“Implicit content” may become the next big Internet law controversy; more on Backpage and Section 230

It is important to pause for a moment and take stock of another possible idea that can threaten freedom of speech and self-publication on the Internet without gatekeepers as we know it now, and that would be “implicit content”.

This concept refers to a situation where an online speaker publishes content that he can reasonably anticipate that some other party whom the speaker knows to be combative, un-intact, or immature (especially a legal minor) will in turn act harmfully toward others, possibly toward specific targets, or toward the self. The concept views the identity of the speaker and presumed motive for the speech as part of the content, almost as if borrowed from object-oriented programming.

The most common example that would be relatively well known so far occurs when one person deliberately encourages others using social media (especially Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) to target and harass some particular user of that platform.  Twitter especially has sometimes suspended or permanently  closed accounts for this behavior, and specifically spells this out as a TOS violation. Another variation might come from a recent example where a female encouraged a depressed boyfriend to commit suicide using her smartphone with texts and was convicted of manslaughter, so this can be criminal.  The concept complicates the normal interpretation of free speech limitation as stopping where there is direct incitement of unlawful activity (like rioting).

I would be concerned however that even some speech that is normally seen as policy debate could fall under this category when conducted by “amateurs” because of the asymmetry of the Internet with the way search engines can magnify anyone’s content and make it viral or famous.  This can happen with certain content that offends others of certain groups, especially religious (radical Islam), racial, or sometimes ideological (as possibly with extreme forms of Communism).  In extreme cases, this sort of situation could cause a major (asymmetric) national security risk.

A variation of this problem occurred with me when I worked as a substitute teacher in 2005 (see pingback hyperlink here on July 19, 2016).  There are a couple of important features of this problem.  One is that it is really more likely to occur with conventional websites with ample text content and indexed by search engines in a normal way (even allowing for all the algorithms) than with social media accounts, whose internal content is usually not indexed much and which can be partially hidden by privacy settings or “whitelisting”.  That would have been true pre-social media with, for example, discussion forums (like those on AOL in the late 1990s). Another feature is that it may be more likely with a site that is viewed free, without login or subscription. One problem is that such content might be viewed as legally problematic if it wasn’t paid for (ironically) but had been posted only for “provocateur” purposes, invoking possible “mens rea”.

I could suggest another example, of what might seem to others as “gratuitous publication”.  I have often posted video and photos of demonstrations, from BLM marches to Trump protests, as “news”.  Suppose I posted a segment from an “alt-right” march, from a specific group that I won’t name.  Such a march may happen in Washington DC next weekend (following up Charlottesville).  I could say that it is simply citizen journalism, reporting what I see.  Others would say I’m giving specific hate groups a platform, which is where TOS problems could arise. Of course I could show counterdemonstrations from the other “side”. I don’t recognize the idea that, among any groups that use coercion or force, that one is somehow more acceptable to present than another (Trump’s problem, again.)  But you can see the slippery slope.

When harm comes to others after “provocative” content is posted, the hosting sites or services would normally be protected by Section 230 in the US (I presume).  However, it sounds like there have been some cases where litigation has been attempted.  Furthermore, we know that very recently, large Internet service platforms have cut off at least one (maybe more) website associated with extreme hate speech or neo-Nazism. Service platforms, despite their understandable insistence that they need the downstream liability protections of Section 230, have become more pro-active in trying to eliminate users publishing what they consider (often illegal) objectionable material.  This includes, of course, child pornography and probably sex trafficking, and terrorist group recruiting, but it also could include causing other parties to be harassed, and could gradually expand to subsumed novel national security threats. But it now seems to include “hate speech”, which I personally think ought to be construed as “combativeness” or lawlessness.  But that brings us to another point:  some extreme groups would consider amateur policy discussions that take a neutral tone and try to avoid taking sides (that is, avoiding naming some groups as enemies instead of others, as with Trump’s problems after Charlottesville), as implicitly “hateful” by default when the speaker doesn’t put his own skin in the game.   This (as Cloudflare’s CEO pointed out) could put Internet companies in a serious ethical bind.

Timothy B. Lee recently published in Ars-Technica, an update on the “Backpage” bills in Congress, which would weaken Section 230 protections. Lee does seem to imply that the providers most at risk remain isolated to those whose main content is advertisements, rather than discussions; and so far he hasn’t addressed with shared hosting providers could be put at risk.  (I asked him that on Twitter.)  But some observer believe that the bills could lead states to require that sites with user-logon provide adult-id verification.  We all know that this was litigated before with the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which was ruled unconstitutional finally in early 2007.  I was a party to that litigation under Electronic Frontier Foundation sponsorship. Ironically, the judge mentioned “implicit content” the day that I sat in on the arguments (in Philadelphia).

I wanted to add a comment here that probably could belong on either of my two previous posts.  That is, yes, our whole civilization has become very dependent on technology, and, yes, a determined enemy could give us a very rude shock.  Born in 1943, I have lived through years that have generally been stable, surviving the two most serious crises (the Vietnam military draft in the 1960s and then HIV in the 1980s) that came from the outside world.  A sudden shock like that in NBC’s “Revolution” is possible.  But I could imagine being born around 1765, living as a white landowner in the South, having experienced the American Revolution and then the Constitution as a teen, and only gradually coming to grips with the idea that my world would be expropriated from me because an underlying common moral evil, before I died (if I was genetically lucky enough to live to 100 without modern medicine). Yet I would have had no grasp of the idea of a technological future, that itself could be put it risk because, for all its benefits in raising living standards, still seemed to leave a lot of people behind.

(Posted: Saturday, September 9, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

Some elements of the GOP go out of their way to marginalize LGBTQ people, and then fail to address infrastructure and health care with real policy

I’ve had a running debate on Facebook Messenger with a particular friend in northern Virginia’s LGBT leadership, and he asked that his name not be reproduced because be feared (however facetiously) the “alt-right”.

I have said to him that I resist being drawn into specific initiatives sponsored generally by the political Left on narrow issues mostly having to do with discrimination (however “systematic” the “oppression”) against (members of) self-defined groups.  Likewise, right now at least, I don’t raise money under my own name (like with GoFundMe) for “other people’s causes” however compelling (I don’t ask people to give for the Houston flood, except maybe here in this post; I simply do it myself.)  That could even change in the future with certain circumstances.  I’ve said I want to focus on civilization-threatening problems like North Korea, nuclear weapons, power grid security.  I also want to focus on subtle free-speech (and gatekeeper resistance) problems, like downstream liability and implicit content. I’ve said that “we” have bigger problems than bathroom bills.  (As I type this, I hear on CNN that North Korea claims now to have miniaturized ICBM-mountable hydrogen bombs, not “just” Hiroshima-like atomic bombs.  And we have Trump with the nuclear suitcase.)

My friend (whom I see as pretty centrist between Left and Right, more or less with Hillary Clinton’s positions on most things, much more conservative than Sanders or even Obama) agrees that the GOP should focus on actually fixing healthcare, securing infrastructure security and solving the problems with refugees, and with enemies like ISIS and North Korea  — and facing the responsibility to future generations on climate change.  He says it is the GOP that looks for scapegoats (right now, transgender people) with bathroom bills or pseudo-religious freedom bills. I agree.  And some parts of the alt-right make scapegoats of all immigrants, and are more aggressive in a desire to subjugate non-white people than I would have believed.  This puts pressure on me to come back to focus on defending “oppressed groups” rather than paying attention to existential problems that can affect us all.  In my situation (benefiting from inheritance and trying to downsize myself out of a house partly for “political” reasons), it gets harder to work on what I want than on what others would demand of me.  It’s harder to stay away from unwelcome personal entanglements.

Here are a few of his comments:

“Focusing on infrastructure like FDR did during the Great Depression, of that scale, is definitely the winning ticket. The real problem is the GOP in Congress doesn’t want to spend money, especially on big national projects. However, they will if it is funneled through the largely Republican controlled states. So the grid and space projects all have to be designed as pork spending to states with only a small national office to coordinate, if that. Moreover, the money has to go to key swing states.

“I’m getting tired of this extreme bipolar discord manufactured by billionaires who spend their money on this negative crap rather than helping society in productive ways. None of this was in the news (Page 1) until Trump began dangling red meat at crowds to capitalize off fringe. Even the labels of left and right are becoming meaningless. Whatever happened to a sense of decency? It’s been replaced by circus clown.

“I look at another way. The bathroom bills are pushed and funded by right wingers who make it a priority over everything else. The LGBTQ-activist aren’t to blame for reacting. The blame lies squarely with the well-funded right that wants to obliterate all the gays off the face of the earth. And any progress made in the last 20 years. Why pinpoint blame people who fight against them for human rights and social justice. It makes no sense to me. You are right however, that the priorities of the nation need to be focused on things like infrastructure and beefing up national defense.”

Here are a few of his best links:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State: “The Religious Right’s War Against LGBT Americans

I think there is more to say here.  People “on the right” see meaning in forcing others to comply with the same moral rules they think they should follow; that’s their answer to “inequality”.  They also have to deal with the logically existential idea of personal “rightsizing”.

Emily Crockett, “How the Left can stop arguing and beat Trump”.

James Hohmann “The Daily 202: False moral equivalency is not a bug of Trumpism; it is a main feature”.

George Michael’s “The Rise of the Alt-Right and the Politics of Polarization in America”.

It strikes me that the alt-right uses identity politics and even “intersectionality” much as does the radical Left.  The groups are different.  But the exploitation of “relative deprivation” (and the personal undeservedness of others) is the same, even if the Right seems to have much less justification in history.

(Posted: Saturday, September 2, 2017, at 9 PM EDT)

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)

Trump must call out specific hate groups — something I would rarely say, after Charlottesville

I tuned on to CNN early Saturday morning in time to see the confrontations and fights breaking out in Charlottesville near Emancipation Park.  I saw coverage of the report that the “Unite the Right” rally would be canceled by police order.  I went to see a film Saturday afternoon and did not learn of the vehicle attack, that had happened at about 1:30 PM, until about 5 PM, even after running into friends.  So my perception of the gravity of what was going on changed throughout the day. Frankly, I had not been aware that such a large assembly of “white supremacists” could congregate. And, yes, this is domestic terrorism, from a right wing group(s).

I sometimes film demonstrations, without participating In them, which some people consider the “cowardly watcher” syndrome.  But not this time.  But had I gone,  I could have been killed as easily (by chance) as they young paralegal woman who died.  Generally, I do not like to be asked to join movements against specific enemy groups by name.  (We get into Trump’s “on many sides” exit.)

My first reaction concerned the statute (of Robert E. Lee) itself.  I’ve seen it, having visited gay pride celebrations in Charlottesville (most recently in September 2015). I would say, we can’t deny or hide history. We shouldn’t hide the Holocaust, or hide the Civil War.  But, of course, no one would support a sculpture of Hitler for the sake of “history”.  The Civil War generals fought on the wrong side.  Yet, we accept the idea of a Lee mansion park run by the NPS in Arlington Cemetery.  We accept the monuments in Richmond (or maybe we don’t).  We’ve come to the point (begrudgingly) that states should not fly confederate flags on their properties.

It’s important, however, that we remember history, even if we have to be careful about what we commemorate.  Think about how these ideas apply to the Vietnam war.  Some people would rather not talk about some aspects of it at all, like the military draft, for fear that it could come back and divert attention from more immediate needs of “identity groups”.

I was not aware at first how connected the Charlottesville “event” had been organized by “white supremacists”, the KKK, neo-Nazis, and then the likes of David Duke and Richard Spencer (with various “alt-right” factions).  My first impression of the counter protest that it was likely to be an example of a combative, militant left (“ANTIFA”) against a militant right (as at Milo Yiannopoulos’s events).  This doesn’t seem to be true.  My understanding that they were mostly non-violent protestors.  But I may have gotten my first impression from seeing the fights live on CNN.  Some counter protestors apparently did bring weapons.  Personally, I ignore “white” identity politics the way I ignore the identity politics and intersectionality on the Left.

Now, there is the question that President Trump did not call out the right-wing groups by name and condemn their existence.  Trump, as did his spokespersons, blamed violent behavior on both sides.  That’s generally how I feel about something like this.   Yet, I would condemn ISIS, as does the President.  It seems that the president should publicly condemn the KKK – a different enemy, but one that wants to use force and intimidation. You should condemn groups not of partisan or religious affiliation but because of the tactics they want to use.  Consider, however, what the Daily Stormer said (CNN, and NYTimes account), that Trump had given them an out. It’s also relevant that media has reported that many participants from the (alt-right) groups carried pepper spray and tried to use it on counter-demonstraters.

Coercion, from a combative group of any ideology, can become dangerous for almost any individual in a free society, even if by happenstance.  Yet, in my mind, there is no honor in being remembered as a victim, something I’ll come back to later.  And there is no honor in having one’s live expropriated, possibly because of one’s own questionable karma (regardless of who the enemy is), and being forced into somebody else’s “mass movement”.  It seems that sometimes personal neutrality is not good enough.

There are reports on ABC that some people are being fired from jobs today for being identified as participating with the right wing groups.

This is a grave distraction from focus on North Korea.

Wiki: Monument parade in Richmond.

(Posted: Sunday, Aug, 13, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)

Who “gets to be recognized” as a legitimate “journalist”?

So, who gets to call the self a journalist?

The recent queasiness in Congress and the FCC about matters like Section 230 and network neutrality bring this question back.  Yes, I’ve talked about the controversies over “citizen journalism” before, like the day before the Election on November 8, 2016.  And recently (July 19) I encountered a little dispute about access requiring “press credentials”.

The nausea that President Donald Trump says the “media” gives him seems to be directed at mainstream, larger news organizations with center-liberal bias – that is, most big city newspapers, and most broadcast networks, and especially CNN – he calls them all purveyors of “fake news” as if that were smut.  More acceptable are the “conservative” Fox and OANN.  Breitbart and Milo Yiannopoulos (with his own new site) seem to be in the perpetual twilight of a tidally locked planet.  Perhaps I am in the same space;  Trump doesn’t seem to have the same antipathy (or hostility) to “independent” or “citizen” journalists (which I had feared he would when he said he didn’t trust computers), but a lot of other people do.

I digress for a moment. Coincidentally has set up his “Trump News Channel” on Facebook (Washington Post story) but the URL for it reverts to “Dropcatch”, with Twitter won’t even allow as a link as supposed spam.

The basic bone politicians and some business people pick with journalists is that “they” spectate, speculate and criticize, but don’t have to play, like right out of the script of the Netflix thriller “Rebirth”.  Politicians, hucksters, sales professionals, and perhaps many legitimate business professionals, and heads of families – all of them have accountabilities to real people, whether customers or family members.  They have to go to bat for others.  They have to manipulate others and concern themselves with the size of their “basis”.  Journalists can do this only through double lives.

I could make the analogy to kibitzing a chess game, rather than committing yourself to 5 hours of concentration in rated game.  (Yes, in the position below, Black’s sacrifice hasn’t worked.)

But, of course, we know that renowned journalists have paid their dues, most of all in conflict journalism. Sebastian Junger broke his leg working as an arborist before writing “The Perfect Storm”. Bob Woodruff has a plate in his skull but recovered completely after being wounded in Iraq. Military services actually have their own journalists and public affairs.  Young American University journalism graduate Trey Yingst helped found News2share before becoming a White House correspondent, but had done assignments in Ukraine, Gaza, Rwanda, Uganda, Ferguson, and was actually pinned down at night during the Baltimore riots in April 2015.

That brings us back to the work of small-fry, like me, where “blogger journalism” has become the second career, pretty much zoning out other possible opportunities which would have required direct salesmanship of “somebody else’s ideas” (“We give you the words”), or much more ability to provide for specific people (maybe students) in directly interpersonal ways.

Besides supporting my books, what I generally do with these blogs is re-report what seem like critical general-interest news stories in order to “connect the dots” among them.  Sometimes, I add my own footage and observations when possible, as with a recent visit to fire-damaged Gatlinburg.  With demonstrations (against Trump, about climate change, for LGBT) I tend to walk for a while with some of them but mainly film and report (especially when the issue is narrower, such as with Black Lives Matter).  I generally don’t venture into dangerous areas (I visited Baltimore Sandtown in 2015 in the day time).

I generally don’t respond to very narrow petitions for emergency opposition to bills that hurt some narrow interest group.  What I want to do is encourage real problem solving.  Rather than join in “solidarity” to keep Congress from “repealing” Obamacare by itself, I want to focus on the solutions (subsidies, reinsurance, the proper perspective on federalism, etc).  But I also want to focus attention on bigger problems, many of them having to do with “shared responsibility” or “herd immunity” concepts, that don’t get very consistent attention from mainstream media (although conservative sites do more on these matters).  These include filial responsibility, the tricky business of reducing downstream liability issue on the Web (the Section230 issue, on the previous post, where I said Backpage can make us all stay for detention), risks taken by those offering hosting to immigrants (refugees and asylum seekers), and particularly national security issues like the shifting of risk from asymmetric terror back to rogue states (North Korea), and most of all, infrastructure security, especially our three major electric power grids.

My interest in book self-publication and citizen journalism had started in the 1990s with “gays in the military”, linking back to my own narrative, and then expanded gradually to other issues about “shared risks” as well as more traditional ideas about discrimination.  I had come into this “second career” gradually from a more circumscribed world as an individual contributor in mainframe information technology. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” had suddenly become a particularly rich issue in what it could lead to in other areas.  So, yes, I personally feel that, even as an older gay man, the LGBTQ world has more to worry about than bathroom bills (Pulse).  I think the world we have gotten used to could indeed be dialed back by indignation-born “purification” (as a friend calls it) if we don’t get our act together on some things (like the power grid issue).  But I don’t believe we should have to all become doomsday preppers either.  We should solve these problems.

A critical component of journalism is objectivity and presentation of Truth, as best Truth can be determined. Call it impartiality. You often hear Trump supporters say that, whatever Trump’s crudeness and ethical problems, what Trump promotes helps them and particularly family members who depend on them.  Of course many journalists have families without compromising their work. But this observation seems particularly relevant to me.  I don’t have my own children largely because I didn’t engage in the desires or the behaviors than result in having that responsibility.  I can “afford” to remain somewhat emotionally aloof from a lot of immediate needs.

In fact, I’ve sometimes had to field the retort from some people that, while some of the news out there may be dire, I don’t need to be the person they hear it from.  I could be putting a target on my own back and on others around me.  Indeed, some people act as if they believe that everything happens within a context of social hierarchy and coercion.

My own “model” for entering the news world has two aspects that seem to make it vulnerable to future policy choices (like those involving 230 or maybe net neutrality). One of them is that it doesn’t pay its own way.  I use money from other sources, both what I earned and invested and somewhat what I inherited (which arguably could be deployed as someone else’s safety net, or which could support dependents, maybe asylum seekers if we had a system more like Canada’s for dealing with that issue).  That means, it cannot be underwritten if it had to be insured, for example.  I can rebut this argument, or course, by saying, well, what did you want me to do, get paid to write fake news?  That could support a family.  (No, I really never believed the Comet Ping Pong stuff, but the gunman who did believe it an attack it claimed he was an “independent journalist.”  I do wonder how supermarket tabloids have avoided defamation claims even in all the years before the Internet – because nobody believed them?  Some people obviously do.)   No, they say. we want you to use the background that supported you as a computer programmer for decades and pimp our insurance products. (“We give you the words,” again.)  Indeed, my withdrawal from the traditional world where people do things through sales middlemen makes it harder for those who have to sell for a living.

The other aspect is that of subsumed risk.  I can take advantage of a permissive climate toward self-distribution of content, which many Internet speakers and small businesses take for granted, but which can be seriously and suddenly undermined by policy, for the “common good” under the ideology of “shared responsibility”.  I won’t reiterate here the way someone could try to bargain with me over this personally – that could make an interesting short film experiment. Yes, there can be court challenges, but the issues litigated with CDA and COPA don’t reliably predict how the First Amendment applies when talking about distribution of speech rather than its content, especially with a new literalist like Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

A lot of “Trader Joe” type people would say, there should be some external validation of news before it is published.   Of course, that idea feeds the purposes of authoritarian rules, like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, or perhaps Donald Trump.  But we could see that kind of environment someday if we don’t watch out.

(Posted: Monday, August 7, 2017 at 4 PM EDT)

Hawking’s warning about elitism v. populism rings true for me

Stephen Hawking authored an op-ed in December, 2016, shortly after Trump’s win, in which we warned about the existential dangers from inequality, especially wealth inequality as well as income, as well as cognition inequality.  The original article is in the Guardian, here.

We have the ability to destroy the planet, whether with nuclear weapons or by allowing runaway climate change.  But we don’t have the ability to escape it (as with the “space ark” in the NatGeo film “Evacuate Earth”) and won’t for at least a century.  Hawking has previously warned, in fact, that we have about another century to find a new home.

Indeed, that undertaking would be no picnic. Imagine pre-selecting those to be “saved” or literally “raptured” onto a spacecraft, having to reproduce for generations, maybe even to reach an exoplanet near Proxima Centauri, which may well be tidally locked.   (This problem is related to a set-up in my novel “Angel’s Brother”).

Hawking talks about the dangers of elitism, and in one paragraph seems to characterize himself as one of the elites drawing the indignation of populists on both the far Left and the alt-Right.  Without his superior intellect and communication skills and considerable support, he would have become “just another pitifully dependent disabled person. “The Theory of Everything” (2014) did document how his disability came on to him quickly as a young man, although he was able to marry and have a family.  In a distant way, his self-commentary perhaps parallels mine, especially in my 2014 DADT-III book. I’ll take this further in future posts.   I know what he is saying.  If you take advantage of the system and avoid the “people” (like on the lower deck of the “Titanic”) and something happens, your end can get ugly indeed.

Along these lines, I’ll share a friend’s link on the different styles of thinking (elites, the “Democrats are capitalists” crowd of Nancy Pelosi) vs. real people, where Berkeley’s George Lakoff warns, “Don’t count out Trump”.  I tend to think about policies and winning arguments rather than “selling” or “conversions”  My mother used to talk about “real life”.

I’ll share Lindy West’s op-ed “Save the First Amendment” (or “Save Free Speech from Trolls”, in the New York Times Sunday Review July 2, somewhat convoluted by pertinent to elitism.   I’m remined of a 2005 Washington Times editorial “Suffocating the First Amendment”, which had figured into a major incident in my life.

The Guardian, by the way, is pimping for donations.  (So does Truthout many other sites.)  I find it unacceptable indeed to let others speak for me.  There goes false pride again.

(Posted: Tuesday, July 4, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

Do security companies overstate privacy risks on social media, maybe for political motives?

Every time I go into Twitter or Facebook on my new laptop, I get a lecture from Trend Micro on my lenient privacy settings.

Particularly I get warned that the Public can see my Facebook posts and Twitter messages, that others can tag me in photos, and that others can see personal information.  On the last point, only “business address and phone” information ever gets posted online, anywhere.  In fact, I normally don’t have circles of security clearances among who can see what information about me online.  It’s all or nothing.

Some of my curiosity about this was motivated by the video in the previous post, where the speaker (a television station reporter)  said that allowing anyone but approved “Friends” (Faceook) or approved “followers” (Twitter) would create gratuitous security risks that insurance companies would find unacceptable behavior on the part of consumers.

Facebook has different concepts, like Friends, Pages, and Groups.  Many people have Pages with followers.  They cannot be made private (you can block comments from specific people).  You can make a Group by invitation only, which is closer to the concept Trend seems to be encouraging.  The conventional wisdom has been that you allow only Friends to see your posts on your Friends page.  But Facebook allows up to 5000 friends.  It is common for people to have over a thousand.  Many, perhaps most, Facebook users don’t carefully screen who gets approved as a friend.  I do allow friends from overseas (including Arabic names).  I generally disapprove of minors only.  (Posts made by others on your timeline in public mode can normally be seen by “friends of friends”).

Some people, after being friends, do behave in an unwelcome way.  Some send greetings or messages and expect to be answered back.  A couple have made pleas for “personal” help with matters I can do nothing about (at least lawfully).  One female kept making silly posts on my Timeline claiming to tag me in sexual pictures when the individual was not me.  I did unfriend her and the posts stopped.

I also had one occasion where someone created a fake copy of my account with no posts.  A legitimate friend (the person who copyedited my books) caught it and reported it to Facebook and the entry was removed before I knew about it.

Tagging has crept up as a problem, for users who allow it.  I’ve noticed that some people are more sensitive about being photographed in bars or discos than they used to be, say, before 2010.  A few social establishments have started prohibiting photography inside their facilities.

In Twitter, it is possible to set up your account so that all followers have to be approved.  Relatively few users do this, but they will block followers who seem stalky or who don’t follow supposed etiquette (by replying to too many tweets when not being co-followed), although etiquette standards are changing again rapidly.

As a practical matter, limiting visibility of posts to “Friends” or approved followers probably doesn’t increase security very much, because it is so easy to be approved and because, to be successful and have an outreach, people need friends and followers.  Indeed, it wouldn’t stop “catfishing” (as in Nev Schulman’s 2010 film “Catflish” for Rogue pictures, as with a recent incident from a fake female catfisher in Manitoba).

On Facebook, I notice that some Friends (even with privacy set to “Friends only”) will “check in” with that red dot that lets others track their movements;  I don’t think this is a good idea myself.  But part of this is that I don’t want anyone to “take me for granted”, beyond security.  Likewise, I don’t announce (even to Friends) what events I will attend, even if I report on the events after the fact on blogs.  Maybe that isn’t playing ball.  I think back to the days of my upbringing in the 50s;  my parents probably “shared” their lives with about ten other families, as with Thanksgiving and Christmas gift sharing that I remember so well (and with the Ocean City beach trips with one family I remember, too). As for services like Snapchat:  I feel that if I need a conversation that doesn’t go anywhere, I just have it by smart phone or in person.  I don’t like the idea of sharing video or photo that disappears.  (Kathy Griffin should know.)

 

All of this is interesting because Zuckerberg invented Facebook at the time that Myspace had become popular (to the extent that Dr. Phil had programs about misbehavior on Myspace), and, despite winning out over several competing ideas (the movie “The Social Network”; the books “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich, or “The Facebook Effect” by David Kirkpatrick).  Zuckerberg originally intended to set up Facebook for campus environments.  It wasn’t fully public until about 2007 and it didn’t get into its controversial news feed aggregation (so plagued by the fake news that is said to have helped elect Donald Trump) until maybe about 2010 (when Time Magazine honored Zuckerberg as person of the year, the “Connector”).

What such a practice would do, however, is try to discourage online self-publishing with free content.  Social media was built on the premise that known lists of people see your content, more or less like email listservers (or restricted membership sites) that were popular before modern social media.  When people are popular and have lots of “fans”, the practical effect is that social media account is public anyway. It is true that actual friends or followers are more likely to see posts even on public accounts. Blogs can also have “followers” and, with Blogger, can be made “private” (as can YouTube videos), but the normal result is that few people would see them.  Blog following has become less popular since Facebook took off, although YouTube channel subscription is still somewhat popular.

The relevant point seems to be that when you publish a hardcopy (or Kindle or Nook) book, you don’t have the “right” to know who bought it.  That’s the traditional idea or model of “open publication”.  Self-instantiation by open self-publication, with leaving a lot of content free, seems to be a morally suspect or gratuitous practice (even if it purports to offer alternative viewpoints and critical thinking as I think mine do) in the minds of some people:  if it doesn’t pay its own way, it competes unfairly with writers who do need to make a living at it;  it discourages professionalism and facilitates fake news, it can attract cultural enemies (to others as well as the self), leading to the insurance concerns, and (probably most of all) it breaks up political solidarity for those (on both the (alt) right and left) who want to recruit loyal volunteers and who want to control the (often polarized and tribally-centered) message.  “Belonging” to some group seems to be imperative.  The election and  relentlessly tribal and boorish behavior of Donald Trump seems to have brought this point home.

In fact, in the eyes of intellectual property law, this isn’t quite right.  “Publication” in defamation law is communicating the false defamatory claim to even one person who understands the message (which can be one approved friend or follower, or just one email recipient).

I opined before, back in 2000, that “open” self-publication can become an unethical practice for people in some positions (like those with direct workplace reports, when there is a concern over possible workplace results).  Now it’s a possible security issue, especially in asymmetric warfare where civilians can attract enemies who view civilians as combatants.  Yet it’s odd that security company like Trend Micro gets to define what that means, for everybody.

Some observers (like Ramsay Taplan, “Blogtyrant” of Australia) urge an inside-out approach to blogging, focusing on consumer niches that are inherently profitable, the narrower the better.  Then, he says, become aggressive in building email lists from actual customers who need you wand welcome hearing from you, which confounds the conventional wisdom today about spam.  But this practice refers to writing that supports an inherently commercial product or service, not self-expression online for its own sake or even for promoting critical thinking on political or social controversies.

(Posted: Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 11:15 AM 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.

Bannon’s ideas actually mirror mine, at the personal level (but I don’t believe in crusades)

There have been several columns about Stephen Bannon’s values.  For example, Fareed Zakaria wrote on Feb. 9, “Stephen Bannon’s words and actions don’t add up.”

On Jan. 10, David Brooks wrote about Bannon’s idea of “humane capitalism” as connected to faith.

Lester Feder has a similar piece on BuzzFeed “This s how Steve Bannon sees the entire world.” (Nov. 15).

Bannon’s views on how this maps to the economic system were demonstrated in his 2010 film “Generation Zero” (review).

We could say that Bannon is critical of “casino capitalism” or perhaps “extreme capitalism” (like in David Callahan’s 2004 book “The Cheating Culture”) or even “shareholder capitalism” as Nancy Pelosi would compare to “stakeholder capitalism” – but also as compared to fake capitalism, or statist capitalism in modern post-Communist (of sorts) Russia and China.  Maybe Singapore would appeal to him.

Bannon also maps this back to individual morality.  As people (baby boomer-born) have reasserted individualism (in concert with the Civil Rights movement and Stonewall soon to follow in the 1960s), sometimes people don’t see how their self-expression and lifestyle “choice” is tied to the unseen sacrifices of others, often in a family and community context. Bannon, a former Naval officer during Carter’s Iran hostage crisis, sometimes has been critical about the lack of military service among most Americans in positions of influence (but remember Charles Moskos’s talk about needing the draft again right after 9/11);  “freedom is not free” but always contextual.

I can see in my own life,  my actions and values have meaning in the social contexts believed by others, and vice versa.  It’s all too easy to “rationalize” any value system with logic alone (look at “body fascism”),  so people often look to systems of faith and scripture for guidance.  With moderate versions of Abrahamic faiths, we usually get moral values (somewhat centered on the family, which becomes more flexible) commensurate with “humane capitalism”, compared even to what raw libertarianism or Ayn Rand’s objectivism can offer.  Libertarianism, though, would recognize “The Golden Rule”.

I find myself driven to some internal contradiction (a mental “internal server error”), which I can resolve only if I become more willing to offer “a hand up” in an interpersonal way and taking more risk than I have been willing to accept in the past.

But Bannon’s ideas go beyond personal values and beyond policy in the usual sense, to encompass ideas of holy crusades or wars, which I cannot accept.  I don’t get the connection.  I do understand that some of the Islamic world hates us, partly because of our interventionism in their lands, and partly because of the modernism of each of us as individuals.  Look at Francis Stead Sellers and David A. Farenthold, “Why even let ‘em in?

(Posted: Monday, February 13, 2017 at 10 PM EST)

The “alt-right”, reverse identity politics, and the easy profitability of some yellow journalism

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I’m quite troubled by recent reports that Twitter has banned “alt right” accounts (Daily Beast ) , whatever that means – I don’t think you should ban an ideology (even Communism).  OK, you say, what about banning political Islam, or “radical Islam”, where Islam is viewed (by some vocal Trump supporters and candidates) as a political system (comparable to fascism and communism) and not as a religious faith per se.  In writing all this, I’d refer refers to the 3-column “government” article in the 1950 World Book Encyclopedia, that compares democracy, communism and fascism.

In fact, it appears that Twitter (and maybe other social media companies) are indeed banning specific individuals for more pointed misconduct and TOS violations, as the Washington Post had explained with an article by Amy Ohlheiser in July.  Milo Yiannopopoulos was apparently banned permanently for a tirade against Ghostbusters’s Leslie Jones.  Milo, a technical editor for Breitbart, has certainly been controversial as a “pink-con”.  Some of his stuff seems funny to me, simply making fun of other people’s obsession with political correctness and identity politics.

But what is the “alt-right” (or “alternative right” first associated with Richard Spencer, et al, and the National Policy Institute, which attracted demonstrators at a recent meeting in Washington DC), really?  The Southern Poverty Law Center has an explanation here in terms of American (or European or even Russian) “identitarianism”.  This sounds like a grandiose form of “identity politics”, which is one of the paradigms Breitbart loves to attack (paradoxically) — with “Black Lives Matter” as among the most excessive.  It also reminds me of a question on a 12th grade government test in 1961, to explain “institutionalism”;  the circumstances around the quiz created controversy at the time.  So, now, some civics teacher will ask about this new “ism” on his next quiz. (I have to add, there are disturbing accounts of pro-Nazi (or pro-apartheid) NPI behavior at a NW Washington restaurant in the Washington Post, not that widely reported yet). An account in The Atlantic is even more detailed and gratuitous.

Personally, I resent being defined by somebody else’s concept of group identity, whether white, gay, male, American – and I especially resent the moral expectation to give people in certain identity groups (“people of color”, etc) special personal consideration as brothers and sisters.  But identity runs away both ways.

There is particular concern over Trump’s plan to use filmmaker Stephen Bannon.  I checked imdb, and most of the films he has produced are about grievances of the right, especially against the Clintons.  Most of them aren’t available from Netflix (although I have watched “The Steam Experiment”, 2009). CNN explains Bannon’s ideology in a piece by Daniella Diaz, “Darkness Is Good”, here  rather like Michael Douglas screaming “Greed is good” in “Wall Street” (1987).  The article explains Bannon’s conviction that overseas developing countries have grown their middle classes at the expenses of our own working class, which was indeed more white at one time (and still is, but less so).  It also mentions Bannon’s interest in infrastructure, which could go in a good direction if it emphasizes power grid security, which in turn actually encourages decentralized development of renewable resources (as actually eventually profitable).  Bannon now claims he is (just) an “economic nationalist
But there is something about all of this, though, that sounds contemptuous of “ordinary people” when “in person”.

A Harvard Business Review article  “What so many people don’t get about the US working class” actually backs up these views.

The Washington Post has a revealing front page story Monday by Terrence McCoy, “For ‘the new yellow journalists’, it’s all about clicks and bucks” with the byline “lucrative site stokes alt-right, plays fast and loose with facts”.      The publication is Liberty Writers’ News, for example .   The article described the quick income stream from clicks on ads for what seem to me “low class” products like Viagra.  Some people in Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” will indeed click on bait (even if some of it serves malware, even ransomware) and read only what they want to hear.  It’s pretty hard for me to go to work for somebody to write their opinions and stories when I think they’re dubious.  Yes, it’s hard for me to sell somebody else’s message even if doing so could make a quick buck  There’s a curious and disturbing irony, that “yellow journalism” sites aimed for specific partisan audiences could seem to have less nuisance significance than even mine, should there be new security crackdowns on who can be heard., because they can pay their own way.

(Posted: Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 at 12:45 PM EST)