Monday, June 17, 2019

Freedom of Speech Is Priceless

There’s been bias in media for a very long time. I think it was probably 1989, maybe earlier, when Rush Limbaugh gave new life to AM radio by using it as a platform for conservative talk. He did that because there wasn’t another platform for those opinions. There was mainstream news, which by comparison today may have appeared nonpartisan, but even then it wasn’t.

Eventually Fox News got started, with a bias toward conservatism—from its commentators. But the news is still pretty centrist. It’s just that anyone who wanted a Democrat or progressive slant could get that on ABC, NBC, CBS, and then CNN, then MSNBC, and in the New York Times and just about any other newspaper.

There are some of us who get tired of being fed news that we know is slanted, so that we have to search elsewhere to get the real story. While it would be preferable to get the actual truth straight up, since journalists are human that might be too much to ask; if so, then next best is knowing up front the bias of the presenter, to allow the listener to cautiously sift out the bias.

The internet has been good at opening up conversations—also for opening up contentious arguing. But that’s a risk you take when you have free speech.

Those who’ve had control of the message for all these many decades are up in arms now about the lack of control over the message that gets out to the masses. Because—obviously, from the last presidential election—that has consequences.

So there have been covert efforts to quash non-sanctioned messages. And now we’re also seeing overt efforts.

Among the covert efforts, from within the Obama administration, was the weaponization of the IRS against conservative groups.  The court case for True the Vote is about to be settled, about eight years in. The IRS did indeed target them illegally. Founder Catherine Engelbrecht said this about it: here. [Correction added 6-20-2019: there's an additional video I intended to link to, from June 6, 2019, here.]

True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht
screenshot from here
Meanwhile, the overt efforts are heating up. It sort of heated up some months back with shock jock/conspiracy theorist (and non-conservative) Alex Jones being banned. There were people who spoke up—not because they agree with anything he says, but because the reasons for banning speech were just wrong. If you’re not calling on people to act violently, or doing some other of a very short list of illegal speech (making threats, libel, slander), then what is the reason? And if the reason is arbitrary, who is safe?

Lately Steven Crowder has been attacked. YouTube demonetized him. That means his videos, which he places on a platform that allows for them to bring in money through advertising can no longer do so. The purpose is to prevent him from having the resources to speak. If he were actually inciting violence or doing some other illegal speech (see short list above), that would be understandable for YouTube to do. But, after investigation, they find that he has not violated their platform rules.

Steven Crowder, of Louder with Crowder
image from here

YouTube is a private company; they can set up their own rules, but they admit he has not violated them. Nor has he violated any laws. But they decide—because they don’t like his message, or maybe his tone—that they are demonetizing him anyway.

There’s a bit more to the story. The progressive/socialist “news” outlet Vox complained about Crowder—for using terms to describe one of their commentators that the commentator uses to describe himself. Vox put pressure on YouTube.

Ben Shapiro and friends talked about this last week. One aspect is that the leaders of the Big Tech platforms support Democrats and their progressive/socialist agenda, so they’re willing to give in to pressure toward their natural leanings. But there’s also this, which is even more insidious:

The mainstream media that are proclaiming day in and day out that Donald Trump is an existential threat to the press—people like Jim Acosta who are doing books about how Donald Trump is calling them an enemy of the people, and therefore he’s trying to shut down freedom of the press. These people are all in. I mean, all in, in trying to get Big Tech to censor people. Vox is a supposed journalistic outfit. It is a pseudo-journalistic trash heap. Their editor-in-chief put out a letter explicitly saying, “We know that Steven Crowder didn’t violate any of your rules. That’s why we are telling you, as an editorial newspaper, we are telling you that you should change your rules.
In recent Senate hearings Google president Sundar Pichal responds to questions concerning employee behavior during the 2016 election. Senator Jim Jordan questions him regarding a four-page memo, written the day after the November 2016 election by Eliana Murillo, Google’s head of Multicultural Marketing, concerning her work with the Latino vote. The memo talks about Get Out the Vote efforts, which aren’t a problem, but then the memo indicates they were only targeted in key states for a specific outcome—which means for political purposes. Sundar’s response is that they have found no evidence—but the evidence is the memo before them that he’s being asked about.

Again, Google is a private company and can set its own rules. However, right now those rules apply to it as an open platform; if it is not essentially randomly open, but is favoring or disfavoring based on content, then it cannot continue to be treated as an open platform.

That’s the case with YouTube as well. Is it an open platform or a content curator?

Facebook has been facing these questions for a while. Facebook jail is a real thing. People I have known have been put in it. That means their specific content is removed and no longer seen, or it may mean they cannot post anything for a certain amount of time, usually a day or a week. The punishment happens without notice, and often without explanation. There’s supposed to be an appeals process so a person can learn why they were barred from posting, but it doesn’t seem to be because of any identifiable—and thus avoidable—reasons.

Recently it was leaked that Facebook has a “hate agent”status they apply to users based various bits of data from on and off the platform. It’s a guilt by association formula. If you appear in photos with someone they deem hateful, without knowing context for your being there, that can get you labeled. So can comments about immigration, particular tattoos, being neutral about someone Facebook thinks you should disapprove of, or saying something in private that is later made public that Facebook deems unacceptable.

The attempt is to draw a circle of association around actual haters or violent groups to claim a person should not be heard. This is an extension of what the Obama administration did when it created a terrorist watch list that included things like being in a Tea Party, or being patriotic. I think I checked 28 boxes on their list, as a conservative Christian grandmother with nothing more that a couple of traffic tickets on my lifetime record. It’s how you get crazies saying that Ben Shapiro (Orthodox Jew, conservative) is a white supremacist leader of the Alt-Right. (The actual Alt-Right criticized Shapiro more times than any other media person last year.) It’s how you get them saying Candace Owens is all about white privilege (she’s black).

In other words, you can’t trust their algorithm, because you can’t trust people who believe that only their ideas should be allowed.

One of the things Facebook has been doing lately is to alter your feed. They notice if you’re getting “too much” content from one point of view, and then they send you similar content from a different point of view. They’re trying to keep people from being radicalized, they say. That is a little creepy, but it would be mostly innocuous—except that it’s aimed only at correcting people who see conservative content. The thing is, conservatives see opposing viewpoints all over the place. 
Meanwhile, there are those on the Democrat/progressive/socialist side who seem to be unaware that it’s possible for thinking, functional people to differ from them.

It turns out that Pinterest, our personal online bulletin board, where we go for crafts and food and other interests, has joined other Big Tech monitors of speech. They recently fired a whistleblower, Eric Cochran, for coming forward about their censorship of conservative voices. Specifically, they labeled Lila Rose and her pro-life organization, Live Action, to be porn, so they could ban it. There isn’t anything in it that could be construed as porn; they lie. They also removed Zero Hedge and PJ Media. Bible verses—a common use for Pinterest—are also considered too “sensitive” to be allowed.

I think Ben Shapiro is right; the opposition to freedom, prosperity, and civilization are trying to control the message, to keep anything they disagree with from getting out to the people. And the intensity at this time is tied to the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

We saw it with Obama, with the IRS attacks that affected the 2012 election and beyond. Only now, most of a decade later, when that administration is no longer in office, does a resolution come.

Suggested solutions include regulating the Big Tech companies. But we know that greater regulation on big businesses—which are regulated according to how those big companies want, and pay their lobbyists to get—support only the big companies and cause barriers to entry for startups.

Another suggestion is to break up the big companies, the way the phone companies were broken up some decades ago.

An alternative is to start—and support with subscriptions—alternative platforms. Glenn Beck’s The Blaze and Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire, both with subscription fees, have been attempting that. But to reach beyond their current subscribers, they depend on YouTube and Facebook to allow their content to be seen.

Jordan Peterson announces
image from here
Another announcement last week was from Jordan Peterson, who has been working to develop an alternative subscription free-speech platform called, which will not limit speech beyond legal limits. It will be an anti-censorship version of Patreon. No censoring content based on using a “wrong” word or having a “wrong” opinion. This is meant to be useful both for content providers and for responses, to encourage dialogue. There will be rules, such as a minimum comment length, to encourage deeper thinking. As Peterson puts is, “If minimum comment length is 50 words, you’re gonna have to put a little thought into it. Even if you’re being a troll, you’ll be a quasi-witty troll.”

My preferred solution is whatever best allows truth to flourish. I don’t have a lot of money to spare, but if the subscription is worth it, I’m willing to pay a bit to make it happen. Because our freedom of speech is priceless.

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