Electronic Frontier Foundation has reported that the Senate Commerce Committee has approved a version of SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, S. 1693. Elliot Harmon’s article calls it “still an awful bill”. Harmon goes into the feasibility of using automated filters to detect trafficking-related material, which very large companies like Google and Facebook might be half-way OK with. We saw this debate on the COPA trial, about filtering, more than a decade ago (I attended one day of that trial in Philadelphia in October 2006). No doubt, automated filtering would cause a lot of false positives and implicit self-censoring.
Apparently the bill contains or uses a “manager’s amendment” (text) floated by John Thune (R-SD) which tries to deal with the degree of knowledge that a platform may have about its users. The theory seems to be that it is easy to recognize the intentions of customers of Backpage but not of a shared hosting service. Sophia Cope criticizes the amendment here.
Elliot Harmon also writes that the Internet Association (which represents large companies like Google) has given some lukewarm support to modified versions of SESTA, which would not affect large companies as much as small startups that want user-generated content It’s important to note that SESTA (and a related House bill) could make it harder for victims of trafficking to discuss what happened to them online, an unintended consequence, perhaps. Some observers have said that the law regarding sex trafficking should be patterned after child pornography (where the law seems to work without too much interference of users) and that the law is already “there” now.
But “Law.com” has published a historical summary by Cindy Cohn and Jamie Williams that traces the history of Section 230 all the way back to a possibly libelous item in an AOL message board regarding Oklahoma City (the Zeran case). Then others wanted to punish Craigslist and other sites for allowing users to post ads that were discriminatory in a Civil Rights sense. The law need to recognize the difference between a publisher and a distributor (and a simple utility, like a telecom company, which can migrate us toward the network neutrality debate). Facebook and Twitter are arguably a lot more involved with what their users do than are shared hosting sites like BlueHost and Verio, an observation that seems to get overlooked. It’s interesting that some observers think this puts Wikipedia at particular risk.
I don’t have much an issue with my blogs, because the volume of comments I get is small (thanks to the diversion by Facebook) these days compared to 8 years ago. When I accept a guest post, I should add that Section 230 would not protect me, since I really have become the “publisher” so if a guest post is controversial, I tend to fact-check some of the content (especially accusations of crimes) myself online.
I’d also say that a recent story by Mitch Stoltz about Sci-Hub, relating to the Open Access debate which, for example. Jack Andraka has stimulated in some of his Ted Talks, gets to be relevant (in the sense that DMCA Safe Harbor is the analogy to Section 230 in the copyright law world). A federal court in Virginia ruled against Sci-Hub (Alexandra Elbakyan) recently after a complaint by a particular science journal, the American Chemical Society But it also put intermediaries (ranging from hosting companies to search engines) at unpredictable risk if they support “open access” sites like this. The case also runs some risk of conflating copyright issues with trademark, but that’s a bit peripheral to discussing 230 itself.
Again, I think we have a major break in our society over the value of personalized free speech (outside of the control of organizational hierarchy and aggregate partisan or identity politics). It’s particularly discouraging when you look at reports of surveys at campuses where students seem to believe that safe places are more important than open debate, and that some things should not be discussed openly (especially involving “oppressed” minorities) because debating them implies that the issues are not settled and that societal protections could be taken away again by future political changes (Trump doesn’t help). We’ve noted here a lot of the other issues besides defamation, privacy and copyright; they include bullying, stalking, hate speech, terror recruiting, fake news, and even manipulation of elections (am issue we already had an earlier run-in about in the mid 2000s over campaign finance reform, well before Russia and Trump and even Facebook). So it’s understandable that many people, maybe used to tribal values and culture, could view user-generated content as a gratuitous luxury for some (the more privileged like me) that diverts attention from remedying inequality and protecting minorities. Many people think everyone should operate only by participating in organized social structures run top-down, but that throws us back, at least slouching toward authoritarianism (Trump is the obvious example). That is how societies like Russia, China, and say Singapore see things (let alone the world of radical Islam, or the hyper-communism of North Korea).
The permissive climate for user-generated content that has evolved, almost by default, since the late 1990s, seems to presume individuals can speak and act on their own, without too much concern about their group affiliations. That idea from Ayn Rand doesn’t seem to represent how real people express themselves in social media, so a lot of us (like me) seem to be preaching to our own choirs, and not “caring” personally about people out of our own “cognitive” circles. We have our own kind of tribalism.
Vox has a detailed commentary by Umair Irfan, pretty standard for mainstream and progressive media companies.
And this brings me to my next big point. The mainstream media has done a pretty good job of presenting the case that we need to take climate change very seriously, particularly if we take our responsibility to future (unconceived as well as unborn) generations as a moral issue (Point 5 of “DADT IV”)
Trump has played the denial game to his base with shocking effect, most of all when he announced June 1 that he was pulling out of the Paris accords on the day I was looking at the recovery from wildfires in Shenandoah.
The more mainstream conservative media (Fox, OANN) have demurred a bit but still covered the bases. Yet, we aren’t to the point that there is a bipartisan political will to face the problem with federal action, but there is obviously a lot incentive in private American hands.
On other issues that I view as “hidden in plain sight”, I could say that the major media have covered issues of fiscal sustainability (social security, population demographics, debt ceiling) with some consistency but again without the result of a political will to face the issue squarely, partly because the demographic component (longer life spans, fewer kids) seems so intractable.
So I come to the starkest issues that give me an incentive to “stay in the game” as a blogger. Notable, it’s hard for me to “join the movement” for an “oppressed group” when I think there are big issues that could blow our entire civilization (and make my whole life’s Akashic record pretty irrelevant and forgettable). And the biggest of these is the stability of the three major US power grids.
Part of the controversy concerns whether there really exist relatively inexpensive fixes (like neutral ground circuits) that (for maybe $10 or so per American, that is, a few billion dollars) make the grid far more resistant to terrorist or enemy attacks (especially E3 level) as well as to big “Carrington” solar storms. I’ve read that utilities in Virginia and Maine in particular have a head start on this issue.
Another part of the controversy really concerns the likelihood that an enemy (most recently in view, North Korea, as well as radical Islam) could credibly carry out an EMP attack (which doesn’t necessarily have to be nuclear) instead of a conventional thermonuclear strike. Again, the mainstream press has demurred on this somewhat.
So part of my own personal mission is to try to encourage the mainstream press, maybe starting with some of the more conservative news companies (Fox, OANN, Sinclair – which has reported on this as reported on this blog already) to give the public an objective assessment on the problem. Yes, I’m ready to get on planes and go interview people.
There are other problems that need this kind of approach. One is filial responsibility laws, part of the whole population demographics problem mentioned above. Another is, of course, the threats to our permissive atmosphere of user generated content on the web – ranging from Section 230 (the Backpage controversy) to fake news and enemy (especially by ISIS) recruitment, as just reported last night on AB 20-20 on a scathing report by Diane Sawyer (“ISIS in America”).
I have a particular take on the whole Russia fake-news and social media trolling thing. I have long been personally concerned that foreign enemies could target individual people (and those connected to these people, like family or business associates), such as what we saw from North Korea at the end of 2014 with the Sony Pictures hack. What I did not see was that enemies would try to goad “oppressed minorities” (BLM) or reactionaries to these minorities (less educated white males connecting back to white supremacist groups) into forming movements and fighting each other internally.
Diane Sawyer’s report (just mentioned) makes the good point that the asymmetry of the Internet (and user-generated content) makes young men who feel “powerless” or “left behind” individually dangerous in a way we haven’t seen before. That is part of the old inequality paradox: you need to accept inequality and ego to have innovation that benefits everyone, but then people need to somehow “pay their dues” or you get instability (the “Epilogue” or Chapter 6 of my DADT III book in 2014).
I write all this today by using other funds (some inherited, but mostly my own) to support my own news commentary activities. At some point, I need to partner up with someone to tackle some of the bigger problems I mentioned here (no, I really want to do better things with my life than scream in demonstrations for mass movements, but even my saying that is provocative). It’s true I am a globalist and somewhat “elitist’ but I call myself conservative (but in the libertarian sense, not Trump-ian). But I wanted to note that billionaire Joe Ricketts just shut down some local news sites he owns because they couldn’t pay their own way. His own WordPress blog post on unionization is interesting.
(Posted: Saturday, November 4, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)
Update: Friday, Nov. 10 (12 noon EST)
I have to note this article in Vox on the effect of “tribal elites” especially on the climate change debate. Sorry, I really do try to investigate the world’s woes (like the power grid exposure) “hands separately”. I could say, “tribalism is for losers”, ha ha. And I’d get executed or beheaded quickly and there would be no funeral.
The media is indeed swooning at Trump’s latest supposed outrages, including his veiled threat to broadcast licenses after NBC supposedly reported his plans for increasing US nuclear supremacy.
Oliver Darcy and Brian Stelter have a typical summary on CNN.
There’s a potpourri of obvious legal problems if Trump were to try to do this. The biggest is that it is owned stations that have licenses, not the networks. I remember this from my own days working for NBC as a computer programmer in the 1970s. I was responsible for an accounting ledger for “owned and operated stations”. I remember networks were allowed to own five. Often, individual stations are owned by one company and affiliated with a network, like WJLA is owned by Sinclair and affiliated with ABC. Often the stations don’t follow the bidding of owners. Sinclair is a “conservative” media company that has played up the power grid threats which I have reported here, but WJLA has toned down these reports, even though I’ve encouraged WJLA (which knows me) to take them seriously.
Another interesting point is that the president doesn’t have the full legal authority to order the FCC exactly what to do. Furthermore Trump’s appointment, Ajit Pai, has favored loosening and eliminating Obama’s network neutrality rules in a way that would benefit Comcast, which owns NBC. Even so, loosening of network neutrality rules really hasn’t in big companies like Comcast trying to throttle smaller businesses and individual speakers from having fair treatment in access to self-broadcast on their telecom pipes (something that the “liberals” feared more than the gutting of Section 230 as a threat to user speech).
It’s ironic that, in his propagation of “the people” and populism, Trump really hasn’t gone after individual elites (like standalone bloggers) as much as he had certain big companies (mainstream liberal media) whom he can portray to the “people” as their enemies with fake news. But, of course, it is the world of user-generated content that the Russians infected with their fake news barrage in order to divide the people further. But Trump wants the people divided. He believes that it is the strongest tribes that survive, not the strongest individuals. Yet, in Trump’s individual behavior, it’s obvious that Trump admires strong young adult individuals – look at who he hired on “The Apprentice”. At a personal level, he probably does admire young scientists, young tech entreprenuers, and even young conservative journalists who would show him up. More contradictions on the LGBT side: he seems to admire plenty of LGBT individuals, but attacks the intersectional politics of the LGBT activist establishment with all his appointments.
The mainstream media’s reaction to this latest flap over violating the first amendment (the freedom of the press standards apart from the more general freedom of speech in the First Amendment) has sometimes been a bit silly and hyperbolic. Look at how the Washington Post (“Democracy dies in darkbess”) asks “can he really do that?” by dragging you into listening to an overlong podcast. By now everybody has forgotten all about “opening up libel laws.” British style (as Kitty Kelly explains in 1997, truth doesn’t always defend against libel, especially if absolute truth no longer exists).
Trump’s latest action on health care (like with immigration) shows he is willing to let “ordinary people” become pawns as he makes his ideological points, which really do have some merit. Yup, making health young people buy coverage they don’t need sets a bad example for other areas. Yes, it may really be illegal for the Executive to continue premium and copay support for poor people until Congress does its job, does its math, and can explicitly authorize it (sounds like how he handles DACA).
And, yup, previous administrations may have appeased North Korea too much, and a “domino theory” that tends to enlist ordinary citizens as potential combatants may have some real merit (as I covered particularly in my first DADT book). But all of this, right now, sets up a very dangerous situation, the most perilous for the safety of ordinary Americans since the Cuban Missile Crisis, even more so than 9/11. If Trump really wants his zeal for populism to wind up with martial law (as one friend on FB suggests), or a “purification” (as another puts it), he might have his duel in the Sun.
I also wanted to point out Sean Illing’s compendium on Vox, “20 of America’s top political scientists gathered to discuss our democracy. They’re scared”. One out of six Americans is OK with military rule (like in the Philippines — that’s like saying one out of six movies should be a horror movie). Our society of individualism requires a talent for individualized abstraction. That tends to leave out a lot of “average joes”. But all of us find more meaning in power structures and “station in life” than is healthy for freedom.
OK, let’s lay things out in the whole problem of the player protests in the NFL and NBA over racism during the playing of the National Anthem at games.
First, I can’t imagine how kneeling (or locking arms) is disrespectful of the flag, or offensive. At least personally.
The best information suggests that NFL and NBA owners seem so support the protests, and are not doing so out of fear of player “rebellion”.
Players do have a First Amendment right to protest when a national symbol is displayed as far as the government is concerned (including president Trump) but their employers have a legal right to constrain what they say on the job, and sometimes off the job in public mode if the speech can cause disruption to legitimate business interests (essentially “conflict of interest” in speech).
The NFL and its associated professional sports franchises are private businesses. Same with MLB, NBA, NHL, soccer, etc. They can regulate what players say on the job, or what they do on social media if behavior affects business. But they don’t have to. If the leagues and the owners want to single out the issue behind the protests (especially police racial profiling and BLM) they are free to do so.
Apparently, yesterday, the support for the protests in the NFL was overwhelming, including at the Washington Redskins’ game (a 27-10 win)Sunday night (and this is ironic given the controversy over the team name and trademark as a potential slur against Native Americans).
In the past, however, the owners were not as supportive. Consider the history if Colin Kaepernick. This morning, Bob Costa said on CNN that Colin has said before that voting was useless because of the current power structure (reportedly he said that before the 2016 election).
I do have problems with a couple of areas. One is if another group (BLM or anyone else) decides that its issue must be implemented in such a way that anyone else (like me, as an individual speaker an author) must somehow pay them homage to have a voice at all. There are many examples of oppression, and I can’t say that one is always more demanding than another (Charlottesville and Trump’s “both sides” notwithstanding). Along these lines, Juana Summers piece on CNN “It’s impossible for black athletes to leave politics off the field”.
Another is that I had my own issue back in the 1990s, where I had a potential “conflict of interest” over my planned speech on gays in the military when I was working for a company that served members of the military as a fraternal provider. I wound up transferring to Minneapolis (and having some of the best years of my own life). There was a time when a family medical emergency (Mother’s surgery in 1999) might have forced me to come back, conceivably costing me my job as a result. I did not have the right to “hide” behind “systematic oppression” as an out. Fortunately, this worked out OK on its own.
President Trump was certainly out of line Saturday night in Huntsville AL when he “demanded” that NFL owners “fire” players for protesting. The President doesn’t have the right to tell private businesses what protests to support or allow on the job.
Major league sports have come a long way in dealing with discrimination, particularly MLB with its various statements including sexual orientation.
But the NFL may have problems with its own treatment of players regarding head injuries (the recent revelations about Aaron Hernandez are among the worst). Trump wanted to deny even football brain injuries (WSJ editorial).
I want to mention Margaret Sullivan’s Washington Post (Style section) article today about new state laws restricting protests that disrupt traffic or businesses. She says that the kinds of protests that ended the Vietnam War (and the draft) might be illegal in many states (well, remember Kent State in 1970). We’ll have to come back to this.
I also want to mention Villasenor’s study for Brookings on attitudes toward free speech on campus. Younger adults, without the same grounding in civics classes that my generation had, seem to gravitate to a more authoritarian concept of how speech works in society. That is, the intended effect and likely actions on the listener or watcher matter (“implicit content”), as does the idea that words can be weaponized (even if by Russia on Facebook).
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 updateon 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.
The New York Times ran an op-ed by Eitan D. Hersh, “Political Hobbyists Are Ruining the Country” in the Review Section Sunday July 2 Online, the title is “The Problem with Participatory Democracy is the Participants”. This sounds like a series of choices on a “My Weekly Reader” reading comprehension test in grade school, “the best title for this story is ..” Oh, that was third grade (1951) when the smartest girl in the class only got 44 out of 60 and poor little Bill got 16. There’s a similar story in the Boston Globe “The Most Dangerous Hobby” by Hersh, inspired by the WB classic film “The Most Dangerous Game” based on a story by Richard Connell. We read and watched that in 2005 when I was substitute teaching, in the middle of an incident caused by my own political hobbying.
So I’m one of the problem hobbyists. OK, when do I “pay my dues” and do my part? I do vote in all elections, including primaries. I have worked as an election judge three times in retirement, although not recently. I do talk to neighbors about elections. They’re both conservative to libertarian.
But I don’t raise money for candidates or issues. I don’t knock on doors. And don’t take orders from party operatives or pressure groups on what it is OK to say in a book, social media, or a blog. And some of the mail I get for partisan contributions (I got one from Donald Trump) is plainly ridiculous. (Back in 1984 I got a very bossy letter from the Dems on how much money I “owed” to help Walter Mondale.)
And I generally don’t respond to urgent pleas to text or call law-makers about very narrow, niche issues. I feel that if I did, that would dilute my effectiveness on when I have something unique to say. Sometimes I do sign online petitions. I think I signed one to free Chelsea Manning, which Obama did.
What’s more significant is that I have never run for public office. I can’t imagine asking people for money. But in 2000 I almost ran as the Libertarian Party candidate for the Senate from Minnesota. Another candidate, a gun enthusiast, would run instead and get himself arrested at Mystic Lake to make a point on the right to bear arms. You see how polarizing this gets.
We don’t encourage the right people to run. If someone like Anderson Cooper were president right now, the country would be just fine, with no scandals. I think Anderson would listen to Lindsey Graham and become hawkish enough on North Korea and ISIS (and Russia).
I don’t join mass movements for revolution right now, although I can never say never. Rather than put all my eggs in some revolutionary idea like single payer, that I know won’t pass, I try to solve problems within the existing system. Like, if you want to allow a barebones health plan for the young and healthy, accept the fact that you have to subsidize the already sick a lot more, and reinsure them, to deal with the anti-selection problem. If we already had single payer, it wouldn’t be controversial or debated – except that we would have to deal with waiting lists and sometimes end-of-life decisions. There is no way to escape the math. Life is not a zero-sum game, but you can’t get something for nothing. E is still M-C-squared. So, yes, I am a conservative. And gay. Welcome to Milo’s world.
The real problem is probably the gratuitous nature of my speech. I report to no one. I try to play devil’s advocate for everything, bring up all possible arguments. I would be more useful, say, working in intelligence, which might have been my career had I grown up in a later, more tolerant or accepting time.
As Milo has pointed out, a lot of times the Left especially (and sometimes the populist alt-right) doesn’t want to allow constructive counter arguments to be made, especially by intelleculoid “Uncle Tom’s” in their midsts. What partisan leadership sees is resurrecting old chestnuts that could be brought back to oppress or marginalize less competitive individuals in their groups. After all, at a certain moral level, almost any goal can be “rationalized”. A good example of this problem has occurred with HIV issues, when public health arguments, while valid (up to a point) can be used as an excuse for stigmatization or exclusion of gay men, a problem we had in the 1980s. Leadership of activist groups want obedience and consistency of messages among supporters, not people who ask (and particularly self-publish) analytic policy questions on their own.
But that is what I do. I want to keep an eye on the big picture, especially civilization -changing threats, not just local issues tied to my own identity groups. That is how I make a difference, in the long run. At least now Maybe not forever.
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.
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)
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.
Let’s think a moment about how mandatory insurance can work, in different areas, like health, auto, property.
Generally, you have to have auto insurance to have a driver’s license (how it’s required varies by state) you need property insurance for a mortgage, and with Obamacare (and previously Romneycare in Massachusetts) health insurance. And Medicare and single payer in most other countries can be viewed as mandatory health insurance, paid for by much higher taxes.
Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) is partly driven by requirement that “healthy” young people will buy coverages they as individuals are almost certainly not going to need, to support otherwise much higher premiums for people who do need them. I’ve said here that we probably need publicly funded props (subsidies — not just tax cuts — and reinsurance, to help pay for health care for the sickest people), which would affect the deficit and maybe require cuts elsewhere (maybe in Social Security, for example, slowly increasing age eligibility) to control spending. I may be OK with some of the aspects of “community rating” – that is, men have to buy pregnancy coverage because it takes two to tango – and we want, as a policy matter, some sort of gender equality. (It wouldn’t hurt me some day if PrEP were covered, although at my age it’s not real likely.)
But requiring people to buy add-on coverages for other people’s risks (“moral hazard”) is generally a dangerous idea, that can set up a bad precedent for other misuse. That’s one reason why I am somewhat behind “TrumpCare” or “RyanCare” or “PriceCare,” if you really get serious about covering everybody somehow. The Republicans want the states to take more responsibility for this area. Under a federal system (compared to a unitary system like China’s) that seems appropriate. We no longer trust the states to manage their own ideas of “equal protection” (from the 14th Amendment all the way to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, ending with Stonewall) but we generally allow states a lot of leeway in just how they want their residents to pay for services or how much to privatize some services. States vary on whether or not they have their own income taxes, and to what extent they want to charge user fees or tolls. As California found out in the late 1970s, they can have their own battles on using property taxes to fund public education. So, yes, the OMB is appropriate concerned about how the reddest states will handle a block grant approach to health care. But our Constitution and federalism limit just how much coercion the federal government can use, even for worthwhile policy goals.
In the past twenty years, auto and property companies have been combining normal property or physical liability (and damage loss, from accidents and storms) with cyber liability from Internet use. The latter liabilities can include the cost of defending frivolous defamation suits (as with review sites) and copyright or even incidental trademark or patent infringement (from trolls), but they can also include losses due to identity theft or cybercrime (recently, ransomware). In some cases, the higher limit auto policies are available only in umbrella policies that have all these other coverages (which have nothing to do with the likelihood of causing an auto accident or of being hit by a tornado). In fact, as we know from the attempts around 2001 or so by the National Writers Union to buy media perils coverage for its members (and another push for this in 2008, shortly before the financial crisis), the risk for an individual consumer of being sued for Internet behavior is extremely hard to underwrite and predict, compared to the risks in the physical world.
I can imagine (especially from the “Left”) pushes to make cyber insurance mandatory components of property policies, and I hope the GOP would apply the same skepticism to this idea it has to health insurance mandatory coverages. You can imagine the pressures: because I have an unusual last name, I’m not as prone to identity theft as someone with an Anglicized name, but should I have to subsidize the premiums of someone more likely to experience it? Because of the “gratuitous” nature of my self-publication (it doesn’t pay its own way) activity “in retirement” (maybe that’s like “in relief” in a baseball game’s bullpen), I don’t face the same risks as other people who actually need to support families with their writing, but I face my own unusual perils (mostly related to “implicit content” as I found out with a bizarre incident in 2005 when I was working as a substitute teacher – the concept has to do with attracting politically or socially motivated targeted risk to others connected to “you”). The main prevention is to know what I am doing. (I do; for example, I know how to recognize scams.)
But the permissive legal environment that has allowed user generated content to flourish does raise serious questions for me, involving some personal matters (how I place value on interactions with others who have more intrinsic need, and how I am willing, with volunteerism, to fit in and belong to a group and speak for its needs – accept “partisanship”). The legal props include Section 230 and DMCA Safe Harbor, all of which makes me wonder how the Web still works in Europe, where these kinds of protections are weaker and where there is even an enforced “right to be forgotten” (and where, as Trump points out, defendants have to prove they told the truth in libel cases). The permissiveness seems to have led to an world where there is a lot of recklessness and abuse, ranging from cuberbullying or stalking or revenge porn, to outright terror recruiting — largely because writers with sincerely put arguments wind up preaching to their own choirs, created by news aggregation. Again, I could be silenced if I had to be insured, because my speech is not “popular” enough to pay its own way, especially in a mandatory insurance world.