Activism, watcherism, and subtle vigilantism: those just outside the “systematic oppression” zones

CNN has run an op-ed by John Blake, “White Supremacists by Default: How ordinary people made Charlottesville possible.”

Yes, to some extent, this piece is an “I am my brother’s keeper” viewpoint familiar from Sunday School. But at another level the piece has major moral implications regarding the everyday personal choices we make, and particularly the way we speak out or remain silent.

I grew up in a way in which I did not become conscious of class or race or belonging to a tribe, or people. I was not exposed to the idea of “systematic oppression” against people who belong to some recognizable group. My self-concept was pretty separated from group identity.

I gradually became aware that I would grow up “different” especially with respect to sexuality. But I believed it was incumbent on me to learn to perform in a manner commensurate with my gender, because the welfare of others in the family or community or country could depend on that capacity. My sense of inferiority was driven first by lack of that performance, which then morphed into other ideas about appearance and what makes a male (or then female) look desirable.

I remember, back in the mid 1990s, about the time I was starting to work on my first DADT book, an African-American co-worker (another mainframe computer programmer) where I worked in northern Virginia said that he was teaching his young son to grow up to deal with discrimination. Another African-American coworker who had attended West Point said I had no idea what real discrimination was like, because I could just pass. (That person thought I lived “at home” with my Mother since I was never married.)  I would subsequently be a witness in litigation by a former black employee whom I replaced with an internal transfer, and the “libertarianism” in my own deposition seemed to be noticed by the judge dismissing the case.

Indeed, the activism in the gay community always had to deal with the “conduct” vs. “group identity” problem, particularly during the AIDS crisis of the 1990s. Libertarians and moderate conservatives like me (I didn’t formally belong to Log Cabin Republicans but tended to like a lot of things about Reagan and personally fared well when he was in office) were focused on privacy (in the day when double lives were common) and personal responsibility, whereas more radical activists saw systematic oppression as related to definable gender-related class. Since I was well within the upper middle class and earned a good income with few debts and could pay my bills, both conservatives with large families and radical activists born out of disadvantage saw me as a problem.

The more radical commentators today are insisting that White Nationalists have an agenda of re-imposing or augmenting systematic oppression by race, even to be ultimate end of overthrowing normal civil liberties, reintroducing racial subjugation and other forms of authoritarian order. The groups on the extreme right are enemies (of people of color) as much as radical Islam has made itself an enemy of all civilization. Radicals insist that those who normally want to maintain some objectivity and personal distance must be recruited to actively fighting with them to eliminate this one specific enemy.  This could lead to vigilantism (especially online) to those who speak out on their own but who will not join in with them. Ii do get the idea of systemic oppression, but I think that meeting has a lot more to do with the integrity of individual conduct. But this goes quite deep. Refusing to date a member of a different race could be viewed as active racism (June 26).

The possibility of including ordinary independent speakers or observers (or videographers) among the complicit indirect systematic “oppressors” should not be overlooked. Look at the comments and self-criticism of Cloudfare CEO Matthew Prince, about the dangers of new forms of pro-active censorship by Internet companies. This does bear on the Backpge-Section 230 problem, and we’ll come back to this again. In a world with so many bizarre asymmetric threats, I can imagine that Internet companies could expand the list of certain speech content that they believe they cannot risk allowing to stay up (hint: Sony).

I want to add, I do get the idea that many left-wing activists (not just limited to Antifa) believe that Trump was elected in large part by white supremacists and that there is a more specific danger to everyone else in what he owes this part of his base. I have not taken this idea very seriously before, but now I am starting to wonder.

(Posted: Saturday, August 19, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT)

Petitions to elected officials on largely special interest bills

I just wanted to make a note about the effectiveness of online petitions to contact politicians in “emergency” situations to block all kinds of harmful bills.

A recent good example was a call in the New York Times for public “blowback” by David Leonhardt, “Citizen Action on Health Care”, which came out right before the Senate was voting on a Repeal-only bill.

I generally do post petitions on by blogs or social media feeds. Usually I don’t personally respond to them.

I feel that sending elected representatives form letters written by others (even if the non-profit has provided tools for personalizing the letter) wastes “speech capital”, and lessens the impact later when a more substantial and constructive approach on a bill of more relevance to e would really work.

Opposition to many “bad” bills is often well-founded on anticipated unintended consequences.  But frequently the likelihood that the harm will really happen is speculative, and predicated on associated failures of other layers of government or lack of trust in companies.

For example, much of the opposition to the various health care bills is predicated on the idea that down the road the states will refuse to do their jobs for less fortunate constituents.  In a federal system, it is always an issue how far the federal government should go to protect citizens within states.  But I know from gay issues, as with the history of sodomy laws (and a particularly disturbing close-call in the Texas legislature in the 1980s) that even I can be wanting that “federal” consideration. And we certainly know that with southern states and civil rights in the past.

So rather than opposing every bill that gets proposed because somebody gets hurt, I’d like to see us solve the problem.  How to we cover everybody, keep health care costs reasonable, avoid the waiting lists, handle the pre-existing conditions?  Subsidies, reinsurance, policies about end-of-life?  You have to do the math.

Opposition to other bills in my world is speculative.  On the network neutrality petitions, I’m asked to believe that telecom companies really do have an incentive to cut off smaller businesses from even being reachable through them.  This doesn’t make much business sense, and flies against what trade associations say.  Yet, still, I’m concerned.

On the recent Backpage-driven erosion of Section 230, I’d be more concerned about the hype (which the major media haven’t quite caught on to yet).  There’s an existential problem if indeed states (federalism again) could force every service provider or hosting company to prescreen every user poser for sex traffkcking, and I wonder how well the public understands this – it takes a certain level of cognition.  There’s also the idea of “subsumed risk” or shared responsibility, as I’ve hinted before.  The apt comparison would be to use measures that work for controlling child pornography now – it usually requires that a service producer have knowledge, when then creates a duty to report.  It isn’t perfect (and could lead to framing of people) but it seems like a balance.

Even so, an emergency call-in campaign at some point in the future to defeat SESTA sounds unlikely to work.  (I do remember SOPA in 2011-2012.)  We do have to figure out how to solve this problem.

I can imagine the petitions that will go around if we have a debt ceiling crisis at the end of September.  But, no, it’s not as likely seniors stop getting Social Security as the doomsday sayers claim.

I wanted to note also that I don’t usually have a direct relationship with most of my readers, so I don’t do mailing lists, subscriptions, tip jars, giveaway contests, fund raising for organizations (illustration),  or various specific marketing campaigns often (I have done some for the books through Facebook and through the publisher).  Part of the reason is that my content is about “connecting the dots” and covers very broad areas.  I’m not anybody’s life coach.  Yet, when you put yourself out there, people approach you as if they expected you to be.  In this FEE article by Richard Ebeling, point 3 seems applicable.  Real immediate needs of consumers ought to matter, too.

(Posted: Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT)

Supreme Court to take up gerrymandering; a filmmaker (Jon Ossoff) runs for office today

The Supreme Court will take up the issue of partisan gerrymandering, and the design of voting districts by a party in control to cause the opposing party to “waste” its popular vote. The New York Times has a story Tuesday morning by Adam Liptak here. The specific case deals with Wisconsin.

Gerrymandering helps explain why politicians sometimes persist in passing laws that seem silly to moderate voters but that are designed to appease a more extreme and sometimes ideological base, especially rural conservatives. Gerrymandering made the infamous bathroom bills (with all their add-ons spilling out against other minorities) live as long as they did in North Carolina. Legislators did not seem to care that major tech companies and big league sports events could pull out.

Jeff Reichert had made a documentary film “Gerrymandering” which was offered with the West End Theater in Washington DC opened in 2010. Gerrymandering does indeed pervert democracy.   In a sense, the electoral college in presidential elections (as we found out in 2016) offers the same possibilities for mathematical mischief that gerrymandering does at the local level.

Right now, gerrymandering seems to be more used by Republicans to leveraging the popular vote in rural areas. Gerrymandering reflects a problem that, for example baseball fans know. Suppose a team splits a doubleheader, winning 14-0 and then losing 1-0. The team wishes it could have scored 12 runs in the first game and saved two runs for the second game, to complete the sweep. But it doesn’t work that way.

I get rather annoyed when others try to draw me into hyper partisanship. One time during my mother’s last year in 2010 a relative did that (for the GOP). I get appeals for funds from both parties. I get hysterical emails from Karen Handel in Georgia (today’s election). Why should I support an out-of-state politician anyway, so I might not have to pay a little for someone else’s health coverage?

As far as that race goes, it strikes me as intriguing that a documentary filmmaker and writer Jon Ossoff (“Living with Ebola” and “The Battle for Africa”) wants to run for office, and give up the distance that journalism (“spectating”) and its objectivity allows him. Maybe that’s the point. I can’t imagine asking people to give me money to run for office to get them what they want. I can’t imagine going door-to-door for politicians in a world where people fear home invasions.

(Posted: Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at 11 AM 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)

A few good links about service, resistance, and civil disagreement — and engagement

Here are a few links today that have to do with the general area of “giving back” when you are privileged, or perhaps the “Pay It Forward” idea (like the 2000 movie).

The first is a blog post from the “Mental Health Wellness Blog” of the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA.  Yes, this congregation certainly has more than its share of high performers, in high school and college students, and grownups.  It’s generally mainstream liberal (more or less Obama and Clinton).  Maybe some (like the Steve Bannon crowd) would see some elitism, but in the past the pastor has introduced ideas like “radical hospitality” (right before Hurricane Sandy, which did little damage here), which might arguably matter today in the immigration (refugee and asylum seeker) issue. In fact, the congregation has sponsored one refugee family (which is thoroughly pre-vetted and housed in a regular commercially rented townhouse or apartment in northern Virginia).  Some of the congregation participates in community activities like “Lotsa Helping Hands”, which do build social capital.

The blog posting title is titled “Talking Politics”.   The tone of the post presumes that most people with “real lives” (families to raise) need to focus narrowly on things and have limited interest in the abstraction of political issues that you see all the time on CNN (most of all in the age of Donald Trump).  A couple of points stood out.  One idea is to be focused on one or two issues.  I started out that way two decades ago with “gays in the military” (in the early days of “don’t ask, don’t tell”) but, partly because of background and my own approach to “retirement”, I spread out into most policy issues, concentrically, over the years, in my books and blogs.  So I’ve been breaking that rule for a long time.  The other point is in item 3, to “volunteer” and to make sure some our your work is “offline” and uses your “body” as well as your mind.  That could get dicey.  Yes, it can start with the practical issue of service, being efficient in meeting the real needs of other people as, (in the polarity speak of the Paul Rosenfels Community – formerly Ninth Street Center  — demands on “feminine subjectives” – unbalanced personalities like me., which I wound up doing dishes for their Saturday Night potlucks back in the 1970s). But it could extend to allowing your own body and its external trappings to become fungible – like the “Be Brave and Shave” fundraisers at the Westover Market in Arlington a few years ago (for cancer).

The next point is an edgy piece on the Foundation for Economic Education, by African-American columnist TJ Brown, “Fight for a More Civilized Bigotry”.  Maybe this sounds like an oxymoron. Brown talks about the  development of his own attitude toward transgender (or non-binary gender) people. But he correctly (and with writing far gentler than from people like Milo Yiannopoulos) notes that the “radical Left” demands obedience to its demands from those who have been in some privileged class.  His column fits well into the discussion of campus speech codes, as well as violent protests.  Note the recent statement from the James Madison Program at Princeton after the unrest at the appearance of libertarian Charles Murray (“The Bell Curve”, “Coming Apart”) at a campus event in New Hampshire – let alone Milo.

Then I note a Facebook posting by Jack Andraka (Stanford University sophomore, known for inventing a simple blood test for pancreatic cancer, as chronicled in his 2015 book “Breakthrough“) today,   He writes “Development is complicated and these issues don’t lend themselves to ‘silver bullets’ If you’re thinking of going into development or really any non-profit/social entrepreneurship venture read this”.  That is, an article by Courtney Martin, “The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems”, here.   Now the word “development” in this context usually means “fund raising”, or it may mean going to a hardship area to serve.  The writer asks young adults particularly to think twice about the idea that going overseas is the best way to serve.  It certainly may be riskier (like Doctors Without Borders and Ebola recently – or the 2003 film “Beyond Borders” by Martin Campbell.

.The last reference for the day concerns “resistance”.  I think that the boundaries between service, activism, and resistance are getting blurred these days, which may be disorienting to many people contemplating their own actions (me, for one). The Invisible Team has published a handbook on Google Docs, “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda”.  First, the word “agenda” catches my attention.  For a few months in 2009-2010, the Washington Blade newspaper called itself the “DC Agenda” when its parent company folded, until it got the right to use its trademarked name as an independent paper. Anyway, the Guide refers, of course, to community organizing (in the style of Barack Obama, maybe).  There is the appropriate focus on local issues, but one point stood out, to act defensively, rather than make your own policy proposals (which I do).  It sounds like saying its OK to pimp the victimhood of members of your own marginalized group.  Say how much you’re oppressed!  That never sits well, with me at least.

I do think it is very hard to make a difference with service — beyond the political value of “paying your dues” as an answer to inequality — without belonging to a group and sharing your life in some substantial, interpersonal way with others in the group, with some sense of proprietary loyalty to those persons.

(Posted: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at 9:45 PM EDT)


Social media has unpredictable effects on politics; old organizing methods much less effective; and the fake news crackdown


Facebook, especially, among social media companies is getting a lot of scrutiny now for the way its news feeds skew reader perception of the news, sometimes with “fake” or “baited” stories, with the latest piece by the New York Times Nov. 12 by Mike Isaac.

I had covered this toward the end of my piece on the possible threat to citizen journalism on Nov. 7, one day before the election.  Some commentators say that Facebook’s algorithm for feeding news to users gave Trump an unusual advantage in the election, something comparable to a deep Knight post in a chess game.

The “problem” is that users get feeds based on their previous likes and other behaviors, among “friends” and pages that they “follow”.  People tend to follow and befriend others with similar worldviews.

The same people are less likely to get establishment-sourced news from newspapers or television.

We can think about the way people get news all the way back to the 1950s, when most movie theaters started shows with news reels (I especially remember those from the Korean War) which could give the government and large companies a platform for politically loyal propaganda.  Then television gradually took over.

Indeed, I remember looking forward to seeing the morning Washington Post on the sidewalk (finding out how the Senators did in a Midwest night road game – the old “A’s Hop on Pascual,, Too. 6-1” thing), and another paper, the Evening Star, before dinner.  It was from the Star that I first learned about Sputnik in 1957.

And in 1959-1960 we had a history teacher who gave pop quizzes on current events.  We had to read JFK’s “Profiles in Courage” before JFK was elected.

My own Facebook news feed is pretty balanced – a lot of hysteria from both sides.  I’m inundated by Survival Mom and the doomsday prepper crowd, because I’ve posted a few links to stories about EMP and solar storms and to possible efforts by Peter Thiel and Taylor Wilson to prepare long term solutions to power grid security problems (I surmise that Donald Trump is interested in this now but hasn’t said so publicly).  I also see alarmingly strident posts from normally “upscale” gay white men about Trump’s election.  I see a lot of identity politics.  I see a lot of everything, because my “following” market basket is indeed pretty balanced.  So I do see a lot of valuable “early warning” news stories on Facebook from smaller publications and pressure groups.

One result of social media is that people don’t feel that they need to be “organized” or to get out an organize others.  I don’t like to be recruited, or to recruit other converts or to chase people (1998 piece by me in the Minnesota Libertarian )  Conventional political operations as a career field seems threatened.  In earlier times, where only “gated” news sources had wide leadership, grass roots political organizing (the kind Barack Obama was good at in Chicago) was much more necessary.  But the unintended result in this past election might be that certain minorities (who are much less literate and savvy in their use of social media) simply didn’t feel prompted to get out and vote.

But social media (as I noted in the previous post) also perturbed how the “online reputation” problem, already growing and affecting the workplace by the mid 2000s, could be managed.  It would be much harder for governments or employers to silence people online when people had such powerful social media companies behind their backs. (That’s a good thing about the way the “dot com bust” was followed by consolidation of Internet service companies.)


Facebook could do the public a service by offering an “optional” newsfeed, not influenced by personal “Likeonomics”, based on an “opposing viewpoints” concept as I outlined on a legacy blog.  Facebook could find 5-10 non-profits to provide peer review of the feed.  Maybe Facebook should set it up as a separate site.


Update: Nov. 15

Both Google and Facebook are catching the “fake news” debate. Google can face criticism both over its ad network and its search engine algorithms.  There was a snow flurry when apparently search engines showed that Trump had won the popular vote (which is not true).

Google has announced a policy preventing the display of Adsense on deceptive sites, which presumably includes fake news sites, as explained in this Wall Street Journal article Monday.  The policy will prohibit the placement of ads on sites that “on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose”.  I don’t see the policy yet on the Adsense page (as of Tuesday night at 9 PM EST) but it presumably can appear at any time. It would not seem to be directed at “amateur” sites per se.

Facebook’s stance seems more double-edged and is still evolving. I find different viewpoints online as of right now as to how serious it is about baiting readers with fake stuff.

Edward Snowden has discussed Facebook’s slow response to its click-baiting news feeds here.

Olivia Solon has a story on the Guardian that questions whether Facebook is serious about ending the click-baiting and exaggerations, here.  It also presents a “Trust project” to help users flag fake news indicators and suggests companies treat fake news the way they do spam blogs.  It’s not the same as defamation, but that’s another discussion. We’ll have to come back to this.


Update: Nov. 16

Vanity Fair has an important story by Jeff Zucker, “The Real Culprit Behind’s Trump’s Rise“, about blending entertainment and real journalism.

Twitter seems to be taking action against “alt-right” accounts, although when I checked Milo was still there (USA Today story).

(Posted: Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016 at 11:30 PM EST)