Free Press

Government Will Protect Us From Bad Speech? That's the Fakest News of All.

When government officials suppress critics, they do so only to help themselves.

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The folks from the government are here to protect us from extremism, fake news, and hate speech, and they've strong-armed some media company friends to help.

"Twitter is sending out messages to people telling them that, for their own good, they are documenting that the user has either followed, cited or re-tweeted an account Twitter decided is linked to Russia & its propaganda efforts," journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted over the weekend. "That's not creepy at all."

The thread to which Greenwald linked featured an example of such an email, which is connected to Twitter's promise last fall to the U.S. Congress to cooperate "with congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election." The company was caught up in the frenzy in Washington, D.C. to pin the country's political turmoil not on angry Americans, but rather on Russia's clumsy, low-rent news-spinning through social media.

"As previously announced," Twitter notes on its blog, "we identified and suspended a number of accounts that were potentially connected to a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization… Consistent with our commitment to transparency, we are emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period."

Ummm… Thanks for that, Twitter. I'd hate to think that I'm paying attention to the "wrong" people.

But maybe I'm also not paying attention to the right people—as decided by the powers-that-be.

"We work with respected organizations… to empower credible non-governmental voices against violent extremism," Twitter's Carlos Monje Jr., director of public policy and philanthropy in the U.S. and Canada, told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation last week.

"Over the past three years, we have commissioned research on what types of counterspeech are the most effective at combating hate and violent extremism," Monika Bickert, Facebook's head of global policy management, assured senators at the same hearing. "We have therefore partnered with non-governmental organizations and community groups around the world to empower positive and moderate voices."

YouTube's Juniper Downs, Director Public Policy and Government Relations, also promised lawmakers that her company was quarantining what she termed "borderline content" to achieve "a substantial reduction in watch time of those videos." YouTube is also actively producing "counterspeech," Downs testified. "We are expanding our counter-extremism work to present counternarratives and elevate the voices that are most credible in speaking out against terrorism, hate, and violence."

To be sure, working against violent extremism sounds, on its face, like a good thing. But let's be clear that these are executives of media companies going before government officials to promise to suppress officially disapproved speech and to promote ideas and messages that the government supports. Historically, the sort of "hate speech" government officials tend to dislike most is that directed at them, and their definitions of "positive and moderate voices" most commonly apply to anything that strokes their egos.

Need an example? Let's peek at our friends across the Atlantic. Unhampered by strong protections for free speech, they're openly most concerned when the targets are themselves.

"In recent years, the intimidation experienced by Parliamentary candidates, and others in public life, has become a threat to the diversity, integrity, and vibrancy of representative democracy in the UK," fretted the UK government's Committee on Standards in Public Life in a report published last month. "Intimidatory behaviour is already affecting the way in which MPs are relating to their constituents, has put off candidates who want to serve their communities from standing for public offices, and threatens to damage the vibrancy and diversity of our public life."

Aspiring politicians may refrain from running for office because people could say not-nice things about them. Shocking. And journalists who report on politics are such meanies too!

"The freedom of the press is essential and must be protected. Nevertheless, journalists, broadcasters and editors should consider how the content they create might incite intimidation through delegitimising someone's engagement in the political process… While continuing their important scrutiny of those in public office, they must also be careful they are not unduly or unfairly undermining trust in the political system."

Well, we can't have that. What should be done?

"We propose legislative changes that the government should bring forward on social media companies' liability for illegal content online, and an electoral offence of intimidating Parliamentary candidates and party campaigners."

So, the committee wants to prosecute people for criticizing politicians? I kind of thought that's where we were going. That should work out well.

Unsurprisingly, France's President Emmanuel Macron is also concerned about "fake news" that targets the powerful and the prominent.

"Thousands of propaganda accounts on social networks are spreading all over the world, in all languages, lies invented to tarnish political officials, personalities, public figures, journalists," Macron complained earlier this month.

Macron also has Russkies on the mind. He bitterly complained during his successful presidential campaign last year that Moscow had targeted him with "fake news" that did nothing to prevent his victory, but left him very annoyed indeed.

Or maybe blaming "les Russes" is just a handy way of pushing through laws that would, among other things, empower judges to suppress any content these government officials deemed to be "fake" during election periods. Government regulators would also gain more power to "fight any destabilization attempt" via television content.

"The first question is: What is fake news? Who will define it?" asked Daniel Schneidermann, a media columnist for the French newspaper Libération, in just the sort of destabilizing comment tending to tarnish political officials that gets Macron's goat.

Germans could answer that question, based on the laws they already have on the books. Government officials will define it, of course, and they won't be shy about doing so.

When Beatrix von Storch, a lawmaker from the Alliance for Germany party, greeted the new year with a dyspeptic anti-Muslim tweet, Twitter promptly suspended her account, followed by Facebook, after she reposted her comments there. The social media companies acted under threat of 50 million euro fines under the country's new censorship law, which requires media companies to delete "hate speech" without defining the term.

Next to be suppressed was Titanic, a satire magazine which poked fun at von Storch.

"Why are [North-Rhine-Westphalia] police using Arabic numbers for their emergency hotline?" the magazine asked, in a tweet purporting to be from the lawmaker.

Of course Titanic was suspended. They tweaked a legislator in a country that bans hate speech, and it's clear from the examples of Britain and France that the speech politicians hate most is that directed at them.

Yeah, it's "creepy" when media companies mold and twist the news we see to please their political masters. Worse, it's chilling when governments take the logical next step to promote speech they favor and punish speakers who anger them.

Because when politicians tell us that they're trying to make the world a better place with censorship, that's the fakest news of all. But here's a bit of real news: when government officials suppress critics, they do so only to help themselves.

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64 responses to “Government Will Protect Us From Bad Speech? That's the Fakest News of All.

  1. I’ll be so damned glad when fully encrypted mesh networks make a truly individualized internet which governments can’t threaten.

      1. Protecting certain respectable individuals from bad speech is exactly what governments are for, and anyone who says the contrary is a fool. Surely Mr. Tuccille would not dare to defend the “First Amendment dissent” of a single, isolated judge in our nation’s leading criminal “satire” case? See the documentation at:

        https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

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  2. “In recent years, the intimidation experienced by Parliamentary candidates, and others in public life, has become a threat to the diversity, integrity, and vibrancy of representative democracy in the UK,”

    “The MP feared for his life.”

  3. “…must be protected. Nevertheless,”

    And here I was thinking the Brits were known for bein’ all “laconic” and shit. Ain’t their mommas ever tell ’em that “nevertheless” has got, like, four times as many syllables as “but“?

    1. They like big “buts”

      1. I cannot lie, I laughed.

      2. I wish I could say I’d set that up for you on purpose.

  4. “they must also be careful they are not unduly or unfairly undermining trust in the political system.”

    It’s a delicate balancing act.

  5. The Europeans support free speech, but they’ve had the adult conversations about what’s normal and decent to say in society.

    That’s completely different from Sir DrumpfsALot, who whines about “fake news” and “propaganda.”

    1. This could just as well be Tony… which probably means it’s too obviously satire.

      1. These days, you never know. The real world is TheOnion now.

    2. Europeans don’t really know what free speech is. When they think its a good idea for government to keep “hate speech” from hurting others, its clear Europeans don’t get it.

    3. Eurpesns support free speech with so many caveats as to give them an excuse to ban any speech they don’t like.

    4. The Europeans support free speech, but they’ve had the adult conversations about what’s normal and decent to say in society. don’t actually support free speech.

    5. To illustrate Incomprehensible Bitching’s point, the 1936 USSR Constitution, Article 125:

      “… the citizens of the U.S.S.R. are guaranteed by law:

      freedom of speech;
      freedom of the press;
      freedom of assembly, including the holding of mass meetings;
      freedom of street processions and demonstrations.”

      Of course such freedoms were subject to adult supervision regarding what’s normal and decent to say in society. Article 125 is prefaced by “In conformity with the interests of the working people, and in order to strengthen the socialist system”.

      1. Those would be “qualified” freedoms, in the interest of the greater good and all.

    6. Sir DrumpfsALot is Right A Lot!!!!!

  6. ” journalists, broadcasters and editors should consider how the content they create might incite intimidation through delegitimising someone’s engagement in the political process”

    So…they’re saying go easier on Trump and stop questioning his fitness to be President of the USA?

  7. On a lighter note: On Monday Jan 22, 2018 Hanoi Jane sought to have veterans and America forgive her for sitting on a North Vietnamese AA gun and broadcast on North Vietnamese radio to shame US troops.

    One reason US veterans will never forgive her is that she has never said sorry nor said something about being a stupid young person following socialism and ignoring its evils. Probably because she is not sorry and does not think socialism is bad.

    Funny how many socialists in America are loud and proud, so they can be properly identified and ignored.

    1. socialists are NOT loud and proud that is….

      1. The Vietnam War was as ridiculous and vain as the Iraq War was, you moron.

        1. Funny, lefties like JFK and LBJ didn’t think so.

          1. Plenty of Democrats voted to let Bush invade Iraq too. It doesn’t make them right.

            In fact they were stupid to do so. You, as a rabid partisan can’t see anything but partisanship.

            1. The majority of major wars that the US has been involved in have been presided over by Democrats and leftists. Own it.

            2. You, as a rabid partisan can’t see anything but partisanship.

              Pot, meet Kettle.

            3. Traitor Buttplug, you missed the point of LovCom’s post. It wasn’t about the merits or errors of the Vietnam Conflict. It was about the evil and villainy of your fellow communist traitor Jane Fonda. As you worship trash like her, you were oblivious.

          2. “We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” – LBJ

            1. But sent them anyway.

            2. We already did, not “just about”.

          3. Then you’re ignorant of the damning Johnson tapes & Kennedy advisor’s memoirs. You can get up to speed with the Burn’s documentary on The Vietnam War.

        2. Yes it was. That didn’t make the Viet Cong the good guys. There weren’t any good guys, which is why we shouldn’t have gotten involved. Protesting the draft and the war didn’t involve accident aiding the other side.

          The Iraq War was a mistake That doesn’t make Saddam the good guy. What Jane Fonda did was like if Sean Penn went to Iraq during the war and did a photoshoot with Saddam on a tank.

          The problem is that we wouldn’t get involved. It’s not that we were bad guys fighting good guys. We were naive guys fighting bad guys by allying with other bad guys.

          1. *shouldn’t get involved*

          2. There WERE ‘good guys’

            Stopping communism–ending leftism, collectivism and all the evils attendant unto it is a good thing.

            If we had realized that letting the international socialists slide after we’d lost millions beating back the national socialists was the exact wrong thing to do we might have avoided Vietnam–we might have freed the Russian people before communism crushed their souls

            There might never have been a communist sphere of influence.

            The rearguard action we fought in Vietnam–like the one in Korea–was undermined by the leftists who were already trying to destroy our country.

        3. The Middle East Wars are not nearly as bad or as profitable as the Middle East nation building!!!

  8. Russia & its propaganda efforts

    “Be sure to only listen to leftist media and its propaganda efforts.”

    1. This argument is so frigg’n disingenuous; their propaganda vs the others, as you aptly point out.

  9. Shorter version of the article that retains all the major points:

    For your own good, Big Brother will not tolerate criticism.
    Everyone needs to be on the lookout for Emmanuel Goldstein’s dangerous ideas and help root them out.
    East Asia (i.e., Russia) is most likely behind the spread of Emmanuel Goldstein’s hate-filled ideology.
    We have always been at war with East Asia.

    1. Plusgoodthink. It would be doubleplusgood if written Newspeak instead of Oldspeak.

      Ignorance is strength!

  10. So the British govetnment committee thinks that democratic institutions would work just fine if the people would just shut up and stop making their opinions known?

  11. Fake news is the least of our problems. In fact, the “problem” they’re trying to fix still seems to be that we elected Trump instead of Hillary. Twitter should go screw themselves. If they want to argue for the next Democrat nominee, they should just do so and leave the news alone.

  12. Our biggest long term threat from social media (and technology) probably comes from our own willingness to share everything about ourselves.

    There’s always been something adolescent about Facebook’s whole model, what with telling people what you like and don’t like–as if that were important–but how to explain people’s willingness to have Google scan their private email or Microsoft scan their computers for personal information by way of Cortana?

    Yeah, it’s about convenience, but if people are willing to sell their privacy short so they can get better search results, then why should we expect them to object to government invading their privacy in exchange for the promise of more safety? People pay to put Amazon’s devices in their home that sit there all day listening to what they say in the hope that someone will say “Alexa”.

    It is absurd to think that the government won’t exploit these technologies, especially given that people are demonstrating how little they care about their own privacy every day. Tell people that Twitter is an advertising platform, and you typically get a confused look on their faces. The confusion isn’t about them never having thought of that before; the confusion is about why you think that matters.

    1. I’d like to think there are enough Americans left who appreciate the difference between sharing their lives with Microsoft and Amazon, versus sharing their lives with the government.

      1. I’d like to think that, too, but I don’t.

        We should also be aware that these companies are easily recruited into doing surveillance.

        The founder of Lavabit made a brave stand–and had to shut his service down for, what, four years? Apple resisted helping the FBI crack their encryption–for fear it would hurt the appeal of the iPhone to businesses.

        Apart from that, when’s the last time you heard about these companies resisting government surveillance?

        And my larger point is that they have good reason to think their customers don’t really care.

        I’m the one always faulting the progressives for projecting their own values on a market of people who don’t want them. The people who shop at Wal*Mart know that stuff is made in China–they don’t care! Who are the progressives to use government to inflict their will on Wal*Mart shoppers?

        When I see people letting Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, et. al. give their customers permanent colonoscopies in real time–and their customers don’t care? I’ve gotta take that for what it says. I don’t want the government imposing my opinions on these customers, but it’s frightening to think that what’s really standing between me and the government using the same technology is these customers and their privacy concerns.

        1. “We should also be aware that these companies are easily recruited into doing surveillance.”

          That’s the real scare for social media. “Recruited” might be a euphemism for “forced” some day. Given the way that the recent FISA vote went, I don’t expect the public to know or care enough to backlash when that happens.

        2. My friends and I are of the last generation to have gone through (most) of our childhoods without cell phones or computers. Ergo, we are privacy-minded, as we all were in the early days (my younger cousin doesn’t even know what a handle/screenname is), but many of them have unfortunately given up on any hope of privacy. Most of us got hoodwinked early on by Google, FB, Amazon, etc.; the profile of us is already very extensive. I think the attitude is defeatist, and I still obfuscate my “profile” as much as possible, but I have to admit that it’s really difficult. I’m glad Reason has a commenting system that isn’t tied to some sort of social media, but that’s a dying tool.

  13. I see a curvaceous blonde in that picture’s code.

  14. I don’t know about you, but I feel safer already. Thanks Twitter and Big Brother for protecting me from wrongspeak and wrongthink.

  15. First they came for the holocaust deniers. And I did not speak out because I wasn’t a holocaust denier and, anyway, holocaust deniers are either idiots or maybe a bit dangerous.

    Then they came for the Islamophobes. And I did not speak out because I’m not an Islamophobe and, anyway, many people who are called Islamophobes are either idiots or maybe a bit dangerous.

    Then they came for … you know the rest of Martin Niemoeller’s slippery slope argument.

  16. Youtube set a precedent when they allowed police to request takedowns of any video that showed them beating people up.

  17. Besides the scary part of governments and media determining what is and isn’t appropriate and even countering it and the registration of those who may read of those “Fake” opinions. why does Reason and other web sites have pages? its a computer the page can be as long as you want it. I call it a method of click counts for advertisers and nothing more

  18. “Need an example? Let’s peek at our friends across the Atlantic. Unhampered by strong protections for free speech, they’re openly most concerned when the targets are themselves.”

    Why bother looking that far? Let’s simply look at our President and his opponent in the last election. He is a huge fan of expanding libel laws to allow him to push prosecution against his critics. She is famous for her opposition to a SCOTUS decision that supported a filmmaker’s right to make a film that was critical of her.

    Both of these people are defining examples of how the concept of letting politicians determine allowable speech is completely broken.

    1. And of course the “masses” simply see themselves on the right or wrong side of the argument, and don’t give a shit about actual freedom for it’s own sake [as if any infringement upon it will not be used against them].

  19. These people at Facebook and Twitter are full of shit beyond belief. We all know they leave left-wing nut jobs alone. This is all about coming after non-progressive views.

    Twitter suspend Nick DiPaolo’s account. Think of that for a second. A comedian with right-wing views can run afoul of a company ‘protecting’ us from….?

    Really creepy and more grotesque idiots (progressives mostly) going along and accepting this bull shit about ‘balancing speech’.

    Go fuck yourselves you disingenuous jerk offs.

    Remember. One day they’ll come for YOUR opinion.

  20. Protecting people from bad speech could work, if I get to decide what is bad speech!

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  22. This is not a particularly well-thought out article.

    The problem, as almost everyone recognizes, is a technical problem: bots that are controlled by malicious actors that amplify their message. The fact that malicious organizations acted not to push a particular candidate (although many did) but instead acted to sew suspicion of American civic institutions such as free & fair elections (an insult to the integrity of the half million citizens who volunteer their efforts to work the polls)by using bots, the undercutting of the legal system, including our tradition of believing individuals can perform their duty, regardless of their political views (an insult to every cop, juror, judge, soldier, city clerk, and poll worker in the nation) by automating alogrythms that identify, play on (and to) & amplify an individual’s weaknesses, prejudices, & ignorance.

    If the problem is technical, so are the fixes. We can no longer allow the providers of the medium, Facebook, Twitter, etc., to hide behind the “it’s just a platform'” excuse while they also rent their own alogrythms to unknown actors to target individuals while also flooding the medium with bot generated poison. .

    As the militia, hate & overthrow crowd found out in C’ville & Boston, their own ideas were not as strong nor their numbers as large as their own not generated hate speech led them to believe.

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