The shame of speaking only through a heckling mob, if limited to that

Recently the New York Times ran a constructive op-ed by Michelle Goldberg “The Worst Time for the Left to Give Up on Free Speech”, featuring a split demonstration poster demanding to “Shut Down Milo Yiannopoulos”.

The editorial makes a central point that democratic societies typically feel they need to take certain topics off the table as legitimate content for discussion. For example, the essay gives, the idea that women and people of color should be subordinate to white men (you can expand that to cis white straight men).  The editorial relates an incident at William and Mary recently where an ACLU speaker was heckled and disrupted for supposedly working for white supremacists, which activists demand there be zero tolerance for.

There are plenty of similar examples, such as bans on neo-Nazi speech in present day Germany.  The most obvious bans are usually intended to protect groups defined by race or religion (and sometimes ethnic nationality) from being targeted again by future political developments.

By way of comparison, many people believed, back in the 1950s, that there was a legal ban on discussing communism.  The federal government, for example, who not employ people who could not ascertain they had never been members of the Communist party. Communism could be banned if it was construed as embedding violence (or the attempt to overthrow the US government) as part of its definition (as compared to socialism, even Bernie Sanders style).  But Communism generally, as defined, did not target specific races or religions (although we can certain argue that Stalin persecuted people of faith, including Jews, and so did Communist China).

You could have a similar discussion about trying to overanalyze the roots of homophobia and gender or sexuality related discrimination and persecution in the past, and today in many authoritarian countries. Much of my own writing has dealt with this for the past twenty years, especially the three “Do Ask, Do Tell” books.  I’ve generally (as in my post here Jan. 4, 2017) offered arguments that a lot of it had to do with family patriarchs keeping their own confidence in their own power to have biological lineage (procreation).  I’ve also paid heed to the past public health arguments that got made in the 1980s in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before the cause was identified.  In my writings I’ve paid particular heed to the history of military conscription and past deferment controversies.

A lot of people don’t appreciate my rehearsing the ghosts of the past (John Carpenter’s metaphorical “The Ghosts of Mars” (1995)), for fear that I could be legitimizing lines of thinking long thought debunked and bringing them back.  Sound familiar?  Is this what people fear from Donald Trump, or, more properly, the people he has chosen in his group?  (How about Mike Pence?)

Goldberg doesn’t go there, but the Left is in a real quandary when it wants to shut down all biological speech   The Left has demonstrated against and protested Charles Murray for his past writings on race and biology.  They object to James Damore for his Google memo on biology (whether this expression belonged in a privately owned workplace is a different discussion). They would probably object to Nicholas Wade’s 2014 book “A Troublesome Inheritance” (media commentary, July 24, 2017). But then what about the gay Left’s dependence on immutability to demand gay equality?  I do think there is scientific merit to discussion of genetics (especially with regard to gender identity) and epigenetics (especially with regard to sexual orientation, most of all in non-first-born men)   I don’t think that replaces libertarian ideas of focus on “personal responsibility”.  But if you want to discuss homosexuality and biology (as in Chandler Burr’s monumental 1996 book “A Separate Creation”) with possible political change as a result, you have to accept discussions of biology, evolution and race.  Admittedly, some people can skid on thin ice when they ponder these things, as they consider plans to have or not have their own children (eugenics used to be an acceptable idea a century ago).

That brings me back to a correlated area: that the identity of the speaker matters, as well as the predictable behavior of the listener of speech (possibly creating risk for the original speaker or others connected to him) — what I have called “implicit content”, a most disturbing and sometimes offensive notion.  The most obvious example in current events news is, of course, the manipulation of social media especially by the Russians to sow discord among different American classes or quasi-tribes, beyond simply influencing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.  The Russians and other enemies used fake accounts and posted fake news in supposedly legitimate-looking news sites and in advertorials.  All of this follows earlier concerns about the misuse of social media, especially Twitter, for terrorist recruiting (by ISIS), as well as cyberbullying or stalking and revenge porn.  The Russians seemed to have noticed that Hillary-like “elites” would not pay attention if “deplorables” could be lured by silly, divisive supermarket tabloid-like content and false flags; elites tend not to care about people “beneath” themselves in this “mind your own business” world much until those people suddenly knock at the door for personal attention (which is something that happens to speakers who make themselves conspicuous, especially on social media).

You can raise a lot of questions here. Is fake news libel?  Maybe.  Litigation is often impractical because it involves criticism of public figures (actual malice, etc). You get to Trump’s ideas about using Britain’s standard on libel.  But a bigger idea is that the fake news fiasco shows why authoritarian leaders keep a tight lid on dissent, even on individual bloggers’ speech, perhaps maintaining that the dissemination of news to the public need be “licensed” to guarantee (alternative) “truth” (sic).  That hasn’t really happened with Trump, yet at least; Trump seems to admire individual speakers even as he hates the established liberal media.

A related idea is whether political ads, and whether commercial ads, are protected by the First Amendment the same way as other speech.  That topic was covered in the second session at a recent Cato conference (Oct. 3, 2017 posting here). Generally, the answer is yes. But this topic has become controversial with regard to campaign finance reform, long before Trump.

In fact, back in the 2002-2005 period, there was a concern that even “free content” of a political nature posted by bloggers like me could constitute illegal campaign contributions (as if not everything in life can be measured by money). The June 12, 2017 post here gets to that, as does this 2005 editorial in the Washington Times, which wormed its way into a major incident when I was working as a substitute teacher then.

That brings us to what I do, which is put out my own series of article and blog posts on the news, augmenting my three “Do Ask, Do Tell” books, under my own brand(s). No, this doesn’t pay its own way.  I have exactly the situation the 2005 Washington Times editorial was talking about.

I’ve been at this since the mid 1990s.  I originally entered the world of self-publishing as a way to participate in the debate over gays in the military (and the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy from Bill Clinton’s compromise that predates Trump’s current transgender ban controversy).   I made a lot of unusual, very individualistic arguments, often but not always consistently connected to libertarianism.  Generally, most of what I have said starts with the individual, apart from any group he or she belongs to. The first book sold decently (in 1997 and 1998, especially) but then became old hat.  The subsequent POD books have not really sold all that well, and I get hassled about it because “other people” can’t keep their jobs based on my books, I guess.  I did have the resources from a well-paid job and from stock market good luck under Clinton (Democrats can be good for the stock market, as Hillary’s elite knows). I got lucky with the 2008 crash and that turned out well for me.  (Short selling?)

But you see where this is heading.  In line with the thinking of McCain-Feingold, one person can have political influence, with no accountability for how the funds were raised.  I actually focused on issues, not candidates (which a lot of people seem not to get), and have very little interest in partisanship.  I could even claim that I know enough about policy and am temperate enough in my positions that I could function in the White House better than the current occupant, but I don’t know how to raise money for people, or for myself.  I but I know the right people to get health care to work, for example.  (Do the math first.)

Then, there is the issue of the left-wing boogeyman, “inherited wealth”.  Yes, I have some (from mother’s passing at the end of 2010).  My use of it could be controversial, and I may not have been as generous (yet) as I should be.  But I have not needed it to fund the books or blogs or websites. (I I had, that could be a problem, but that’s too much accounting detail to get into right here.  But I can’t just turn into somebody else’s safety net.)

I do get prodded about other things I “should” be doing, as a “prole”, because others have to do them.  Let’s say, accept “the free market cultural revolution” and prove I can hold down a minimum wage job (like in Barbara Enrenreich’s book “Nickel and Dimed”).  My life has its own narrative, and that narrative explains my personal goals now.  They’re my goals;  they don’t need to be anyone else’s.  I don’t need to appear on Shark Tank to justify my own “business model”.  But I’m corkscrewing into a paradox: if morality is indeed about “paying your dues” before you’re heard, then it’s really not just about group solidarity.

Both sides of a polarized political debate, but especially the Left, would like to see a world where individuals are not allowed to leverage their own speech with search engines the way I have (with an “It’s Free” paradigm, after Reid Ewing’s 2012 short film, where blog postings become “free fish”), but have to march in step with larger groups that they join.  Both sides want to force others to join their chorus of some mix of relative deprivation (the alt-right), or systematic oppression (the Left).  Both (or two out of three) sides want mass movements (as in Eric Hoffer’s 1951 manifesto, “The True Believer”). Religious groups often follow suit, demanding people join them in proselytizing (which is what an LDS mandatory missionary assignment is all about).  It is certainly personally shameful to walk in a (Charlottesville) torchlight march screaming “You shall not replace us”, but I find carrying anyone’s picket rather shameful.  Other’s will tell me, get over it.  Well, you get over it only if you’re on the  “right” (sic) side?  I won’t bargain away my own purposes.

To me, the existential threat is being forced or coerced (maybe even with expropriation) to join somebody else’s chorus, or hiding from personal responsibility behind a curtain of “systematic oppression”, to be allowed to speak at all. Some pleas for donation to political opinion sites (from both the Right and Left) make insulting, hysterical clams that only they can speak for me, as if I were impotent and had no right to my own branded voice.  They want to force me to join their causes to be heard at all.  It would be more honorable to become a slave on a plantation, or at least a minimum wage worker, whose turn it is now to be exploited just as he was once the undeserving exploiter, until dropping dead.  And then there is no funeral.

But, you ask, why not “raise people up” in a personal way, when they knock, in a way “you” had not considered before you were so challenged.  Is it up to me to make others “all right” in a personal way if others once did that for me?  Maybe. But that’s entirely off line. It doesn’t seem like “accomplishment” (maybe it’s a “creative” challenge for someone who did not have his own kids).  It doesn’t replace my mission of delivering my own content first.

(Posted: Monday, October 9, 2017, at 2:30 PM EDT)

Sort out the NFL protests on the flag and racism: libertarian views win out

OK, let’s lay things out in the whole problem of the player protests in the NFL and NBA over racism during the playing of the National Anthem at games.

First, I can’t imagine how kneeling (or locking arms) is disrespectful of the flag, or offensive.  At least personally.

The best information suggests that NFL and NBA owners seem so support the protests, and are not doing so out of fear of player “rebellion”.

Players do have a First Amendment right to protest when a national symbol is displayed as far as the government is concerned (including president Trump) but their employers have a legal right to constrain what they say on the job, and sometimes off the job in public mode if the speech can cause disruption to legitimate business interests (essentially “conflict of interest” in speech).

The NFL and its associated professional sports franchises are private businesses.  Same with MLB, NBA, NHL, soccer, etc.  They can regulate what players say on the job, or what they do on social media if behavior affects business.  But they don’t have to.  If the leagues and the owners want to single out the issue behind the protests (especially police racial profiling and BLM) they are free to do so.

Apparently, yesterday, the support for the protests in the NFL was overwhelming, including at the Washington Redskins’ game  (a 27-10 win)Sunday night (and this is ironic given the controversy over the team name and trademark as a potential slur against Native Americans).

In the past, however, the owners were not as supportive.  Consider the history if Colin Kaepernick.  This morning, Bob Costa said on CNN that Colin has said before that voting was useless because of the current power structure (reportedly he said that before the 2016 election).

I do have problems with a couple of areas.  One is if another group (BLM or anyone else) decides that its issue must be implemented in such a way that anyone else (like me, as an individual speaker an author) must somehow pay them homage to have a voice at all.  There are many examples of oppression, and I can’t say that one is always more demanding than another (Charlottesville and Trump’s “both sides” notwithstanding).    Along these lines, Juana Summers piece on CNN “It’s impossible for black athletes to leave politics off the field”.

Another is that I had my own issue back in the 1990s, where I had a potential “conflict of interest” over my planned speech on gays in the military when I was working for a company that served members of the military as a fraternal provider. I wound up transferring to Minneapolis (and having some of the best years of my own life).  There was a time when a family medical emergency (Mother’s surgery in 1999) might have forced me to come back, conceivably costing me my job as a result.  I did not have the right to “hide” behind “systematic oppression” as an out.  Fortunately, this worked out OK on its own.

President Trump was certainly out of line Saturday night in Huntsville AL when he “demanded” that NFL owners “fire” players for protesting.  The President doesn’t have the right to tell private businesses what protests to support or allow on the job.

Major league sports have come a long way in dealing with discrimination, particularly MLB with its various statements including sexual orientation.

But the NFL may have problems with its own treatment of players regarding head injuries (the recent revelations about Aaron Hernandez are among the worst).  Trump wanted to deny even football brain injuries (WSJ editorial).

I want to mention Margaret Sullivan’s Washington Post (Style section) article today about new state laws restricting protests that disrupt traffic or businesses.  She says that the kinds of protests that ended the Vietnam War (and the draft) might be illegal in many states (well, remember Kent State in 1970). We’ll have to come back to this.

I also want to mention Villasenor’s study for Brookings on attitudes toward free speech on campus.  Younger adults, without the same grounding in civics classes that my generation had, seem to gravitate to a more authoritarian concept of how speech works in society.  That is, the intended effect and likely actions on the listener or watcher matter (“implicit content”), as does the idea that words can be weaponized (even if by Russia on Facebook).

(Posted: Monday, September 25, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

Firing of Google engineer for internal “manifesto” highlights problems with speech and the workplace, vs. “identity politics”

The recent “free speech” meltdown on the Google campus has a few angles to it that deserve exploring, and compare to some of my own past.

David Brooks, the moderate-to-conservative “moralizer” on how we can be good as individuals, called for the resignation of Google CEO Sundar Pichai, after the dismissal of Google software engineer James Damore, 28, who distributed an internal “manifesto”   I enjoy reading Brooks, who for the most part is about where John McCain would be on a lot of issues and on how elected officials should behave.

Brooks points out that it is reasonable to discuss statistical genetic differences between identifiable groups of people (by gender, race, geographic origin, maybe sexual orientation) while maintaining that in employment (including the military) and public accommodations people should always be treated equally as individuals.  Well, practically always.  I don’t think a female could hit home runs the way Bryce Harper or Aaron Judge can.  But I do think that some day that Major League Baseball will have to deal with the controversy over having a (female-to-male)  transgender relief pitcher.  (And, by the way, professional sports leagues have to be totally with it on the idea that sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity are all very different things.)

Before moving on from all this, I’ll add that my own youth (born 1943) created a world where conformity to binary gender roles was seen as essential to fitting into the group and carrying one’s own share of the common risks.  Later, individualism took over my life, and discrimination became less urgent personally. But when external coercion happens, it gets important to belong to the “larger group”, so smaller groups (even “intersectionality”) start to matter.

Yet, Pichai and the identity politics crowd apparently would hear none of Damore’s pedantic provocations, which made him seem aloof to the real world.  Somehow, even bringing up biological statistics invited enemies of various marginalized people in these groups.  We’re all the way back to the demonstrations against Milo Yioannopoulos and the whole ridiculous Leslie Jones fiasco.

Damore’s 10-page memo has been called an anti-diversity “screed”.  The language may seem tedious to some, analytical for others, or maybe a joke (I remember the Pentagon’s “123 words”  — “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service” etc. by comparison, indeed the “mouthful of words” that Randy Shilts had so much fun with in “Conduct Unbecoming”).  His comment on empathy is interesting – people really do need emotion for “Staying Alive” (like John Travolta).  It’s also important to remember that biology relates to the likelihood of having kids and family responsibility, which Google has wisely tried to defuse by offering paid parental leave, regardless of gender. Vox published a “Big Idea” page that “ladysplain’s” the issue of sexism in the technology workplace.

It’s important to remember that this was an internal memo;  it was published online only after it became controversial.  I once got into some minor trouble at work in 1992 for sending a SYSM (a mainframe email program within a data center installation) criticizing others for copying software disks, possibly illegally (in the days with the Software Publishers Association was starting to audit companies for possible copyright and software license infringement). Indeed, some of the security and legal controversies today had their predecessors of the pre-Internet old mainframe world of the 70s through the 90s. Let me add that from 1972-1974 I worked for Sperry Univac (Unisys) which for its time was one of the most progressive companies in hiring female engineers.

What can be more troubling is when someone posts controversial material online on his own dime with his own social media account, blog, or hosted domain, and others find it through search engines.  I’ve already discussed how this played out with a fictitious screenplay I had posted when I was substitute teaching (July 19, 2016).   There was a situation in my IT career where I transferred to another location because of the possibility of a perceived public conflict over publishing my book involving gays in the military (May 30, 2016 link).

In the early 2000’s we saw human resources people write articles on proposed “blogging policies” at their companies.  I think when someone has direct reports or underwriting responsibilities, there is a real risk that if someone finds opinionated material online even written at home, a hostile workplace issue can come up.  I had written an article explaining this back in March 2000 as Google was starting to make me “famous”.

Here’s a story about a writing conference in Minneapolis canceled because of the “lack of diversity” of the presenters.   I lived there 1997-2003 and went to some events sponsored by the local National Writers Union.  I didn’t run into this then. Ditto for a screenwriting group.

The recent reports that Google canceled an employee town hall over external threats and targeting, are disturbing again and remind me of the unrest over campus appearances by Milo Yiannopoulos and Charles Murray.

(Posted: Friday, August 11, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)

Update: Saturday, August 12, 2017 at 6 PM

James Damore has his own explanation in the Wall Street Journal of his firing here.

The New York Times has a detailed story today about how the internal memo gradually became more public involving internal tools called Memegen and Dory.  The “leak” appeared partly through Breitbart, which reports that WikiLeaks has offered Damore a job.

The Washington Post has an op-ed in Outlook Aug. 13 by Fredrik deBoer, “Corporations are cracking down on what employees say, even outside of work“.  He cites examples, like a stadium worker for criticizing the Philadelphia Eagles on Facebook, or a military contractor fired for publicly supporting Barack Obama. Digital technology has made second lives impossible.  This may have helped overturn “don’t ask don’t tell” but it can gradually erode the “right” of people to speak for themselves and send them running to organizations and lobbyists begging to be paid to speak for them.

Will user-generated public content be around forever? The sex-trafficking issue and Section 230 are just the latest problem

It used to be very difficult to “get published”.  Generally, a third party would have to be convinced that consumers would really pay to buy the content you had produced.  For most people that usually consisted of periodical articles and sometimes books.  It was a long-shot to make a living as a best-selling author, as there was only “room at the top” for so many celebrities.  Subsidy “vanity” book publishing was possible, but usually ridiculously expensive with older technologies.

That started to change particularly in the mid 1990s as desktop publishing became cheaper, as did book manufacturing, to be followed soon by POD, print on demand, by about 2000.  I certainly took advantage of these developments with my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book in 1997.

Furthermore, by the late 1990s, it had become very cheap to have one’s own domain and put up writings for the rest of the world to find with web browsers.  And the way search engine technology worked by say 1998, amateur sites with detailed and original content had a good chance of being found passively and attracting a wide audience.  In addition to owned domains, some platforms, such as Hometown AOL at first, made it very easy to FTP content for unlimited distribution.  At the same time, Amazon and other online mass retail sites made it convenient for consumers to find self-published books, music, and other content.

Social media, first with Myspace and later with the much more successful Facebook, was at first predicated on the idea of sharing content with a known whitelisted audience of “friends” or “followers”.  In some cases (Snapchat), there was an implicit understanding that the content was not to be permanent. But over time, many social media platforms (most of all, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) were often used to publish brief commentaries and links to provocative news stories on the Web, as well as videos and images of personal experiences.  Sometimes they could be streamed Live.  Even though friends and followers were most likely to see it (curated by feed algorithms somewhat based on popularity in the case of Facebook) many of them were public for all to see,  Therefore, an introverted person like me who does not like “social combat” or hierarchy or does not like to be someone else’s voice (or to need someone else’s voice) could become effective in influencing debate.   It’s also important that modern social media were supplemented by blogging platforms, like Blogger, WordPress and Tumblr, which, although they did use the concept of “follower”,  were more obviously intended generally for public availability. The same was usually true of a lot of video content on YouTube and Vimeo.

The overall climate regarding self-distribution of one’s own speech to a possibly worldwide audience seemed permissive, in western countries and especially the U.S.   In authoritarian countries, political leaders would resist.  It might seem like an admission of weakness that an amateur journalist could threaten a regime, but we saw what happened, for example, with the Arab Spring.  A permissive environment regarding distribution of speech seemed to undercut the hierarchy and social command that some politicians claimed they needed to protect “their own people.”

Gradually, challenges to self-distribution evolved.   There was an obvious concern that children could find legitimate (often sexually oriented) content aimed for cognitive adults.  The first big problem was the Communications Decency Act of 1996.  The censorship portion of this would be overturned by the Supreme Court in 1997 (I had attended the oral arguments).  Censorship would be attempted again with the Child Online Protection Act, or COPA, for which I was a sublitigant under the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  It would be overturned in 2007 after a complicated legal battle, in the Supreme Court twice.  But the 1996 Communications Decency Act, or more properly known as the Telecommunications Act, also contained a desirable provision, that service providers (ranging from Blogging or video-sharing platforms to telecommunications companies and shared hosting companies) would be shielded from downstream liability for user content for most legal problems (especially defamation). That is because it was not possible for a hosting company or service platform to prescreen every posting for possible legal problems (which is what book publishers do, and yet require author indemnification!)  Web hosting and service companies were required to report known (as reported by users) child pornography and sometimes terrorism promotion.

At the same time, in the copyright infringement area, a similar provision developed, the Safe Harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which shielded service providers from secondary liability for copyright infringement as long as they took down offending content from copyright owners when notified.  Various threats have developed to the mechanism, most of all SOPA, which got shot down by user protests in early 2012 (Aaron Swartz was a major and tragic figure).

The erosion of downstream liability protections would logically become the biggest threat to whether companies can continue to offer users the ability to put up free content without gatekeepers and participate in political and social discussions on their own, without proxies to speak for them, and without throwing money at lobbyists.  (Donald Trump told supporters in 2016, “I am your voice!”  Indeed.  Well, I don’t need one as long as I have Safe Harbor and Section 230.)

So recently we have seen bills introduced in the House (ASVFOSTA, “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Trafficking Act”) in April (my post), and SESTA, Stop Enabling of Sex Traffickers Act” on Aug. 1 in the Senate (my post). These bills, supporters say, are specifically aimed at sex advertising sites, most of all Backpage..  Under current law, plaintiffs (young women or their parents) have lost suits because Backpage can claim immunity under 230.  There have been other controversies over the way some platforms use 230, especially Airbnb.  The companies maintain that they are not liable for what their users do.

Taken rather literally, the bills (especially the House bill) might be construed as meaning that any blogging platform or hosting provider runs a liability risk if a user posts a sex trafficking ad or promotion on the user’s site.  There would be no reasonable way Google or Blue Host or Godaddy or any similar party could anticipate that a particular user will do this.  Maybe some automated tools could be developed, but generally most hosting companies depend on users to report illegal content.  (It’s possible to screen images for water marks for known child pornography, and it’s possible to screen some videos and music files for possible copyright, and Google and other companies do some of this.)

Bob Portman, a sponsor of the Senate bill, told CNN and other reporters that normal service and hosting companies are not affected, only sites knowing that they host sex ads.  So he thinks he can target sites like Backpage, as if they were different.  In a sense, they are:  Backpage is a personal commerce-facilitation site, not a hosting company or hosting service (which by definition has almost no predictive knowledge of what subject matter any particular user is likely to post, and whether that content may include advertising or may execute potential commercial transactions, although use of “https everywhere” could become relevant).  Maybe the language of the bills could be tweaked to make this clearer. It is true that some services, especially Facebook, have become pro-active in removing or hiding content that flagrantly violates community norms, like hate speech (and that itself gets controversial).

Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara, offered analysis suggesting that states might be emboldened to try to pass laws requiring pre-screening of everything, for other problems like fake news.  The Senate bill particularly seems to encourage states to pass their own add-on laws. They could try to require pre-secreening.  It’s not possible for an ISP to know whether any one of the millions of postings made by customers could contain sex-trafficking before the fact, but a forum moderator or blogger monitoring comments probably could.  Off hand, it would seem that allowing a comment with unchecked links (which I often don’t navigate because of malware fears) could run legal risks (if the link was to a trafficking site under the table).  Again, a major issue should be whether the facilitator “knows”.  Backpage is much more likely to “know” than a hosting provider.  A smaller forum host might “know” (but Reddit would not).

From a moral perspective, we have something like the middle school problem of detention for everybody for the sins of a few.  I won’t elaborate here on the moral dimensions of the idea that some of us don’t have our own skin in the game in raising kids or in having dependents, as I’ve covered that elsewhere.  But you can see that people will perceive a moral tradeoff, that user-generated content on the web, the way the “average Joe” uses it, has more nuisance value (with risk of cyberbullying, revenge porn, etc) than genuine value in debate, which tends to come from people like me with fewer immediate personal responsibilities for others.

So, is the world of user-generated content “in trouble”?  Maybe.  It would sound like it could come down to a business model problem.  It’s true that shared hosting providers charge annual fees for hosting domains, but they are fairly low (except for some security services).  But free content service platforms (including Blogger, WordPress, YouTube, and Facebook and Twitter) do say “It’s free” now – they make their money on advertising connected to user content.   A world where people use ad blockers and “do not track” would seem grim for this business model in the future.  Furthermore, a  lot of people have “moral” objections to this model – saying that only authors should get the advertising revenue – but that would destroy the social media and UGC (user-generated content) world as we know it.  Consider the POD book publishing world. POD publishers actually do perform “content evaluation” for hate speech and legal problems, and do collect hefty fees for initial publication.  But lately they have become more aggressive with authors about books sales, a sign that they wonder about their own sustainability.

There are other challengers for those whose “second careers” like mine are based on permissive UGC.  One is the weakening of network neutrality rules, as I have covered here before.  The second comment period ends Aug. 17.  The telecom industry, through its association, has said there is no reason for ordinary web sites to be treated any differently than they have been, but some observers fear that some day new websites could have to pay to be connected to certain providers (beyond what you pay for a domain name and hosting now).

There have also been some fears in the past, which have vanished with time.  One flare-up started in 2004-2005 when some observers that political blogs could violate federal election laws by being construed as indirect “contributions”.   A more practically relevant problem is simply online reputation and the workplace, especially in a job where one has direct reports, underwriting authority, or the ability to affect a firm to get business with “partisanship”.  One point that gets forgotten often is that, indeed, social media sites can be set up with full privacy settings so that they’re not searchable.  Although that doesn’t prevent all mishaps (just as handwritten memos or telephone calls can get you in trouble at work in the physical world) it could prevent certain kinds of workplace conflicts.  Public access to amateur content could also be a security concern, in a situation where an otherwise obscure individual is able to become “famous” online, he could make others besides himself into targets.

Another personal flareup occurred in 2001 when I tried to buy media perils insurance and was turned down for renewal because of the lack of a third-party gatekeeper. This issue flared into debate in 2008 briefly but subsided.  But it’s conceivable that requirements could develop that sites (at least through associated businesses) pay for themselves and carry media liability insurance, as a way of helping account for the community hygiene issue of potential bad actors.

All of this said, the biggest threat to online free expression could still turn out to be national security, as in some of my recent posts.  While the mainstream media have talked about hackers and cybersecurity (most of all with elections), physical security for the power grid and for digital data could become a much bigger problem than we thought if we attract nuclear or EMP attacks, either from asymmetric terrorism or from rogue states like North Korea.  Have tech companies really provided for the physical security of their clouds and data given a threat like this?

Note the petition and suggested Congressional content format suggested by Electronic Frontier Foundation for bills like SESTA. It would be useful to know how British Commonwealth and European countries handle the downstream liability issues, as a comparison point. It’s also important to remember that a weakened statutory downstream liability protection for a service provider does not automatically create that liability.

(Posted: Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017 at 10:30 PM EDT)

How an article on the workplace and automation leads us back to network neutrality and other potential issues for Internet user-generated content

A guest post by 30-year-old Australian blogging (and physical fitness) guru Ramsay Taplin (aka “Blogtyrant“), in “Goins, Writer” about how to deal with the invasion of robots and artificial intelligence in the workplace (when these innovations threaten to replace you) rather accidentally re-ignites the debate over the future of the Internet and ordinary speech on it in the United States.  (Before I go further, I’ve love to meet the huge cat on Ramsay’s Twitter page.)

Ramsay’s post seems to be a bit in the tradition of libertarian George Mason University Professor Tyler Cowen’s book “Average Is Over,” outlining how middling people need to deal with the changing modern workplace.  At a crucial point in his essay, Ramsay, after suggesting that employed people consider starting small businesses on their own time, recommends most business owners (as well as professionals like lawyers, financial planners, agents, and even book authors) stake out their property in “modern real estate” with a professionally hosted blog site.  But then he dismissively adds the caveat, “unless the Internet changes dramatically through removing net neutrality…”

Later, he writes “make sure everything you do on the Internet helps someone,” a very important base concept that I’ll come back to. He gives a link to a compelling essay on personal and workplace ethics in a site called “Dear Design Student”, about how you can’t lead a double life and be believed forever.  You can see my conversation with him in the comments.

Whoa, there.  OK, Ramsay works (“from his couch”) in Australia, part of the British Commonwealth, and, like most western-style democratic countries, the Aussie World maintains statutory network neutrality regulations on its own turf (I presume).  But, as we know, under the new Trump administration and new FCC chair Ajit Pai, the Obama era’s network neutrality protections, largely set in place (in 2015) by maintaining that self-declared “neutral conduit” telecommunications companies are common carriers, will almost certainly be disbanded late this summer in the U.S. after the formal comment period is over.  Pro-neutrality advocates (including most tech companies) plan a “Day of Action” July 12, which Breitbart characterized in rather hyperbolic farce.

That situation puts American companies at odds with the rest of the capitalist democratic world (definitely not including Russia and China).  There are plenty of political advocacy pressure groups with “Chicken Little” “Sky Is Falling” warnings (along with aggressive popups for donations) about how exposed small companies and individual speakers online may be intentionally silenced (as I had outlined here on May 11).  Right away, I rebut by noting that not only is there to be (according to Pai) “voluntary compliance”, but also every major general-purpose telecom company in the US seems to say it has no intention to throttle ordinary sites.  In fact, most consumers, when they sign up for Internet, want full access to everything out there on the indexed web, so doing so would make no business sense.

Even so, some comparison of the world now to what it was a few decades ago, when I came of age, is in order.  Telephone companies were monopolistic but were regulated, so they couldn’t refuse service to consumers they didn’t like.  None of this changed as ATT break-up into the Bell’s happened (something I watched in the 80s-job market for I.T.)  But until the WWW came along in the mid-90s, the regulations only protected consumers getting content (phone calls), not wanting to upload it with no gatekeepers for pre-approval.  Back then, in a somewhat regulated environment, companies did make technological innovations for big paying customers (like DOD).  Pai would seem to be wrong in asserting that all regulation will stop innovation.

It’s also noteworthy that the FCC regulated broadcast networks, especially the number of television stations they could own (I remember this while working for NBC in the 1970s).  Likewise, movie studios were not allowed to own theater chains (that has somewhat changed more recently).

But by analogy, it doesn’t seem logical that reasonable rules preventing ordinary content throttling would stymie innovation where there are real benefits to consumers (like higher speeds for high definition movies, or for emergency medical services, and the like), or, for that matter, better service in rural areas.

There are also claims that new telecom technologies could enter the market, and that Obama-like net neutrality rules would stifle newcomer telecom companies.  Maybe this could bear on super-high-speed FIOS, for example, that Google has tried in a few cities.

Then, some of the punditry get speculative.  For example, a faith-based ISP might want to set up a very restricted service for religious families. It sounds rather improbable, but maybe that needs to be OK.  Or maybe a Comcast or Verizon wants to offer a low-end Internet service that doesn’t offer all websites, just an approved whitelist.  Maybe that appeals to locally socialized families with little interest in “globalism”.  That sounds a little more serious in its possible impact on other small businesses trying to reach them.

Another idea that cannot be dismissed out of hand, is that telecom companies could be prodded to deny connection access to illegal content, such as terror promotion or child pornography, or even sex trafficking (as with the Backpage controversy).

If we did have an environment where websites had to pay every telecom company to be hooked up to them, it’s likely that hosting companies like Bluehost would have to build this into their fees to take care of it.  I actually have four separate hosted WordPress blog domains.  It’s significant that Bluehost (and probably other companies) allow a user just one hosting account with a primary domain name.  Add-on domains are internally made subdomains of the primary and converted internally.  So, the user would probably only he “charged” for one hookup, regardless of the number of blogs.  (It’s also possible to put separate blogs in separate installations of WordPress in separate directories, I believe, but I see no reason now to try it.)   But one mystery to me is, that if Bluehost does have a “primary domain” concept with subdomains, why can’t it make the entire network https (SSL) instead of just one “real” domain?  I expect this will change.  SSL is still pretty expensive for small businesses to offer (they can generally outsource their credit card operations and consumer security, but there is more pressure, from groups like Electronic Frontier Foundation, to implement “https everywhere” for all content).

It’s also worthy of note that “free blogs” on services like Blogger and WordPress use a subdomain concept, so there is only one domain name hookup per user to any ISP.  That’s why Blogger can offer https to its own hosted blogs but not to blogs that default to user-owned domain names.

We can note that search engines like Google and Bing aren’t held to a “neutrality” policy and in fact often change their algorithms to prevent unfair (“link farming”) practices by some sites.

So, here we are, having examined net neutrality and its supposed importance to small site owners (nobody really worried about this until around 2008 it seems).  But there are a lot of other issues that could threaten the Internet as we know it.  Many of the proposals revolve around the issue of “downstream liability”:  web hosting companies and social media companies don’t have to review user posts before self-publication for legal problems;  if they had to, users simply could not be allowed to self-publish.  (That’s how things were until the mid 1990s.)  But, as I’ve noted, there are proposals to water down “Section 230” provisions in the US because of issues like terrorism recruiting (especially by ISIS), cyberbulling, revenge porn, and especially sex trafficking (the Backpage scandal).  Hosts and social media companies do have to remove (and report) child pornography now when they find it or when it is flagged by users, but even that content cannot be screened before the fact.  And Facebook and Twitter are getting better at detecting terror recruiting, gratuitous violence, fake news, and trafficking.  But widescale abuse by combative and relatively less educated users starts to raise the ethical question about whether user-generated content needs to pay its own way, rather than become a gratuitous privilege for those who really don’t like to interact with others whom they want to criticize.

In Europe and British Commonwealth countries there is apparently less protection from downstream liability allowed service providers than in the U.S., which would be the reverse of the legal climate when compared to the network neutrality issue.  And Europe has a “right to be forgotten” concept. Yet, user-generated content still seems to flourish in western countries besides the U.S.

I mentioned earlier the idea that a small business or even personal website should help the reader in a real-world sense.  Now Ramsay’s ideas on Blogtyrant seem most applicable to niche marketing.  That is, a business meeting a narrow and specific consumer need will tend to attract followers (hence Blogtyrant’s recommendations for e-mail lists that go beyond the fear of spam and malware).  It’s noteworthy that most niche markets probably would require only one blog site (despite my discussion above of how hosting and service providers handle multiple blogs from one user.) It’s pretty easy to imagine what niche blogs would be like:  those of lawyers (advising clients), financial planners, real estate agents, insurance agents, tax preparers, beauty products, fashion, and games and sports (especially chess).  It would seem that gaming would create its own niche areas.  And there are the famous mommy blogs (“dooce” by Heather Armstrong, who added a new verb to English – note her site has https –, although many later “mommy” imitations have not done nearly so well).  I can imagine how a well-selling fiction author could set up a niche blog, to discuss fiction writing (but not give away her own novels).

Another area would be political activism, where my own sense of ethics makes some of this problematical, although Ii won’t get into that here.

In fact, my whole history has been the opposite, to play “Devil’s advocate” and provide “objective commentary” and “connect the dots” among almost everything, although how I got into this is a topic for another day (it had started with gays in the military and “don’t ask don’t tell” in the US in the 1990s, and everything else grew around it).   One could say that my entering the debate this way meant I could never become anyone else’s mouth piece for “professional activism” or conventional salesmanship (“Always Be Closing”).  I guess that at age 54 I traded queens into my own (chess) endgame early, and am getting to the king-and-pawn stage, looking for “the opposition”.

There’s a good question about what “helps people”.  “The Asylumist” is a good example; it is written by an immigration lawyer Jason Dzubow specifically to help asylum seekers.  Jason doesn’t debate the wisdom of immigration policy as an intellectual exercise, although he has a practical problem of communicating what asylum seekers can expect during the age of Trump – and some of it is unpredictable. On this (my) blog, I’ve tried to explore what other civilians who consider helping asylum seekers (especially housing them personally) could expect.  Is that “helping people” when what I publish is so analytical, tracing the paths of speculation?  I certainly have warned a lot of people about things that could get people into trouble, for example, allowing someone else (even an Airbnb renter!) to use your home Internet router connection, for which you could be personally liable (sorry, no personalized Section 230).  Is the end result (of my own blog postings) to make people hesitant to offer a helping hand to immigrants out of social capital (and play into Donald Trump’s hands)?  I think I’m making certain problems a matter of record so policy makers consider them, and I have some ample evidence that they do.  But does that “help people” the way a normal small business does?

Getting back to how a blog helps a small business, the underlying concept (which does not work with my operation) is that the business pays for itself, by meeting real needs that consumers pay for (let’s hope they’re legitimate, not porn).  Legitimate business use of the Internet should come from “liking people.”  If blogging were undermined by a combination of policy changes in the US under Trump, it might not affect people everywhere else (although Theresa May wants it to), and it would be especially bad for me with my free-content model based on wealth accumulated elsewhere (some of it inherited but by no means all of it); but legitimate for-profit businesses will always have some basic way to reach their customers.

There has been talk of threats to blogging before.  One of the most serious perils occurred around 2005, in connection with campaign finance reform in the U.S., which I had explained here.

(Posted: Monday, June 12, 2017 at 12 noon EDT USA)

Behind Trump’s weakening of Obama’s Internet privacy protections, a lot of chaos on what privacy means (esp. to insurance companies)

The Washington Post recently documented “how Congress dismantled federal Internet privacy rules” in a piece by Kimbery Kindy on May 30.

The writer notes a collusion between telecommunications provider companies (that is, Internet ISP’s, like Comcast, Verizon and ATT)) and social media and content servicing providers (like Facebook, Google Twitter, Amazon, Apple) in Silicon Valley. Politics emits strange bedfellows (so libertarians say), and the common interest between the backbone technology interests and the content servicing interests on the ad opportunity inherent in relaxing privacy rules is logical, but in contradiction to the general nature of the disagreement between these big industrial sectors over network neutrality. That disparity seems remarkable to me. Particularly remarkable was the donation of money so quickly as Trump took office to roll back Obama’s end-of-term work. I don’t play K-street Monopoly myself.

But there’s not much question that users do benefit from the existence of ads, which pay for all the free user-generated content platforms. The ethical question at the individual level comes down to the old dilemma of spectators vs. actual players. We can’t flourish just as a society of watchers. People need to be willing to see ads, even those selected algorithmically for them, and sometimes people need to be willing to engage them. Both clicks (Adsense) and actual product purchases (Amazon) do help some people make a living by publishing on the Internet.   Freedom implies (somewhat ironically) a need to some new openness to sharing on terms other than one’s own (as in the film “The Circle“).

Where there is a problem, though, can be with security, and, to some extent, online reputation. Users are sometimes reckless on the web. To the extent that users apply privacy settings and they work, that’s not too bad; but often users place gratuitous material online which could attract harm to them and to others connected to them. That has to become a concern for the insurance industry, for example (yesterday).

In fact, there’s a sliding continuum, in most people’s minds, between privacy and reputation. People post legitimate (not porn) interesting stuff because it makes them appear cool, knowledgeable, or desirable in some way for others, or just politically and socially influential. Sometimes you can do this and maintain a certain amount of privacy (wait until you’re back home or near the end of the vacation before posting public images and videos of your good time at P-town or Disney’s new Pandora). I say this noting that some Facebook friends let Facebook post all of their movements on their timeline to friends on geographical maps. (That makes them feel important.)

Employers have been concerned about watching associate (and especially job applicant) personal social media for about a decade now (giving rise to the whole Reputation industry). They have legitimate concerns, for example, about managers inadvertently creating a legally hostile workplace by expressing their views online even in their own personal accounts. That’s especially true now that in the world of Trump, society seems to be getting more polarized into worlds of identity politics. Businesses may not even want some polarizing people as customers (as Richard Spencer found out from Sport and Health recently).

This problem can spill over into insurance, where we know that insurance companies (both health and property) sometimes scan consumer social media accounts or other blog or content posts for possible claims fraud. They could also get a sense of increased consumer loss risk from some social media content (obviously health risks like STD’s, smoking, drugs, and the like, or risky hobbies like skydiving; imagination goes wild on this.)   Here are a couple of discussions about the problem: Huffington, and Insurance Quotes.  This problem can quickly connect itself to social justice and identity issues.

In fact, the end of the Denver TV station video envisions a world where insurance companies don’t want users to post any vacation details in public mode at all. I haven’t heard that said so bluntly before, but since I dug into it, I have to report it. One immediately problem with this idea is that pages (as opposed to friending accounts) are, almost by definition, public. And there are “friends” and there are “pseudo-friends”. Not everyone expects a personal conversation or relationship with each “friend” as “trusted:. The idea seems not very well thought through.

(Posted: Wednesday, May 31, 2017 at 3:45 PM EDT)

If you’ve become a voluntary pundit, don’t expect to delete yourself from the Internet

I’ve imagined a creepy horror film (maybe just a short), where you get called in for the Last Supper of your life, sent up to a hotel room, allowed to make one or two last postings, then denied access, then had your whole online existence removed.  Then the fantasy or catch or your life knocks on your door and gives you one last “peak experience” as you pass into the Afterlife, if it exists, with your karma cleaned up.  Maybe this could be a low budget movie.

Yet maybe a little more than ten years ago, “online reputation” became a trendy topic, even leading a company by that name to be founded.

Before that, I had to deal already had to deal with “what I had done”.  When I couldn’t sell enough hard copy books, I became an online pundit.  I got a reputation that way (as an “older Milo”, and probably more socially acceptable, especially to Donald Trump) but my Pharisee-speech didn’t pay its own way.  In the most extreme circumstances, it might get me or other people connected to me killed.

Earlier, I had entertained the idea that people in positions of authority over others (with direct reports) should not express their opinions in unsupervised manner because that could show prejudice or hostile workplace.  This was my own implementation of the idea of “conflict of interest”.  Again, obviously Donald Trump doesn’t respect it now (and I have only one degree of separation from Donald Trump, despite never paying the fees to go to Mar-a-Lago – maybe I can get invited).

Nevertheless, in the past, I’ve had to entertain the idea that a lot of my own Internet presence would have to be removed if I took certain kinds of jobs, as I outlined here.

But is it feasible anymore for someone to go completely dark?  Not very.  I’d say fifteen years ago it was feasible.  You could take everything down, and ask Google to remove all references to your flat files online (before blogs and social media components became SOP).

The old idea of a double life (especially for LGBTQ) seems to be gone forever.  Really, I sometimes miss the way it was in the 1970s and 1980s, even until about 1996 or so.  You had your home and your possessions, and you developed a reputation.  Arranging gatherings and social events meant more then.  In the gay community in DC, you went on adventures with Adventuring or Chrysalis.  (You still can, but my life has changed so much since the 90s that I really don’t have time).  My parents developed a presence with real world property and things – my father was very dedicated to his own workshop, filled with tools, which was much more common for people in the 1950s than now.  As I get older, I find myself mentally revisiting those years.

Here is Abby Ohlheiser’s take in the Washington Post on what it would take to go completely dark, like a white dwarf star that has completely burned out into a dark cinder.   Part of the strategy is to imitate Kellyanne and create “alternative facts” online first.  Some social media will let you change your birth date a few times.  I could imagine a pro-life change to your conception date.

I’ve noticed that there are a number of companies that offer a public records history and background investigation on anyone, for a membership fee.  Of course, if the subject belonged to the same service, he or she would know you had ordered it.  I really like my fantasies of Maslow peak experience and have no reason to spy on anyone and ruin the faith.

Update: March 23, 2017

Check out Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times March 12, “Resist the Internet“.  Douthat doesn’t want kids under 16 to use social media at all, or to have cell phones too early.  He also mentions a no-tech private school in Silicon Valley, Walforf, that many tech executives send their kids to.  The school has students learning to knit socks, and participating in many group rhetorical exercises with the teacher, who is quite engaged.

Blogging: niche or general, sales-oriented or amateur; under Trump it seems to be thriving better than I had expected

I’ve become somewhat a fan of “BlogTyrant” (Ramsay Taplan, in Australia) even if I can hardly follow his advice.  My own online presence evolved over time, starting back in 1996, before I self-published my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book, so I’ve used the blogs and platforms to support my content rather than as an income-generating tool per se.  What started with a focus on one issue (gays in the U.S. military back in the 1990s and “don’t ask don’t tell”) enlarged concentrically to covering most public issues from a libertarian perspective.

One of his more interesting posts recently was “One Multi-Topic Blog vs. Multiple Blogs (each) with a Single Topic” (link).

I have twenty blogs right now, sixteen on Blogger and four on WordPress (chart).  I won’t go into detail right here over how these evolved (the first of these was set up in January 2006) from flat sites, but they are “journalistic” in intent — commentary, but not “sales oriented”.  I can say from a practical viewpoint, it’s easier to get some focus on a critical issue if the blog it is on is smaller and gets updated maybe about twice a week with new posts (that seems about right for getting immediate hits).

What I do agree with Ramsay on is that most “small business” or “individual” or “amateur” blogs that actually make money are single-topic or niche-oriented. (His own original niche was physical fitness.)

It would sound hard to make a living just blogging alone – although, judging from the Adsense and Blogger support forums, many people say that they do (especially overseas).  In fact, one problem that would happen on Blogger in the past (especially around 2008) would that people’s blogs would suddenly get removed as spam blogs (wrongfully).  This sounds less likely for blogs that are equated to purchased domain names (although you can’t get https yet on custom Blogger domains, largely because of the way SSL technology is tied to domain names).

It’s well to note also that Blogger and WordPress work differently in one main area.  With WordPress, you can purchase a shared hosting plan from one of many provides (Utah-based Bluehost in particularly “specialized” in working with Automattic, which owns WordPress), where copies of WordPress and various plugins are installed on your site.  That isn’t possible with Blogger (or other packages like Tumblr) as far as I know.  WordPress is a “higher end” product with more capabilities and tends to load slower and sometimes have some security vulnerabilities and instabilities (which are being worked on vigorously in recent releases).   Blogger is “simpler” and faster to use, but has less support (only the forums) – but it has been amazingly stable over the years, with only one day-long outage in May 2011. I say simpler – the dreaded “bx” codes aren’t very transparent (but in practice a lot of them just result from bad Internet connections).

WordPress hosts are working on providing “https everywhere.”  The general idea is that all accounts need to be subdomains of one account.

Let’s move back to the subject – niche blogging.  It works best for someone who already has a business that would be successful in the “real world” (of Shark Tank, so to speak).  Most successful small businesses (outside of branded retail franchises) meet relatively specific and narrow needs and interests, so Ramsay’s ideas of email lists will work (and will get around consumer squeamishness about spam and malware).  These are businesses and supporting blogs that are “for” some base of consumers or clients or stakeholders with narrow, specific needs or concerns.  In a sense, they are “partisan”, and they may need to admit to some hucksterism, or at least overt salesmanship.

I can think of a good niche not far from me.  I do play in USCF-rated chess tournaments.  If I were better at it, let’s say, playing at the International Master level (by FIDE) I could easily envision setting up a blog with opening analysis and endgames.  It would draw a large hits and make advertising money  easily. World Champion  Magnus Carlsen has a news site (here) and is quite likeable, but I don’t see an openings analysis blog.  (Actually, his playing style is to use unbooked openings like an early d3 in the Ruy Lopez and simply outplay his opponent – I guess if he had an openings blog, he could give away his competitive plans for future battles!  But he could still do a blog on endgames.)

But I can imagine, for example, a blog where the chess player refutes a line in a published opening book (which is static).  Here’s an example of what such a post could be like.

Of course, artists and authors can have their own blogs (that is, like I have 20, and “give too much away).  Libertarian author Mary Ruwart (the “Healing Our World” series) has a nice blog here.  But generally authors need to build up some reputation just for “selling books” (at least on Kindle, and preferably in the physical world) before their blogs are likely to have a lot of visitors.

But one area that musicians and authors can explore is education – bringing music and literature into the classroom for underprivileged kids.  Music education goes along well with improving mathematics skills.

It’s well to note how successful some mommy blogs have been — most of all, Heather Armstrong’s, which she launched in 2002 after she was “dooced” (fired) for what she had said online about her job. (Heather has trademarked her wordmark, for what has become an accepted English language verb.  Subsequent “imitation” mommy blogs by others have come under criticism for being “made up” to please readers and get easier ad revenue.)  In the 2000-2006 period, you heard a lot about the potential of employers needing “blogging policies”, which morphed into a whole industry protecting online reputation.  One subtle problem was that in the early days, search engines tended to index simpler sites (like mine), meaning that someone like me could develop a reputation as dangerous to be associated with, because he could talk about you later out of “journalistic” (or “alien anthropologist” motives) — hence we get to an evolution of the idea of “no spectators” (like in the film “Rebirth“).  Everyone must belong somewhere.

I wanted to note well my previous concern for “citizen journalism” under Donald Trump (Nov. 7). Donald Trump, as we know, continues his Twitter storms (his latest tweet was about noon Monday, today), quite inconsistent with his threats in December 2015 to “shut down” frivolous parts of the Internet.  He seems to trust amateur bloggers (or the “Fifth Estate”), including me, much more than he accepts the established press.  This is not the same as what happens in Russia and China, where “amateur” dissidents are pursued as if by chemotherapy.

(Posted: Monday, March 13, 2017 at 3:15 PM EDT)

Does quoting and analyzing “provocateur” speech (like Milo’s) make more extreme ideas become acceptable to the mainstream?

Does a pundit or columnist or quasi-journalist (and now blogger) like me “do harm” by repeating (in quotes) partially reasonable but hate-motivated arguments made by political, religious or social “enemies” of people in various marginalized groups?

The basic point made by minority activists (usually but not always on the Left) is that repetition of these kinds of points tends to make them sound more mainstream.  So more moderate politicians (elected, administrative, and judicial) are more likely to believe them, resulting in more harm to the people in the groups.

I’ve always questioned the overuse of “immutability” arguments to support “gay equality”, focusing more on libertarian paradigms, emphasizing individualism and harmlessness.  But of course hyperindividuaiism runs into bigger problems with essential inherited inequality, sustainability, and human need for cohesion (starting in the family and moving out).

I have indeed played “devil’s advocate”, to the dismay of some conventional gay activists.  In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before HTLV-III was identified, I actually communicated by letter to some “enemies” who wanted to use AIDS as an exclusion to strengthen sodomy and gay-exclusion laws.  I was very concerned about the “chain letter amplification” theory that they had (an admission of herd effects, posting Jan. 4).  In these pre-Internet days, I developed a reputation with the Dallas mainstream media and medical community for being willing to even discuss these arguments as if they had a chance of being “truth” – I felt that they could have, even though history (fortunately, for “us”, didn’t turn out that way).

The comment is often made that “well-intended” commentators have made the supposed hate speech of provocateur (“@Nero”) Milo Yiannopoulos “credible” by even answering some of his more notorious comments with contextual analysis.  Most of his more “renowned” statements are intentionally hyperbolic, satirical, and with “grains of truth”.  Some of his statements seem like legitimate reactions to protective campus speech codes, “safe zones”, media-free zones, “trigger warnings” and the idea of “microaggressions”.  It’s gotten so “bad” that I would wonder if I could talk about White and Black as opposing forces in a chess game, when writing a metaphor, without sounding like I was race-baiting.  (Chess has been important in my life, but that’s another narrative.)   Of course, Milo has gained even more notoriety when his campus events are forced into cancellation by a “heckler’s veto” as recently happened in Berkeley.

But some of his statements also seem directed at “less competitive” people in society, especially with respect to physical or biological issues.  One of the more provocative concerned fat-shaming (as here on Breitbart).  The statement suggests that being in the company of an unattractive person lowers his own testosterone.  Maybe marginally true.  I’m reminded of how the Family Research Council made a point about lower testosterone levels in heterosexually married new fathers in trying to rebut gay marriage!

The Inquisitr tried to “mainstream” Milo’s quotes with some contextual analysis, that will work with “intellectual” people but that won’t hold on the streets.   Another more leftist site was less kind, but sill provided some background (although all of it rebuttal).   I showed this second article on my phone to a young white gay man at a social event (someone lean and “attractive” by modern gay norms), and he said the found the aggregation of them in an article just to refute them itself to be offensive.

But logical conclusion from some of the posts would be, to put it mildly, to reinforce CNN’s Don Lemon’s “pull up your pants” advice.   People from marginalized groups (or marginalized further within these groups by physical issues) presumably have some responsibility to deal with the expectations of others  on their own.  That’s not directly hateful, but it putatively does set up a social climate where people will get “left out”, even eventually in being able to find and form relationships.

But provocative speech often gains more attention because of coincidental circumstances at the time it is published or disseminated.  I found this out with a major incident when I was substitute teaching bacj in 2005 (see July 19, 2916 pingback).

We’re left, of course, with the observation that authoritarian people (Donald Trump) rally their support bases around slogans and misleading half-truths, and have no use for context.

Let us remember that Lyndon Johnson made rather disdainful remarks about “the Negro” on some of his tapes.  Times do change.

Link for review of “Real Time with Bill Maher” session including Milo on HBO.

(Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2017 at 8:30 PM EST)

Update: Feb. 20, about 8:30 PM EST

There was a lot of news about Milo today, not good.  I’ll have to sort this out.  The Associated Press has a succinct summary on Bloomberg here.  The book deal was canceled (I FB-ed to him that he should self-publish), and a speaking engagement at CPAC was removed, and his future at Breitbart may be compromised.  Milo has suggested that sometimes teens (while legally below the age-of-consent of a particular jurisdiction) provoke encounters with adults to have power over the adults.  That same idea is mentioned in my DADT-III.  Yes, it does really happen in rea life.  That statement does not promote pedophilia (but maybe “ephebophilia”).

Update: March 5, about 11;30 PM

Here’s a controversial link by a University of Chicago professor (Rachel Fulton Brown); a reply on Patheos and a blog post on “loving Milo”.

Charles Murray has had a similar problem at a college in Vermont, story.

Firing of transgender journalist over his personal posting about “objectivity” raises questions about personal online reputation in the media

Media columnist Margaret Sullivan reports a disturbing story in the Style Section of the Washington Post today, “How one reporter’s rejection of objectivity got him fired.”

The journalist is 32-year-old female-to-male transgender Lewis Wallace, who was fired ten days into the Trump presidency from Marketplace in Los Angeles.

Wallace was fired after a personal blog post “Objectivity is dead and I’m okay with it.”  He gives a further follow-up on his firing here.   The posts are on a site called “Medium”.  But a similar result would have happened were the platform WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, or even a Facebook page.

Poytner (which offers courses in media and law and has worked with the media perils insurance issue in the past) weighs in on the larger problem with “Should journalists protest in Trump’s America?”  Poytner comes up with some scenarios, like a Muslim journalist is separated from his family by Trump’s sudden ban.  It’s pretty obvious how this can come up with LGBTQ people, as Wallace points out.

Sullivan, in her article, notes that “mainstream” media organizations generally forbid their employees from marching or carrying signs in demonstrations.  Some media companies, like the gay media (like the Washington Blade) would adjust their policies for their targeted readership and advertisers.

Now my own circumstances bear comment, and it’s best to work this problem inside out.  I am “retired”, and run my own media operations myself.  So, in a way, I can “do what I want.”  But I certain face criticism from many parties, as I have covered here before.  Some people wonder why my book and movie reviews aren’t more partial to their own struggles or previous hardships, and people do say that my tone is usually surprisingly “neutral”, even pedantic, as if I had no personal stake in their issues, when obviously (given my own past narrative) I do have such exposure.   So, people say, I actually should offer to keep my own “skin in the game” for being flayed or burned, as part of solidarity.  Sometimes this can degenerate into expecting people to take each other’s bullets.  One can say, my activity doesn’t carry its own weight.  It could be undermined in the future by Trump’s security concerns about social media in general, or if Section 230 is gutted or appealed.   I get criticized that I don’t help other people get and keep their jobs as much as I would have to if I really had to “sell”.  Then I could not afford the “pretense” of objectivity and would have to please a specific audience, and “help” real people.

For those who don’t know me, I consider myself tending toward the libertarian side of conservatism, supporting equality on social issues. but careful look at why people have the attitudes they do, strong on defense (pretty much a McCain-like Republican), and sensibly conservative on fiscal issues (like, the US must pay its bills and keep its promises). While I understand what is behind much of the anti-immigrant sentiment, were I in charge I would be much more cautious about consequences than the current president about how my policies actually would work out.

I do go to demonstrations and photograph them and film them.  But I generally don’t carry signs (although I did earlier in my life, in the 1970s, after “coming out”; I remember many late June gay pride marches).  Particularly from the radical Left, I am vulnerable to the flak, “What makes you too good to march with us?”  It’s very dangerous to pretend you are better than other people and don’t have to walk in their shoes sometimes (maybe permanently).

So, I can understand why some people (like Trump and Bannon) don’t like journalists.  Remember the little Netflix movie “Rebirth”?  We are the spectators, the kibitzers, who don’t play, who can criticize others but who don’t have to live with the consequences.  We are the Monday morning quarterbacks.  (But then, again, because we can’t pitch no-hitters, we don’t have hundred-million dollar contracts.)   We even may be the slightly Asperger-like or Spock-like “alien anthropologists” who set up social networking sites and do news aggregation to rule the world and claim this third planet from the Sun for ourselves.  (Is Mark Zuckerberg the most powerful man in the world anyway?)

To be fair, there is pure journalism (on-site news reporting) and there is commentary.  Usually they’re not supposed to mix too much, but on stations like CNN they do, where news analysts opine all the time.  The mainstream and liberal networks properly question the current president’s recklessness (which might be deliberate strategy to see what he can get away with), whereas Fox I guess is supportive.  But original reporting does have to pay heed to objectivity.  Remember how journalists like Brian Williams have gotten into trouble.

I actually would be interested in working with organizations ranging from Vox to OAN, but I would have to separate my coverage from my own personal narrative, which works because right now I control my own operation myself.

In a posting, here May 20, 2016, I had already linked to a long narrative of my own issue with “conflict of interest”, as is covered in Chapter 3 of my own DADT-III book, sections 2 and 3 here (PDF).   In the early 1990s, I was working for a life insurance company that specialized in sales to military officers.  Given my personal history and the political climate at the time (over Bill Clinton’s settling into “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) I felt that my plans to write a book on the military ban and bring in a personal narrative could present its own kind of “conflict of interest”.  That became a major theme in my life in the 1990s, which continued in the 2000s when I worked as a substitute teacher, leading to another incident in 2005 documented in section 06 of the book excerpt.

I do believe that there are facts.  There can be alternative interpretation of fact, but “alternative fact” is an oxymoron.  Journalists do need to report all the facts (as the Cato Institute showed up with the statistics on crime committed by refugees in the U.S)

I think the problem comes in the slant or interpretation of facts.  Do we report on others as if they were free-standing individuals, or as if they were members of groups and inherit all kinds of advantages and disadvantages (including marginalization) based on their belonging to these groups?  And how do we deal with people in our own lives?  It does get personal.

(Posted: Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 5:15 PM EST)