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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/6/19

Don't Let Mass Shooters and the New York Times Destroy Freedom of Speech

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"Online communities like 4chan and 8chan have become hotbeds of white nationalist activity," wrote the editors of the New York Times on August 4 in the wake of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. Then: "Law enforcement currently offers few answers as to how to contain these communities."

Wait, what? Is the Times really implying what it looks like they're implying? Yes.

"Technology companies have a responsibility to de-platform white nationalist propaganda and communities as they did ISIS propaganda," the editorial continues. "And if the technology companies refuse to step up, law enforcement has a duty to vigilantly monitor and end the anonymity, via search warrants, of those who openly plot attacks in murky forums."

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Translation: The New York Times has announced its flight from the battlefield of ideas. Instead of countering bad ideas with good ideas, they want Big Tech and Big Government to forcibly suppress the ideas they disagree with.

Not so long ago, the Times's editors endorsed a very different view:

"One of the Internet's great strengths is that a single blogger or a small political group can inexpensively create a Web page that is just as accessible to the world as Microsoft's home page. But this democratic Internet would be in danger if the companies that deliver Internet service changed the rules so that Web sites that pay them money would be easily accessible, while little-guy sites would be harder to access and slower to navigate. Providers could also block access to sites they do not like."

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Now the Times says providers have a "responsibility" to block access to sites the Times doesn't like. That's quite a change. And an ugly one.

There are plenty of good reasons, both moral and practical, to oppose the suppression of white nationalist and other "extremist" web platforms.

Free speech is a core moral value for any society that aspires to freedom of any kind and to any degree. We must -- MUST -- have the right to form our own opinions, and to express those opinions, no matter how ugly others may find those opinions. Without that freedom, no other freedoms can survive.

As a practical matter, "extremists," like everyone else, will choose to state, promote, and argue for their beliefs. If they can do so in public, those beliefs can be engaged and argued against. If they can't do so in public, they'll do so in private, without anyone to convince them (and those they quietly bring into their circles over time) of the error of their ways. The rest of us won't have a clue what might be in the offing -- until the guns come out, that is.

It's appalling to see the New York Times endorsing an end to the freedom that undergirds its very existence and the prerogatives of every other newspaper and soapbox speaker in America. The only substantive difference between the editors' position and that of the El Paso shooter, allegedly one Patrick Crusius, is that the shooter did his own dirty work.

 

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


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7 people are discussing this page, with 17 comments


Charles Homer

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Here is an interesting look at the cozy relationship between the New York Times and Washington:

click here

If it's the unvarnished truth that you want, don't count on getting it from the plethora of mainstream media sources because it is quite likely that any story that you read about the federal government has already passed through "Big Brother" for "his" approval.

Submitted on Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019 at 6:37:05 PM

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Devil's Advocate

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"Without [freedom of speech], no other freedoms can survive."

This is a reality more people need to recognize and take more seriously, as freedom of speech is under a full-spectrum attack right now. The masses seem to be completely asleep on this one. Freedom of speech provides not only the very foundation for all other rights, but a means of protecting them as well.

Submitted on Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019 at 8:19:42 PM

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I'm not sure I can entirely agree with you this time, Thomas. As private entities tech companies are under no obligation to provide services to anyone and therefore have the right to block anyone they want. Of course they are also under no obligation to block anyone the New York Times doesn't like either. And the Times has no right to get the government to force them to do so.

You make a valid point about driving some discussions underground but I'm inclined to believe that this is less of a factor than providing bad actors a broad platform for spreading their venom. If I were providing web services I would certainly kick such people off of it.

Submitted on Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019 at 9:00:00 PM

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Reply to June Genis:   New Content

The bad actors have been spreading their venom over their (owned.) main stream media since before the tv, but especially since.

Submitted on Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019 at 9:18:41 PM

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Reply to June Genis:   New Content

June,


I'm not sure where you think we disagree.


The only problem I have with, for example, Cloudflare, is that their "policy" seems to be "if our CEO wakes up one morning and doesn't like you, you're outta here." I'd prefer more reliable terms of service than that, but it's a customer service matter.


What I object to is the Times's notion that these services should suppress a particular ideology that the Times doesn't like, and that the government should start in with a censorship/COINTELPRO operation if they won't.

Submitted on Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019 at 9:30:24 PM

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2 things...

1) @June: Private companies may claim the right to censor whatever they want, but they are also granted protections from liability for the content of their users, under your Section 180.

If someone is doing something on their platforms that is considered "against the law", the PERPETRATOR is supposed to be who they go after, not the service. There are already laws in place for all that.

This "private entities" argument is disingenuous at best. It is based on a scenario that doesn't apply to Facebook, Google, etc., or other large internet giants that are supposed to be providing a free-flowing conduit for social exchange and information sourcing.

These companies can't have it both ways. Either they agree to allow free speech, and enjoy their Section 180 protection, or they censor content as private companies that haven't got that liability protection, under completely clear policies and with proper communication with the content holders.

If they censor on government orders, that makes them an arm of the State, not private companies. Government censorship of free speech is supposed to be illegal under your Constitution.

They can't use Section 180 as a shield for unconstitutional conduct.

2) @Thomas: I share your objection to the idea that any third party to our communications should be scrutinizing our speech and judging what is or isn't "acceptable". Particularly when such filtering is done with the blessing of, or at the instruction of, government. As I just said above, government censorship of speech is supposed to be forbidden by your Constitution.

I don't understand these people that are okay with letting Facebook, Google, Twitter, and the countless government "think tanks" decide what is acceptable for them to say. Have people gotten so tired of thinking for themselves, that they would completely sacrifice their right to do so??

Submitted on Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019 at 10:10:33 PM

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Reply to Devil's Advocate:   New Content

DA, we're on the same page along with Thomas.

I replied to June before typing this comment. (lord, I need to get a life!)


Regarding your last question, 'Apparently so.' And thus, We Are Screwed.


Wicked musing: I think, in all our communications, we should flood the data centers with every buzzword we can think of. They don't have enough black suits to get us all. (or do they?)

Submitted on Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019 at 10:50:49 PM

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I'm not familiar with this Section 180. I think you may be referring to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects service providers from liability for content created by others with NO "only if you don't have content policies" restriction.


Section 230 is pretty clear: The user who creates user-created content is considered the author/publisher of that content. The web platform, ISP, etc. is not considered its publisher, even if it has rules concerning the content.

Submitted on Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019 at 11:32:06 PM

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Reply to Thomas Knapp:   New Content

You're absolutely right! Thank you for that correction. And, my apologies to all that struggled to see where I was going there!

I was recently looking through something else, regarding laws governing boards of directors, etc. Section 180 was part of that, and I somehow got the two things crossed. (I'm Canadian, but I try to educate myself on American laws, particularly the ones that affect the Internet at large. Now, all I have to do is remember the correct references!) Doh! =8-O

So yeah, everywhere I quoted "Section 180", should've actually said "Section 230".

The bottom line is, internet companies were already protected from any liabilities posed by the content posted by its users. (Thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Act.) They never had any "responsibility" to "protect" anyone from any of it, either. That was something you pointed out as well.

These companies are hiding behind Section 230 when they want to censor, but they're executing an unconstitutional government censorship agenda, which Section 230 cannot possibly protect them from. Having their cake, and eatin' it, too.

Submitted on Wednesday, Aug 7, 2019 at 1:19:55 AM

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I think we need to redefine Private Entity.

Personally, and no doubt unrealistically, I would define a private entity, in the business context, as an enterprise wholly unsubsidized by government (public) funds and not engaged in contracts with the US government and many of its functions; including, but not limited to:

Big Tech

Mining and fossil fuels

Energy and water

Food, all phases

Banking

Military

Paramilitary

Defense: weapons, research/development, ammunitions, strategies

Data collection and surveillance/spying mechanisms

Genetic research, plant,animal, human

Medical research

Space research

Chemical research

News and propaganda outlets

Insurance and pharmaceutical industries

Advertising

blah blah blah

It might be a shorter list to name what a private entity IS:

That would be baby-sitting, lemonade stands and barber shops.

Of course the ultimate private entity is the human individual. (who should be doing its utmost to dump the chains.)

Submitted on Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019 at 10:38:19 PM

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Reply to Janet Supriano:   New Content

"...I would define a private entity, in the business context, as an enterprise wholly unsubsidized by government (public) funds and not engaged in contracts with the US government and many of its functions;..."

I think it's perfect! According to all legal constructs I'm acquainted with, that really should be what defines "private".

Once they become an arm of the State and/or accept public money, that should be the end of their "private" status. And, if you examine all the "contracting" your government is doing, using your money, you have to wonder how things got as far as they did.

Without any real input from you, your government has been using your money to spy on you (Booz Allen Hamilton, in the name of the NSA), make war (Halliburton, Raytheon, Boeing), engage in war (U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, etc.), bail out Wall Street (while letting people lose their homes), enrich insanely wealthy companies with tax credits, tax exemptions, and endless "grants" (Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, etc.), enrich the local police forces (to restrain what you do), and on and on and on.

Of course, I should probably include the mainstream media in the list of compromised "private entities", which they're now using to come after your 1st Amendment.

Submitted on Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019 at 11:27:50 PM

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Reply to Devil's Advocate:   New Content

It's certainly a sticky wicket.


I run several web sites. While they don't run the kind of content that's being gone after NOW, I am looking into overseas hosting in countries that don't just shut sites down on demand by the US government (Iceland seems to be a big one), as well as alternative domain name systems, dark web presence, etc.


I think the potential exists for a freer, more censorship-resistant Internet to develop popularity alongside the existing one.


I know that in some areas (Hong Kong, for example), activist groups have developed mesh network schemes to get around "the authorities" shutting down cell and Internet access. Those might be expandable to function like a high-speed equivalent of the old Fidonet. Not as fast as the existing Internet, but workable in a pinch.


The Dark Web isn't quite as naturally anonymous, etc., as some people seem to think, but it's more resistant than the existing World Wide Web.


There are non-ICANN domain name schemes including some that SHOULD be resistant to e.g. court ordered domain seizures by virtue of being decentralized and "headless" -- no one to serve a warrant to, and nobody that could act on one if it could be served.


I won't say I'm OPTIMISTIC about the future, but absent worldwide forced electrical blackout, I don't think it's possible for the world's states or corporations to seize COMPLETE control of information exchange.

Submitted on Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019 at 11:38:59 PM

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Reply to Thomas Knapp:   New Content

"I think the potential exists for a freer, more censorship-resistant Internet to develop popularity alongside the existing one."

The Internet is doing its best to clean this up already. The very nature of the Internet is to build around obstacles and sprout newer, better avenues. There's dozens of decentralized and encrypted startups being launched that will eventually replace the existing centralized betrayers.

The beauty of the next generation of services is that it won't need a "new" or "parallel" network. The inability of others to circumvent them is all that is needed. As people embrace the new stuff and dump the old, the current players won't be able to mine the data, which their control and revenue depend on.

There will be a point reached not long from now where you can pronounce Facebook, and some others, dead. In theory, Google could even fall.

For every network artery that gets closed, ten more better ones open up. I've got every reason to believe the Internet is not something TPTB can actually conquer.

In the interim, you'll still need to avoid American hosting companies, as they're already providing a type of "backdoor" access for the American spooks. Iceland comes to mind. :)

Submitted on Wednesday, Aug 7, 2019 at 1:35:26 AM

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Reply to Devil's Advocate:   New Content

I remember searching to see if "they" have a way to shut down the entire internet if they wanted to. From what I remember there IS a way to shut it down. But, that would need to be verified.

Submitted on Wednesday, Aug 7, 2019 at 5:43:08 PM

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Reply to Janet Supriano:   New Content

Ms. Supriano, quick question. That was an interesting comment. My question is, did you do research to come up with your list for your comment or did you simply list all those things off the top of your head? I am curious just because it has me scratching my head and I would rather not do that.

Submitted on Wednesday, Aug 7, 2019 at 7:20:03 AM

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Reply to David Watts:   New Content

LOL

Oh, David Watts, the top of my head is spewing all the time! (but you know that already don't you?)

Your head instantly spouts the perfect song to respond to an article.

Mine struggles with how the hell do we get out of this mess?

Mostly, I'm just mad or sad. Cuz I know. The War is Over ....by Phil Ochs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOs9xYUjY4I

Submitted on Wednesday, Aug 7, 2019 at 11:26:33 PM

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Reply to Janet Supriano:   New Content

Talking about songs, I say you and me and everyone declare the war over and then head out in the streets to go dancing. What the heck, maybe those behind the scenes controlling everything will see all the fun we are having and will not be able to help themselves and will come out to join us.

We would party with those planning our demise. Maybe they will change their minds realizing how much fun life can really be. Maybe they will realize if they get rid of us there will be no one left to have fun with; maybe they will realize there will be no one left to go dancing in the streets with.

I think there is a 50/50 possibility we can still save the world by dancing in the streets. And if we do, it will all be because of you, you declared the war is over.


Martha & The Vandellas - Dancing In The Street - 1964 Live TV Footage .Dancing in the Street. is a 1964 song first recorded by Martha and the Vandellas. It is one of Motown's signature songs and is the group's premier signature ...
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