Facebook and Twitter get “served” as Democrats whine about “#ReleaseTheMemo”

There was another thunder snow squall on the Internet this morning called “#ReleaseThe Memo” (Twitter hashtag), concerning supposed attempts (as explained in this memo) that the FBI investigation of Trump’s connections to the Russians “et al” is itself a sham.

And if classified, releasing it would be illegal, and President Trump has yet to declassify it.

That’s the background of “#ReleasetheMemo” was explained by Jane Coaston on Vox.

But then there is the matter of a supposed Russian bot that pumped Facebook and Twitter so that conservative supporters would demand releasing the memo, as explained in some detail by Ali Breland on “The Hill” and many other sources.

Then the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Tom Schiff (CA) sent a memo to CEO’s Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Tom Dorsey of Twitter, wording it like a cease-and-desist letter. “You’ve been served”.  I guess I’m too small fry as a blogger to get involved in this, but for a moment I imagined a process server in my own condo lobby, as if the afterbirth of last night’s dreaming.  (Sometimes I dream about things that happen the next day, rather like Blade Runner.)   The social media companies are supposed to answer by Jan. 26.  The concerns in the memo concern free accounts as well as the paid ads that have gotten attention in the past.

Seriously, this is another jab at social media companies (which could expand later to Internet hosting companies, for example) to try to hold them responsible for what users do. That’s the whole Section 230 debate right now, for example (Backpage has been settling down, by the way; legacy post).  Moreover, in the context of the election and our democracy, it has to do with the supposed deliberate manipulation of public opinion (propaganda) by foreign agents manipulating social media feeds to aim for users who they know are extremely “tribal” in nature and who lack the critical thinking skills or inclinations to recognize questionable material. What’s interesting, again, is that until after the 2016 elections, us “elites” cared personally very little about what those in Hillary’s “Basket of Deplorables” thought.  (Oh, I remember my father’s warning at the end of 1961 after my college expulsion: “From now on, you have to worry about what everyone thinks”).

Just a little over a week ago, Facebook announced it was making changes to its newsfeed algorithms to de-emphasize passive news “watching” and encourage more personal interactions among “friends”.  I’m not sure what to make of this.  Do “they” want users to be more open to running other people’s fundraisers on their pages (I don’t) or to respond to personalized calls for help (more use of the sharing economy, like “HomeFundMe” let alone “GoFundMe”), which I don’t do much of (outside of some independent film projects that I follow).  Do they want more flirting?  (I get reminded of people’s birthdays and invitations to “wave back”).  I guess, “I Hate Speed-Dating” (that may become a movie).  Maybe they want more activity in the way of personal invitations to events and protests — but these can easily generate chain letter problems.  FB needs to define what it means by engagement.  Detailed comments on others’ posts may count for something.

Facebook may have moderated this plan a bit, with recent plans to conduct surveys of which news suppliers users find most credible.

Oh,, and by the way, President Trump (“Poopiepants” in some Facebook circles) has asked staffers who they voted for.  Not OK.

(Posted:  Wednesday, January 24, 2018, at 4:14 PM EST)

“Twitter Purge” renews debate on what is an acceptable “group” and what is “affiliation”

After the Charlottesville riots, there was a lot of flak when Trump seemed to speak of “groups” on the Far Right and Far Left as morally equivalent, and was not willing to announce that White supremacists or KKK-like groups are morally less acceptable than, say, extreme Communist groups (or groups that claim they are just resisting fascism or white or Christian supremacy).

Conor Friedersdorf expanded on all this with an Aug. 31 piece in The Atlantic, “How to Distinguish Between White Supremacists, Antifa, and Black Lives Matter.”  (Maybe the preposition should be “among”.)

While I follow his reasoning:  historical experience with the purposes of a group does matter, I would have a few questions. First, it appears that domestic hate groups have First Amendment protections that foreign terror groups do not.  It appears that the legal consequences, in federal criminal justice, for supporting a hate group normally apply only to foreign organizations, unless a domestic organization has been found to launch a specific conspiracy to commit a specific crime (like another OKC).

Nevertheless, employers (including the federal government in the past) have certainly been able to deny employment or fire people for membership in “known” groups, and this used to be more true of membership in the Communist Party.

The question has arisen because Twitter recently announced a policy change where starting today it will suspend or close accounts of those with “affiliation” to terror groups, including domestic hate groups (usually right wing such as neo-Nazi or white supremacist). In fact, there was a high profile suspension of someone Trump had retweeted today.

Then the rather obvious question becomes, what is a “group” and what does “affiliation” mean?  Is retweeting the group evidence of affiliation, or repeatedly visiting the sites (which might be detectable, at least by hacking).  Twitter probably just means that people already well known to be connected to a group can’t use the platform to send sanitized messages to recruit people (and this could be motivated by ISIS more than by neo-Nazis).

Another interesting part of Twitter’s rules was the mention of the targeting of civilians for political purposes.  But this is indeed what some of our enemies do, as have other aggressors in most other large wars.  The US did this in retaliation, as with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Another problem is that the “Left” in the US sometimes demands that others (like independent bloggers like me) go along with their combativeness if the enemy (neo-Nazis in this case) is egregious enough or poses a specific threat to a specific protected group (blacks or Jews or even gays and trans).  But combativeness (as Flemming Rose at Cato has often pointed out) appeals to the idea that “the end justifies the means” and finally can result in a group’s have intentions that are as dangerous of the enemy it replaced.  I don’t like to be drawn into passing relative judgment on groups.  It’s like saying that somehow Stalin (or even Kim Jong Un) is “better” than Hitler.  History teaches us that Leftist regimes are often as repressive as those they had replaced (although Vietnam and China have gradually become somewhat acceptable countries).

(Posted: Monday, December 18, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)

What rights do consumers really have when “buying” digital products online?

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When you “buy” a copy of a movie or music mpeg online, do you have the right to lend or give that copy away, just as with physical phonograph records, CDs, VHS or Beta tapes, or of course DVD’s?  All of this is related to the “first sale” doctrine.

Don’t confuse this with another idea:  under the Digital Millennium Copy Right Act of 1998, you don’t have a right to make copies of the CD’s and DVD’s, and there are copy protection firmware devices to make this difficult.

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I can remember, back in the 1960s, myself and another friend sometimes made open-reel tapes of records.  I remember taking a tape of Verdi’s Requiem and other favorite records on my first extended business trip to Indiana from the East Coast back in 1970 (throwing a tape deck in the trunk for the temporary move).  This was probably illegal, but we justified it morally because we both bought a lot of vinyl records.

But even to share or lend digital copies, it seems not.

Electronic Frontier Foundation has an article by Kit Walsh, “What do costumers think when they buy digital media online?”   The article goes into the differences between “Buy Now” and “License Now”.  It would seem intuitive that “License now” would confer fewer rights.  It would be more like renting a movie or video for a short period.  The paper refers to a U-Cal Berkeley study of “What We Buy When We ‘Buy Now'” by Aaron Perzanowski and Chris Jay Hoofnagle.  (I am reminded of “Buy More” in the NBC “Chuck” series with Zachary Levi.

My experience is that when I buy a copy of music or a movie, I own the “copy” in the Amazon or Apple cloud.  I do depend on the companies’ staying in business and for the cloud infrastructure to work (not be destroyed by enemies and hackers, but that can happen with physical property).  I did have a problem recently working with an Amazon rental (it needed a new Silverlight version) and an opera  (Chris Cerrone’s interesting “Invisible Cities”) MPG (had trouble saving it, but I had watched the opera “free” on YouTube and effectively paid the artist through Bandcamp about $10 for what amounted to a rental or a  Soho-style theater ticket).

Keep in mind another possible threat: items stored in clouds (“nuages”) could someday be scanned for illegal content.  Maybe a recent strengthening of electronic privacy (countering the 180 rule) will help counter that risk (Congressional link on HR 699).  This concept could come up either with direct cloud storage or with saving an object on one’s own hard drive and allowing a cloud backup service to archive it. Stay tuned on this.

(Published: Friday, May 13, 2016 at 2 PM EDT)