implicit threat of future government regulation.

    Sure, everyone can pose ‘more anarchist than thou’ and say that anytime a person in power attempts to wield the power of that office, its “Authoritarian, man”.

    but once you go down that road, when it comes time to point the finger at shit like, oh, the White House wiretapping US citizens (gasp! – journalists, even)? people just yawn and go, “well, like, everyone does that” and pretends its c’est normale for the political class to live above the law. Diluting definitions – see: “racism” – strips terms of power.

    1. Jawboning is fine. Talk and opine all you want. But don’t threaten constitutionally illegal crackdowns when things don’t go your way.

      1. but don’t threaten constitutionally illegal crackdowns

        Thats the point; of course they’ll “threaten“. Its not proper ‘authoritarianism’ until they fucking TRY. And the point is that everyone in the business of doing business has been putting up with unconstitutional yammering threats from Pols about what “Should” be done in reaction to some hysterically-exaggerated threat *forever*. The only reason people like Shakes wake up to this obviousness is that now ‘the media’ is being exposed to the same sort of bullshit rhetoric that the Financial and Healthcare and Energy industries have put up with forever.

        and i’m not saying jawboning is a wonderful thing – just as saying ‘racists aren’t Nazis’ isn’t saying anything nice about racists OR nazis. Its just that they’re downgrading ‘Authoritarianism’ to describe everything… being able to distinguish categories of political behavior would seem to be a bare minimum for political commentators

        1. the same sort of bullshit rhetoric that the Financial and Healthcare and Energy and Firearms industries have put up with forever.

          maybe even clearer

          1. Point taken.
            If we are to beat on Feinstein, Trump also gets the bitch-slap regarding who is allowed to print what.

  11. I’d love to hear the Democrats critique the Obama administration since they tried to ‘reset’ relations and, by all their current rhetoric, that would appear to be what opened the door to all this ‘espionage’ or whatever you want to call it. I mean, if Obama hadn’t told all of us that Russia was our friend now would we have treated them as such?

    /sarc

    This whole issue has be convinced that all of America is populated with retards and children who are incapable of rational thought. The idea put forward that American’s, or even humanity in general, has grown beyond mass hysteria and simple propaganda is clearly gravely wrong.

    This is the most clearly transparent effort at manipulation by our government that I have seen in my lifetime. We live in an age of propaganda, and if you speak out against it you’re likely to see harm because of it; directly or indirectly. Possibly even from a literal police state apparatus. Hooray, we’re more like Europe now than America.

  12. “We are not going to go away, gentlemen,” Feinstein continued.

    “Who’s this ‘we’, white woman?”

  13. What sort of ads are going to pop up on Facebook and Twitter next year, and what will they be saying about her?

    “This is how liberty dies… under Senator Palpatine’s jack boot?

  14. In a weird meta-way, this kind of is the story of the year. Not the Russians meddling, but the media’s reporting of Russia’s meddling. It’s a fascinating– and horrifying expose of the collective mind-hive of our traditional media.

  15. Just imagine somebody saying this about the printing press.

    Like the actual Catholic Church when the printing press was actually invented?

  16. To some extent, this is the social media companies’ own Frankenstein monster coming back for them.

    The spent the last 20 years replacing the decentralized, federated internet with a series of wall gardens that would give them centralized control over what their users see and hear. And now they’re surprised that having created that centralized control, the state wants a say in how it’s used.

    1. Kind of. The government likes the walled garden, and hates the old federated internet. Once the walled gardens showed up, the Feinsteins of the world are now breathing a collective sigh of relief because now they have a single-point-of-origin that they can put their regulatory finger on.

      As I said before, everyone from government, to media, to the social-networking companies themselves see this as a major opportunity.

  17. He has also promised to crack down on harassment and abuse more aggressively in an attempt to counter a widely-perceived safety problem.

    Seeing tweets you don’t like is a ‘safety problem’?

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tec…..ke-profit/

  18. Well, the bill of rights is already subject to ‘common sense regulation’; why not the first?
    Not sarcasm, honest question. Why is the part of the first amendment relating to freedom of speech more off limits than the second amendment? Cite a legal difference.
    Thanks you.

    1. I think that’s the essential argument that both legislators and the media are now essentially making. The left has been making this argument increasingly over the last couple of decades so… not sure what to say beyond that.

  19. Scene: A top aide from Sen. Feinstein’s office stops a flustered Mark Zuckerberg in the hallway while the Senate hearings on Russian meddling is in recess.

    Aide: Mr. Zuckerberg, Senator Feinstein sent me here to have a word with you.. you know, outside the formality of the hearings.

    *Zuckerberg doesn’t say anything but just stares back at the aide through a narrowed gaze*

    Aide: Mr. Zuckerberg… Mark, can I call you Mark? Step over here a minute. *gestures to a secluded ante-chamber.

    Zuckerberg: Look, we’re already policing hate speech as much as we can, but I take umbrage at…

    Aide: Mark… you’re seeing this all wrong. All that in the hearings? That’s just for show… that’s Senator Feinstein’s show cards, man! Everything’s cool. You just gotta listen to what we’re really offering.

    Zuckerberg: Ok, what are you really offering? *makes air quotes when he says ‘really’*

    Aide: *lowers his voice* Senator Feinstein… and, well really everyone in there, less a few right-wingers… we want a partner on this deal, we want you to be our partner on this.

    Zuckerberg: I’m listening.

    1. Aide: Look, it’s like this– you agree to a few minor points *hands Zuckerberg two page printed powerpoint* and you… YOU Mr. Zuckerberg, will be able to control the news and information content, and be a kind of editorial gatekeeper for hundreds of millions… possibly billions of citizens, worldwide…

      A few moments of silence passes, and then a smile slowly spreads across Zuckerberg’s face.

  20. We could just do the normal test. Pretend the Russians helped get Hillary elected. Now consider the question.

    1. Now consider the question.

      Who in Russia to we nominate for a Nobel Peace Prize?

    2. If a handful of shitty Facebook memes caused Hillary to lose, then she deserved it.

      1. And by the logic, they swayed Hillary voters to go with Trump. Double plus deserved it.

      2. The electoral college is most at fault.

        1. “”The electoral college is most at fault.”‘

          When you enter into a competition and know the rules, you are an idiot to blame the rules for your loss. You agreed to them when you entered the race.

        2. So facebook memes caused them to vote based on their mandate?

        3. Tony|11.3.17 @ 4:25PM|#
          “The electoral college is most at fault.”

          Darn that constitution! We should just trash it so our resident 5-YO loser doesn’t have to stamp his feet!

      3. “”If a handful of shitty Facebook memes caused Hillary to lose, then she deserved it.””

        Exactly.

    3. Pretend the Russians helped get Hillary elected. Now consider the question.

      Yup – still stupid.

  21. Or we could educate people how to recognize propaganda, of course that wouldn’t be good for marketing. What’s the balance point between crazy?

  22. Apparently Vaginstein hasn’t read the DMCA she voted for. Those companies, by law, are not responsible for the content on their sites.

    Maybe her elevator isn’t going to the top floor anymore.

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