Posts Tagged ‘censorship’

Pocahontas Fight Heap Big Lies

February 3, 2020

Elizabeth Warren, aka Pocahontas, the Pale-Faced Indian, has a plan to combat the rampant disinformation on social media and the Internet. This is a growing problem since the lies that are spread unchallenged over the web keep people from making the right decisions like voting for Democrats.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday released a plan to fight disinformation and to hold tech companies accountable for their actions in light of the 2016 election.

“Disinformation and online foreign interference erode our democracy, and Donald Trump has invited both,” Warren said in a Tweet Wednesday. “Anyone who seeks to challenge and defeat Donald Trump in the 2020 election must be fully prepared to take this on – and I’ve got a plan to do it.”

Warren proposed to combat disinformation by holding big tech companies like FacebookTwitter and Google responsible for spreading misinformation designed to suppress voters from turning out.

“I will push for new laws that impose tough civil and criminal penalties for knowingly disseminating this kind of information, which has the explicit purpose of undermining the basic right to vote,” Warren said in a release.

According to Warren, we need to control the information that voters have access to protect their right to vote. That seems to be rather an Orwellian statement. Warren goes on.

“The stakes of this election are too high — we need to fight the spread of false information that disempowers voters and undermines democracy,” Warren said. “I’ll do my part — and I’m calling on my fellow candidates and big tech companies to do their part too.”

Great Chief Pocahontas protect braves and squaws from heap big lies

I am sure that I am not the only one who suspects that politicians and government agencies might not be entirely evenhanded and unbiased when it comes to determining what is fake news and disinformation. Authoritarian governments have typically punished the bearers of news that might make them look bad in much the same way as Warren proposed, even if, or especially if the information is entirely accurate. The old Soviet Union did not permit any news, such as airplane crashes, nuclear power plant failures, or the level of crime, that might lead anyone to suspect that the Soviet system wasn’t as perfect as the government claimed. I am sure that the government of China has not bothered to tell its people the full extent of the dangers of the coronavirus.

But aside from such concerns, and the equally obvious question of whether Senator Warren’s proposal is compatible with the First Amendment, there is a more fundamental issue here, who is responsible for deciding what is disinformation? Are we, the American people, responsible adults who are capable of deciding for themselves what sources to trust, or are we ignorant children who need someone like Senator Warren to sort it out for us? The essential premise behind censorship or government control over information is that it is for the protection of the people, who are unable to decide for themselves what might be false or harmful information. For this reason, the Roman Catholic Church used to promulgate an Index of Forbidden Books, a list of books deemed dangerous for laypeople to read lest they come to question the faith. For the same reason, the church discouraged the private reading of the Bible. People needed guidance from the clergy since they were obviously too ignorant to decide matters of faith for themselves. The kings and emperors of old all routinely employed censorship to protect their subjects from dangerous ideas, like maybe kings and emperors were not really needed all that much. The Nazis burned and banned un-German books, to keep the master race from being defiled, and the Communists kept the workers from reading anything which might give them the false impression that they were not living in the Workers’ paradise.

This reasoning is justified in an authoritarian polity, in which the government takes a paternal interest in the physical and spiritual welfare of its subjects. It is antithetical in a democratic polity in which the people’s representatives make up the government. It is not up to Senator Elizabeth Warren, or anyone else in the government to tell us what is disinformation. It is up to us, the people to educate ourselves to learn how to tell the difference between trustworthy and untrustworthy information, and if we are not willing to do this, if we would rather the likes of Senator Warren do our thinking for us, rather than thinking for ourselves, then we do not deserve to be free.

This, then, is part of the larger question of what sort of country we want to live in. Do we wish to be free citizens in a free republic in which we get to decide who to trust and how to live or do we want to be serfs in a country in which our alleged betters decide such things for us? Elizabeth Warren, and really the whole pack of Democratic candidates, seem to be in favor of the latter course. I prefer to be free.

Infowars Banned

August 7, 2018

Facebook, YouTube, and Apple have decided to remove content from Alex Jones and Infowars. Here is the report from CNN.

YouTube, Facebook and Apple have taken steps to remove content associated with InfoWars and its Alex Jones.

Each social media platform said Monday that it had removed content from Jones or InfoWars because it had violated their policies. The companies’ moves shut down key distribution channels that had given the controversial media figure easy access to millions of internet users.

The most dramatic action came last, from YouTube, which is owned by Google (GOOGL). It removed many top channels associated with InfoWars, including The Alex Jones Channel, which had 2.4 million subscribers and videos that were viewed over 1.5 billion times.

“When users violate … policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts,” said a spokesperson for YouTube.

 

But in a message posted Monday on Twitter, Jones encouraged users to access live streams directly from the InfoWars website. He described it as “the one platform that they CAN’T ban.”

Earlier on Monday, Facebook removed four pages associated with InfoWars and Jones for repeated violations of its policies.

The social media platform said in a statement that it had “unpublished” the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the InfoWars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page.

 

BuzzFeed News reported on Sunday that Apple (AAPL) had removed five podcasts associated with InfoWars from iTunes and its podcast app.

“Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users,” it said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News.

“Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”

Apple confirmed the accuracy of its statement to CNN.

This is not a First Amendment issue and technically it is not censorship at all. Apple, Facebook and YouTube have every right to decide who can and cannot use their services and if they decide that Alex Jones is not someone their want using their platforms, they do not have to host him. Having said all that, however, I really wish they had not made this decision.

To begin with, there is already a growing perception that the tech industry is heavily biased towards the political left. Many conservatives are starting to fear that such social media giants as Facebook and YouTube are beginning to use their near-monopolies to systematically marginalize and deplatform conservative voices. For Facebook, YouTube, and Apple to almost simultaneously shut down a right-wing crackpot conspiracy theorist like Alex Jones does nothing to allay such fears, particularly when there are any number of left-wing crackpot conspiracy theorists spewing just as much hatred that the tech industry apparently has no problem with hosting on their platforms. It doesn’t seem as if there is really any objective standard that has been applied. Perhaps no standard can be applied. The whole problem with banning hate speech is that there isn’t really any kind of speech that can be objectively defined as hate speech, beyond speech one happens to dislike. One person’s hate speech is another person’s speaking truth to power.

This leads to another reason I really wish they hadn’t done this. For three separate companies to decide on the same day that Alex Jones is unacceptable looks like collusion. I have no idea whether executives from Facebook, Apple and Google were working together on this, but there is no way this doesn’t look like some sort of conspiracy to shut Alex Jones up for speaking out. If it was their desire to silence Alex Jones, they have miscalculated badly. They have managed to validate all of his paranoid rantings in the minds of his audience and have made him a free speech martyr. A quick visit to Infowars shows that Alex Jones is making the most of this perception of persecution, referring to his radio show and website as banned. I wouldn’t be surprised if the traffic to Infowars hasn’t tripled in the last twenty-four hours.

The truth is that this kind of censorship, okay, not really censorship but you know what I mean, doesn’t work all that well, unless you have a totalitarian government enforcing it by not allowing any dissent at all. The sort of half-way “its technically banned but somehow still available” kind of censorship only makes the censored material more attractive because it is forbidden and the people seeking it out feel brave and rebellious. There was is a reason Banned in Boston used to be considered an endorsement by makers of risqué films and why the Streisand effect is a thing.

Although this attempt by leading tech giants to silence Alex Jones is not technically censorship because they are not government agencies, in a way it really is a kind of censorship. If the owners of the printing presses, broadcast stations or internet social media platforms collude to exclude certain political or social viewpoints, then they are practicing censorship. This is a more insidious kind of censorship than throwing a dissenter in prison where he can become a sort of martyr but of simply quietly denying the dissenter any means of disseminating his views. He may have freedom of speech, in theory, but without the means to make his speech heard, he does not have freedom of speech in practice.

This seems to be the goal of the left. They cannot pass laws against speech they dislike, at least not yet, because the First Amendment forbids it. They can mobilize private institutions, such as businesses, to censor dislike speech. They will not succeed with this rather crude attempt to silence Alex Jones. They are likely to succeed in creating a climate of intolerance throughout our society. Their goal is to fundamentally transform this country into the sort of place where you are always looking around to make sure you are not overheard, to keep your mouth shut except to say accepted platitudes, to be on the lookout for the Thought Police. We ought not to let them get away with it, even if it means standing up for the rights of people we would rather not be associated with, like Alex Jones. After all, as the saying goes, first they came for Alex Jones and Infowars…

Evalion

June 20, 2016

Evalion is the username of a young woman who has posted some rather controversial videos on YouTube. She has been called the most racist girl on the Internet and having seen a few of her videos, I can affirm that Evalion is indeed a racist and a Nazi. Since I am not a liberal, I do not use such words merely to denote a person with views I happen to disagree with. By racist I mean someone who believes that race is the most important determinator of what kind of person any human being is and who believes that some races are inherently superior to others. By Nazi, I mean a believer in the doctrines of National Socialism, including the extreme anti-Semitism of that ideology. By her own account, Evalion is a racist and a Nazi.

Last month, YouTube terminated Evalion’s account. This is not a free speech or censorship issue. As a private corporation, YouTube has no obligation to host videos that violate its terms of service and its executives can delete any video they please for any reason. All the same, I wish that YouTube had not done this.

I will not bother with some stirring declaration of the importance of free speech or the slippery slope and chilling effects of any censorship. As I said, YouTube has a perfect right to delete any video or channel they feel is inappropriate. I only wonder what they were trying to accomplish by terminating Evalion’s account and whether their action had the intended effects.

If YouTube wanted to keep Evalion’s message from being spread, then I have to say that they have failed. A quick search of YouTube shows that her videos are still available on many channels. I am sure that she has simply started a new account under another name and there seems to be no shortage of admirers willing to copy and upload her videos on their own accounts. Banning Evalion has only brought her more attention than she could ever hope to achieve otherwise. I doubt if she would ever have been mentioned in such news outlets as the Daily Mail if YouTube had taken no action against her. I certainly wouldn’t be writing this post if YouTube had left her alone.

Meanwhile, Evalion has become a hero to the racist, alt-right crowd. The way in which her enemies who have been celebrating are of the “hate speech isn’t protected and should be banned” persuasion makes them look like bullying, censoring Nazis and makes her look like a free speech martyr has helped her cause and confused the issues. I wouldn’t be surprised if she were being as provocative as possible just to get attention by having YouTube ban her.

I don’t imagine that anyone at YouTube believed that they could get Evalion to see the error of her ways by cancelling her account. Obviously shutting a person up does not change their mind. If anything, it will tend to reinforce the offending opinions in their minds. They must be saying something right if everyone wants to shut them down. Among the anti-semites and neo-Nazis, it is an article of faith that the Jews control the media and are quick to censor anything that exposes their nefarious plans. In a way, YouTube has managed to prove them right, at least in their own minds. Again, YouTube’s actions seem to have produced a different result from that which they might have wanted. This, by the way, is why the laws against Holocaust denial in some European countries are so stupid. Punishing someone for denying the Holocaust only makes it looks as if someone is trying to hide something.

In general, it is better to allow someone to speak out than to try to censor them, even if the opinions they express are hateful. Shutting down hateful speech simply draws attention to the people promoting hateful ideas and makes them looks like the brave heretics fighting against the lies promoted by the authorities. It gives them a sort of legitimacy they do not deserve. The best response to the Evalions of the internet is simply to ignore them. No one is harmed by videos or speech and there is no reason to encourage them by giving them the attention they crave. That goes especially for the people who felt it was necessary to expose “the most racist girl on the internet”. Just ignore her and get a life.

 

Shut Down Fox News

November 2, 2012

I got an interesting email yesterday asking me to sign a petition to do just that.

Dear David Hoffman,

Help us take Fox News off the air—get the FCC to revoke Rupert Murdoch’s broadcast licenses NOW!

The deplorable actions Murdoch has taken to run his News Corp. empire prove we can’t trust him to act in the public interest. Now, a study by Farleigh Dickinson University shows Fox News can’t even claim to inform its audience: its viewers are less informed than those who avoid news outlets altogether!

It’s the Federal Communications Commission’s job to consider the character of a media owner when dealing out broadcast licenses, and to label programs as news only when they actually inform viewers. The Murdoch Mafia has failed on both counts, and we have a chance to take them down for good. Save the airwaves from bigotry and corruption: tell the FCC to enforce the law NOW!

FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION: Rupert Murdoch has failed every “character” test available, and the programs under his broadcasting licenses have both been implicated in scandal and have been proven to make audiences less informed, not more. We urge you to revoke Murdoch’s broadcasting licenses immediately, and to take a stand against his corrupt media empire.

SIGN THIS PETITION

Thanks,
— The folks at Watchdog.net

Actually, I imagine that viewers of Fox News are a whole lot more informed ab0ut recent events in Benghazi than many others. It would be interesting to look up that study from Farleigh Dickinson University.

I am not sure just who is behind this petition, but I don’t think they have thought the matter through. First, there is no way that the FCC would revoke all of Rupert Murdoch’s broadcasting licenses. Just imagine the political firestorm that would follow such an act. Second, I wonder if it has occurred to these people that if the FCC did have the authority and will to shut down news networks like Fox, they could just as easily shut down CNN or MSNBC. It might be easier to move against them since no one actually watches them. The point here, that many on the Left seem to have trouble grasping is that you can’t just think of what you or your allies will do with power, you must consider what your opponents will do.

I actually think this petition is a good argument for ending the FCC altogether. I am not sure I see the need for a government commission to regulate the content of our communications media. I understand that they have been responsible for allocating transmission frequencies when radio and television were new, and the broadcast spectrum was deemed to be a scarce and public resource. I am not so sure that concept applies in our digital age. It seems to me that the powers that the FCC has to deny broadcast licenses might well be used by the government to silence dissenting opinions. In fact, Richard Nixon seriously considered threatening networks with the non-renewal of their licenses, just as these people want to do with Fox.

 

Shut Down Fox News

November 2, 2012

I got an interesting email yesterday asking me to sign a petition to do just that.

Dear David Hoffman,

Help us take Fox News off the air—get the FCC to revoke Rupert Murdoch’s broadcast licenses NOW!

The deplorable actions Murdoch has taken to run his News Corp. empire prove we can’t trust him to act in the public interest. Now, a study by Farleigh Dickinson University shows Fox News can’t even claim to inform its audience: its viewers are less informed than those who avoid news outlets altogether!

It’s the Federal Communications Commission’s job to consider the character of a media owner when dealing out broadcast licenses, and to label programs as news only when they actually inform viewers. The Murdoch Mafia has failed on both counts, and we have a chance to take them down for good. Save the airwaves from bigotry and corruption: tell the FCC to enforce the law NOW!

FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION: Rupert Murdoch has failed every “character” test available, and the programs under his broadcasting licenses have both been implicated in scandal and have been proven to make audiences less informed, not more. We urge you to revoke Murdoch’s broadcasting licenses immediately, and to take a stand against his corrupt media empire.

SIGN THIS PETITION

Thanks,
— The folks at Watchdog.net

Actually, I imagine that viewers of Fox News are a whole lot more informed ab0ut recent events in Benghazi than many others. It would be interesting to look up that study from Farleigh Dickinson University.

I am not sure just who is behind this petition, but I don’t think they have thought the matter through. First, there is no way that the FCC would revoke all of Rupert Murdoch’s broadcasting licenses. Just imagine the political firestorm that would follow such an act. Second, I wonder if it has occurred to these people that if the FCC did have the authority and will to shut down news networks like Fox, they could just as easily shut down CNN or MSNBC. It might be easier to move against them since no one actually watches them. The point here, that many on the Left seem to have trouble grasping is that you can’t just think of what you or your allies will do with power, you must consider what your opponents will do.

I actually think this petition is a good argument for ending the FCC altogether. I am not sure I see the need for a government commission to regulate the content of our communications media. I understand that they have been responsible for allocating transmission frequencies when radio and television were new, and the broadcast spectrum was deemed to be a scarce and public resource. I am not so sure that concept applies in our digital age. It seems to me that the powers that the FCC has to deny broadcast licenses might well be used by the government to silence dissenting opinions. In fact, Richard Nixon seriously considered threatening networks with the non-renewal of their licenses, just as these people want to do with Fox.

 


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