Popular Mechanics discusses the EMP threat that could come from North Korea, with less startling conclusions

The mainstream media, so to speak, is starting to pay more attention to the possible electromagnetic pulse threat that North Korea could try, especially as retaliation for a US strike. Here is the source for an article today by David Hamburg of Popular Mechanics, which was shared by Resilient Societies.

The article gives somewhat different explanations of what the E1 and E3 pulses do.  The E1, it says. Might not harm cell phones or tablets or even laptops not plugged in, but probably many devices actually plugged in would be fired.  There is a real question as to how many transformers could be severely damaged by an E3 pulse. And apparently some states are looking at requiring utilities to install neutral ground blockers, but these are more expensive than some activists claims.

The article maintains that an EMP-intended weapon need not be as accurate as one intended to explode near the target and could be harder to shoot down at high altitude.  But it is not clear whether North Korea really has the ability to carry out this specific threat right now.

The article also links to a 2010 Oak Ridge National Laboratory report on the EMP threat and countermeasures.  I visited the facility in July 2013 and took the tour available at the time and asked some questions about this issue.

Back on September 4, 2001, one week before 9/11, Popular Mechanics had run a story on localized non-nuclear magnetic flux EMP weapons, which have remained relatively little known.

As the YouTube video included above shows, National Geographic had made a video on the EMP threat in 2013, and doesn’t seem to have been taken that seriously.  It may be a little over-hyped.

(Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

Is there a connection between meritocracy and authoritarianism?

So, how did the Russians pull it off and dupe American voters with fake Facebook accounts, fake news and fake ads?  They still seem to be doing it.

After all, what happened to my own theory and practice of passive influence, putting my own version of the “truth” out there to be found by search engines, playing devil’s advocates, gumming up traditional activism with its identity politics and exaggeration of victimhood?

Is it my own insularity, my own bubble, the likelihood that most of my pieces are read mainly by my own choirs?

Is it that I don’t “care” enough about “average Joe’s” to bother with whether my own messages reach them?  Think about how I get prodded to “sell books”.

The Russians, the enemies, sensed that a lot of the “elites”, the people who insist on seeing others through meritocratic scoping, would never pay attention to what the “proles” thought because the “proles” didn’t “merit” attention as real people from the elites.

That reminds me of my own father’s reporting of what psychiatrists had said of me in early 1962, after my William and Mary expulsion after I attracted homophobic ridicule from other boys in the dorm (aka barracks), especially the fatties and the “deplorables”.  “You have to worry about what everyone thinks”, my father would retort.

A few links are in order.  Look at David Brooks, “The Abby Hoffman of the Right: Donald Trump”.  The protests of the late 60s (probably accelerated by reaction to student deferments from the military draft, which I took advantage of) led to a settling in of individualistic meritocracy by the late 70s, going into the Reagan years, which would really accelerate the notion.

Look also at chess champion Garry Kasparov and Thor Halvorssen, “Why the rise of authoritarianism is a global catastrophe”.  There’s another reason.  Over emphasis on meritocracy makes it OK to leave people behind, almost as part of one’s own psychic strategy.  Soon, it’s OK to keep people “in their place”, which dictators (on both the right and left) do very well.

Remember the displacement of meritocracy in Charles A. Reich’s book “The Greening of America” in 1970 (given to me as a going-away present with a job change), somewhere between Consciousness II and III.

Look at these two rebuffs that I got back around 2006 (pre-Blogger days).

(Posted: Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 at 9:30 PM EDT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual orientation, altruism, and epigenetics: Is this a ruse for “second class citizenship”?

Recently, the “Gay Tribal Elder” Don Kilhefner aired a Ted video by James O’Keefe, “Homosexuality: It’s about survival, not sex.”

The talk at first attempts to explain why homosexuality persists in practically all populations at a consistent level (roughly 3-10%) despite the obviously low reproduction by gay people, and in the face (especially in the past, and today in authoritarian cultures) of discrimination and persecution.

The general explanation is that sexual orientation (and probably gender identity, which is at odds with biological gender (transgender or even gender fluidity) much less frequently than homosexuality) is directly related to turning genes on and off with chemical messengers, largely generated when the bay is still in the mother’s womb.  This is called epigenetics.  It is this process which favors the development of homosexuality in a population of humans and other social mammals.

If you look at the natural world, with social carnivores (and perhaps many primates like bonobo chimps, and maybe some whales and dolphins), it seems to be common that not all of the males reproduce or get their genes propagated.  There is often an “alpha male” dominance (lion prides, wolf packs).  This might sound like a Machiavellian “survival of the fittest”, which seems offensive to consider today (remember the debates on eugenics early in the last century and where that led).  But there may be another reason:  in animal social groups or extended families, the survival of the tribe as a whole is enhanced if some adult members specialize in altruistic behaviors for the rest of the members of the group rather than in propagating their own genes.  A similar model also applies, as O’Keefe argues, with social insects, like bees and ants.  This raises another question in my mind, about distributed consciousness capable of transcending and surviving an individual member’s own mortality;  that’s an idea I’ll come back to again in a future post.   O’Keefe argues that in most of these animals, chemical messengers turn on and off various genes, influencing future behavior.  In a matriarchal ant colony, a queen can determine the “personalities” of individual workers (warrior or forager) by selecting their food when the young are still larval.

So it is in human families.  When a mother has several children (especially several sons), the brains of later born (younger) kids are likely to get different chemical stimulation in utero.  Part of the reason is to prevent overpopulation (too many mouths to feed, although on the frontier you needed a lot of kids for labor in the past).  But the other reasons is to provide altruistic backup for family members who do bear the kids and future generations. It does seem true, later born sons are more likely to be gay.  And sometimes among identical twins there is discordance, which suggests an epigenetic influence.

My own case is unusual, as I am an only child.  Indeed, my own college expulsion in 1961 after admitting “latent homosexuality” to a college dean (after prodding) now sounds motivated by the idea that I was announcing a “death penalty” for my parents’ hope of a future lineage, which might matter in religious or spiritual matters (again, I’ll cover later).

I was also an example of the “sissy boy” syndrome. While that expression was a popular myth in the 1950s and Vietnam-draft 1960s, in general it does not turn out to be true of the gay male community as a whole, when you talk about cis gay men (not trans).  Gay men, for example, can play professional sports, an idea that the big leagues must embrace. (Baseball will probably have a trans relief pitcher some day, but that’s another matter.) What seems remarkable in retrospect is that, at least in cis gay men, sexual orientation (attraction) is linearly independent from all other physical expressions of what we perceive as “masculinity”.  That’s really apparent on most gay disco dance floors, where lean masculinity seems to be celebrated. (Milo Yiannopoulos is dead right about this.)

As my own adult life unfolded, independence became a paramount value for me, particularly as an answer to otherwise possibly clinging to people.  For long stretches of years, I lived in other cities far away from my parents and their social groups, and developed my own “real world” contact groups, long before social media.  That seemed to be what an adult was supposed to do.  I did, necessarily, have a double life, until after retirement, where work and personal relationships and personal cultural expression (even publications and books) were separate.  That became normal.  Publicly recognizable personal accomplishment, whether winning chess games from masters or publishing books on issues like gays in the military, became a primary virtue;  family, having or adopting and raising children, became viewed as an afterthought.  I viewed the rest of the “straight world” this way.  When I was working, I thought everyone felt this way, particularly for my own lens of “upward affiliation” in personal relationships.  I got a taste of “otherwise” at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s, but I really didn’t have to come to grips with this until my own mother’s heart disease and decline, as well as the “social” values that were pushed on me in retirement, where salesmanship (even outright and aggressive hucksterism), rather than content production, became the new expectation.  Manipulation, driven by tribalism, seemed to replace individualized truth-seeking.

O’Keefe’s video seems to imply that gay people (equates to non-procreative) are expected to stay around home to be the backup for the rest of the family when things happen. Indeed, this was often the case in previous generations especially for spinster women (not so much gay men). With there being fewer children today, the childless (as I found out the hard way) are more likely to become involved in their parents’ eldercare for years.  In some families, childless people wind up raising siblings’ children after family tragedies (like in “Raising Helen” or the series “Summerland”), sometimes as a condition of a will.  Many states have filial responsibility laws that, while rarely enforced (with a notorious 2012 situation in Pennsylvania) can undermine the independence of childless people.

Likewise, in the workplace, in many areas with salaried (non-union) people, childless people sometimes wound up doing the unpaid overtime for their coworkers who took family or maternity leave (DADT-1 reference).  This happened to me sometimes in the 1990s, and has contributed to the movement today for paid family leave (or at least parental leave). I was the person with the disposable income would could be leaned on for sacrifice.   Sometimes I was feared as someone who, with fewer responsibilities, could work for less (“gays at a discount” was a common insult in the 1990s) and lowball the salaries of others.  That sort of thinking at one time had even affected the thinking of the military draft, when John Kennedy wanted to allow marriage and fatherhood deferments (dashed by the Johnson buildup in 1965, although student deferments remained until 1969).

So I have to see O’Keefe’s views, at least in my own life, as a call for second-class citizenship.  But that may not be the case for people who necessarily experience life through surviving as a group or tribe together.  Many tribal societies (most notably in the Muslim world) are ferociously anti-gay and want every adult to share in the responsibility of having children (as do some evangelical Christians, for example).  O’Keefe shows that these ideas, however religiously driven, don’t promote the long term welfare of the group.  Biological immutability seems relevant.

On the other hand, the whole idea of marriage equality, in my own perspective, has been about “equality” for those like me who remain topological singletons.

(Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2017. At 12 noon EDT)

Puerto Rico power crisis: could other parts of the U.S. have a similar catastrophe from just “natural causes”?

Given the news about the expectation for very long term power outage in Puerto Rico (following Hurricanes Irma and especially now Maria), the Foundation fr Resilient Societies has circulated its testimony before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from June 17, 2017, as a pdf, link here.  Resilient Societies (or “ResilientGrid”) believes that similar catastrophes can cascade on the US mainland from “natural causes” as well as enemy attack or sabotage, especially with climate change.

There are some relevant stories in the regular and conservative media.  The Chicago Tribune, in a story by Steven Mufson, explains how the major power utility there was already bankrupt. Fox Business quotes the FEMA director as saying restoration will take six months.

The power company was using old technology (burning oil) and reflected the general financial problems for the territory.  It’s worth mentioning that these problems already had the potential to harm some retirees living off accumulated investments, if their portfolios had invested in the territory’s bonds or in other riskier overseas ventures.

Nevertheless, ResilientGrid (based in New Hampshire) believes that the dire forecast for the territory warns what could happen to a populated region of the continental United States, especially the Northeast, if a major failure were to occur.

While extreme solar storms or enemy E3-level EMP are mentioned as risks, especially on some conservative websites (given the current crisis over North Korea), the ResilientGold paper shows that more ordinary breakdowns could lead to self-reinforcing and cascading failures.  Once a failure has lasted more than a couple days, backup systems start to fail.  The paper mentions perverse incentives in some utility companies to cut corners on resilience.

The paper particularly emphasizes a failure 14 years ago, in August 2003, related to an incorrectly configured loop in Ohio.

I recall a day line power failure in New York City in July 1977, in lower Manhattan, when I lived on 11th St.  I worked on the 17th floor of a building om Wall Street at the time.  Elevators did not run, but I actually climbed the stairs once that day.  I was in good shape then.

Power in many areas of lower Manhattan, below 34th Street, were without power for a week after Hurricane Sandy because of a poorly located transformer, not high enough off water.

I also recall having no phone service for six weeks in 1975 in lower Manhattan after a telephone company building fire in lower Manhattan.

The devastation of Puerto Rico raises the question of my post Aug. 2, whether people hundreds of miles away should be prepared to host families if a whole area of the nation becomes uninhabitable for a while or even permanently.  This fortunately has not happened on a large scale with Harvey or Irma.  It did with Katrina.  In the future, how would the financial system handle real estate that suddenly has zero value?

Picture of power outage in Manhattan from Sandy, wiki.

(Posted: Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017 at 3:30 PM EDT)

State Department tightens rules in a way to affect asylees; USCIS will likely follow suit

Attorney Jason Dzubow has advised everyone about a new State Department rule that would tighten scrutiny of people who apply for non-immigrant visas, especially at consulates.  His post is “New Rule Spells Trouble for Asylees”.  The rule would penalize persons who “engage in conduct inconsistent with non-immigrant status” within 90 days of arrival.

The column then anticipates that USCIS would apply a similar rule as part of Trump’s “extreme vetting”. That presumably could mean that if someone applied for asylum after having entered the country as “non-immigrant”, that the asylum request would be more likely to be denied.  In practice, Dzubow argues that real deportations would be unlikely.  But the situation could provide more problems for those who would assist or host asylum seekers, who probably would not be allowed to work on their own.

Again, the lack of a formal system of sponsorship (outside of the I864 mechanism for relatives for example) in the US makes it very difficult for those who assist asylum seekers to know their responsibilities.  It throws the whole thing into an under-the-table operation of grass-roots resistance, very much predicated on local social capital.

This development may become particularly troubling for LGBT asylum seekers, especially from countries besides the Middle East (like Russia and Chechnya).

(Posted: Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017 at 12:15 PM EDT)

After the Equifax breach, we need a policy solution for identity theft

While CNN Money has a pretty mainstream article of advice on the Equifax hack here, a supplementary article by David Goldman lays it on the line, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

The absolute worst might be being framed for a crime, like sex trafficking or child pornography.  In most circumstances that a novelist can imagine, it would still be pretty easy to prove that physically the culprit couldn’t have been “you”.  There are a variety of other outcomes, including job loss or denial or a mortage or lease. For millennials, the risk can extend for decades.  For seniors, it’s probably very minimal.

One comment that gets made by social conservatives particularly (and some libertarians) is that you are ultimately responsible for your own reputation, no matter what, because you live in a society that offers you the benefits of civilization.  I can remember an employer warning us about this in the late 1980s when we suddenly had to pass credit checks to keep our jobs.   I can remember that ten years ago there were prosecutors who looked at finding child pornography on a personal computer as an “strict  liability offense”, although since they they have accepted the idea that malware can put it there. This seems to be a very disturbing philosophy that transcends the plain meaning idea of the law normally, and that most of us cannot live with (especially those on the margins).

Maybe maintaining credit freezes would protect everyone, but it sounds pretty impractical in the long run.

So I think that in the identity theft idea, we need a new policy solution.  I had outlined an idea back in 2006 using “National Change of Address” at USPS, which I had worked on in Minneapolis on my own career back in 1998.

Now I would say, the credit reporting companies should develop the idea of a secondary social security number verifier, which a user can add to her file, and which could not have been hacked yet because it does not yet exist.   I would not be so comfortable with letting the Social Security administration run it. Get some security companies (not Kaspersky, in Russia) to help develop it.  It could be put into two-step verification required to pull a credit report, although it so it would need to be tied to sim cards and not just to phone numbers, which can also be stolen.

(Posted: Sunday, September 17, 2017 at 9:15 AM)

Does America really value all human life as such? Anti-abortion v. the Vietnam-era draft

At a personal level, I certainly believe in the western idea that every human life is sacred, and this could even be true of “non-human persons”.

But when I confront the usual arguments from the “right to life”, especially anti-abortion lobbies, I really wonder how consistent we (or “they”)  are.

When I grew up, men were subjected to male-only military conscription.  There was even a national security argument that conventional war capability, as in Vietnam, kept nuclear war threats at bay. With some twists, that sort of view could even apply today (as when dealing with North Korea).

There was also a deferment system.  At one time that had included fathers, and Kennedy even wanted to defer men from the draft if they got married.  Think of the implications:  if you don’t have sexual intercourse likely to lead to fatherhood, you are personally more expendable.  That makes some sense to fascist.  The family deferments had been eliminated by about 1965 as the Vietnam buildup exploded, but student deferments remained until 1969, when a lottery was implemented.

Despite my own history with my own expulsion as a freshman from William and Mary in 1961 as a “latent homosexual”, I got back into the pool (partly out of shame) and was eventually moved from 4-F to 1-A.  But I went to graduate school first and, as an assistant instructor in mathematics, was in a position to flunk people (which I did) and increase their exposure to the draft. When I finally was drafted myself, in 1968, I was somewhat sheltered from any deployment by my own education.

So, we had a system that decided that some men were more “valuable” than others, in which I gleefully participated. This would set up my own “conflict of interest” situation in the mid 1990s as I started my first book, largely on gays in the military (challenging the ban and “don’t ask don’t tell”), while working for a company that sold insurance specifically to military officers.

But the system of who was more valuable had shifted from “family men” to nerds with science and math backgrounds, potentially the Turing types who would protect the world from the dominoes of Communism just as it had with Fascism.

But, of course, I had grown up in a world where men were supposed to make themselves fungible to protect women and children until they had run their gauntlets and started their own families.  Consider the men needed as firemen (in the days before women’s advancements) and other dangerous jobs.  Sebastian Junger says he “paid his dues” as an arborist.

And we have presidents (Clinton, Obama, and now Trump) who avoided the draft or voluntary military service. And one of these presidents, Trump, is going out of his way to keep transgender people out.

But the whole system gave me a somewhat jaded value system (that is, as a matter of logic, some people are “better” than other people)  of what could make people valuable to me personally.  This was particularly evident in my days at NIH in 1962, right during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  That value system can comport with fascism – and survivor of the fittest.  But attempts to make everyone “equal” by pretense can lead to authoritarianism, too (Communism).  Some people are more “equal” than others, and the leftovers tend to become “expendable” anyway.  Then, you have the same idea with the Christian “Rapture” and the remaining leftovers, who fend for themselves and die off.

We come back to the determination of the anti-abortion lobby and its demands to impose its views on everyone in the name of protecting all life.  It is certainly true that the sentience of the unborn seems to appear earlier than we used to think.   We can note here that Roe v. Wade was decided in January 1973 (the plaintiff would later personally regret her participation), and conscription effectively ended in early 1973, shortly after the Vietnam peace plan was announced in January.  However, the Selective Service system remains in place, the registration of women gets proposed, and in 1981 the Supreme Court had upheld the idea that male-only draft registration was constitutionally permissible.

I wonder if this expands to contraception.  A philosopher says that someone has to exist to have rights.  An unconceived baby (as opposed to unborn) sounds like an oxymoron.  But family potential or future lineage might have meaning in the grand scheme of things.  That’s a topic for later.

(Posted: Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 2 PM EDT)

Link to Wikipedia story on US conscription.

Link to my own DADT-1 reference (1997). Note “CH2 additional conclusion” at the end of the file.

Link to Wikipedia list of presidents avoiding conscription

Separation of powers; federalism

It is very common for activists, particularly on the political Left, to demand a favorable outcome at the national level from Congress, the President, or the federal courts (especially the Supreme Court) for a particular constituent group, which is often presented as systematically oppressed.

And then, I think about two major constitutional concepts:  separation of powers, and federalism.

For example, regarding DACA, activists are widely protested Trump’s rescinding it and stopping new applications. The president has said that legally this is the responsibility of Congress, not the White House.  The president has challenged Congress to take a firm position and establish statutory rules for DACA beneficiaries.  The president even says he will reconsider in six months if Congress can’t do its job.

Of course, this puts the lives of many beneficiaries into uncertainty and limbo now, for no fault of their own.

Likewise, in the area of federalism, activists demand that the federal government fix all the unfairness or disorder in health care markets.  Projections about the supposed failure of the health care reform proposals by the GOP last spring largely depended on a belief that many “red states” would not use federal grants properly and would leave many more poor at sea.  But, of course, the record of these states so far, refusing Medicaid expansion out of ideological reasoning, does not inspire confidence.

Gay activists have depended on courts at the federal level, not only for marriage equality (recently), but for turning off state sodomy laws (back in 2003), revealing history that is already being forgotten.

And the history of the civil rights movement back in the 1960s indeed turned on a rejection of “states’ rights”.  And the War Between the States not only turned back slavery, but also on a state’s right to secede (although there has been recent talk in both Texas and California on this matter).

I get irritated at activist groups pounding for so much attention to their narrow focus on some issue (like the Confederate statues).

But I do understand that our system of federalism seems to be eroding.  States may be good enough at defining ideas like real property and inheritance and with varying criminal code sentences (like even on the capital punishment); but in this Internet age, the ability of states to do locally what is best for their own people is getting less credible. I can remember back in the late 1970s that people who wanted jobs would move south and west, where the cost of living was lower but were social values were often much more conservative.  That sort of “choice” doesn’t really exist now like it did.  Yet, we would hardly want a unitary system like China’s.

Separation of powers, though, in an age of Trump-ism, seems more critical than ever.  Yet sites like Vox keep saying we would be better off with a parliamentary system!

(Posted:  Tuesday, September 12, 2017, at 11 PM EDT)

“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)