If you didn’t follow the Leif Olson episode last week, here’s the nutshell version: the Bloomberg Law news operation ran a wildly unfair piece attacking a newly appointed Labor Department official; Olson, a conservative lawyer who is no relation to me, briefly lost his job but then was reinstated. I’ve written up my thoughts at Cato (“Man Engages In Sarcasm On Social Media. Career Survives”) and an editor at Bloomberg Law has already furnished a piquant sequel.
“When public officials or those running for office call out the political donations of people they don’t like, what’s the goal? Is it merely to shame them?” I comment in this new Cato Daily Podcast with Caleb Brown.
More on the controversy over Rep. Joaquin Castro’s (D-Tex.) tweet: Katie Rogers and Annie Karni, New York Times; Bradley Smith, National Review, Christian Britschgi, Reason; and earlier episodes, not exactly parallel but with some points of similarity, involving Sen. Marco Rubio (Maduro-cozying restaurant owner) and the then-campaigning Donald Trump (“They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!”).
Conservative commentator Dennis Prager has an op-ed in yesterday’s WSJ restating his claims (made in a lawsuit dismissed last year and re-filed this spring in a new suit) that YouTube restricted his “Prager University” videos owing to anti-conservative bias. These claims of unfair treatment have gotten wide circulation, especially since the popular Prager U. series for the most part presents mainstream conservative views in a calm rather than incendiary tone. In his op-ed, Prager speaks favorably about the enactment of new “laws governing big technology companies” to restrain “their hostility to conservative voices.”
This Mike Masnick thread (language) gives another side to the story. YouTube’s optional “restricted mode,” meant to limit kid viewing, isn’t important or much used (only 1.5% of users enable it). The PragerU shows at issue did have some content about topics like rape, murder, and genocide that might disturb younger children. And many other well-known shows see a larger share of their episodes put into restricted mode. Thus 12% of Prager U. videos have been put in restricted mode, compared with 24% of History Channel videos, 28% of Vox videos and 54% of Daily Show videos. Matthew Feeney at Cato, James Pethokoukis at AEI, and Billy Binion at Reason have more.
One irony I see in this is that conservatives up till recently have tended to favor promoting parental-control modes in social media, or even making them the default, and have accepted the inevitability that the automated algorithms that inevitably drive these modes when applied to large bodies of material may sometimes sweep broadly enough to screen out even some responsible, sober, and fact-based discussions of topics to which parents might not want to expose younger teens.
Having now seen these modes in action, they seem to be having second thoughts.
P.S. “Conservatives have also spent decades opposing any attempt to revive the FCC’s old Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to be balanced in their programming on controversial issues. ‘FCC bureaucrats can neither determine what is “fair” nor enforce it,’ the Heritage Foundation said in 1993.” [Margaret Harding McGill and Daniel Lippman, Politico, on reports of new White House executive order]
More: John Samples, Cato (“Dennis Prager, Big-Government Conservative”).
- Second Circuit decision restricting public officials from blocking foes on Twitter is likely to discourage local electeds from sharing on social media, among its other problems [Gabriel Malor thread, John Samples/Cato, earlier]
- State of Washington defines lawyers’ pro bono work as “campaign expenditure,” even when it goes toward ballot access effort for a measure that never reached the ballot to be campaigned over. Review and clarification by high court sorely needed [Ilya Shapiro, Trevor Burrus and Patrick Moran on Cato amicus brief in Evergreen Freedom Foundation v. State of Washington]
- Freedom of press not just for those who own one: “Minnesota Supreme Court Holds That Nonmedia Speakers Are Fully Protected by First Amendment” [Eugene Volokh, defamation law]
- “Publishing Court Records Containing Home Address Not Actionable Invasion of Privacy” [Volokh on a pattern that sometimes gives rise to claims of “doxxing”]
- FOSTA, the law hailed as creating a pioneering exception to Section 230 for speech promoting “sex trafficking,” isn’t just your ordinary incursion on Internet freedom. It comes with a body count [Mike Masnick, Techdirt; related, Violet Blue, Engadget]
- If they’re farming, don’t you be filming: John Stossel on ag-gag laws [Reason video and story, earlier]
- European authorities may order social media platform to prevent Euro users from seeing allegedly defamatory comments maligning an Austrian politician. Can they also order the comments kept from American users, even if American law would treat them as protected expression? [Scott Shackford, Reason]
- By 6-3 margin, with three Justices concurring in part and dissenting in part, Supreme Court rules that First Amendment bars rule against registration of “scandalous” trademarks; Cato had submitted a humorous brief [Melissa Quinn, Washington Examiner, Ilya Shapiro, earlier; Iancu v. Brunetti]
- Mexico files charges of cultural appropriation against Carolina Herrera fashion house over native-inspired designs [Julie Zerbo, Fashion Law, AFP, related earlier on indigenous cultures and intellectual property]
- Schumpeterian innovation and the campaign to break up Big Tech [Ryan Bourne, Cato, earlier]
- “Another survey of consumer law professors fails to find any who always reads consumer contracts before signing them” [Jeff Sovern, earlier]
- Settlement of trademark, copyright claims over Star Control game series specifies that litigants must exchange honey and mead [Lee Hutchinson, ArsTechnica]
- “The Moral Panic Behind Internet Regulation” [Matthew Lesh, Quillette] New Congressional Research Service report on free speech and the regulation of social media content [Valerie C. Brannon, Congressional Research Service]
- “A social media campaign from the French government has been blocked by Twitter – because of the government’s own anti-fake-news law” [BBC via Elizabeth Nolan Brown]
- European authorities misidentify many pages on Internet Archive as “terrorist,” demand takedown [Mike Masnick, Techdirt]
- Armslist case is one in which Section 230 protected Second Amendment rights (that’s not a misprint for First) [John Samples, Cato; Eugene Volokh]
- Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO)’s bill to require the largest social media firms to obtain certification of their political balance from the FTC, on pain of making them liable for all content posted by users, met with hail of dead cats from knowledgeable observers [Elliot Harmon/EFF, John Samples/Cato and more, Cathy Gellis, Joshua Wright thread, Eric Goldman, Raffi Malkonian on retroactivity and more, Elizabeth Nolan Brown/Reason] Related: Daphne Keller (“Build Your Own Intermediary Liability Law: A Kit for Policy Wonks of All Ages”);
- “We sympathize with Plaintiffs — they suffered through one of the worst terrorist attacks in American history. ‘But not everything is redressable in a court.'” [Sixth Circuit, Crosby v. Twitter, affirming dismissal of lawsuits seeking to hold Twitter, Facebook, and Google liable under Anti-Terrorism Act for abetting self-radicalization of perpetrator of Orlando Pulse attack]
The whole history of the old broadcast Fairness Doctrine is one of regimenting opinion to benefit political insiders and favor establishment views. Unless that’s your goal, keep it away from the Internet. Paul Matzko explains at Cato, with many historical details.
- “Banana Costume Copyright Assailed at Third Circuit” [Emilee Larkin, Courthouse News, earlier]
- In a new piece for The Bulwark, I sort through some comments by presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg critical of identity politics;
- Supreme Court’s decision in Apple v. Pepper, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining four liberals, takes a little nick out of Illinois Brick doctrine limiting antitrust suits [my new Cato post]
- Ninth Circuit will soon hear case in which judge ordered Idaho prison system to provide inmate with transgender surgery; I’m quoted saying lower court decision amounted to battle of the experts [Amanda Peacher, NPR/KBSX, plus followup piece (“medical necessity” not a fixed standard, definitions of cruel and unusual punishment hitched in some ways to public opinion) and NPR “Morning Edition”; audio clip]
- “The Moral Panic Behind Internet Regulation” [Matthew Lesh, Quillette] “A Single Global Standard for Internet Content Regulation Is a Recipe for Censorship” [Jacob Mchangama, Quillette] And Jonah Goldberg on right-wing rage at social media platform moderation;
- Some politicos in Britain engage in “‘karaoke Thatcherism’, preaching low-tax, low-regulation mantras divorced from new challenges or detail,” then falling for truly bad ideas like laws to assure real estate tenants indefinite tenure against owners’ wishes [Ryan Bourne]
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider” (Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996).
Those 26 words (and not a member of Congress) invented the internet as we know it. These words protect internet platforms from lawsuits based on user-generated content, allowing them to open their doors to a dizzying variety of sentiment and speech. Absent that sentence, social media platforms would have strong incentives to suppress any speech that might cause them legal woes. Or, in contrast, they might avoid legal liability by not moderating their forums at all, likely rendering them unusable. Jeff Kosseff tells the story of the institutions that flourished as a result of this powerful statute. He introduces us to those who created CDA 230, those who advocated for it, and those who were involved in some of the most prominent cases decided under the law. As section 230 and the platforms it protects face increasing scrutiny, Twenty-Six Words demystifies this little-known yet vital statute.
Commenting at the Cato forum for Jeff Kosseff and his book were: David Post, former professor of law, Temple Law School; Emma Llansó, Center for Democracy and Technology; and Cato’s John Samples as moderator.
More: Nick Gillespie, Reason (conservatives, liberals on Capitol Hill both turning against Section 230). And Eric Goldman has written recently about how the First Amendment is by no means a dependable backstop should incursions on Section 230 widen speech liability, and how the FOSTA law, which curtailed some Section 230 protections in the name of combating sex trafficking, is unlikely to achieve much toward that goal even as it prepares the way for further incursions on online liberty.
“We’re not interested in charging children or putting them in jail or fining them,” says a campaigner for Maryland’s “cyber-bullying” law, “Grace’s Law 2.0,” which is drafted to do exactly those things. “What we want to do is change the behavior so the internet is more kind,” says the same campaigner regarding the new law, which would encourage online users to turn each other in for potential 10-year prison terms over single instances of certain kinds of malicious, abusive speech, and is being billed as going farther than any other law in the country, as well as farther than the earlier Maryland law passed in 2013.
Bruce DePuyt at Maryland Matters reports that Senate Judiciary Chair Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County):
said the 2013 law required that abusive comments be sent to the individual and be part of a pattern of conduct. With the rise of social media, that proved to be too high a hurdle, he said.
Under the new law, “a single significant act can land you in trouble,” he told reporters.
Due credit to the ACLU of Maryland, which called out this dangerous venture in speech regulation:
Toni Holness, the group’s public policy director, said in February that the bill fails to adequately define what constitutes a “true threat.”
Holness also was concerned about other words in the bill that had not been defined: encourage, provoke, sexual information, intimidating, tormenting.
“There’s way too much prosecutorial discretion in these terms that are not defined,” she said.
I criticized the bill in February and noted language from Zirkin suggesting that the Court of Appeals, as distinct from the legislature, would sort out its constitutionality. Before that, I criticized the 2015 law as itself going too far (more). DePuyt reports that Zirkin may approach U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) about introducing a similar bill on the federal level. Let’s hope Raskin says no to that bad idea. [cross-posted from Free State Notes; see also earlier]
Related: an Ohio student has been arrested and faces expulsion over a Twitter account on which he made vicious comments about female classmates; whatever view the law takes of the prospective expulsion of 18-year-old Mehros Nassersharifi by Perrysburg High School, his arrest, on charges of telecommunications harassment, may overstep the First Amendment [NBC24, Hans Bader, Eugene Volokh (reworded to reflect fuller accounts which make clear that the student’s offensive speech went further than simply “rating” of classmates)]