TikTok has steadily taken control of our lives. It’s an inescapable app, one that’s cemented itself throughout the pandemic and that is now planning to get involved with job searches.According to...
Prisons & Policing Jailers Tortured and Murdered Marvin Scott III, Family Says After Viewing Video Politics & Elections A New Wave of Jim Crow Laws Is Here. Here’s What You Need to Know. Politics & Elections Facebook Board Announces Trump Remains Banned. Trump Starts His Own “Platform.” Immigration Biden’s U-Turn on Refugees Aligns With Voter Support for Pro-Immigrant Policies Economy & Labor Amazon Is Dictating Personal Hygiene, Nail Length of Contract Drivers Politics & Elections Judge Says DOJ Memo on Barr’s Decision Not to Charge Trump Must Be Released “So shines a good deed in a weary world,” said Willy Wonka when confronted with an unexpected kindness. The candy master may have had similar words about today’s decision by Facebook’s new 20-person “Oversight Board.” For the time being at least, the silence will continue to reign, and a weary world sighs in palpable relief. “The Board has upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7, 2021, to restrict then-President Donald Trump’s access to posting content on his Facebook page and Instagram account,” the board said in a much-anticipated statement this morning. The decision surprised many, given Facebook’s rightward turn under the influence of Joel Kaplan, a former George W. Bush White House official who currently runs the social media giant’s powerful Washington, D.C. office. Time and again during the Trump administration, Facebook scrambled like a frog on a hot plate to rewire its rules in a way that made Trump’s gruesomely unacceptable proclamations palatable to the algorithms that run the site. Color me among the surprised; I would have lost a bet on this one. “Facebook has constrained its efforts against false and misleading news, adopted a policy explicitly allowing politicians to lie, and even altered its news feed algorithm to neutralize claims that it was biased against conservative publishers,” reports The Washington Post. “And as Trump grew in power, the fear of his wrath pushed Facebook into more deferential behavior toward its growing number of right-leaning users, tilting the balance of news people see on the network, according to the current and former employees.” Ultimately, Trump ran out of running room on January 6 of this year, when he went wild on Facebook as his supporters smashed their way into the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The ban was handed down the next day. The board’s decision seemed to include a not-so-subtle scold aimed directly at Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg: However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension. Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account. The Board insists that Facebook review this matter to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform. Facebook must complete its review of this matter within six months of the date of this decision. The Board also made policy recommendations for Facebook to implement in developing clear, necessary, and proportionate policies that promote public safety and respect freedom of expression. For the Trump camp, at least in the six-month short term, the board’s decision is a bigly expensive deal. Beyond the immediate contact with the public provided by social media platforms, Facebook has been a dual engine for Trump: The spreading of the kind of incendiary propaganda and misinformation that is devoured by his base, combined with a massive fundraising pool. “And while GOP operatives are gaming out just what it would mean to give back the former president a powerful media bullhorn, the real impact, they say, will be seen in dollar signs,” Politico reported a day before the decision was handed down. “A return to Facebook would open major fundraising spigots that further cement Trump’s hold on the Republican Party, protecting his massive grassroots donor network from potential rivals.” As corporate titans, politicians, the media and the rest of us wrestle with the concept of free speech in the immediacy of a wired world, Donald Trump will remain mostly muzzled down in Florida for the time being. Perhaps in anticipation of the board’s decision — or maybe just to stick a nyah-nyah-I-don’t-need-you thumb in Facebook’s eye — Trump has launched what he calls a “communications platform” that will be “a place to speak freely and safely.” In fact, it’s just a basic training-wheels blog, and a pretty shabby one at that. Trump is allowed to natter on at any length he wishes; the only way for readers to speak “freely and safely” is by clicking any of the ubiquitous donation buttons. If the thing had come with the ancient AOL login sound, I would not be surprised. Reaction from the Trump camp was swift. “If you’re surprised by Facebook banning President Trump, you haven’t been paying attention,” whined former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. “It’s just the latest page in the book of big tech coming after conservatives. And they won’t stop. Which means it’s past time to hold them accountable. Break them up.” The Facebook Board’s decision/non-decision adds another layer of complexity to the debate over free speech in the age of social media and the massive corporations that control them. Trump deserved to be banned for his January 6 comments, which cheered on the violent sacking of the Capitol building that resulted in multiple deaths and injuries. The issues of where to draw that line and who gets to draw it remain unresolved. The board has punted to Zuckerberg, and the possible future of online free speech now sits in his hands. This is an uncomfortable thought, to put it lightly. The limits of free speech remain among the most complicated issues in American jurisprudence, especially in the technological wonderland of the 21st century. The search for some form of standardized rules and strictures has been ongoing since the founding of the nation. In 1919, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes coined the famous free speech metric, “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater.” For decades, that has served as a simple yardstick for the limits of speech. As with all issues of speech, however, the matter is not as straightforward as it seems. The case that inspired Holmes’s iconic line, Schneck vs. United States, actually stands as one of the most viciously anti-speech decisions the court has ever handed down. Charles Schneck, a socialist, was charged with violating the 1917 Espionage Act for handing out pamphlets condemning the draft during World War I. Holmes’s “fire,” in short, was an activist protesting a war. This garbage anti-speech standard stood until it was partially overturned by the landmark Brandenberg v. Ohio decision in 1969, some 50 years later and in the middle of yet another war. Remember this the next time you see that “fire in a crowded theater” line. It sounds entirely straightforward, pithy even, yet its history is one of suppression and militaristic fearmongering. It will serve no use for the social media giants trying to figure out where to draw the line. Fire in a theater, indeed. Moreover, what we have here in the Facebook Board’s decision is a matter of ethics, and not an actual legal statement. Bluntly, nobody has a “right” to a Facebook account, and free speech laws apply as protections from state and federal actions, not corporate decisions. The board has no inherent legal power, and these questions of legality will remain in place until a court has a flesh-and-blood case it can rule on, which would set the legal precedent going forward. As corporate titans, politicians, the media and the rest of us wrestle with the concept of free speech in the immediacy of a wired world, Donald Trump will remain mostly muzzled down in Florida for the time being. This is nothing but a stupendous public good, as he has not backed off one inch from his championing of the Capitol attackers and his ruinous lies about a stolen election. Trump still largely controls the Republican Party, and has a massive civilian following at his back. Were he at the bottom of a well, he would still retain the power to blow up the news cycle if he so chose, and could raise a million dollars an hour while he was at it. The board’s decision changes none of this, and answers no larger questions. It will remain quieter around here, though, and for now that will have to do. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Politics & Elections Facebook Will Announce Tomorrow Whether Trump and His Fascist Posts Can Return Economy & Labor Mutual Aid Efforts Are Working to Fill the Gaps of Biden’s COVID Response Economy & Labor Amazon’s Anti-Union Bullying Shows Why We Need the PRO Act Economy & Labor Tax Dodgers Owe US Over $7 Trillion, Says Janet Yellen Politics & Elections Biden Picks Warren Ally to Oversee Student Aid, Signaling Shift on Student Debt Human Rights Over 10 Million People Could Become Homeless When Eviction Moratorium Ends Have you enjoyed the quiet? I hope so, because it might be over. According to a report in Tuesday’s Washington Post, a cobbled clutch of “experts” from Facebook that calls itself the “Oversight Board” will soon decide whether or not to let Donald Trump back on the platform. This Board, which the Post says is “a less than one-year-old body that describes itself as an ‘experiment’ in the regulation of online speech,” will render its decision on Wednesday. Once settled, this decision will likely set the bar for what constitutes the acceptable-to-corporate-ownership boundaries of permissible free speech on social media, and will likewise be the precedent for how world leaders are treated by Facebook and other platforms going forward. There is every possibility that tomorrow will return us to the Age of Bad Noise. If the Board sides with power over common sense, Trump (along a whole lot of other tinpot autocrats) can continue polluting our minds with paranoid ranting on free social media, and the hapless press will, of course, amplify their every bent thought and twisted accusation. Why? Because, as ever, it’s good television. It is difficult to quantify the damage done by Trump’s flagrant misuse of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter (and God help us if Twitter ever lets him back in). Here was a leader bereft of morals and out for blood, able at any moment in the day to slather the political discussion with lies, threats, complaints and vapid declarations of victory. Even now, I remember how hard it was to navigate the signal-to-noise ratio on a busy Trump Twitter day. It was like trying to collect a thought in the middle of a rock storm. The din may have felt new to us when the Trump era hit, but in one pointed way, the former president’s use of social media to confound and unhinge the national discourse is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Specifically, it is a tactic long used by fascists seeking to gain and hold power. The idea is not to debate, but to damage debate beyond repair so that even the simplest facts are open to question. In such a muddled, confused environment, fascism can flourish. What is fascism, besides being a serious word not to be bandied about lightly? Nazi fascism was its own specific ethos, outlined in excruciating detail by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf. In Italy, Benito Mussolini’s concept of fascism was captured in the Treccani Encyclopedia. In Spain, fascist leader Francisco Franco had his own ideas on fascist Catholicism, and fascists in the U.S. have spent decades attempting to unite their ideology with splinter Evangelical Christianity. Is there a collective definition for fascism amid all these varieties, and if so, do Donald Trump and “Trumpism” fall into that spectrum? Celebrated author Umberto Eco, himself a survivor of European fascism, endeavored to create precisely that sort of collective definition, which he called “ur-Fascism” in a 1995 essay for The New York Review of Books. Is there a collective definition for fascism, and if so, does Donald Trump and “Trumpism” fall into that spectrum? “Fascism was philosophically out of joint, but emotionally it was firmly fastened to some archetypal foundations,” he wrote. “But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.” Eco fashioned 14 “features” of ur-Fascism to explain the overall phenomenon. The first of these is a fanatical adherence to tradition, something Trump used to create his entire political persona: I will bring us back to better days, when people respected and honored all the things you believe in. The second feature is a rejection of modernism, which again has become a staple of current Republican groupthink. This new world is happening too fast, too many people are getting rights they shouldn’t have. Modernism is the death of tradition, a fact Trump has used to great effect. The third feature, irrationalism, preaches action for action’s sake, thoughtless, heedless, bereft of self-awareness. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection,” writes Eco. “Thinking is a form of emasculation.” Heedless action on social media: Who does that sound like? The fourth feature is the complete dismissal of analytical criticism. One does not question the leader, the party, or the actions that have been taken. “For ur-Fascism,” writes Eco, “disagreement is treason.” That line may as well have been at the top of the 2020 Republican platform, had they bothered to make one. The fifth feature is a radical hatred of diversity. Fascism requires rigid adherence to a basic way of being, a code, a slate of honored traditions. Outsiders are to be feared and shunned in the quest to create a perfectly homogenized society. “Thus,” writes Eco, “Fascism is racist by definition.” See: Trump’s border and immigration policies. The sixth feature states that ur-Fascism derives its power from individual or social frustration. This, perhaps more than the others, is the hallmark of Trumpism, the iron spine of its power and influence. Millions of people who feel left behind in this rapidly changing world grapple with fear and fury, and Trump taps that aquifer with a deftly swung sledgehammer. Six features in, and we have checked every box with a heavy marker. The other features — loud nationalism, jealousy of the enemy, a permanent state of conflict, disdain for elites and elitism, the championing of the masculine, a populism that preaches rights only for the righteous few, and the creation of a new vocabulary that stifles complex and critical reasoning — are all straight out of the Trumpian playbook. Umberto Eco seems to have seen Donald Trump coming for 20 years. If Trump is allowed back on Facebook, he will again pursue an aggressive campaign of chaos aimed at disrupting the essential workings of democracy to his own ends, and he already has a devoted mass following. The Facebook “Board” should let the silence rule a while longer. Trump and his followers aren’t here to talk, or to share, or even to lead. They are here to break things, as evidenced on January 6. Don’t let them. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
War & Peace Biden Is Reviewing US Policy in North Korea. The Brutal Sanctions Must End. Environment & Health Biden Is Providing Some Vaccines to India But Hasn’t Budged on Patent Waiver Prisons & Policing Justice Department Investigations Don’t Actually Challenge Police Violence Prisons & Policing We Are Fighting for a World Where Ma’Khia Bryant Would Have Lived Politics & Elections Americans View Biden as Doing Much Better Than Trump Did in First 100 Days Immigration Abuse and Lack of Transparency Fuel Vaccine Mistrust in ICE Jails “Not a surprise. But terrifying nonetheless.” That’s how Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein responded Sunday to news that India had requested — and Twitter had agreed — to have numerous tweets critical of the Modi government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic blocked from the popular social media platform. The Indian news outlet Medianama was the first to report the situation on Saturday, followed by Buzzfeed in U.S. press. According to Medianama’s reporting by Aroon Deep and Aditya Chunduru: Twitter has complied with government requests to censor 52 tweets that mostly criticised India’s handling of the second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic. These tweets, which are now inaccessible to Indian users of the social media website, include posts by Revanth Reddy, a sitting Member of Parliament; Moloy Ghatak, a West Bengal state minister; actor Vineet Kumar Singh; and two filmmakers, Vinod Kapri and Avinash Das. Uncompromised, uncompromising news Get reliable, independent news and commentary delivered to your inbox every day. Deep and Chunduru confirmed that several people who had their postings blocked were informed by Twitter what was coming ahead of the move and that the decision was based on a request made by the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It’s a bit old now, but for those interested in how this works: In 2019, @zidanism & I did a deep dive into the mechanics of this type of Twitter censorship (legal demands for country-specific censorship) taking the case study of Kashmir back in 2019. https://t.co/DIWfpBwocB — Avi Asher-Schapiro (@AASchapiro) April 25, 2021 In response to request, a Twitter spokesperson sent Medianama the following statement: When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both the Twitter Rules and local law. If the content violates Twitter’s Rules, the content will be removed from the service. If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only. In all cases, we notify the account holder directly so they’re aware that we’ve received a legal order pertaining to the account. We notify the user(s) by sending a message to the email address associated with the account(s), if available. Read more about our Legal request FAQs. The legal requests that we receive are detailed in the biannual Twitter Transparency Report, and requests to withhold content are published on Lumen. India is currently experiencing a serious surge in Covid-19 cases — averaging over 300,000 new daily cases over the last week and oxygen supplies running low and hospitals overwhelmed — as Modi’s handling of the pandemic has come under significant scrutiny from both within the country and from abroad. Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, reported Buzzfeed on Saturday, also restricted dozens of tweets that criticized Modi or shared pictures of India’s overflowing crematoriums and hospitals, in addition to a tweet from the Indian American Muslim Council, a Washington D.C-based advocacy organization of Indian American Muslims. That group shared a Vice story about the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage attended by hundreds of thousands of Indians earlier this month, and which turned into a super spreader event. “While hundreds of thousands of Covid patients are literally gasping for breath, the government’s alacrity in pressuring Twitter to block tweets critical of its handling of the crisis shows the administration’s moral compass continues to point in a direction that is shamelessly self-serving,” the Indian American Muslim Council said in a statement. Rana Ayyub — a journalist who has been writing dispatches from India for the Washington Post, TIME magazine, and other outlets — reacted with scorn Sunday to the latest reports, tweeting: Narendra Modi &BJP leaders response to reports of the Covid carnage in India. Seize properties of those talking of oxygen shortage, Suspend twitter accounts of those reporting the truth. What does one expect of a heartless regime that looks the other way as the country bleeds — Rana Ayyub (@RanaAyyub) April 25, 2021 “I’m sorry,” wrote epidemiologist and health economist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, “but Modi’s authoritarian government can go to hell if they dare to silence the true human suffering” now taking place in India. This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.