- “30 Years After the Rushdie Fatwa, Europe Is Moving Backward” on speech that gives religious offense [Jacob Mchangama and Sarah McLaughlin, Foreign Policy] Whether you call it blasphemy or hate speech, chilling effects on expression are the same [Helen Dale, Unherd]
- British writer faces police inquiry after “deadnaming” transgender activist online [Katie Herzog, The Stranger; Sophie Law, Daily Mail on Graham Linehan case] Social media “like” contributes to another police call [James Kirkup, The Spectator]
- How American law came to recognize hate speech as part of the zone of protected free speech: a look at the history [Flemming Rose, Cato Institute]
- Labour MP introduces bill to ban private Facebook groups [Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner]
- Far-right French politico Marine Le Pen, prosecuted over speech on Twitter, “ordered to undergo a psychiatric examination as part of the investigation.” Say what? [Jacob Sullum]
- The U.K.’s new anti-terrorism efforts should be terrifying to anyone who cares about free speech [J.D. Tuccille, Reason]
A “string of civil lawsuits intended to pin liability on online platforms for allegedly providing material support to terrorists” has mostly fared poorly in court, with Section 230 providing a bulwark against liability in most cases, “but some of these cases are on appeal and plaintiffs have filed several new ones. If these suits are successful, they could be detrimental for the Internet: platforms would have little choice to become much more restrictive in what sorts of speech they allow.” In particular, “if online platforms no longer have Section 230 immunity for hosting content even remotely related to terrorism, those forums and services will take aggressive action to screen their users, review and censor content, and potentially prohibit anonymous speech.” [Aaron Mackey, Electronic Frontier Foundation; examples here (Facebook), here (Twitter), here, here (San Bernardino: Facebook, Google, Twitter), here (attacks in Paris and Brussels, Twitter), here (Orlando), here (Facebook), here (Twitter), etc. ]
“Big internet platforms for speech are privately owned, but those who would pressure private firms to restrict speech are often the same people who would substantially restrict the rights of people to speak. John Samples and Emily Ekins discuss how Americans think about free speech today and ways to defend it in the modern age.” [Cato Daily Podcast with Caleb Brown]
More: John Samples on Facebook moderation policies; Matthew Feeney, “Keep Government Away From Twitter.” And if Congress abrogates the liability protections of Section 230, as some conservatives urge, one predictable consequence will be that more conservatives will wind up getting purged from social media [Elizabeth Nolan Brown]
“Sony Music Entertainment has been forced to abandon its claim that it owned 47 seconds of video of musician James Rhodes using his own piano to play music written by Johann Sebastian Bach.” After Rhodes posted the video to Facebook, Sony sent a takedown notice saying that the performance “matches 47 seconds of audio” owned by Sony. Match-detecting algorithms have become commonplace in the copyright takedown field; in this case, Sony backed down after Rhodes’s tweet about the situation got considerable attention. [Timothy Lee, ArsTechnica]
Sony does own the rights to the performances of important Bach interpreters such as Glenn Gould, so it is possible that a performance influenced by Gould’s would be especially likely to trip a similarity algorithm. But it gets worse. Last year an Australian music teacher named Sebastian Tomczak “posted on YouTube a 10-hour recording of white noise as an experiment” (in sound perception, not copyright practice) and “within days, the upload had five different copyright claims filed against it. All five would allow continued use of the material, the notices explained, if Tomczak allowed the upload to be “monetized,” meaning accompanied by advertisements from which the claimants would get a share.” [Joseph Bottum, Free Beacon]
And finally, from my own recent experience: a comment from a local performance group’s Facebook page about how a recording of a sing-through of Gilbert & Sullivan Utopia, Ltd. triggered a takedown based on supposed copying of an entirely different work, Rossini’s William Tell. The passage that showed too much similarity? The audience applause!
How efficient is social media in spreading viral-junk misinformation about the law? Well, the following post about Tuesday’s two-page Supreme Court ruling in Brakebill v. Jaeger, a case about voting procedures in North Dakota, has gotten more than 18,000 shares as of this morning:
1. Brakebill was not Justice Kavanaugh’s first ruling. If you so much as glance at the Court’s opinion, it’s hard to miss its second sentence: “JUSTICE KAVANAUGH took no part in the consideration or decision of this application.”
2. There is no indication that the vote was 5 to 4. Liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer did not join the dissent.*
3. Justice Ginsburg’s dissent contains no language even remotely like that put within quotation marks here. Her tone is technical rather than indignant, and she does not challenge anyone’s motives as illegitimate.
4. The Court did not issue a decision upholding the laws. It was a denial of an application to vacate a stay, not a ruling on the merits.
And we haven’t even gotten to the merits! Three and a half days after posting, its author has not seen fit to correct any of his errors.
Here’s a rule of thumb about social media: the more anger, the less accuracy. More on viral junk and thinking before you share here.
* A reader on Twitter points out that in the absence of a signed majority opinion, we can’t know for sure that the vote against vacating the stay necessarily came out 6-2; we know only that if there were other Justices who wanted to vacate the stay, they declined to join the Ginsburg-Kagan dissent. I’ve corrected the text above accordingly.
- “Netherlands Prosecuting Man for Insulting Turkish President Erdogan” [Eugene Volokh]
- Among articles in the new Cato Supreme Court Review: Robert McNamara and Paul Sherman on NIFLA v. Becerra (California law prescribing speech by “crisis pregnancy” centers, earlier);
Rodney Smolla on Mansky (restrictions on political apparel at polling places, earlier);
- Fifth Circuit: No, Louisiana cannot make it a crime to “intimidate” police officers by threatening to complain about them [Volokh]
- “Can the President Block You on Twitter?” Federalist Society Policy Brief video with Josh Blackman, earlier here and here;
- Roy Moore sues comedian Sacha Baron Cohen for defamation, Ken from Popehat not expecting suit to prevail [thread]
- “Billionaire Steve Wynn, Who Once Tried To Kill Nevada’s Anti-SLAPP Law, Loses Defamation Case Under That Law” [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]
“It was quite something to hear Republicans sounding like Elizabeth Warren on a trust-busting bender, but it is difficult to take seriously the proposition that what’s at work here is concern about monopoly power, Supreme Court precedents, or anything of the sort: This is about friends and enemies, and Republicans have decided that Silicon Valley is the enemy.” [Kevin Williamson, National Review] “Trump allies propose nationalizing Facebook, Google data” [Jason Tashea, ABA Journal] And see John Hinderaker, PowerLine, on a tape showing Google employees disappointed by the results of the last election (“Break them up under the Sherman Act? Turn them into regulated public utilities, with public employee-level salaries and no stock options? Those are all possibilities.”) Related: Thomas Hazlett, “Making the Fairness Doctrine Great Again,” Reason, March.
- Senators have big plans for government regulation of social media but U.S. Constitution keeps getting in way [John Samples, Cato; David McCabe, Axios, earlier] “Censorship breeds censorship envy, and that’s true of private suppression by massively influential platforms such as Facebook as well as of governmental censorship.” [John Samples, Eugene Volokh]
- Is it lawful for a state lawmaker to block someone on Twitter who’s publicly discussed ways of murdering him? [Dorit Reiss, PrawfsBlawg, earlier]
- European Parliament delays adopting online copyright directive that critics said would result in Internet content filtering and royalties for linking [Thomas McMullan/Alphr, BBC earlier]
- Is the ACLU OK with French catcalling law? [Robby Soave] With using government to keep the wrong sorts of people from owning radio outlets? [Scott Shackford, related]
- Federalist Society telecast on Ninth Circuit decision on Idaho “ag-gag” law with UCLA lawprof Eugene Volokh and Andrew Varcoe of Boyden Gray & Associates;
- “Arrests for offensive Facebook and Twitter posts soar in London” [Sadie Levy Gale, Independent] Downhill in Denmark: “How the Right Abandoned Free Speech in Europe” [Cato podcast and Reason interview with Jacob Mchangama]
When I wrote last month about Google’s and Facebook’s ill-advised decision to turn away ads for bail bond services, I hadn’t seen Alex Tabarrok’s insightful post on the same topic, calling the tech giants’ decision “deeply disturbing and wrongheaded.” Excerpt:
Bail bonds are a legal service. Indeed, they are a necessary service for the legal system to function. It’s not surprising that bail bonds are used in communities of color and low income neighborhoods because it is in those neighborhoods that people most need to raise bail. We need not debate whether that is due to greater rates of crime or greater discrimination or both. Whatever the cause, preventing advertising doesn’t reduce the need to pay bail it simply makes it harder to find a lender. Restrictions on advertising in the bail industry, as elsewhere, are also likely to reduce competition and raise prices. Both of these effects mean that more people will find themselves in jail for longer….
Ian Ayres and Joel Waldfogel also found that the bail bond system can (modestly) ameliorate judicial racial bias. Ayres and Waldfogel found that in New Haven in the 1990s black and Hispanic males were assigned bail amounts that were systematically higher than equally-risky whites. The bail bondpersons, however, offered lower prices to minorities–meaning equal net prices for people of equal risk–exactly what one would expect from a competitive industry.
My own research found that defendants released on commercial bail were much more likely to show up for trial than statistical doppelgangers released by other methods. Bounty hunters were also much more likely than the police to capture and bring to justice people who did jump bail. The bail bond system thus provides an important public service at no cost to the public.
In addition to being wrongheaded, Google’s decision is disturbing because it is so obviously a political decision….[Every] time Google acts as a lawgiver instead of an open platform it invites regulation and political control.
Meanwhile, reports from Maryland confirm that (as I’ve warned in the past) that state’s unplanned experiment with curtailing cash bail, without due attention to developing alternative institutions, has led to the retaining in jail of many defendants who otherwise would have rejoined their families [Jayne Miller/WBAL, Scott Shackford/Reason] More links on bail controversies: Scott Greenfield; Daniel Dew, Buckeye Institute last year (pro-reform in Ohio).